OPINION — People sometimes ask which of my outdoor adventures was the most fun. I get the impression they think the life of an outdoor humor columnist is glamour and glitz pretty much all the time, but that’s not the case. Sometimes it’s glitz and glamour, and sometimes it’s just glamour with no glitz. You have to take the good with the good.
Honestly, though, I have to admit I’ve had some great times outdoors. I’ve gone canyoning in Colorado and Mexico, backpacking in Alaska, and my family once spent a night in the camping section of the Bass Pro Shops store in Springfield, Missouri. And for the record, I don’t think it was our fault those turtles escaped from the fishpond and destroyed the place. I haven’t trusted a turtle since.
The most fun was probably shooting a bunch of hogs and a coyote from the left seat of Kyle Lange’s helicopter along the Llano River. The thrill of flying along just above the trees, trying to line up shots at pigs running like scalded cats, almost makes you forget you might die at any moment. But Kyle’s been flying a long time and he’s still kicking, so it’s probably fairly safe, although I’ll never do it again. Unless I get the chance.
My most dangerous adventure is one I’ve never written about, because I found out later it was, technically, illegal. But since the incident in question occurred more than 40 years ago, and the statute of limitations has probably run out by now, I’ve decided to come clean. Plus my mom is no longer around. If she’d found out about it I’d’ve gotten a whooping, regardless of my age. Or hers.
Back in 1980 I was working as a beam welder at the Loadcraft trailer plant in Brady. It was a great job if you liked loud noises, long hours, and low pay. As it happens I liked all three. I was on the night shift that fall, working from 3:30 in the afternoon till 2:30 in the morning, four nights a week. Glamour, but very little glitz.
A fellow I worked with enjoyed the occasional puff on a cigarette, especially if the tobacco involved was of the questionable variety. We’ll call him Butch, because that’s what he was called. One weekend Butch and a couple of his friends, Danny and Tex, climbed the radio tower on the hill overlooking G. Rollie White Downs racetrack and hung an 8-foot American flag at the top. It was, according to the perpetrators, a tribute to those locals with similar recreational interests, in regard to smoking preferences. They were pretty secretive about letting anyone know who’d done it. They only told people they talked to. Pretty soon everyone in town knew who was responsible for the Flag Incident.
When I got off work the next Friday morning at 2:30 I drove up to the hill, climbed the tower, and took the flag down. Which sounds kind of mundane, I guess, but there were extenuating circumstances. Lots of them.
Climbing a 250-foot radio tower is not really a big deal, if you aren’t afraid of heights, and at the time I wasn’t smart enough to fear heights. I mean, I’m still not smart enough, but I wasn’t smart enough then, too.
But then, climbing a tower like that is kind of dangerous during the daytime in normal weather, and you’re supposed to use safety equipment. Maybe a belt or harness and some carabiners or something. Yeah, I didn’t have any of that stuff.
It was also pretty dark, being as how it was 2:30 in the morning, and the sun rarely shines at that hour. There wasn’t a lot of moonlight, either, since the sky was overcast. At least it wasn’t raining, which would’ve been a problem. It was, however, about 35 degrees, being November, and the wind was blowing about 40 miles per hour, and the tower kind of swayed back and forth once in a while. And by once in a while I mean all the time. On the other hand, I had fully prepared myself for the adventure by wearing blue jeans, a high school letter jacket, a pair of leather gloves, and steel-toed boots of the cowboy type. The soles were kind of oily, since they were my work boots and I wore them at Loadcraft, but the heels kept my feet from sliding past the rungs.
So it was a long, cold climb that took me about half an hour. The flag was tied on with some small nylon rope, but my fingers were too cold to untie the knots, so I dug out my pocketknife and cut it loose, then tied it to my belt and climbed down.
The guys who put the flag up were arrested the next week and fined for trespassing. During our supper break at Loadcraft we would listen to KNEL on the radio, and they announced all week that the flag had disappeared, and no one knew who took it down. One evening Butch said, “I wonder who got the flag.” I said, “I took it down.” He said, “Yeah, right.” Yeah, and I’ve still got it.
That was my most dangerous, and dumbest, adventure.
So far . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who hopes there’s no extradition treaty between Texas and Arkansas. Write to him at [email protected]