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So we’re ready to leave New Mexico and head to Phoenix, and the tow truck driver says “one of you guys can ride in the tow truck with my boy, the rest of you will have to ride with me in my truck, I’ll need to fill up the truck before we leave and you’ll need to pay for it”, “Sounds good I say”, just thankful to have a way to Phoenix. Let me tell you, that truck must have a gas tank the size of battle ship, and he only used “Ethel”, or high test in today’s lingo. So, we get our stuff in the truck and the caravan heads West. I must confess that Marty ended up riding with the son in the tow truck, I still owe you one for that, Marty! All the way to Phoenix, the father was telling us about himself and his adventures, after a few of those stories, we’re just staring forward, glassy eyed, and not saying much, then he got started telling about his son (who was driving Marty and the van), and the stories just got crazier. It seemed a long way to Phoenix, but we finally made it to the Ford Dealership in the late afternoon, dropped the van and paid the guys. They swapped vehicles, the son taking Dad’s truck and a handful of cash for a night on Phoenix town. The dealership folks got us a shuttle van and took us to a motel close by and said they’d get on the van in the morning. Things seemed better, good motel, a dealership to work on the van and with a little luck, we could make the thursday show in Chico, California.
We’re up and ready to get back to the dealership by checkout on Wednesday morning and end up sitting in the waiting room most of the day while they’re working. They even worked past quitting time, just to get us on the road. So when they finished the shop manager says, “this would have been a quick, easy and inexpensive deal, but it took forever to fix what the tow man’s son had torn out of the van”. By this time, if I remember correctly, I was $1800.00 in the hole on the van. I didn’t have enough cash with me to pay the bill, so Bill Sage pays the total. Bill, like Charlie Cline, always carried a good bit of cash on them, they were always buying fiddles or other instruments on the road. There were a number of times that those two guys got me out of a tight by having a good bit of cash on them. They knew that I would pay them back before the trip was over and were always there when you needed them, both onstage and off. By the time we’re pulling out of the Dealership, it’s getting dusky dark. I start driving and I can immediately tell that the van is not running right, it’s missing, running real rich, and gas seems to be pouring through it, not running good , but running. So we keep heading West, and by daybreak on Thursday morning, I’m seeing California for the first time in a van running pretty bad. We make it to Chico in plenty of time before the show and go to the promoter’s house. He’s a very nice guy, let’s us shower there and get some food. I tell him the van’s running bad, and does he know anybody that can look at it before the show. He said he knew a shadetree mechanic just down the road, so we drove over there. After the guy looks at it and listens for a minute, he says, ” the timing is off a couple of clicks, this thing must have been running bad, way to rich and drinking the gas. He quickly fixed the problem and finally our vehicle troubles seemed far behind us. Finally, we could get back to why we came , to play and enjoy some music and try to please some new folks in a new part of the Country. After Chico, we played three or four more nights in different parts of California to great crowds, who really liked the music we played. By the time we started back home, the first part of the trip, certainly wasn’t forgotten, but a fairly distant memory.
Really, what got me thinking about this long story was when I told you that Bill Sage was in the Band when we were making our first trips to the West Coast. For the next three or four years, we made a number of treks out West and western Canada, pretty much all the Provinces. Those type trips cover a ton of miles and takes alot of travel time. Bill Sage was an iron man behind the wheel, one of the best drivers you’ll ever see. On bad road conditions, I always wanted him to drive, he was the best on icey roads. He had lived in Maryland and Pennsyvania all his life, and just knew how to drive safely on bad roads. His driving probably kept us out of danger many times. Bill was older than the rest of the band but could work any of us down and could still be going when we were too tired to keep going. He could drive all night, get on stage and rip through the theme where we had to try and hold on just to keep up with the rhythm. For around six years, Bill was a great help to our band. Him living in Pennsylvania, he had to travel as much as we did, just to meet the band or meet us where we played. After Bill left the WRB’s, he went on to play with White Mountain Bluegrass and The Wildwood Valley Boys from Indiana. Bill’s health had not been good for his last few years, but he still had the drive and desire to travel and perform and still did it very well. He passed away travelling on the road with The Wildwood Valley Boys. They told me he had played great that night and when they got on the road after the show, Bill went back to his bunk to get some sleep and just never woke up. Bill crossed over travelling down the road to the next show, I imagine that would have been the way he would have wanted it to be. I remember he always told me, “David , I’d rather have friends than money, any time”. I can honestly say, he was blessed with many, many friends all over the Country, and I believe he was a happy man and ready to go. For myself, and I imagine anybody that ever met Bill, we miss him very much and fondly remember him in wonderful memories. He was one of the best, a real pro. So all this long story was just to acquaint you a little better with a great man and musician and to say, Thank you, Bill .
I haven’t heard anyone refer to gas as Ethel in a long long time. You’re old like me there bro.