A Load of Firewood, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

John slid through the front door and leaned on the front counter. He waited for the reception room to clear and then leaned over to talk with Sandy.

“I have been out of work for 3 months now,” John said. “I hate leaving my bill unpaid, but with the new baby, we just haven’t had any spare money.”

“I know things have been tough for a lot of people,” Sandy said. “If you could pay anything, we could keep your account current and not turn it over to the collection people.”

“Do you guys have any need for firewood?” John asked. “I  just got access to a downed maple tree that I am going to be cutting up. It’ll make good firewood.”

“That would be great, John,” Sandy said. “We can always use some firewood, and Doctor never has the time to get it himself.”

“I could cut you a pickup load, split and stack it at your house, all for a hundred dollars on my bill,” John said, hoping Sandy would not think the price was too high.

“If it is a large load, I will give you full credit on your bill,” Sandy said. “That will be a hundred and thirty dollars.”

“Great, I can do it tomorrow,” John said. “I know where you live, just tell me where to stack it, and I will get it done.”

“We are in the process of building a woodshed up by the pump house,” Sandy said. “But for now, you can stack it under the eves on the backside of the house.”


It was about two in the afternoon when John popped through the front door. His heavy wool shirt was wet from the light rain and covered with sawdust and moss.

“I have your wood all split and stacked under the eves of your house,” John said. “That little black dog of yours was none too happy about it either.”

“That’s good John, I can credit your account and give you a zero balance,” Sandy said.

“Well, there is just one little problem that I need to talk to you about,” John said. “I broke a tooth when I was cutting the wood.” John lifted his lip with a dirty finger so Sandy could see the broken tooth.

“Ouch, that doesn’t look good,” Sandy said.

“My problem is the dentist won’t look at me without a payment,” John said. “I was hoping I could sell you the wood instead of putting it on my account. I could probably get by giving him a hundred dollars.”

“I guess we can carry your bill a little longer,” Sandy said. “I will give you what we agreed on when we made the deal. I will put five dollars on your account and give you a hundred and twenty-five dollars. That will keep your account from being turned over for collection, and it will give you a few extra dollars to spend on the new baby.”


It was over a month later when John came through the door again. A little more confident that he could get a deal out of Sandy, he quickly started a conversation.

“I have a deal on some red cedar,” John said. “It is a big old windfall, excellent stuff. It makes great kindling.”

“You know how the last deal turned out,” Sandy said. “I still hear about that deal from the Doctor.”

“I’ll be more careful this time, and the ground is much better,” John said. “I can drive right to this log.”

“We have our woodshed completed. You could stack it in the woodshed,” Sandy said.

“Yes, like last time, cut, split, and stacked,” John said. “But this is pretty valuable stuff. If I own a hundred and a quarter, that will be just over a half of a pickup load. That will be enough kindling to last you for several years.”

“When you’re done, you drop by the office, and I will give you a receipt of some kind,” Sandy said. “I don’t think I want to pay taxes on firewood for an old bill.”

“We will drop by, and we don’t need a receipt. Doc always says he prefers to do business with a handshake. And my Sandi wants to show you the baby since you gave us some extra money the last time.”


It was late in the afternoon when John and Sandi came by the office. Unlike the day when John delivered the maple, today, he was showered and shaved. Sandi had their baby in her arms. The little girl was approaching 3 months of age.

“I wanted to make sure you had a chance to meet our Josie before she is all grown up,” Sandi said as she lifted the baby up to the counter. “I can’t thank you guys enough for the help you have been.”

Of course, Sandy went around to the reception area to hold Josie. All mothers are the same, and they remember how it was when their baby was shown off.

“We were more than happy to be able to help,” Sandy said. “You two have been good clients, and with the spotted owl business going on around here, times are hard for a lot of folks.”

“Yes, we know that, but you paid for the wood without any hesitation,” Sandi said. “That is what was special. Do you think Doctor would like to peek at Josie?”

“I’ll ask if he has a minute,” Sandy said. “But you know men, one baby is the same as another.”

Sandy, of course, didn’t ask if I had a minute. She instructed me to step out front and say something nice about the baby. 

I stepped out and looked from behind the counter.

“Looks like you did good, John,” I said as I reached across the counter and shook John’s hand. “And you must have had a part in the process also, Sandi.”

“I have a bunch of red cedar stacked in the corner of that new woodshed of yours,” John said. “It will be several years before you will need any new kindling wood. This is really choice stuff.”

“Thanks a lot, John,” I said. “I think Sandy has zeroed out your account. I hope things pick up around here pretty soon for everybody.”

“This red cedar windfall that I am cutting on now will make a big difference for us,” John said. “It will be a good supplement to unemployment probably for a couple of months. Maybe by then, I can come up with another job.”

“John, if you need a reference, we are just a phone call away.”

Photo by Austin Wehrwein on Unsplash

Chicken Wars

D. E. Larsen, DVM

My brothers and I had spent the entire morning cleaning out the old chicken coop. It was one of the most unpleasant jobs on the farm. The dust from the manure and debris made breathing difficult. We would work a bit and then step outside to breathe for a few minutes.

We had just finished when Dad arrived from town with a crate on the back of the truck. He had about 30 chicks in the crate. These were a little older than the just hatched size but still small, maybe a week old. When the crate was opened in the coop they scattered, happy to have some open space.

We spent the next hour setting up the water tank and the feed rack. Dad put some medicine in the water. We had a mash in the feed rack, and we planned to feed some scratch on the floor every morning. This was going to be our summer job. I enjoyed filling the feeder with mash and throwing the scratch out for the chicks to scramble after. They would gather all the scratch before they would return to mash. They seemed to grow as you watched them.

It wasn’t long, and they had some feathers. They were all doing well, but there were a couple that the others picked on, pecking their tail stump raw. We had to doctor those wounds every morning and finally had to separate the chicks who were being picked on, sort of like kids at school, I guessed. There was always an odd one that didn’t get along.

The summer went by rapidly, and the day came to slaughter the chickens. If I thought the daily chores were a pain, this day was going to be fun but a lot of work. The first job for my older brother Gary and I was to chop off the heads of the chickens. We had to work relatively fast because there was an assembly line of sorts set up and the speed of the chopping dictated the pace of the assembly line.

We went into the coop and started capturing chickens and placing them in a crate. Then we took the crate to the woodshed. My job was to pull a chicken out of the box and hold its head and neck down on the chopping block. Gary swung the ax. Then I would release the headless chicken with a bit of toss into the air. It would fly around a moment, then run around the woodshed, blood spurting. It didn’t take long for Gary and me to be covered with blood, and the woodshed looked like the scene of a horrible crime. The only thing that bothered me was that the head would blink for a short time. I wondered what it was thinking.

We would gather the birds after they were quiet and well-bled out. Then take them out to the scalding tub, a large kettle of boiling water set over a fire in the middle of the yard. After a short dip in the tub, we could pluck the feathers.

Then Mom and Aunt Lila would take them into the house, singe the fine feathers and pull the large quills if any remained. After the singeing, they would gut the bird, saving the heart, liver, and gizzards. Then rinse them thoroughly, and wrap them for the freezer. While that was going on, Gary and I were starting on the next crate of chickens in the woodshed.

The battles started when the chickens were thawed and cut up for dinner. Mostly fried, one chicken fed the family, Dad, Mom, Linda, Larry, Gary, and myself.

Mom cut up the bird into the breast, two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings, neck, and the back was divided into two pieces. The breast was divided to provide three parts. The wishbone was cut out first, then split the breast into two pieces.

At the table, the meat was distributed. Dad and Larry got a large piece of breast, and Gary got the wishbone. Mom and Linda got a thigh and maybe another piece like a drumstick or wing. I was left with a drumstick and maybe a wing. Once in a while, I would get the neck and a piece of the back. This was fine until I was old enough to think that I also deserved a part of the breast. 

Mom attempted to defuse the problem.

“David, you can have my thigh. I like the wings and backs, and the backs really have a lot of meat, and the wings are white meat also,” she said.

“The thigh is dark meat, and I like white meat. I don’t see why I can’t have some breast meat,” I replied.

“The chicken can only be cut into so many pieces,” she pointed out.

It was decided that the wishbone would be up for grabs for whoever got to the table first. You can imagine how that went. Mom solved the problem finally by cutting the wings off with a chunk of breast meat attached.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels.

Trip to Münster 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I sat my stuff on Smouse’s desk and watched as Moyer had guys scurrying about gathering every possible piece of test equipment that I may need. They had a car delivered from the motor pool, and all this stuff was packed out and loaded into the car.

Since I didn’t have a European driver’s license yet, I would need a driver.

Moyer looked around and finally asked Smouse who they could spare.

Smouse looked at the shop schedule carefully. “Looks like the best option will be Geibb.”

So Geibb was my driver. If anybody in the Army ever looked like Zero in Beatle Baily, it was Geibb. How he ever got into the shop was beyond me. Geibb was tall and thin, walked slightly stooped over, and his glasses were like the bottom of coke bottles. When he talked, he squinted his eyes and wrinkled his nose.

Smouse spoke to me in a hushed tone. “Geibb never does anything right. Good luck, you’re going to need it.”

We loaded into the car. Moyer was giving Geibb some last-minute instructions about driving in the snow. There was still snow on the ground, but the roads were clear. The trip started off well. Actually, I enjoyed the ride. Geibb seemed to know where he was going. However, he constantly leaned over the steering wheel and squinted as if he needed a better view. He kept up a constant chatter. He was excited about the extra money he would be getting for TDY (temporary duty) pay. The heater was going full blast, and it was still a little chilly in the car. But the countryside was fascinating.

By noon it had started to snow a little. Geibb held his face closer to the windshield to see better. We were pretty close to Paderborn, probably just a few more miles to go, and I thought that would be a good place to find lunch.

As we met an oncoming car, there was a sudden flash with a cracking sound as the windshield shattered into a million fragments. I had seen car windows do this before in freezing weather, and I believe it was a spontaneous event. Geibb was sure the other car had thrown something at us.

Geibb was able to stop. We broke a small six-inch hole in front of Geibb so he could see.

“All you have to do is get us to Paderborn, and we can call back to the shop and get another car,” I assured him.

It was slow going, but we pulled into Paderborn sometime later. I was looking for a good place to stop when we came to a German Army MP station.

“Pull in here,” I instructed Geibb. He was reluctant, but I often dealt with the Korean Army in Korea and found them more than willing to help. I figured these guys would be just as helpful.

They were very willing to help. We called the shop from the main office. Moyer had a little trouble getting the story straight but finally arranged to have a van from the Detachment come and pick us and the equipment up. They would send the motor pool to pick up the car.

The Germans were very helpful and anxious to be good hosts. They assured me that the car was very secure in their parking lot. As it turned out, the commander of the MP station had gotten married that day, and they were having a big party upstairs in the Cantina. They said we were welcome to wait in the main office, but we were also most welcome to come upstairs and join them in their celebration. I declined the invitation, saying we needed to watch the car. They pointed out that it would be several hours before anyone arrived from Rothwesten or Münster.

Finally, after repeated invitations, we agreed to join the party. The duty sergeant assured us he would watch the car, and since it was after five, I thought it would be okay. We head up to the third floor and enter the small Cantina. The place is packed, and the atmosphere is electric. 

A couple of beers are pushed into our hands. We are pushed to a table in the middle of the room. Everyone wants to talk with us and practice their English. I speak not one word of German, and Geibb, who has been in the country for over a year, doesn’t speak much more than me.

One beer follows another. I return downstairs to double-check our situation. 

The duty Sergeant gives me a thumbs up. The car is okay, and no word from anybody else. Back upstairs, the party continues. There is not much to eat, and some sausage and cheese and a hard roll are all I can come up with.

After what must have been a couple of hours, the van arrives from the Detachment. The driver, the maintenance man, happens to be MacDonald, a classmate from Fort Devens.

Another reunion, one more reason to celebrate. Mac has no trouble settling into the party. The guys from the motor pool don’t arrive until after eight in the evening. We transfer our stuff from the car to the van. The motor pool guy tells MacDonald that we should stay the night here, but we head to the Detachment anyway.

The ride to Münster was exciting, but we made it while most of the crew was still awake. Maybe twelve or fifteen guys, the Detachment was housed in a large German farmhouse. It didn’t take long for us to get into the spare room and hit the sack.

I was in shape for partying, and nothing was unusual about last night by my standards. I was up for the trip to breakfast at a small Gasthaus in town and then on to work. Geibb wasn’t up to the schedule, and we let him sleep. His job was done anyway.

On the way to the site, I started going over the problem with McDonald.

“The problem is really a simple one,” I explained, “It is in the power supply for the antenna rotor. There are two large power transistors that burn out. The number is 2N174, I believe. All we have to do is come up with a couple of those, and we’re done. The problem is I doubt if they are in the supply channel. I tried to get Moyer to get them on order, and he would not do it.”

“We checked those transistors, and they are fine,” MacDonald says.

“The problem is an emitter to collector short,” I said. “We can’t detect that short the way we check transistors.”

We immediately tore open the rotor power supply and removed the transistors when we got to the site. The typical burned braided wire on the emitter side told me all I needed to know. We called the shop, and sure enough, there were no 2N174s in stock.

Moyer was surprised to hear from us so early. He had already heard about the party. “It will take several days to get those transistors to the site,” Moyer says.

“You get several pairs on order with an ASAP on the order. If this site is down, the others will be soon to follow,” I instructed Moyer. “We will probably be able to get started with some from the German economy, I would say Black Market in Korea.”

Mac knew of a little German TV repair shop that also served as a supply for a large group of Ham Radio operators. We made a quick trip to town and came up with a half dozen transistors with a bit of bartering. These didn’t have the braided wire attached to the poles, but they would serve their purpose until the Supply channel was full.

We had the site operational before noon. Mr. McCann was on the phone to thank me shortly after it returned to service. I told him that we had about 3 pairs of transistors that would work in a stop-gap manner.

“Each of the transistors that we have will last about three days, four days at the most,” I said. “That gives you nine to twelve days of function before we are out of transistors. So you had better get on Moyer’s ass to get the right ones into supply. I tried to get him to order them earlier, and he was going to go by the book, and there are none in-house now. This site will not run if you guys go by the book,” I say.

The Army had strict rules on supply inventory. You could only stock so much of any one item. The figure was based on the need for that item in the previous six months. If you had an inspection and were found to be overstocked, there was some hell to be raised. You could get around this in a couple of ways. One was to order an item more often than you actually used it. The other way was to hide the overage (in your pocket if necessary). Moyer knew this stuff as well as I. He just liked to follow the book. I wanted to keep the equipment running.

It took a couple of days before Geibb and I were retrieved. MacDonald was eager to learn everything I had to teach him, and we used our time well to cover the entire unit. The evenings were used to celebrate us as visitors, and these guys could party just as well as the Germans at the MP station.

When we returned to Rothwesten, our glory was short-lived. The story of the windshield and the party at the German MP station had been entirely blown out of proportion. The Maintenance Officer, a 2nd Lieutenant who knew nothing about maintenance, wanted to see us right away.

He really raked Geibb and me over the coals. How dare we drink on TDY? How dare we jeopardize the equipment in the car? He didn’t give a damn if I was the only one that could fix some of this equipment. Our asses were his, or we could go see the company commander for an Article 15. He restricted us to the base for 30 days. I was really pissed.

Christmas came and went. I was restricted to base, so dinner at the mess hall and an evening spent at the NCO club watching a bunch of lifers and their wives get drunk and call it a celebration.

The next day the Army issued a directive that said that any soldier volunteering for duty in Vietnam would go. Commanders were not allowed to prevent that transfer. 

I read this directive posted on the Orderly Room bulletin board on the evening of Tuesday, December 26. The next morning, the 27th, I marched into the First Sergeant’s office and filed a DD1049 (request for transfer) for Vietnam. He took it with a wry smile on his face.

When I told Smouse what I had done, he was so inspired he filed one also. He said I had things in such turmoil he didn’t know what would happen. Nothing had ever happened in the shop like this before.

In the afternoon of the 27th, I was working at the bench doing a routine tune-up on an R390 receiver. Colonel Paris, the Field Station Commander, walked into the shop. Colonel Paris was very tall, probably early 50’s, with slightly graying hair that was sparse on top. Judging from everyone’s reaction, this was just something that never happened. He spoke briefly with Sergeant Moyer and then walked over, pulled up a stool, and sat down at my bench, facing me in a very relaxed manner with one foot on the rung of the stool.

“I guess I owe you a real thank you. Mr. McCann tells me you have done more for the mission of this station in a couple of days than anyone else has done in the last couple of years. So thank you,” he says.

“Thank you, Sir,” I replied. “I just happened to be lucky enough to arrive at the right time.”

“Thanks anyway, and keep up the good work,” he said as he left my bench. He walked around the shop, stopped again, talked with Moyer, and left.

A couple of hours later, near the end of the day, when Moyer comes over to talk with me.

“Colonel Paris wants to know what it will take to get you to withdraw that 1049,” he says.

“I don’t like it here, not one bit. I will withdraw it if you send me to a detachment,” I said.

“Well, we have you scheduled for a detachment as soon as a spot becomes available.”

“Not good enough,” I said, knowing I had him over a barrel. “You send me to a detachment this week, or the request stands.”

“Okay,” he said, “go pack your bags. I’ll send you to Wobeck tomorrow. And by the way, the old man was going to recommend that your transfer request be denied.”

“I am sure that he read the same directive that I read,” I said as I started to clear my bench.

The outcome of those few days at Rothwesten took a few more weeks to completely unfold.

I went to Wobeck, and we arrived late at night on December 28. I checked into the Banhauf Hotel in Schöningen, West Germany. Schöningen was a small village located right on the border of East Germany. The site, Wobeck, was located a couple of miles up the hill in The Elm, an ancient Elm forest full of local lore of witches and goblins.

TDY pay for the site started on my arrival, an extra $16.00 a day. Smouse let his transfer request stand, and he went to Vietnam.

MacDonald was pulled from his Detachment for poor behavior displayed on my visit. Geibb was in the dog house deeper than ever.

Mm biggest allies, the DF and RFP operators, were back to poor maintenance. My presence was short-lived, but they had a new starting point and an understanding of what they should be expecting from the maintenance shop. Moyer knew he would have to keep someone on top of things a little more.

It took a while, but Moyer was replaced by Sergeant Z. The shop was run more efficiently, and I had someone I could work with from this distant shop.

I was in bed shortly after my check-in. Morning came early, and the bathroom was at the end of the hall. The clerk said if you wanted hot water for a shower, I needed to be the first one there.

It was a Brisk shower in the morning as most of the hot water was gone. By the time I got downstairs for breakfast, most of the maintenance crew were there to meet me. 

This was the start of a whole new chapter in the Army.

Photo by KarinKarin on Pixabay.

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