Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Ken Linville - REMEMBERING RUDY KLEINGARTNER
Rudy and I were what we called 'best friends' back then. We lived up on the hill just east of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, now known as Sea-Tac in McMicken Heights. It's unbelievable but those houses are still up there. The airport wasn't yet. They used Boeing Field and the Boeing plant was all covered with camouflage netting while they were building B-17's. It was 1944 and WWII was in full swing.
People named Kleingartner or Eichler (Larry lived just down the street from Rudy) weren't very popular in the neighborhood in those days while a maniac named Hitler was wreaking havoc on the planet. But, when you're six years old none of that matters and Rudy and I, not having any siblings of our own, took a shine to each other in the first grade at Angle Lake Grade School, (it wasn't 'elementary' school in those days. That term was only used by Sherlock Holmes) and decided we should become blood brothers. He had the most wonderful parents. I always envied his Schwinn bike, his Lionel train, eventually his '48 Ford; he always got better stuff than I got. His dad was called 'Klein' and I've never known a nicer man. His mother, Adeline, was so good to me I'll never forget her. I can still hear her screaming, "Junior, don't be s'dumb!" I often wished I could live at his house instead of mine. If I had talked to my mother the way he talked to his, I wouldn't have been able to sit down for a week.
We had a huge expanse of verdant, virgin forest from 33rd Ave. S., where I lived , in the cheap seats, down to the old Pacific Highway where we spent hours wandering around, getting lost, making slingshots, building camps, riding rope swings and getting into all kinds of mischief. That whole area is covered with hotels now. I always tell the story of how we would pick wild blackberries and sell them door-to-door until we had enough money for a six-pack, a slight exaggeration at the time but it wouldn't be long till it was true. One particularly exciting activity we enjoyed involved one of us climbing a tree and then the other would chop it down. One time I picked a tree just a little too tall and my mother had to take me in for about six stitches in my chin from the landing. But what a ride it was! Later, Rudy taught me how to smoke while we were out picking beans for a few bucks (I got so sick I wanted to die) and it wasn't long before we were drinking beer, whiskey when we could get it, and seeing how many rules we could break without getting caught. It finally got to the point where I was beginning to consider a little discretion, (albeit not as much as I should have) for fear that I could destroy any chance of a successful future if I didn't start shaping up a little. Although our interests and activities became more and more divergent, we still spent time together usually with Dick & Jerry Trisler, Frank Day, Bill Brown and a few others.
After high school, I went off to college, into the service and then to flying for Northwest Airlines. When we would occasionally get together, Rudy would come up with unbelievable stories. I never knew whether or not to believe them. He rode bulls on the rodeo circuit. All his bones had been broken and were screwed together. He ran a string of hookers out of one of the motels along the highway. He ran a gun-running operation in Central America. He was a mercenary, black marketeer in Viet Nam. He spent some time behind bars for running a load of dope out to the left coast while he was a semi driver. I could go on and on. He was drinking two quarts of Jim Beam a day. He finally had a heart attack, (I wonder why) and they told him if he didn't quit drinking, he'd be dead in two weeks. I do believe he never took another drink. When I would occasionally meet him in a hotel bar while I was in Seattle overnight, he'd always drink coffee. I was overwhelmed by it all. Rudy was way ahead of his time. When I went to see him in '68 when I got out of the Air Force, he had an earring and an Afro. When we were kids, he always tried to get me to go down to 1st Ave. with him to get a tattoo. Thankfully I always declined 'cause I knew if I showed up at home with a tattoo, my dad would kick my ass into the middle of next week.
I came to the conclusion in later years that Rudy was missing something that the rest of us had: a sense of fear. Some degree of a sense of fear must exist in all of us for self preservation if nothing else. One day, when we were around 20, or so, I was following Rudy down Des Moines Way ( Why the hell did they have to change it to Des Moines Memorial Parkway?). We were going somewhere and we needed two cars. I don't remember why. Rudy got pulled over and I pulled over and stopped about a football field behind him. Rudy got out of the car and I could see from my vantage point that he was arguing with the cop about something. The cop seemed to run out of patience and as he was turning Rudy around to have him put his hands on the roof of the car, Rudy hauled off and decked the guy with a right to the jaw. As I saw the cop lying in the middle of Des Moines Way shaking off the blow, I discreetly pulled a quiet 180 and got the hell out of there. Needless to say Rudy spent a few nights as a guest of the county after that little feat of bravery, (well, stupidity maybe, but you gotta admit, it took some stones to take a swing at an armed police officer). No fear, afraid of nothing.
It's said that opposites attract and, as we grew older, we did head off in very different directions but we remained friends for life although we only got together briefly about once a year. My old buddy wasn't quite playing with a full deck toward the end and it saddened me but I was amazed at how he could even still be alive. When I got back to Seattle in the spring of '05, I tried to call him for about a week but to no avail. Knowing he never strayed far from home any more, I drove out to his place, (he lived alone after his mother died; he took good care of her in her last years after she had some strokes.) I knocked on the door, rang the bell but no answer. I considered trying to open the door just to see if he might be in there but decided against it. A few days later, I tried it again with the same result and found a neighbor to ask if they had any information about him. They told me he had died of a massive brain hemorrhage. He had been conscious but helpless for a couple of days before they found him and he died on the way to the hospital. I can't help but believe that the first time I went out to see him, he may have been lying on the floor helpless and if I had tried the door, I may have been able to save him. No use beating myself up over that, I guess, but I'm sure getting sick and tired of losing so many good friends. The only good thing about it is that it sure makes you appreciate the ones you still have even more.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Sonny Matson - The Prep Game
During the fall football season of 1955, our first game was against Seattle Prep, always a tough opponent. We had established a tradition playing a “pre-season” game against them, as well as against Stadium High School in Tacoma, also tough. Do you remember that one or our games was televised in 1955 when we played Stadium HS at Highline? Final score - Highline 13 Stadium 12. That was even before Sputnik was launched on Oct. 4, 1957! But, that’s another story.
From the start of the game, it was head-to-head, rough football. The final outcome was anyone’s guess. At some point in the second half (you can tell it must have been the second half by the condition of my uniform) Seattle Prep’s strategy was to grind out yardage with their running attack. Our defense quickly picked up their strategy and countered with a more aggressive attack by linebackers and defensive backs (more blitzing and anticipating which offensive back would carry the ball for Prep and where he would attack).
Alf Hemstad was a good defensive coach. He played as a guard for the University of Washington and won acclaim as an all-conference guard. As an aside, before attending the U of W, “Alfie” was a co-pilot for B-17’s flying out of England to spread joy and mayhem to the Third Reich. He was a good man, husband, and father, and was one tough hombre when he faced hostile competition.
Prep's star left halfback, Sam Paffile, was a major threat. (A left halfback is now referred to as a “tailback”. In our era tailback was a term reserved for single wing football. Do any of you remember single wing football formations?) Anyway, we received a defensive signal from the bench to “blitz” the left side of Prep’s formation, in anticipation that Sam Pafille was going to carry the ball in that direction. I played as a defensive back, so when the ball was snapped I was to have been in motion to be at the line of scrimmage to meet Sam Pafille!
Everything worked just as our plan predicted. I was in the process of hitting Sam at the line of scrimmage when Don Ossinger showed up. It was all over in what seemed like a split second. The photographer snapped the photo about half way through a violent pirouette. Here’s what happened. . . Don and I crushed Sam between us upon contact, and with Don’s momentum, spun us around. As we all went to the ground, I ended up on the bottom, Sam in the middle, and Don on top. In the split second that all this occurred, I distinctly hear a “snap” and a “grunt” of pain. It took another split second to realize what had happened, and it was very quiet. I heard Sam groan, again, and as Don was “unpiling”, I asked Sam if he was injured. He grimaced, and then said he thought he had broken his leg! I told him to hold still and I would gently untangle from him and get the referee. The Ref showed up a second later, and then signaled for a stretcher. Before I left Sam, I asked if he would be OK. He said he thought so, and then slightly smiled and said, “Thanks for your help”. What a good guy, good sport, and admirable competitor! Happily, Sam only “cracked” a bone in his leg, which would keep him from playing for only three to four weeks.
Who won the game? Highline 18 Seattle Prep 12
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Mike Pennachi - Studebaker Redux
Of school and girls and my Studebaker days.
School and the girls are still lost in space,
But my 47 Studebaker has it’s own special place.
I got my Commander Starlight Coupe from my uncle when I was 16,
The engine was shot and the paint was lean.
I rebuilt the engine, threw away the chrome and the hood ornament too,
Sanded it down and had it painted Powder Blue.
Studebakers had advances that made them fun to drive,
With a hill holder brake and overdrive.
But you couldn’t drag race or you would look like a fool.
So I went slow while trying to look cool.
All of this is not so different from the rest of the pack,
Except that my car had unusual knack.
At a certain speed, about 35,
The whole front of the car would come alive.
Imagine Chuck Yeager in all “All The Right Stuff”,
Breaking the sound barrier was really tough.
Shaking and twisting and seeing double,
You knew right away this guy was in trouble.
Yeager only had to do it once to become a hero.
I did it many times every day and came up batting zero.
My body was battered from my head to my pelvis,
It gave new meaning to “All Shook Up” by Elvis.
If I hung on tight and kept my foot on the gas,
At 42 mph the shaking would stop and the car was as smooth as glass.
So for the rest of my life you know what I won’t do,
Drive any car between 35 and 42.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Chuck Cooper - Street Smarts
Ken Linville- Studebaker Dreams
After I finally got rid of my '48 Stude, my dad drives up with a '55 with a big powerful Packard V-8 in it. I'm thinking, at last, I can lay some 2nd gear rubber and whip some ass on the drag strip! Of course, our drag strips were two-lane arterial highways and we didn't care whether we were in the right or left lane as long as we were leaving our competition behind, something I had yet to experience. The trouble was, with all that power under the hood, the designers decided to put a 'soft' clutch in them. So if you popped the clutch in low gear, it just slipped against itself until the friction would finally allow a nice smooth acceleration up to speed but by the time it did, the guy you were racing was half a mile ahead of you. Dick Trisler even beat me in his '52 Olds and Frank Day's '56 Chevy was over the horizon by the time my clutch would allow some forward movement to noticeably take place.
I'll never forget the night a bunch of us were at the 1st Avenue drive-in when Larry Eichler (class of '54) pulled up in a brand new black '55 Chevy coupe. His dad was a GM dealer in Renton so he had a connection the rest of us would have killed for. It was the first time any of us had ever seen one. There was a kid (I can't recall his name ) who drove a sleek little black Austin-Healey and he was presently "Fastest Gun In The West" king of the hill in the rapid acceleration dept. He was there looking for some competition as we were all crowded around the new Chevy looking under the open hood, oohing and awing over this tiny little V-8 engine. It was hardly any bigger than the 6-pack of Oly over in my back seat. Then, the kid with the Healey made his challenge and the race was on! Engines roared as we all headed over to the Blue Ribbon to start the race. The drag started at 1st Ave. and 152nd to head south and whoever got to Five Corners first was the winner. Can you imagine trying this today? There're about 5 stoplights and 800 cars on that route now at any given time. We watched the beginning of the contest from the starting point but it was clear that Eichler's little Chevy was a hundred feet ahead of the Healey practically right out of the gate. So much for that short reign as drag king. Like they say, "There's no such thing as fastest gun in the west". After the excitement died down, we're sitting in my Gutless Wonder breaking open a pack of Marlboros and sucking on a warm 6 pack and wondering how some guys can get so lucky.
Monday, May 01, 2006
California Story - Bahrenburg & Linville
[Email from Bahrenburg to Linville] Ken, check out Newspaper Clippings on the HLHS 56 web site. The non stop bus ride is always to remember. Did we win any games in California? I do remember the stadium and the school where we had our sleeping arrangements. Looking back, a great journey! Alan
[Linville to Bahrenburg] Thanks for steering me to the 'Newspaper Clippings' link on the web site, Alan. I had been there before but didn't quite make it past all those good-looking girls in the running for the Seafair Crown. I should have been relentlessly persuing every one of them, pleading for dates, wearing them down until they consented to go out with me. Hmmm, not me; I was far too cool to be chasing girls. Let them chase me. (I'm still waiting.)
Wasn't that a great trip we took to San Bernardino?!! It brings back some long forgotten memories. I wouldn't swear to any of this but, I think we won our first game and then, depending on whether it was a single elimination or double elimination tournament, we lost our next one or two games. I'll bet Rich Stanley might remember. I think Dick Trisler told me last year he was still in the area but I have had no contact with him since we played ball together. What a pair of hands 'Itchie' had at 2nd base! I'd buy a ticket just to see him handle a hot, ground ball again. He and you pretty much had the right side of the infield sewn up and water-proof! I remember on the all-night trip home, Itch and I were playing a card game called 'war' on the floor in the back of the bus and keeping the whole team awake with our boisterous call-outs of "WAR" whenever we threw down cards of the same value. This game, of course, required the IQ of a slug to play but were having the time of our lives. I think I might remember you telling us to keep it down a little 'cause some of you were trying to sleep. Needless to say, I don't think we complied.
Do you remember how I got my name in the paper on that trip? It wasn't for playing baseball, although I do remember getting a couple of hits. Al Stanley didn't use me on the mound down there because I had cut the tip of my right thumb quite badly on a band saw just a few days before we left on the trip working down at Boeing that summer and it was all wrapped up in a big bandage. I wanted to pitch so badly but he was afraid my thumb would start bleeding but I did get to play shortstop and hit. I had a pretty good batting average that summer as I remember it. I don't remember who did the pitching but it must have been Keppler and Ken Jacobson from Kirkland. Where was Jim Graham that year?
Jim and I were good friends. I was heart-broken upon hearing of his death. Keith Davison told me he committed suicide but I get a different story from Jan Parker, Larry's wife, who was Jim's wife's best friend. They were both from Renton. I'd like to know for sure. Jim and I were trying out for some semi-pro team in West Seattle around that time or maybe the year after that. It's all fuzzy now. So many good friends gone. Dick Binford was probably the best athlete of our whole group. He would surely have made it to the majors if not for his tragic, untimely death. I know I'm jumping around here but I have to ask you if you remember a time one spring when a few of us were out in our Memorial Stadium after school one afternoon and we decided to see who among us was faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Of course, I wasn't in the running. The coaches always told me the only problem with the way I ran was that I stayed in one place too long. Anyway, a few of us had some wagers on the table as to who could leave the others in their trail dust for the 100 yard dash down the cinder track from east to west right in front of the grandstand. There were 3 of you in the race: Bill Rich, Jim Graham, and you. I knew you all needed drag chutes to slow down when you got to full speed but my money was on Bill, another of my dearest friends who left us much too early. Keith says to talk to Mick Stewart about that one. I didn't think anyone could stay with Bill Rich on a cinder track. I figured you for a close second and Gruesome would be bringing up the rear. Do you remember who won? Jimmy crossed the line barely 2 or 3 feet in front of you and Bill and you two were in a dead heat even up. I don't think we were timing it but, holy frijole, you guys covered that 100 yards like it was about 10. How exciting! Even though I lost a buck or two, I wouldn't have missed that impromptu contest for anything.
Anyway (I've gotta wrap this up; we don't have that much time left to be reading this kind of trash), getting back to getting my name in the paper, after our last game down there for the Connie Mack Regional Championship, which, sadly, we lost, Tom Gibbs and I slipped away to have a smoke while the rest of you were watching the next game. As we were strolling along, enjoying our Marlboros, and trying to figure out what we did wrong, and what we should have done to win the game to avoid being eliminated from the tournament, a purple '49 or '50 Ford pulled up beside us and ask us if we'd seen Juan or Pedro or some one like that and Gibbs says to them, "Naw, we're from Seattle." I said to him, "You dumb shit, don't tell 'em that. They'll be all over us like flies on a dead cat!" About that time, someone in the car said, "Let's get 'em!" and 8 Latinos (I think they called them Pachukos then, no doubt very politically incorrect nowadays) jumped out of the car and surrounded us. Tom said, "I'm outta here!" and he took off running faster than I'd ever seen him go. I should have done the same but, stupidly, I was curious as they stood around me sizing me up. Someone said, "Give us your cigarettes." Well, I wasn't about to do that, then, all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain on my right cheek as one of them lashed out from behind me with a 2 foot long rubber hose with a bolt in the end of it. Now, I finally got the clue (what a quick study I was). I turned around quickly and kicked the guy with the hose right in the gonads as hard as I could. As he crumbled to the ground it left a hole like you used to like to see when you were carrying the football. As I bolted through it, I may have been running faster than any of you guys in the aforementioned race. When I got back to the team, Gibbs was leading them back to the scene to rescue me. When our coach saw my face he insisted I get medical attention. At the emergency room they called for a cop, who wanted all the details because it sounded like the M. O. of the gang they's been looking for. Later that night they were picked up put in the slammer for some pretty bad deeds they'd been up to. I made the paper the next day as assaulted by the gang. I never saw Tom Gibbs after that until we ran into each other at Jerry Trisler's funeral a few years ago, (here we go again) and I enjoyed chiding him about that night. He remembered it well. It was good to see him after all those years.
Since I've pecked at this story a few minutes a day for about 3 days, I think I'll send it to Coop, too. He may find some interesting parts of it he might want to edit and post. Looking forward to seeing you, Al. Ken