Friday, March 5, 2010

The Rocket Launch

By J. Bryan Wasson

To set this story up, I must bring out the fact that I can not swim. In fact I am very much afraid of water. I believe that water is for drinking. If it is not too deep, it is OK for taking a bath. I also believe that there is something seriously wrong with the wiring in folks who ride in boats.

Another factor in this story is a deep curiosity that makes cowboys and motorcycle riders always want to know what is just over the next hill or around the next curve in the road. It is a wonderful to ride through unknown territory on horseback or mounted on a motorcycle.

Another factor in this story is my strong dislike of land development and the urban sprawl that such development brings about. I strongly believe that mankind is a very poor steward of the land that God created. Long ago, I learned that when you see fences come down that once enclosed agricultural lands adjacent to city limits, you know that bulldozers, trucks and builders will soon follow. Somehow, we call this progress.

I was a Motor Officer on the Abilene, Texas Police Department. It was the end of my shift and I was headed for home. I was riding north on the westernmost street north of the rail road tracks. I observed that the fence that had enclosed a mesquite pasture had been torn down. I knew what that meant. This land that had been a pasture for cattle a few days earlier would soon be a housing development.

I observed a cattle trail winding westward through the mesquite. I could not resist. I jumped the curb and started down that trail. When I was a mile or more away from the paved street, I found myself on a gentle upward slope. Shortly the slope became steeper. At the time I did not know it, but I was riding up the backside of a dam to a stock tank. Some folks outside Texas call these bodies of water, ponds, but in Texas, they are stock tanks or just plain “tanks.”

Before I knew it, I was over the crest of the dam. On the other side, it was nearly straight down. Behold, below was a great body of water. I knew immediately that I had a serious problem. I can not swim. Even if I dismounted and climbed up the embankment, the motorcycle would go in the water, which appeared to be quite deep. How in the cat hair could I explain the loss of a police motorcycle? I put my left foot on the ground. I had my other foot on the brake peddle and was squeezing the handle of the front brake. Even so, I felt myself and the machine slowly inching down the steep embankment toward the water.

I knew that I needed help and fast. I grabbed my microphone and called for any Motor unit that was still on duty. I got no answer. All the Motor Officers except myself were probably already at home. In this case, I was not too proud to accept help from a patrol car. I could not reach any car or Headquarters by radio. It was probably because of my antenna being below the crest of this dam.

In those days motorcycles did not have electric starters. I knew that if the engine died or it I shut it off, it would be impossible to kick start the motorcycle on this steep slope. I also knew that the engine was getting hot. I was all alone and had to work this out on my own. Well, I was not completely alone, because I did some serious talking to The Lord along about then. I think it went something like this, “Lord, I got myself into this mess, now will you help me figure a way to get out?”

I dismounted and laid the motorcycle down on its side. I pivoted it around until the front was headed up hill. I then picked the motorcycle back up and mounted again. I could feel it inching backward with both the front and rear brakes locked. I put the motorcycle into first gear and twisted the throttle wide open. I released both brakes and the clutch at the same time. The big Harley Davidson 74 Cubic inch FLH went up and over the crest of that dam like it was rocket powered.

This was one time when I was glad to see civilization and the paved streets that took me home. I decided it would be a good time to have another little talk with The Lord.
02-15-03, JBW

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J. Bryan Wasson