Sleeping with the Kansas Banshees
This was an encounter in Kansas when we were acquiring a large number of Model A Parts. This is a memory of a part of that trip.
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This experience all started when a friend of mine showed me an advertisement in Hemmings News that there was an enormous amount of Model A parts available in Kansas at a very good price, and if he only had a place to store them he would be interested in acquiring them. Not only could he not figure out where he could store them, he hadn't got to the part about how to bring them home yet either! Living in the Carolinas , we were over 1100 miles away and at best it would take a great business man or someone hell-bent on an ordeal to proceed with this venture.
You guessed it; I am not a great business man. My curiosity got the best of me, and after making sure my friend had no strong interest in making the acquisition for his own use, off I went. I had recently been laid off from work so I had the time, along with the need for some parts to finish a pick up truck restoration, so I began the process of contacting the gentleman that owned the parts, and it turned out to be Clarence Howland of Emporia, Kansas .
It was a kind gentleman indeed that greeted my wife and me when we arrived in mid-east Kansas . He was courteous and well mannered, but we were amused and bewildered when the first thing he did was offer us a seat in the shade of his shop near the open door, apparently to “interview” us. We chose two of the seven or eight chair, none alike, and settled ourselves next to a rack of old bolts and nuts that was about six feet tall. He rolled up in front of us in an old office chair with a torn seat cushion and said “let's talk awhile”.
Clarence was an extremely pleasant fellow, taking time to explain the changes in the weather including the fact that this part of the country had very little humidity, which made the old parts, take their time aging. It took us a while to figure out that he just wanted to make sure that these Model A parts were not going to find there way into a scrap yard, or worse yet, the hands of street rodders. It was a very soothing and educational conversation, as we became aware of his intellect, and eventually discovering that he was a retired school teacher. After about an hour and a half we must have convinced him that we would take good care of the “treasures” and he rose from his chair and invited us to walk thru the shop and yard to get a closer look.
As we were walking in the yard, I whispered to my wife that there is no way one man could accumulate this much stuff by himself, and that he must have run across a band of pack rats with a rust fetish that worked nights. There were piles of wheels six feet high, a mound of fenders, and enough motors, transmissions and clutch housings to provide keel ballast on Noah's arc. Inside the shop was equally packed with drawers and boxes and piles of parts.
As we looked at all the parts, it was beginning to dawn on us this was not going to be an easy task getting this lot back to the Carolinas , so we asked if we could take a lunch break and return with our decision as to what we would be interested in doing.
We found a small diner that was between the parts yard and the down town area and asked the waitress what was good to eat here, and she mentioned that they had the freshest hamburger in the world-“guaranteed”. Upon further discussion with her and then more elaboration from the gentleman we were dealing with we came to understand that the waitress was exactly right.
It seems that this town of Emporia , Kansas is centrally located in an area known as the “flint hills” , a term used to describe the gently rolling landscape that consists of a type of rock called flint that is imbedded with limestone. When the limestone is eroded by wind and water it eventually breaks down into soil and it has been determined to be extremely good for growing the type of grass that promotes a very fast weight gain in beef cattle, as much as 3 pounds per day.
This magic growth “carpet” is found in an area about 50 miles wide and about 100 miles long roughly between Topeka and Wichita that forms about 3 million acres, the largest owners of which are the Bass brothers who hold about ½ million acres and are generally known as the contemporary cattle barons of the area.
At any rate, across the street from the diner was what used to be known as the Iowa Beef Packers plant and this small diner would send someone across the street on a daily basis to pick up the days supply of beef. We were told that the plant was capable of processing 1200 pound cows at the rate of 240 per hour, and depending on the time of day that the diner picked up their order , we could have been eating some heifer that had been breathing just 4 hours before. That's a very “mooo-ving” experience.
After discussing our options at lunch, we returned to tell Clarence that we would be interested in purchasing the parts and began the process of sorting and palletizing the parts. The parts inside were pretty easy to see at first glance and box up, but the parts outside that needed to be put on pallets were in some grassy areas. After being assured that there was little chance of crossing paths with any sort of “critters”, we proceeded to begin the extended process of sorting, gathering and moving parts.
The entire process of transferring parts would end up taking about 4 weeks, and my wife Peggy, a.k.a. “Cooter” spent the first week with me and provided an invaluable amount of help as well as a large degree of organizational talent. It was warm, but not humid, and the days began at sunrise and we worked until dark most evenings. It was very hard work as a great deal of the outside work consisted of moving motors, transmissions, front and rear ends as well as quite a few frames and a huge number of wheels. We were extremely tired at the end of each day, but it was the very first night we became aware of what I can only describe the mournful cry of a lonely banshee.
The storage yard lay next to a railroad track that seemed to be used mainly at night, as we had not noticed its use during the daytime when we were working in the yard. It is a stretch of track that is owned by the Atchison, Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad, that is used primarily to transport coal from the Chicago area to both the Pacific and the Mexican coasts and it turns out that Emporia, Kansas is located at the precise point at which the track forms a triangular junction that determines whether that load of coal is going to continue south, or head west. As trains approach this junction, the engineers are required to sound their whistle in an attempt to warn other trains of their impending arrival at this triangular intersection, and avoid a collision that would certainly be unpleasant, and potentially deadly.
According to Irish folklore a banshee is a female spirit who wails to warn of impending death, and the location where we were sleeping in our motor home appears to be precisely the same point that the engineers have chosen to begin their warning. The combination of the train being in a shallow trough while passing under overpasses while at the same time trailing off into the darkness, pierced the night with an eerie, elastic cry revealing a lonely soul bound by duty to warn of impending danger, while resigning herself to an eternity of life on the rails.
Over the period of time required to get all these parts loaded, I not only became accustomed to the sound of this “banshee”, but actually seemed to miss “her” for a period of time after returning to the Carolinas .
While getting as many as 80 pallets loaded in the yard, we had to come to some conclusion as to how we were going to get them loaded and home. After discussing this with Clarence, we decided to purchase (3) 40 foot long over seas shipping containers that were released from service at the ports down near Houston and Beaumont. When unloaded, the container floors were only 6 inches off the ground and it was determined that we would use a large tractor to move the pallets to the rear doors and a forklift from the lumber yard across the street to move the pallets to the front of the containers
We built a small ramp that the forklift could navigate and began the whole process by stacking two piles of four frames by inverting and rotating them in a manner that would “nest” a frame that had a motor with one that didn't. Among with a lot of other “stuff”, we brought home 12 frames, 56 motors, 45 transmissions and a '46 Ford Panel truck.
We inquired as to the experience of the fork lift driver from across the road and were told that he was so good he could pick up a quarter with his fork lift. We thought that was just a sales pitch, but when he was done and ready to return across the street, Clarence called us around to see if he could pick up a quarter with the fork lift. You question his ability to do it because your thinking there is no way because the forks are thicker than the quarter, and it just seems so out of perspective and proportion but he did it by setting the tip of the fork, at a slight angle, on top of the quarter and moving backwards. As the tip of the fork fell off the edge of the quarter, the quarter “flipped up” onto the fork. Man, I'm glad I didn't bet on that one!
After the heavy lifting and loading had been done, Peggy and I returned home with an enclosed car trailer full of our new found goodies, and I returned for the hand loading of the smaller items. For some reason she was not inclined to make any of the return trips.
While shopping for a trucking company, I decided on a local hay hauling outfit that had several flatbeds of appropriate length and capacity and arraigned for them to come check the loading site to assist in positioning the crane. We had loaded the containers over five feet high with heavy steel parts having no forethought as to total weight, and when the trucking representative was leaving he said everything looked good as long as we were not over 40,000 pounds gross. “Holy Crap” I never gave that a thought! “Now What”? The containers had an empty weight of 6,500 pounds leaving us load capacity of 33,500 pounds each, but all I could think about was going on home and getting a call from the truckers from some where near St. Louis or Paducah telling me I had to bring another truck and a fork lift (and more money!) to get them out of some weigh station parking lot.
After two more evenings, often comforted by the midnight serenades of my new “lady friends”, the gentlemen arrived with a 100 ton crane, and as the rigger climbed down from attaching the cables to the first container, and they were drawing tight, I nervously approached the operator and asked if he could “guest-i-mate” the weight of each container so I could finally calm down. He had been alerted to my concern, so when he had it off the ground he called me over, and with a worrisome look, asked me if I still wanted to know how much these weighed. I was happy when he told me that the total was 37,350 pounds and when I asked him how he was so sure, he grinned like a Cheshire cat and said that he had a digital scale built into the lifting mechanism.
With the loading done, I was glad to get on down the road again. Kansas was interesting and often fun, but the memory of our cabin among the trees, and the fish jumping in the pond, that is our front yard, was like a magnet drawing me home along the asphalt ribbons, and it felt good dragging my left leg on a white line. I was anxious to get home and make unloading arrangements with the local crane folks, unaware of what lay ahead for that part of this project.
We had made tentative arrangements with a local crane company for an 80 ton crane to do the unloading and had taken down some fence next to a gently sloping pasture so that they could nestle right up next to the spot where we wanted one container and move sideways to accommodate successive containers, and then move the crane and put the fence back up, but it was not to be.
I don't know everything about the Greek Gods, but whoever it was that's in charge of rain “wee-wee'd on our pasture while we were gone and the crane man said they could neither move nor set up on the slight slope of the pasture without getting stuck, and that we would have to set up on the gravel driveway to get a more solid footing. That would require a bigger crane than the 80 ton crane that had been initially quoted to provide for the additional reaching distance as well as the fact that the new location required lifting the first container up and over the roof of our shop. Can you spell 160 ton crane ? I think it starts with a $. I was less than happy, as I thought they were charging an exorbitant rate to begin with.
I had to do something! All three semi-trucks had left Kansas and were thundering east, nose to tail, somewhere this side of St. Louis, expecting to “drop box” in Rock Hill, “dead-head” to Charlotte, and “beat feet” home to Kansas two days from now. After delving into each other's ancestry, we came to an agreement that permitted me to use their 160 ton crane for a minimal number of Ben Franklins I was going to have to put up for adoption.
They were actually very quick to schedule for the following day, timing it with the lead truck driver, by cell phone, so they could get set-up in time for his arrival. My allotted time was a 4-hour window and if it was exceeded work continued at the rate of $350 per hour. The set up was completed in timely fashion by the crane crew, including the daunting task of getting a HUGE crane backed up our driveway along with the flatbed tractor trailer carrying the setup blocks, outrigger pads and counterweights. They did an outstanding job of navigating the narrow road, narrower driveway, neighbors mail boxes and the fence along side our pond, as well as the gate to our shop.
But because of the location of the tandem rear axles under the Kansas trailers, they were not as fortunate at navigating the maze of neighborhood obstacles. We had to uproot four of the neighbors mail boxes (actually I only had to uproot the second two, as the first driver on the scene helped on the first two, with his trailer), build a concrete block and 4 x 4 “bridge” across the ditch, and lay down sheet plywood on the neighbors yard across the street to keep the front wheels from marring his grass.
We were soon to learn that the third truck had stopped north of Nashville to get a water pump repaired and I was concerned that it would take us past the end of our “window”. Can you spell wait? It also starts with a $. As soon as the second trailer got unloaded, the truckers got a call from the driver with the water pump problem and after driving through the night he was only about 20 miles away. All was concluded with in the allotted time, except for repairing the neighbors lawn , unclogging the ditch and , oh, yeah, the mail boxes.
The crane riggers were buttoned up and out of there in a flash, so we took the truckers to dinner, gave them some beer money, and pointed them north to Charlotte . I guess all's well that ends well, but I wonder who I can get to help me sort 96,000 pounds of old metal “stuff”? I've not been able to find any of those nocturnal pack rats locally. They must be able to sleep at night, on account of there is no wailing and all.