The Truck Technician

When I tried to start my old Chevy S-10 all I heard was a clicking sound, like the battery was nearly dead. But how could that be?

Don Allemann, a friends for the last 50 years.
Don Allemann, my friend for the last 50 years, at Snowbird.

Don Allemann and I had just stopped for breakfast at a fast food restaurant off of I-40 west of Winston-Salem somewhere. The truck had been running just fine until I cut it off and Don and I went inside to get sausage biscuits and coffee.  But not now.

I had no idea where I was going to find a mechanic. I didn’t even know the name of the town. Don’t know it now. I walked across the street to a convenience store to see if maybe someone there could point me in the right direction.

The only customer in the store had just paid for his cigarettes so I asked the guy at the cash register if he knew where I could find a mechanic.

The customer, still standing the the register, said to the clerk, “He’s looking for a technician.”

I wasn’t talking to him and his comment irritated me just a little.

The clerk looked like a foreigner and I wondered if had understood me. I repeated myself: “My truck won’t start and I need a mechanic.” The customer, who was looking at me now, repeated himself:  “He needs a technician.”  

This guy needed to mind his own business.

And then it dawned on me what he meant by that, and I asked, “Are you a mechanic?” He said he was, and I pointed through the convenience store window at my truck and asked him if he had time to take a look at it.  He did.

We walked out of the convenience store together but instead of turning left toward my truck, he turned the other way and walked a few feet to his shop. I had broken down across the street from a garage that fixed cars and trucks. He picked up a rubber mallet and said to two feet sticking out from under a car, “I’ll be right back.”

The technician's tool.
The technician’s tool.

As we walked across the street to my truck the “technician” told me, “I know what’s wrong with it.”

“What?” I asked.

“You got a bad fuel pump.”

He told me to get in and crank it when he gave me the go-ahead. Then he dropped to the ground, reach under my truck and started banging on the gas tank with his mallet.  My truck started right up.

Postscript: The “technician” said my truck might keep on starting for a week, a month, maybe several months. Or it might not start the next time. If that happened, get somebody to bang on the gas tank, he said.  I didn’t have to do that. It ran flawlessly until I had the fuel pump replaced a few weeks later.

Coming Monday: “How Can I Help You?”

It’s A Good Life

“It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.”

I had used that expression all my life without having any idea where it came from.

Then, a few years ago, I visited one of my nephews, Steve Lambert, who lives in Robbinsdale, MN, near Minneapolis. And he gave me a copy of a letter my Dad had written to my mother, Alice May Cameron, who had taken the children from North Birmingham, AL, and gone home, to San Francisco.

The letter, which must have been written in 1928 or 1929, showed me where I had learned that line, from my Dad.  Just above Dad’s signature he had written:  “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”

[Oh, I know.  I say “good” life; he said “great” life; but that’s close enough to my way of thinking.]

This is the last page of a letter my Dad wrote my Mother, explaining his latest business venture.
This is the last page of a letter my Dad wrote my Mother, explaining his latest business venture.

[Wait a minute. Why had my Mother gone back to San Francisco, where she met and married Dad?  And how did Steve get that letter?]

[My mother left him because the family was “destitute,” according to Brother John.   Sister Marge, the oldest of what grew to seven brothers and sisters by my Mother, told me that in the 1920’s, when she was a young girl, they lived for a while in Coalburg, a coal mining town near Birmingham.  Marge said there were holes in the walls of their house “big enough to throw a cat through.”

[Marge must have gotten hold of “don’t weaken” letter after Mother died in 1947. When Marge died in 2009 my sister, Alene, who also lived in Charlotte and looked after Marge, got it and gave it to her oldest son, who collects such things. Good place for it too. Steve cares for all things old.]

Where did Dad pick up that line? Ah, thank you Internet.

That phrase is the invention of Eugene Francis Byrnes whose cartoon, “It’s a Great Life If you Don’t Weaken,” was syndicated by the New York Evening Telegram from 1915 to 1919. It became a rallying cry of the American Army during World War I, the internet story said.

Dad was in the Army during in WWI.

His “Transcript from Record of Service” shows he sailed from the United States on Oct. 28, 1918, bound for France. And, on the day he arrived, Germany surrendered, on Nov. 11, 1918.

Dad told us kids that Kaiser Wilhelm II gave up when he heard Dad had landed.

NOTE: There was a hit song from that period called “It’s a Great Life (If You Don’t Weaken)” but, apparently, it was not recorded until 1930. According to Brother John, my Mother and her then three children returned to Alabama by train in November 1929.  In a family history John wrote about 30 years ago, he said Dad met them in Attalla, AL,  in an orange panel truck and took them to their new home, which he had built, at 1023 Hoke Street, Gadsden, Al.

Coming Friday: The Truck Technician