Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ride That Floor Buffer Flyboy!

A fellow idiot takes the buffer for a spin

By the end of the summer of 1965, things had improved significantly for me.  The Messengers proved to be the kind of band that could play anything, anywhere, anytime.  We we well versed in Jazz, R&B, and Rock-N-Roll.  Don Johnston was a tremendous piano player, and could arrange any song to fit any genre.  He could turn a jazz tune into quasi-rock and vice versa, consequently we could play everything from Brubeck to Beatles on any given night and usually did.  There were 3 clubs that used live music on a regular basis, The Holiday Spot, The Dutch Mill, and the North Main.  We alternated between them, and on off weeks we'd play parties, dances etc.

We also made the Winnipeg run from time to time this time focusing on the bars rather than the teen clubs, but we did manage to squeeze in a couple of gigs at the Hungry I.  On one trip to “The Peg” we checked out Arbuthnot Recording Studios.  Bill Arbuthnot had recorded several Winnipeg bands including the original Guess Who, and had a good reputation.  We decided to record our first album there.  “The Two Sides of the Messengers” was a clever idea, one side consisted of our normal, jazz oriented arrangements, the other of Beatles tunes arranged in a Ramsey Lewis jazz style.  On the cover was a picture of a white wall.  They took a shot of us peeking out from one side of the wall, wearing our normal hair cuts.  Then they took a shot of us with Beatle wigs and shot the same pose.  They reversed one of the pictures so it looked as if we were peeking out from both sides of the wall at the same time.  Cute!  I'd like to say that the album was a huge success, but it stiffed big time.  Soma, the label that released it decided to drop us from the roster and that was that.  No matter though, we were playing every night, and making good money.

In November our second, little bundle of joy, Patty arrived.  With two little ones at home it was time to get a proper car so I took some leave, headed back to Michigan and purchased a shiny new 1966 Plymouth Satellite... a seriously fine ride.  In addition, I'd renewed my interest in radio.  During one of the Winnipeg runs I'd gotten acquainted with Jim Christie at CKRC.  He and I discussed the radio biz and he encouraged me to keep at it, so when I got back to Minot I took a part time gig at KLPM working the odd weekend shift just to keep my fingers in it.  Other than the insane hours, things were going along just fine as the winter of 1965 sat in.

By this time I'd been transferred over to the AGE shop.  AGE is an acronym for Aerospace Ground Equipment: trailers, test equipment etc.  As a mechanic I was seriously challenged.  I could handle the servicing chores, engine adjustments etc, but when it came to troubleshooting a missile I was completely lost.  I couldn't figure that stuff out for the life of me.  I guess the Air Force assumed that, since I showed a high aptitude for mechanical things, that I had experience with it.  I'd been a musician, and had NEVER worked on a car or anything mechanical in my life.  To say I was frustrated is the understatement of the year.  In the AGE shop I'd work on much simpler equipment which suited me just fine, I just wanted to skate through the final year of my hitch anyway.

Now the head NCO of the shop was... hmmmmmm, how do I put this?  He was a brilliant mechanic when troubleshooting, but sometimes the smallest, simplest stuff seemed to get by him   On one occasion we were to strip the paint off a service cart.  We used an acidic wash to soften the old paint, a gelatinous mass of glop that we applied with string mops.  We sloshed the stuff on the cart and proceeded to head out to lunch, the idea being that by the time we got back the paint would soften and we could just wash it off.  As we were piling into my car Sarge said “You know what?  That stuff is gonna dry on there, we'd better wash it off”   OK, out we got and washed the cart down.  As we were piling back in the car he said “Awww hell it'll be alright, let's put it back on.”  One more time we sloshed the stuff on with mops and one more time as we were getting into the car he had us wash it off again.  Finally, after several such escapades Sarge was convinced the glop wouldn't dry after all so we left it on and went to lunch.  

It dried!

On another occasion we were painting a flight line tug.  Sarge was watching us, carefully considering every move we made.  You could tell Sarge was thinking, and not sleeping because when he was thinking he'd rub his chin and go "hmmmmmmmmm."  Sarge was rubbing his chin and going "hmmmmmmmmm."  I was working on the wheel when Sarge piped up,  “You don't have to paint the under side of those wheel hubs Berg, they don't show anyway”  I looked at Dana Stoker my AGE partner, and he looked at me.  We did as Sarge said, started the tug, drove it about 3 inches and sure enough there were 4 big unpainted spots on the hubs pointing straight up in the air!

Sarge started rubbing his chin, "hmmmmmmmmm..."

Occasionally, when I wasn't working on some piece of ground equipment, they'd assign me "coffee shop detail."  It was a strictly make-work detail consisting of making coffee and cleaning up the squadron coffee shop.  "Cleaning up" entailed breaking down the floor and applying fresh wax every day, just typical Air Force chicken shit.  I learned that I could get on top of the motor housing of the floor buffer, lean over and grab the handle and if I shifted my butt just right I could ride the thing around the room.  So that's how I broke down and polished the floor, riding on top the buffer.  Once the commander poked his head inside and saw me chuglin' around on the thing.  He just rolled his eyes and closed he door, no doubt thinking to himself "well, we knew he was an idiot when he got here."

I may have been an idiot, but at least I got to ride around on a floor buffer!  How cool is that?

1 comment:

  1. We are building a house next to the water and would like to put old, long-leaf pine in the living areas. Any suggestions on how best to install in such a high-moisture area to prevent rot in both old wood and sub-floor? It's elevated 12' above ground.

    floor buffers