I spoke recently to the men’s group at Bloom Freewill Baptist Church near South Webster. I was expecting 400 to show, but 22 is a nice group.
I know some of them must have thought I had sent my dad. Such are the results of growing old. I only shave about once a week now because it is so startling to look in the mirror. Sometimes I catch myself saying, “Good morning, Dad.”
Dwight and Cindy put on a big bash for my 80th birthday. At the time I still weighed over 200 pounds. I was still jogging two miles three times a week.
I had tried for 30 years unsuccessfully to get under 200.
Today I weigh 154.
As usual, I spoke of the negative events of my life and hard times. “Having a Sam Piatt kind of day,” I call it, a day then nothing seems to go as planned.
There was one Sam Piatt kind of day boo boo that remains all too vivid in my mind even though it happened nearly 40 years ago. Any boo boo that warrants a full-page story with photos in the sports section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press must be rated as a Classic – the boo boo of all boo boos.
My friend and fellow writer Soc Clay and I were in Chattanooga to attend a four-day convention of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
Dan Cook was the long-time outdoor writer for the Times Free Press. Once, on a hike along a mountain trail, I mentioned to Cook about my classic boo boo. It so interested him that he followed me around for the next two days, dragging out more and more details about the event. He snapped a photo of me with my ball cap on backwards.
After I returned home, he called and asked for a photo of me with the leading character in that day that went wrong.
I complied and in a few days he sent me a copy of the edition in which the story ran.
The main character? A 1966 Volkswagen van, called the Campmobile.
It proved to be a fun vehicle. My wife, Bonnie, and our first grandchild, Melanie, five years old at the time, drove it on a trip into the Smokey Mountains and stayed in it in campgrounds a couple of nights.
I drove it to the Norfolk Naval base for a two-week training period with the U.S. Navy. Three reservist friends who accompanied me came in handy as pushers when we got in a spot where the van wouldn’t start and couldn’t be gravity rolled. They came in very handy when we used it as a beach buggy on Virginia Beach. Generally, though, we just left the motor running while parked.
That was the vehicle’s main drawback. It had a six-volt system that at times failed to crank the starter fast enough to start the engine. This seemed to happen only when you couldn’t park it on a hill where it could be rolled and started.
Also, it had no emergency brake and no heater. I drove it on another two-weeks training period with the navy, this one in New Orleans.
“How do you get your vehicles started here?” was the first question I asked the regulars.
“What do you mean?” one asked.
“Why, there’s no hills to park on,” I answered.
CUT TO THE SCENE
Now, to the scene of the Classic and its accounting.
Dad had taken took a short piece of 2×6 board, nailed a shorter piece of 2×4 on top of that, and a shorter piece of 2×4 on top of that.
My dad had invented…. the CHALK BLOCK.
This fit behind the driver’s side door. I could pull it out and reach down to place it under the left front wheel. Then I could put it in neutral and leave the motor running.
This is what I had done on that cold November day on Greenbo Lake. Dad and I were trailering the boat out following a slow day of fishing.
I climbed out to help him steady the boat and crank it up onto the trailer. I stepped up on the tongue of the trailer. My 210 pounds caused the front wheel to come up over the chalk block!
I heard Dad yell, “Jump, George Samuel. Jump!” I jumped into water waist deep.
IT FLOATED A WHILE
Then I stood and watched the van cruise by. It floated for a minute or two, then slowly sank. When it hit bottom in the clear water the parking lights came on.
I walked over the hill to Park Manager Kelly Newton’s house. After he realized I was telling him the truth, we took his pickup and a logging chain to the scene.
Word had traveled fast: “Sam Piatt has put his vehicle in the lake!”
Game Warden Carl Salyers, park rangers, and several other people had gathered to watch me, they thought, dive down and attach the chain.
However, the front bumper was open on either end, and I was able to climb into the boat, which the wind had moved back to the ramp, and loop the chain onto the bumper.
And out she came. Halfway up the ramp, I opened the door to let the water out. A bass about a foot long came swirling out.
I called my nephew, Danny Mercer, in South Shore to please come get us.
After he found out that neither Dad nor I was injured, I had to wait for his laughter to subside before I could tell him exactly where we were.
Oh yes, the old van ran again after that.
But never more the 35 miles an hour.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at email@example.com or (606) 932-3619.