by Marty Ryan
Vail is a small community in west-central Iowa. It’s also a ski resort in Colorado. But I grew up in the Iowa version. One thing both communities have in common is a swimming pool. However, Vail, Colorado has ten times more residents than Vail, Iowa.
Vail, Iowa, has a population of about 430 residents, mostly Irish-Catholic, but with a few people of Protestant-English origin and a handful of folk of German descent. It has maintained a community swimming pool since sometime in the 1960s. It is not owned by the city, but rather an association of interested parents and other residents.
Prior to the establishment of the Vail Community Swimming Pool Association, and the creation of the swimming pool, children in Vail had to make their way to nearby Denison to swim in that city’s municipal pool, or take their chances swimming in Tracy’s pond about a mile out of town. We often had to share the pond with cattle. You can imagine which facility we favored. So every chance we got we tried to catch a ride to Denison.
Often, many of us boys would wait downtown to see if Tracy North was going to stop for coffee at the local café before going to the Denison Sale Barn. He may not stop for coffee, but he was a weekly regular at the Sale Barn. He did, as you might suspect, own the pond and just about 50% of all other real estate in town and west of town. Everyone knew Tracy. It was never evident that he knew anyone. But Tracy was a kind-hearted man, and was always good for a free ride.
On one particular Saturday morning, a small group of Vail boys, me included, asked Tracy for a ride to Denison. Without saying something like, “is it okay with your parents?” or a question of other concern, he would smile and say: “Sure! Get in the car!” And roughly 6 to 10 young boys would scramble in, trying to be the one that sat by the window. He always had an adult male passenger in front who rode with him to watch the sales of cattle, sheep, hay, straw, hens, and other farm implements and livestock. I can’t remember who it was on this nice sunny Saturday morning; it doesn’t make any difference, that adult got the shotgun seat.
With the back seat filled with half-naked boys clad only in swim trunks and a towel, off we sped to Denison. The small boys sat on the laps of the larger ones. This was in the day before seat belts (or, safety belts as we called ‘em back then) were required. I can’t recall who was all in Tracy’s Cadillac that morning, but I can safely say that besides me, there was at least one Malloy boy and a McCoid boy.
We were almost to Denison on Highway 30 when a few of us began telling Tracy that there was a Highway Patrolman behind us with his lights flashing. “I think he wants you to pull over on the shoulder, Tracy.” Someone would say. Tracy smiled. After about a mile, Tracy finally pulled over.
The patrolman walked up to Tracy’s window and asked, “Sir, did you know you were speeding?” Tracy said, “No, sir. I didn’t know that. Thank you, sir.” And rolled the window up as he drove off leaving the trooper standing alone along the shoulder of the road.
I’m going to bet fifty-cents that one of us kids yelled, “Holy shit!”
The trooper never chased us down. We arrived at the pool safely, and we talked about it for days (years later, too).
We never worried about how to get home. Someone’s mom would grudgingly accept a collect call and come get us. 90% of the time it was Kate Malloy. She was the nice mother who didn’t cuss us out. When my mom would yell at us Ryan boys for riding to Denison without telling her, we would suggest that maybe we should just walk out to Tracy’s pond. That swimming pool in Vail couldn’t be built fast enough.