Thursday, October 29, 2015


Sourcing the original intent of this blog, I wanted it to relate some of the events of my life so they are recorded for my kids. Recently, I have come to the realization that my memory of the events are, in most cases, the only remaining version.

Haven't we all heard one person's version of an event, only to hear the other side and wonder if they exist on the same planet? Every parent I know can commiserate. I can only tell the stories as accurately as my memory will give me the details.

Here is one that is fairly straightforward:


Stanley was one of the typical employees at the oil change business I helped turn around in Omaha. A bit older, in his 30's, not addicted to heroin, but otherwise similar. Low to medium intelligence, little in the way of responsibility. Smoked.

The smoking was always a problem in that we worked in a facility that was filled with petroleum products. Banned in all areas, of course, but still a problem. I was reminded of this event today as I filled my car with windshield washer solution and saw the "Good to -20!!" on the container. That means the fluid won't freeze and break the reservoir in the car, but it also means that it is not plain water. We could have purchased pre-mixed fluid, but that meant buying a lot of expensive water. To reduce our cost of operation, we purchased 55-gallon drums of ethanol, mixed it with water out of the tap and delivered it to the work stations.

Now, ethanol is the stuff they add to gasoline, so pretty flammable. I had mentioned to Stanley that the drum was empty and needed to be changed, so I was not surprised when I walked into the back room and saw him working on the drum/pump/plumbing...but I was surprised when I saw the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. 

Another surprising thing about ethanol is that its flame is nearly invisible, maybe a bit of blue at the tip. But it sets everything else on fire. What I saw was a spray coming out of the drum/pump/plumbing and the fire climbing up the wall. So far, Stanley's face and hair were not on fire, but it was inevitable. Unlike most times when you go, "Where the hell is the fire extinguisher??", this time it was right in front of me, I sprayed Stanley first, the wall second and the drum, etc. last. He survived with minor burns.

Then I proceeded to have nightmares for years. Decades.

Who can verify that story? Probably, nobody. Stanley was younger than me by a good bit, but most of those guys were not destined to live long lives, in my opinion. To borrow a phrase used by another of the guys, "Does it hurt to be that stupid?"


Everybody has heard this story--riding calves. We were surrounded by large animals, the rodeo in town was good entertainment, and it was only natural to see if we could imitate some of the heroic activities of the rodeo cowboys. 

We were specifically forbidden to ride calves, probably out of respect for the calves rather than any concern for us, but that didn't stop us from rigging up a chute, wrapping a cinch rope around the calf and around my hand and nodding "OK" like the real guys. My brother only opened the chute a little bit, the calf lunged through the opening and my legs were immediately scrubbed back such that I was laying stretched out on the top of the calf. I could not get my hand out of the glove, the calf bucked, I flew up and inevitably down. The calf was then coming up again and its tail head, that bony structure at the base of the tail, hit me square in the solar plexus. 

I eventually disentangled, fell off face first into the baked clay and buffalo burrs of the barn yard, face first. The blow to the solar plexus had stopped all kinds of essential functions, including breathing, so my brother thought, "I've finally one it, I've killed him!"

It took me over an hour of trying to regain normal functions, but I came out of it with fairly bruised and scratched face, but no other injuries of consequence. Ready for the next time. 

Again, my version, my memory is the only one since my brother is gone. Hopefully, I tell it like it happened.


If you don't know how much I despise the typical elite columnist, you haven't been listening. The use of the word "chute" above reminded me of reading something recently by one of them who spelled the word "shoot." And, probably calls the leather leggings used as protection "chaps" to rhyme with "chap stick" instead of the correct pronunciation so the initial sound is like in "shack." But they are still superior to us, aren't they? By virtue of their Ivy League "education?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


As much as you know I love the Royals, and rejoice in the victory, Bartolo Colon deserves better.

First, he pitched really well--not bad for an old guy (42+ years old). Not his fault there was an error.

Second, and most importantly, his physical profile matches some of the rest of us. Bet he hasn't seen his feet in years, either.

I would be happy if the Royals finish off the Mets promptly and Colon doesn't end up on the mound again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Somebody decided to take a look at the cost of each victory by comparing games won against salary dollars.

The results are fairly predictable, the big city teams paid a lot of money in payroll, and this year, they did not make it to the World Series. Well, ok, the Mets are a big city team, but they are NOT the hated Yankees or the Dodgers and they didn't reach the ridiculous heights of the Dodgers or Yankees in salary cost.

Team                                      Payroll                             Wins                        $/win

Dodgers                                 $314 million                      92                        $3,414,874

Yankees                                 $219 million                      87                        $2,520,194

The rest of the top ten included, in order, Red Sox, Phillies, Giants, Tigers, Nationals, Angels, Rangers and the Blue Jays.

Phillies                                    $141 million                     63                        $2,249,566

Now, this one, the Phillies, would tick me off!! They had to eke out a win on the last day of the season to avoid losing 100 games in the season. Yoweee. And they spent how much to be that bad?

Let's look at the Mets and the Royals.

Mets                                        $132 million                     90                        $1,463,333

Royals                                     $138 million                     95                        $1,452,632

The Royals' opening day salary was $112 million, just over a third of the Dodgers, but they picked up some expensive help during the season. Essentially taking over somebody else's bad negotiating results.

Success of a farm team, let's keep it going tonight. Go Royals.                

Saturday, October 3, 2015


I think the preamble to this blog announces that one of the purposes is to hand down stories to my kids. Three of the kids grew up in Sioux City, so these stories may ring some bells.

It has been my great good fortune and privilege to have known a number of interesting and wonderful people in my life. I could call up the names of a few (and that gets more difficult with each year), but a character who stands out is Harry Pratt.

Harry could be better known to some as the great uncle of Fred Grandy, "Gopher" from the Love Boat and a US Representative from Iowa. In Sioux City, Harry was a celebrity of great standing on his own.

Every year about this time, he would come to our office at the bank and get his investments settled for the time that he would be away. He spent winters in La Jolla, California and every year he would complain about the trouble it would take to get someone to drive his Cadillac to California, then back and the traffic was getting worse. One time he exclaimed, "I think I'll just get a motorcycle." Harry at that time was into his 90's.

Harry and a few others were instrumental in pulling the bank out of the Bank Closing of 1934 and making it into the leading banking institution in Sioux City. When I joined the Trust department, we had just over $100 million in assets, and I just found out that they now have over $2.3 billion under management.

Every four years, he accompanied several others to Canada for a fly-in fishing trip. As the years passed, the companions changed and finally the operator of the lodge told Harry that he could have the trip free when he turned 100. He made it despite his complaint that "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd taken better care of myself." He expired the next year.

Mrs. Booth and her brother George loved to invite me to dinner at the Country Club and she gave me a pop-over pan that has been lost to the ages now; Helen McMaster (Matt at age 11, summer in Fargo: "Helen, the front of your Jaguar is covered in bugs!" Helen, "You hit a lot of them when you set the cruise at 90."), Bob Williams (felled by a severe stroke in his early 60's), Mr. Ed Palmer (he was always Mr. Palmer to me, but encouraged me to call him Ed) who basically established the wholesale grain trade in Western Iowa and the barge traffic, too; Mr. Gossett, the president of the bank for decades, Ted Thompson.  In previous places, "important" people had treated me as a peasant--thinking of George Cook (head of an insurance company), Bill Smith, head of a bank, but in Sioux City, they treated me with dignity and that goes such a long way.

I don't remember his name and I always had trouble with it, but I received a call from the banking floor requesting that I come down and talk to a "gentleman" who wanted to get some investment advice. At that time, my job was to invest the bank's bond portfolio and to buy and sell bonds for our correspondent bank and larger customers.  When I was introduced, I understood why the referral was so tentative--he was a small, wiry man with strawberry blond, scraggly hair that appeared to have been cut by his own hand; a creased and sunburned face that nearly glowed bright red; plaid shirt and baggy dungarees that were held in place (I don't make this stuff up) with baler twine. He had heard that short-term interest rates were 15% or so, the bank down the street would only pay him 6% and wondered if he could do better with us. As it turned out, the answer was yes...and he invested $3 million. He farmed by Salix, and while we were never "friends," I counted him as one of the good people I knew.

I told you that Harry was old. We hired a fellow to join the lending cadre who came to us in about 1980 from a bank in Council Bluffs. Harry was introduced to him, heard he was from CB and asked, "I used to live in Council Bluffs. Did you know so-and-so?" Bill: "No." "Well, did you know such-and-such?" Bill: "No." This went on for a couple more names, when Harry looked quite perplexed and finally stopped and thought a while. "Aw, hell, thought you might be an imposter there for a minute, but I guess you might not know those guys--I left Council Bluffs when I was 35 years 1925." Some of my fondest memories of Sioux City involve the terrific people of one or two generations older who treated me so well.

Bless them. My fondest hope is that the younger members of my family can experience the entertainment and the encouragement of cool older people as I did. Priceless.

Friday, October 2, 2015


I first posted this in December 2013, and recently Doug heard about the post, thought it was pretty accurate, but left out one item.

Here is the correction: Instead of leaving his partner, Jim, in the car, they both started to make their way across the field. When Doug saw the bull occupying the pasture with them, he whispered, "Jim," but Jim didn't hear him. A little louder, "Jim," but no response. Finally, "JIM!!!" but when Doug took his eyes off the bull and searched for Jim, he was making long strides in those wing tips. Doug remembers thinking that his London Fog was blowing back, nearly parallel to the ground just like in a cartoon. He and the bull, just the two of them.

The rest of it is pretty much the same, but it was good to talk to Doug, to hear about how successful the bank has been in the 30 years since I left (when I joined the trust department in 1975, there was $100 million under investment management and they are at $2.3 billion now!!).

Here is the original post:

I was amused the first time I heard this, and over the many intervening years, the thought of it has given me further chuckles.

Doug came to the bank as a college guy, long hair, somewhat "hippie," but after all, it was the time. Soon he took on the look of the rest of the folks at the workplace, moved up the corporate ladder and did very well. In the middle, though, he took on one of the jobs that was not sought after--repo man. Subsequently, the bank quit making loans that required this kind of activity.

As the low man on the totem pole whose job it was to contact customers who were delinquent in their car payments, he had an unpleasant job (all of the time) and dangerous (some of the time). Guns were drawn, and those times were not amusing at all. But the late winter episode in rural South Dakota is the one that sticks in my mind.

This was one that was very delinquent. They had been unable to ascertain the location of the customer or the car, and winter had delayed a lot of leg work. Finally, they had a location in rural South Dakota which was not far from the city in those days, and still is not far even today. A pair of repo men drove out there only to find that the long driveway was still drifted shut despite the more mild weather of on-coming spring. Doug thought it was probably fruitless, but necessary to do the job right, so he shrugged on his long London Fog, decided the wingtips could suffer, determined that a path through the adjacent pasture would be better than slogging through the deep snow in the driveway and away he went. The barbed wire fence is familiar to all of us in that part of the world, and easily negotiated, so he trudged away across the pasture and left his partner smoking and relaxing in the snug confines of the car.

Nearly to the trailer house, about to climb through the next fence, he discovered that he had neglected to identify the occupant of the pasture--a bull. With horns. And it appeared to be distraught over his violation of his territory. You are not supposed to run, but the fence was close, so he ran and rather than offering a target for the bull by climbing through, he climbed on top of the fence, about to jump over when out from under the trailer emerged two big dogs.

And they seemed to be upset, too. Perched on top of the fence with threats ahead and behind, the "lady" of the home emerged with a child on her hip and another clenched to her leg. "What do you want," she said, but not as politely.

He glanced at the shed where a shell of a car with chickens inside looked like the one they were supposed to repo. "Ma'am, you're not going to believe this, but I want your car." She said, "Take it, and if you find my husband, take him too," again, not said quite so politely.

From his position of power and authority, Doug offered an "executive decision,"-- "If you call your dogs off, I'll leave you alone." Seemed as though the snow-covered driveway offered the best path back to the car, his partner and a good warm office.

I have never been to that exact location, but I see it clearly in my mind's eye. The late-winter snow, the whole vision of Doug perched on the fence, the weary mom and the dilapidated trailer are vivid in my imagination as are the words, "Ma'am, you're not going to believe this, I want your car."

My guess is that Doug finds his job a bit better than those days in rural South Dakota.


Most of you have heard my tirades on this subject before, but many years ago I wondered where all the Teflon and Silverstone coating went when it was (inevitably) scratched and disappeared from the cooking utensil.

A lot of this is common sense, but what we call common sense needs to be augmented by scientific knowledge--for instance, the use of pewter was not linked to health problems in the Middle Ages until someone found out that the lead that was leached out was REALLY bad for you.

Take a look. This says it better than I can.

By the way, quit using vegetable oil, margarine and other manufactured stuff, and start using eggs, butter and whole milk. Better for you...and supplemental note to self--lose a few pounds.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


The first time I drove in the Northeast was July, 1969. The last time was last weekend.
  • Thank goodness for GPS
  • New York still holds the record for the worst surfaces
  • I'm thankful we weren't driving my uncle's VW Bug as in 1969
  • The New Jersey Turnpike has some marvelous stretches
  • People still ignore the speed limit
I distinctly remember being in the center lane on the turnpike in that VW Bug when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the reverse of "MACK" and checked out the other two lanes that were occupied by an 18-wheeler and a bus. Peddle faster.

The portion of I-95 that crosses the Bronx was then and now full of holes, confusing, a bit of a free for all and congested. Since it is like that 24/7, how would you go about improving it?

Not like New Jersey. There is a stretch between New York and Philadelphia that is designed and built to handle the traffic. Cars have their own three lanes, trucks/busses use a separate three-lane highway. New, smooth and fast. Congrats Governor Christie if you had anything to do with it.

On a different trip, when the girls were younger, we were driving a rental from Boston south and as we went through Hartford, a 55 gallon barrel dislodged from the truck in front of us, bounced and wedged under the bumper of the ready-mix truck next to us. Close call.

This time we visited friends on Cape Cod and returned safely. Maybe next time take the train? 


We enjoyed perfect New England weather and visited Danny in Rhode Island for a long weekend. A takeaway for me was a metaphor used by a guest speaker, an Admiral, at one of his classes at the Navy War College in Newport.

The Admiral said that the US employs a foreign policy that is similar to what we see in the behavior of a golden retriever that enters a room, greets everyone with a smile and good intentions, expects to be loved and petted by all and creates chaos by sweeping everything onto the floor with his tail. Then leaves without knowing what just happened, still believing that everyone loves him.

When the Pope visited, there were some who were a bit miffed because he made comments about how the US should behave and what this country ought to do. My first reaction was, "How dare a foreign entity interfere with our internal affairs." Then, "Oh, wait a minute. We do that all the time."

The key here is WITH THE BEST INTENTIONS. We so want, as a nation, to be loved by all. Anyone who has been a parent or a boss understands that in the real world of humans, that is just not possible.

Now, if we could start by figuring out how to control that tail...