Work Detail – In Honor of My Brother’s 50th Birthday

Mom, Brian and I at Green Lane Park.

Mom, Brian and I at Green Lane Park.

This is the continued countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to my brother, Brian, the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.  Brian and I had some great experiences together.  Don’t let this series fool you- these stories are meant to show the funny (to us) and amazing moments we had together.  While we were probably a little less angelic than believed to have been, many, many of you know Brian as a devoted and amazing dad, an extraordinary firefighter and leader, a loving husband (yes, many of you – lol), and a stand-up guy.  Brian has been the Best Man at more weddings than anyone I know, and has always been there whenever any of us ever needed him.

So with that, I’d like to segue into how Brian has been Dad’s go-to when he has some sort of situation. If there’s something you haven’t figured out yet, Brian is the responsible one. And I was just responsible- for trouble, chaos, etc.  But as Dad always had some project going on, we invariably were teamed up for the duration. One of the earliest projects we got caught up in was when Dad invented a smoke ejector bracket that could go over a door.  By putting it on the door, the door could be opened and shut and the subject firefighter wouldn’t have to duck under it all the time, like you have to do with a door bar.  It was certainly less complex than a door bar- it was just a bracket- and much, much cheaper.  So Dad was able to get a shop to fabricate them in the hopes that maybe a bigger fire equipment company like Ziamatic might pick them up.

Back then we didn’t have the luxury of the internet or easy communication with production plants in China or Indonesia to make this stuff.  So people managed to pull off these kinds of projects by forcing their children into labor.  Now I’m pretty sure there are laws against child labor which prohibit pre-teen boys from working around dangerous machinery, but there aren’t any dangerous machines in a metal shop.  I don’t know what Dad was thinking, but I remember Brian and I filing off burrs, sweeping up metal shavings and metal dust, moving boxes of product.  We don’t work nearly as quickly as most sweat shop employees, so there was on occasion a little tension in the air (mostly because of me- well, always because of me).  But we helped pull that off and I don’t believe that invention ever got really popular (especially since we don’t use smoke ejectors much anymore).  It was mildly entertaining, though.

Then there was The Pool. The family wanted a pool (or Dad wanted a pool, I can’t remember) but as I have said, there isn’t a project too involved that Dad won’t undertake, especially if you have two boys you can press into servitude.  He bought a used pool from one of the Bristol family, of now the Bristol Myers Squibb pharmaceutical empire.  It was located in Doylestown, if I remember.  And for a very long time, Dad would drive Brian and I down there, and we would take apart this huge pool.  Bolt by bolt. Nut by nut. Panel by panel. Each item was marked and went into these tiny Bristol Myers boxes that we coordinated so we could put the whole thing back together in North Wales (someday).  If there is one thing you don’t do, is rely on the patience and attention span of 9 or 10 year olds to disassemble, categorize, box, and organize hundreds of tiny parts.  It did not go well (again, Brian worked diligently and I was mostly providing comic relief, which again, wasn’t well received), but it was done, which speaks to our father’s ability to rebuild almost anything mechanical, a trait he passed along to Brian, but I failed to acquire.

Then there was the upkeep of The Pool, which was even more of a nightmare. Because before you had pool boys running around, you had- yes, children- who could be employed to take care of such projects. Brian and I were then taught how to check the pH levels and handle toxic chemicals, and of course, vacuum the pool.  When I say we were taught how, note that I did not say we did it.  Our efforts were often pretty half-hearted and from time to time, resulted in crazy unhealthy water situations. Our solution? Play in it anyway.

However, the funniest situation (to us) that resulted from one of Dad’s projects really didn’t start out funny. Dad sold his air system company and the last asset he was getting rid of was a trailer-mounted cascade system he sold to a refinery in Houston.  Somehow he got this thing in the back of a large U-Haul truck and was going to drive it there.  Somewhere along I-95, Dad had severe back spasms and was able to limp it in to Hilton Head Island, and showed up at Kathleen and my place. The trailer had to be delivered and it had to be there in two days.  From our place, it was an 18 hour trip (which I still can’t figure out how he would have made it anyway). Dad’s idea: Fly Brian to Hilton Head and Brian and I could take it to Houston together.  So Brian arrived, Kathleen got Dad on the plane out, and we were off to Houston.

In those days, there were pretty long periods of time where Brian and I hadn’t seen each other, for sometimes a year or more, so we were pretty happy to at least get to spend some time together. However, it wasn’t long before we were around Kingsland, GA, not even two hours on the road and Brian (who was driving), jumped, startled by something. “What was that?” he asked.

“What?” I asked him.

Brian was edging up in his seat, trying to see into the hood vent. “I think the truck is on fire.”

I rolled my eyes.  It was pretty smoky out from brush fires, and there were a lot that year in that area.  I started explaining to him the brush fire statistics for South Georgia or some other nonsense and he pointed at the hood: “Look, I’m telling you, the truck is on fire.” I opened my window, making some expletive-laden comment about how there was no way the truck was on fire, leaned out the window of the moving truck to look into the hood vent, then leaned back in. The truck was on fire.

Up ahead there were two Georgia Troopers, out on a traffic stop. I pointed. “Pull up behind them.  Cops carry fire extinguishers. You go get the extinguisher and I’ll get out our stuff.”

We did and the troopers were not impressed.  As Brian ran toward them, they whirled to face him, ready to gun him down.  Brian waved and pointed, “Our truck is on fire!”

Brian returned quickly. The Georgia Highway Patrol does not carry fire extinguishers. I looked around, then said, “Get in.” He hopped in the passenger seat and I took off, smoke billowing out from under the hood, sparks coming out of the vent, passing the troopers who were now running to their cars.  Brian was looking at me like I was crazy.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“There’s an exit ahead with a gas station,” I explained.  “Cops may not have extinguishers, but EVERY gas station does.” So with the engine still running, smoke screen running behind us, and troopers in hot (no pun intended) pursuit, we flew down the exit ramp and I pulled into the first gas station, nose up to a pump bay.  The troopers must have called the fire department, because I could see a squad coming down the road.  The gas station manager must have been monitoring something as well, because he came running out, yelling at me to get the truck out of there. I grabbed an extinguisher and Brian popped the hood.

“We got this, man,” I told them, “We’re professional firefighters.”  We made short work of it and the manager, cops, fire department, and lots of frightened customers were in total shock.  Brian and I gave each other a visual high-five and just played it cool. Act like you’ve been there before.  But there was still work to be done.

When I called Roadside Assistance, it turned out the U-Haul guy was a career Jacksonville firefighter and when he heard we were fellow brothers, he came himself- which would have instead required us to spend the night in Kingsland and get something else the next day. Fortunately it was a lot of belts and an alternator, which he fixed right there, and sent us on our way. Driving non-stop, we made it to Houston before the deadline, had a great dinner together, and boarded our flights home.

This is the countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to my brother, Brian, the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.

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