As we get older, exercise becomes more difficult. I long for the days when I could ride my bicycle down the hill all the way to Homer’s, have a couple beers, and throw the bike in the back of someone’s pickup and catch a ride back up the hill. All of that ‘throwing’ and ‘catching’ must have consumed a lot of calories.
Stephanie and I walk almost every day. Well, Stephanie does. I’m sporadic. Last year, we walked between three and five miles daily. This year, Stephanie is still at it; I’m a few miles behind – like a continent behind.
Growing up in Vail, several of us kids had a variety of ways to exercise. When we were young, we played redneck, dangerous livestock farm hands against indigenous people. We used water guns and water balloons as hand grenades (yes, cowboys and Indians didn’t have grenades, but our imaginations were creative). We examined every square inch of the countryside within a mile with treks along creeks and the river, fencerows, pastures, alfalfa fields, and through corn rows.
In later years, during the day, you might find a few of us building tunnels and forts at Alley North’s haybarn. Actually, you couldn’t find us. That was the point.
The hay barn contained thousand of bales of hay. These were not the huge round bales you see along fence rows in Iowa today. These bales were two-string bales about 16” x 18” and 4-ft long. Each weighed between 60 and 80 lbs., depending upon the contents (alfalfa, grass, mixtures, etc.). The barn was constructed with poles and galvanized siding on three sides. The southeast side of the barn was open.
If Alley came by and saw one of us, he would jump out of his vehicle and head into the barn to catch us. We had so many tunnels, some connected, some not. It must have looked like a whack-a-mole game to anyone trying to catch us. Our system of tunnels was simple, and we built them so that the fattest of the gang could get through the tunnel with ease. Underground rooms were supported with board we found inside and outside the barn. We were careful not to add a lot of weight to the roof of the room.
On the open side of the barn, we would have three to four bales strategically placed so that they would pop out when we got to the end of a tunnel. From several disguised lookouts, we could see where our pursuer(s) were located and plan our escape accordingly. I don’t remember that any kid ever got caught.
I am sure that Alley thought we might be smoking. We were not that dumb. Yes, there were plenty of risks, but all of us pests are still alive to this day, or passed away from other ailments, naturally or unnaturally. No one was ever harmed in the hay barn.
Alley would have things straightened out, and within a month, we were at it again. Like gophers, we came back to pop our heads up out of the kid-made bales to get the adrenaline going when Alley spotted us again.
Alley North also owned the grain elevator at that time. On an occasional Sunday, we would sneak into the basement from a window that was missing. We would ride the one to two-person caged elevator up to the top. One hundred twenty feet. What a view from the headhouse. I am not a person familiar with heights, so I didn’t go out onto the roof, but I know a few did.
If Alley came to the elevator, we had a little game we played with him. Next to the caged elevator was a ladder you could use from the first floor all the way to the top. It was dark in there. In most places in the shaft, you couldn’t see the ladder from the passenger elevator. We could climb down the ladder to a spot in the darkness and go to the back side of the ladder to hang on and lean against the wall. The passenger elevator’s controls were wired in such a way that if you kept your finger on the up button (or down button), anyone pushing a button at the top, the first floor, or the basement, could not override the direction of the elevator.
Someone always made it to the first floor coming down the ladder. While Alley was in the headhouse looking to see where we were hiding, the first person to the first floor pushed the ‘down’ button and held it. Alley was stuck on top. I’m not sure he knew about this button flaw, but the elevator would stop when a kid yelled, he would hop in the cage and push the ‘down’ button. If Alley did happen to push the ‘up’ button, the kid in the cage would grasp a rung on the ladder and swing back behind it. Depending on how many of us kids dared to do this, the game could go on for most of the afternoon.
No one was ever caught. No one was ever hurt. We were foolish, but we were invincible kids. We probably left the elevator and ran to the haybarn to hide and plan our next incredibly stupid caper.
Next blog: How we exercised at night, featuring J.C. McCullough.