Have I been overlooking a third fix-it essential

“Holding things together
Ain’t no easy thing to do
—song lyrics by Merle Haggard

As an old car tinkerer and household repair artist, employing WD-40  and duct tape to fix just about anything is a regular routine. However, I’m thinking that I may have been overlooking a third fix-it essential that performs miracles when it comes to holding things together.

Last week, one of the earpieces on my glasses felt loose. I didn’t spend time fretting knowing that I had an eye exam on Monday. “Yep,” the optician confirmed. “It’s broken and hanging by a thread.” An order for new frames came with the warning, “Better baby those until we get the new ones.”

Guess I’m out of practice when it comes to babying. Three days later, I found myself holding the ailing earpiece in one hand and the rest of my glasses in the other. Hoping for a miracle in my workshop, I became reacquainted with an old friend akin to the WD-40  and duct tape family: J-B Weld. J-B Weld and I go way back. It’s true what they say about how the unique epoxy will fix anything but a broken heart.

Our relationship started not with a broken heart, but with a broken 1946 Chevrolet panel truck that served as the emergency service vehicle for Mount Pleasant Explorer Scout Post 206 in high school. The vehicle aided our scouting organization’s effort to assist police and fire department personnel with directing traffic at wrecks and fighting grass fires. H.O. Townsend’s father was the advisor and a father with an interest in helping guide young men in a positive direction.

Taking a positive direction with the old truck, we liberally applied white paint to every inch of the interior and painted the outside “emergency orange” with the help of a local body shop after which “Explorer Post 206, Mount Pleasant, Texas, Emergency Service” was artistically added to the sides by a local sign painter donating his skills.

The wrecking yard refugee looked good and was reliable, but was not swift. At full throttle, the big orange truck rumbled along faster than a heard of turtles in a cloud of snail dust while leaking a variety of fluids along the way. And there was that thing about the transmission jumping out of high gear. We soon learned that getting to a fire before it burned out on its own required a two-man team: a driver and someone to hold the floor-mounted shift lever in gear.

Seeking more speed, we pulled the head off the stove bolt six-cylinder motor hoping to freshen up the valves. In the process, we also solved part of the fluid leak mystery, the one about where that water puddle was coming from. With the manifolds removed, a hairline crack in the block was clearly visible. Popular opinion was the busted block was not fixable: we would need a new motor.

Cash was scarce and new was not in the vocabulary, but creativity was abundant. We cleaned the area around the crack and applied a liberal dose of the magical J-B Weld epoxy. Once the engine was back together, we filled the radiator, crossed our fingers, and fired up the old Chevy letting it run long enough to get hot before we ventured off farther than we could push it if the repair failed. Our gamble paid off; at least one leak was long gone.

We continued to operate the noble steed until the majority of us graduated from high school and moved on the next phase of solving life’s problems. Last word was that Bobby Joe Spearman bought it for parts. He already had one like it that was his father’s plumbing business service vehicle for many years.

When we sold the truck, the J-B Weld repair was still doing its job, and I’m happy to report several decades removed from the Explorer Post engine experience that the fix-it compound has once again solved one of my life’s problems. As I type this missive, I’m four days into looking through salvaged spectacles. It’s not a broken heart, but JB-Weld is still holding things together.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche.


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No rainy day roads, just a cup of coffee at home

Born in Detroit City back in ’51
She still looks pretty and she’s loads of fun
Through thick and thin she’s been my only one
It’s my Crown Victoria Custom ’51
—”Crown Victoria Custom ‘51” lyrics – performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Oil-OK. Tires-check. Coolant-perfect. Can’t be too cautious when heading out on a 250-mile road trip to cover in one day.

At least that was the plan. My columns are penned a week in advance to meet multiple deadlines, and we all know how East Texas weather can change in a day’s time. Give Mother Nature a whole week and an entire season can come and go.

I had planned to lead today’s post with, “If you are reading this week’s column on Saturday, Miss Vicky and I are on the road participating in the annual Highway 271 Cruise in Northeast Texas.” Instead, I’m savoring coffee this morning watching the dark clouds roll in and Miss Vicky is still slumbering out in the garage.

With Saturday’s 70 to 80-percent chance of rain across East Texas looming in the forecast all week, the event’s organizers opted Thursday to pull the plug for this week and reschedule in hopes of dryer forecasts on a future weekend. Rain is no stranger to the Highway 271 Cruise. In fact, much of last year’s event was driving in the rain.

Old cars are not allergic to rainy road trips, they are just not as much fun to drive and harder to clean up afterward. Plus, it cuts down on the crowds coming out to enjoy them in the participating cities which is the main focus of the chambers of commerce in the cities along the way.

Vicky and I were ready, however. Everything was checked, prepared and ready to roll. Inspecting everything on the car used to be standard preparation for even a short 1950s road trip. But today? Trips of 1,000 miles or more are started without a second thought checking only the fuel gauge and the cup holders.

Before Vicky (she’s my 1955 Ford Crown Victoria by the way – not a ’51 as the one Jerry Lee croons about) and I head out whenever the cruise is rescheduled, the checklist will be thorough. We’ve made trips together in the past including this one, but neither one of us is getting any younger.

While the event is only 45 miles long, she and I will travel 120 miles just getting to the starting point in Mount Pleasant. Stops along U.S. 271 include Pittsburg and Gilmer before the rolling car show arrives in Gladewater at 2:30 p.m. Each city offers culinary treats for the classic car cruisers and a 90-minute downtown mini-car show for the local citizens. At 4:00 p.m. it’s over and everyone departs Gladewater heading for home which for Vicky and me will be another 81-mile journey. By the time we return late Saturday, Vicky will have another 250 miles on her ticker.

But that’s no hill for a stepper as my friend Oscar used to say. I am not privileged to know everywhere Vicky has ventured in her 64 years on the road. All old cars have their secrets. I do know she came down from Arkansas in 1984 spending 28-years in Bossier City where she received a complete restoration before crossing the Red River to her new home in Center.

Having earned a driver’s license in 1964, I could use a restoration myself. Highlights on my road trip adventures involving vintage vehicles includes two trips to Daytona Beach, Florida in a ’56 Thunderbird and one from Chicago to Center in a ’65 Chevelle Malibu SS that was fresh out of storage in Iowa: 950 miles in 21 hours non-stop.

That trip crossed my mind last November driving home from the Corvette and Muscle Car Nationals car show in the Windy City. I didn’t set out to do a repeat non-stopper, it just turned out that way. The difference was that the original in the classic Malibu was an adventure whereas last year’s trip was a boring snoozer in a new but bland “looks like everything else on the road” styling econobox loaded with computers and auto everything.

Way before look-alikes loaded with computers and auto everything, there was also a trip I made from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Mount Pleasant and back in a 1965 Mustang …that one all in one long day, too. But, that’s a whole ‘nother story worth telling.

Oh, and let’s not forget cruising a ’69 Olds Cutlass W-31 muscle car purchased in Mount Airy, Georgia halfway back to Texas before unidentified noises spooked me into renting a truck and trailer to finish the trip home.

Whatever Saturday it happens, the Highway 271 Cruise will not be without its strange noises. After Vicky was restored about 12 years ago, she became a garage queen. However, I do have a couple of concerns.

There’s this vibration thing like something is loose that I can’t pinpoint. Maybe I will find the source before something falls off. Also, age brings on a lot of wind noise and there’s that aggravating roar in the rear end. A transplant may be in order, but it won’t happen before Saturday.

But that’s enough about me. Vicky’s in great shape and we’re ready for some 2019 road trip fun 1950s style—with a little sunshine.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion , the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor Press and the Alpine Avalanche

Hunting and golf, never mastered either one

Money can’t buy happiness. But it can buy a hunting license and that’s happiness.
Tee-shirt slogan in a hunting shop.

Know anyone who’s framed a hunting license? Me either, maybe I’ll be the first. Very appropriate since the license is my first.

I’m not a hunter. Just never caught on with me. Like playing golf. I’ve tried both hunting and golf and all I have to show for my efforts are demeaning but funny stories.

Dad took me duck hunting when we lived in West Texas. At the age of nine, I’m guessing a license wasn’t required. The only requirement I do recall was arising way too early for a weekend morning when it was way too cold to be outside. Plus, it was way too hard sneaking up on a handful of ducks floating around on a Baylor County, Texas tank: that’s West Texas speak for an East Texas pond.

Gave deer hunting my best shot in the late 60s up in Titus County where co-worker Johnny Garner invited me to go. I quickly accepted adding I‘d borrow dad’s 22. Allowing as how it would take a little larger weapon, he loaned me an appropriate firearm.

Hunting deer in East Texas woods bore some resemblance to hunting ducks on West Texas tanks. It was still way too early and way too cold. Before heading off in another direction, Johnny sat me under a tree to watch a nearby brush pile for the “big one.”

Ten minutes later, my first realization was despite wearing every layer of clothing I owned, it wasn’t nearly enough. Twenty minutes in, I realized the ground on which I was sitting was about as cold as the water in a West Texas tank or an East Texas pond.

The sky was turning shades of blue, like my feet, when predawn light cast shadowy details in the undergrowth. It was the biggest buck I had ever seen, actually, the only one I had ever seen. He peered around the heap of tree limbs, turning his head from side to side as his breath cast a vapor in the cold air. He moved cautiously closer. I didn’t move. I didn’t breathe. I even forgot how cold it was.

He nibbled at the remnants of winter grass as I planted the gun to my shoulder and centered the magnificent beast in the crosshairs. Through the scope, I could see details in his face and caution in his eyes.

Just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone when something caught his attention. It didn’t matter. I had already laid the gun down across my legs, content to simply gauge his reactions to the nature we both shared on a cold morning.

Sunlight was restoring my circulation when Johnny appeared from the undergrowth. “See anything?”

“Naw,” I replied. “Nearly froze to death but enjoyed watching the woods come alive at sunrise.”

Confessing that I shot nothing, I will further admit to remembering nothing about a license or even needing one for that adventure. I’m also hoping that will make it easier on me if the statute of limitations is more than 50 years.

The license last week was for a tower shoot at a Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort, a team building activity during a company business meeting.

While not a hunter, I used to shoot targets and cans. Even so, the safest place for a bird last week was still right in front of me. At least this time, I was not only legally licensed but also a little lucky. I came home with supper.

Anyone have a good recipe for pheasant, or a picture frame—one about the size of a hunting license?

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion  and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

An answer to virtually any question, except maybe one

“Some things man was never meant to know. For everything else, there’s Google.”—Anonymous

The encyclopedia salesman sat in our living room one West Texas summer night in 1957 touting the wisdom and knowledge in the volumes of bound books he was hoping to sell my father. His dramatic closing pitch was to lean forward, look at me and say, “Ask me a question, son. Any question, and I’ll find the answer right here.”

Somewhat shy at nine, I sat silently glancing first at my father, then at the salesman. “Go ahead,” dad encouraged. “Ask him a question.”

“What was the Lone Ranger’s real name,” I blurted out.

The suddenly drowning salesman stammered for a lifeline, but he needn’t have feared. Dad bought the encyclopedias even though the Lone Ranger’s identity remained a mystery.

Fifty-three years later, Encyclopedia Britannica published its last printed volumes after 244 years. The final updates were printed in 2012 although Britannica lives on in digital format only.

My reliance on digital devices today is remarkable given that in the early 80s I was heard to say, “I’ll never need to know how to operate a computer, just bring me the printouts to read.” Yeah, famous last words.

In an age when even printouts are almost a thing of the past, there is precious little I do without a computer. Checks? Hardly see one anymore. My income is direct deposited, my bills are paid online, and my cash is this thing called debit card. I shop the internet when I can’t buy locally and get it a couple of days later, if not overnight. I can visit more friends and family in one day than was once possible in months before cyberspace.

Daily Bible scriptures; health and nutrition tips; magazines; newspapers; books: all in my own personal pocket library for reading anywhere including the doctor’s waiting room where five-year-old magazines are standard enlightenment.

Speaking of doctors, personal medical records are a heartbeat away on most physician’s websites offering more medical knowledge in 60 seconds than one busy doctor ever provided in ten minutes of questioning, plus answers to those questions I forgot to ask.

Many things once commonplace, are today not only just a click away but often a click away only, period. “Online only” is something that has its good points and some maybe not so good.

When my device blinks once, it’s an Excedrin headache of unfathomable proportions—worse even than a number 23. I believe the degree of improvement in lifestyle when technology works and the degree of frustration when it doesn’t is proportionately equal to the “good old ways.” When the good old ways didn’t work, it was mildly frustrating but only a minor inconvenience. We had yet to get trapped in the age of an “instantaneous gratification” lifestyle.

We mailed checks or took them into the store and forgot about it. Missing a call wasn’t a big deal. In fact, we didn’t know we had missed one before voice mail. We always caught up with real face-to-face visits the next time we saw each rather than rudely thumbing away on phones. We bought things in real stores and talked to real people.

Some complain about “wasting too much time on computers.” Granted, some do while away excess hours on devices. But savor the reality of a simplified life via speed of communication and ease of performing everyday tasks in many ways. And a wealth of information, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, is available at your fingertips in seconds.

In fact, just one question remains for which I cannot find the answer. I still don’t know the Lone Ranger’s real name.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

Getting a charge out of good customer service

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”— Henry Ford

My contention that customer service is too often an oxymoron these days was echoed this week by my newspaper friend, Bill Hartman. His column in the Fort Bend Herald recounted an occurrence sounding all too familiar.

“The shopping part was easy,’ he wrote about his experience, complimenting the salesperson. The problem, he reported, was when it was time to pay out and the checkout employee encountered problems with the store’s check processing machine. When the malfunctioning device failed repeatedly to read his check, she told him it was broken and they couldn’t process the check.

“And what does that mean,” he asked?

“We can’t finish the sale,” was the reply he got. To that, he responded, “Have you ever considered doing it the old-fashioned way by just taking the check to the bank and depositing it.”

The checkout clerk was quick to say, “We don’t do that, don’t you have a credit card you could use?”

“Nope,” he said. “I guess we have no deal then.”

“About that time,” his column continues, “The young lady who did the selling sprinted by and returned with a lady in tow who must have been the manager. All of them gathered around. Finally, the manager whispered something to the money collector, and she went to her computer…and a piece of paper flew out of her printer.”

‘It’s your receipt,’ the wounded-looking money collector said. “The manager said we’d just do it the old-fashioned way.”

“There’s a moral to this tale,” Mr. Hartman concluded. “When someone is ready to buy something from you, try your best to accommodate them. You never know when it might be your last sale.”

One of the gurus of accommodating the customer had to have been Dean Redfearn who owned an auto parts store on Third Street in Mount Pleasant between the Martin Theater and city hall when I was in high school.

I bought parts there because he was always quick to accommodate me, taking time to help this school kid customer keep his hot rod ’55 Chevy running. One Saturday morning I was perusing a parts list at the end of the counter when an older gentleman walked in and heaved a dead battery up on the counter with a “thud” saying that he needed a new one. Mr. Redfearn greeted him with a smile, identified the battery, then disappeared down one of the long rows of parts bins. In a jiffy, he returned with a shiny new, freshly charged version of the expired power supply.

As the customer reached for his wallet, Mr. Redfearn produced a hand-written receipt. If memory serves me correctly, the 1965 price was about $9.95.

“Phew,” the old fellow whistled. “I can get the same battery out of the Sears catalog for $6.95. Can’t you sell it to me the same as Sears?”

Without blinking an eye, Mr. Redfearn smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Pushing the same receipt toward the customer, he said, “That’ll be $6.95 plus three dollars for shipping and handling.” He then picked up the new battery, put it on the shelf behind him and added with the same pleasant smile. “It will be ready to pick up next Tuesday.”

The befuddled fellow stared in silence for a second, then grinned and slapped a $10 bill on the counter. “Gim’me that battery.”

Mr. Redfearn put the battery back on the counter, took the customer’s money and the two shook hands, still smiling. Mr. Redfearn added, “Could I put that in your pickup for you?”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.


Some resolutions require more research than others

“I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.” —Yogi Berra

This year may be a personal record for New Year’s resolutions. It’s March and my resolve to lose weight is not on life support yet. Granted, my 2019 weight loss program may have been napping as New Year’s celebrations were ending, but it was ready by the time Mardi Grad revelers were getting revved up.

While my goal seems like hoping I can pull my 30-foot travel trailer with a Volkswagen, at least it didn’t come unhitched the first week I started. I’m happy to report I have not only lost weight, but I have also successfully transitioned my exercising from watching television and the treadmill at the same time to one of watching television while on the treadmill. I plan to be up to ten minutes any day now.

Truth is, however, one resolution may be in trouble: the one about more sleep. Yawning every afternoon is an exercise that burns no calories. It’s the exercise where you are busy doing something that requires functioning brain cells despite your eyes becoming heavy, your head starting to tilt, uncontrollable sensations of sleep coming over you and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Fortunately, my head goes just so far before it rebounds with a jolt and I’m wide awake again. While I haven’t researched the company handbook, I’m confident napping on the job is not an approved perk although I am convinced it can be a benefit.

Well, not napping on the job, per se, but power naps during lunch breaks. Many sources claim they’re not only healthy in many ways but also a boon to afternoon productivity. It’s a concept in which I have invested much research over the years.

My first in-depth research in napping at work dates to 1968 while employed by Hinton Production Company in the Talco oil fields. Good friend then and now, David Neeley and I were on that same program working summer jobs between college semesters. David worked in the machine shop and I worked on the production field maintenance crew

As a side note, let the record reflect that was hands down the hardest work I have ever done. If I had any notions of quitting college then, that summer’s work was probably the ultimate motivation to stay in school forever.

It had to be the hard work that required research carried out in the shop where a huge fan created fine breezes. Lunch quickly consumed, David and I kicked back for a quick nap in front of the big fan before returning to the East Texas summer heat and hard work.

Some 15 years later at the Light and Champion newspaper office in Center found me conducting further research after reading an article touting the refreshing benefits of mid-day lunch naps. A closed door with the phone turned off afforded me a short nap leaned back in my office chair.

My next lunch-time napping research came during my days at the Boerne newspaper. That program included exercise more closely resembling a complete mid-day makeover. A nearby health club with lockers, dressing rooms, showers, and a sauna turned power naps into mid-day breaks with a short workout, nap in the sauna and shower before returning to the office. That routine served to break up many of the long days required at Boerne while invigorating the afternoons to make them as refreshing as the mornings.

With these head-nodding moments sneaking up on me again, I’m thinking it may be time for another round of research. Should you find my office door closed in the coming weeks, I’m not napping on the job, I’m simply conducting more research.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.


Apparently for dad, once was sometimes enough

 “I am prepared to try anything once.
–Richard Branson, business magnate, founder of Virgin Galactic

My father saw no sense in powerful or fancy cars and certainly nothing sensible about car racing. To him, cars were a means of transportation and nothing more.

Despite that, he never gave me a hard time for my obsession with trying things in life once for which he saw “no sense.” He simply shook his head at my exploits and smiled. I’m thinking he must have had a standing chiropractor’s appointment for all of the head shaking I caused him.

That thought came to me last fall after attending the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals car show in Chicago to revisit an era of my life focusing on one car that caused dad a lot of head shaking.

Rummaging through photo albums after the show in search of “memories” of the car, I happened onto one taken in front of our house in Mount Pleasant, Texas, in 1969 depicting three cars. My two “no sense” notoriously fast muscle cars of the era, a Ford Torino Cobra Jet and an Oldsmobile “Ram Rod,” were pictured alongside my dad’s “transportation only” car: a four-door Chevy, six-cylinder with a standard-shift transmission.

69 Olds W-31 & 69 Torino Cobra 2-am
The “Ram Rod” Olds that became a race car shortly after this photo (and my sister, Leslie), my “means of transportation” Ford Torino Cobra Jet behind it contrasting with the top of dad’s ’62 Chevy six-cylinder “means of transportation” barely visible on the right. Photo at top of the page—Cessna N7804G, the aircraft in which my father took his first plane ride with me and decided once was enough.

After the Oldsmobile began its new life as my full-time race car, I asked dad if he wanted to go with me to watch. He declined a few times before he and mom showed up at Interstate 20 Raceway near Tyler, Texas, one Saturday night. Thrilled by their interest, I asked him again the next week but once was evidently enough. “No thanks, I wanted to go once to see what it was you liked about it,” he said, “But, I don’t care to go again.”

The same scenario followed a few years later when flying lessons was next on my try it once list. To my knowledge, he had never been up in an airplane and often expressed a strong fear at just the thought of flying. When I told him about my new adventure, he shook his head, smiled and said, “I don’t see any sense in doing that, but if that’s what you want, that’s your business.”

FAA check ride passed and pilot’s license in my pocket, I stopped by his house the following Sunday morning for coffee on the way to the airport. “Can I go with you,” he asked? After cleaning up the coffee I choked on, I said, “Sure, I would have asked, but never thought you would consider it.”

My logbook entry notes that flight on August 29, 1976 took exactly one hour’s time sight-seeing around Northeast Texas that morning. We flew over the current site of Lake Bob Sandlin for an aerial view of the dam under construction at the time. Then we flew south toward Pittsburg circling over the town, pointing out the house where he grew up, followed by a loop east near Omaha before turning back to Mount Pleasant. Before we landed, I pointed out Gibson’s Discount Center where he worked and our house on Delafield Street.

Through the entire flight, he never said a word. With his right hand clutching the pull strap above the passenger door the whole time, he nodded acknowledging my tour guide narration of things on the ground, but that was it.

Back at the airport and out of the plane, I asked, “How did you like it?”

“It was OK,” he said with a smile. A week or so later when headed to the airport for some more fun flying around the area, I stopped to see if he wanted to go up again. “No thanks, I wanted to go once to see what it was you liked about it,” he said, “But, I don’t care to go again.”

Guess my father was content trying something once to see what I liked about the things in which he saw “no sense.” But apparently, once was enough.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.