(Or, OGS, to save time) Up since three am. Met George Sack the Jacknife King in Mojave. Took Sack’s truck on the 58 to Baker, then left into Death Valley. A route I used to have for Pac Bell in 1969. The emergency phones were hand cranks on the side to ring up the Nevada Operator who then transferred the call to where ever. So, back to our mission.
Find some old desert rat who knows how to run a 1931 Axel straightening machine located in a shop in Pahrump. That’s Pahrump, Nevada. This guy Mickey drinks with some real characters. In the tiny town of Shoshone, we hit a trailer park he’s supposed to crash at most of the time. This trailer park’s newest model trailer was a 1958 model. Every other weed-packed driveway had a faded, all tires flat junker of some make of model sitting forlorn and long forgotten. Like it made it to that driveway and no farther. Forever. Mickey isn’t home but his drinking pal, Mo, is. He informs us he’s known as ‘Loco Mo’ in the finer drinking establishments surrounding Death Valley because of his 40 years as a railroad man.
OGS… From Mo’s mouth a few hours ago,”No, Mickey ain’t been around. He falls asleep on the couch and pisses himself, then I sit in it later and it ticks me off. He’s probably in a motor home behind the County truck yard off Death Valley Junction. His ex lets him sleep in her van. You go up there and take a look-see, but, what ever you do, don’t fuck her. She’ll ask you. Just tell her you can’t or something. She’s a real piece of work. I met her the same night Mickey did a long time ago. She ain’t changed one bit. Just one dick-crazy bitch!”
I nod my head in agreement. Since there’s a lull in the conversation, I make the mistake of asking him what had happened that particular momentous occasion. “Oh man , she was getting into her car outside the ‘Chicken Ranch’ (The Pahrump Whorehouse) as we pulled in to check the place out. She saunters over to another engineer friend of mine’s driver window to make a deal with us before we went inside. She says to my buddy that everything we we’re looking for was right in front of them. I’m sitting shotgun in this solid sided panel van that used to be a Winchell’s donut delivery truck. Two more guys from work are in the back with Mickey, putting down whiskey and Cokes like crazy.
Now, I was married at the time and wanted no part of her business, so I was put behind the wheel while everyone else did whatever in the back of the windowless panel truck. She directs me over my shoulder to a longggg desert road and I drove while things sounding pretty wild went on just behind me. It was pitch black in the rear view mirror so only my ears filled me in. As I’m about to complain about our gas situation, this gal is on top of me. I try to shove her back with my head and neck, thinking she’s getting fresh with me now. I was dead wrong. She was trying to throw up out my open window. I blocked her so whatever she had been up to back there, was now all over the back of my head and all over my shoulders. Not much was said as I drove her back to her car. Six months later, Mickey marries the broad!”
I again nod and tell him thanks. I glare at George with his dead pan face that’s quivering to not smile. Off to the ex’s…
ITEM: I meet the ex. It’s 115 in Death Valley Junction. I’ve seen covered wagons in better shape then the trailers in this park. All were shot forty years ago. Well, it is Death Valley. Who plans on retiring here? Sheila answers her battered screen door fixed by an off-sized half sheet of stained plywood. She doesn’t even ask who I am and I’m welcomed inside her humble home. Its dumpy on the outside but neat as a pin inside. She has two small air conditioner window units going and a little fan on her tiny kitchen table blowing the cool air around. It was comfy.
As I stepped past her, I checked out Mickey’s ex. Maybe seventy. Wearing a pair of loose shorts and a loose tank top. At one time she had to have been a looker. If I’d met her in her prime after five drinks, I could see making a pass at her. She obviously had those same thoughts in mind as she pulled her tank top off exposing some pretty darn large breasts. I take a step back towards her bedroom and say, “Hey, I’m just here looking for Mickey, you have the wrong idea toots!” She acts like I’m a flustered school boy and starts to slide off her shorts. I have to nip that in the bud pronto. She stops undressing but makes it even worse by doing this jiggle like the nude dancers do in the top less bars. I start to say something, I forget now. She cuts me off. “Want me to find your little man for you baby?” I start laughing. It’s just too weird. I say to her, “Look lady, you could have a pack of hound dogs and the Sheriffs mounted patrol helping you, and I wouldn’t want the little man found. Just get dressed and we’ll restart our meeting. How about it?” She picks her top up off the table, puts it back on, then offers me a beer. I settle for a Sprite and sit down for a few minutes to be polite.
She cut out the baloney and showed me some photos on her tiny counter. Most of her and Mickey at rodeos and stuff decades ago. I chug my soda and I’m out the door. I tell George what had gone on. He stayed in the running truck to keep the air going so was unaware of the fantastic time I was having just a few feet away. He calls me a liar and to head the truck to Pahrump and his friend’s shop the press is at. Mickey was already at the Nevada shop. He had just been dropped off by a friend. George got a call on his cell phone as I went down memory lane.
OGS…We find the shop in Pahrump. At the end of a long two lane road, then, five more miles on a pretty darn smooth dirt road to the only place at its end. In front of us is the sweetest damn shop I’ve seen in quite awhile. First of all, the back drop to it was breathtaking. Jagged, mean looking multi colored mountains maybe five thousand feet high. Larger ones peeking out above the front rows of what looks to be lava-like swirls ending in up thrusts peaks. No colors at all. Just faded greys, whites and blacks in squiggly mile long strata’s of ink-like rows, one above the other. Really rugged ranges of volcanic rock ridges and valleys. No green. No puffs of red or yellow rocks. All sunbaked lights and darks. Only broken by some ancient smashing of tectonic plates into each other causing mile long fractures and buckling hillsides. Pretty awesome.
Jake, the owner, opens his small shop door and invites us inside. Out of the oppressing heat as fast as we can move then inside the giant shop, as the door closed behind us were suddenly transported into the 1930’s. WHAT A SHOP!!!! As a couple of Jake’s men get the wrecked race car parts from the back of Sack’s truck, George and I stand under the cool blasting air of a ten-foot by ten-foot grill about ten feet over our heads. It’s blowing nice, cool air onto us at sixty miles an hour. Their were three more of the same hanging from the tall ceiling of the 100 foot long, maybe sixty foot wide steel building. As George went over his bent axle and other parts with a hung over Mickey, I’m offered a tour by the owner Jake.
Jake on the tour: “Now, this here is a (Oh, sorry. I took notes. Pat, my wife, won’t be too happy though. The only paper I had in my bib coverall’s are my gas receipts. They’re covered with felt pen scribbles now.) CINCINATTI, tool gripper and finisher. Made in 1945 and still runs like a charm. (I’m looking at, then up, at a machine from a Jules Verne book. It even has a tiny video screen to see x-rays made of parts in process. WOW!) We move along. Every machine seems to be larger and more impressive then the last. “Here’s an ‘OMAX’ 240. It was a state of the art Water Jet in 1939. It sucks the power, but still does pretty damn good detail metal cutting!”
He then picks up a five foot long, twenty inch tall, metal sheet cut out of the Indian Head from the old Indian Motorcycle Logos off their gas tanks. Some of the cuts are paper thin. He shows me this by holding it in front of the overhead lights. We move along. “This old boy is a ‘MAZATROL’ 99. Made in Italy in the late 1930’s. Weighs two tons. I can still press rough parts out of Magnesium and Aluminum with it with very few flaws!”
Now, Jake is creeping up on 70. He’s trim with a hillbilly beard. Maybe 145 pounds. Wears those giant wide suspenders to hold up his Levi’s full of wrenches and gauges of all sorts and sizes. Maybe five seven. Still full of pep and active. More machines come into view. His shop is even larger then I thought. After we go past the, ‘BLIST GRINDER’, 1955, a long row of seven foot tall metal tool boxes cover one ENTIRE wall of this part of the shop. Another longer building telescopes even farther back, hidden by the tool box back wall. In between every other tool box? Huge six foot tall gun safes of all colors and lock configurations. Some have no locks at all and are opened up half way. Inside are metal dies and such of all types. “See those dies? In that safe alone sits about $200,000 worth of custom dies. Mainly for the military and aero space companies!” I count twenty two safes all along the wall and around the shop here and there. I hadn’t noticed them before in awe of all the giant machines. I ask Jake how he can see into the top drawers of the fifty drawer and tray fronted tool boxes. He looks at me like I’m crazy and says a matter of fact, “I get a ladder!” Duh. On we go.
Two side by side ten foot tall and thirty foot long ‘DUTCH SAWS COMPANY’ articulating cut off stamps, lathes of all types, big as a VW Bus, ‘Nugier Air Drill’, a ‘JOHNSON MILL’, an entire room sized booth for a ‘MILLER WELDER’. After the ‘DO ALL’, the ‘LAGUN’ impact torque converter, and the, ‘HERCULES GRINDER’, I ran out of note paper. I also ran out of tour. The other section of the building was family and employees only.
As Jake leads me back to his office, I try and get one last look over my shoulder. Jake stops, then says, “Well, come on out side and I’ll show you a little side project we’ve been working on!” Out a side door, I shoot a glance Sack’s way. He’s in auto repair land with Mickey. Out into the blazing sun we go. I put on my shades and walk right into the back of Jake. He had stopped, and I wasn’t paying attention. I apologize as I spot his project. I look at him and mouth the words, “A Morter?” Jake nods and gives me the low down. “It’s 185 lbs all together. We tried a removable bottom plate. Too dangerous. You want some solid welds on this baby! It’s fired by packets of black powder set off, (crouches down onto his knees next to it) by a conventional fuse shoved into this hole here in the base of the tube. Pretty basic, actually!”
The tube is about four foot tall and about the size around of a bowling ball. Maybe because that’s what they fired out of it. Farthest shot? Four thousand feet. Impact pretty impressive if not hitting soft sand. Jake gets hundreds of bowling balls off the internet from closing bowling alleys all over the U.S. I asked him if I could see it in action. No way. They took it far out into Death Valley to fire it safely. Maybe I could come out on some other occasion? Told him I really would love that. I asked him how they moved it around. It looked pretty bulky and heavy. A lot heavier then 185. Jake points past me towards a giant rear yard full of vehicles. His finger is pointing at something I’ve always wanted. A 1938 “DROTT’ yard crane.
These babies are RARE. I’ve only seen them in photographs. As we walk over to it the urge to offer thousands of dollars I do not have is bitten back by a reality check. I climb up into the battered, but still cushioned, seat and look for the controls. No controls or steering wheel at all. Just toggle switches. Toggle switches? Jake is smiling. He fills me in. “You didn’t know they were all electric, did ya!” I’m blown away. I hop down and Jake shows me how to work it. “Every wheel has its own toggle array. Back, forward, left and right. He turns to his right, and just under the boom extension are about twenty toggles. I can read the faded metal instruction tags under them. You had to turn completely around on the seat to operate the four extender support legs in front of each hard rubber drive wheel. Jake knows what’s coming next and saves my breath. “It’s not for sale. EVER!” That took care of that. This was built in the 1930’s! No fumes in your shop. Quiet. Dependable. Would I trade my 1946 UNIT Crane for it? No fucking way. But, I sure would love to see this baby parked next to it.
Sack and I end up goofing at ‘Terrible Town Casino’, in downtown Pahrump. The place is pretty crowded. I’ve never won anything gambling so I headed for the coffee shop and some iced tea. I ask a tired but nice Latino waitress if it’s always so busy. She informs me that it’s like this on the first of the month. People get their checks and they come to ‘parlay’ them into quick fortunes. As soon as it;s all gone, it’s cat food and food stamps until the next first. “Come by tomorrow. Plenty of seats at the machines!”
George tells her a couple of my old jokes and she hangs out for a few minutes. When my carrot cake is brought by a coworker, she asks me if I would like it a la mode. Our table was five feet from the ice cream machine so I nodded a yes. Under the chrome nozzle goes my carrot cake. She takes a quick look around then covers my carrot cake with six giant loops of ice cream. As she sets it down in front of me she whispers, “Eat it fast before anyone sees!” George helped me. I tell him to back off and worry about his sugar intake. He gurgles out a quick, “Shut up!” We take care of business. Both of us get head freezes. George tips her ten bucks.
Back at the shop, everything is ready to go except the rear end. I have the pleasure of watching a master at work. Using titanium blocks and air powered rams controlled by foot pedals, Jake torques the drive train to Sack’s specs while giving us a running commentary on what he’s doing. Multiple gauges on the machine tell Jake every move he’s making on the newly welded rear end. Really impressive. As my eyes follow his swift moves, he’s like a ballerina. Constant motion with no wasted moves. He had done this dance thousands of times. Glancing at all the gauges, mini blocks placed here and there then pressed by slight taps of his toes on the big steel shoe guides, voila! It was done! Total cost? $400 to Mickey, the rest was between Sack and Jake.
As we put the rear end in the back of Sack’s Dodge truck, Jake motions us to follow him across the large front lot over to his personal residence. Around about an acre is a ten foot chain link fence. Interlaced with lathe strips to block your view. Once inside the solid metal gate, you’re looking at about fifty Honda cars. The old 60’s ones. Ones never sold here. Japanese models. Vans. Trucks. Two doors. Four doors. Some with four flats. Some missing doors and hoods. I’m not a car man and it was HOT. I say some compliments and start to head back to George’s truck. Jake looks hurt. I step back to his side.
“These Honda’s are just a hobby. Inside the garage is what I really want to show you guys!” He unlocks the side door to the house’s three car garage and in we go. It was hotter than hell inside. No open windows and just oppressive heat. Wanting back out, Sack’s open mouth has me look where he’s looking. I start to take notes on my hand and Jake shakes his head no. “This is top secret. Tell no one!” So, I can’t. I can tell you this much. He’s using five types of cars from the 30’s to the 50’s to make this giant Frankencar. It’s hood is seven foot long. A V-16, 24 valve engine, with all sorts of stuff on it that I have no idea what he was talking about. It’s to be completed in five years. Think of a Flash Gordon rocket mating with a Futuristic Batmobile. To open the doors you push in small button like protrusions behind the doors themselves. They then sprang open smooth as butter. Really neat.
ITEM: Back at Sack’s truck, I tell Jake my Richter story. The earthquake measuring is called the, ‘Richter Scale’ to honor him. Forgive the spelling. I’m too tired to look for the dictionary. At Richters big shop in North Pasadena on my first phone repair, I watched sheets of tear off paper coming off a big machine. A metal arm like a spider leg is making squiggly lines back and forth across the wide sheets, then, the sheets continue on, folding themselves into a catch box on the floor. I ask a fresh off the phone Richter if there are earthquakes somewhere. He laughs then tells me they thought the same thing when they first turned it on. Then they found out from the odd hours it came on that there was a rhyme and reason to the hits. It turned out the Lockheed plant in Burbank had a giant press, so huge, that every time it stamped out a one piece frame for an F-18 fighter it caused a 2.9. (Ten years later, I was at that Lockheed plant and saw them taking that big press apart to junk it. It was about twenty five feet tall and even wider. One of the techs gave me an 8″ by 10″ of it in action. I put it in that year’s journal).
Finally heading for home, we drop Mickey off at his ex’s. As she opened the door to let him in, she was dressed in a man’s two piece pajama set. She ignored us and looked happy to see Mickey. We headed for Baker and a Bob’s Big Boy before parting ways back in Mojave. A really fun day…