Fail Safe by Dr. Morrison - P.O.W. Report

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fail Safe by Dr. Morrison

Tlingit and Haida peoples of Alaska share great stories and history, [follow them here].

Fail Safe
by Woody Ḵáawan Sangáa

In 1955 my parents sent me to southern California to live with my maternal (Cherokee) grandparents. They lived at a place called Oak Glen, Calif. in the mountains above Yucaipa (where I attended 9th Grade). My grandfather worked for, and he and grandma lived on, Los Rios Rancho – they grew apples and raised cattle. About a half-mile from my grandparents was another family with a teenage boy, Steven, who was my age – 14. His dad worked for Los Rios Rancho and they also lived on the property.

In the early Fall, at that end of the Apple Growing Season, Steven and I worked in the Apple Sales room, carrying boxes of apples out to customers' cars. One of jobs was to go down to the packing sheds and sweep them down. Right next to it was where they Cider – Presses were... they had burlap bags filled with apples that they would put into that press and crush the apples to extract the juice. Then the apple juice was put into very large barrels (maybe 100 gallons). By the time the apple season was over, some of the cider had been sitting in those huge barrels for maybe a month.

They had a sort of picnic and, the barrels were completely drained and it was served to the workers and staff. Steven and I managed to sneak away with a cup of that fermented apple juice. I do remember it was almost like a carbonated drink that fizzed up one's nose. It tasted pretty good but it made the ground move... not much. We didn't refill the cup.

Steven was a very adventurous and imaginative guy̱: we had a lot of fun but it think our teen high-jinks greatly accelerated the aging of his parents and my grandparents. Once he talked me into going up the mountain to the East of the Orchards where there were cliffs.

He wanted to climb down those cliffs – brought a large coil of rope. We were both very enthusiastic until we peered down that 50 ft. cliff – our rope was too short (was our excuse for not going down the cliff.

I never did ask where or how Steven ended up owning a 1939 Mercury Coupe (a two-door car) with a 4 cylinder engine. I also never asked if he had a driver's license.

Yucaipa lies about 60 miles east of Los Angles. Then from Yucaipa, where Steven and I attended the Yucaipa Junior High School, was a winding, narrow (2-lane) road up the mountain to Oak Glen. About a half-mile past our house was the high point of the road. From there it wound down to Cherry Valley (about 6 miles from our house), lots of Cherry Orchards. From which it was about an hour or so drive to Palm Springs, Calif.

Back to Steven's 1939 Mercury Coupe... it had mechanical brakes (fore-runners of hydraulic brakes) that required constant adjustments. This was also a time before seat belts... Often, before it snowed, Steven would come by the house on his car and he would drive us to school. Going down that 2-lane, winding mountain road was “exciting”, could go pretty fast but most of the time we couldn't see on-coming traffic until we were nearly nose-to-nose.

Once we got to the school, the foot brakes didn't work very well but the hand brake usually worked well enough for us to stop where he wanted to stop. As soon as classes were out we were off for home.

Going uphill was kind of boring, the car had a 4 cylinder engine so Steven rarely got our speed up to 3o miles per hour. Oh, I think gas was about 12 cents a gallon. So for Fifty-Cents we could get almost 5 gallons of gas. The cooling system on that car was different from the cars made in the 1940's, which meant that by the time we reached the turn-off to our house, there was steam coming out from under the radiator cap.

Steven would make the right turn off the paved road onto the the dirt road running down hill to our house. That was usually his first chance to depress the brake pedal. From the turn-off to our house was about 150 yards. So... I forgot to mention, when Steven pressed down the brake pedal there was almost never any braking. Although the grade wasn't very steep, Steven always forgot to slow down when he made the turn-off, so we had some room to pick up speed.

Steven would have a death-grip on the steering wheel and pumping that brake pedal while we were both cheering and carrying on with other antics appropriate to our teen years. Because, Steven had a Fail-Safe. Once we safely shot past our house, about 50 yards further, on the left, was a dirt road that led into the apple orchard. And, it went UP HILL.

The Coupe always leaned dangerously in my direction when we made the turn, but it slowed us down enough for me to jump to safety. He continued on home and, when he got there he had another escape-ramp that went Up Hill to a large oak tree. By the time he reached the oak he was doing only about 5mph. Those old cars were built like tanks, do banging into that tree didn't hurt the car – when he rammed the tree. Safely home again.

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