The Billiard Room

My biological mother left my older brother and I with my father when I just a few years old. My biological mother and father divorced shortly thereafter, and my dad went on to remarry my stepmother, Kay. My biological mother’s parents still lived in our small town in Kansas after my mother moved away and I had a relationship with them growing up even though my mother was not around. My grandfather’s name was Glenn Payne, and he was career Army. My first memory of Glenn was when I was around 8-9 and it was Christmas Eve when Glenn and Margret, my grandmother, came to our little farmhouse for a quick visit. Glenn had just returned from overseas; it was around 69-70 and I can’t remember if it was Vietnam or Japan. By this time Glen had served in WWII, Korea and had also been present at the Bimini Islands for Atomic testing. My grandfather Glenn had a very distinguished Army career and after spending time with him and listening to some of his stories about his life, I kinda wanted to be just like him. When they visited our little house on Christmas Eve, Glenn and Margret brought my older brother and I a kids sized pool table. It was small, around 4-5 feet in length, but big enough to look very odd in our little living room when we set it up. My brother and I were used to getting Christmas gifts like one of those glass race car cologne decanters from the Christmas edition Avon book but here comes my grandparents with this over-the-top pool table Christmas gift. Glenn didn’t care, Glenn pretty much did what Glenn wanted to do and if meant schlepping in a pool table on Christmas Eve, so be it.

Fast forward a few years, my dad and Kay divorced, and it was my old brother, my dad and I living in our little farmhouse. I wasn’t quite old enough to be left alone so I spent time bouncing around my different grandparents houses during the summer months and they would watch me while my dad worked. Glenn had retired from the Army and Margret was still working the evening shift at a nearby Armory. Margret would go to work in the early afternoon, and it was me and Glenn hanging out. Glenn and Margret were drinkers, and when I say drinkers, I mean they drank. I was just a kid and at the time I just figured that some people drank like that, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. Usually, Glenn would bust out a pint of Vodka he had stashed somewhere an off we would go to the town square where there was a small pool hall. Glenn would usually meet a few of his friends in the afternoon for a domino or card game and I would hang out in the dark, in the back, shooting pool on the big 9-foot leather pocket style tables, under the hanging lights. Every once in a while, Glenn would shoot pool with me or maybe one of his friends would come back and shoot pool with me. Everyone knew everyone in our town, and I shot pool with a lot of our older local veterans that would drop into the bar during the afternoon. After a couple years of these afternoon visits to the bar with Glenn, I got pretty good at pool. I gotta say also, we didn’t always hang out at the bar, Glenn also loved to fish, and we would go fishing every once in a while. Glenn and Margret like to bass and crappie fish with minnows so we would usually set out to a farm pond somewhere out in the country with a bucket of minnows and a cooler full of beer. Margret would tag along if she was off work at the Armory, and we would have a blast. They had some pretty good farm ponds to fish, and we were always bringing home bass and crappie to clean. I can remember one time in particular we caught a very large largemouth and I was amazed at how big those bass could get. Glenn was an excellent shot and at times I would bring my little Marlin model 60 semi-auto 22 along for us to shoot while we fished. Glenn could shoot the top off a cattail at 50 yards as he was an excellent marksman.

Once I was able to stay on my own at about 15 and got my learners permit to drive, I didn’t spend as much time with Glenn and Margret, I still visited them from time to time but with raging hormones and a license to drive I had very little time for grandparents. Glenn passed away in his sleep when I was 21 and I had moved to Oklahoma by this time. I continued to shoot pool just about everywhere I went. I played on pool leagues and shoot in tournaments throughout my Navy career, and I’ve even been known to hustle a few games here and there during my travels, but it all started with that little out of place pool table when I was a kid.

I now have my own 9-foot leather pocket table, still love to play the game and reminisce about past memories of my youth, shooting pool with Glenn and listening to his stories about his Army travels.

A Lesson in Complacency

Several years back I wrote about a very valuable lesson I learned in complacency during my time in Navy boot camp. The story is here in my blog, and I think about it from time to time. I don’t think I have a bigger fear in my life than the fear of my own complacency. I’ve done things in my life that I would now consider fearless feats when I look back on those events, but the one fear I’ve always harbored is the fear of complacency. If you’ve never read the story “The Marching Party”, it’s here in my blog under the “Sea Stories” section and if you read it before reading this entry, this will make more sense. Here’s a link below if you want to check it out.

https://castawayblog.com/2016/06/08/the-marching-party/

Sometimes I wonder how my life will end. I don’t dwell on it, but at times I wonder. I’m sure ya’ll have done the same. Will it be peacefully in my sleep or something else. I used to think about it during my time in the Navy and working around the jets. I always feared making a mistake that would turn out to be my last mistake. I tried to envision my last moments and what that might look like. I always would come back to the same conclusion every time; my last seconds would probably be filled with a cuss word or two when I recognized that I made the ultimate mistake.

Around a year ago a very legendary pilot was killed in Idaho during a routine flight. His name was Dale Snodgrass, and he was a retired Navy Captain who went on to perform at airshows flying various aircraft. He was a legend in the F-14 Tomcat community and if I’m not mistaken, it was he who was flying the aircraft in the picture above. I believe he had logged more flight hours in the F-14 Tomcat than any other pilot and his accomplishments were amazing. He had a list of accomplishments a mile long and some say that the character “Maverick” in the movie “Top Gun” was fashioned after Dale Snodgrass. Our paths never crossed during our time in the Navy and I really didn’t know much about him until I read about his aircraft accident and started reading his biography. The guy was incredible and had flying skills like no other. I can say this from my experience while working in the Tomcat community, you have to be tough to fly or maintain that aircraft. You have to respect the Tomcat and if you fly it long enough you’ve probably experienced a few flight emergencies at the minimum. The guy had to be tough as nails.

One of the most basic functions of a pilot and something that every pilot does before flying an aircraft is a “Preflight Inspection”. It is a requirement that has been in place for years and every pilot, from the smallest Cessna to the biggest commercial aircraft, every pilot is required to do a preflight inspection. Most aircraft have a preflight card or in the case of the Navy, a pocket NATOPS manual with step-by-step instructions for a preflight inspection. I have spent hours of my Navy career walking around the aircraft with pilots while they performed their required preflight inspection. In the Navy a lot of the rules and procedures were written in blood and over time, usually a short period of time, you recognize that in the Navy and you learn very quickly not to take shortcuts for ANYTHING.

In the case of Dale Snodgrass, he was at a small airport in Lewiston, Idaho when he climbed into his Marchetti SM.109 aircraft to take off. Shortly after his take-off the aircraft he was flying took an un-commanded roll to the left and subsequently crashed into the ground killing Dale Snodgrass instantly. It was a jolt to the aviation community. I’m sure there were a lot of folks just wondering what had happened to the aircraft. Was it a mechanical failure? A lot of questions. Just a few weeks ago the results of the accident investigation came out and it came down to a flight control lock that was still in place, locking the flight controls from being moved and basically rendering the pilot useless in the cockpit. What amazes me is the fact that the aircraft was actually in a takeoff configuration with the lock installed. The flight control lock is placed on the aircraft to prevent the flight controls being moved inadvertently and preventing the aircraft from flight. I’d almost bet the FAA has fixed that glitch in the system and like most, another fixed glitch was written in blood.

The official listing for the cause of the accident was “Pilot Error” as it was found that the pilot had failed to remove the flight control lock before flight. I recently read the results of the accident report and I also read a description of the cockpit voice recorder in another article. In the article it had described the last words spoken in the recording, and the description was of one or more curse words. When I read that, I thought to myself that it would have more than likely been my last words also. I would like to think that my last words would be more of a biblical nature but when I realized that I had overlooked one little step in the process, the reaction would warrant the words in frustration.

Dale Snodgrass was 72 years old and had over 50 years flying aircraft. He had spent a very long time defying the laws of gravity while Murphy’s Law was slowly creeping into his life. Just the fact that he spent 50 years flying various aircraft for thousands of hours is a testament to attention to detail and his own fear of complacency. I can still remember the words of my old Company Commander when he was lecturing me in boot camp. He said: “You know Farmer, in the Navy complacency can get you killed, or even worse, you’ll get the people around you killed. I want you to remember that“. He made very sure I remembered his point and he was right, I never forgot it. From that point on I had a fear of letting my guard down and forgetting something.

I no longer work around the jets, so complacency is now less of a concern that it used to be, but it doesn’t have to just be aviation for complacency, I see it every day out on the lake in boats. Boats are big and they go fast, just like the jets. I really need to be aware out on the lake and my biggest fear is getting complacent out there on the water nowadays. The story of Dale Snodgrass is an inspiration to us all and it’s also a lesson in respect and complacency whether it’s in the air, on the road or on the water.

The Running Years

There was a period in my life in which I took a 10-year hiatus from fishing and my primary focus was on competitive distance running. Don’t get me wrong, I still fished during this time, but I spent the majority of my time running and training for distance races. I also played senior league baseball after moving to the Atlanta area which ate into my free time to fish for a few years but after the running and baseball was over, I was back at the lake fishing. This is the running years.

Running was a requirement in the Navy and early on in my Navy career I found out that I was way above average in running. The requirement in the Navy was to run one and a half miles in a minimum time depending on your age and sex. You were tested twice a year and I always did very well, finishing with a very good time every time I was tested. I’m not sure what they put in the water in Kansas, but it always seemed to me that the best runners were either from Oregon or Kansas.

It was around the mid-nineties, and I was stationed in southern Louisiana at Naval Air Station Belle Chase in another F/A-18 squadron at the time. I held the position of the squadrons Assistant Fitness Coordinator, and I was in great physical condition. Running was something I did just about every day to stay in shape and I felt like I was in very good shape for being in my mid-thirties while most of my counterparts were at least 5 years younger. I would usually run a few miles at a time when I had time, and I would usually just run along a one and a half mile stretch of roadway that led to the back entrance to the base. With the distance to our hanger and back, I was logging about 3 miles on a run just about every day.

A few of the pilots in the squadron invited me to a 6-mile run including 4 of those miles on an old unused runway obstructed from view from the main road close to the back entrance to the base. They told me that there was an old runway that was no longer used and that’s where we would be doing our run. These pilots were tall lanky distance runners and had logged quite a few marathons as well as triathlons over the years, but they agreed to run at my pace which really wasn’t that far off their pace, just double the milage. I agreed and we set out on a hot and humid afternoon run on an old runway surrounded by swamp. We made a lot of small talk and chit chat about the jets as they got to get a little inside look at life on the enlisted side of a squadron. Pilots were usually doing their own thing and there wasn’t a lot of fraternization with the pilots and enlisted folks but when I ran with most officers it was like the rank wasn’t a big deal. I showed them respect and they did the same for me. Our ranks were rarely a topic of conversation during long runs but topics like where we grew up or some of the past experiences we had while in the Navy usually dominated our conversations. Believe me, when your running distance, unless you’re running a very fast pace, there’s always plenty of time for conversation.

In distance running it was always a constant battle with my body for the first few miles of a longer run. My body needed to get into a rhythm before I felt comfortable. I always said that it wasn’t uncommon for me to look for a good place to rest in the first few miles of a longer run. The cool part about the first few miles of the run is that if I could fight the urge to stop and walk for a minute, the runners high would kick in shortly afterwards, usually around the 3-mile mark. From then on it was like putting my body on cruise control, it was just a matter of holding my pace and filling my time with something to keep me from getting bored.

After running a few times with the pilots, they asked me if I’d consider running for a military team competition in Pensacola, Fla., called “The Blue Angel Marathon”. The Blue Angel marathon was held every year in Feb., and it was approaching September at the time they asked me. They told me that we would need to train together for about 4 months prior to the marathon competition and we would be competing against other teams from all branches of the military. Pensacola in Feb. was usually pretty warm, and the course was relatively flat which seemed to attract quite a few top-notch running teams. They told me that the marathon course started on the Navy base but after a few miles on the base the course went through the city of Pensacola and out along the beach for a few miles before circling back through the city and then back to the base. The race was very popular with the locals, and it drew a lot of local support all along the route. It sounded like a fun race and I told them I would join the team.

We ran together and trained pretty hard over the course of the next few months but unfortunately, a few weeks before the race, when I was tapering in late January, I developed walking pneumonia in my right lung and had to drop out of the race. I was really bummed about missing my first marathon but as soon as my lung healed, I was back to running in late spring of 97. I started running smaller races in the New Orleans area before transferring to Dobbin Air Base in the Atlanta area in July of 97.

Once I checked into the base and started my new job, I quickly became the Assistant Physical Fitness Coordinator for the Naval Air Station and put together a daily fitness plan for the personnel assigned to the Navy base. I also managed a group of sailors who were out of Navy standards and my job was to get them back into shape before the next physical exam cycle. I spent a lot of time at the gym, and I also liked to incorporated weight training for core strength in my training plan. My weight training wasn’t to bulk up, but it was to tone and work a lot of important muscle groups for distance running. The base had a running trail, and I would begin my runs at the base gym and often times it would be with a small group of runners. We would run 1-2 miles a day on the little base trail, but my real distance runs were always off the base.

The first place I ran distance after moving to Marietta, Ga., a northern small suburb of Atlanta, was the “Cheatam Hill Battleground” and the “Kolb Farm” area in Cobb County. My new home was just a few miles down the road from Cheatam Hill, so it was very easy to go for a quick 5-mile run. If I could recommend one place above all other places to run in this area, or train for a distance race, it would be Cheatam Hill and Kolb Farm. It was a big oval scenic trail run with hills and the trail was a distance of about 5 miles unless you wanted to go all the way to Kennesaw Mountain visitors center and back which made the run about 18 miles. If I’m not mistaken, you could add 2 more miles to the run by running up to the lookout center at the top of Kennesaw Mountain which made it an even 20 miles and my longest run when training for a marathon. That was my litmus test before tapering, and when you throw in all the steep hills of a 20-mile run, it was very challenging. I ran the 5-mile trail almost daily for the first few months after moving to the area. Not long after getting to Atlanta I learned of a big 10k race in Cobb County on Labor Day. The race was called “The US 10K Classic” and it was dubbed “the toughest 10k in the nation”. That sounded like my kind of race, so I trained hard through the months of July and August that first summer I was lived in Marietta. The 10K classic was tough because it was all up hill, and 6.2 miles of constant uphill will wear a body down very quickly. Down in Louisiana all of my runs were relatively flat but after moving to Ga. running took on a whole different meaning. It’s hard to get away from hilly ground around the Atlanta area so most of my runs, either training or a race, involved hills.

I ran the 10K Classic that first year in 97 and it was everything it was advertised to be, it was tough. My body did very well at the 10k classic, so I found other local races to run, and I continued to train as my ultimate goal was to compete in the Blue Angel Marathon in early 98. Most of my training runs were on trails out at Kennesaw Battleground but I occasional ran over in East Cobb along the river. There was a 3-mile loop along the river and there were a lot of runners as well as bikers that used the trail on the weekends. The river trail was actually busy with people walking biking and running so I could always people watch while I was running. Another place I liked to run was the Silver Comet Trail down in South Cobb. It was an area that was flat, very scenic and it ran for a very long stretch of miles. Once again, the trail was well used so I could always people watch during my runs. One other place I like to run was the Big Creek trail. I was a member of the Alpharetta YMCA and there was access to the Big Creek trail, which was paved, right there next to the parking lot of the Y. The Big Creek trail runs for miles and actually starts up here in Cumming and runs down to and through Alpharetta now. The trail runs along Big Creek and there are miles of scenery along the way.

Although running was always something I could do to clear my mind and sort out my issues, running was also boring to me unless I made it interesting. I would carry a Walkman with an arm strap on most of my runs and I could listen to music. I also wore an iPod in later years, and I could load my favorite tunes for a distance run. As I got more seasoned with my longer runs, I planned out my runs and I would load enough music on my iPod to not only listen to, but to also help me keep on my desired pace.

Training properly was a big thing for me when preparing for an upcoming race. If it was a shorter race like a 10k I trained for speed. Not only would I train on hilly trails, but I would also incorporate a day every week devoted to interval and gate training. If you want to get faster at distance running, interval training is the only way to better your times. It was very painful but a necessary evil when training for a race and figuring out my target pace. If it was a long race like a half or full marathon, I would focus on distance rather than speed. A full marathon takes about 4 months to properly train for the race and the milage increases every week until the last few weeks when you taper. By late 97 I was forming my first marathon team by soliciting runners in my weekly article in our base newspaper. I wrote an article in a weekly sports column on health and fitness, and I put together a team for my first Blue Angel marathon. I also put together a support group that was comprised of a medical staff and a few select folks to stage along the marathon route for support and drinks if we needed them. We did well and finished 3rd in 98 and the glass trophy you see me holding below was placed in the captain’s trophy case at Naval Air Station Atlanta. This was our first NAS Atlanta marathon team.

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Our base Captain really liked the idea of the base having a running team and to him it promoted fitness and a healthy lifestyle for our base personnel. Shortly after the first marathon in 98 I started running more local races and I usually wore a Navy shirt to promote the Navy in our local area during the race. I would chat with a lot of other runners about the Navy and often times I would give my Navy t-shirt away to a younger person along the route towards the finish line. I’m not sure how they liked receiving a sweat soaked Navy t-shirt from a runner but maybe they kept it. I never like running with a shirt on, but I like to promote the Navy in our area and a lot of times I would get positive comments from spectators along the route.

In the early fall of 98 I started soliciting for another marathon running team in the base newspaper and we actually put 2 running teams together for 99. We finished 2nd and 4th in Feb. 99

I ran a lot of local races in our area as well as traveling to races around the south but a few most memorable races I ran was the Hog Pen Hill Climb in Helen Ga. in the dead of winter. They don’t have that race anymore, but it was the toughest race I’ve ever run. It was 18 degrees when the race started in downtown Helen, Ga. and ended 10 miles later at the top of Hog Pen Pass. It was the only race where I experienced frozen chest hair and two frozen streams of snot beneath my nose. This was me during the last hundred yards of the race.

Another was the Atlanta Track Club Ekiden relay marathon race. I ran the anchor leg for the Georgia Power team that year and we took 1st place. I’ve always said that it was the best race I’ve ever run. It was a marathon relay, and I was asked to run the final leg of the race. I was representing Georgia Power which was entered into the large corporation division and a very competitive division for the race. I was actually dating one of my teammates and she was one of the engineers that worked for Georgia Power at the time and I was looking to get an engineering job there after retirement. Team Home Depot had some pretty good runners and seemed to always win in the large corporation division, but we foiled their plans in 2000. My other 5 teammates kept us close for most of the race and when I took over the final leg, only the Home Depot team was in front of us. I knew exactly how many minutes they were leading me, and I did the math to figure what kind of pace I needed to run to pass them before the finish line in a little over 7 miles. To me it was just another 10k race and I was able to pass the Home Depot runner with a couple hundred yards to spare. As soon as I passed him, I knew he was spent and couldn’t hold my pace so he drifted back. I won the race; Georgia Power had their winners’ cup from the Atlanta Track Club, and I kept the blue ribbon and a winner’s cup from the race. Here’s a few pictures from the race and our team.

Another race that really sticks out in my mind was the 2002 Blue Angel Marathon. It was the year that our team from NAS Atlanta won the race. We trained hard that year and we finally broke that winners curse that haunted us since 98. My good friend Rob Tomey did a lot of training with me over the years and only fitting that he and I were teammates when we won. Another teammate and good friend of mine over the running years was my old Maintenance Officer in my last squadron, Rudy Chavez. He was just a bit older than me but could usually outrun me in shorter races but not the marathon. We logged a few thousand miles together and competed in a lot of races with and against each other. In 2002 Myself, Rob, Rudy and one of our squadron pilots won the Military Branch division of the Blue Angel Marathon and our teams was put on the Naval Station Pensacola’s Captain Cup. I had reached the pinnacle of my running years. We presented the Naval Air Station Atlanta Commanding Officer the first-place plaque to place in his base trophy case. Here’s few pictures from the race including the Commanding Officer from Dobbins and the Commanding Officer from Pensacola.

Once we won the race in 2001 I went on to run races, including the Blue Angel Marathon up until my last marathon in 2004. By that time, I was fighting a bulging disc in my lower back which was very painful when I ran distance. Ultimately the disc ruptured, and I quit running after surgery and my doctor advised me to find another sport. I still played softball for the Naval Air Station for a few years and also played senior league baseball for a team in Duluth. Playing baseball in my 40’s was a dream come true for me but after all the running, softball and baseball I just enjoy fishing now but I’ll never forget my running years.

Here’s a few more pictures.

Mooning the Lincoln

First off, an apology is probably in order up front as this story may offend a few folks, but you need to understand the time period and also the crazy nature of being young and being assigned to a Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron at Miramar, Ca., home of Top Gun. I’ll just have to spit ball the exact time this happened as I just can’t remember the date, but the year was probably 89-90. At the time I had been assigned to a tomcat fighter squadron at Naval Air Station Miramar, Ca. for a few years and I had a few pretty good friends who, like me, loved to fish. There were about 5-6 of us in the squadron who were always trying to figure out a way to wet a line. A friend of mine, Oscar, was in my squadron and an avid fisherman. He had spent some time working down at North Island Naval Air Base which was south of Miramar and right on the waters of San Diego Bay. San Diego Bay was a pretty vast area, running for miles and the bay itself held a submarine fleet as well as leading to 32nd street where most of the Navy ships were stationed when in port. It also led to the pier at North Island where the big aircraft carriers docked when in port. North Island was a very large base and there was a little military recreation/rental shop on the water where sailors and Marines could rent small fishing boats and fish in San Diego Bay. The boats were little 14-foot Boston Whalers which were docked right at the rental center, and you had to pass a Coast Guard administered test to rent the boat. Once you took the Coast Guard “rules of the water” exam and passed you were issued a laminated card issued by the Coast Guard which was your license to rent a Whaler without taking the exam again. Oscar had the license and he and I fished the bay quite frequently. Sometimes there would be 3 of us as our other friends Steve, Lucky or Frank would jump in the boat with us from time to time.

The bay had very good fishing and when we went fishing in the bay it was all about table fare. We were usually targeting Sand Bass, Calico Bass, Halibut and Sculpin. All were very edible, and a nice big Halibut would go a long way for our meals back at the house, so we liked to target Halibut, dragging big 2-3-ounce root beer Scampi rigs on the sandy bottom of the bay. The picture below was taken by Oscar during one of our fishing trips in the bay. A beach on the south end of the airstrip at North Island is in the background and we were near the mouth of San Diego Bay. We had a mixture of fish including a nice big Halibut, sand bass and sculpin that afternoon and you can see a little bit of our old rental Whaler with a little 25hp Johnson tiller on the back. I was in my late 20’s when this picture was taken.

There were restricted areas of the bay that were off limits to recreational boats and there was a floating bait barge nearer to the mouth of the bay. The bait barge was a regular stopping point for the charter boats and longer-range fishing boats so they could stock up on bait. There was a small submarine base in the bay, and it was one of those restricted areas we couldn’t be around. Often times when we were fishing the bay, we would watch Navy SEAL’s working with dolphins or sea lions and training for all kinds of different scenarios. The SEAL’s had special boats with access doors on the gunnel and the dolphins or sea lions would jump into the boat and hitch a ride with the SEAL boats from location to location. The dolphins and sea lions were the equivalent of a trained military K9, and they worked with the SEAL teams often, training in the bay. Frank and I made friends with a Navy SEAL while we were stationed in San Diego but when they were out in the bay working, we didn’t get near them.

Most of the times that Oscar and I fished together, there was a third in the boat. My good friend Frank was probably the one that went with us most. Frank was an electrician in our shop, and he and I rented a house together in the suburbs of San Diego. Frank was from Brooklyn and he and I were stationed together in San Diego, then again in Louisiana. Next was Steve. I met Steve not long after checking into the squadron. Steve was like me; an aviation electrician and he like to fish. Steve was from San Diego, and he knew the area pretty well. Steve and I became good friends and like Frank, Steve and I were stationed together in San Diego, then again, later in Louisiana. Steve and I were close, and we spent a lot of time together in Ca. as well as Louisiana. We had a lot of fun times together, both in San Diego and in Louisiana, but Steve’s wife passed suddenly, shortly after they were transferred to Louisiana and Steve’s life changed dramatically. At times, he wasn’t the same person I knew in San Diego, and after his wife’s passing, I worried about Steve a lot. In some ways, it seemed like a part of Steve was lost with the loss of his wife. We eventually parted ways after I moved to the Atlanta area, and he moved back out west. I learned of Steve’s passing a few years back and I just wonder if Steve found happiness again before his passing. He was a good friend and I miss him.

Another guest that Oscar and I had from time to time was “LT” or Lieutenant Dave “Lucky” Lopez. He was our Maintenance officer and the squadrons liaison between the enlisted folks like me and the pilots. LT was a fisherman and really enjoyed going out with us in the Whaler. LT was also an excellent fly fisherman and we wet a line together a few times in the mountain streams of Oregon while on detachment to a small Air National Guard base in central Oregon. LT had a hard job in the squadron and many times I saw LT go toe to toe with the pilots, making sure us enlisted guys were well taken care of. We worked very hard to maintain our jets and there was a balance between being overworked and successfully completing our mission without accidents. Believe me, there were accidents in the squadron. Our squadron had a reputation for accidents, and I just have to shake my head at some of the loss of life in that squadron. Everything from fishing boat accidents to crashing jets, it brought new meaning to the phrase “work hard, play hard”. When I got to the squadron, they had just returned from a 2-week detachment to the Nevada desert where 5 of the squadron maintenance personnel rented a fish boat at a marina on a large lake near our air base. Somehow the boat capsized in the wind and the 5 fishermen in the squadron swam for shore. Only 2 made it back. Shortly after I checked in, our squadron crashed one of our jets and the “RIO” or back-seater was killed in the crash. The pilot survived the crash, but the passing of the RIO was another life lost while I was in the squadron. It was a tough squadron to be in, the work was very very hard, and LT was the ringmaster for the whole show.

From time-to-time LT would join Oscar and I on a fishing trip out in the bay. We always had a few cocktails and LT would indulge during our fishing trips. Even though LT was an officer and there were some unwritten rules about fraternization between officers and enlisted folks, but LT really like hanging out with us fishermen in the squadron. He was one of us out in the boat and we treated LT just like another fisherman. During my first year in the squadron my dad came out to San Diego for a visit, and I set us up for a multi-day offshore fishing trip. It was Oscar, LT, myself and my dad on the trip and we had a blast. My dad and LT got along great together while we fished all day, played cards and drank bourbon at night. My dad would tell the story of that trip for years afterwards and he had quite a fond memory of LT. This was LT was holding up a Pacific Sheepshead and my dad was taking a picture of me taking a picture of LT.

There was one particular memory that has always been a favorite of mine and I’ve never really shared it with anyone till now but I feel it may be appropriate for a Memorial Day memory and I don’t think LT would mind a bit. I think the year was 89 and the USS Lincoln had just been brought into service as the newest aircraft carrier in the fleet. The Lincoln’s homeport was San Diego, and the San Diego area was very proud of the newest addition to the area and Pacific fleet. The USS Lincoln was a “Nimitz” class aircraft carrier which basically meant it was big. When it came into the San Diego Bay it got a lot of attention, both on the water and on the shore. The shoreline would be lined with people wanting to watch the big carrier come into the bay and pass right by the city itself. The bay police on the water would guard the massive carrier when it came into the bay and tugboats would help to steer the massive ship if needed. The bay police were on big Zodiac type boats, and they made sure that no recreational boats got near the carrier as it came through the bay. There were also trained Navy personnel with weapons on the carrier to watch anything the bay police might miss but it’s a big deal when the carrier comes in.

It just so happened that myself, Oscar and LT happened to be fishing in the bay when the Lincoln came back into port from a highly publicized 3-week mission off the coast of South America. The operation was a success, and the return of the brand-new USS Lincoln was a big deal in the area. As the Lincoln came into the bay there were news helicopters circling above and water cannons going off around the carrier from the fire boats in the bay. The flight deck of the carrier was lined with sailors in their dress whites as the carrier passed through the bay. We were fishing just inside the bay as the massive Lincoln entered the bay at high tide.

I gotta say this about the moment the big carrier pass by our little Whaler in the bay. The carrier was majestic, and the moment was very surreal as the carrier came by. It was almost completely silent as it came by, with the only sound being the low drumming hum of the big motors turning the giant propellers to move the massive floating city. I was standing on the bow of the boat with LT in the middle and Oscar at the stern as the carrier passed us. I could see the men lining the edge of the flight deck and I could see their black neckerchiefs and bellbottoms blowing the same direction in the wind. At the time, there were no women allowed on the carrier and it was all a bunch of dudes in dress whites just looking down at us fishermen. That’s when it happened, I was living in my best patriotic moment with a tear in my eye when LT just turned around and dropped trial right there in the Whaler. LT gave those sailors standing silently and motionless at parade rest on the flight deck a show they really didn’t expect. I think at that point, Oscar and I followed suit and dropped trail also. Here were 3 guys in a small fishing boat mooning our shipmates as they passed by in the bay. I’m sure those guys were hoping for topless ladies in tiny bikinis and LT made sure we got their attention by yelling and a few gyrations during the exhibition. It was one of the funniest moments of my Navy career and something I’ve never forgotten. I’ve stood on the flight deck of aircraft carriers as they came into the San Diego Bay, and I’ve seen the bay from the flight deck perspective often but there’s only been one time that I’ve seen an aircraft carrier from a Boston Whaler while exposing my backside to a bunch of sailors. It was a hilarious moment, and it was our fishing friend LT that made those kinds of moments for us. There was never a dull moment with LT.

LT was a great friend and a great fisherman who helped bring some great memories to my life during his time on this earth, but LT lost his life in a vehicle accident during a short squadron detachment to an Air Guard base in Ore. It was devastating to our fighter family and especially us fishermen in the squadron.

I remember attending LT’s memorial service at the chapel on base. It was standing room only and the crowds spilled out of the church. LT was single and I believe there were no fewer than 3 dozen pretty women in attendance. LOL… (LT could charm the ladies and usually provided the entertainment for the Officers Club at Miramar).

At the end of LT’s memorial service at Miramar these were the last words spoken during his eulogy. Most referred to LT as “Lucky” but he was “LT” to us fishermen and enlisted guys in the squadron.

Fishing With Faith (A will to live)

Did you ever wonder why every fish fights for its life on the end of a hook? Why is it that all living creatures have this inherent desire to survive?? Why is it that we don’t just curl up and surrender our lives when faced with imminent danger? We’ve all been given a special purpose in our life and that purpose is often shrouded in mystery and occasionally highjacked by the devil along the way. I often wonder why Jesus went to the sea and chose fishermen for his first disciples. He didn’t really require their boats for travel with his ability to walk on water. Peter and his friends were terrible fisherman, so I don’t think it was because of their skill set but perhaps it was because of a fisherman’s willingness to accept failure and continue coming back armed only with the faith of a successful tomorrow. –Jim Farmer

The St. James Hotel

My stay was just a brief 3 months at the St. James Hotel in downtown Miami, Ok. in the spring of 1982 but the memory is now 40 years old, and I can still vividly remember one evening in particular that may have changed my life forever. It was a Friday and a buddy had told me about a little place off the road along Horse Creek a few miles before the creek dumped into Grand Lake……

A Hometown Hero

When I saw this picture all those memories I had as a child came flooding back to me and I had to say something about this man. The man who brought me into this world.

When I was a young kid growing up, I developed very bad allergies. I couldn’t eat normal food and was restricted to nothing but rice and a few other foods. I was allergic to things like flour, corn, dairy products, plants, animals and a whole host of other things. If I would have an allergic reaction, it was pretty bad. My lungs would immediately fill with fluid and sometimes I would pass out as a result. For a little kid to experience this day after day, it wasn’t the kind of childhood someone would want. I had to take shots every week and it was hard to find things that I could eat without a reaction. As a result of the allergies, my lungs were always congested and at times I really struggled to breath. I developed pneumonia a few times and one time I had to spend days in the hospital under an oxygen tent for double pneumonia. There were times when I could barely breath and struggled to draw a breath because of the asthma caused by the allergies. This continued for years until I grew out of most of the allergies.

Our little town had a doctor by the name of Wesley Hall, and he was my hometown hero because when I got sick, Dr. Hall would come out to our little house, day or night and get us fixed up. I’ll never forget that face standing over me a looking down at me with a smile and a diagnosis. Just the mere fact that he was in my presence made me feel better. I don’t know how many times doctor Hall got me patched up when I was a kid, but I can say that had it not been for this man as my doctor I don’t think I would have seen my 18th birthday. He truly had healing hands.

My dad was one of my biggest heroes in life, and he taught me a lot, but to be perfectly honest, because of those healing hands, Dr Hall was actually my biggest hero. I know Doctor Hall is in heaven now and what a glorious time for him. When I get there, he’s one of the first people I’m going to hug.

RIP Doctor Hall, you were a Hometown hero to a lot of us kids growing up.

The History of Cast Away Cove

It’s been at least 10 years since Lisa, and I found a little piece of lake property for sale during a time when the lake level was down more than 10 feet and the dock for the property was sitting on dry land. There were some young renters that were occupying the small doublewide trailer and the dwelling was in pretty bad shape. Still, it was lake property and something both Lisa and I had dreamed of owning one day. The property had been on the market for a while, and it was getting ready to drop off the listing again. The seller had come down on the price, but he had no takers. I didn’t really want to make the investment, but Lisa really thought it would be worth it one day. We made an offer on the property and it was accepted by the seller.

Once we took ownership of the property we went to work with a total remodel and replaced the old dock as well as installing rip rap at the water’s edge. In that same time frame the rains came and the lake filled to full pool, and we had plenty of water in our little cove to float the dock. Since that time, which was more than 10 years ago, our dock hasn’t seen dry land once. Lisa and I spent 6-7 years using the little lake house as a weekender for us, friends and family members. Some reading this may have stayed in our little lake house we appropriately named Cast Away Cove because of my tackle business (Cast Away Bait and Tackle) and the little cove the property was on. Here are some pictures of Cast Away Cove from years ago.

We had always wondered if we could build on the property and the prospect of building a new home was always something in the back of our minds. Around 2016 we started investigating the possibility of building a new home on the property, but we ran into a big roadblock that concerned the installation of a new and larger septic system. In order to expand a septic system, you need to have a certain amount of undisturbed soil and on the side of a hill you are required to have a holding type tank and pumping system. When we had the soil tests done, we didn’t have the room and there were too many large rocks to put in a larger septic system.

At that point we decided to sell the property and purchase a permanent existing lake home, but the market was tough, and it was hard to invest our money into something that was already 20 years old. We placed the lake house on the market, but we had no takers and eventually took it back off the market when a tree fell on our dock during hurricane Irma. We had the dock repaired and just before we were going to place it back on the market an area very near our property was developed and some townhomes were built just a few hundred yards from our lake house. Lisa and I did some investigating and found out the townhomes were located inside the city limits, but our house was in the county. It was a long shot, but we were hoping there were city sewer lines near our house from the construction of the townhomes and we could somehow tap into the city sewer even though we were in the county. Originally, we had been told through hearsay that it couldn’t be done because it was commercial type sewer system. We wanted to find out for ourselves, so we set up a meeting with the Cumming City Utility Dept. and pleaded our case. They were very understanding and there was actually a sewer line very near our road and it was just a matter of running the sewer line down our street and we, as well as our neighbors could hook up to city sewer. It was like a dream come true when the guys at the city utility department said that we could build the biggest house we wanted, and they would provide the sewer services to our property!!

Next was finding a house plan and Lisa and I looked at a bunch but settled on a plan we both agreed to. We both scanned design after design on a website called Architectual Designs. They had hundreds of designs and we settled on one after weeks of looking and looking and looking. Turns out that the architect (Garrell and Associates) for the plan we finally agreed on lives near the lake, and we were able to modify the plan to fit our property. Once we settled on a plan it was time for a builder. We found Coal Mountain Builders were local folks and we liked the custom homes they had built in the past on the lake, so we signed the building contract and scheduled the build. We broke ground in the early spring of 2018, and we were in our new home by Christmas. Here’s pictures of the tear down of the old and subsequent build of the new Cast Away Cove lake house.

Skinning the Cat

Years ago, when my dad was still living, every year for his birthday I’d take him down to West Point Lake and Highland Marina to stay in their floating dock house and do a little fishing for a few days. I remember when I was a little kid growing up my dad always took the time to take me fishing so I thought I would return the favor for his birthday in October every year after he retired. We had some good times down at West Point and the cabin we always stayed at was a floating cabin, so it made it very easy for my dad to get in and out of the boat. The back door to the cabin was about 3 steps from our docked boat so it was very convenient, especially as my dad got older and didn’t get around as well.

Back then I was a striper fisherman, and I netted my own bait at West Point when we went. Bait wasn’t very hard to find, and we could usually set out my Hydro-glow light at the cabin dock and net as much bait as we wanted, but if we needed more, I could usually find it back behind the marina where the water got very shallow and muddy. That’s where the gizzard shad liked to hang out. I could usually get a lot of threadfin shad to come to my Hydro-glow light just before dawn but netting the gizzards was usually a bit more of a chore, especially if you didn’t know where to find them. I had a few places back in some pockets behind the marina that usually produced the gizzards we were looking for though.

Fishing on West Point in October can be pretty good if you know where the fish are hanging out. Usually by October the fish are in the river along a stretch just north of the lake proper and it’s just a matter of using your electronics to find them. Once you’ve found them, that’s where the live bait comes in. I would put out live bait on downlines, freelines and my planer boards, which I manufactured and sold. We would usually have an average of about 6-8 lines in the water at one time which isn’t really uncommon for striper fishermen. The more lines you have out, the better your chances. It can be fun and when you find the schools of stripers and you can be busy for a while.

My dad used to love catching fish and sometimes we would be on so many fish he would be reeling in fish one after another. The stripers were usually 3-5lbs in size and they were perfect if we wanted to keep a few for filets to take back home. When we were growing up my dad did not believe in killing anything for sport or releasing fish if they were edible. His thoughts on guns were that they were only to be used for self-preservation, whether it was nourishment or self-defense and his thoughts on fishing was that you keep everything you caught. Sometimes we would catch 50 fish in a days’ time, and I told him that if he wanted to keep his limit, he was going to be fileting his limit; soon after that he decided that catch and release was kinda fun and within the confines of the law.

Growing up, we had a little 5-acre farm on the outskirts of town and my dad was very frugal. We didn’t have a lot of money and we would McIver everything or make do with what we had. We were always Gerry rigging something to get the job done so sometimes you had to think outside the box. My dad used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat“. Kinda scary phrase when your young and your old man believed in eating anything and everything that had 4 legs, fur, skin or scales. We didn’t eat any cats that I’m aware of, but he did use that phrase a lot when he would be working on something and found a fix.

So anyway, back to West Point. There was one year that we went to West Point in October, and we couldn’t find the fish in the river that year. This was a year that it was still unseasonably hot, and a lot of stripers were still either down lake or way up the river, beyond where we could have gone so we chose to fish the lake that year. The first day of fishing, bait wasn’t a problem as I went behind the marina in a small cut, and we found the mother lode of 3–4-inch gizzard shad. They were so packed back in the pocket, I could fill my 8-footer with one bad throw. After getting bait we set out to find the fish, but we struggled to find any fish at all. The fish seemed to be scattered and we spent all day on the lake without much luck. Speaking of luck, I remembered a scene in the movie “Titanic” when the villain, Billy Dane says “I believe in making my own luck“. Such a cool phrase from one of my favorite villain actors. Well, by the end of the day we hadn’t caught any decent a fish, and I wasn’t not going to be satisfied with bringing my dad down to the lake for his birthday and not watch him catch plenty of fish. I believe in making my own luck so that evening I came up with a plan. I told my dad that we had plenty of bait at our disposal, so we were going to pack our bait tank full of gizzard shad and also pack a few 5-gallon buckets full of the netted gizzards and take them down lake in what I called the “bait relocation program”.

Early the next morning we went back to the gizzard hole, and we netted gizzards by the hundreds and put them in my big 50 gallon bait tank and the buckets of water. The bait was overpopulated in the buckets and tank but still alive for the quick move. I went down lake with the bait and I found a bay that had a west wind and waves blowing right into the bay. I positioned the boat at the mouth of the bay and started slowly driving across the mouth of the bay while we were releasing scoops of disoriented gizzard shad across the mouth of the bay. I believe some may call this technique “baiting the hole” but for this story we’re going to call this “skinning the cat“. That’s the plan I came up with. We scattered lively, half dead and disoriented gizzard shad across the mouth of the bay and let the wind-blown waves scatter the bait into the bay. At that point I told my dad that we were going to take a break and let nature do its thing.

We centered my 21-foot Carolina Skiff right in the middle of the bay and before long we started seeing fish on the graph below the boat. I baited my dad’s downline with a small gizzard and as soon as he dropped it down under the boat, he had a fish on. I spent all day netting fish after fish for my dad. Just as soon as he would lower the bait, his rod would load up and he had another fish to fight. He must have caught 30, 40 or maybe 50 fish that day, as I have no idea, but I know he was worn slap out that night.

The next morning, we went back to the bay and to our amazement the fish were still in the area, so we spent the morning catching more fish with fresh bait I had netted before leaving for home. All in all it was a great trip for us filled with fish catching and laughs. Had we not come up with the idea of moving the bait to the fish we might have had an unproductive trip. It was very easy to pick off fish after fish by drawing in the numbers and just dropping one line down at a time to catch one fish time after time after time.

West Point was a lot of fun for my dad and I in his last years. I always wanted to make sure he knew how much I appreciated all the things he had done for me over the years when I was growing up. This video below was one of our last trips to West Point Lake. We were blessed.

The Handshake

It’s only happened a few times in my life but each time it has happened the memory has lasted my lifetime. I can remember the first time I felt that hand and it was my grandfathers hand. It was a hand that was hard and almost unshakable because of the size of the fingers and the hardened blisters that turn the skin to granite. It was a working mans hands. Hands that aren’t afraid of a hard days work and raising a God fearing Christian family. Hands that are full of love and faith.

I only knew James for a short period of my life but the first time I met Mr. Kelly and shook his hand I felt that old familiar feeling in that hand shake. He probably thought I was weird because it took me so long to let go of his hand as we talked but I was savoring every moment and I felt it all. Man, I felt it all. I felt the hard work, the kindness, the understanding, the knowledge and above all else, the faith. James quoted scripture and told me stories from the bible which related to our conversations just about every Sunday morning before church. James used to ask me every week, “How many fish did you catch this week”? After I would give him a number he would take a long pause and nod. It took me a while but I think James pondered if that number of fish could be turned into the number of men I could bring to Christ every week. I honestly think he was thinking that every week when he asked me that question, and he asked me that same question every week. We talked about many things during our short friendship but just having a conversation and a laugh or two with James was one of the many reasons I love our little church and church family.

Loss is a bitter sweet fact of life and we’re all going to miss James Kelly but Jesus has a special place in Heaven for James Kelly and when I get there I’m sure I’ll hear that beautiful voice once again and James and I will be able to catch up with those fish numbers. James was laid to rest in a little meadow behind our little church this past weekend so we can visit with him often.

Etowah Church

Most folks didn’t know this till now but a few years back Lisa and I were contemplating finding a church. We are both Christians and both brought up going to small churches. In our conversations Lisa suggested we both pray on it and we’ll get our answer. Lisa’s daughter Callie and her friends drove by this beautiful little church nestled on a hill along the banks of the Etowah River and they just loved the church surrounded by horse pastures and meadows along the river. Callie was engaged to be married and thought that the little church in the country would be a great place to be married so Lisa contacted the church and we made plans for a spring wedding at the church. When spring came we had the wedding there and it was beautiful. It was a great cermony and we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for a wedding.

After the wedding Lisa and I had discussed going to the little church some Sunday for their Sunday service although it was a pretty long drive for us. We never acted on it until late in the year when I got an invite to do a podcast from my friend Danny who was starting up a fishing podcast called “Fish North Georgia” and he and his friend Josh wanted me to come out one evening for an on air interview. I agreed and he gave me the address to the building where they did there podcast on a Thursday evening. When the evening came I wanted Lisa to drive me because it was raining and dark which makes it hard for me to navigate with bad eyes. Lisa agreed and off we went out to the country for the podcast appointment. Lisa was driving and I was navigating as we went. Lisa said, “remember the church where Callie got married”? I said yes and she replied “Well, I think it’s around that area. As we approached the address the rain was really coming down and when the gps lit up it said “You have reached your destination” just as the lights from my truck lit up the whole church. James Kelly had a big metal building behind the church and Danny and Josh were members of the church and had their podcast in James Kelly’s metal building every week. It took me a bit but the odds of landing back at the little church out in the country so far from home twice in a short period of time when Lisa and I were praying for an answer, well, it’s pretty astronomical in my view so Lisa and I had our answer and we have been attending our little church ever since.

On a final note, today is a very special day for me as it was one year ago today I was baptized in the Etowah River right next to our little church. It was a beautiful fall day and we all walked down to the river after the service, and I was baptized. It’s a sweet memory for me and I’m very happy that James Kelly was there. It was his and Linda’s land that led to that little spot on the river where I was baptized.

The Hawk and the Crows

I wrote this a while back and decided to put it on my blog. Try to be the hawk in life”.

The Hawk and the Crows…..I spend a lot of days on the lake now and as I’m going about my day I can’t help but see the occasional hawk flying around the lakeshore and nesting in nearby trees. We have a very large population of red tailed hawks around the lake and a lot of times the hawks will use the lake as their hunting grounds. I love to watch the hawks swoop down for a floating fish from time to time and often times I can see them in the trees working together to hunt squirrels and small ground type rodents. They have a shrill scream and can be heard from a long way away when they are hunting or communicating and it’s easy for me to get distracted from fishing to watch the hawks. Numerous times I’ve seen the big hawks flying over the lake and sometimes hoovering around the big hawks are one or two black crows. The black crows seem to harass the hawk at every turn and they are relentless almost crashing into the hawk as they dive and swoop over the hawk during flight. The crow does not hunt and is not a predator and certainly no match for the hawk in battle. A couple of my observations during these hawk vs crow encounters are number one, if you watch closely you’ll see that the crows never attack the hawk from the front, it’s always from the rear and it’s always followed by a quick get away. Another observation is that the hawk pays little to no attention to the crows. The hawk goes on about his business and very rarely acknowledges the harassing crows existence. Keep in mind that the hawk is a master hunter and can kill it’s prey in flight with a quick swoop of it’s talons but it chooses to ignore the smaller weaker crows with focus and an even temper. My guess is that the hawk doesn’t like the taste of crow or there would be a lot less crows and a lot of fat hawks around there but they pay the crows no mind while in flight. After a few minutes of relentless attack, the crow gets no reaction and usually looses interest, moving on with no blood loss or feathers shed. If there is a moral to my observation, it would be to try and be like the hawk as you go through your life. There will always be a crow or two nipping at your heals, trying to throw you off course but pay them no mind and keep going with the focus and even temper of the hawk. Be the hawk in life, not the crow.-Jim Farmer