Running out of gas & watching a con artist in action. – Ch 9

I had dated Joan during the spring of my junior year and then again when I got back from North Dakota during the fall and winter of my senior year.

Joan was angry with me about something, I can’t remember what. So when I asked her to go to prom the spring of my senior year, she said “no”. She was expecting me to come back, apologize for whatever it was she was angry about and beg her to go to prom with me.

As it turns out, I really wanted to ask Karen to prom. Karen was a girl that I had my eyes on ever since junior high. I asked her to go to a football game with me one time in junior high but her parents would not let her “date” at that age. Later, when she did start to date, she was always going on dates with more than one guy. Not that she was actually dating anyone, she would just go out with “friends”.

I never asked her out because I did not want to compete with other guys. At the time, I thought that if a girl didn’t recognize me as the best choice, it was her loss. No one had told me, if I really like a girl it is my job to pursue her and prove myself.

But now, as a senior I wanted to ask her to go to prom with me. Breaking up with Joan was a lot easier since she was the one that said “no” to going to the prom with me. When I finally got up the nerve to ask Karen to go with me, she was reluctant, to say the least. She was a nice girl with a good reputation and I was getting a reputation for being quite wild. I was not promiscuous or a ladies’ man, I just partied a lot, and did a lot of dangerous things. Karen said that she didn’t know me that well. I was told later that she was not as afraid of me as she was of Joan! Girls were really a mystery to me. I could handle a wild horse better than a girl!

So, I proposed that we go on a date horse riding, before prom. I told her that she could get to know me a little better that way. The plan was for me to pick her up, load up the horses and trailer them up to Hayes Lake State Park in Beltrami County island State Forest.

I ran out of gas three times on that date. First, I ran out of gas on the way to pick her up driving my parents’ Malibu. Luckily, a friend of mine saw me pull over on the side of the road and drove me to a gas station. I didn’t lose too much time and was only a little late picking Karen up. We trailered the horses to Hayes Lake and rode the trails.

At that point, I was driving my dad’s pickup that had two gas tanks. My dad always had fuel in the second tank and I didn’t think to check it before we left. As you probably have guessed by now, I ran out of gas on the first tank while driving back.

When I flipped the switch to the second tank, I realized soon enough that it was also empty. Karen had to wait with the pickup and trailer while I rode my horse to the nearest gas station. Luckily, we were within five miles of a station because we noticed that for most of the drive there were no other gas stations. The next thing I realized; I only had a few bucks on me. So, I bought as much gas as I could, rode back and put the gas in the pickup.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough gas to make it all the way home! One mile from home I ran out of gas again. Never go on a date with a nearly empty wallet. This time we just left the pickup and trailer and rode the horses to our barn. Feeling rather sheepish, I drove Karen home before going back for the pickup and trailer.

I exhaled a sigh of relief when Karen accepted to go to the prom with me even after I ran out of gas three times on our first date.

I believe I went on one other date – to a movie – with her after prom. Since Karen continued to date other guys and since I didn’t have the sense or desire to compete, I let her go.

Later, when we were in college, I did ask Karen to go with me to Pennsylvania, more as a traveling companion than a date. My dad had bought a panel boot Victoria carriage at a carriage auction at intercourse Pennsylvania.  The carriage needed to be re-furbished and refinished.

My dad was sending me out to Pennsylvania to pick it up and trailer it back. Karen’s brother Dan came along, I guess as a chaperone. The trip took us more than one day. We had to camp out overnight. I had heard that you can bake potatoes by wrapping them in foil and placing them on the block on the engine.

I thought I would impress Karen by having baked potatoes already cooked when we got to a campsite. I was driving my dad’s diesel pickup which apparently does not get as hot as a gasoline engine. When we stopped to camp, the potatoes were not cooked. So much for impressing the girl! Then to add to my un-impressiveness, we, of course, ran out of gas. Diesel fuel actually. This time as we were driving back to Minnesota the fuel line sprung a leak. We should have had plenty of fuel but it had leaked out and had sprayed all over the trailer and carriage.  Of course, this was long before cell phones, so we had to flag someone down to get a message to a towing company from the next town to come out and tow us in. We had a long wait in Gary, Indiana while the fuel line got fixed. We fueled up and made it back to Minnesota. I don’t think Karen was too impressed with me or my lack of foresight.

Knute and his horse Ali Kahn where a fine tuned cattle driving and cutting machine. However, when it came to harnessing Ali up, that was a different story. When my brother and sister had already graduated and were out of the house. I was the only one still living at home with my parents. My dad and I started to buy and breed Tennessee walkers. My dad had a saying “A horse that can only be risen or only driven is only half broke.” Knutes horse was only half broke. Exquisitely broke for riding but not for driving. I spent a lot of time breaking our Tennessee walkers for driving. First the two mares that my father and I bought; Fly and Nellie. and then their foals; Luke, Lyle and Bub. 

Knute and his horse Ali Kahn where a fine tuned cattle driving and cutting machine. However, when it came to harnessing Ali up, that was a different story. When my brother and sister had already graduated and were out of the house. I was the only one still living at home with my parents. My dad and I started to buy and breed Tennessee walkers. My dad had a saying “A horse that can only be risen or only driven is only half broke.” Knutes horse was only half broke. Exquisitely broke for riding but not for driving. I spent a lot of time breaking our Tennessee walkers for driving. First the two mares that my father and I bought; Fly and Nellie. and then their foals; Luke, Lyle and Bub.

My dad purchased some sleighs and bob sleds for winter driving on the river. He bought an Amish open and an Amish closed buggy. Latter, we traveled to Intercourse Pennsylvania to buy fixer upper carriages at an annual carriage auction held there. The trip I took with Karen was to pick up a carriage that my dad had bought. I brought them home and restored them. I restored two Auto top surreys and then my Dad’s cherished Panel Boot Victoria. My dad and I did a lot of Driving. Especially in the winter. My dad loved to give people rides in his one horse open sleigh with jingle bells. I preferred driving a pair of horses on the Bobsled.

My brother thought that it would be fun to drive his best friend Ali. However, Every time he tried it was a disaster. Once he was driving on the river and the breeching strap broke. He could not slow Ali down by pulling back on the reigns because when he tried he pulled the sleigh into Ali’s back legs. Ali freaked out and took off like shot. Ali was the fastest running horse that we ever had. If Knute and Ali took off, they would leave you behind in the dust immediately. Knute tried to at least steer the horse and sleigh but finally ended up flipping the sleigh and falling out. We watched Ali run into our neighbors woods next to the river. A short time later he emerged from the other side of the woods with out a sleigh or harness. In fact his bridle and every stitch of leather were also missing.

Another time he tried to drive Ali in the park in Detroit Lakes MN where he lived and worked as a Family practitioner. Again, disaster and the residents of D.L. got to see him riding on the side of a runaway, tipped over sleigh Down D.L.’s main street to the Lake.

Yet another time Knute tried to drive Ali with one of our mares as a pair on a training cart. He hoped Ali could learn from a seasoned pro. The end result was that the horses headed straight at the barn and when the reach the corner of the barn each horse tried to miss the barn by going in opposite directions, The center pole was driven into the corner of the barn and bent (it was made of steel). Both horses smacked their heads on the side of the barn and my brother was launched into his horses rump.

I can’t say that these mishaps were necessarily Ali’s fault because Knute crashed other times when Ali was not involved. Once he was driving a our mares on a grain wagon. I was riding. He drove up to our house where my mom wanted to take pictures. My brother blames what happened next on the fact that we had to stand around forever waiting to everyone to get ready for pictures and to take the pictures. The horses were antsy and raring to go. Knute gave them the go ahead and they took off. he was planning on driving them down our driveway but they were going to fast and the outside wheels went down in the ditch which caused the high center of gravity grain box tip over and fall on its side. We were dumped out along with the actual grain box. The undercarriage, (axels, wheels and reach) flipped back up once the Box fell off. The horses raced back to the barn. As they swung through the 90° turn from the road onto the approach to our barn the back of the undercarriage whipped around and the back wheel struck the gate post. It flew up in the air and landed on the other side of the other back wheel. the reach was twisted 180°.  When we calmed the horses and unharnessed them we were able to lift the back wheel back over to it’s proper position. The reach was undamaged. The box was fine also. Everything was put back together as if nothing had happened.

Knutes most glorious wreck happened driving my gelding Lyle. He was following my dad in his famous one horse open sleigh in his own one horse open sleigh. The Approach to our barn that was involved in the Grain box incident was also involved in this one. Our barn approach was not across from our driveway it was across the road form our neighbor to the north’s driveway. My dad and brother drove across our pasture and then up onto our neighbors driveway to line up with the approach to our barn. My dad went first. My horse lyle was anxious to catch up and ran up the side of the driveway and sprinted toward the barn. The momentum of the sleigh caused it to fish-tail. It just so happened that the road they were crossing was covered in back ice. The sleigh whipped sideways across the road, pulling Lyle’s back end around with it. When it hit the snowbank on the side of the road it stopped dead, launching my brother through the air. Knute hit the gate post with his lower leg snapping the post off. My dad caught the driverless horse and tied him to a post. He went and checked my brothers condition. Both my dad and brother are medical doctors. they agreed that my brother had fractured his tibia. he told him to stay where he was and he would go get a vehicle to drive him to the hospital.

While my brother was laying in the snow, beside a sheared off post, in pile of tangled barb wire, with a broken leg, a car pulled up. The driver rolled down his window. He asked Knute if he had seen his missing black lab run by. My brother said that he had not. The driver said thank you and drove away. Nothing like being laser focused on you own problems.

My dad purchased some sleighs and bob sleds for winter driving on the river. He bought an Amish open and an Amish closed buggy. Latter, we traveled to Intercourse Pennsylvania to buy fixer upper carriages at an annual carriage auction held there. The trip I took with Karen was to pick up carriages that my dad had bought. I brought them home and restored them. Two Auto top surreys and then my Dad’s cherished Panel Boot Victoria. My dad and I did  a lot of Driving. Especially in the winter. My dad loved to give people rides in his one horse open sleigh with jingle bells. I preferred driving a pair of horses on the Bob sled.

My brother thought that it would be fun to drive his best friend Ali. However, Every time he tried it was a disaster. Once he was driving on the river and the breaching strap broke. He could not slow Ali down by pulling back on the reigns because when he tried he pulled the sleigh into Ali’s back legs. Ali freaked out and took off like shot. Ali was the fastest running horse that we ever had. If Knute and Ali took off, they would leave you behind in the dust immediately. Knute tried to at least steer the horse and sleigh but finally ended up flipping the sleigh and falling out. We watched Ali run into our neighbors woods next to the river. A short time later he emerged from the other side of the woods with out a sleigh or harness. In fact his bridle and every stitch of leather were also missing. 

Another time he tried to drive Ali in the park in Detroit Lakes MN where he lived and worked as a Family practitioner. Again, disaster and the residents of D.L. got to see him ridding on the side of a runaway, tipped over sleigh Down D.L.’s main street to the Lake.

Yet another time Knute tried to drive Ali with one of our mares as a pair on a training cart. He hoped Ali could learn from a seasoned pro. The end result was that the horses headed straight at the barn and when the reach the corner of the barn each horse tried to miss the barn by going in opposite directions, The center pole was driven into the corner of the barn and bent (it was made of steel). Both horses smacked their heads on the side of the barn and my brother was launched into his horses rump.

I can’t say that these mishaps were necessarily Ali’s fault because Knute crashed other times when Ali was not involved. Once he was driving a our mares on a grain wagon. I was riding. He drove up to our house where my mom wanted to take pictures. My brother blames what happened next on the fact that we had to stand around forever waiting to everyone to get ready for pictures and to take the pictures. The horses were antsy and raring to go. Knute gave them the go ahead and they took off. he was planing on driving them down our driveway but they were going to fast and the outside wheels went down in the ditch which caused the high center of gravity grain box tip over and fall on its side. We were dumped out along with the actual grain box. The undercarriage, (axels, wheels and reach) flipped back up once the Box fell off. The horses raced back to the barn. As they swung through the 90° turn from the road onto the approach to our barn the back of the under carriage whipped around and the back wheel struck the gate post. It flew up in the air and landed on the other side of the other back wheel. the reach was twisted 180°.  When we calmed the horses and unharnessed them we were able to lift the back wheel back over to it’s proper position. The reach was undamaged. The box was fine also. Everything was put back together as if nothing had happened.

Knutes most glorious wreck happened driving my gelding Lyle. He was following my dad in his famous one horse open sleigh in his own one horse open sleigh. The Approach to our barn that was involved in the Grain box incident was also involved in this one. Our barn approach was not across from our driveway it was across the road form our neighbor to the north’s driveway. My dad and brother drove across our pasture and then up onto our neighbors driveway to line up with the approach to our barn. My dad went first. My horse lyle was anxious to catch up and ran up the side of the driveway and sprinted toward the barn. The momentum of the sleigh caused it to fish-tail. It just so happened that the road they were crossing was covered in back ice. The sleigh whipped sideways across the road, pulling Lyle’s back end around with it. When it hit the snowbank on the side of the road it stopped dead, launching my brother through the air. Knute hit the gate post with his lower leg snapping the post off. My dad caught the driverless horse and tied him to a post. He went and checked my brothers condition. Both my dad and brother are medical doctors. they agreed that my brother had fractured his tibia. he told him to stay where he was and he would go get a vehicle to drive him to the hospital.

While my brother was laying in the snow, beside a sheared off post, in pile of tangled barb wire, with a broken leg, a car pulled up. The driver rolled down his window. He asked Knute if he had seen his missing back lab run by. My brother said that he had not. The driver said thank you and drove away. Nothing like being laser focused on you own problems.


My road to becoming a thief started when I watched other people steal things. First, there was Steve stealing cigarettes out of glove-boxes in parked cars. Later, I found out that he was a rather adept shoplifter. I was with him on a number of occasions when he practiced his “craft” with agility and ease. As for me, I remained the observer. I didn’t steal anything from anyone. Yet it didn’t bother me that Steve did. Right and wrong was losing all meaning when considering my existence in an accidental universe where survival of the fittest is the only reason things are the way they are and will be the way they are going to be. The reason I didn’t shoplift was because the risk-to-benefit ratio didn’t calculate out in favor of shoplifting.  

Then there was Don….

During my senior year I started to hang out with Don occasionally. Hanging out with Don wasn’t the same as when I hung out with Karl, Rob, Dan, Tom and Mike. Don and his friends smoked a lot of pot. I didn’t smoke pot but they didn’t seem to mind me hanging out with them while abstaining from lighting up. At the time I was trying to figure out how to distillate moonshine properly. I needed a large sugar source for my mash.

Don was a mastermind criminal and con artist. He was intelligent and coordinated. He was a pinball wizard and I’ve never seen anyone run a cash register like Dale. His fingers would fly over the keys. There was a Pamida Store in Thief River. These were the days before merchandise detectors and high security devices such as cameras posted over doors or in strategic positions to capture the would-be thief before he would exit the store.

Don would walk in, pick up a Stereo, TV or some other major electronic or appliance and walk out right past the checkout counters.

He told me, “If you look suspicious or try to hide something, you will get stopped. If you carry a large item out in the open, the checkers will just think that you owned it and had brought it in to have it looked at. Or they wouldn’t think anything other than he can’t be stealing it because he is just carrying it out in the open.”

Don wasn’t just a thief, he actually worked a lot. Wherever he worked, he would figure out how to smuggle out a key and make a copy, just in case he wanted to use it later. He had worked at a large supermarket in Thief River and had made a copy of the keys. He told me he would get me a huge amount of corn syrup if I went with him. Curious more than anything else, I followed Don and his girlfriend to the supermarket one night, a couple hours after closing.

Don opened the door with his key and turned on all of the lights.

He said, “If a cop drives by and sees someone moving around in the dark, they will stop to investigate. However, if they see someone moving around with the lights on they will assume the person is a manager or someone stocking the shelves.”

Obviously, Don and his girlfriend had done this before. On this particular night, he filled a shopping cart with items that he and his girl wanted, plus many gallons of corn syrup for me. I pushed his girlfriend around in the shopping cart. The benefit-to-risk ratio for this robbery should not have been in favor of doing it, but I was fascinated by the hutzpah of it.

Don eventually got caught with some of the merchandise that he had stolen from the Pamida Store. He didn’t get caught walking out with anything, he got caught because most of the kids at our high school were aware of what he was doing and someone reported him. Ultimately, the police got a search warrant and searched his house.

The previous stories about Don demonstrate his understanding of human nature. This next story shows how a natural con artist can instinctively see a potential con in any situation. Before band books and other coupon based fund raisers, the local radio station had a coupon book promotion. Don and I both got a three-week job delivering coupon books.

I was driving my parents’ car and was racing around the country, totally abusing the vehicle. On one occasion, I was going 90 miles an hour down a gravel road, when all of a sudden, I realized that the road was coming to a T. I hit the brakes as hard as I could, but as the vehicle hit the paved road, I cranked the wheel to avoid flying into the ditch. I went sketching across the road, completely sideways, but came to a stop just before the ditch, luckily without rolling. My parents’ car rocked back and forth a couple of times. I hit the gas and took off down the paved road. Did I say I was wild? I guess I was!

In Thief River, the radio station payed an independent company to run the promotion. The Coupon Book Company would hire phone operators to call people in the phone book and offer them the opportunities to buy a coupon book. I thought that the company was a fly-by-night and shady operation.

They came into town for three weeks then moved on to the next town. When the operators made the phone calls, the script they were given left you with the impression that they had won or were somehow selected for the privilege of getting one of these valuable coupon books.

One of the operators was Don‘s girlfriend. The coupon books sold for $20. The drivers that delivered the coupon books got paid $5 for the delivery. We could make an extra $5 by convincing the person to buy a second coupon book for $10. So, one book for $20 or two for $30. As a delivery person, we would make $5 for delivering one book, but we would make $10 if we sold them the second book.

By the second day Don and his girlfriend had the scam worked out. Don‘s girlfriend would not report some of her sales to the company, trying to find sales to people who lived in the area where Dale was delivering at the time. She would give those addresses to Don. In turn, Don would deliver the coupon book to the unreported address. Then he would record the sale as a second sale to an address where he had not been able to make a second sale. That way he was able to turn in $5 as a second sale but keep $15 for himself if he sold one book and $20 if he sold two books. If he sold two books he would have to record them as two second sales to other addresses to keep the book count accurate.

NEXT TIME – CHEATING CH 10

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