Jack Hicks – A Humble Legend

Jack passed away this morning, September 29th. I’ll recirculate this for another round in case someone out there has not yet read it. I have grown so close to him.

How many of us have met a Legend? I mean in the flesh – shook his or her hand, spoken with for a substantial period? Among a few modest others – some of whom I can name to their surprise – I have indeed met one of these Beings.

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His name is Jack Hicks and he is a former high school teacher, now retired, of Government/Political Science, something he has always taken very seriously and the results of which even hijinks-obsessed young men such as myself learned from about the workings of our governments. He also ran a vital organism in his town, the entertainment venue which seated 5,000 people comfortably for such events as the traveling Duke Ellington Band and those bizarre Dick Clark Rock and Roll Caravans. Jack ran the Parks and Recreation Department for Owensboro, Kentucky where I found my first, very nepotistic job.

Jack Hicks was also the coach of Owensboro High School’s baseball team.

Was he ever. In 22 years of coaching Owensboro High, Jack’s teams won 606 ballgames, The overall record of 606-196 includes the fact that Jack attempted not only to schedule games to play every single day of the season – with doubleheaders on weekends – but that he would play the best teams who would dare to schedule him. Games in Illinois and Indiana were not the slightest bit unusual, particularly inasmuch as Owensboro is on the Ohio River. It was a festival for those lucky enough to find themselves playing for Jack.

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This is “us”, at the end of the Regional Final game. (I am the very middle guy, ;-)  ).  There is another picture lying around somewhere of us after the State Final game. Believe me when I say the expressions are far less serious!

Jack won four state championships in 1964, 1969, 1976 and 1977. My younger brother played on the 1969 team. Under his direction, the Red Devils won 20 district titles and 15 regional tournaments. I was fortunate enough to play shortstop on Jack’s 1964 team, his first Championship, for a team he now sometimes refers to as one of his “favorites”. Here’s the real news – the team the year before us was 43-2 on the year and lost in the Finals to Louisville Manual High School – the reigning power team at the time. When we won our regional tournament in ’64, Jack was quoted before our run that “this is not one of my better teams”, lol. He may or may not have realized it, but he probably served to make us pay just a bit more attention. Sure enough, we brought home the trophy, as unlikely as that seemed at the origins. The truth is, what he prepared meant that any team he put on the field was now able to win it all – at any point in time.

Anyway – and this is every bit as relevant, if not more so -  he also coached the local American Legion team – the totally wonderfully-named Owensboro ‘Velvet Bombers’ – to a total of 10 State Championships. Jack was the instigator of a revival of a titanic baseball love in a town which had embraced teams in the Pre World War 2 years and which had always had a small love affair with the game. Jack simply made it grow.
Here is a look at the 1937 high school team. They look ready!
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Beginning with Little League’s start in the 50′s, Jack worked with the organization known as Owensboro Youth Baseball to keep the topic and sport very much at the forefront of young men’s minds. The later legacy of all this was the establishment of a virtual powerhouse of female sports as well, also stemming from Jack’s work in this this absurdly sports-centered town which Sports Illustrated called the Number One Sporting Town in Kentucky in its 50th Anniversary edition. (click this link here)

Polio

So what are the chances a kid with an atrophied leg, ravaged by polio at the age of 2, would become one of the greatest names in a sport? Jack will wince at this description – as he undoubtedly has throughout his life – and it does not remotely even bear on his achievements – not for someone who was far too active-minded and ambitious to dwell on any personal impediment. It is the superficial package which hides him and which acts as that immediate persona which we all also wear, just in different clothing.

It bears because he had an obvious handicap, nothing more than that. Whereas we all have “handicaps” as well, he had what may have been the good fortune to encounter his own personal impediments a few decades earlier than the rest of us. The rest of us are also hampered by maybe our poor self-esteem or maybe its opposite – unencumbered entitlement – or our handicaps of prejudice in all its guises. No matter, because in the end the bittersweet lessons of life will pound us all into motes of dust, where all we leave behind is our various legacies.

Jack, in this regard, was and is an absolute Giant.

Jack’s essential character not only produced fabulously talented ball players, but he also shepherded young men through their high school years focusing on the discipline required to play as a team and to maximize potentials. He was a disciplinarian of unquestioned power who led by example, ironically, a tactic which succeeded beyond any measure. His players and coaches became such luminaries as esteemed doctors, lawyers, business persons and one – Tom Meredith – Chancellor at both The University of Alabama and of U of Georgia as well. David Watkins – who saw time at the AAA level and who hit tape measure home runs as a high schooler – is now President of Jewish Hospital in Louisville and widely-regarded as one of the foremost doctors in the United States. Jim Howes, now an attorney practicing in Louisville, not only pitched our team to the afore-mentioned State Championship, but also won the State Championship in the discus and shot put, then went to Tulane on a basketball scholarship. Jim also became the world’s largest Green Beret in one of their very first classes, during the Viet Nam conflict. All of Jack’s players did well in later life – well, almost all. His legacy is often even overlooked by his protege’s, his touch was so deft. Jack’s talent was people. That he loved baseball may have been incidental to where they all ended up.

And having said that made me throw up a little in my throat, because it’s probably both less and more than that. The “inside baseball” tricks, knowledge, and sporting IQ of Jack Hicks’ players was always outside the known envelope. We traveled in some rare air, in my opinion, verified by results.

Strictly Personal – Recollections

Readers of this blog might be surprised to know my goal as a child never varied for 15 years: to play baseball for the rest of my life. I was pretty good, too. I was one of those kids who stood out as an 11 and 12 year old Little League ballplayer, bashing homers, pitching and fielding my way onto All Star teams and excelling there as well. This continued into high school where I encountered Jack at Owensboro Senior High School. Playing for Jack was equal parts incredibly good luck and an absolute learning adventure.

Somehow, in that Spring of 1964, as a wide-eyed inexperienced 10th grader, I made the team and was able to travel to Paducah, Kentucky for our first games of the season over Spring Break – we had scheduled a doubleheader with a local high school there. In what still seems a blur, our starting shortstop broke his finger in infield practice for that first game and I received my first starting assignment – a position I maintained for the next 3 years. I’ll absolutely never forget my nerves prior to the first ball being hit to me. The guys around me were all these big borderline “heroes-from-a-distance” and suddenly I found myself not only in the midst, but playing shortstop.

I thought my hair had caught fire!

We did fine. In fact, we did fine all that year. We won Jack’s first of 4 Kentucky High School  State Championships, we did so fine. That also made my hair catch fire. ;-)

His too. ;-)

The baseball incidents encountered under Jack’s tutelage could scroll on for literal miles. Back then, before rules limited the number of games teams could play, Jack scheduled us to play games every single day, with doubleheaders on weekends. We had 2 seasons I can recall with records of 36-11 and 25-9 (a year of too many rain-outs).  The above-mentioned Velvet Bombers also played – every single day or night, all Summer long, after the high school season ended. These games included Sundays as well, yet another opening for playing ball. Oh, the stories.

For a baseball kid like me, imagine those drives through Springtime’s lime green young leaves of those dense, sweet-smelling Kentucky forests en route to play baseball, of all things. I’d find myself in one of the big old 1960′s convertibles driven by some other hilarious kid equally giddy over our great good fortune, allowed out of school for the last period for purposes of travel, crammed in with 5 other guys with mayhem and baseball in mind, as serious as apprentice monks except when the comic or anarchistic urge hit – and it did – laughing our way to another game of baseball.

I’ve been to Heaven is what I often tell people. And Jack Hicks was an affable, smart, but thoroughly uncompromising “God”. He also hated losing, which, fortunately, didn’t happen all that often. He made good players and he made much of the system that produced them.

A couple years ago, during a quite improbable run of yet another Owensboro team to the State Final Game, Jack attended and was announced to the thousands in attendance. This was not his first acknowledgment to these crowds – he had been elected to the Kentucky High School Hall Of Fame much earlier. The ovation – according to those in attendance – was pretty off the charts. They honored who in my humble opinion – and that of countless others – was the greatest high school baseball coach in the history of the State of Kentucky.

I am so honored to write my little unasked-for piece on this shy and great person that it causes me to well up at the memories – all so equal parts triumphant, humiliating (hey, that’s sports!), fascinating and so full of the cooperative sweat equity earned by honest effort and shared by team mates with whom I still speak. I love it all.

Thanks, Jack. For everything – and that’s a lot of stuff!

Supernatural Baseball Invented in Owensboro

In 2009, Owensboro High School baseball received the blessings of real ghosts. I can think of no better analogy for a program which saw its team take an absurdly terrible 4-15 regular season record into the gratefully final morsels of this miserably failed season only to discover themselves 3 weeks later playing for the State Baseball Championship.

I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time and had just recently discovered the wonders of the Internet and all those weird and wonderful ways to reach out and touch people. As I prodded and push-buttoned my way through elements of my past and the elements of my trade, I rediscovered the local Owensboro newspaper – The Messenger & Inquirer of  my youth, at the same time as the initial games of that season’s baseball District Tournament. Dang!! Bad timing!!

It was with serious despair that I noticed that pathetic record, not entirely understanding the various dilutions of talent and energy which had infected my high school alma mater. I reconciled myself to a more tepid fanhood but resolved to explore the experience of their eventual and rather imminent final collapse. In other words, as always, I paid attention to the Senior High Red Devils.

I got a shock in my mini-depression, as Owensboro actually won their important first game and and many of the obstacle teams later fell as well as they played through. They lost to the very favored and strong Apollo team in the District Final – to no one’s surprise, of course, but they still prolonged the season with their automatic berth into the Regional Tournament no matter the result of the final game. It was an unlikely series of events. Not one bit of any of it so far had been the slightest bit predictable. But, incredibly somehow, they managed it. I gained a tiny smile between the winces over future pain, but that was enough for a beer. Therefore, all was not lost.

Owensboro showed some signs of life, even with bearing such a heavy load that their record indicated. They had made their overall record to 7-15. It was somewhere around here that I suspect Owensboro’s historical angels hopped on board.

Heroes and the blessings of the past – some background

In the Bourbon mash-scented mists of the early 50’s and 60’s, the boyhood heroes of legend for Owensboro baseballers toil in a ghost-like Chatauqua Park Field of Dreams. Purposeful and relentless competitors, these idols exist in an approximate dream-like status which Owensboro boys have dreamed of since the seminal seasons of the early 1950’s and the incredible achievements of that era.. Their memory carries to this day a Supernatural Thrill in acts which eerily resemble that novel and film in every conceivable emotional and spiritual way. This time they would heal a season of pain and dysfunction and reveal themselves one more time for all the doubters and to this rapt observer..

For me, the names of Harold Pugh, Dicky Cobb, Woosie Woodward, Paul and Richard Anderson, Jan Aldeman, Allen Emerson, Ricky Nash, Randy Embry, Johnny Maglinger, Tommy Gentry, Denny Doyle, Frank Ballard, Stan Markham, Jimmy Oller, David Wolfe, Tommy Kron, Jimmy Howes and Bobby Woodward – competitors within and without the Owensboro line of succession who preceded my own little legend – are names which roll off the tongue in awe and respect. They still people my dreams. The severest admiration simply explodes in a direct line of succession which we aspiring ballplayers perceived like that Baseball Holy Grail – Owensboro Baseball  - which was always the primary nexus and impetus of this biography and historical study.

When I speak to Jack’s former players younger than myself, just as I nervously and respectfully regard those who preceded me, an unbroken line of awareness penetrates the moments. We are each the representatives of legends, a million unasked questions on our lips. Kids all need heroes and it can be shocking when you find yourself in a pantheon which you figured only included “the deserving”.

And here we reach a confluence of legend and reality…………….a stunning historical event whose supernatural magnitude has never been adequately addressed. I say this because I doubt anyone has spoken of these ghosts and legends made quite so clear in one club, 30-50 years after they roamed the fields.

I was so reminded of these names, their teams and their legendary and provocative energies which survived enough in the baseball spirit of Owensboro to lift this very flawed latest version of ourselves into some exemplary and very rare atmosphere. In a phenomenally-impossible series of events, this Owensboro High ball team swept through the Regional Championships to take the crown and win a trip to the Semi-State Championship. The record was still a dismal 10-16, even after the successful wins in both the District and Regional Championships. The Impossible was leering at us from over the Horizon and I became utterly mesmerized at my seat in far off Portland, Oregon.

The death of Hope which had defined the regular season had found this bizarre region where all the factors inherent in baseball – luck, adequate pitching, amazing defense, timely hitting and general head’s up play had simply conspired to come together in  machine whose parts had found themselves working together like a huge Swiss watch.

Jack Hicks’ accomplishments were rather legion and many took place in fields away from the baseball diamond. To the townspeople, Jack was an affable friend whose gifted steerage of the Sportscenter saw its emergence as a true engine of culture and a factor in the diverse entertainment environment Owensboro has since enjoyed. To boys, he was a giant presence of ineffable wisdom and authority, the “inventor” of Owensboro Baseball as we have come to know it.

When I stole a base, I took it with Victor Paris looking sternly at my work. There is no time to play the fool, this is serious business, filling the capable shoes of those who went before and honoring their achievements. When I fielded a ground ball, Randy Embry and Johnny Maglinger looked over my shoulder. And when I hit, David Watkins critiqued the swing and the contact – forget the distance.

I have experienced this holiness………….this spiritual beneficence from the graceful ballfields of the past and the future…………and it was good.

Later

I was at a University of Louisville baseball game a few years ago, wandering down to grab one of their very average but cold beers at the concession as is my wont. It was around the 4th inning of the game and I had earlier seen a large bus pull up and disgorge a team of what was obviously high schoolers, where they would catch the last of the game. As I waited in line, I could not help but notice the red and black school colors and the ubiquitous  “O” on the hats they all wore together. I waited in line with these kids and began a fascinating conversation.

“So where are you guys from?”

“Owensboro.” came a respectful, somewhat proud reply.

Uh-Oh………..

“Oh wow. I played my high school ball at Owensboro Senior,” I smiled widely. “You guys walk by the picture of our team every day! I played in 1964 and we won the first State Championship Owensboro ever won.”

Their eyes grew wide and I had their attention, those who believed in such a coincidental meeting, waiting for Nacho’s. They were catching just a little magic when they least expected it and what was even more weird was that I was supplying it. Suddenly, I felt sort of responsible!

I heaped praise on their efforts of the team two years prior and asked how many were on that team – they were all listening to me now – and 4-5 guys raised their hands. I then asked:

“How unbelievably cool was that??” and they all laughed.

“Crazy cool”, came the best response form a veteran. My smile could not have been wider. “Keep doing it!!”, was my parting shot.

I left them there and strode out under the passageway into the ramp behind home plate where I have sat near Muhammed Ali watching baseball played at an incredibly high level at these free admission ballgames. As I made my way in, I saw Kip Walters, the coach of the Owensboro team which had gone so far. I introduced myself and invoked the name of Eddie Parish who, it turned out, was Kip’s truly best friend and fellow teacher at a Junior High in Owensboro. What a great guy who I have spoken with often since.

But that day, as we cut up a little, I asked “What the heck happened? How did you guys do so well??”

I could not believe my good fortune as the KHSAA began streaming the entire Kentucky state baseball tournament on their own web site. It allowed me to see every pitch. I really thought I had died and gone to Heaven, way up in rainy Oregon as I paid the most rapt attention to the games. It also turned out that Jack Hicks made a game or two. What was made more compelling was how the KHSAA recognized Jack in front of an adoring crowd of wild applauders, reciting his amazing accomplishments and celebrating publicly his entry into the KHSAA Hall Of Fame. It was an amazingly memorable moment for his fans but perhaps even more so for his family – and allow me to presume to feel a part of at least his “Baseball Family”, because therein lies the magic.

The first game lasted a while. It went 10 innings with Owensboro beating a very good Lawrence County team 3-2. As I watched the game, it dawned onto me how the experiences of losing so many regular season ball games had delivered a team so toughened by disappointment and hardship that they had acquired a completely bend-but-don’t-break attitude which could be an astounding asset, and which was the case! Jams, tight spots, then timely hitting all proved a mettle which no one had seen coming, including Kip.

(I began getting flashbacks to our Semi-Final game against the Mike Casey-led Shelby County team in 1966. That game also went extra innings – a still-record 17 innings, 5 and a half hours in the heat, featuring Wayne Greenwell making every pitch – there must have been 200 – and striking out 27 batters. It was the most bitter defeat of my high school career as we lost, 3-1 by making a late error. As Jack said after the game, “We usually win these, but this time we broke first.”)

Next, we faced Bullit East who, along with Lexington Catholic, were the first and second-best teams in the state by consensus. To make a long story short, we won that one, too, also by one run. There were so many keys plays, events and pitches during this game – totally similar to the first game – they are impossible to list. The pressure was huge – just incredible – but the Devils hung on for the wildly impractical win. By this time, absolutely no one was counting Owensboro out.

The Final Game was a loss and somewhat anti-climatic for that. Catholic was a skilled and veteran bunch. The 5-3 score overlooks the late inning rally Owensboro put together and the legitimate fright to the marrow the team gave the eventual winners. But, alas, the magic ended.

But it ended in Heaven and not one second sooner. What an incredible ride it was. I had never been quite so proud of any team I can remember.

“Everything we did began clicking in the District,” Kip related. “My pitchers were finally hitting spots and our team concentration suddenly focused on the job at hand. Our defense really came together as our shortstop refound his baseball muscles and instincts after a season of basketball. It all became sort of fun and then it just built on itself.”

My Conclusion

Us “angels” helped. ;-)

And there are a slew of us. The baseball gods smiled on Owensboro 100 years ago and they have been smiling ever since. The team photographs of all the state champions which adorn the hallways of Owensboro High School catch the results, but not the many other workers and supreme athletes which made this all possible.

The 1960-61 Owensboro Baseball team sent 6 guys to Div 1 colleges on ball scholarships and 2 signed professionally. The names I listed above do not even include the names of great players such as Mike Sturgeon, Bernie Strawn, Dale Law, the awesome phenomenon of Mark King, Frankie Riley, Phil Munday and so many others who followed me but who were every bit as powerful as Icons of accomplishment young players so looked up to and admired and who set the bar of accomplishment which only the highest attainments are good enough for.

And make no mistake, not just anyone could have done what the Red Devils did. To call it a virtual Impossibility would actually be an understatement.

Because it was Supernatural and that’s all I have to say about that.

 

Bill Hermant – One Of My 5 Most Interesting People

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The over-sized racer on the inside/right, above, is my good friend and former business partner, Bill Hermant. The camera is not deceiving anyone – yes, he’s is that much bigger! This particular shot, as I recall, comes from a race in Denver, Colorado where he continued a pretty good year in 2007 with a 7th place finish in the World. And just ignore the couple hundred cleats on those tires, too. Bill was an interesting entrant in those races for a number of reasons – one, he was over 50, racing in a sport with a slew of 20 something’s and, two, because he is 6′ 3″ and around 210 pounds, hardly the predictable size either in a sport where the average size and weight is usually around 5′ 9″, 155.

That’s my Reno friend and ex-business partner, Bill Hermant, who is among the 5 Most Interesting people I have ever met in my life. This rough-and-ready guy meets every criterion as a “Man’s Man”, yet to watch him with his lovely grandchildren, you see a heart as big as the sky itself. He has the love of his very devoted wife, LaDonna, of his children, Kim and Bill, Junior, and of his employees. He also scores lots more love when he sponsors or else runs the softball teams I had played on for over a decade.

Most importantly, when the time comes, if necessary, this guy goes to war for you. We’re talking always. Bill is a man of intense loyalties. He has been ‘let down’ by his friends more than once, but in the Dictionary, when you look up the term “Loyalty”, then Bill Hermant’s mug shot should be right there.

Here is a shrunken ‘screengrab’ shot of what Bill actually owns:

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(click on the image and it will take you to the website itself for ‘Reno Cycles & Gear’)

Bill began selling motorcycle parts for a living while living in Hayward, California. Bill grew up across the bay, in San Fransisco. Living in South San Fransisco, where the streets can be just a bit “mean”, Bill used to be a regular at Giants games in Candlestick Park. In fact, maybe one of the funniest things he ever told me was that he thought every kid went to hundreds of major league baseball games as a kid.  ;-)  He was literally shocked when he heard that wasn’t always the case. But his upbringing grounded him and made him a very focused business person later in life – a focus he has always maintained to this very moment in time.

Anyway, he moved to Reno in about ’95 or so, setting up his ‘Reno Cycles & Gear’ brand and store. Here’s where he moved and also why he decided to ask about maybe partnering up in landscaping. He needed help, lol.

(click all images to enlarge)

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Bill had developed a huge love for the game of baseball, then “mutatis mutandi”, softball. It was here – adult, slow pitch softball – where we met and subsequently stayed on teams together, playing literally hundreds of games. We honestly appreciated each other for a mutual competitive fire. As I got to know him better, I began to realize what a great and doting Grandad he was.

Then, incidentally,  when I found myself out of work one Autumn……..we’re talking at the worst possible time for a landscaper to be out of work in Northern Nevada,……. Bill saw my need – (and he showed me his personal residential need, lol) – and we developed a game plan to make a run at business together. Bill sprung for the purchase of a Bobcat – and a killer, heavy duty one at that which we bought through our third baseman, Brent Adams, (another oft-overlooked benefit of actually playing sports) which was in excellent, though very “broken in” condition. We bought a cheap little truck and we were off to the landscaping races. With the Bobcat, we went a little crazy and then accomplished a few wonders around his home.

We made a small creek and waterfall way out back at his home which Donna was so crazy about she kept her window open at night – in Winter – to be able to hear it. It started humbly enough – man it was dusty back there.

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It evolved. Bill’s first comments as we were installing the first plantings were something along the lines of: “You mean I paid $350 for those sticks??”  ;-)  Hell, it turned out Bill was normal! He didn’t know Jack Squat about landscaping!

The “sticks” worked out just fine, OK, just as our softball team did. He smiled later. We went from this………

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To this:

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And this:

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And this………………. and then it was just the other parts of the bizz and sports we spoke of. At home, life was good.

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Bill became – or always was – crazy about participating in sports in general. This is a key element here. He didn’t spend his time watching – this is a guy who wants to be in things, deeply. He was never the most gifted athlete, but Bill found ways to make himself valuable  in softball. He used strength, great reflexes and plain competitive spirit to lead every team he played on to just a little higher plane. We could lose games and he would often get morose, lol, while the rest of us were on our way to grab beer and yuk it up. Naturally, we pulled him hard enough in a bunch of cases to make sure he joined. No one wanted Bill frowning. But also, no one missed his reaction, either. His is the sort of influence you can’t buy.

Racing

Bill loves to race. He has become every bit the motor head but his competitive spirit is far more in tune with racing things. Bill loves speed, mechanical crap and loves to race. He raced often in Auburn, California in car races, on their dirt track. He still does. More importantly, however, what Bill ended up happening onto was the bizarre, crazy and hyper-competitive Ice Racing field, which he jumped into in the mid-90′s and which this 50-something meat eater even still enjoys.

He is quite highly-regarded in Europe, where this sport was actually invented to give the amazingly huge number of motorcycle racing fans something to watch during Winters in the off season. What happened instead was the bloom of yet another wildly popular racing niche which became an organization and category all its own. He once showed me an interview he made with an English magazine, where he spoke about how invigorating it was to race in front of relatively huge crowds of Europeans who, he said “Already know who I am.”  Hell, he had fans, 6,000 miles from home!

The “Downside” ;-)

Naturally, among other things aside from international Notoriety, what became of all this was an incredibly long and varied litany of injuries. He is also one of the the hardest-headed humans in history too. Just ask Donna!

Once, he and Donna flew to Washington, DC because the airport in North Carolina had been ‘snowed out’. It was during a real mega storm, dropping 3 feet of snow on the Eastern Seaboard. He had a certain number of hours to make Greensboro in time to race so they rented a car and drove, he and LaDonna. It sounded very thrilling as they did indeed make it on time – but just. By the time he got out of the car, it was almost race time.

On his first lap, someone takes him out and he crashes face first into the hockey boards (all indoor ice racing events are in hockey rinks). He breaks his nose and really hurt his shoulder, as I recall. (I believe the legs were another year  ;-)   )

Anyway, what he remembers is looking up, dazed, and some woman pointing at him and screaming “Oh my God! Look at his face!!” Knowing Bill, he had blood spattered all over himself. Another ghoulish portrait in Red!  ;-)

The world can be cruel. Well, he made all the other races that day, broken stuff and all and then flew home for his patch-up. After all, there was softball within a couple weeks. No one could picture that scenario – LaDonna, his wife was apoplectic about his even thinking about practicing in his various casts (a yearly lament, lol) -  but he proved up to the task! And we probably won our softball championship as per usual. There were quite a few.

I go on about all the personal stuff because he is just easy to talk about. But there’s more to him.

Bill has historically given oodles of time and energy to Reno Special Olympics. He has a depth of concern over infant retardation which might just be his finest quality. And let me include his lovely wife here as well. He can always be counted on to donate time and green energy to this cause, as well as many others.

His social standing in the community of Reno is large and respected. His premises host the yearly Christmas Ride Rally For Tots, an event where bikers gather presents for disadvantaged youth. His shop also hosts a very cool Reno-specific festival called Street Vibrations, which is a motorcycle equivalent of their famous Hot August Nights. With the local Harley Davidson dealership, Bill and his Reno Cycles & Gear provides a place for partying and collecting.

Here, Bill is seen with Arlen Ness, famous motorcycle constructor and developer, at Street Vibrations in Reno:

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(Bill’s the big guy – :-)   )

And here is probably what Arlen arrived in Reno riding (The Victory Vision):

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Bill sells more Polaris off road vehicles than any dealer west of the Mississippi. His shop is probably the best shop in Reno. He speaks with clients personally and in depth, not just to sell things, but to ascertain and assess their needs. He advocates spending wisely.

Landscaping Partners

Bill and I oversaw a 5 year run of varied successes. In the end, the economy reduced our chances at success to pretty much zero with the advent of the Economic Crisis and I have to admit to my own personal exhaustion causing the end of our run together. He would never have given up, the truth is. I admit this freely.

Our successes were pretty cool, however. We did tons of great work in all sorts of different ways – using the newest machinery and products and constructing the bulk of projects we see in this blog. Yes, almost everything in here which is Reno-based was done during our partnership. He loved visiting projects, knowing the working guys intimately, signing paychecks, rubbing elbows with clients and simply developing the business. He had far more business acumen than I could ever dream of possessing. And far, far more patience.

It was also very cool talking in the third inning of a game where our opposition was spitting nails in frustration as we paraded to the plate scoring huge runs, when Bill would lean over and ask: “How’s Juan’s back?”

Bil Hermant – extremely good businessman, high achiever, a loyal and fantastic partner and a hell of an interesting man.

True Mud – Part Uno

Today are the hours following the Fall Solstice. It is appropriately cold for the occasion, a miserable turn of events if you ask me but one which does carry a sort of miraculous seasonal change even if the season is a rather grim one. I am a devoted follower of Spring and Summer – I would never claim otherwise.

Among my various living spaces, more than one occurred in America’s Great Northwest. It is a tidy spot – cleansed often by an incessant rainfall offering various felt conditions which always occur during this very same turn of seasons, delighting salmon and sticking a dagger into my heart. Like Clint Eastwood said in “The Unforgiven” about killing men, I say the same about working in rain: “It’s a hell of a thing.”

In an undoubtedly presumptuous yet still everlastingly apt  bit of description, I have often used the following phrase to typify what my career in Landscaping has been like: “I have forgotten more about mud than you will ever know.” This assumes that  my target audience have not faced the trials offered by landscaping in climates which feature rainfall on a regular basis and the attendant concerns about the very base material my trade specializes in ………………. dirt……….

(Or, in this case, mud.)  ;-)

I’m saying mud is a pain in the butt. My “target audience” in this case, does not include farmers, plumbers, pipe-layers, bulldozer operators and grave diggers all understand me and await more written angst while pre-tasting the beer which is imminent and a necessary coping mechanism.

There are other, more colorful and less mannerly descriptions of these utterly earthy descriptive’s, but I will leave them to the reader’s imagination. These terms all  feature the same wide and imminently hostile variety as are so often used when discussing rain itself – with my same reluctance to use them on an otherwise very consciously “decent” blog. However, in the search for said terms, use all of your imagination, by all means!  ;-)

An incident of note: This example was early in my career, while working for Cotswold Landscaping in North Vancouver, British Columbia, when I was reassigned over to the “Landscaping Division” of the small company where I had previously plied my 3 years worth of working days as a “Maintenance Specialist” – a nice name for someone who weeds gardens and mows grass. I had helped the business devise an estimate –  my very first estimate in landscaping, a contract we were actually awarded. My Hungarian friend, Alex, a giant of a man with limited Math and English skills, had requested help as well as a need for another able hand in the division, inasmuch as we’d lost a guy who had moved back to England. I was open for a change and it became my initial work in a field which would last another 40 years. It was also my first True Mud experience, slightly uncomfortable yet totally appropriate for what transpired as years rolled on.

The contract was for the perimeter of a public building and consisted primarily of establishing plants in the obvious landscaping spots and installing a large lawn to cover a mounded area to the rear which would double as a playground. I remember being quite excited having successfully intuited and laid out our materials needs and I used Alex’s figures for what we would need concerning labor. I had shopped the plant list, found reasonable soil and compost suppliers and received much praise from the owner for my contribution. I was positively aglow and barely able to contain my enthusiasm for the project. As we entered the project on that first day, the undertaking looked seriously large and somewhat intimidating. In truth, it was over an acre in size, with the large expanse of grass featured prominently, studded by large shade trees and Ornamental’s at interesting intervals. Inasmuch as we were finishing another project  elsewhere, Alex then left me behind to coordinate some bulldozer work which would have the land slightly reconfigured to meet the parameters expressed on our prints.

The bulldozer arrived on a big flatbed trailer and the operator drove right off the trailer onto the ground around us. He scooted forward, stopped and we began discussing the plan. Once apprised, he immediately cranked ‘r up and we began the job of moving dirt from here to there. Things went swimmingly as we began scraping the top of the earth from the perimeter and relocating it in piles next to the mounded area, which need about a foot of raising. For those who wonder, raising a large mound by a foot required the resettling of nearly 400 yards of dirt – around 30 truck loads in everyday parlance. In other words – it’s a bunch of dirt. Here, thanks to a picture provided by Graders.com, is what it looks like at the business end of bull-dozing dirt: As we worked through the morning, it began coming together. Slowly the dirt accumulated from the scraping, we made some “elevation shots” with our construction level and found that we had arrived at the time for spreading the dirt up onto the mound to complete this phase of the project. As the operator pushed his first load of soil upwards, dropping it in place as he traveled over this overburden, he stopped and called me over, to recollect with me the aim and general parameters we had established.

He was waiting for me as well to insert a stick into the ground, the top of which would be the “reveal” which gave the finished grade and which he could work to. I had studded a few of these around the mound in increasingly higher increments and wrapped the tops of the stakes with a brilliant day-glow pink ribbon. As he sat and I approached, I climbed up onto the pads of his tracks and we began speaking. As we spoke, standing there, I began to feel this crazy sort of vertigo, a creeping sensation that something was happening around me which I could not really lay a mental finger on. We both stopped talking because he felt the same thing. Suddenly, we realized what it was – we were sinking!! – straight down.

“Dammit, we’re sinking!”, he yelled and he quickly started the machine. I hopped off and he tried reversing the ‘dozer but found out he had sunk far enough that all that got accomplished was watching the pads eat into the virtual wall formed by the sinking and going even lower. Moving forward was the same, but worse. He seemed to be diving into the very same trouble, just quicker. As he sat there, his motor idling, we both had the realization that the soil under the few feet of a dried, crusted layer we were on top of was still extremely “fresh” mud, not yet completely percolated and not firm whatsoever. Not even close. Here – a different machine type, but a similar result: He sat in the cabin chair as it slowly sank, inch by slow inch, right in front of our eyes. He even leaped out after the sides of the tracks got covered over with the sliding black ooze emanating as the ‘dozer displaced it, covering over the tracks and showing merely the seat itself protruding out of the ground. Even the blade disappeared. Eventually, it never got completely covered over although the seat was the only remaining artifact from our origins. It sat up out of the mud in the end, like this yellow beacon to a grateful machine owner who did not relish fishing blind for the thing later, when rescue arrived.

We shared a sort of secret smile in a mutually wry understanding of the plain absurdity of it all, and yet, it was nothing he hadn’t seen before. He immediately called his office, a huge excavator was dispatched on the same “low bed” trailer and, within an hour, we were hooked up and pulling the machine out of the brown dirt jello. Once cleared, he hopped in and drove it right out. He spent another hour cleaning it off by hose and we then spoke of the timing for our next effort. Nor did we attempt climbing the wall of mud again. It became a manual function of unending labor.

The eventual disposition of wet dirt – otherwise known as “Mud” – is this: The tiny grains which make up soil are any combination of sand, silt and the even finer products which make up “clay”. Organic materials round out the composition of any soil and can often work to slow down the draining of water from it all. Tree roots as well as tiny “thallus” – or “Mycelium” – wide-ranging fungal rooting systems of mushroom roots along with wood particles can take far longer to drain.

This soil was extremely organic, having been the floor of a dense forest for 25,000 years or so, complete with under-pushed ferns and the total of the afore-mentioned range of organic materials. A “cleaner” soil, consisting of clays, sands and silts, or even a sandy loam, will drain well over time. The tinier the particles of any soil, the longer it will take for this to occur. But they all eventually allow the water through and then stand firm for travel. In this case, it took nearly two weeks for it to drain sufficiently for us to spread soil with yet another wonder of technology – the “Swamp Cat” – a bulldozer with 3 foot wide pads, displacing about 2 pounds per square inch. It’s wide platform deterred it from sinking and it’s footprint was so wide, nearly any semi-permanent material would be sufficient, short of literal water. We wrapped up the project on time and within budget. Our owner was delighted, especially after the incident of our very first day, which no doubt concerned everyone as if it were an omen of some type. Future incidents of my own personal Mud Men Adventure Series are every bit as unusual as I also discovered cures for problems such as the one presented in this post – cures which allowed us to be incredibly proactive and still successful in a trade rife with the muddy environments such a climate can present.