Chapter 15 Water, Whiskey & War

The day Halftrack showed up was one of those times. It was the summer of the drought, 1976, mid morning but still somewhat cool. He was driving a white, 65 Ford convertible with the top down and had his girlfriend, Sandy, in the passenger seat. He pulled in next to my beat up, green pickup. They sat for a moment, looking at the house. Sandy’s eyes were wide and her mouth hung slightly open.

Roland had been hauling water from the artesian well in town with his 50 Chevy 1/2 ton but it now had a cracked frame from the load of 350 gallons of water. A ton and a half was just too much. We were about 10 miles from town and about 2,000 feet up. The last four miles was a steep grade; 20 maybe 25 miles an hour in third gear. The weather had been hot for weeks and had gotten hotter in the last 10 days. The weatherman said it showed no sign of letting up.

After Roland’s frame broke, we skidded the water tank out of the bed of his pickup into the bed of my 1-ton, a 51 Chevy. It was slower but a lot more stout. Both trucks were more than 20-years old and well worn. As Halftrack drove into the yard I was flushing the radiator of the 1-ton with the last of the water before making another trip. It had overheated on every trip up the hill for the last week. The rusty red water, mixed with stop-leak, ran around my feet in the dust making reddish mud. I might have to fill the leaking radiator every other trip but hopefully it wouldn’t over heat. Too much stop leak had partially plugged up the radiator. That didn’t matter so much in the wintertime when hauling firewood except that it also partially plugged up the heater core, making for cold feet. In the summer though, the old Chevy 6 needed all the cooling capacity it could get and I’d run the heater full blast with the windows down and sometimes prop the door open with my foot. But now a new radiator was out of the question; we weren’t getting rich cutting firewood. Between the two of us we could just make the rent and between the vegetable garden, fruit trees and a deer Roland shot we had enough to eat. I had yet to see any money from the trucking job but I was sure it would come.

Mike bounded out of the convertible without opening the door. He liked dramatic entrances. “Wow! Tom. I didn’t expect to find you here. How do you know Roland?”

“How do you know Roland?” I countered.

“I asked first.”

“OK, we both work relief sometimes at the cafe in town; salad prep, mopping floors, washing dishes. Then we figured out that we were both vets. Your turn.”

“We were blowing bridges in I Corps. I’d figure out which ones and when then Roland would blow them.”

“The Ninth was never in I Corp”

“I was never in the Ninth.”

“You were wearing a Ninth Infantry patch on your arm when I met you in Saigon .”

“That was just a patch of convenience. I thought explained all that.”

“And here you are now in the back yard of the Ninth.”

“Everybody’s gotta light somewhere and I haven’t seen Ft. Lewis for nearly two years. How’d you get here from New Jersey?”

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