The Telephone Pole

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

l pushed through the door of the Corvallis TV Cable Company office building. A pretty, petite blond gal stepped up to the counter to welcome me.

“What can we do for you today?” she asked.

“I was here to apply for a job,” I said.

“You must be the guy the employment office sent over,” she said.

“No, I just walked through the door,” I said. “Nobody sent me, but I’m here.”

“Just grab a seat for a minute,” the young blond said. “I’ll see if Ray can speak with you.”

Karen walked to the back of the office and spoke with someone. When she returned, she motioned me to follow her.

“They really need to hire someone right away,” Karen said in a hushed voice. “If you have any experience, Ray will hire you on the spot.”

Karen opened the door to Ray’s office and ushered me into his desk.

“Ray, this is…,” Karen started without realizing I hadn’t given her my name.

I stepped up and extended my hand.

“I’m Dave Larsen,” I said. “I got out of the Army a couple of weeks ago, and I’m here going to school at Oregon State. All my classes are in the morning. I finish up at eleven and have a lot of free time in the afternoon. I just thought I would find a job.”

“So, why did you come to this office?” Ray asked.

“I was in the Army Security Agency,” I said. “I was an electronic equipment repairman. We maintained highly sophisticated radio and radar intercept equipment. I was in Korea and then Germany. I just figured my experience could be useful to you.”

“That sounds impressive,” Ray said. “But what we are looking for right now is someone to help us reconstruct some of the older sections of our cable lines. We were hoping for a full-time person, but if you could start at eleven-thirty that could give us six hours. I would assume you have worked with coaxial cables.”

“Yes, we didn’t do the formal installations, but we worked with a lot of coaxes,” I said.

“We do a lot of climbing. Are you comfortable with that?” Ray asked.

“Sure, the last site I was at in Germany, we had a half dozen towers, all around two-hundred feet tall,” I said.

“I was talking about telephone poles,” Ray said. “Have you done any telephone pole climbing?”

Now I had to be careful to ensure I was honest and present myself in a manner that would get me this job.

“Well, pole climbing was not something we did regularly, but I did some climbing,” I said.

That was an honest statement. I had climbed a pole in Germany. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to relate the story to Ray just yet.

 ***

It was the middle of January in northern Germany. There were six inches of snow on the ground, and the temperatures had been plunging since the sun had disappeared on the western horizon.

I was relaxing in what we called the Swing Club. A small bar that the Army ran in the Bahnhof Hotel in the small village of Schöningen. It was close to closing time, and the group had all had one or more beers during the evening.

“We thought we would find here,” Sergeant Koning said from behind me.

I turned around to see a group of three GIs standing behind Koning. They were all decked out in parkas.

“We are in need of your services this evening,” Koning said. “The telegraph line to the comm center is down, and we need someone to climb the telephone pole where our line joins the German line. All this snow has probably shorted something out.”

“I have had a couple of beers tonight,” I said. “Why don’t you find someone who is sober.”

“You don’t get out of this that easy. Come on, we need your help,” Koning said. “You still have your combat boots, so you should be set. You guys have some climbing gear in that shop of yours, right?”

Once we got to the site, I realized how cold it was. I only had my field jacket, which didn’t offer much insulation.

“Where is this pole?” I asked Koning as I gathered a climbing belt and spikes.

“It’s about three hundred yards beyond the perimeter fence, out in The Elm,” Koning said.

The group of us squeezed through the small back gate in the perimeter fence and started out through the ancient forest, following a worn path through the snow. Once we were away from the perimeter lights, it was dark. 

“Do you believe all the stories about the witches in this forest?” I asked Koning.

He didn’t respond, but a couple of the young guys turned the flashlights into the forest to check that we were alone. We finally came to the pole. 

“You call this a telephone pole?” I asked Koning.

This pole was six inches in diameter and leaned to one side by almost fifteen degrees. I could see from the ground that the snow and ice had the incoming German line sagging a great deal.

“That sag in the line has probably pulled the splice apart,” I said. “The guys who installed this site didn’t do very good splices. We have had to redo a number of them.”

“All you have to do is climb up there and fix it,” Koning said.

“I’m not sure this pole is climbable,” I said. “It is a sad example of a telephone pole.”

“Just get your spikes on and fix the splice,” Koning said again.

I started up the pole, feeling it lean a bit more from my weight. Halfway up, my spikes kicked out, and I started to fall. I leaned back on the belt and aimed spikes at the pole. I caught myself halfway to the ground.

I took a deep breath and finished climbing the pole. At the top, I hooked my left arm over our line to provide a little more stability, not trusting this skinny pole. I whacked the sagging line with my large pillars, knocking snow and ice off the line. The line sprang back to a normal position, and the pole slightly righted itself.

I could see the two wires in the splice were separated.

“What color is the hot wire?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Koning said. “Do you have to know?”

“It would be nice to fix this right the first time so I don’t have to climb this puny pole again,” I said. “I didn’t bring a meter. I guess we will just have to find it the old-fashioned way.”

“How is that done?” Koning asked.

“The hot wire will shock you,” I said as I touched the yellow wire. I could almost feel the jolt in my teeth as it shocked me. “Damn, I hate that.”

I finished the splice and climbed down with no issue. Koning called the comm center to make sure the line was working, and we started back through the snow.

***

“Okay,” Ray said as he stood up and shook my hand. “Can you be here in the morning at eleven-thirty?”

“If there is somewhere here where I can change clothes, I will come right after class,” I said. “It shouldn’t be much past eleven.”

The following morning, I was working with Darrel. I did most of the groundwork for the first couple of hours, but then I started feeling guilty that Darrel was doing all the climbing.

“I’ll get the next pole,” I said as I strapped on climbing spikes.

I climbed the pole with no problem, did the work, and started down. I missed my second step, and my spikes both kicked out, and I started a free fall down the pole.

Just as in Germany, I leaned back on my belt and aimed my spikes at the pole. Halfway down the pole, I caught myself. I continued on down the pole as if nothing had happened. Darrel was right there to help me unhook.

“I have been in this business for almost twenty years,” Darrel said. “I have never seen someone catch himself after a kick out and they fall all the way to the ground. I have seen some terrible injuries. Where did you learn to do that?”

“It was nothing, just a little trick I learned in Germany,” I said.

I was a little more careful with my climbing. The cable company job proved good for most of the two years I was at Oregon State. And then, I worked for the cable company in Coos Bay for the summer before moving to Colorado to attend veterinary school.

Photo take by Sandy Larsen.

A Day at the Track, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen

The late afternoon sky looked very threatening. The clouds were black and bellowing up to great heights. The Company G CQ was having difficulty getting the company to line up. Nobody was looking forward to marching to our night classes in the rain. Just about the time he was on his elevated stand and called the company to attention there was a large ‘Crack’ as a bolt of lightening struck a telephone pole in the middle of the company street. The corporal hollered “Dismissed” after half the company was back in the barracks. We would be a little late for class tonight. I had never seen lightning like this. Massachusetts was a strange land for a farm boy from Oregon. Maybe now, I could understand how Ben Franklin was interested in his electricity experiments. 

As the sky cleared our class started off on the mile long march to school. We were in class for the Army Security Agency at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Tonight was to be the end of the first section of the course of study. Tonight the class would divide, some going into tactical equipment and the rest of us into strategic equipment.  Next week we would move to the secure compound for the remainder of our training on classified equipment.

At the end of the evening the instructor came up to me and gave me a 3 day pass. I had earned this for finishing at the top of the class in the first section. This was the weekend before payday, I tried to get it changed to the following weekend when I would have more money in my pocket but no deal, this is how the program is set up.

So Friday morning I took my pass and walked to the bus depot in Ayer. It was nearly 3 miles but I was in great shape. My funds were very limited. I purchased a round trip bus ticket so I would at least be able to get home. The Friday morning bus was mostly empty, very different from the chaos of the Saturday morning bus rides. I sat in the back and stretched my legs out. I would have to walk again when I got to Boston. I planned to stay at the YMCA; you could get a room for $5.00.

The weather in Boston was great. Still enough of Spring remained that there were blossoms on many of the trees in the commons. The streets were not busy in the mid morning so my walk was an enjoyable one. My mood changed when I got to the YMCA. 

“There are no rooms available tonight. I can reserve you a room for tomorrow night but for tonight I can only offer you a cot on the gym floor. The cot comes with use of the gym shower. It will be a full gym tonight. We generally have a couple hundred sailors sleeping here on Friday night. The fee is $1.50 for the cot and $5.00 for the room,” the clerk said in a manner suggesting that he repeated the speech many times during the day.

I paid the $6.50 and looked at my wallet. It was a good thing that I had eaten a large breakfast at the mess hall this morning because I could skip lunch today. Dinner tonight and Saturday night, maybe a beer or two and a couple other meals, it was looking pretty thin. I would probably be riding the subway or spending time in the USO for the only entertainment I could afford.

My Friday was just about that, I purchased a handful of subway tokens and then walked as far as I could down the Commons. The USO was not far from the Commons. Friday noon and I was about the only one there. There were a few donuts and some crackers available. I ate a couple of donuts and filled a pocket with the crackers and headed for the elevated subway stop.

There were two sailors waiting for the subway. They were in the same boat I was in. Payday came the first of the month, and for an E-3 that meant $110.00. By the last weekend, there was generally not much available. We boarded the subway together. These guys were typical sailors, thinking they had the best deal the military had to offer.

“What do you guys do?” I asked, as the subway pulled out heading toward Harvard. 

“We are on our last liberty before going to the Bahamas for a shake down cruise. Once there, the Captain says we get liberty every night for two weeks,” the talkative one answered.

“Shake down cruise? That sounds like you are getting ready for a big trip or something,” I said.

“Yes, we are on an ice breaker. We are heading for the Arctic Ocean and will be there for 6 months,” the sailor stated.

“By the end of 6 months, 2 weeks of liberty will be a distant memory,” I said.

They were a little quiet after that and exited on the next stop. I rode the subway to the end of the line, got off and caught the first car heading back to Boston. I had a few dollars to spend on a hamburger and maybe a beer in the Combat Zone. Won’t be much of Friday night on my budget.

The Combat Zone seemed more hype than anything, just a bunch of drunken sailors getting ripped off. It didn’t occur to me that this was going to be the same bunch that I would be sharing the gym floor with in a couple of short hours. I entered a bar and stood up to the bar. The barmaid was prompt, checked my ID and wanted to know what I wanted.  

“How much for a beer?” I asked.

“You have to buy two,” she said. “Two beers cost $6.00.”

That was too rich for my wallet. I went across the street and had a cheap hamburger for dinner. From the restaurant window I could do a little people watching. Sort of felt sorry for the sailors.

I walked back to the YMCA. It was across the street from the Boston Gardens. I had not noticed that on my first trip there. I was not impressed, it did not look like it did in all the pictures. It was sort of dark and dingy. 

There were cots set up covering most of the gym floor. I picked up my blanket, pillow and sheets from the janitor manning the storeroom.

He was correct on every count. I picked a cot in the middle of the room and I could hear guys coming in all night long. The good thing was I was one of the first in the shower. I got my change of clothes from my bag and decided to leave the bag in the locker until I could get into my room. I made a short walk to a little restaurant I had noticed last night. It would cost a couple bucks more than the YMCA breakfast but I had just about had enough of the sailors.

My Saturday was not much different from Friday. I rode the subway, walked the Commons and dropped by the USO. The USO had some sandwiches on Saturday and it was packed with sailors. I headed back to the YMCA in the afternoon and checked into my room. Not much, but private and quiet. I took a little nap. I would have to find a place for dinner and beer when I woke up.

On Sunday morning I ate breakfast at the same little restaurant and bought a Sunday newspaper to read. Maybe I could figure out something to do. After breakfast I sat on a park bench with a bunch of old men.  One guy was watching me pretty close. As I read the paper an ad jumped out at me. Suffolk Downs was racing horses today. That was great, I thought, as I counted my assets.

I had my bus ticket home, two subway tokens and $2.50 cents. Not much to go to the races on, but that is what I am going to do. As I stood up, the old man raised a hand to me.

“If you are done with that paper, can I have it?’ he asked.

I tossed him the paper and headed for the subway. I knew nothing about horse racing but I knew animals and I would think I could pick a good horse once in a while.

The subway on the way to the track was packed. I stood the whole way. The subway car was filled a quite a group of characters, but at least, not a single sailor among them. When we came to the stop at the track the whole group poured out of the car like a small army with a mission. I followed the group to the gate. Admission was 50 cents, I had not figured that into my budget. Now I was down to  $2.00 in my pocket, one subway token and a bus ticket home.  This might be a short adventure.

I scoped everything out, they were just bringing the horses into the paddock for the first race. I went down and watched them close, picked my horse and headed to the $2.00 show window.  There was my last $2.00 gone. I went out and watched the race. My horse won. I went to the window and collected $5.40. That was easy, I thought.

The next 4 races were the same.  I watched the horses in the paddock, picked my horse and bet $2.00 for him to show. In each race my horse won. By now I was not rich but I had nearly $30.00 in my pocket. I went and bought a hot dog and a beer and headed over to the paddock for the 6th race. Confident now that I was a master at picking winning horses, it was time to change strategy a little. 

In the paddock was the best horse I had seen today.  A big black horse with long legs, he stood a good 2 hands above the other horses. Without any hesitation I went to the $10.00 window and bet him to win.  I was going be rich after this race.

This horse took off and my horse left the field in his dust. On the back stretch he was probably leading by 20 lengths. I was excited, counting my money now. He came around the last corner and his legs began to flail. He acted like he was having trouble staying on his feet. His lead evaporated as first one horse and then another passed him like he was standing still. Finally the race was over. He did get across the finish line, dead last, so much for my new strategy.

For the remaining 5 races that day, I returned to my $2.00 bet to show. Each of the next 5 horses I picked won. This day at the races, I picked 10 out of 11 winners. I left the track with $78.00, almost a small fortune for a GI in training. I was very content on the bus ride back to Ayer. It was dark when I arrived. Unlike Friday, there was a large group of guys getting off the bus and heading for the base. There was even a bus to waiting to take us to the base.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash.

Hallowed Ground, Prefaced, From the Archives

Preface

  I have posted this story before on this blog, but it is the most fitting story I have for a Memorial Day post. It speaks to the tremendous sacrifice suffered from a small group of farm families living along the banks of Catching Creek, a small tributary to the Coquille River.

I grew up in Oregon’s Coquille River Valley in the 1940s and 1950s. After a stretch in the US Army from 1965 to 1969, I returned to school and graduated from Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1975. I practiced in the foothills of the Oregon Cascade Mountains for 40 years.

The loss of my close childhood friend, Don Miller, was the driving force for my return to school following my tour in the US Army.

             Dave Larsen

Hallowed Ground

D. E. Larsen, DVM

  We hurried across the cow bridge at the upper end of Uncle Dutch’s farm. We were in a hurry because we planned to hunt up to the Bartlett farm this afternoon. This would require us to cross Catching Creek one more time, and that crossing would have no bridge. Don Miller and I were in the fall of our 8th-grade year. Living on neighboring farms out of Myrtle Point, we hunted ducks and anything else along the creek as often as we could.

  Don was a little smaller than I, but we were both stout young men and growing as we hurried along. I had on pair of hand-me-down hip boots. Don was in tennis shoes. That meant that I would have to carry Don across the creek piggyback. 

 As we rushed across the field toward Bartlett’s lower ground, a ruffed grouse sprang from the creek bank. We generally collected several wood ducks on these evening hunts. Occasionally, we would run into a flock of mallards. If we were lucky, a China rooster would cross our path. But this grouse was an unexpected surprise, and he was quickly dispatched.

  We had been hunting the creek for a couple of seasons now, and we were crack shots with our shotguns. We knew every riffle in the stream, and we knew where we could expect ducks. Most of the time, we didn’t have enough time to get this far up the creek. We would have to hurry to get back to our fields to shot ducks as they came back down the creek heading to roost in the swamp near town.

  When we came to the creek crossing, I pulled my boots up, and Don jumped on my back. With Don holding both shotguns, we crossed the creek with no problems. We had worried about this ford when we were planning to hunt higher in the creek. We hunted along the creek in Bartlett’s lower field, jumping a group of mallards. Don and I both added a large mallard drake to our bag. This was a great addition to our typical hunt.

  As we headed back down the creek, I stumbled while carrying Don across the ford. We came close to ending up in the water. I did recover my balance and ran the last few steps to the far bank. We sat and rested and laughed at the near disaster. We knew it would have made the trip down the creek a chilly walk.

  We had about a mile to go. We didn’t need to follow the creek going down. We had jumped all the ducks on the way up the creek. We just wanted to get to our field at the base of the Cowhorn (our field was named for its shape, the Cowhorn on our side of the creek, and Horseshoe Bend on Uncle Dutch’s side). The ducks flying down the creek in the evening would cross this field every evening. We seldom hit a duck here. They were high and flying fast, but it gave us a lot of fun shooting, and just maybe we would get one.

  As we reached the field, we had to follow the creek a short distance to reach our shooting area. We both stopped at the same time. There were riffles, many of them, in a quiet area of the creek. This had to mean a whole flock of ducks. We spread apart, crouched a little, and snuck along the creek bank. Expecting to see the sky fill with ducks, we burst into an open grassy area of the bank, guns at the ready.

  There were no ducks. A cow was floundering in the water. She seemed unable to recover her footing and was struggling to keep her head above water. I laid my shotgun and game bag down, pulled up my boots, and entered the creek to hold her head.

  “Don, run over to Lundy’s and call Dad,” I shouted to Don.

  He dropped his gear and took off like a shot. 

  The cow settled down a little with me holding her head. It was going to be 20 or maybe 30 minutes before anybody got here. I was glad I had my hip boots.

  The first to arrive was Vern Lundy and Don. They drove in Vern’s old pickup. Dad was on his way with the tractor, an old Ferguson, a small but function tractor. Next to arrive was Uncle Dutch and Grandpa. They stopped and tended the gate while Dad drove the tractor through the gate and up to the creek bank.

  Dad came into the water with me, standing on the other side of the cows head. He had a large cotton tow-rope.

  “We are going to tie this around her neck and pull her out with the tractor,” he said.

 “Won’t that break her neck?” I asked.

  “Not if we do it right, now you watch. We are going to tie a bowline with the knot placed under her chin. The rope will be tight against the back of her head,” he said as demonstrated the knot and the placement of the rope. 

  When he was done, he looked at me and said, “Savvy?”

  “Savvy!” I replied

  “Now you do it,” he said as he undid his knot and handed me the rope.

  With little problem, I wrapped the rope and around her neck, pulled it tight against the back of her head and ears, and tied a bowline that fit under her chin.

  “Good,” Dad said, “Now, hold her head until I start pulling her, then you move out of the way, so you are not in the bite of the rope in case it breaks or something.”

  With the rope secured to the tractor, Dad started pulling the cow, I moved away, and the tractor pulled the cow up the grassy bank and up to a level spot in the field. The men were quick to untie her and help position her half sitting up. I waded to shore, still thankful that I was dry. 

  “The vet is on his way, he should be here before too long,” Grandpa said.

  “I have to get heading for home, or it will be dark by the time I get there,” Don said as he picked up his shotgun and ducks.

  I watched as Don started across the Cowhorn, headed for Felcher Lane, that would lead him to his house. We both knew that we hunted and fished on hallowed ground. Less than 20 years before, this same ground was covered by Phil Bartlett, who was lost when he crashed his Navy fighter plane into a mountain on a night mission in the Pacific. Stan Felsher also covered this same ground, he died in the Batan Death March. Bayoneted by a Japanese soldier while on a detail to gather firewood. Bob Lundy was decorated for his service on a flight crew in the Pacific, and my Uncle Ernie was a bomber pilot. I had several cousins who fought in Korea, a couple of them in the thick of things. 

  What we did not know was that Don had but 7 years left to live. He would be killed by a 50 caliber round in a friendly fire misadventure in Vietnam. I received that news in a letter from Mom while I was stationed in Korea. This was, indeed, hallowed ground. A tremendous sacrifice of young men from such a small area of close-knit farm families.

  Dr. Haug, the veterinarian, arrived shortly. He hurried through a quick exam and started an IV, I guessed he probably had dinner waiting. When Dad asked him what he thought about the cow being in the creek, he was pretty brief. “The creek just got in her way as she was going down, this cow has milk fever,” he said.

  Dr. Haug finished the second bottle and put his stuff away. Slapping the cow on her back, she was quick to right herself and get to her feet. Everybody was relieved.

  “It probably would be a good idea to put her in the barn tonight, that will help her warm-up. It is unlikely that she will go down again, but if she does, there won’t be any duck hunters to find her tonight,” Dr. Haug said, glancing at me with a smile.

  Dad and Uncle Dutch started the cow toward the barn, I knew I would be expected to finish the job. I picked up my shotgun and game bag, and as I passed Dr. Haug, I asked, “Which do you want, the mallard drake or the ruffed grouse.”

  He was quick to take the grouse, smiled, and said, “Thanks,” as he got into his truck and headed to the gate. I hurried to catch up to the cow.

Epilogue:

Stan Felsher:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56788026/stanley-r_-felsher/photo

Phil Bartlett:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/115949598/phillip-f-bartlett

Don Miller:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/103386505/donald-gene-miller

http://thewall-usa.com/info.asp?recid=35282

%d bloggers like this: