Trouble

What’s the worst trouble that you got into when you were younger?

Willamette valley pasture (bird habitat)
Willamette valley pasture (bird habitat)

Most of my troubles have been near misses, situations which could have turned out far worse. The following is one of those.

At Oregon State University, I took up residence with Alan and Neil, Norwegian guys from Petersburg, Alaska. They were both exuberant storytellers and the topic of conversation often turned to fishing and hunting. One week in the fall of 1968, we were talking about bird hunting for pheasants, ducks, geese, and the like. The more we talked, the more fun this sounded, so much fun we decided to go hunting the following Saturday.

None of us actually knew anything about bird hunting in Oregon. Apparently the guys brought extra shotguns from home because the very next Saturday, four of us “bird hunters” loaded into my Ford Falcon and we went north up the Willamette Valley. We didn’t have a destination in mind; we were looking for fields that looked promising for bird hunting.

Gradually we realized that all of the land in the Willamette Valley belongs to somebody, and that fields are NOT posted with “public hunting allowed” signs. We saw several promising fields, but they signed “No Trespassing,” “No Hunting,” or both.

Driving by one promising field, one of us spotted a rooster pheasant taking flight, and our impulse control was overwhelmed. Rationalizing that the owner was not around, or wouldn’t notice, we parked the car, climbed the fence and began walking the perimeter of the field. Sure enough, it was only five minutes when one of the Norwegians flushed quail out of the fence row, and shots rang out.

“Uh-oh, shotguns are really loud,” I said to myself.

For the owner, shots were an infuriating call to action, and he roared into the field in his big four-wheel-drive pickup. Within a couple of minutes he was raging at us. He apparently was not armed, and we didn’t fear for our lives. He was very angry and I was plenty scared.

We had not paid attention to the cattle at the opposite side of the large field and he went on about the danger to his animals. I tried to be reassuring saying, yes I grew up on a farm and we run cattle too. He seemed to think this was even worse, since anyone who grew up on a farm should know that cattle don’t like guns.

I mustered my hangdog look and said, “We are very sorry, and we will leave immediately.”

“OK, but I’ll be recording your license number and reporting this to the police,” he replied.

As I was cleaning up the Ford Falcon, washing the grit from exterior and mud off the floor mats, I tried to comfort myself with the thought that the farmer would think twice about the work involved in reporting the four armed trespassers from Oregon State University who were shooting up his cattle paddock. Fortunately for me, this apparently was the case because the authorities never called.

I never went bird hunting again following that experience.

 

Awards

Did you ever win an award you were proud of, and what was it in honor of?

We visit the OSU Tau Beta Pi Bent at Rogers Hall
We visit the OSU Tau Beta Pi Bent at Rogers Hall

Oregon State University, School of Engineering, honors engineering students with membership in Tau Beta Pi, like the Phi Beta Kappa for liberal arts.

I was surprised and pleased to receive a letter stating that my efforts in engineering school were noteworthy. I had sacrificed extra-curricular activities, the anti-war movement, music performance, and social development in order to do well. This award offered consolation for my one-sided college life.

The award came with a challenge: Polish a palm-sized cast brass object called a Bent. The Bent is a three-dimensional logo for Tau Beta Pi, meant as a small keepsake for display in one’s trophy case.

Each Bent comes with instructions for polishing, suggesting a trip to the hardware store for a flat file, sandpapers, polishing compound as well as several hours of manual work. Dutifully, I got the recommended elements and spent several hours filing and polishing. It wasn’t perfectly smooth, nor especially polished, but rather mellow looking.

I was put off by this gift, asking myself, “Why not hand us something smooth that doesn’t require hours of polishing? Are they trying to reinforce my work ethic? How can they not know that I’ve got the work ethic down?”

When I arrived for the induction ceremony, each of my fellow engineering students produced their bent and we set them out the table for judging. Steven Hansen proudly unveiled his bent, holding it in a velvet cloth. It had a mirror-like surface reflecting light better than any brass I had ever seen. His was the unquestioned winner. Steven was a Chemical Engineering student, and I suspected that he had used some kind of secret compound to prepare his Bent.

Steven later married my classmate Joanne Manning from Oakland High School. Last summer at our 50-year Oakland High School reunion I asked Steven how he managed to beautify his Bent so perfectly. He said his Dad worked with metals and told him finished brass is difficult to perfect. So he ignored the instructions from Tau Beta Pi and took his Bent to a Corvallis metal shop where they did the buffing and polishing with appropriate machines.

Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society 1969 (Marty Crouch 3rd row at left)
Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, 1969 (Marty Crouch 3rd row at left)

Driving

Who taught you to drive, and what was your first car?

Marty bound for Oregon State University 1965
Marty bound for Oregon State University, 1965

Living on a farm offered many opportunities to drive tractors, trucks and cars. Dad taught me most of what I know about driving on farm fields and back roads. It would have been helpful to have driver’s training from a certified instructor in high school.

Like other teenage boys at age 18, I wanted a hot rod. Scouring the newspaper ads, I took Dad with me to inspect a 1955 Chevy 2-door hard top, with a V8, 4 barrel carburetor, floor shift, and bucket seats. This was a classic of that day; I was hooked and Dad was aghast.

Dad had a lot of experience with engines, because of his farm background, mechanical work in the Army Air Corps at Hickam Field in Hawaii, and adult common sense. When the owner started up his 1955 Chevy, I thought it sounded mean, meaning loud and rough, like a hot rod. To Dad, it sounded like a waste of time and money, fixing or removing useless modifications that the owner had installed.

Dad was verbal about the time we had wasted looking at an over-priced hot rod and decided to take charge. He knew a guy, Louie, who worked as a part-time mechanic for an auto repair shop. Louie had just repaired the transmission on a car that was for sale, and soon it was ordained that my first car was a 1958 Ford Fairlane, 4-door sedan, with a repaired transmission, 6 cylinders and a 3-speed shift on the column. Not my idea of a cool car, but I was not in a position to argue.

I purchased the car and put on a game face, thinking that I wouldn’t be driving much in college anyway. It wasn’t long until the transmission started refusing to shift through forward gears. Dad said, “No problem, we’ll just run it into the farm shop, take it out and see what’s wrong. It will be a good experience for you.”

Determined to be helpful, I got the transmission unbolted from the engine and chassis; we took it out and carefully pulled it apart. Dad declared that Louie had left out something when he reassembled the transmission, and the missing part had caused the problems we were having. Unfortunately, the mistake had also ruined some gears in the transmission. So we went to Ford and ordered the necessary parts to reassemble the transmission, with appropriate attention to detail, like applying lubrication to the shafts and bearings and new gaskets to all surfaces. I was amazed at Dad’s grasp of things mechanical, and impressed with what I was learning.

I’ll mention something in the interest of full disclosure. When we reassembled the transmission and fitted it back into the chassis, I was elated. I could not wait to prove the amazing success of our handiwork. I backed the Ford off the blocks and went for a quick test drive, noticing that the transmission shifted like silk through all of the gears. Success!

I drove back to the shop only to find an angry Dad. I was humiliated to hear that I had forgotten the transmission was bone dry. It was only luck and lithium grease that kept me from ruining the efforts of all of that work. Fortunately, the transmission continued to work just fine when the transmission oil was added.

The car served me without further trouble during my freshman and sophomore years. The summer before my junior year, three of us drove the car to Prince Rupert and onto the ferry to Petersburg, Alaska. The car was sold to an Indian man from a nearby island, and I flew home at the end of the summer.

Sports

Did you play a sport, and what did you like best about it?

1965 High School Wrestling Team, with Coach Mr. Sparks
1965 High School Wrestling Team, with Coach, Mr. Sparks

I am not a sportsman. I have a love-hate relationship with sports, with an emphasis on hate. I do not watch sports, follow sports, participate in sports, nor talk about sports.

During my youth, I played at three organized sports — baseball, basketball, and wrestling. Of the three, my favorite was wrestling.

I turned out for two seasons of wrestling, starting in my Junior year. My first year was satisfying, because I did OK, despite my lack of experience. I substituted physical strength for skill and won about half of my matches. I liked it because I avoided being humiliated with a season of losses.

My Senior year of wrestling was a letdown.

Before the season began, I realized that our state championship football players were getting buff and tough, while I was freezing my butt off playing trumpet in pep band. I began to obsess about fears of not being placed on the varsity wrestling team. I figured that the tough football players would get first pick of the starting spots on the wrestling team. I decided to maximize my options by losing enough weight so that I could qualify at 148, 157 or 167 pounds. I reached this conclusion when I was weighing about 168 pounds — about right for wrestling at the 167 pound class.

A better strategy would have been to forget weight and toughen up with weight training and aerobic conditioning, or at least consult with the coach and get his advice. Gripped with anxiety, I began obsessive distance running and dieting. My weight dropped 25 pounds, my resting pulse dropped to 36, and I felt continually cold and weak.

In November, Mother intervened one day after school when I lay down on the hearth and fell asleep with my mouth open in front of the fire. She said, “I am worried about you because you were lying unconscious by the fireplace and I couldn’t wake you; has your wrestling coach told you to starve yourself?”

My lame reply was, “Um, I didn’t really consult with my coach.”

I realized the error in my strategy too late to recover. When the wrestling season started, I was in good condition for cross country running, but in terrible shape for wrestling. Partway through the season, I suffered a back injury in practice. I was sidelined for half of the season and did poorly at the district tournament, and was thereby disqualified for competition at the state tournament.

Despite my troubles, the coach granted me a letter and I was inducted into the Letterman’s club. Grateful to finally be a Letterman, I decided not to order a sweater because I would have graduated by the time it finally arrived.

Favorite Subjects

What were your favorite subjects at school and why?

Vesta Cota, English Comp, Oakland High School 1963
Vesta Cota, English Comp, Oakland High School – 1963

Here is a story about English Composition and our teacher, Mrs. Vesta Cota.

English comp was not my favorite high school class. Too much emphasis on English and not enough on comp.

Mrs. Cota was our teacher and she was old, compared to my other high school teachers. I felt sorry for her because our class sometimes appeared to disrespect her efforts to inspire a love for English Literature and an appreciation for the skill that writers bring to their craft.

I remember writing one essay on “My Oakland High School Experience.” Mostly this was a self-effacing piece about how I had struggled to fit into our high school and its extracurricular activities. We read our essays aloud in class, and my classmates cracked up in fits of sympathetic laughter as I read.

Mrs. Cota was very generous with her praise, and asked me to write another essay to be read at the end-of-the quarter class in three weeks. Feeling flush with success, I agreed to her request.

I tried, sweated, and agonized on this follow-up essay. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember my writing didn’t flow, and when the time came, I read it in a stilted voice with halting delivery. Nobody laughed; they did not even give me the courtesy of their attention.

That’s when I glimpsed at how hard it must be for teachers to deliver a compelling class day after day, week after week.

Favorite Teacher

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

Charles Halstead, History, Oakland High School - 1963
Charles Halstead, History, Oakland High School – 1963

Charles Halstead, history teacher, was my favorite. He was one of the two advisors for the class of ’65 and he coached football, basketball and baseball.

Mr. Halstead was probably about 40 when he taught at Oakland High School. He was a mid-sized, slender man who commanded respect from his students.

His classroom was neatly organized and he posted an aphorism each day above the blackboard. He had apparently collected hundreds, some of which provoked a smile. The one I remember was best is, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Mr. Halstead had the idea that teens were not natural students; they need help with paying attention, staying organized, and capturing the important points in their lessons. His teaching method included drills on how to keep organized lecture notes. He had a specific format for headings, sub-headings, paragraphs, and indentation. His lectures included cues about how to write a note, together with verbatim content to be copied. For example, he might say, “New Heading – The New Deal: Civilian Conservation Corps.” This meant skip a line, left justify, and literally write, “The New Deal: Civilian Conservation Corps.” This would be followed with paragraphs, sub-headings, and so forth, indented from the margin.

Boomer class sizes at our high school were generally in the range of 15 to 25 students, and the temptation to whisper, pass notes, or talk out loud was unbearable. Mr. Halstead tolerated small amounts of this misbehavior, before escalating demands for uninterrupted listening. He would move about the room and look directly at the gossipy teens. He would ask a question to the class, or even address the talker by name and ask a question. He might directly ask a misbehaving student to stop talking. If all that failed, he was known to pick an eraser from the chalkboard, and throw it with pinpoint accuracy at a student. So far as I can remember, nobody was ever asked to leave the room, because his methods worked pretty well.

I recall that cheating on tests was hard to control, because we sat close together, and because the tests almost always had multiple choice answers. It was easy to glance over at what my neighbor had written on her answer sheet. Usually a given class would start with random seating, and progress for several weeks before Mr. Halstead would assign seating to mitigate the trouble spots. I puzzled about how he arrived at the seat assignments and whether his strategy had worked out.

Mr. Halstead took some interest in me and asked me to write a research paper for extra credit. The first subject I wrote on was World War II. He returned my paper with a failed grade and dozens of comments. The comment I remember best was: “A mistake on the first line of a page should always call for a new sheet of paper.”

He gave me a second chance and I produced a paper on French Polynesia, mainly on how the French had affected the lives of the Polynesians. This paper came back with an “A” grade and a congratulatory note. I appreciated that he took the time and effort to give me generous feedback and a second chance.