If you are enjoying these stories, you'll love my book, Sharing Personal Stories.
Out of Gas on the
Evergreen Point Bridge
~ Dave Waldo
I glanced down at the gas gage. Oh No! It told me that I was out of gas. And I had just driven onto the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge heading across Lake Washington to the University of Washington from Bellevue.
This experience happened sometime in the mid-1970s. At that time I worked for the University and commuted from my home in Bellevue.
I had tempted fate many times before. In a way it was like playing chicken with the gas tank. And then it happened. The gas tank won! My car actually was out of gas in heavy commute traffic with no place to get off. I was stranded in the middle of a bridge that was more than a mile long.
But, to my astonishment and relief a Washington State Highway Patrolman just happened to be right behind me. He pushed my car across the bridge to a place where I could steer it off the road. Then he put a gallon of gas in my car, made sure I could start it, and gave me an envelope to send into Olympia with whatever I thought this gallon of gas was worth to me. And he left me with these final words, “You know Mr. Waldo it doesn’t cost anymore to keep the top half of your gas tank full.”
As I recall I sent a pretty large amount into Olympia to cover the gas. It was worth it. I have never run out of gas since, and I no longer play chicken with the gas tank.
FIRE IN MEXICO
~ Dave Waldo
A number of years ago, my son Andy who was a senior in high school asked me to go to Mexico with him. After thinking it over, I said "OK, I'll do it." I signed up to be one of 6 adults accompanying 24 high school students on a grand adventure. Andy was a member of a youth group at our church. Each summer the church sent a team of high school students on a trip to provide services to people in need. That year, they had a project arranged at an orphanage outside the town of Encinada, Mexico.
A major part of the project was building a barbed wire fence along one side of the 50 acre property to keep the cattle and other animals from straying into the orphanage. It was heavy, hot work, clearing ground, digging post holes, setting posts, stretching and nailing barbed wire to the posts. I was proud of the boys and girls who worked so hard on the fence project. We were making great progress.
On the third day as I remember, it was hot over 100 degrees. A few of us were sitting around relaxing and talking after lunch. I glanced out at the field and hill side. Smoke was rising. Fire! Rushing up the hill with shovels, hoes, and wet towels, we were beating the flames, and we almost put out the fire, until the wind whipped up. All of a sudden the fire got extremely hot and spread rapidly. It was now out of our control advancing down the hill quickly. I remember running down the hill as the fire raced after us.
We fought the fire all afternoon. At one point I felt really week and hot, probably too much smoke and heat. I stumbled over to one of the two houses next to the orphanage. A nice lady gave me a drink of water from a large ceramic container. She told me that each day they carried water to their homes from the orphanage well. She also told me that they would not be vacating their homes. The men of these families were out battling the fire. They were not going to give up. They were going to save the homes.
When I got back to the orphanage, I noticed that our tents and stuff were all gone, and the ground where we had pitched our camp was scorched. The girls and a couple of advisors had gathered up our camp gear and put the stuff in one of the vehicles and drove it out to the road and safety. Earlier, they had also helped evacuate the children.
The boys and some of the advisors along with a number of local men fought the fire for hours keeping it away from the orphanage. But now it was advancing down the steep hill on the back side. It seemed that all was lost, we were just standing on the road watching helplessly as the fire advanced down the hillside It was about to reach the orphanage. All seemed lost. Our efforts were to no avail. We felt defeated. Just then we heard the sound of large trucks coming down the road. The Encinada fire department arrived with a water truck and pumper truck. They drove into the orphanage property and set up near the back fence close to the fire. The fire was on one side of the fence and the buildings of the orphanage on the other. They sprayed the fire with water until it was completely out. What a relief! The Encinada fire department saved the day.
Everybody was hot and tired, so we all went to the beach, celebrated, and had a great time cooling off. The next day, we took everybody into town, and all had shark tacos which, by the way, were delicious. We made the day for a paper boy too when we bought all his newspapers and sent him out to get more. The newspaper had a story on the front page about how we helped save the orphanage and two homes. A picture of one of our boys fighting the fire also graced the front page. After that, the whole community seemed to love us for what we had done for them. And, we all came back to Bellevue enriched by the experience and full of stories to tell.
A Truck Named Satan
~ Dave Waldo
When my boys were in high school our neighbor decided to sell his big old ugly truck. It was a 1960s something GMC pickup truck. My boys thought it would be great fun to drive around in. It had a powerful Pontiac V8 engine some previous owner had installed and a transmission from some other vehicle. I have to admit that I got kind of excited about the prospect of seeing my guys driving around town in that monster. So, I had our mechanic go over it thoroughly and give me a report on what he thought should be fixed. And yes, there were quite a lot of repairs I would have to pay for to get it in good working order. But since the asking price was cheap, I swallowed hard, and bought the truck.
I was correct; my boys loved that big old truck. It was unique and quite popular with their friends. I’m not exactly sure why, but whenever I dove it I felt more powerful myself. Maybe that was its secret and the reason for its popularity. My older son, Andy, started calling it Satan. The name caught on and enhanced its reputation even more.
Besides fun to drive, Satan was also useful. I used it occasionally to carry large items that I didn’t want to try cramming into our car, and Josh, my younger son, got a lucrative job hauling trash for the City of Medina.
Satan gave us good service for about 4 or 5 years. By then Andy was in college at Washington State University in Eastern Washington and Josh was a senior at Bellevue High School. Later, Andy drove Satan over to college sometime in his sophomore or junior year. By then Satan had seen his better years, he was on his last legs (or tires). Finally after spending a lot of effort to keep Satan going, Andy gave him away to a friend who had some mechanical skills and wanted to work on poor old Satan.
Now, if you ever find yourself driving in Eastern Washington near Pullman or Colfax and you see a big old ugly truck coming your way, smile and give a salute to a special truck named Satan, and know that he gave one family a lot of pleasure.
Child’s Play with Cousin Ross
~Dave Waldo from his book; Sharing Personal Stories
Everyone called it the Ranch. Actually it was the family farm located north of Spokane where my grandmother (Gram) lived, and where my mother and her brothers and sisters grew up. It was our family’s gathering place.
I was probably 3 years old and my cousin Ross was a year older. We were having fun playing like we were gas station men busy filling my dad’s car with gas. Actually we were dumping sand and dirt into the gas tank. Later, we all got into the car. Dad drove out the driveway to the road, turned and began driving down the hill. Just then I heard Dad say “That’s funny, there’s something wrong with the car.” I piped up from the back seat and said “Well, we filled up the gas tank this morning.” Oops! I can’t remember what happened after that, but that became a family story told over and over.
Ross and I tended to get into trouble together when we were little and at the Ranch. I think we must have been playing something like daddy or mommy and little baby. All I can remember is being in the woodshed next to the big house and spoon feeding Ross a pretty greenish blue powder. Ross would say “yum, good,” and smack his lips. The next thing I remember was a lot of upset and consternation from the adults and Ross being rushed into the house. I learned later that I had been feeding Ross bird poison. The children were not allowed into the house while all this was going on. So, all we could do was peek in the windows and watch wide-eyed as Ross was fed raw eggs to make him vomit. Yuk! Poor Ross, he took the brunt of that little bit of fun.
A few years later, when I was maybe 7 and Ross was 8, we were playing behind the barn. Ross had some matches, and we set a little fire, just a little one, not too big. Then it started spreading, and “Oh my gosh!” It got out of hand. I ran to the house and told the adults who ran to the barn to put out the fire. When it was all over, my mother cut a willow branch off the tree. She was going to give me a good spanking. But, Gram saved the day for me. She said, “Don’t spank Dave, he came and told us about the fire, spank Ross, he ran and hid.” So, once again, Ross took the brunt. I’ll always be grateful that Ross never held those experiences against me.
~ Dave Waldo
Living in Los Angeles was always an adventure. I remember one night being awakened from a deep sleep by the screeching of what sounded like an old bomber from a World War II movie falling from the sky. It sounded like it was about ready to crash into the apartment building where we were living. I was about to spread my body over my wife to shield her from the crash that I knew was coming. The screeching got louder and louder, and then . . . BOOM! The next thing I heard was a woman’s voice yelling “NO, CHARLIE!” and the sound of a car engine and a CRASH and more engine sounds and another CRASH.
I rushed outside to see what was happening. It seems that Charlie was the driver of a very damaged car. He had hit 2 or 3 cars up the street, which was what produced the loud screeching sounds. The BOOM was when he crashed into a heavy earth mover that was parked in the lot next door to our apartment building. His passenger, a woman, next yelled “NO, CHARLIE!” just before he shifted his car into reverse and gunned it, crashing into a car parked across the street. He then took off again and crashed into one more car. That ended Charlie’s drive home from a night of drinking. I’m sure Charlie had to pay dearly for quite a night. And, I’ll always remember that screeching sound, the boom, and “NO, CHARLIE!”
~ Dave Waldo
Back when I was young and single and home from college, I went to a dance at the Trentwood Grange in the Spokane Valley. As I remember that evening, we danced to the music of Chet Curtis and his Western Troubadours. I met a cute young woman, and we had a lot of fun dancing together. At the end of the evening I asked her out for a date. I told her, “You can always remember my name, just think about the Magoo cartoons – you know – his goofy nephew Waldo.” For those who don’t know, Magoo was a popular cartoon character in the 1950’s. In my very best imitation of Magoo, I went, “Eh, eh, eh Waldo.” Well, she thought that was pretty funny.
Later when I went to pick her up for our date, she introduced me to her parents as - - - “DAVE MAGOO"
~ Dave Waldo
During the summers while I was going to the University of Washington, I worked in a large warehouse for Pacific Fruit and Produce located in Spokane. I worked nights from 9 pm until 5:30 in the morning plus whatever overtime was required.
Our crew was responsible for bringing out the produce and loading it on the trucks, so the drivers could take the orders off the trucks in sequence for each of the various stores along their routes.
My major responsibility each night was to unload watermelons from box cars and load them on what we called ginnys. These were large wagons with sides that we could pull, push, and steer by hand. I would count and weigh the melons for each order, and then the melons would be put on the trucks to go out to the stores. Most nights I would be out in a box car loading up ginnys. Many nights one of the other guys would be out there helping me.
Some nights we got in a bunch of melons that cracked easily. Those were the best melons. They were crisp and delicious. When one cracked, I liked to reach in and grab the heart of the melon and eat it right there in the box car. My mouth is watering now just thinking about it. I took home lots of cracked melons that otherwise would have gone to waste. Sometimes we would give a cracked melon to some of the hobos and bums that were around. It made me feel good to watch them enjoying their treat.
Once in a while we received a box car with lots of spoiled melons. During the early season we would get melons in from places like Texas, and maybe a box car might have sat too long in the hot sun on some side rail. I could tell when we had a box car load like that when I reached for a melon and my finger went right into it. I would pull back with slime all over my hand. It was disgusting! I remember picking up a melon gingerly and hearing the water slosh around inside, and then when I pressed on it with my fingers, it would go to pieces in a mess. One night I was working a box car with another guy, and we had just given a cracked melon to one of the hobos who came by. Another hobo appeared out of the dark and demanded obnoxiously that we give him a melon too. I picked out a rotten melon that was just barely holding together and said here, catch, and I tossed it to him. When he caught it, it exploded all over him. Later, when I thought about what I had done, I kind of felt bad, but it was funny at the time. I didn’t feel too bad, because he was so obnoxious.
One thing about working nights pitching watermelons, there was never a dull moment. Occasionally I would have to go down in the dark and use the rail jack to move one of the box cars forward to get it into position., I was a little nervous about doing that because I didn’t know who was down there in the dark. One night I jumped down from the dock with my rail jack. As I’m walking beside the box car in the dark, I stepped on something. It felt like a body. And then I heard a groan. A guy was sleeping in the dark next to the box car. I went ahead, moved the box card into position, and made sure I didn’t step on him on the way back. That’s just the way it was down on the tracks in the dark.
A guy came out of the dark one night and asked if he could stay close to us in the light for awhile. He said someone was out there with a knife, and he was scared. So, we let him hang around until it got light. He was very appreciative that we let him stay safe and also for the cracked melon he feasted on.
Being the Watermelon Man was a good job for me. It paid well, which helped me to go through college. I gained a lot of confidence working those 3 summers for Pacific Fruit & Produce. And, I was proud to be known as the watermelon man. Several years later when I was living in Los Angeles, I went to hear an entertainer named Mongo Santa Maria and his marimba band. I fell in love with his theme song, “Watermelon Man.” I loved it so much that I went right out and purchased his record and played it over and over again. I still love hearing the sounds of Mongo Santa Maria and “Watermelon Man.” It’s my song.
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DAVE WALDO, AUTHOR
SHARING PERSONAL STORIES