The last couple of times I was in Big Lake, the Cozy Inn was locked shut with a big padlock. It was the only real beer joint in town. I guess that the beer drinking population of Reagan County is just not enough to support it. It is difficult for me to believe that there are not enough working men who desperately need a cold beer in the afternoon in that dry hot West Texas town to keep a beer joint open. Someone should open it up as a public service. Never mind the profit. Those people need a place to enjoy a cold one, swap tales about whatever and shoot a little pool or shuffleboard. [note: This was written around 2002. There is a nice beerjoint in Big Lake now].
On one of our trips to Big Lake to visit my mother, Diane and I slipped away from the house in the afternoon and went down to The Cozy Inn (mother would not approve). This was a few years after my dad passed away. We were the strangers in the bar in the town where everyone knew everyone else and so all the people in there had one thing in mind - find out who these people are.
We sat at a little table and talked. It seemed quieter than it should have been and I got the feeling that the other patrons were trying to overhear our conversation to get a clue as to our identity. Finally, I approached the bar to get another drink and the guy standing there came forth with a question something like "Are you visiting someone in town?" I declared that I was visiting my mother, Annie Mae Young, and there was a visible sigh of relief among the patrons as the mystery was finally solved. The guy was a pipeliner working a few miles out of town and, of course, he knew Annie Mae and Peck and had some kind words to say about each.
He related some story that Peck had told him and declared that he did not believe it at the time but later found out that it was true. He said, "You know, all those stories that Peck told - we didn't believe them but they all turned out to be true!" I enjoyed that comment and proceeded to tell a couple of Peck's stories that he had not heard.
The motor of an Aermotor windmill pivots around the vertical mast and sits with all of its weight on a ridge of the mast. There is a washer between the motor and this ridge called a snap washer. It comes apart into two pieces which fit together kind of like two pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. It is designed that way so that it can be replaced but still hold together as one piece. To replace it, you have to raise the motor up a few inches, remove the old worn out ring, snap a new one in, and lower the motor back down.
Dad was replacing the snap washer on a big windmill south of San Angelo and he had a very inexperienced helper with him. He had raised the motor in the usual way; He tied the plunger rod under the motor to the tower with a chain while the mill was on the down stroke. He then turned the wheel enough that the motor went up instead of the rod going down. The chain was now supporting the weight of the motor a few inches high while he replaced the washer.
It is not clear what happened at this point but something slipped while dad's fingers were in the vulnerable position under the motor. The weight of the windmill came down on three of his fingers and trapped them. There were no other witnesses to verify what happened next. Dad said that his helper saw the blood and started to pass out. Dad had to grab him with his other hand to keep him from falling off the platform. Here now is my father enduring the pain of his mashed and trapped fingers on one hand and saving the life of another man with the other hand. How the situation unfolded after that is not clear. But somehow, he got the helper to come to and function well enough to get the motor raised up enough for him to get his mangled fingers free from the trap. Then, they got to the emergency room where a surgeon managed to save all three of the fingers. One of the fingers was cut almost all the way through but it was repaired with some loss of nerve function. I do not remember seeing that helper again.
My dad very seldom worked by himself but on one such occasion, he came close to losing his life. I remember seeing him with the big bandages on his arms and I think I must have been a young teenager when this happened which would have made it the early 50's. I heard his version of the story at the time but I think he must have talked about it later to my sister Mary because she gave me more details.
He was, as I said, working by himself in a very remote place. At the end of the day, he wanted to start a fire to cook something to eat when he discovered that he was out of matches. So he got the idea of starting a fire by draining some gasoline from the tank of the truck and then starting it with a spark. He got under the truck and opened the plug to drain some gas but in the process he got some on his shirt sleeves. What he did next is not clear but I think that he started the truck and then tried to get a spark from the ignition system to ignite a rag soaked with gasoline.
The sleeves of his shirt ignited and before he could put out the fire or get the shirt off, he was badly burned on both arms. He managed to drive himself to town to get medical help and here are some of the things that Mary told me that he told her or she heard from others: He smeared something on his arms because he thought that it would be medicinal or because he thought that it would control the pain. It might have been butter. At some point in his driving, he stopped at an out building and laid down and passed out. But he was conscious enough to hear two men come into the building and find him. He overheard one of them say "This old boy has had it".
He was, no doubt, suffering from shock but somehow he managed to get back in the truck and drive to help. Yes, I remember the massive bandages that he had on his arms but I do not remember a great deal of scarring after the bandages were removed. I wonder how many people would have had the stamina or the grit to save themselves from that situation. My old man did.
We grew up on the east side of San Angelo about two miles from Goodfellow Air Force Base. Goodfellow served as a training base for pilots during WWII and for years thereafter. We must have been in the approach path for the main runway because those very bulky looking and very loud airplanes that they used as trainers would come right over our house, sometimes in formation.
Unfortunately, there were numerous crashes of those trainers. Dad was working on a windmill in the Christoval area when one of those trainers from Goodfellow Field flew over low. The engine was sputtering and dad said that it seemed like the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing. The airplane nosed down and crashed a short distance away and dad could see the wreckage from the top of the windmill. He and his helper drove over to the site. Dad said that he thought that the pilots were dead but he reached in to touch them and confirm that there was no chance that they had survived. The plane did not catch fire but they got away from the wreckage and saw to it that the authorities were contacted.
Dad was headed west on highway 67 near Barnhart one day. He was approaching a hill when suddenly an airplane came over the hill in the middle of the highway. He went into the ditch to avoid a collision. The pilot said that he was running out of fuel and had to get it down. Dad gave him a ride to Barnhart where he could get someone to bring him some fuel.
I have heard at least three versions of this story and so this will be a composite. In fact, this seems to be everyone's favorite story about Peck Young. I would not be surprised if everyone in Big Lake has a version of it. My brother-in-law retold the story to me recently and the guy at the funeral home at mother's funeral who used to live in Big Lake told it to me with great detail.
For a period of time, my younger sister, Mary, lived along with her four young daughters, with my parents in Big Lake. This was after she separated from her husband. She worked as a waitress at the local steak house, the only big restaurant in town. In the small town environment, everyone knows everyone else and everyone is friendly. There was one man, however, who visited the steak house regularly and was a bit too friendly with Mary. She let it be known to her parents and others that the guy was a bit of a nuisance.
One night, Mary was at home and became aware that someone was hanging around the house trailer. When she looked, she saw that it was the creep who had been bothering her at work and he was peeking in the windows. The guy left without incident and Mary told Peck what had happened. Peck went and found the guy the next day and I do not know who the witnesses were to the confrontation that transpired. But the funeral home guy seemed to speak with authority when he said that Peck picked the guy up by the collar of his shirt and said "If you bother my wife or my daughter again, I will tear your head off and stuff it up your ass." All versions of the story agree on what happened next: The guy was never seen in Big Lake again. Never.
About 1969 or 1970, Diane and I were visiting my parents in Big Lake. They did not live in Big Lake at that time but in this small frame house a few miles west of Big Lake. We passed over the cattle guard as we left the highway and proceeded down this straight dirt road toward the house. To my surprise, there was an overturned truck lying off to the side of the road. It obviously had rolled over and we stopped to look at it. I soon discovered that the truck was none other than the windmill truck which belongs to my father!
After we got to the house and had our hugs and hellos, I asked about the truck. Mother got this pained look on her face and dad began to tell us what happened. His version was that there was some aggravating thing about the carburetor on the truck. It would work right for a while and then the gas would cut off and the engine would sputter. His version did not explain why the truck was lying out there beside the road but was more of a description of unexplainable mechanical phenomena conspiring against him.
As I listened to this, I was putting together my own mental images. He probably was so mad at the truck not running right that he was pumping the accelerator and causing it to jerk forward very fast and then hesitate. This would be accompanied by loud cursing and yelling until finally he would lose control and roll over. Later, mother filled us in with her version of what happened. My mental version was correct. Thank goodness he was not hurt and I am glad I was not there to see it happen.