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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Juan and Pablo.... Outlaws

Another true adventure of Juan and Pablo, the Gringo brothers....
Return with us now to those days of yesteryear... 35 years ago. Juan and Pablo, the Gringo brothers, were living in Juan and Philipa's trailer on the banks of the Leon River in Central Texas. Philipa was still pregnant with Juanito and Forita, the soon to be born Gringo twins. The tiny house had a 110 volt water heater tucked under the kitchen counter by the sink. One day there was no hot water. The electric element in the water heater had burned out. The brothers drove to the nearby town of Gatesville to purchase another and found that none was available at the hardware or plumbing stores. They had only 220 volt elements. However, the local Sears and Roebuck DID have a miniature 110 volt water heater for which replacement parts would be available at any Sears store. Juan used almost every cent he and Philipa had saved to buy it. The brothers also bought the plumbing fittings they were sure they would need and went back to the trailer to do the installation. They found out several things. The unit that had come with the trailer had apparently been built in as the house was assembled. They were forced to cut the front of the cabinet and remove it to begin working on the switch over. It had to be drained and the fittings disassembled. Water ran everywhere and had to be soaked up. Knuckles were scraped. Tools were borrowed from neighbors. Tempers flared. At last the old tank was out and the new ready to install. It was then they discovered that the plumbing fittings on the Sears water heater were all in totally different locations. There was more cutting and flaring of copper tubing. More tightening in impossibly small spaces. The job went on and on. At last it seemed they were almost done.
Suddenly Juan had a terrible premonition. He vaguely remember that when they unpacked the new unit, there was an extra hole in the top with a plastic plug in it. He reached up over the top of the heater, rescraping his knuckles on the bottom of the counter top in the incredibly tight area. He could just reach the plug with his fingertips, but that was enough to pop it out. The hole was meant for an overflow pipe and there was simply no way that an elbow and fitting would go in there. He sat on the floor, devastated. It was now 2:00 in the morning. He and Pablo would have to be up in four hours to go to work. The water was off. The toilet would not flush. Pablo reached his hand back up under the counter and measured the hole with his finger tip. "We need a 3/4" pipe plug." he announced. In the middle of the night. Something tickled at the back of Juan's mind. A 3/4" plug. Where had he seen 3/4" plugs before? Then he remembered! The bung hole plug on 55 gallon barrels is always a 3/4" plug and every barrel made in America had one. But where to find an empty barrel? The brothers searched the trailer community by flashlight. Nothing. Then at almost the same time they remembered that the local farmer's co-op had a storage yard about a mile from where they lived.
Soon they were driving down the country road with the lights on the car off. The storage yard had a high chain link fence around it and the gate was chained shut and padlocked. They hid the car in the brush and crept to the fence and climbed over. They didn't dare use a flashlight for fear a neighbor would see and call the sheriff. They felt their way around the storage yard till they came to a pile of empty barrels. Pablo held a barrel still while Juan used an adjustable wrench and a small pipe wrench to unscrew the rusty plug. They quaked at each screech as it came loose. Once they dived to the ground and hid behind the barrels as a car went by. At last they were back over the fence and in the car, dirty and scratched from the fence and triumphant in their own daring. They drove boldly home with the headlights on.
As there was no way of knowing what poison might have been in the barrel, Philipa boiled the plug in a pan on the stove for ten minutes. Then they soaked it in alcohol, then in chlorine bleach, then boiled it again. At last they put pipe thread compound on it and began the process of worrying it into place, getting it turned in and tightened in a space barely larger than the wrench. Pablo went outside and turned on the water. Juan let the air out through the kitchen sink faucet till the water rushed out. They checked all the fittings, especially the pipe plug fitting. All held without a drop of water leaking. Then they checked their wiring job to the electric box. Everything seemed fine. Juan turned on the switch. After a little while, the soft singing sound of water heating could be heard by putting one's head against the side of the heater. Overjoyed, they washed up in cold water and lay down for a couple hours of sleep. All too soon it was time to get up. And they both took hot showers. Philipa had hot water to do the dishes in and the brothers drove the long drive to work more pleased with themselves than had they been able to pay a plumber and revelling in the fact they were now true outlaws, having trespassed in the night and stolen a thrown away bung hole plug.
It really, really happened.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Juan and Pablo and the "Kicker"

In response to numerous (at least two) requests, The RRR tells another true story from the adventures of Juan and Pablo, The Gringo Brothers.

Before I begin, I must give some nomenclature background or my Asian readers will be hopelessly lost. In the southern USA is a rural white culture totally different from the rest of the country. It has been treated humorously in such TV shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw, and The Dukes of Hazard. One of the favorite euphemisms for white, southern rural people, especially men, is S*** Kicker, or to be more gentle Crap Kicker or more literal, Manure Kicker. The idea being of a young male hick wandering about a pasture kicking over piles of cow manure. It started as an insult and became a point of perverse pride. As any radio station west of the Mississippi in the U.S. must start their call letters with "K", rural country music stations often have names such as. "KICK", "KIKK", or "KIKR", etc. Each station has a fiercely loyal listener base who often identify themselves with bumper stickers on their cars or pickups (almost always pickups) that proudly proclaim which station they listen to. These bumper stickers are called "Kicker Stickers". You must know all this to understand the story.

It was late in 1972. Juan and his very pregnant wife were living in a travel trailer out in the woods by the Leon River in central Texas. Pablo, who had just broken up with his fiance' up in Iowa had moved in with them. The brothers were one day wandering the woods looking for Armadillos to shoot for the 25 cent bounty offered by the landowner. It is a measure of their poverty that this is how they spent their spare time. Juan had a .22 caliber Iver Johnson revolver to shoot the destructive little beasts with. Each bullet cost 1 and 1/2 cents which left a clear profit of 23 and 1/2 cents for each Armadillo, not to mention they got to keep the meat to barbecue. (The RRR can provide recipes upon request). They had had no luck this day and as they crossed a clearing a local man came out of the brush and confronted them. He was in his twenties and wearing a cowboy hat, faded Western shirt, faded jeans and, naturally, scuffed, down at the heels cowboy boots. He was also carrying a short, double barrelled shotgun.

He let it casually wander towards the Gringo Brothers...

"Whatcha all doin'?" he asked.

They told him they were hunting Armadillos for the bounty, as was he. He made some general sneering comments about Yankees. Neither brother liked the way he kept waving the sawed-off shotgun about.

"What's that you have there?" asked Pablo. The cowboy gave an evil grin...

"This here is my n*****-getter..... and it works for Yankees... too."

It would be a toss up whether the Gringo brothers were more angered by the racist comment or the implied threat to themselves, but regardless, Juan put his hand on the butt of his revolver. The shotgun turned toward him and steadied. Pablo, unknown to the cowboy, was carrying a Mexican bowie knife. They are different from American bowies in that they have a hook on the end of the handle so when carried between the shoulder blades under a shirt they can be whipped out quickly with one hand. A casual scratching of the back of the neck or adjustment of a cowboy hat puts the weapon within easy reach.

In a flash Pablo held the blade inches from the man's throat.

"Waal" Pablo said in his best southern drawl... "This here is my Kicker Sticker".

The man with the gun was in a difficult position. With the shotgun steadied on Juan he was helpless against the nickle plated blade that glittered by his throat. If he turned toward Pablo, Juan would be able to draw and fire before he could regain his aim. He let the shotgun down to dangle by his side and swallowed quickly. The brothers watched as he faded back into the brush, then rapidly left and went back to the trailer. The 25 cents suddenly didn't seem so important.

There it is friends... it really, really happened.

Ranger Holidays

It's been a month since the RRR blogged.... and what a month, Ranger Readers. Starting in November Mrs. RRR began getting the cabin ready for the Big Visits. Rooms were rearranged, cleaning done. We bought two new 6' tall bookcases and I sorted and organized and cleaned up the piles of books that were dripping off tables, shelves and chairs. Then the happy influx began. Our oldest Son, his wife, their two lovely daughters and handsome son arrived from Kentucky. His twin sister was the only one who couldn't make it... but with good reason to be explained later. Their younger sister flew in from Dallas with her husband and two more wonderful granddaughters. Then youngest Son, his wife and daughter arrived from Monterey, California. At last Grandpa and Grandma Ranger drove in. My Dad and Step mom. 16 people to spend Christmas. Such a happy, wonderful time. We all ate a huge meal. Then I read the Christmas Story from the book of Luke and we at last opened presents. I got more books which will show up on my next reading list. Mrs. RRR gave me a new set of uniform trousers for my Sheriff's work and a set of clunky cool Russian Army wrist compasses and a brand new Mora, Swedish Army sheath knife. Grandpa and Grandma Ranger... gave me the money to get this year's hunting and fishing license.

But the greatest fun was watching the herd of grand kids open presents and play. It was such a happy time. And three days later the new fun began.

We all drove up to the Minneapolis area for oldest Daughter's wedding! Yes, she at last met the man of her dreams. I knew at once from the tone of her voice on the phone after she had first met him. He is a good fit into the Ranger household. Well educated, loves to read, and loves the out of doors. They were married in a large, formal wedding. The church was decorated with hundreds of roses. The sanctuary was full to overflowing. An orchestra played. After everyone was seated, seven of the bride and groom's nieces, all eight years and younger, and wearing fluffy little white dresses walked down the aisle ringing silver bells. Then a moment of silence and from the balcony started the moaning wail of Scottish Bagpipes. I took her arm and we walked slowly to the altar accompanied by the wild, winsome music of my father's heritage. At the front the preacher waited wearing white and gold robes. We stood side by side as the ceremony continued and she and her man gazed at each other oblivious to the rest of us. Then my line came..

"Who gives this woman to wed?" asked the preacher.

"Her mother and I do." I said in my bravest voice, trembling a little in my rented suit.

I turned toward her and we hugged. "You're the most beautiful bride in the world," I told her. Then I put her hand in his and went to sit by Mrs. RRR. The tissues youngest Daughter gave me before the wedding came in handy. Something seemed to be in my eyes. Oh friends, she was so beautiful and looked so happy.

The reception followed in the church basement. The food was great and so the companionship. After it was over, Mrs. RRR and I and my parents helped clean up down there while the groom's parents helped clean upstairs. The four of us stopped for coffee after and reminisced. Good times. Happy times.

Tonight Mrs. RRR and I took down the Christmas tree and packed away all the decorations we've accumulated over the years. We still have some of the original balls that we bought for our first Christmas together in 1971. How long ago that seems, yet in another way, just yesterday. We were so poor. It took almost every cent we had to buy that tree, two boxes of balls, a string of lights, and some tinsel. But there was no star for the top of the tree. I took the cardboard back off a note pad and drew a five pointed star on it. Then cut it out and covered in with aluminum foil. We punched a hole in the center for one of the little lights on the string, and we had our star.

I've looked at expensive "tree toppers" many times since... blown glass stars and angels... but none will ever replace that homemade one. It wouldn't be a Ranger Christmas without it.