Arturo- Shipwrecked



My Dearest Katarina,


Nearly three years have passed-

They have felt like the passing of the grim reaper

Slow and agonizing, as I recount our tearful parting;

The evening cloaked in black

There was a lump

A jagged stone in my throat

As the ship made way,

And the governor stood with pride


A terrible storm came about.

I was caught in a whirlpool

The ocean rose upon me

Squeezing with her cold, grey, and briny, hands

I saw a side of her which was so unfamiliar-



When compared to all those evenings

As we watched the waves break on the coast

With my lips pressed into your soft warm hair,

Bathed in the sunlight, then cooled with the moon

I held you whilst we dreamed of our future, together.

Oh how I miss our days together!


So deeply in my mind were those thoughts

Even as this harbinger of the grave

Relentlessly pounded the vessel

Doing her best to defeat the life within

Shaking my fist I yelled,

You will not take me

I will not die today!


My being, for a time, was shadowed.

When I awoke, stranded, I lay, alone.

My quill and journal

A few meager provisions- are all that is left.

If not for our memories

I would be a dead man.


You are forever etched in my soul.

Nary a moment passes, that your essence

Ever escapes my thoughts

If not for the hope of you

There would be no hope.


Last night I dreamed that dream again;

Into the harbor I sailed

Blasting the horn, three times;

I saw your silhouette as you jumped from the cliff

And into the icy water, you dove;

From my boat I plunged

Posthaste, into the freezing abyss

And met you on the ocean floor

We danced – Yes, danced!

We went home

I was splitting wood

Oak, to be precise,

When I looked up and saw you watching

From the window

Soap suds or sea foam

Through the glass

Dimples and smiling,

You invited me in with your eyes.

Gently caressing your heart

I could feel ours together, beating wildly

Yet a murmur was all that was heard.


I awoke in the forest

Pungent with cedar

Dripping with sweat

Downhearted that again,

It was merely a dream.


There is a reason,

Of that, I am sure

For my life to be preserved

On this desolate ground;

Perhaps it was to

Collect this cruet

As it floated to the shore

And pen this letter to you.


It is both strange and wonderful

Everything reminds me of you.

The gulls as they glide through the air

The trees as they sway in the warm summer breeze

A grain of sand, as it runs to and fro in the water

The spray of the waves as they

Make love to the rocks on the shore

One provoking the other;

Two separate and seemingly

Unmatched forces

Create perfect harmony, together.


Sadness mixes with a smile

Keeping me determined to

Find my way back to you.


My love for you is never ending

As certain as the dawning of the day

Filled with great and intimate discoveries

As we laugh and explore each others dreams

And all that abounds around us

Oh, how I long to hear your voice!


Our souls were sealed long ago.

When we meet again

All these moments apart

Will be as fleeting

As a lightning bolt


I miss you, my true love.

In your arms is where I am home.

Holding you close

Soothes my spirit

It is our safe place

Our secret place

No other can share


I pray I make my way to you,

Long before this bottled message does.

Please, fear not.

Carry hope closely.

Listen for the foghorn

Guard your gypsy soul.

Know that I love you.


Forever Yours,



Soul Stirring


After the coffee was perked, I poured my cup full, added cream and sugar, then stirred…
The gentle sound of the jingling spoon, kissing the cup, reminded me of wind chimes. It was a pleasant sound, and I found myself not wanting to discontinue the stir. I wondered, what is it that draws people to the sound of the wind chimes? Possibly the comfort of a bell jogging the memory of a hot cup of coffee, or the memory of grandma tinking her cup with a spoon as she made her tea… or some, who prefer the larger chimes, a church bell.
As I was mesmerized by the thoughts, the swirl of the brew, and the sound of the spoon, I realized that what was pleasant to me, was probably beginning to sound like an annoying alarm clock to the rest of the household – so I stopped and drank.
The coffee is wonderful…on so many levels.





Leaves of Fire-



Mesmerized, I descend into the valley

Mountains, blanketed in a patchwork quilt of trees

Their leaves, colored like the flames of a fire.

The wind gives them life

Like the flicker in the heat

They turn and jump towards the sky-

Red over yellow

Orange and brown

Purples and greens

A hundred different hues

From a thousand different species

Rolling on the hillsides

Consuming the landscape

Cloaking it

With an ever changing collage of colliding rainbows

Their pieces fall to the ground

Similar to a spark, the glow fades and dies.

Soon winters white

Will consume the embers of fall

Then the gathering for a new fire

Begins again.


The Roots of My Love for the Internal Combustion Machine, Including Pandora

DSC03617At the age of fifteen, I was truly unaware at the pace in which life would pick up, and start flying by.

Up until now, my world had only existed in a 5 mile radius, in a little town called Ashaway, Rhode Island.

I lived in the outskirts, of this quaint New England Village, in a house that my mom and dad had built, just a year before I was born. The center of town was filled with beautiful Victorian and Colonial houses that lined both sides of route 3. Route 3 was referred to as Broad Street, and we lived on the Southern end of the town, 181 South Broad Street. The Pawcatuck River also bordered Ashaway, and Westerly. There is still a mill in the town, Ashaway Line and Twine. The old whistle would blow promptly at 7 AM, and at 3 PM. There were little developments scattered throughout the town. Our house was set on the edge of town, across the street from the Chevron gas station. We had a neighbor next door, and across the street. No development, no large Victorian house, just a little three bedroom ranch style house, with a breezeway, a two car attached garage, and a horse shoe shaped driveway. The driveway was covered in white Silica stone, from where my dad had worked at the silica mine on Lantern Hill, in Connecticut. Our driveway had two entrances off of Route 3. One side went straight up to the two car garage, and across the front of the house, and circled back onto route 3. There was a half circle of grass, bordered with different hedge type shrubs, sprouting up around the circle in the center of this horse shoe.

As a boy, I would wait for the bright yellow school bus, in my front yard. My neighbors would all wait at the end of my driveway. The ride to school showed me the rest of the town, and the homes where the other kids lived and played.

I loved the power of the school bus. I would watch the driver, as she pushed the clutch in, with her foot, and shifted the long handled stick, that protruded from the floor of the bus. This was a whole new experience for me, as I had never seen the workings of a standard shift vehicle, before. Somehow, it seemed as though the driver became an actual part of the mechanical workings of the machine. She was enveloped in the gears, the engine. All encompassed as there seemed to be so many moving parts. Shifting as we went up the hills, the bus seemed to race, as if it were leaving the starting gate of a horse track. We would almost be pinned to the back of our seats, and then allowed to propel forward, as the engine paused from one gear to the next. It all seemed so complicated, yet the driver seemed to have full control, and made the dance between human and machine, appear effortless. In my young mind, I could see a certain intimacy in the making. How I would love to be able to drive a rig like this. If only my feet could reach the pedals. Things were different in those days. The rules and regulations were not so tough. Our bus driver, Mrs. Crider, would approach the top of Chase Hill, a rather steep hill with a natural frost heave speed bump at the bottom of it. She would accelerate as she started down the hill. All of the kids would grasp the top of the seat in front of them, laughing in anticipation of what was about to happen. We would begin bouncing our bottoms on our seats, and I remember seeing her big grin in the rear view mirror. The very back of the bus was the best place to be. We bounced harder and higher, as the bus barreled down the hill. When it finally hit the bump at the bottom, we were catapulted over the seat in front of us, landing upside-down and topsy-turvy cradled in that seat, or curled up somewhere between it and the floor. I’m sure that the parents today would be horrified at such an act, but we had fun, and I don’t recall anyone ever getting hurt.

The Chevron gas station had gone through several owners over the years. As a young lad, my mom would hand me a quarter, and send me across the street, with a glass gallon jug, to get it filled for the lawn mower. I remember the old Toro push mower that mom and dad mowed the lawn with.  It had a red deck, covered in black oil. The pull rope had a wooden handle on one end, and a knot in the other. The operator of the mower would have to slip the knot in the notch of a pulley on the top of the motor and wrap the rope around it several times. Then, with one foot braced against the sooty deck of the mower, and a choke lever pulled out for the cold, first start, the wooden handle would be pulled, turning the pulley, and forcing the motor to sputter, and spew. After several attempts, the motor would finally moan to life, and spill a heavy blue smoke in the air. We affectionately called the mower, The Mosquito Killer, and rightfully so. Although I boast to this day, of never ever smoking a cigarette, the smoke that I inhaled from that mower, probably more than made up for it!

All of the interactions between the filling station attendants, and the workings of the carbureted machines, filled my mind. It was part of the preparation for this proverbial fledgling to leave the nest.

At the age of thirteen, I began working at the filling station. There was no self serve, back in those days. Why, there was not even unleaded gas, back in 1973. There were three pumps in front of the white cinder block building. Two regular, and one high test. Drivers coming in off of the main road were able to get to either side of the pumps. My duties were simple, just ask the customer how much they wanted, and fill accordingly. The words, “Five dollars worth of regular”, were the most familiar words I heard. I would wash the windshields, and check the oil if they wanted me too. My biggest challenges were trying to determine where the gas cap was located. If there was not a filler door, on the rear quarter panel, then I would check behind the rear license plate. Of course, the older VW’s would be under the hood, the Renaults, under the trunk lid. Then I got my first close look at a 57 Chevy. I walked round, and around, pulled the rear plate, no fill cap. I was puzzled, and the driver knew that he had stumped me. Pride finally gave over to defeat and I asked him where the fill cap was. “Behind the tail light” and he smiled, with a grin of knowing that he had just won a small victory over this young whipper-snapper.

All in all, the experience of seeing all of these gigantic Detroit marvels, and the little European exports, sent my mind reeling with the wonders, of what I may drive one day.

Also, at the age of thirteen, I received a boat and a motor for my birthday. I spent many hours tooling up and down the Pawcatuck. Again, a motor powered by fossil fuel, sputtering and roaring. The smell of the smoke, gas and oil, the vibration and power as the boat was being pushed forward, all added to the dream of being able to have this kind of freedom on the open road. I was steering, and adjusting the speed, and my confidence grew everyday. At this young age I still really had no concept that in a couple of more years I would be searching for my first road vehicle, but as time marched on, the day soon came.

In those days there was no middle school. We spent Kindergarten, and grades one through six in elementary school, and then were introduced into a whole new world, called high school.

So many things seemed the same, but then again so much had changed in the two years between thirteen and fifteen. I was no longer the pudgy clumsy kid from two years ago. Sure, I was still working at the gas station. By this time the High test pump was switched to this new unleaded gasoline. I now had to be very specific, and ask if the customer wanted regular or unleaded. I also had the added responsibility of handing out S&H Green stamps. I held a little plastic green device, with a dial on the front of it, in which I would have to dial out the allotted amount of green stamps, depending on the amount of fuel purchased. The customers would save these stamps, and paste them in a little book. Once they had a certain amount, the books could be used as cash, to purchase different items from the green stamp store. How I hated handing out the green stamps, especially on rainy days. The wind would blow, and the rain would come down, and I would have green stamps stuck all over me. Gas prices had gone up, and fuel supplies were low. People could only purchase gas on certain days of the week, depending on what initial their last name began with. There would be a train of cars, as far as I could see, lined up on route 3, waiting their turn to get filled up. After they were filled, I would have to calculate the amount owed, or figure the amount to put in, based on a pump that would not read that amount. Once gasoline went over a dollar a gallon, everything changed. People were very watchful. Vegas, Pinto’s and Chevettes were making the car scene. Economy cars were becoming the rage, by the new car buyers. There were still those with the big Detroit muscle cars, but times were changing, for sure.

I was in high school, now, and I saw the elder kids, with all kinds of different vehicles. The motor heads were the guys I admired. They seemed to have the high powered cars that could melt the rubber off the rims, as they did a smoke show leaving the school. There were the kids who drove their parent’s cars, those who had to drive a “beater” because their parents did not trust them with the “good” family car, and the “rich” kids, whose parents bought them some sporty little gem to show off in.

When I was growing up, my dad had a love for the classics, and that love was handed down to me. From a young age he would take me to various car shows, and cruises, explaining all the while, one make from another. What one had for a motor, how the body had changed from this year to the next, and so on. If I had known what a computer was, back in the day, I would have said that I stored all that information in my mind, as if it were some type of computer. I loved talking cars, and I just loved the lines and bodies, especially of the classic fifties vintage automobiles. I loved the old Chevy trucks, and the big round Buicks, with their huge chrome breasts protruding from the front bumpers. I also admired the tailfins of the late fifties, as Detroit seemed to be in some type of race with NASA over the best design for a rocket. Even the motors boasted of such a race, with the Olds Rocket 88, and so on. Dad had a 1955 Ford Thunderbird that he had always dreamed of restoring to mint condition, and he did. I saw the process, as he spent hours working on the car in the mill where he and my mom both worked. The boiler room of the mill was set up as an auto body and mechanics workshop. It was a dream place for a gear head. My dad was a very mechanical man. A self taught engineer, who could make anything out of nothing. He could weld, and design. Swap motors, rebuild motors, and shorten frames and drive shafts. I really believe that there was not anything that the man could not do, mechanically that is. Now body work is another story. Sure he could weld, or braise, but the finish body and paint were far above his level of patience. He could do it, but it just was not pretty.

In 1975 the itch for a car had to be scratched. I knew that I could get my drivers license in one more year, but then what? Was I going to be forced to continue taking the bus to school? There was only one vehicle left in the garage, now that mom and dad had divorced, and that was a 1968 Rambler Rebel Station Wagon. Two tone blue, with luggage racks. Not exactly the dream car that I was picturing. And besides that, mom needed the car to get her back and forth to work.

Mom did not have much money, and if dad did, he wasn’t telling…so I had to take matters into my own hands. My funds were limited, as I was just working part time at the gas station. I did not have my driver’s license, so my area to scope out prospective transportation was limited, at best. My only mode of travel was my Raleigh three speed bike. It was a metallic copper brown, with a dark brown seat, and a light attached to the front, that could be flipped so that it rubbed against the tire, and whirred as it sent a glow out from the chrome lamp. It had a speedometer, with an odometer on it, so I could tell how fast and how far I had travelled. I rode that bike all over Ashaway, anywhere from River Road, to Laurel Street to see my friend Chuck, or go on a little further to see my Uncle Joe and play cards, or go fishing or hunting for Snapping Turtles, or to Lynn Lane when I went to see my cousins, Mike and Danny, and my Aunt Sandy. I would travel down Route 3 to visit Grandma and Grandpa Buck, especially if I had received a call earlier that day, informing me that Grandma was making potato pancakes! I would literally ride over the river and through the woods, to visit my Grandma Gradilone, where I would visit, and play cribbage, or yahtzee, or some other board type game. I would also ride down the back road, the road behind our house which connected close to the center of town, to beyond our house, almost to the Westerly border, and coast through the cemetery, to visit loved ones who had passed.

One day as I was riding out on the north end of town, something caught my eye. There was a large overgrown pine tree with long branches that reached down to the ground, forming a tent like canopy for something that had been parked under the tree for a good long time. The urge to trespass and go on a little treasure hunt, was overwhelming. So I dismounted my bike, and strolled across the yard, being ever so watchful for a mean dog, or home owner.

As I approached the tree, I could start to make out the curves of a big old truck. Not just any truck, though. This was a fifties vintage panel truck, more specifically a 1954 Chevrolet Panel truck, one half ton, short body.

1954 was a transition year for Chevrolet, as the grill had changed, as well as the windshield. It was the first year without the split glass in the front. I loved the grill. Well, what I could see of it. The truck was a rusted heap, totally covered in pine needles. It so much resembled a brush pile that I’m sure it went un-noticed to many who had driven by it before. I opened the hood, and there was the bottom half of the motor. The head had been removed. It is a sad fact that so many of these trucks are bought with the best of intentions to be restored, but soon fall down the ladder of priority, only to be forgotten and eventually hauled off to the junk yard, the cemetery for lost vehicles.

Something about this truck spoke to me, though. It still had a living soul that was shouting out to me, and I knew that it was my duty to rescue her from an untimely demise.

I knocked on the door of the house, and there was no answer. I jumped on my bike and pedaled quickly home.

With great excitement, I told my Mom of the discovery that I had made. I knew that the ultimate answer would lie with my Dad, as he was the one who would be more knowledgeable as to the how’s and what’s, that may enable my dream to come true.

I called Dad, and he went with me to look at the truck. His first words were something to the effect of, “What do you want a big ugly thing like that for?” Dad was always more into the sleeker sportier versions of the oldies; however I do remember a VW bus that he was quite fond of!

I told him that I wanted to restore it, and asked if he thought that he could help me with the motor. He finally agreed, and once again I went to the door, and there was no answer.

In desperation, I made as many trips to the north end of town that I could, hoping to catch someone home and finally, I did. A woman answered the door, and I introduced myself. I asked her about the truck, and it turned out that it was her sons. He had intentions of restoring it, but was off in college. She was not sure if he was still going to try to fix it up, or not. She assured me that she would ask him, the next time that she talked to him, and that I should check back in a week or so.

How my mind reeled, for that long, perpetual week! So many terrible thoughts went through my mind…What if he didn’t want to sell it? What if someone else came along in the mean time and bought it out from under me? How much would he possibly want for it? Would I be able to afford it? How in the world would I ever get it home?

Finally the week came and went. I pedaled on over and hesitated for a moment, before knocking on the door. The woman opened the door, and told me that her son was willing to sell it. The price, twenty five dollars! I was thrilled, as I rode home to tell my Mom. She helped supervise the bill of sale, and the deal was done. I was now the proud owner of a 54 panel truck, and a pile of pine needles!

Dad called Tony’s Auto Body, who also had a wrecker service, to have the truck hauled to moms. With great anticipation and excitement, looking out the picture window of the house, I waited for my truck to arrive at her new home. Then, there it was. Tony’s tow truck, a glimmering black beauty with red and gold pinstripe, and behind it…a brush pile! It was laughable, really, but I was like a new to be dad, waiting for his first child to be born.

With the truck now backed into the right hand bay of the two car garage, I started peeling off layer after layer of pine needles, leaves and debris. It revealed a still grimy, green truck with lots of holes and rust, but all I could see, was potential.

For weeks I cut away rusted metal, and cut new metal to band-aid over the holes, using pop rivets to hold it all in place. This was all new to me, and I loved pounding the metal to form the curves to revive the decaying body. Once all the holes were patched, I used fiberglass and bondo to smooth out the edges. Later when I went to work in a real auto body shop, I found out that most of what I had done was completely apposed to the way a metal body should be restored, but to a fifteen year old on his first venture, it was a show piece!

Before the body was completed, dad found a motor out of a 55 Chevy, and he installed it in the truck. Oh yes, it started and ran, but how it did remind me of the old Toro mower that we used to have. The motor would crank and crank, sputtering to life and blue smoke would pour from the tailpipe.

I will take the time now, to apologize to all of you, for my part in the global warming, as I am sure that this truck, for a time, at least, put out more emissions than some small countries!

With the truck back at moms, I went to work under the hood, scraping away rust and grime, and painting with spray cans. I went to work in the cab, pulled off the window frames and painted them and the dash. I replaced the two front seats, which resembled barrels, with two VW high back bucket seats. The door latches did not work all the time, so I bought some barrel bolts and screwed them to the doors. That way, after the door was shut, you could just slide the latch and it would prevent someone from falling out of the truck. Times were sure different, back then!

I installed a bed of a type, in the back. I lined the inside with some white paneling, and the ceiling with a black vinyl, purchased from Fishers Big Wheel. Gold shag carpet covered the floors, and now it was ready for paint.

At the parts store, there were hundreds of colors to choose from, so many makes and models and years, a virtual rainbow. The color that struck me was Ford Grabber Blue. It was bright, and would stand out in a crowd, that was my hearts desire for this truck. Dad drove the truck to the mill, and his best friend, Butch who co-owned Precision Auto Body, agreed to do the painting.

Suited in coveralls and a mask, the coats of blue were layered on, as me and dad watched. Oh how it glowed, and Butch would yell the scream of a crazy man, happy and really wondering if I had any idea as to how bright this truck would end up, as he applied the last gleaming coat.

In my eyes, she was just beautiful. Glorious round curves. The paint took on an iridescent look under the fluorescent lights, as it almost screamed of purple on the outer edges. I was even more in love, and more excited then I had been before.

When the truck arrived back at moms, my buddy Chuck and I added some white pin striping. I was quite an Aerosmith fan at the time, and decided to call the truck, Pandora’s Box, but she was always affectionately known as Pandora.

The running boards were painted black, and I added a 101 inch cb antenna to the back. It swept over the top of the truck and clipped to the front of the truck. She also sported an Ah-oo-gah horn, and a wolf whistle…just in case there happened to be a pretty girl in the school parking lot, or walking on Atlantic Avenue, along Misquamicut Beach, whose attention needed getting!

There was still an issue which needed to be addressed. I had to learn how to drive this rig. To start the truck, one must first turn the ignition key to the right, then while holding your left foot on both the clutch and the brake, you would put your right foot on the gas pedal, while at the same time depressing the starter pedal, located to the top right of the gas pedal. I knew where the gears were located on this column shift, a three on the tree, if you will. Reverse was towards you and up, first was towards you and down, second, up and away, third, down and away. Easy enough then there was the matter of how much clutch to let out, and when.

I still did not have my driver’s license, and could not really take it out on the road. I would start the truck in the garage, wait for a little smoke to clear, and then practice backing out of the garage, then dropping her into first gear, and driving back in. This was fun for a short while, but soon became monotonous. I had the idea that if I backed down a little closer to the road, that perhaps I would be able to go from first to second before driving into the road at the other end of our horse shoe drive. That worked pretty well too, for a short time.

Back in the mid seventies, Route 3, or South Broad Street, was not as busy as it is today. A few years earlier, we had home made go carts, one of which had a severe design flaw. They were made out of old self propelled lawn mowers, and the steering on one of them was the push handle of the mower. It consisted of two pipes that ran up from the front end, and then curved away from each other, forming the handle that you would push/or steer with. The two pipes did not come together, and were open in the center. To make the car go forward, there was a rod that came from the rear, with two 90 degree bends in it, one up and one across to the right. One day as my brother was tooling around the yard, the opening of the steering handle, caught the drive rod, which only allowed him to go straight…straight across the street! Fortunately, there were no cars on the road, and he crashed into a car that was setting by the gas pumps at the Chevron station.

Thus giving my mom a panic attack, as she sat, in the living room helplessly watching the entire event, which was the only harm done.

I have also heard stories of the former owner of the station, calling my mother to let her know that I was running naked in the middle of rt. 3. Of course I was much younger then. Who knew that I was the original streaker! I guess I had just blossomed before my time.

With those thoughts in my head, I figured that there would be no harm in taking Pandora for a whirl across the road.

The Chevron station had a huge parking lot, which was always empty. I found that if I backed Pandora out of the garage, all the way down to the road, that I had a clear line of sight to see if anyone was approaching.

Out of the garage I backed, all the way down to route 3. The coast was clear, so into first gear I went, easing the clutch and bumping forward, as I picked up a little speed, I took another glance down both sides of the street, and pushed her up into second, just past the picture window of the house. I cruised diagonally across route 3 and still picking up speed, dropped Pandora into third gear, as I crossed the parking lot and whizzed by the gas pumps. Then I stood on the brakes before cruising back across, and into our driveway.

Oh yes! This was the appetizer to the taste of a new freedom which awaited Pandora and I. A whole new world was about to open up for me, little did I know that the tale of Pandora would almost be legendary to those who knew her.

Now with my driver’s license in hand, I was off to go where I had never been before. Most of the time, I travelled with my friend, Chuck. We would go exploring back roads and cruise the beach. A lot of these early trips were spent getting the kinks worked out of the old girl. Although her skin looked tight and bright, beneath were still a lot of tired old organs that were in need of repair or replacing. More often than not, if I was out cruising on a rainy day, the truck would go through a puddle and wet out. That is, it would sputter and stall, requiring me to get under the hood and dry off the plug wires and distributer cap. I swore that on certain day that if someone so much as spit on the side of the road, the truck would come to a halt!

A few times I was found knocking on the door of some stranger’s house, asking them if I could use their phone, so I could call my dad for help. Usually the biggest problem was that I had driven in unfamiliar territory and had no idea how to direct him to where I was. I learned a lot of things about a lot of things, starting out with an old panel truck. Anything from trouble shooting light mechanics to social interaction!

Pandora would go through almost as much oil as she would gasoline. The motor was so tired, and her rings worn so badly, that she was starting to foul out the spark plugs daily. Dad tried installing some extenders on the plugs, but it was to no avail. The smoke was getting thicker, and the starting was more difficult with each passing day.

Finally the day came where dad suggested that we overhaul the motor…kind of. We brought her into the old mill, and tore the motor down. He showed me how to hone the cylinder walls and measure for some oversized rings. When we were finished, it was almost like driving a different truck. It also confirmed that I totally disliked mechanic work. Black greasy hands and bloody knuckles were not what I was cut out for, but give me a rusted old body, and I’m your man!

No longer leaving an oily film on the windshield of the cars behind me, off we went again to explore the depth of the back roads in the country. Sure there was still the issue of wetting out, due to a cracked distributor cap, or a bad wire, but over time I learned to keep a First Aid Kit of sorts in the glove box. After all, isn’t that what they were originally designed for? Who ever heard of keeping gloves in a glove box?

Now Pandora was fitted with an eight track player. I would pick up my friend Chuck, out on Laurel Street, and then we would make our way to Arcadia to pick up my buddy, Frank. We would crank some BTO or some other music on our way to school. We were living large, as they say, because now we were no longer so dependent on the big yellow bus, which had so long ago begun my love affair with trucks. Funny, I don’t ever recall any incidences involving a breakdown during those rides to school, but there were those times, those unplanned moments, when they would occur when I was on a date with a girl.

My very first “car date” was with a girl named Robin. She had a mischievous little brother, who I am convinced still to this day, had something to do with the event which I am about to describe. I was already nervous about meeting her parents, and the thoughts of them letting their little girl go out with a long haired guy in a panel truck were weighing on me. I wanted to give them a good impression, and relieve any fears that they may have had.

I pulled into her driveway, shut the truck off and left it in gear. There was no working emergency brake, so the transmission kept Pandora from rolling into the street. I walked in the house and met the family. As we were talking, her little brother disappeared. Suddenly he came running in the house yelling that my truck was in the middle of the road. I ran out, and started her up, and parked her back in the driveway.

A little more chat with the parents, and we were off on our date.

There is a long hill leading in and out of Hope Valley. At the top of the hill was a filling station known as Edwards Garage. As we were making our ascent up the hill, Pandora started sputtering, and stalled out. I restarted her, drove a little ways, and she sputtered out again, acting as if she were out of gas. I made it to Edward Garage, and called Robin’s Dad, just to let them know that we were still in Hope Valley. One of the mechanics looked under the hood, as Robin’s dad pulled into the parking lot. He came out grinning, saying that I was supposed to get a little further from home, before pulling the old, “running out of gas” trick! It turned out that a glob of pine needles that had been floating around in the tank had finally made their way to the gas line, and stopped up the fuel filter. With a couple of loosened hose clamps, and a quick rinse, we were on the road again. A little embarrassed, but alas, another Pandora memory in the making!

The old truck ran on re-capped tires. I had a set for the winter, which actually had tread. The truck was heavy, but not great in the snow. The heater was more of an ornament, than a device for actually getting you warm. It would have had a hard time even in its prime, warming up a truck that had virtually no weather stripping around the doors. Years of age and decay were easily seen, while during our first date on a snowy evening, the snow was whirling and piling up as high inside the truck, as it was outside.

Upon reflection, it occurs to me that the two girls I dated while I drove Pandora, were from a very hardy stock. Pandora seemed to have a mind of her own, and someone like Stephen King could probably have written a Christine sequel, using Pandora. God help us all if the two, Christine and Pandora, had ever gotten together!

There were many afternoons and evenings cruising up and down Atlantic Avenue. It was almost as if I could just let go of the steering wheel, and Pandora would know how to make her way around the beach.

As so often the case with first time romances, Robin and I parted ways. It was a short while later, that I dated Betty. Betty, who was just as much a part of the beach, as the sand is.

On one of our first dates, we were cruising towards Atlantic Ave. and came around a curve. Suddenly, the passenger’s side door flew open and Betty was sliding to the right. I reached around and grabbed her, pulled her close, closed the door and slid the barrel bolt latch tight. I learned much about multi-tasking as a driver, in that old truck. I still think that Pandora really liked Betty, and was making a move to draw us closer. I believed that the two of them had a bond of sorts!

During the school year, I was involved in the FFA. Pandora hauled a bunch of us to different events, whether it was square dancing, or dairy cattle judging. She was always a unique topic which the conversation would center around, at least for a little time, anyway.

One day I had driven to New London, Ct on an exploration adventure. As I was heading back to Rhode Island, actually on the New London Bridge, shifting from second to third, the shift lever pulled off in my hand, leaving a tiny little nub in which to complete the journey. The pin on the shift handle had worn away. It turned out to be an easy fix. It just had startled me a little!

I learned a lot about life and automobiles in my journeys with Pandora. I am amazed, actually, at the memories which are still sparked by the mention of her name. In a small town such as Ashaway, I suppose it doesn’t take much to become a legend, of sorts. And while my name may never be legendary, I feel that certain events and memories of that 54 Chevy, truly are; even after the passing of 38 years!

It seems strange upon reflection, that I had probably only had the truck for less than two years, before I sold it to my next door neighbor, Marty. He used the truck to haul his motorcycle in, and I’ve heard that the truck was part of many adventures, long after she and I parted ways. I am now a man who loves nostalgia. I’m sure that I romanticize the events of my travels more than they deserve. Sometimes I long for a return to the past. I’d love to see a movie of the scenes in my mind, and see how they all compare. I am, however, content with the joy I feel for the opportunity I had to restore and enjoy the old panel truck. Sure, I’ve looked at other old trucks along the years, and I do to this day, actually. I may one day, restore another old panel truck, but the fact of the matter is, that there will never be another Pandora. You see, it is true; a truck I restore, I do because it has a soul that speaks to me. Each one, even if it has come from a long assembly line of similar trucks, is unique to itself. I hear the whisper of a voice, crying for restoration, and feel privileged when I have the opportunity and experience. Some may laugh at my testimony, but I fear it is more than a calling, and less, the effects of breathing in carbon monoxide and translucent blue exhaust over the last 55 years. I am thankful for my humble beginnings, for all the dozens of antique vehicles I have brought back from the grave, some to a better condition than when they were new. But through all the rust and the years, the smoke and the dust, one truck will always be the finest and most remembered, and her name was Pandora.

-written, November 7th, 2015



The Morning Sun


10474730_745384192223038_5700486897409932221_nThere is a burning on the horizon
It is the morning sun.
The promise of another day
Where work and play are done.
Wake up, O’ sleepy heads
Go and enjoy your day.
The time goes swift, and soon
You can go back to hit the hay!


I am, The Lunch Lady



Now you’re climbin’ to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn’t take too long
Can’tcha you see there’ll come a day when it won’t matter?
Come a day when you’ll be gone, whoa – Boston, Peace of Mind


When I was thirteen years old, my first job was as an attendant at the Chevron filling station which was located across the street from the house where I grew up. In those days, the customer would roll up to the pump and generally ask for five dollars worth of either high test or regular. I would wash the windshield and check the oil, then pull a wad of bills from my pocket and give change and sometimes, S&H green stamps.

At the age of 15 I was tinkering on the body of my 1954 Chevy panel truck, and suddenly found myself doing something which I thoroughly enjoyed. At 16 I was working at Precision Auto Body, and worked there from 1976 – 1978. In 1978 when the two owners of the body shop parted ways, I began working at Griswold Textile where both my mom and dad were employed. The owner of the mill had a 1958 English Austin Taxi Cab which he asked me to restore. He hired me to work under the guise of Maintenance, and the boiler room was converted into a body shop. I worked there for 2 years, restoring several cars for the owner and his family, as well as a 1924 Studebaker for my dad.

It seemed as though I had finally run out of cars to restore, so I went up to the color shop to do some actual mill type work.

In 1980, I started doing some contract work as an industrial painter for a company in Pawcatuck, Ct. Part of the year I was working 40 hours a week at both jobs, and finally left the textile mill, and started a career job with the Connecticut company.

Ah yes, I worked there for nearly 20 years. Eventually I was in charge of Shipping and Receiving, as well as the Lead Man over the paint, metal fabrication, motor assembly, and box shop; all at the same time. Needless to say, it was a stressful job. We shipped all over the world, and most of the time we were competing with deadlines.

My doctor informed me that I would probably die of a stress related heart attack or stroke by the time I was forty…and I remember saying, but I am 39 NOW! His reply, “I know.” Well, I concluded that it was time to move on. I wish I could say that it was easy to quit that job, but it wasn’t. It was easy to tell the guys in management that I was leaving, but the people I worked with…I did not want to leave them. They were my family. Those guys and gals knew me better than anyone. When the deadlines were close, I was never one to sit in my office, fretting over a way to build a better mouse trap; I was rolling up my sleeves and diving into the work with my men. I knew their jobs and was good at the work. My guys appreciated me. I liked the work. I just hated the, as I saw it, terrible management above me, that did such a poor job scheduling and making such horrible promises to our customers, at the workers (and their families) expense.

Well, in August of 2000, I took the leap, and off to another similar company I started as inventory control, shipping, receiving, and paint, lead man. The company was a new start up, and had a hard time getting its feet moving in a smooth direction. A friend of mine offered me a job working for him as an HVAC technician, so I took the chance. Little did I know that he had declared bankruptcy on two previous occasions, and he was less than faithful in paying me at the end of the week for the week’s work that was finished. Oh, he was eventually good for it. Sadly, the bank does not accept payment for the mortgage, nor do the utility companies want their money, in that similar manor. On the brink of bankruptcy myself, I took a job with an electrician that was on many of the sites where I worked doing HVAC. He was generous with the pay, and I went back to school to be trained as an electrician. I did enjoy the work. I piddled with auto body work as a hobby for myself and for some friends of mine.

2004 turned into an all out adventure. My son was now in Knoxville, TN in college. My daughter was 14, home schooled and in love with horses. My son met a sweetheart from Georgia, and they were going to get married. The writing on the wall was that if we wanted to be close to their imminent family, we were going to have to make a move – and we did; nearly 1000 miles away from the place we were born and raised in Rhode Island, to the little town of Nancy, Kentucky.

When we moved to Kentucky, we did not know a soul. It was a total leap of faith. I had never been without a job, and I figured that finding one would be no big deal. It turned out that it wasn’t a big deal, because just three days after the truck, mini van, and 53 foot moving van made its way down here, my wife’s cell phone rang as we were registering our vehicles at the court house. It was one of our realtor’s in Kentucky, husband who happened to be an electrical contractor, offering me a job. It turned out that they had lost my number when I bought our farm through a different realtor. He had called information in Rhode Island, and took a chance with one of the three VanHorn’s listed. He started his conversation with me like this, “ I called Rhode Island information and I got your mom’s number. I’ve been talking with her for the last 45 minutes. She asked me to ask you to call her…” and I started working for him the following week… All the while I was working, our family was also working the 28+ acre farm, in an effort to make it sustainable for us to eventually be able to leave any out side work, and have income generating from the farm. We tried many things, and many things failed. I planted 3000 blueberry bushes over five acres, and watched them dry up and die over several years. We borrowed money to try new ventures, and lately, borrowing to just keep afloat. My daughter has a boarding and horse riding lesson business here on the farm. Economically, we are in a pretty poor area, and it seems that it is, most usually, hard times.

In March of 2015 I was rear ended as I drove my little Honda Civic. A full size Dodge truck hit me doing 55 MPH while I was stopped to make a left hand turn. The injury to my neck now prevents me from doing most of the things an electrician has to do; especially involving ladders, reaching up, crawling in attics and crawl spaces, over extended periods of time.

It was time for another career change. I applied to be put on a sub list for the Pulaski County School system, during the 2016-2017 school year. I subbed for a couple of middle schools, and was asked by the principal of one, towards the end of last year, if I would be interested in going full time for the 2016-17 school year. It turned out that he knew my daughter through the 4H and horses, and had actually been to our farm. My daughter claims that it was because of her that I scored the job…maybe it was!

So, here I am, 57 years old, working in a middle school, as a cook. The pay is terrible and the work is hard- surprisingly hard. I have worked construction for 17 years and never went home as physically tired as I do now. The ladies that I work with are incredible.  I have never worked a job where I have experienced so much compassion and appreciation, not to mention, dedication and such a hard work ethic.

Yes, I traded in my tool belt for a hair net and apron. I’m proud of it. I like the administration and the students. It is a difficult world for them. I try to engage as many students as I can. I guess I’m trying my best to close the generation gap, and let them all know that they have a friend cooking and serving them lunch, or cashing them out at the end of the line. It has been funny to see their reactions. Some of them laugh right in my face. That’s okay, I have broad shoulders. Others, now try to beat me to the punch when I say, “Have a great day!”

We all work hard to serve a good meal, both in taste and nutrition. It is a tough line to walk. A lot of these children come from some pretty scary homes. We do our best to make them feel loved, and to know that there are rules to follow…another tough line.

I guess it is kind of ironic to think that in my high school days, I never worked at a McDonalds or a Burger King. But here, at the end of the road, I’m helping to serve 800 or so lunches a day, not to mention, 300 breakfast meals and dozens of suppers.

I’m Steve VanHorn, cook at Southern Middle School. Can’t think of a time in my life where I’ve had a better time working and a greater peace of mind; no ladders involved, because that doesn’t matter. Sing on, Boston!


For the Record



The librarian at the middle school that my wife and I work for has the library decorated with assorted records hanging on the wall. To be more specific, I’m referring to the grooved vinyl disks that we used to play on phonographs, or record players.

Though this was a common practice to play records, back when I was a kid…oh boy, that phrase that makes the kids today roll their eyes, “back when I was a kid…” it surprised a lot of folks that the children in the middle school had absolutely no clue as to what a record was, or that it was capable of being played.

My wife decided to bring a record player into the library as a little demonstration for the students. Some of them were so surprised; wondering how you could skip a song if you wanted to, and how do you know when the next song was coming up?…which really made me think – I don’t ever remember playing a record and feeling the need to skip a song. I mean, really, how difficult was it to listen to a band or singer that you enjoyed, and could not wait 3 minutes and 28 seconds for a song that might not be your favorite, to finish? In fact, a lot of my favorite songs are those that you may never hear on the radio, but are on some of the albums, and were deemed to be too long for radio play. It was an adventure to listen to the whole record. Often, there was a message that the particular artist was trying to get across. Perhaps we were all a little deeper into the music then; or maybe it’s just me?

Oh, this fast paced, on the go world that we live in…

It was actually kind of nice to get out the old record player, listen to some of the songs that we had not heard or thought about for a while, and actually dance a little.

Even the scratches in the record, hold a romantic charm as far as I’m concerned.

Hard to imagine, a generation that is missing the experience of some of the best writing and music ever made, as well as the cool means as to listen to it.

Can you imagine what would happen if I were to roll in my old Victrola?