Road Trip Out West

Jim n Katie Patterson, wonderful host family in Apache took girlfriend Dottie Moffett and I on a special trip out west, driving across the Texas panhandle to New Mexico, where Jim’s Mom Merrell had a cottage outside Red River in the Sangre de Christo mountains.

Granma Merrill's Cottage outside Red River
Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River

Here we stayed with the gang – the wonderful group of Apache friends the Pattersons hung out with: Manars, Hrbaceks, Mindemanns and Paynes.

After a terrific stay there, we headed off to Vegas in their Ford LTD via Colorado and Utah

Colorado1973 (4).JPG
The LTD, with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson

In Colorado we rode a historic steam train from Durango north to Silverton.

Then via Utah, where we visited Bryce Canyon and Zion NP.

Bryce Canyon small

In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. I learnt to gamble, I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept winning small amounts so kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were down by a considerable fortune – $10 – and could go to bed.

We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away (also Joan warbled a song and Pet told a joke!). I learnt a Vegas rule when saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us a good table!

StardustSign1973
1973 Vegas strip scene

After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we’re just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I had to get down there.

I started running down the Bright Angel trail. It’s about 10km to the river. I’ll give myself an hour, I think. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Only once I had to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass. I made sure I was on the upside!

Bright Angel trailhead
Bright Angel Trail seen from the South Rim. Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.

At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there’s green shrubbery and even some tall trees.

Indian Gardens Grand Canyon.jpg

In well under an hour I got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving blue-green water. I had never seen such a large volume of water flowing clear like that. Our South African rivers mostly run muddy and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d started kayaking a couple of years before, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that in eleven years time I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level river!

bridge grand canyon.jpg
1973 on foot

The hike back out was steep, but hey, I was 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!

In ’84 I arrived under that bridge in my kayak. Here our supporting rafts heave to:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (27)
Same bridge eleven years later in a kayak

Then we headed home, by and large following the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, and back to Oklahoma. Me to Apache and Dottie on to Ardmore. What a wonderful trip!

I learned later:

  • The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell upstream;
  • The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
  • They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
  • Jim has hiked the rim to rim hike through the canyon a number of times since – an annual pilgrimage – the last time he did it he was 70!

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***most pics off the ‘net – I’ll add my own when I find them!***

Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains

All above are internet pictures. These next I took on a visit in 1973 with fellow exchange students and my Apache host brothers. From left: Dayne Swanda, Kent Swanda, Helen Worswick from Marandellas, Zimbabwe, Jenny Carter from Bromley, Zimbabwe, Jonathan Kneebone from Australia, Evelyn Woodhouse from Durban, South Africa and Robbie Swanda.

Bison, elk and deer are protected on the 23,880 ha wildlife refuge. The refuge also manages a herd of longhorn cattle. The peaks are capped by 540 million-year old granite. Here you can see where the mountains are in SW Oklahoma. Apache is just a few miles north.

Wichita Mountains-001.jpg

Football Turnaround – So Glad You Could Leave!

I played football in Apache Oklahoma in 1973 for the Apache Warriors.

Apache Football Team 1973 – I was No. 47 – and surplus to requirements

The coaches did their best to bring this African up to speed on the rules and objectives of gridiron. We played two pre-season warm-up games followed by five league games. And lost all seven encounters!

Myself I was kinda lost on the field, what without me specs! So here’s me: Myopically peering between the bars of the unfamiliar helmet at the glare of the night-time spotlights! Hello-o! Occasionally forgetting that I could be tackled even if the ball was way on the other side of the field!

At that point I thought: Five more weeks in America, five more games in the season, football practice four days a week, game nights on Fridays. I wanted out! There was so much I still wanted to do in Oklahoma and in preparing for the trip home. I went up to Coach with trepidation and told him I wanted to quit football. Well, he wasn’t pleased, but he was gracious.

We were a small team and he needed every available man, how would they manage without me?

By winning every single one of the last remaining five games, that’s how!!

Our coach Rick Hulett won the Most Improved Coach Award and the team ended up with one of their best seasons for years!

I like to think the turnaround was in some small way helped by the way I cheered my former team-mates on from the sideline at the remaining Friday night games! But I suspect it was the fire in the belly of my teammates determined to succeed without me!

This after me:

Apache Football

edit:
I see Apache football has had some great results recently!

Flying in 1973

As a 17-yr-old in 1973 I flew from Jo’burg to Rio de Janeiro, then on to New York. This in an SAA Boeing 707 (‘a narrow-body, four-engined jet airliner built from 1958 to 1979, the first jet to be commercially successful. Dominating passenger air transport in the 1960s and remaining common through the 1970s, the 707 is generally credited with ushering in the jet age’ ). Wikipedia also says that 10 of them were still flying in 2013! Here’s one:

SAA 1973 Boeing 707

I flew on to Oklahoma City via Chicago, where I was met by Apache Rotarian Robert L Crews III.

I knew very little about flying and maybe that’s just as well. I now know this:

January 1973 in FLYING

  1. January 2 – Attempting to land in Edmonton, Canada in blowing snow, a Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 707 carrying 86 head of cattle and a crew of five, crashed and caught fire. The entire crew was killed. The cattle? Who knows.

  2. January 2 – Released from a psychiatric hospital days earlier, 37yr-old Charles Wenige hid in a lavatory aboard a Piedmont Airlines plane after it arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. When all the passengers had disembarked, he emerged and pointed a .45-calibre pistol at a crew member, demanding access to the liquor cabinet and to be flown to Canada. After two hours of negotiations, he agreed to release the stewardesses in exchange for a meeting with a psychiatrist and a priest. An FBI agent advised Wenige to tuck his pistol away in the priest’s presence. When Wenige did that, the agent overpowered and arrested him.

  3. January 4 – As a Pacific Western airliner prepared to take off from Vancouver, Canada with 18 people on board, a passenger, 26yr-old Christopher Nielson, drew a gun and demanded $2 million in cash and to be flown to North Vietnam, threatening to blow up the airliner if his demands were not met. During negotiations he allowed most people to disembark, leaving three crew members aboard the plane with him. Police then stormed the plane and arrested him, finding that he was armed only with two toy guns.  

  4. January 5 – The mandatory security screening of all airline passengers began at all airports in the USA.

  5. January 12 – The 197th and final American air-to-air victory of the Vietnam War.

  6. January 15 – President Richard Nixon ordered a halt to all bombing, shelling and mining of North Vietnam.

  7. A Boeing 707 chartered by Nigeria Airways crashed after the right main landing gear collapsed while the plane was landing in high winds in Nigeria. It was the deadliest aviation accident in history at the time.

  8. January 27 – A U.S. Navy plane was shot down over South Vietnam – the last American fixed-wing aircraft lost in the Vietnam War.

  9. January 27 – Frontier Airlines hired the first female pilot for any modern-day U.S. airline, Emily Warner. On the same day, the airline also hired its first African-American pilot, Bob Ashby.

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Air India!

On the way back at the end of that year, I flew in an Air India 747 – a jumbo jet! – from New York to London. On the plane I read in an abandoned newspaper that Air India had been voted World’s Worst Airline – again.

I have since learned this: ‘The years 1971-1973 were very bad for Indian Airlines. The 1971-1972 Pakistan War didn’t help. The airline reported a 45 million rupee loss in 1973, the carrier’s largest to that point. Exacerbating the aforementioned crises was the continual strike being waged by labor. Management, concerned by growing labor costs and inefficiency, eventually locked out many of its workers, operating only a skeleton schedule with a non-union workforce’.

I notice groping is a problem on Air India and they now keep plastic handcuffs to bopha the culprits. I feel I have to report with some regret that none of those sari-clad hostesses groped me, despite their promises:

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World Trade Centre

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan were opened in April 1973. I didn’t see – or consciously notice – them. How unobservant is that!? And I must have seen them – I went up the Empire State building and looked around. Maybe I was staring at Central Park and the river?

Manhattan


bopha – isiZulu for bind, tie up (pronounce “bawpah”)

Waddayamean You’ve Never Heard Of Him!?

Jim Stainton was aghast! He had just invited me along to a rock concert in Oklahoma City and I had immediately accepted. My motto in Apache was I only say YES to all invitations to travel. Only got a year, gotta go everywhere! His follow-up questions had forced me to admit my ignorance.

Don’t say that! Don’t say you don’t know who Chuck Berry is!

Hey! I was a seventeen-year-old Vrystater. I was lucky enough to know a lot about modern music, but turns out there was this gap in the fifties when I was one month and twenty days old and Maybellene hit the charts!

But I was willing to learn, I had a ball at that concert with Jim, and I have been a Chuck Berry fan ever since!

What I didn’t tell Jim is I had even less heard of Bo Diddley! He featured with Chuck and they rocked up a storm. ‘My ding-a-ling’ was really big just then! (ok, that didn’t sound just right, but anyway . . . knowaddimean . . )

He played all his hits with huge energy, holding the big stadium in the palm of his hand. He played ‘Johnny B. Goode’, ‘Maybelline’, ‘Nadine’, ‘No Particular Place to Go’, ‘Reelin’ and Rockin’’  ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Surfin’ U.S.A’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ etc. etc And ‘My ding-a-ling’.

That was 1973. I recently found a 2014 pic of Jim on the internets. That’s him in the red T:

jim-stainton

Some Chuck Berry:
– “People don’t want to see seventeen pieces in neckties. They wanna see some jeans, some gettin’ down and some wigglin’.”
– “I love poetry. I love rhyming. Do you know, there are poets who don’t rhyme? Shakespeare don’ rhyme most of the time and that’s why I don’ like him.”
– “It amazes me when I hear people say ‘I want to go out and find out who I am’. I always knew who I was. I was going to be famous if it killed me.”
– “I would sing the blues if I had the blues.”
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Bo

In 1963, Bo Diddley starred in a UK concert tour with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard. The supporting act was a little up-and-coming outfit called The Rolling Stones.

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footnote: I asked a friend last year  to bring some Chuck Berry to a gathering on my patio. I decided to catch up before so I looked him up on wikipedia – to learn he had died a few days before at the ripe ole age of 90. R.I.P Chuck Berry.

‘My’ Famous Oklahoman Tornado

In Apache Oklahoma in 1973 I lived with the charismatic funeral home owner, fire chief, ambulance driver, hearse driver and tornado alert man, Robert L Crews III. In the funeral home. While I was there we sounded the siren for tornadoes twice and watched them approach. Once we even went down into the basement as it came so close. But both times it went back up into the clouds – didn’t touch ground.

Here’s the view on one of those days:

ApacheOK73 (7).JPG

In May we heard of the Union City disaster. We drove there to look-see. The image that stuck the most in my mind was the main street with many buildings completely gone. One shop had some shelves still standing – with product on the shelves – but the roof and walls were gone.

I found this recently:
Union City Tornado Makes History
NSSL revisits its past as it celebrates 40 years with NOAA – by Rachel Shortt

On May 24, 1973, a tornado rated F4 struck the Union City area and was the first tornado widely documented by science as part of storm chasing field research. NSSL out of Norman, Oklahoma placed numerous storm chasers around it to capture the life cycle on film.

tornado-union-city-1973-path

 

As the devastating tornado tore through the small town of Union City, no one knew the tremendous impact it would have on the development of weather radar. Researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory now look back on that day as a significant event in the history of severe weather research and forecasting.

And I was (sorta) there!

For a human interest story, see this article written in 1993, on the 20th anniversary of the tornado:
New York Times 27 May 1993 – Tornado Veterans Wait For Next One

The tornado that people in Union City talk about the most twisted in from the northwest twenty years ago this week, killing two people and demolishing half the downtown buildings. It blew the cross atop St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church into a field six miles away.

Another tornado destroyed the same church in 1896, and another flattened fifteen farmhouses in 1927. Yet another reduced two barns on the edge of Union City to kindling and seemed hell-bent on roaring toward town until it hit the South Canadian River nearby, spun away to the east and died out.

Here in the heart of “Tornado Alley” almost everybody knows that a new tornado will eventually show up on the western horizon. But they also agree on this: There is not much use in being obsessed about it.

“You can’t let it rule your life,” said Leo Radtke, who in 1973 watched from the storm cellar as the house where he was born, as well as his new Chevrolet El Camino, was swept away. “If it hits, it hits, and you just start over again, which is what I did. It’s part of living in this country.”

Where the Winds Collide – ‘This country’ is a swath of the Great Plains stretching diagonally from the Texas Panhandle to southern Iowa where warm, moist winds from the Gulf of Mexico frequently collide with cold, dry winds from the west at this time of year, combining to produce more tornadoes here than in any comparably sized place on earth.

And while most of the attention is understandably focused on communities when they are actually hit, a more typical tableau of life in Tornado Alley is found in places like Union City, a town of about 1,000 people in central Oklahoma, 23 miles west of Oklahoma City. Here and in thousands of communities like it, tornadoes exist not as a present danger but as a grim memory and a future threat.

Early warning? – There have been major advances in the radar equipment that helps meteorologists to detect a tornado while it is forming and to warn of its approach. Because of those advances and improved communications through radio and television, there has been a steady decline in the average number of fatalities caused by tornadoes every year — from 311 people in the 1920’s to 138 in the 1950’s to 56 in the most recent 10-year period, according to the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

But the average warning time is still only 19 minutes, and many tornadoes cannot be detected at all until they hit the ground, meaning that the first warning is an old-fashioned one: a human being sees it and yells. And even when people know it is coming, a tornado remains one of the most destructive hazards of nature, a vortex of winds swirling at up to 300 miles an hour and often churning up everything in its path, making any effort to protect property generally futile. ‘There’s Nothing You Can Do’

“If your home is in the way, you’ve had it — there’s nothing you can do,” said Leo Demmer, 64, who has seen five tornadoes in his lifetime but escaped the path of all of them.

Mr. Demmer, a wheat farmer and cattle rancher, quickly added that he was talking more about property than people, who will almost always be safe if they manage to get underground, perhaps to the kind of storm cellar that sheltered Auntie Em and Uncle Henry when the tornado struck Kansas in the “Wizard of Oz.”

Mr. Demmer should know. As he spoke he was adding two and a half tons of concrete to help anchor his own storm cellar, made of two steel cargo containers sunk into his back yard. “It was frightening, it was beautiful, and here it was coming right at us,” Mr. Demmer said of the 1973 tornado. He snapped a few pictures, then headed for the cellar.

It was 20 years ago, but people who describe the tornado can make it sound as if it hit last week. Several recalled that in the hours and even minutes before the tornado struck, at 4:55 in the afternoon, it seemed like the balmiest of spring days.

A Scrapbook of Memories – “It was just real pretty out,” recalled Odessa Bromlow, the owner of the T&B Country Market, which at the time was a cafe. “I had just been to the beauty shop, and it was time for a shift change — then poof. The wind just started howling.”  As she spoke, she flipped through a scrapbook she had put together full of headlines from the Oklahoma City papers. “Union City Devastated,” said one. “Twister Leaves Trail of Ruin,” read another. A Union City woman died because she could not get the door to her storm cellar open. The other victim was a man named Corp Sanders who had insisted on watching the tornado from a chair on his porch, even as the police officer screamed at him to run for cover.

Most People Stay – But while almost everybody here seems to have vivid memories of the tornado and the daze that settled over the town after it struck, most of those whose property was damaged eventually rebuilt and stayed put. Several people, asked what it was like to live in a place where each spring brought the threat of tornadoes, quickly said it was far preferable to living on either coast of the United States. On the east coast were hurricanes and on the west were earthquakes, they said, both of which can yield a far broader trail of destruction than a tornado.

“As terrible as it was, I’d rather deal with a tornado than an earthquake any day,” said Georgia Rother, the town clerk and treasurer. “With a tornado, at least you can see it coming. You can try to run away from it. With a quake, there’s no place to hide.” Others pointed out that even in Tornado Alley, the chances of getting killed or having a home destroyed by a tornado are very low — about as low as the chance of hitting the jackpot in a state lottery.

Early warning 2 – Many towns, including Union City, have installed emergency warning sirens on their streets — but only after experiencing the terror of a tornado when they did not have such devices.

Earlier this year Catoosa, a suburb of Tulsa, tabled as too expensive a motion to buy used warning sirens from a nearby town that was installing a more modern system. Then, in late April, a tornado struck, killing seven people and causing millions of dollars in damage. This week the neighboring town donated the used sirens to Catoosa.

For those who get their warnings by television, though, some experts fear an altogether different problem: too many warnings. Television stations throughout Kansas and Oklahoma have become ferociously competitive over the years. “Some of them will interrupt programs with a tornado alert at the slightest provocation,” said Frederick P. Ostby, the director of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center. “It’s getting to the point where people feel they can’t see any television program in its entirety during tornado season. People are getting angry about it.”

Mobile homes and fatalism – Here in Union City, when people think about tornadoes at all, it is usually with fatalism. That was especially true in a mobile-home development on the south side of town. At one trailer some old tires and cement blocks were placed on the roof to give the unit a bit more heft if a storm hit. “But I don’t suppose it will make much of a difference,” said Beverly Brookshire, a 48-year-old waitress who lives in the trailer. “If it’s our time, it’s going to hit. I just pray, ‘Lord, don’t let it be our time.’ ” Mobile homes can be unsafe in even the weakest of tornadoes. “There’s kind of a folklore out there that tornadoes actually seek out trailer parks,” said Frederick J. Gadomski, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University. “But it’s not that at all. It’s really that because of poor construction, they’re simply more vulnerable.”

The article as it originally appeared.