Helping Out

One day I was perusing the scant offerings in our little library in the mess hall building when I found an Army Survival Manual.  It proved to be some enjoyable reading as it illustrated how to take advantage of resources at hand to solve various problems.  It covered such things as what to do in case of a flat tire and no jack, or no spare.  A jack could be substituted by wedging one end of a short log against an axle and the other end in the ground, then driving forward slowly.  This would cause the log to rotate while lifting the axle and wheel off the ground.  On a light vehicle with no spare, a spare tire could be substituted with a stout sapling wedged under the front axle and the butt end lashed to the front bumper.  The sapling would act as a skid and allow the vehicle to be driven to safety if stranded in a dangerous situation.  

Stringing cables across roads to decapitate trucks (and their drivers) was another entry.  To block a road, a cable could be strung across with one end attached to a large tree or other immovable object and the other end to a partially cut tree.  When a vehicle struck the cable, it would pull the partially cut tree down onto the vehicle.  Neat stuff!!  I've always thought of myself as a resourceful sort of guy and I found this reading very entertaining.

A month or so later, I had the opportunity to drive one of a couple of trucks that had been serviced at motor pool and were being returned to their field party.  The field party was one of the smaller ones, possibly Delaware or Dover.  I forget which, but they were camped along the main road about 75 km north of Addis.  When we arrived, the guys were in the process of breaking camp.  Normally a routine procedure, this activity was compounded by the fact that heavy rains had been falling for a couple days previous.  The campsite, a nice grassy flat area, adjacent to a freshly plowed field, was now either soaking wet or under several inches of water.  We watched the activity for several minutes and it was readily apparent the party members were really frustrated and demoralized by the weather conditions and the problems the rain had caused.  

I watched one member trying to move a deuce-and-a-half out of a very shallow, water-filled depression.  In dry conditions, the slope would have been imperceptible, but wet, the grass was so slippery that the truck couldn’t gain enough momentum to keep moving before the wheels began to spin.  Finally, the driver gave up, jumped out of the truck and stormed off.  I thought I'd give it a try, and climbed aboard.  Moving forward till the wheels began to spin, then reversing till the same happened, then forward again, I rocked the truck, gaining a little distance each time.  Eventually I able to gain the necessary momentum to drive it out and over to where a couple others were parked.  

The two deuces and three other ¾ ton trucks were all facing the radio van (or maybe it was the mess van) that somebody had driven into the freshly plowed field at the edge of the camp.  Now, mostly mud, it offered no support for the heavy truck which had sunk so deep that the axles were half buried.  The five other trucks were all cabled to it in an attempt to pull it free, but were having no luck.  The winches on the two deuces weren't working, so they could only pull by reversing in low range.  Winches on the three ¾ tons worked, however.  When the word was given to pull, the deuces sat in one spot, with their 10 wheels slowly rotating in reverse.   The ¾'s slowly winched themselves toward the bogged van who's wheels slowly rotated in reverse.   The van itself didn't move.  Nothing short of a bulldozer, it seemed, was going to pull that van out of the mud.  The party chief finally said to leave it for later and to get on with packing up the rest of the gear.

I was mulling over the situation when I suddenly remembered something from that survival manual.  I got one of the guys to help me and we unhooked all the cables from the back of the van.  We found some rocks and wedged them in front of the front wheels of the two deuces which would serve as anchors.  Then I dug the mud out from between the rear dual wheels of the half buried van.  Taking the cables from each 2 ½ ton truck,  I fed one between the right rear duals of the van and hooked it into one of the three holes in the rim.  I took the other cable and did the same on the left pair of duals.  I then instructed my helper to get in the van, put it in low-range reverse and give it some gas.  I stood aside to signal him to stop if I saw either of the two anchor trucks start to move forward.  

As my helper started the truck in reverse, the wheels all slowly began to rotate, drawing the cables around each hub where the duals were joined.  Once the slack was taken up, each pair of duals acted as a winch, winding the cables between the tires.  Slowly, the van began moving and continued to creep toward the two anchor trucks, winding itself up on their respective cables.  Finally, the van was on firmer, grassy ground.  I had my helper drive forward, staying on the firm ground along the edge of the field until the cables were unwound and I could unhook them from the rims.  

By now, we had drawn the attention of most of the other guys, many of whom had spent hours trying to pull this van out.  "Wow"  "How'd ya do that?" and similar remarks flowed like the water that was causing so much problem!  I forget what response I may have given, but I do remember that I was enjoying the praise so much that I wasn't about to let on that I had read about this very rescue procedure in an Army survival manual just a few weeks earlier. 


                                       Windshield Washer Fluid

One hot afternoon, Bob Micca and I were driving a ¾ ton truck south toward the Rift Valley.  I forget where we were going or why, but as we were barreling along at a pretty good clip on the paved road out of Addis, we suddenly drove into a dense swarm of insects.  I don't know what they were, (flying maggots?) but they smashed themselves on the windshield by the hundreds, making a gooey mess and seriously obscuring our visibility.  Turning on the wipers only compounded the problem by smearing them more or less uniformly across the field of view.  These old WWII vintage trucks had no windshield washers and neither of us had brought along any water that we could use to clean the bugs off. We were miles from the nearest Rift Valley lake, so finding any natural source of water wasn't an option either. We realized, however, that we had to do something to clean the windshield before progressing much further, because we just couldn't see well enough to drive safely.

While parked on the side of the road wondering how to resolve this situation, one of us (probably me) had the bright idea to piss on the windshield to rinse the bugs off.  That seemed like a good solution (no pun intended), so after starting the wipers going we bailed out of the front seat and climbed up on the hood and relieved ourselves on the window.  Had anyone happened to pass by while we were thus engaged, I'm sure they would, to this day, still be wondering what the hell we were doing.

But in spite of what it may have looked like, our efforts did a fairly reasonable job of cleaning off the bug juice to the point we could see well enough to drive.  Pleased with our ingenuity, we got back in the truck and headed on down the road.  As we picked up speed however, it quickly became apparent  that we were being bathed in a hot breeze laden with the heavy stench of piss and bug guts!  

The stink was nearly overwhelming and we struggled to keep from barfing.  No combination of open vents or open or closed windows offered any relief, but we now had no option other than to continue on to our destination where water was available to do the job properly.

                                     Zim Zappers and Throwing Darts

One of the things I suspect everyone remembers about Ethiopia is the flies.  We referred to them as "Zims", which may have been what the Ethis called them. They were a constant annoyance, landing on one's face, or buzzing around one's food as though it was their only goal in life.  A wave of the hand would chase them off, only to have them fly in a short circle and land again at the same spot.  We would try to smack them between our hands; grab them out of the air, and if so lucky, throw them against the nearest hard surface.  Devising any means of killing them was time well spent, and one GI in our midst came up with an ingenious solution.  I didn't know who he was, but I would surely have bought him a beer if I had.  

The solution was quite simple: loop a half dozen rubber bands together to form a string that would stretch a little more than arm's length.  Loop one end of the string through a paperclip, and at the other, knot several rubber bands into a ball about the size of a pea.  With the paperclip held firmly between thumb and forefinger of one hand, the ball end would be stretched back with the other.  When released, the ball would zip forward two or three feet beyond the outstretched arm.  With a little practice, one could zap a fly from several feet away, without him ever suspecting any threat.  Hence the name: Zim Zapper.  The impact of the rubber ball usually would obliterate the fly nearly completely, leaving nothing more than maybe a little spot of mucus or a wing spiraling down to the floor.  They were great!  Many of us carried one around at all times and after meals a group of guys might be outside chatting and zapping to pass the time.  It was always a challenge to try to knock one out of the air; a challenge that occasionally met with success.

I occupied a third floor, corner office, facing to the rear of the headquarters building. I inherited it from Don Janiak, the Topographic Computer I replaced.  Among the few items he left behind were some throwing darts, the kind with plastic fins, rather than feathers.  They were in the top drawer of the desk for more than a year after he left, but I never paid much attention to them.  However, one day, while at my desk, a particularly pesky fly finally got to me.  For whatever reason, I didn't go after him with a zim zapper, but with a quick swing of my arm, I managed to snatch him out of the air with my right hand.  Then, with a violent downward swing, I bounced him of the top of the desk, leaving him stunned, but still twitching.  He was a big one, and I wanted to finish him off in a more creative way than just squashing him or flicking him out the window.  Opening the top drawer of the desk, I spied the darts!  Taking one of them, I slowly impaled the fly until he was halfway down the point, then absentmindedly tossed the dart, with fly, back in the drawer.

A day or two later, a new guy was being given a tour of the offices, and was left with me for awhile to brief him on my activities.  He sat across the desk from me and as we talked, the flies were up to their usual bother.  They annoyed him to the point that he finally made a comment, something like "Damn these flies, how do you stand it?"

Several things flashed through my mind then: "Naive new guy in front of me"  Me, a Mapping Mission veteran"  "Fly on dart"

I pointedly looked off toward the wall, darting my eyes around as though I was following a fly as it buzzed around the room.  As I did, I opened the drawer, quickly pulled out the dart and threw it violently into the opposite wall.  The new guy was a little surprised as I got up, strolled over to the wall and pulled out the dart.  Then his eyes opened wide as he saw me casually scrape the fly off the point with my finger and into the waste basket.  Incredulous, he blurted, "How long have you been here???" Then, in the same breath, "Heyyy…. wait a minute!!"  I had him there for a second though.  Although he was new, was wasn't THAT naïve.