Jan. 23, 2016

Ride Like The Wind!

“Harold, get on that motorcycle and ride like the wind.

You’ve got to get to San Diego and pick up the serum.

A man is dying and his life is in your hands!”

January 30th would have been my Dad’s 95th birthday, but he left us in 2013. Reading the Times this morning, I saw an article about the new 2016 Scout Sixty Indian Motorcycle. My Dad loved Indian motorcycles and owned many of them. Thinking about my Dad and his Indian motorcycles brought the following story to mind, which he typed up and sent me a number of years ago. I didn’t read any of those stories he sent me until after he was gone, and then discovered that they were all so good that they deserved to be published. So I did.

“The Rattlesnake Bite - True Tales of Early California"              

            “In 1927, when my dad was just six, a farm laborer clearing brush out there in the wilds of Imperial Valley, was bitten by a diamondback rattlesnake. He was lying near death in the Holtville Hospital as staff members looked on helplessly, except for one doctor who was frantically telephoning every hospital in Imperial Valley, trying to locate some anti-venom, or Toxin-Anti-Toxin, as it was called in those days. There was none. The nearest vial was at the San Diego Zoo, more than a hundred miles away.

            Obtaining a vial of anti-venom would be a piece of cake in this age of freeways, planes and helicopters, but this was 1927. No airplanes were available and the two-lane road from Holtville to San Diego was downright dangerous along the fifty or so miles where it crossed the mountains, with long sections washed out, unimproved, graveled, and cut out of cliffs bottoming into canyons hundreds of feet below; little changed since stagecoaches crossed it two decades or so earlier with teams of eight and sometimes ten horses. This road was never attempted at night!

            Harold Weed, my dad’s big brother, was sixteen and a junior at Holtville High School.  As the laborer grew weaker, it looked like just another day for Harold with late season football practice to look forward to, a string of cows to milk and the rest of his farm chores before he settled down to tackle his homework. But, plans were afoot to put another of Harold’s talents to use.  He was also a hotshot motorcycle rider and had the fastest, according to him, motorcycle in all of Imperial Valley. He had salvaged a World War I vintage Harley-Davidson from a junk yard, lovingly tinkered and tuned it to near perfection, mechanically, though it was described as something of an eyesore otherwise. But, hey!  When your engine purrs, who needs paint!

            Late that afternoon, desperate hospital officials went to Holtville High, pulled Harold out of his last class, grabbed this kid by the shoulder and said, “Harold, get on that motorcycle and ride like the wind. You’ve got to get to San Diego and pick up the serum. A man is dying and his life is in your hands!”

            Harold, burning with the thrill of high adventure ahead, and, being a true romantic, took the challenge! He listened to a few directions, after all, he hadn’t been to San Diego since he was five, kicked that Harley into life, rocked forward on the clutch and took off, burning rubber out of the high school parking lot!

            He stopped at the Weed Ranch for just a few minutes to tell his parents where he was going, topped off his tanks, threw a few tools and a tire pump into one saddle bag and a can of gasoline with a potato plugging the spout into the other, and took off in a cloud of dust. But in his haste, he left his leather jacket with gloves in the pocket hanging on the limb of a tree.  A significant oversight.

            From there, Harold was on his own, full throttle through El Centro, on into the desert, past Coyote Falls, climbing through Devil’s Canyon with a red-hot exhaust pipe, on through treacherous winding grades high into the mountains, then down the long descent into San Diego where the curator of reptiles for the zoo was anxiously awaiting him, vial in hand.

            Harold slowed down just long enough to secure the vial and started back, giving the smoking engine all it could take, more than a little frightened now as it was getting cold and he had to cross those cursed mountains again, this time in the dark as his beloved Harley, alas, had no lights.

            It was deep dusk when he descended the treacherous Via Viajos Grade, but didn’t become dark until he was on the desert straight-away. There was no moon, but Harold managed to stay on the ribbon of narrow road, trusting to starlight as he pushed along at eighty where the road was paved.

            Bad luck struck before he reached El Centro, running over a piece of  barbed wire,  puncturing his rear tire. From there he had to stop every few minutes to pump up the tire but it soon became hopeless and the last few miles were run on the flat. Finally, he arrived at the hospital where everyone was anxiously awaiting him, having heard the roaring of his burnt-out muffler for miles! The tire was in shreds and Harold was nearly frozen, having made the fastest trip ever recorded between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, a little under four hours!

            Yes, the man was saved, Harold was the town celebrity for a day, the Holtville Tribune gave him a front page write-up and the hospital staff were most appreciative and thankful. With gratitude in their hearts, they persuaded the high school to give Harold the following day off school as a reward for his heroism, saving a man’s life at considerable risk to his own. Harold later confided to his little brother, my Dad, Kim, “I’ll tell ya, I thought I was gonna freeze to death!  And if I didn’t freeze, I’d sure as hell ride right over a cliff and never get home again!”

I miss my Dad and wish I’d had more time with him to listen to those stories. The book?

“A Treasure Map, A Drunken Owl and 47 Rattlers in a Bag”  -  True tales of high adventure in the lawless days of early California and Mexico. These are the stories penned in Grandfather's (Solon Kimball Weed), journals and from letters sent by Kim Weed, my Dad. It's the search for love, land, and gold: "The fever never lets go!"

Kindle Edition and here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E50LXC0