Chapter 12 A Bed of Roses

“For me, even the food was different. There was Toad Hall for health-food pizza. And one noon, a classmate invited me to an off-campus cafe that served twig tea and yogurt-based salad dressings for the ‘hippie compost’ salads. I was used to institutional food and it upset my stomach. My lunch mate insisted that if I kept eating such things my system would adapt. It eventually did.”

By the next fall my unemployment insurance based on army service was exhausted and I was cutting firewood and delivering it with an old pickup to pay my tuition. I could pay my tuition but I couldn’t make the rent, food and other expenses so I had to drop out of school.

“I’m still amazed that your family didn’t help.”

“Actually, my mother offered but it never came through. I think my father vetoed the offer. But…… sigh.

“Through friends of friends I got a job as a mechanic, that was to become my standby, turning wrenches on log trucks for Martensen Bros. Logging Co. They had a fleet of Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks that were in need of constant attention as the unpaved logging roads tried to shake them apart. Engines were the least of the problems.

None of the several Martensen brothers had ever asked about my military service. They never asked me to explain where I’d been or what I’d been doing. My friend Skip had told one of them I was a vet and maybe that worked in my favor. They knew I’d done what I’d been asked to do, that I knew my way around a heavy truck and that was enough for them. Cleon and his brother, Ingar, had served in WWII, Bob in Korea and now, 15 years later, I was back from Nam with not much to say. They let me be and didn’t push.

In late fall Cleon offered me a job driving as a brother-in-law was laid up from injuries. I had told someone I’d driven hay trucks over the mountains and Cleon figured that if I could keep one to those right side up I could probably handle a log truck. This lasted about two months until the in-law got back on his feet and I was back to working in the shop.

January log hauling was over, and my job turning wrenches on Martensen’s log trucks played out. It was March 1973 and the price of gold had been freed of government control. So the Martensen brothers parked their log trucks in the shop, closed it up and headed north. When they left so did my job and source of money.

Ingar had asked me if I wanted to go north to work on their gold dredge for a share of the money. “like fishing, you know.” They needed a mechanic he said and I’d proved myself over the winter working on their fleet of old trucks. I thought about Cleon’s offer for a couple of days but decided that I’d had enough adventure for a while and I’d take my chances here in the lower 48. I’d been out of the army just over two years.

So now there was no reason to stay in Bellingham; no school, no lasting friendships and no prospects of any. I packed my stuff into my pickup, paid my share of the last month’s rent and headed south.

Days later I ended up at Kepler Feed talking to one-armed Paul after he got home from work at Associated. Paul had lost his left arm in a hunting accident as a boy but that didn’t stop him from driving a 3/4-ton pickup with manual transmission. Nor did it stop him from fixing trucks in Associated’s shop. Paul owned a feed store on the side from his day-job and sold hay hauled over the mountains from the Columbia Basin. His several trucks did the hauling, driven by whomever was available at the time, mostly relatives and the kids of long-time friends. I’d worked for him before my days in the Army, filling his hay barn on a trip-lease basis and servicing my own accounts under his bond with my 54 Mack semi.

First-cutting hay wouldn’t start moving until May, so there was no work driving but he had lots of work getting the trucks ready for the season and he hired me on the spot. He had recently bought 160 acres in the Columbia Basin and a 60 horsepower International tractor to work the land. It needed an engine overhaul. I was in luck. I had to set my sights a lot lower than a college degree but it was skilled work and paid pretty well, about what Martensens had paid me. Better than cutting firewood.

The feed company had a 500 ton hay barn and a truck shop. Now I had access to a good shop so I rebuilt the engine in my old pickup, and then started on the tractor and the other trucks. I spent the summer hauling hay by the semi-load over the mountains. That summer I sold the Bonneville but kept the old pickup. Funky old pickups were hip and I hadn’t completely given up trying to at least appear hip. Long hair, however, did not fit in with the ranching and hay-hauling crowd and as summer wore on into fall I began to think about new pastures.

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