The Fed Side, part II

A (rare) shot of Dean at home, happily cooking a gourmet meal for Nancy.

We found work in Billings in June. The place to stay is The Crown Plaza. They give you a smokin’ deal on rooms if you work for the Forest Service. It’s a high rise, twenty-two floors. Last year a guy threw a chair through the window of his tenth floor room then jumped out after it. He landed on the Starbucks and lived. My right seater had to negotiate the yellow crime scene tape to get to the room next door. There were no casualties this year.

The tanker base was hopping, numerous fires, big ones. We worked with more Canadians, aahh. They were from Ontario on a mutual assistance agreement with the state. They were supposed to only work state fires but that went out the window faster than a guest at the Crown Plaza. It did create some confusion for dispatch, hard to imagine. Sometimes they tried to keep the Canadians together. Bird Dogs don’t lead, Canadian tankers don’t drop without a Bird Dog or Lead. Then the MAFFS showed up. All things considered I think we worked together well. Things got a little tense one day when our tank developed a leak and we needed to move a MAFFS. We worked it out by backing out of the pit. It was time to break out the parrot.

Squawk is my parrot. He has a lot of fire time. I perched him on the rail of the deck off the base modular trailer. The atmosphere changed when he began greeting people. A palm tree appeared and a shade cover was erected. Jimmy Buffett music laced the air calming frayed nerves. Plastic chairs materialized providing seating and a cool respite if you had time to kill.

We had some long dispatches, pretty typical in the fed world where bases are hundreds of miles apart. We toured the Bad Lands of South Dakota going to hundred thousand plus acre fires to the southeast and anchored retardant lines at cornfield pivots in Nebraska. Squall lines crossing the plains continued to light off new fires. Then we were off to Rapid City.

Rooms were scarce so we ended up at the Gold Star Motel. It is not the place to stay in Rapid City although the price is right and the management accommodating. I had my second bout with persistent insect bites while residing at the Gold Star and I put my smart phone to use doing research. Did you know bedbug bites may show up up to seven days after you’ve been bitten. They often leave three bite clusters called breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re flat, sneaky, and quick. Urban legend has it they are attracted to soap so I stopped taking showers and now leave my luggage on the table at motels.

The days typically started out clear then began assembling piles of fluffy white cumulus by early afternoon. Our ipad with it’s en-flight app came in handy late in the day when the fluffy clouds turned black and spit lightning. With long turnarounds conditions at the airport can change radically so we gave the weather function a workout and hauled plenty of gas for potential diverts.

The Black Hills southeast of Rapid City seemed to grow weather each afternoon. An exceptionally large and ugly formation parked over the airport late one evening. Our ipad indicated it was creeping northeast. We had fuel to divert to Billing but decided to skirt the storm to the south and approach from the west. We circled the city at fifteen hundred feet for twenty minutes watching lightning pound the ground while checking out the life-size dinosaur replicas that populate the hills above the city. We also captured some rainbows with a cell-phone.

Before you know it it’s time for another day-off. Handily Mount Rushmore is not far and we have a car. We’re off to see the dead presidents. There was plenty of parking and lots of people, tourists I believe. We fit right in. Tourists come in all shapes and sizes and speak many languages, many walk, and some are motorized. We opted to walk a trail that takes you to the base of Mount Rushmore where you can look up George Washington’s nose. There are many interesting facts to learn about Mount Rushmore when you are at the source. For instance ninety percent of the carving was done with dynamite. It’s a guy thing. Also, Gutzon Borgum, a Dutch Mormon polygamist was the architect. He died before it was completed but it’s been reported on MSNBC that he was part of a conspiracy by the Fifth Head Society. Not spies as detailed by Cary Grant in North by Northwest, not treasure as purported by Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. Surprisingly it did not come up in the recent presidential debates. Mitt Romney is to be immortalized.

Obviously it was time to leave. We knew too much. We got a dispatch to Casper Wyoming. The lead tried to cancel us while we were still on the ground but we were half way to Casper before it got through ROSS and all the way before a decision could be made, so we dropped on the fire and recovered in Casper.

I’d never been to Casper. There’s an antelope herd that wanders around the airport and a large Buffalo wearing a stylish blue outfit in the passenger lobby. The best thing about the town is an interesting bar named Sanford’s with dollar beers and the fact that I didn’t get bed bugs at the Best Western. Next thing you know we’re off to California.


  1. Dale Head says:

    Thank you Dean for contributing your considerable literary talents to our community…

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