Yancey and Earl Renovate the Pro Shop

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Tales From Dirt Mountain, Part 3.

Submitted: February 06, 2015

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Submitted: February 06, 2015

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Running a golf course is a massive venture.  Greens must be irrigated, fairways must be mowed.  Sand traps need refilling.  There’s the pro shop, the club house, employees, salaries, taxes, on and on.  It takes a lot of equipment to keep a golf course going.  Mowers, tractors, carts. Shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows.  One or more of those employees is always a mechanic.  Someone has to keep the blades sharp and the motors running.  At Dirt Mountain, that guy was Yancey Simmons.

I never knew Yancey’s last name until I saw his obituary in the Maynard County Clarion.  Earl and I called him Yank to his face.  What we called him behind his back is something, looking back, I’m obviously not proud of.  We called him the Retard. 

Yancey was in his fifties back then, when Big Earl and I were thoughtless teenagers.  While it was true that Yancey had serious disabilities, now I realize what we had in Yancey was a true idiot savant.  Yancey would never be able to read an owner’s manual or sign a check for the parts he needed, but he could fix anything.  Blown engine, flat tire, broken axle, no problem.  Washing machine, typewriter, bicycle, good as new. 

When a part couldn’t be repaired, George would drive Yancey over to Filer’s Salvage and Towing.  Yancey always found the right part, or, something close enough he could make work. That helped George hang on to his cash.  He never had enough of that.  Yancey was a perfect fit for Dirt Mountain.  Pin Oaks Country Club would never have a 5’ 2”, obese, front teeth missing idiot savant who wasn’t good at shaving in their mechanical shop.  At Dirt Mountain, he was the mechanical shop.

Yancey lived in the back room of the mechanical shed.  He ate meals with George, Earl and Earl’s mother, Dorothy.  Everything Yancey owned could be put into a suitcase and a few boxes.  Except for one thing.  A beautiful, like new, 1968 Ford Mustang.

You might wonder how someone of Yancey’s means could own a car like that.  Or why. He didn’t have a driver’s license, the car never left the golf course property.  The name on the title was George Saunders, Yancey’s boss and caretaker.  But there was no doubt the car belonged to Yancey.  Over the years I can’t count the number of times I saw him washing and waxing that car.  It was the cleanest Mustang ever.  Yancey was a pretty happy fellow anyway, but I guarantee there would never be anything but an ear to ear grin on his face when he had his hands on that car.

The original owner of the car was Judge Lester Phelps, who bought it for his son Burt after he led the Pritchard Academy Eagles to the state 2A football championship.  Burt ran the football with reckless abandon, there wasn’t a linebacker in the state he couldn’t outrun or run over.  He drove the Mustang the same way, to the dismay of his father.  After a couple of speeding tickets and a DUI, Lester told Burt he was grounded, if the car left the property even once in the next six months he was going to sell it.

Burt knew enough to never directly cross his father.  Lester Phelps had sent men to die in the electric chair.  Before that he had cut his teeth in bloody battles with the Germans in WWII.  But Burt, like many spoiled 17 year olds, thought a clever play on words would qualify as an exemption from the law.  Since Lester had told him “the car better not leave the property”, Burt reasoned that meant he could still drive it, on their property.  For someone who had been as successful as Lester Phelps, that meant a fully restored antebellum mansion, a guest house, a barn and several outbuildings, on a 40 acre farm.

But Burt wasn’t just going to drive the Mustang around the paths of the farm like he was driving the tractor.  A few months before, he had seen the replays of Evel Knievel trying to jump those cars at Ceasar’s Palace.  Burt had one more state football championship ring than Evel Knievel was ever going to have.  And the false confidence that comes with being born into money.  So he thought he was in for a good ole time, when he used the backhoe to build up a ramp to jump over with the Mustang.  Mustangs are horses after all, they are made for things like going fast and jumping.

The ramp was only three feet high, and Burt wasn’t going to jump over anything.  He just wanted to get airborne.  Burt was Bo Duke a decade before John Schneider got the role. He piled up the dirt, and used the front wheels of the Mustang to smooth the pile into a ramp.  When he was satisfied, he drove the Mustang back to the fence line, turned around, and took off toward the ramp.  No one is sure how fast he was going when he hit the ramp.  We are sure that he got airborne.  And we are sure of what happened next. 

The Mustang hit the ground with a thud and noises that cars aren’t supposed to make.  When it came to a stop a short distance from the ramp, there was smoke and steam coming from the hood, trim was hanging off, and one of the front tires was pointing in a different direction than the other.

It’s safe to say that was the last time Burt Phelps drove that car.  A few days later, Jonah Filer steered his wrecker up the winding road to Dirt Mountain.  When he drove back to the salvage yard, the Mustang had found a new home.  Lester sold that car for $10 and a Dorothy Saunders apple pie, to his pal George. 

Even though it was a mess, it didn’t take Yancey long to get the Mustang running.  The first night, Dorothy had to take a wrench out of Yancey’s hand and make him go to bed, otherwise he would have worked until dawn. 

Yancey didn’t just fix the car, and keep it clean, he began to improve it.

At first it was little things, like extra lights installed in clever places, or a horn that could make 5 different sounds. So even though Yancey didn’t have a driver’s license, he had a car he could drive around the Dirt Mountain parking lot, and up and down the service roads on the course. 

Unlike the previous owner, Yancey had meticulous driving habits.  Nothing bad was going to happen to that car when he was behind the wheel. 

If the weather was nice, and there was nothing that needed to be repaired or lubed, we would often see Yancey, proudly driving his Mustang around Dirkin Mountain Golf Course, lights flashing and musical tones playing.

Someone familiar with idiot savants with a mind for mechanics might have predicted what would happen next.  Yancey started automating the Mustang.  First it was a simple remote control mechanism that would lock and unlock the doors.  He progressed to devices that could start the car and push the accelerator pedal. 

I’ll never forget the look of pride on his face when he showed that to Earl and me.  He pushed a button on the remote and the car started.  Then he twisted a dial and the engine revved up.  Keep in mind, this is the mid 1970s.  I’d never even seen a TV with a remote control.  No one had a remote control 1968 Ford Mustang, except for Yancey.

From there, it took him about a year to develop mechanisms to control the steering, brakes, the clutch, and the gearshift knob. He could drive that car to the end of the parking lot and back, he could even park the Mustang in a spot between two other cars.  Yancey was a remote control pioneer.  Everything was modular, it only took some hand tools and about 20 minutes to convert the car between remote control mode and Yancey mode.  The remote control components stacked neatly in the passenger seat when Yancey was behind the wheel.

Yancey Simmons was very lucky to have been found by George and Dorothy Saunders.  I don’t know the story of how he ended up there, but it was the perfect place for him.  He had his own man cave, three hots a day, a job, and George and Dorothy to take care of him.  A perfect place indeed, except for one thing.  My pal Earl.  Not that Earl abused Yancey.  Earl treated Yancey like he was his little brother.  Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except we’re talking about Earl.

If we were to compare Earl and Yancey, Earl would be the clear winner in almost every way.  He could outtalk, outthink, and outrun Yancey.  Of course Yancey was the mechanical genius, no contest there.  But he was a one trick pony.  Earl had a full set of clubs and he was pretty good with all of them.

Until we get to the topic of efficiency.  The ratio between what you are capable of, and what you actually do.  In Yancey’s case, he probably ran near 100%.  He couldn’t do much, but he did everything he could, all the time, unless he was sleeping or eating.  Earl was another story.  His efficiency varied so much it defied numerical description.  A hormonal teenage boy who didn’t know when to stop talking.  Or when to start thinking. 

Which is a long winded way of saying that Earl was smart but he didn’t have nearly enough common sense.

Except for school, church and various short excursions, Earl had spent his entire life on Dirt Mountain.  When he was on the golf course, he was usually with me.  The rest of the time, the closest thing he had to a playmate, aside from the dogs and cats, was Yancey. 

To summarize, Earl spent his childhood getting into trouble, and half the time, he drug Yancey into it.

By the time Yancey and Earl got around to renovating the pro shop, I was 15.  Too young to be able to put two and two together.  No way I could have predicted the disaster to come.  But I think George dropped the ball.  Earl was his son, he should have known enough to make sure Yancey kept the keys to the Mustang hidden.

Maybe if Daddy hadn’t needed an extra pair of hands on a big plumbing job, it wouldn’t have happened.  If I was around, Earl and I would have been out on the course.  They say idle hands make the Devil’s work.  That day, a bored Earl Saunders walked into the mechanical shop.  When he walked out, one hand held a remote control, the other held the keys to a 1968 Mustang.

Yancey was out mowing the fairways.  He didn’t just fix the equipment, he also operated it.  George was in town, shopping for groceries and supplies for the course.  Dorothy was running the pro shop.  And I was handing Daddy tools while he stood on a ladder at the newest Winn Dixie supermarket in Maynard County.

In life, timing makes all the difference.  When Burt Phelps was running the football, he knew there was a perfect distance between him and the guy trying to tackle him.  Where he could juke to one side or another and elude the tackle.  Too soon, the defender has time to recover.  Too late, he’s already got his hands on you.

It can work against you as well.  Like the time Lucas Rollins got hit by lightning on the 13th green.  If he hadn’t left his wedge by the green and walked back to get it, he would have been 100 yards away when that bolt of lightning tore a hole into the ground and knocked him to his knees.

That day was a case of timing working against Earl.  And Yancey.  Earl was using the remote control to run the Mustang around a big loop in the parking lot.  Yancey was driving the tractor/mower off of the course, on to the parking lot at the other end from Earl. 

A 1968 Ford Mustang and a 1956 John Deere tractor are pointed at each other, in a neat line, between two rows of parked cars.  And they are moving towards each other.  One is driven by an idiot savant.  The other is driven by an idiot. 

Earl says he never saw Yancey or the tractor, he was too focused on driving the Mustang.  Dorothy was in the pro shop when she heard Yancey scream.  She had just enough time to look out the window.  Yancey had a look of terror on his face.  A moment before the car and the tractor attempted to occupy the same space, Yancey jerked the tractor to the right, smashing into the front door of the pro shop.

Dorothy Wilkins was a tomboy from day one.  There wasn’t much in the way of varsity sports for girls at Maynard County aside from volleyball and softball.  She was the star on both of those teams.  But that wasn’t enough for Dorothy.  She decided to go out for the boy’s track team, and posted the second best score in the high jump.  That would have qualified her, but the school board intervened and told her parents she couldn’t be on the team.

Most people would have given up at that point.  Not Dorothy.  She was hard headed and was born knowing the value of persistence.  She tried out for every boy’s sport at school, and kept being told no, until golf season rolled around. 

Maynard County is poor, and the few school age kids whose parents have money go to Pritchard Academy, a private school.  The golf team at Maynard County High School only had 8 players the previous year, that was the number of students who owned a set of clubs.  Pritchard Academy, and any other school where the parents had money, had 10 players on their golf teams.

So when Dorothy Wilkins posted the 4th best score in the golf team tryouts, the school board relented and let her play on the team.  To this day, Dorothy Wilkins is the only girl ever to play in the Georgia State High School Golf Championship, boys division.  George Saunders was also on the Maynard County golf team, he played in the number three slot.  Number three fell in love with number four, which led to marriage, Dirt Mountain, and Earl among other things.

But that day, when Dorothy looked out the pro shop window and saw a 1956 John Deere tractor, driven by a screaming idiot savant, headed straight for her, it wasn’t her golf skills she used next.  It was her high jumping skills.  She leaped over the pro shop counter and rolled to the other side of the trailer, out of the way of the approaching tractor. 

Mobile homes aren’t the most substantial of structures.  When the front end of a tractor hits one, it gives way pretty easy.  The first thing that got crunched were the wooden stairs.  Then the door pushed in, and a few feet of the floor and walls gave way before the tractor came to a rest.

The good news was that Dorothy was unhurt.  Yancey also but it took a while to get him to stop shrieking.  Earl managed to stop the Mustang without running in to anything. 

After George backed out the tractor and looked it over, the only damage he could find was a few scratches. 

The pro shop, on the other hand, was a mess.  No stairs, no door, large hole in the floor.  And no insurance.  Dirkin Mountain Golf Course was not a highly profitable venture and compromises had to be made. 

Fortunately for George, his luck that day would not be all bad.  A few minutes later, his pal Judge Phelps came driving up.  After inspecting the scene, and getting the story from George, he burst into laughter.  There’s a reason Earl nicknamed him Heavy Lester.  When he laughed his fat shook in waves.  That’s not even a good explanation, you just had to see it.

After he stopped laughing, Lester walked around to the back door of the pro shop, went in and made a phone call.  A few minutes later he came out and told George a Maynard County truck would be by in the morning to drop off some surplus building materials that had been taking up space in the county warehouse.  Then reminded George that the reason he was here was to put back some cold ones on the patio out back, it didn’t look like the tractor had damaged the refrigerator. 

It pays to have friends with connections.

As soon as the yellow Maynard County flatbed pulled out of the Dirt Mountain parking lot the next day, Yancey and Earl began renovating the pro shop.  And I helped as well.  George grounded Earl from playing golf until the repairs were done.  I had never played a single hole at Dirt Mountain without Earl, I wasn’t about to start now.  Golfers are notoriously superstitious.  Earl swore if he didn’t start each swing with two waggles and a head tilt, he would shank the ball.

For the next four days, we measured, sawed, nailed, screwed, and glued.  I learned how to snap a chalk line, how to make a jig to hold a circular saw straight on a long cut.  Yancey’s preferred media was metal, but apparently idiot savants with a mechanical bent are capable of extending their unusual brainpower to multiple types of materials.  I won’t say the pro shop was as good as new when we were done, but nothing about the pro shop was new.  The stairs were level, the floor didn’t creak, and the door closed tight.  That was good enough for George.

I’d like to say those four days changed our relationship with Yancey, but as soon as the renovation finished, Earl and I headed back out on the course.  Yancey went back to his job as chief mechanic.  Maybe on some made for TV special, the teenage boys become lifelong friends with the middle aged idiot savant.  That didn’t happen on Dirt Mountain.  Here was the best we could do.  Behind his back, we never referred to him as the Retard again.  And to his face, he was Yancey now, not the derogatory, shortened Yank.

Yancey quit improving the Mustang after that, but he ran the mechanical shop at Dirt Mountain until the day he died.  By then, Earl was running Dirt Mountain, and I was building my law practice.  When I sat there in the church, listening to the preacher talk about Yancey’s life, he made it sound like Earl and I were Yancey’s pals.  I still get a twinge of guilt every time I think about that.  After the burial, Earl said “Meet me back at the pro shop, we’ve got a job to do.”

I had no idea what Earl was up to, but I knew better than to not show up.  Expecting the worst when I got out of my car, Earl met me with a bucket, rags, and a can of Turtle Wax.  He said, “Serge, we got us a car to wash.”

And so a tradition was born on Dirt Mountain.  The first Friday of each month was Yancey Simmons day.  We’d drink a few beers, tell some lies about golf, then wash and wax a 1968 Ford Mustang.  And grin from ear to ear the whole time.

AUTHORS NOTE

A tidbit to separate fact from fiction.  There really was a Dirt Mountain.  It’s closed now.  But it wasn’t the course I played in high school.  That course was, and is today, spectacular.  I was very fortunate to be able to learn how to play golf on such a course.  As a poor college student, I was also fortunate that the real George allowed me and my buddies to play on his humble course for practically nothing.  It was a piece of crap, but we loved it.  To this day I am grateful that he and his brother dedicated their lives to that course, so people like me would have somewhere to play.


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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