Thoughts from A Dog
"Someone pulls on your ear and all the thoughts
get jumbled up and you have to start all over again."
-- Pen Kary
The trip started out like many with Norm McFadden. Build the last part of a combat wing till 9, load the station wagon, drive to Eugene, Ore., full tilt with the radar detector set on kill, arrive at 1 am or just go to the field and wait. It was 1977 or '78 and things were different then, at least that's the way it feels now. It troubles me to think that I may look back at today and think "good old days."
I arrived at Norm's around 8 p.m. Friday night foolishly believing we would leave shortly. "Just a few more things to do and we'll go." Norm liked to drive at night, knowing that the only cars that would keep up with him would be police trying to get a pace on him. As soon as he saw headlights near, he would slam on the brakes. Well educated, thoughtful and otherwise a "regular" person, Norm McFadden flew Fast Combat for a reason. Even the car he drove was fast. Sure, it looked to be a Ford station wagon, but it had a 460 c.i. engine and there was the 440 Roadrunner in the back yard that is another story for another time.
This trip, there was a new addition to the two of us, a flier named Rich Brasher who was an old friend of Norm's from the Bay area. I had seen the crankshaft the two of them developed, and given enough nitro I could about keep up until something let go in my engine. In those days, they had it going on, pressure regulators, cranks that didn't break, they even found rear bearings that wouldn't blow up!
These days the two of them were all about going fast and it was pretty entertaining to listen in on the conversations. Sometime around 1995, Jeff Rein took out a very fast Nelson and timed it. Norm put up one of his old Mark III and it was step for step the same speed, (food for thought). While many will argue about who had the first and fastest Fox engines, we all know it was Norm.
The three of us arrived in Eugene with enough time to get entered in the contest and begin the first round of combat. As I remember it, John Salvin dispatched everybody that day and I spit out a crank when I could least afford it. Norm or Rich may have won something but I just don't remember.
We stayed the night at Gene Pape's house where Norm was reunited with Gene's dog Sebastian. (Pronounced See-bastion). He and Norm played like a couple of kids after a long time apart with the dog getting as much fun out of it as Norm.
Sebastian had a paw in the name of Gene's "Dogfighter" kit that he sold.
Five a.m. came early, we were pretty tried and had little sleep the last couple of days. It was decided that we'd go to breakfast that morning on the way to the contest.
Staggering to the car, Rich and I were more than happy to let Norm drive. Brasher was asleep and I was dozing when we arrived at the restaurant, it was just too early for this crap, but we stumbled toward the door of the Denny's on Beltline road, somewhere in early morning Oregon.
"You want a paper?" Rich asked me. "Sure," I said. "Give me a quarter." I fished one out and handed it to him. The next series of events are like what happens in a traffic accident when your mind runs at hyperspeed ... everything seems to be in slow motion.
The quarter plunked into the large steel Oregonian paper dispenser. I think it was yellow, and made like a high school metal shop project. Built out of heavy steel and cut by plasma, The door hinged at the bottom of the welded steel structure with a small pull handle to open it with. The glass front showed today's news and the front page was there to taunt you as you walked past it.
Standing on sturdy angle legs, our nemesis stood all of three feet high, it was a proud machine bolted to the ground and chained to the side of the building.
"S--t! It won't open." "Forget it," I said. "Hell no," said Brasher.
He looked at me like a man on a mission once forgotten and now fully remembered, a long ago quest but now all consuming. "I hate getting ripped off!" I blinked sleepily and thought "Uh-oh."
"I'm gonna pull the front open, you reach in and grab the paper" and he began pulling on the upper corner of the fortress of a machine. "I'll wait him out." I thought to myself, but to my surprise the face of the sturdy door began to move.
Do you remember being a kid, thinking you were indestructible? Both the machine and Rich were holding on to that belief and one of them was going to vanquish the other. Muscle and blood, cold rolled steel and paint, me wishing I could get away, veins were popping out on Brashers head and he was starting to puff and turn red.
"Can you get your hand in there yet?" he yelled
People were giving us a wide berth as they came and left the restaurant, it must have looked like two leftovers from a night out so no one was going to ask us what we thought we were doing.
"Yeah," I said and shoved my arm into the gapping maw of the steel trap.
I grabbed the paper and began to pull my arm out, I could feel the trembling of Brasher's strength failing but knew I could get away in time before he collapsed.
Like the plans of mice and men, I was almost there, coffee moments away and I could go back to being sleepy and come to in a more dignified way.
"Hurry!" he shouted, "I can't hold it." "Shut-up and don't let go," I yelled back.
It was at that moment that my new 1st generation digital watch caught on the edge of the monster and I saw its mechanical eyes gleam; it wasn't done with us yet.
It all happened at once, Brasher was spent and let go of the door, the heavy steel door clamped shut on my arm like a giant clam in one of those old movies, and I saw white.
"Get it offa me!" I yelled and began jumping around pulling with my other hand.
I had pulled the paperstrosity loose from its leg rivets and seemed to be in some sort of fight that rekindled memories of playing football. I don't know how long it was before Rich rejoined the fight once again pulling on the door, but to me it seemed like days. The machine was ripped loose from the ground and I was doing whatever I could to get free from it. Slowly, the door began to pry back once again, the pressure on the wreck of my arm was letting up and I pulled scraping skin across the teeth of my adversary.
To my surprise, I still had the paper in my fisted hand.
Skin ripped and bleeding, shreds of paper clenched in my hand, we had done it, conquered the villain, the good guy's prevailed, and the evil newspaper mega fortune had not gotten our quarter.
Like two victorious gladiators now fully awake, testosterone running like a faucet, bleeding and winded, we walked into Denny's together holding the trophy out for the world to see.
"Don't mess with us," it said. "We'll wreck you!"
The Rocky music was still playing when we walked to the booth the others were sitting; Gene took one look at us and said "What the hell happened to you two?"
The music turned down a click. We explained how we had defeated the evil quarter-eating machine and stood tall for all consumers, A few scrapes but we were OK and got the paper to show for it.
Gene just looked at us.
"It's Sunday ... costs a dollar"
Suddenly the music stopped, the only sound was now coming from Norm who had started laughing some time before and was taking his first breath. Before the humiliation was finished both he and Gene would be holding each other up with tears of hard laughter showing on their faces.
We all left together and there at the door was a much damaged Oregonian newspaper machine. The once proud legs were twisted and bent, the face plate was cracked and the mighty door hung askew. Although it had given up a paper to "the bad guys," it stood as a reminder to all comers, correct change only.
This page was upated March 31, 2008