Monday, April 02, 2012

Just In Case

The natural way of things is to ‘accumulate’. A new pair of shoes, new socks, maybe a new sofa or mattress, even a car, but sadly they wear out, get used up or, heaven forbid, just become ‘old’ and need replacement. Like me. Some things however ‘stick’ to us. They become part of us – in a way our identity. Then we can’t bear to throw them away. Things like, well… a pair of shoes or some old Levi’s we just can’t part with. This is a short story about one such thing.

When I reached the magic age of 18 (1957), I was old enough to sign-on as a brakeman at the Southern Pacific Railroad in Ogden, Utah. Being a rookie I was assigned to the ‘extra board’. This meant that I was on call with my name working up a list of other extra-boarders to fill in as needed in a train crew to run the SPRR freight trains from Ogden to Carlin, Nevada. As with any new job there are ‘things’ you need. Some jobs need pencils, some need hammers, but a brakeman needed good boots (not safety shoes in those days), overalls, warm shirts, a lantern, the ‘Book’ (safety rules to literally live by), extra clothes (the run to Carlin was an overnighter) and ….. a CASE to carry the clothes in.

My Case

Well…. here’s my CASE! I tied a strap to it so I could lug it over my shoulder while climbing ladders on locomotives and cabooses. I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it couldn’t have been much. It was metal (thin) with a decorative paper lining and had reinforced corners and stout latches. The metal was so thin that it was easily dented and just as easily bent back into shape (Click on it and you’ll how remodeled it has become). As you can see it had a lovely faux bamboo grain finish that was beyond durable – it was permanent and not easily scratched. Once on the train it remained tucked in a corner in either the engine cab or the caboose depending on my assignment for each trip.

Four years later following countless round trips to Carlin with a few week-long assignments thrown in on a work train building the new fill across the Great Salt Lake, I finished engineering school and my boss, the Trainmaster told me to leave the railroad and go be an engineer. He said, “He didn’t need any educated brakemen.” So off I went to seek my fortune so to speak as a Mechanical Engineer and retired my CASE!

Less than a year later Barbara and I were home, home on the range back in Utah for good with mountains and skiing and most of all with family. I soon found a great use for my CASE – a holder for ski stuff. It was an easy way to keep gloves, mittens, wax, sun glasses, scarfs, sun screen and goggles all together for frequent ski trips. I took a bit of abuse and teasing over the years over my ‘stylish’ CASE, but, to say the least, it was very functional. It was sturdy enough to sit on while putting on ski boots and just right size-wise for all the ‘stuff’ I needed.


Here’s an inside view showing the paper lining – had to point this out so you wouldn’t mistake it for real oak or some other exotic wood.

This CASE was approaching it’s 55th anniversary with me this year when, I almost accidently stumbled on a worthy replacement. I was wandering through a Harbor Freight store a couple of weeks ago and saw a positively wonderful case that was better in almost every way – an anomaly for typical Harbor Freight merchandise. As I pulled if off the shelf and opened it up to inspect it, a young man said to me, “Those are great cases; I have three of them.” But wait a diesel whistle minute – my CASE is part of ME! I walked the floor of the store for ten minutes trying to decide if I truly had the …. courage… to part with my old friend.

Well another ten minutes and I walked out of the store a proud owner of a NEW CASE! I was excited to show Barbara my NEW CASE, but my reluctance to part with the old one was evident. Barbara asked me if I’d like her to throw the old one away (it wasn’t really worthy of a D.I. offering) so I wouldn’t have to, obviously sensitive to my emotional attachment.


Here’s the NEW CASE! So much better in every way. No more dents, stronger latches; sturdier to sit on, just as roomy for my stuff. No more pretending to be constructed from ‘real’ bamboo/wood, just a strong, no nonsense case no longer the subject of derision but rather a focus of envy by those not owning a superb case such as this.

But then…….. it hasn’t earned a place in my soul. It hasn’t served me well (yet). It hasn’t stood the test of time. It’s …. not my friend.

As the newreels used to say, TIME MARCHES ON and over time I’ll get used to my NEW CASE and maybe I’ll forget about my old friend, but then again……. maybe not.


Julie Freeman said...

awwww your old case might just have to find a new home at my house - I'm sure I could tuck it somewhere Matt won't throw it away. I love that case too!!!

Jane said...

Aww Dad, how on earth could you part with the CASE! I love that thing. I would have been the little angel on your shoulder telling you to keep the CASE and not replace it!! The new case is pretty sweet I must say. Did Mom really throw out the old one?

Elder Riley Watts said...

I think I'll miss the CASE just as much as you. I've seen it many times over the years and am glad to finally know it's amazing story!