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After a year of living at Heise Station, which really was in the middle of nowhere, we moved to the big city—El Centro. The hub of the Imperial Valley had a population of a little over 12,000. We were in the “big time” but both families still lived together in one little house in the 600 block of Euclid. Dad worked as a carpenter, and Uncle Ernie as an electrician. They always had home improvement projects going, and the eight of us accumulated a lot of “stuff.” When they had a load of trash, Dad and Uncle Ernie would gather up us boys and their weapons and load it all into the utility trailer, a homemade job about five feet wide and eight feet long, enclosed front and sides by four-foot-high diamond-plate and a rear plywood door that slid up and out. Dad and Uncle Ernie had painted it royal blue.
There was a trash dump out by Seeley along the New River, a nasty-looking and sluggish stream that no one dared fish in. Sometimes it had giant foam bubbles floating on the surface caused by God-knows-what, and there was the occasional dead animal—I vividly remember a sheep—lying close to the shoreline. The dump was a good place for target practice, so we all learned to shoot.
The two dads, both World War II veterans, had carefully taught each of us the proper and safe methods for gun-handling and insisted we always practice those methods. A violation of the rules resulted in the loss of shooting privileges for the day, a punishment not one of us aspired to.
A cool fall Saturday morning found us with the trailer hitched, two deer hunting rifles, a J.C. Higgins .22 semi-automatic rifle, one pistol, and four excited boys loaded in the ’52 Dodge, all headed for the New River dump. The eight-mile drive on the two-lane highway was curvy and full of dips, so it was a fun ride for us kids in the back seat. When I heard kind of a thump sound, I looked out the back window and saw the little trailer disconnect from the back of the car just as we rounded a long curve. Somehow, the trailer got going faster than the car and started to pass us. Without getting excited, I leaned over into the front seat and said, “Uncle Ernie, is the trailer supposed to be passing us?”
Both Dad and Uncle Ernie whipped their heads around just in time to see the trailer pull up right next to the car. Uncle Ernie hit the brakes and we all watched the trailer swerve ahead of us and finally pile into—tongue first—the soft dirt on the shoulder of the road. What a mess! It took us a while, but we got the all the trash loaded back into the trailer, which was very carefully reattached to the trailer hitch and a safety chain secured. Nobody was hurt and we continued on to the New River Dump and a great day of shooting. We had a great story to tell the moms when we returned home, but they didn’t think it was as funny as we did. In later years, though, it came to be one of those tales told around the dinner table after a big family dinner on Thanksgiving or Christmas.