"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa
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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Ed Estes and a Tip O' the Irish



Image result for Edward R EstesI had just finished making the gravy and pouring it into the gravy boat when my husband Ken and our friend Ed Estes came into the house for dinner.  

While they seated themselves, I set the gravy on the table beside a large serving platter on which rested a yummy-looking pot roast surrounded by potatoes, onions, and carrots.

This was one of my husband’s favorite dinners.   Tomorrow, I would make one of my favorites by chopping up all the leftovers, pouring the gravy over them, and putting the dish in the oven to heat.    Before it was done, I’d drop biscuit dough on top of the simmering gravy and anticipate the goodness to come.

Everyone served themselves and the conversation began.   Eventually, Ed began telling one of his delightful stories.   I noticed the guys reaching for seconds, and I might have seen thirds, but I was engrossed in the story.  

Not until Ed reached the denouement did I notice that the two of them had obliterated every scrap of that pot roast and most of the veggies.   It  weighed five pounds before cooking and though it lost some weight in the process, there was still an impressive amount of meat on the serving platter.

Today, forty-five years later, I don’t remember if dessert was served, but I do remember I had a fresh pot of coffee ready because Ed loved coffee (with four spoons of sugar and some milk in it). 


Ken asked me to make Irish coffee and convinced Ed to try one.  I got the fancy light blue Irish coffee mugs cups from the cupboard, put a spoon of sugar, a dollop of Irish whiskey, and coffee in each.   Then I topped them off with whipped cream and served them.





They soon asked for seconds and thirds.   Before long, I was making another pot of coffee.   Now, I don’t drink coffee and seldom drink alcoholic drinks, so this was all on the two of them.  I started to get concerned because I knew what was planned for after dinner.

Ed had left his large forklift at our place days before and he was here to drive it home, about six miles away. 

This was no little forklift like you seeing hauling goods around Costco.   This one was about the size of a small Caterpillar dozer, but with forks instead of a blade and huge tires instead of tracks.  It wasn’t, however, as large as a front-end loader that could switch from bucket to forks and back.


Ed and his forklift, but not from the day in question.  As you can see, Ed has modified the forklift by building a bucket for it.   Photo courtesy of Jeff Estes, from the family archives.






Ken tried to convince a very cheerful Ed to let him give him a lift home and deal with the forklift the next day.   Ed would have none of it, assured us he was fine, and headed for the forklift.

My husband was six feet tall and in very good physical condition.   Ed was also in good physical condition for a man in his sixties, but was inches shorter and whippet-thin.  I doubt there was an ounce of fat on him.  I was a pretty good judge of my husband’s state of sobriety, but not Ed’s.   And I was worried.

However, as bartender I had complete control of how much Bushmill’s whiskey went into each of their coffees and with each succeeding drink, I got stingier and stingier.   That, and Ed’s stomach was full of a fatty meal, which would helo keep the alcohol from reaching his bloodstream too quickly, I hoped.



Ken and I watched Ed drive up our driveway and pull out onto the highway.  We agreed it would be a good idea if he followed Ed home, just in case, and off Ken went in our car.  Remember now, this was Alaska and summertime, and light all night.



After a while, he returned.   He had a funny look on his face, and said, “You won’t believe what he did!”
After assuring me that Ed was safe at home, he said when Ed reached the top of Mile 34 hill, he put the forklift in neutral and let gravity take over.  



This is about where Ed put the forklift in neutral.   But this was today and not in the late 70s.




Now, here’s the thing about forklifts, at least the ones in those days.   Forklifts are squirrely.  Puttering around a concrete-floored warehouse or in a muddy industrial yard is one thing, but when roading them any distance on a highway, it is better to drive them backward!  The operator sits normally with the controls in front of him but drives by looking over his shoulder.   This was a narrow two-lane highway, not a super freeway.

In addition, not only was Ed free-wheeling down that hill backward with the steering tires behind him, but that forklift had about two inches of play  before the steering tires would respond.   Any twitch, any small mistake, any rough spot of asphalt and catastrophe would ensue.

Down the winding hill he went for more than a mile.  When he reached the flats, he parked, jumped off the machine, and ran back to Ken.

 “How fast was I going?   How fast was I going?”

“Ed, I was going 65 miles an hour trying to stay up with you!”

“I've wanted to do that for a long time!” shouted Ed.

A very happy Ed got back on his forklift and, with a tummy full of pot roast and Irish coffee and no doubt rejoicing in having set a land speed record for forklifts, sedately drove on home.



I have to wonder, though, if maybe that Bushmill's endowed Ed with some luck of the Irish that day. 


Ed and his forklift.   Courtesy of Jeff Estes and the family archives.



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This is how Mile 34 hill looks today.   It did not look like this in the late 1970s!    It has been repaved, widened a bit and all the vegetation cut back since then.   Keep in mind that it's difficult to show steepness in photos when looking at the road straight on.



Right about here is when Ed would have put the forklift in neutral.





Around the first curve and heading for the second.





The third curve and heading for the bottom.



More than likely, he came to a stop close to where the semi is.

This is Ed's old forklift, which now lives in Seward.  For size, that front tire is about four feet high.