Chris Gonnerman

Jul 032017

I don’t recall exactly when they moved in, but for about a decade (give or take) Nick and Carol and their boys lived just up the road from us, at the junction of J and Z just inside the city limits of Hurdland. Mom reminded me that it was in 1983 that they moved away, leaving me with two things to remember them by: my first car, which I had bought from them in ’82 (or maybe late ’81, I’m not sure, probably need to ask Mom about that one too) and a yellow tomcat.  He arrived from their house half-grown and unnamed, and so for reasons that are probably evident (and indicate a distinct lack of imagination) we called him Nick.

Nick was a pretty sweet guy, for a farm cat.  He loved attention, and would follow me out when I went to water the hogs.  He’d sit on top of one or another fencepost, and after I had the water running I’d pet him and talk to him.  When the job was done I’d turn off the water and he’d follow me back to the house. He got pretty big, and was a good-looking cat with an intelligent face.

The car was a 1969 Ford XL.  I tell people that and they look at me funny… XL what?  I only just learned the answer recently (via Wikipedia, of course): for the 1969 model year, Ford dropped the Galaxie name from that product line. The 1968 model was the Ford Galaxie XL. Makes more sense, doesn’t it?

The car had been used as a college vehicle.  I don’t remember how many miles it had, but it was a lot.  It had quite a bit of underbody rust; before I could get it inspected, I had to get the exhaust system replaced.  I had Glen, a local mechanic with a shop conveniently located on the nearest edge of town, put all new pipes on it, with a glasspack replacing the stock muffler. You’d think that would have made the 390 cubic inch engine really loud, but actually it wasn’t bad at all.

Not long after that I discovered a gas tank leak; I patched it repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, using a fuel tank patching compound that was kind of like JB Weld.  Finally I had to have Glen replace the tank with one from the junkyard.

Then there was the issue of the rear bumper.  It sagged on the left (driver’s) side.  When I crawled under to fix the tank the first time I discovered the frame had rusted clear through a few inches forward from where it attached to the bumper.  After some consideration, I went out to the machine shed, found some number 9 wire and a metal bar of some sort cast off from some piece of farm equipment, and fixed the problem by running the wire under the stub of the frame still attached to the bumper and through a rust hole in the trunk, then wrapped it around the metal bar and twisted it tight.  From time to time after that I’d discover that the bumper was sagging, probably because the wire had stretched, and I’d twist it tighter until everything was okay again.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  Bah.  I loved that car.  It went like its butt was on fire.  It was an automatic with 15″ rims, and I could spin the tires; in fact, sometimes it was hard to get the car rolling without squealing a little.  Given that the statute of limitations has surely run out, I will tell you that I often drove the car quite a bit above the speed limit, and yet somehow, despite driving the XL for almost three years, I never got a ticket in that car.

I’m pretty sure it was in the summer of ’83, the summer after I graduated high school, when this next bit happened.  Remember that due to the particular placement of my birthday, I was still 17 when I graduated… I wouldn’t turn 18 until September 1983.  I had intended 1982 to be my last year in 4-H, but as fate would have it, at the fair that year I won the calf.  The rule was, if you won the calf, you had to show it at the next fair; so I stayed in 4-H for one more year to do just that.

But I had never showed a cow before; I had only shown pigs in the past.  My friend Kevin, though, was quite experienced at showing cattle, and he promised to help me.

So again, it was the summer of ’83, and I was going to show my cow, who had arrived with the name Cloverine Cherry Blossom (thanks to my brother Adam for remembering this bit).  To get her ready for the show, Cloverine needed a bath and a trim.  I went out to Kevin’s house, where he was going to show me about trimming a cow’s hair, but his trimmers were dull.  He sent them off to be sharpened, but they didn’t come back improved enough to do the job.

The fair was getting pretty close, and we needed shears.  Kevin called on the vet used by both our fathers, and arranged to borrow a set from him; I just needed to drive us down to La Plata, Missouri to pick them up, which I did.  We got home, got our cattle all trimmed up neatly, and the next day took them back.

On the return trip up highway 63, my car just died.

I rolled off the side of the road, planting both feet firmly on the manual brake (as I always did to get that car stopped).  I had no idea what to do.  Remember, this was before cell phones, folks, and we were some distance from any visible houses.  I figured we’d have to flag someone down, but Kevin said no, he knew what the problem was.

I have no idea how he knew what he was doing, except to say that the truck he had been driving made my XL look like a brand new car, and he kept that heap running by sheer force of will as far as I could see.  But he pulled the vice grips out of my glovebox, opened the hood and took a look, muttering as he did.  “It’s the fuel filter,” he said, and without hesitation he removed the offending part.  Then he stuck the end in his mouth and blew, like he was trying to blow up a balloon… his face turned red and his eyes bugged out.  “It’ll get us home now,” he said, as he reinstalled it.  “Just need to get a new one in there.”

The car started, and got us home just fine.

I think I mentioned before about my summer sleeping habits.  As in, ten AM was “early” for me.  So by the time I got up the next morning, Dad was already up and out, of course.  I stumbled out of my room and glanced out the back window, and saw that my car was gone.

So I asked Mom where it was, and she said Dad had borrowed it to go to town to get parts for some piece of equipment.  I think I may have mumbled a four-letter word… I had not had a chance to tell Dad about the fuel filter.

Yes, it did, in fact, strand him on the road halfway between Hurdland and Edina, and he was not terribly happy when he got home.  But he couldn’t chew me out, however badly he might have wanted to, as it was not my fault he didn’t know about the car’s problem when he borrowed it, and we both knew that.

I think he actually paid for the repair.

Funny thing is, that’s not the only time Dad borrowed one of my vehicles and was stranded by a fueling issue.  He borrowed my Honda XL125 motorcycle just to run up to Hurdland and back, and I had done as the manual indicated by turning off the fuel petcock when I parked it.  The fuel in the carb got him the short hop into town, but he ended up pushing the bike home.  I think I did get chewed out for that one.  I probably deserved it.

Jun 292017

Originally posted on Facebook on June 28, 2017

Interesting experience today. I won’t give too much detail, because I don’t want people tracking this guy’s posting and shaming him, but today I went to see a motorcycle the guy had for sale. In his online posting, he described it as having been disabled in a way that I knew I could fix, and he was offering it for a pretty reasonable price. The photographs looked pretty good, so I was hopeful.

It wasn’t as pretty in person as it was in the pictures. This didn’t really surprise me, as it had quite a few miles on it, but I was surprised just exactly how rough it was. Those miles had obviously been hard ones. The shifter was badly bent and rebent back into a sort of a semblance of the shape it had been in originally. The bike had obviously been dropped on both sides, with skid marks and a dent in the tank to show for it. The headlight had been replaced at some time in the distant past with an aftermarket unit that was too big for the headlight mount on the bike so that whoever installed it had bent the ears out; this meant that the turn signals were bent backwards at an odd angle. Not even the same angle. And the bike had been dropped after this headlight was installed, so that it had been broken and then fixed with a piece of metal strap riveted to it. The actual problem was caused by a repair done by the owner and a relative where they had lost one of the parts while doing the repair, and then cobbled up a rough replacement which had not survived actual use.

Despite all that, I would have bought it, or at least made an offer except for one thing: he had not disclosed in his posting that the bike leaked oil , nor that it leaked oil because he had over torqued the oil plug when changing the oil. As he stood next to me and told me that he had fixed that problem so that it didn’t leak very much, I watched oil drip on the floor of his garage from the bike.

That poor bike. It had had a very rough life life, with a lot of cobbled up repairs and not a lot of love given to it. I really just wanted to take it home and give it that love, but there is no bargain good enough to convince me to take on a bike with all those other problems plus an oil leak. It’s really too bad.

Some might say I should call this guy out by name, and warn potential buyers about the problems with this motorcycle. But if you buy a motorcycle from someone online without carefully inspecting it, you are a fool and you will be separated from your money by someone. And for someone, that motorcycle might be a bargain. The engine looked pretty good, so someone with more experience working on motorcycle engines than I might not have been daunted by the issues. Posting a warning about one guy’s listing hardly would solve the larger problem.

Jun 162017

Father’s Day is just two days away, and I suppose that has me thinking about my Dad.  He passed away back in 2005… hard to believe it’s been that long.  But as I say, I’ve been thinking about him, and I remembered a few incidents that still bring a smile to my face, and I’m pretty sure two of them happened in the same summer back in 1982.

One morning early (must have been ten AM, knowing my summer sleeping habits back in my High School days), Dad stuck his head into my room and told me he had just one job for me.  He had baled hay in the south pasture (the one between the house and Hurdland, for those of you who know the area) and he wanted me to move the bales up near the barn.  He was going to be somewhere else, I don’t remember where, but I do remember that he said all I had to do was that one job and I was done for the day.  Sounded good to me.

By the time I was dressed, he was already gone.  I walked out the back door and immediately noted he had left me just the Allis-Chalmer One Seventy tractor (that’s how it read on the side of the cowl, One Seventy, not the number 170 but the words, and in italic no less).  At that time he had two tractors, the Allis and a larger John Deere.  Well, I didn’t really care; in fact, the Allis was just a bit easier to drive, so I was fine with it.

The bales, though… they were wet, and thus pretty heavy.  Dad had just switched from small bales, the kind you pick up with a hay hook and your own muscles, to large bales, the ones you used a fork or spike on the back of a tractor to move.  Dad had taught me that, when moving heavy bales, you lift them only just off of the ground; that way, if the bale is too heavy and lifts the front of the tractor, the bale slips off and the tractor doesn’t flip over.

Flipping a tractor over onto yourself is not a good idea.  Just in case that’s not obvious.

So I spent the remaining bit of the morning and half the afternoon (give or take) driving repetitively back and forth from the barn to the pasture.  Most of the bales weren’t too hard to move, but a few lay down in the draw where they had soaked up more moisture.  One was really heavy… I dropped it off the back several times, and was getting pretty frustrated. I couldn’t just run up the hill, I had to drive around it kind of slowly, or the front would come up and the bale would fall off.  But I got it done.

When I was finished, I put the tractor away and went back to goofing off.  When Dad came home, the look on his face made me wonder if I had done something wrong.  “Did you move all those bales with the Allis?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “it’s all you left me.”

For a moment he stood there, and then he just shook his head.  “I thought I left you the John Deere,” he said.  “I can’t believe you moved them all with that little tractor.”  Then he just turned around and walked off.

I’ll always remember that look of incredulity, though.  That I had gone ahead and moved the bales with the “wrong” tractor, and that I had succeeded, had somehow impressed Dad, but I’m not sure if he was more impressed with my skills or with my insanity.

It runs in the family, though.

Later that same summer, Dad told me we were going to the south farm (down near Locust Hill, for those of you keeping score) where he had baled a bunch of straw.  Our mission was to move the straw from the field on the bottom (in the extreme southwestern corner of the farm) to the machine shed (in the extreme northeastern corner of the farm).  In between were a couple of hills, one of them pretty tall, and good old Muddy Fork, the creek that cuts the south farm in half.

In case you don’t know, straw is lighter than hay, but it was a little wet still, so Dad told me he would be taking the Allis and I would be running the John Deere.  With two tractors, we got the work done in half the time, which was good because there were a lot of bales.

At one point, I was coming down the hill from the machine shed, and I saw Dad on the Allis with a bale on the back rounding the hill on the other side of Muddy Fork, and he was obviously in road gear… the One Seventy was flying, at least for a tractor.

Then I realized… he was rounding that corner fast enough with a heavy bale on the spike that he had the inside rear wheel of the tractor off the ground.

It was my turn to wear the incredulous look.  I mean, damn.

He let off the hand clutch and hit the brakes just before he got to the creek crossing, swung the sharp corner neatly and crossed over without incident.  I think he even waved as he went up the hill past me… at least, that’s how I remember it.

Dad and I worked together a lot after I was in High School.  For some reason, neither I nor my brothers was expected to help much when we were younger… I really don’t know why.  But when I was old enough and tall enough to work a tractor, Dad put me to work with him.  We fixed a lot of fence, hammering steeples into hedge posts that didn’t want to hold them; later I helped him build new fences on the home place, fences made of steel posts instead of hedge, to which you attach the wire with more wire instead of steeples or nails.  Dad hated white oak posts… they look nice, but they rot out too fast.  Hedge is hard to work with and looks like crap, but it lasts almost as long as steel.

Dad always complained that fences I lined up curved just a little bit, but he kept taking me out to line them up.  I suspect he might not have actually been better at that than me, or why else would he keep having me do it?

But we worked well together.  Dad didn’t really understand my interests, but when we had a project going, I was the only one who understood what he was doing.  I was the one who understood his hand signs; when we were running the elevator, or the feed grinder, or whatever, I knew what all his strange signals meant.  I’m not sure anyone else did, at least not reliably.

I miss that now.  What I’d give to spend a miserably hot afternoon building a fence with my Dad right now…

Jan 252017

I was on Missouri Highway 15 northbound on my way to work at the courthouse in Memphis, Missouri.  As I approached the stop sign at the Highway 136 junction, I looked to my right and saw an approaching pickup truck.  I don’t know the make and model for sure, but it was a large one, the same size as our Ford F150.  I was, of course, driving my Pontiac Vibe.

As I say, I was approaching the intersection and slowing down to stop.  I saw the truck, saw that it was going to turn south, but was unconcerned.  I looked to my left to see if there was any oncoming traffic, then looked to the right again…

Right into the grille of the black pickup.

The image is frozen in my mind.  It was so sudden that I couldn’t even tell if it was moving or not.  I was nearly stopped, not more than 5 MPH (probably less, I was really almost stopped) but the truck was, in fact, moving.

It hit me head on.

The next thing I remember is perhaps a second later.  I don’t remember the moment of impact, but I’ve been in one or another kind of accident before and I never do remember that moment.  But now the air was full of the smell of the explosive that deploys the airbags, and all of them were (except the passenger airbag, which the manual says does not deploy if there is no passenger in the seat).  The truck was visible, sort of, through my shattered windshield, and my car was rolling slowly backward.

I stopped the car, then took a quick inventory of myself.  My left hand had blood on it, apparently from hitting the windshield; my right hand seemed okay, though later I would discover I had banged up my ring and pinky fingers.  My left collarbone hurt, as did the right side of my chest and the left side of my upper abdomen; two bruises and a strained muscle, respectively.  And the wind had been knocked out of me.

As soon as my breathing was more or less okay, I called 911, and evidently explained the situation well enough; the nice lady on the phone contacted the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office, and then told me they were on the way.  About the time she hung up, a man and woman got out of the truck.

The man, by the way, was the driver.  They both approached my car, though they seemed not to want to get too close… like it was going to explode or something.  I rolled down the window and said, loud and plain, “What were you doing in my lane?”

He replied something to the effect of, “I don’t know how I didn’t see your car.”

I asked again, “What were you doing in my lane?” and he answered almost exactly the same thing.  So I said, “No, you were in my lane.  What were you doing?”

Then the woman spoke up, speaking to him, something to the effect of, “I saw the car, and I screamed for you to stop.”

A MODOT truck rolled up, and a woman got out and directed traffic until the ambulance, the Sheriff, and a city police officer arrived.  Somewhere along there I got out of my car, forcing the door open (as the quarter panel was shoved back into it) and looked at the carnage.

The other guy’s truck showed significant damage in the middle of his big chrome bumper.  My car?  The engine compartment was compacted about halfway, and every fluid in the engine was leaking on the pavement.  There was no fuel leak, though, which was naturally a good thing.

A Scotland County ambulance arrived, as I said, and while I declined to be transported they did check me out and cleaned up the cuts on my left hand.  There was a little glass in the cuts, which came out easily.

I had called Tracy while I was looking over the car, and she took off immediately to come and get me.  It’s about an hour’s drive from Highland High School where she works to where I was, so I told her I would meet her at the courthouse (where I was scheduled to be anyway, if you’ll recall).

While the EMT was checking me out, a state trooper arrived, and when they were done with me and I had signed off that I did not want them to take me to the hospital, he talked to me about the incident.  Mostly I just sat in his nice warm car while he wrote out the report, but when it was done and he had read it to me and I had approved the account of the accident, I moved on to the Sheriff’s truck for a little bit; for some reason I didn’t bother to ask about, rather than taking me to the courthouse, he contacted the city policeman (whose name I never got) to return and take me there.

I had just enough time to get to the Recorder’s office and to tell my story (more or less as above) when Tracy arrived.  I contacted my other customer in town and told them I would not be coming, as I was really beginning to hurt.  Tracy called the VA in Kirksville (my usual health care provider) and was instructed to take me to the ER at Memphis.

So that’s where I spent the remainder of my afternoon and part of the evening.  The doctor and all the nurses and technicians I saw were very nice, and seemed to really know their business, but such a trip to the hospital is still a long old slog.  Eventually, after a CAT scan and some X-Rays (and a nice dose of painkiller) I was told that I was okay and could go home.

At this point, I’d like to thank everyone who helped me out today, the MODOT worker (or workers, I really don’t know how many were there) who directed traffic, the EMTs who took the first look at the damage to my body, the police officer and state trooper (neither of whom I can name at this point), the Scotland County Sheriff Wayne Winn, and the staff of the Scotland County Hospital Emergency Room.  Everyone was very professional, and very good to me.

Now for the cleanup.  Sometime tomorrow we’ll have to go back up there and get all the inventory and other junk I keep in my car.  Then I’ll have to deal with the insurance, and sometime soon I’ll have to go car shopping… gah.

I liked my Vibe.  But as much as I liked driving it, I like even more the safety features that made what could have been a fatal accident into a merely painful one.

And of course, to whoever was looking out for me today from the gloomy overcast above: Thank You!


Dec 242011

I’ve previously posted the following on my model rocketry site,, but I’ve decided to go ahead and repost it here.

Well, here they are… the pictures that, had I any sense, I’d never allow to be seen. The pictures that graced the pages of my last 4-H Model Rocketry project book.

Here’s where it all started… with my first rocket, a Centuri Screaming Eagle, part of the “Eagle Power Outfit” from the 1976 Centuri catalog (#763). I was probably 10 when this picture was taken.

\nI have this picture marked as 1978; I think that’s right, anyway. I’m holding my Vector V, and beside my is my friend Kevin holding his Satellite 62SL, which I think was his first rocket. He only did the 4-H Model Rocketry project for a single year.

\nI have this picture, and the next one, tagged as being from 1979. Again, I’m pretty sure that is right. Pictured in front of me are my Javelin (I think), Sky Devil, and Nomad. Of the three, only the Sky Devil still exists.

Another picture of my new rockets from 1979.

One of two pictures of my fleet as it was in 1979. Most of those birds are, sadly, long gone; I particularly miss the Space: 1999 model, not that I liked it, but I could have sold it on eBay.

The second fleet picture. Here you can see my Nova, one model I miss. I am planning to build an upscale to 18mm, but it’s not very high up on my build queue right now.

1979, again. I was asked if I would put my rockets on display in the window of the local library in Edina, Missouri, and I did so. I took a few pictures, but these are the best two (yes, the others were worse). The Sky Cycle is another I’d like to have now just so I could sell it on eBay. I also miss the X-24 Bug and the Bandito (my second rocket, bought in 1976 as a discount bonus rocket when I ordered the Eagle Power Outfit).

The second library window picture. I still use that Power Tower, but with a different controller, as the original controller is in bad shape.

Dec 212011

We all have stories.  I’ve thought for a long time that I’d like to write mine down.  Oh, sure, everyone who knows me, knows at least some of my stories, and some are probably sick of hearing them.  But there will be a time when I’m not around to tell my stories, and quite possibly someone might wish to know them.  After all, even the most mundane details of our grandparent’s lives can be interesting, and if you go back a generation or two they just get more so.  But those folks aren’t around anymore to tell their stories.  So it will be with us.

I asked my Mom about a picture I have of her father, my grandfather, at work, and the things she told me about him were things I’d never heard before.  And I thought, I don’t just need to capture my stories.  I need to capture hers as well.  In fact, I’ve decided to open this up to any of my family members who want to post here.

I’m going to limit membership on this blog site to just those I’ve personally added.  If you are a member of my family, even a few steps away, email me directly at and I’ll create an account for you.  All I ask is that you just tell your stories here.  As much as possible, I’d like to avoid discussions of anything other than the stories… this isn’t a pulpit to preach from, or a forum for arguing.

If you are reading this, please understand, these are stories.  They aren’t necessarily accurate… our memories aren’t perfect.  We’re going to try not to slander anyone; where a story might be hurtful or embarrassing to someone, we might change some names, or just avoid naming that person altogether.

We hope you find our stories interesting.