Friday, July 8, 2022

A Long Time Ago

We are in North Platte, Nebraska and we have covered 1,745 miles since home, including a couple of side trips. 

I was pleased that our trip brought us to this place for a brief stop. In the summer of 1975, I was looking forward to my last year of law school, but I was also acutely aware I would have no more free summers for a long, long time. So I leased a well-used "Sportscoach" motor home from a dealer in Atlanta (who couldn't sell it and wanted to make a little money rather than have it sit on his lot). I paid him something per mile and handled all the maintenance and fuel for about two months. I talked my good friend Alan Matthews into joining me and my dog Auburn for a trip out west. I wrote about that trip and Alan's untimely death on an earlier blog, and you can read the entry by clicking here.

As noted in that post, one of our stops was in North Platte. We came here intentionally to see my friend "Smooth" and his first wife Tish. I'm not sure where Smooth's nickname came from but the first time I met him he said: "My name's Rusty Wallace but my friends call me Smooth." And so I did.

At the time, Smooth worked in a dangerous job as what was called a "connector". As steel beams were being put in place in a building, he would walk out on a horizontal beam, grab a new beam lifted by a crane, and temporarily connect it wherever it went. Others would come along later and connect it more permanently. The dangerous part was walking out on a beam with no safety strap (and no net) while a crane was swinging a heavy steel beam over to him. Smooth described his job as "hanging iron". He was in North Platte helping build a power plant that became known as Gerald Gentleman Station. We saw it from a distance this evening.

Gerald Gentleman Station

During our visit, Smooth took us to Ole's Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge, where we enjoyed some Rocky Mountain Oysters and beer. Laura Lee and I dined there tonight and shared that dish as an appetizer. Google it if you have never heard of Rocky Mountain Oysters. 




Smooth was a dashing and infectious young man, with always a hint of danger about him. I found him fascinating. He told great stories, wrote great songs, and played them on the guitar. We became good friends and I was best man when he married Tish, but we have sadly not stayed in touch in recent years. Silly, because he lives only two hours away from me in Charleston.

It was good to visit the North Platte area 47 years later, to see the power plant still standing with steel beams well-connected, and to eat one more time at Ole's. I have good memories here of people who were dear to me. Tomorrow, we head north to the Badlands in South Dakota.


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