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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Outfoxed on the Flightline

Once upon a time, I was a young Airman, serving in the USAF. Amongst the duties of a high voltage electrician was the task of ensuring that all airfield lighting was in working order. To that end, I worked on One Three, our Airfield Lighting Truck.

One Three was just an old step van, much like a UPS truck. Ours was modded out with a workbench and tons of bins and cabinets filled with various cable splicing tool and lamps for every conceivable piece of runway, taxiway, obstruction, navaid, and marker lighting on a two-runway airfield. It was also a notorious piece of shit.

I recall one morning that Wes, our shop leader, went to press on the gas pedal and the line snapped. We drove One Three to motorpool in tag team, Wes steering and braking while I used a pair of vice grips to pull the accelerator line and simulate the gas pedal. We had a certain Wile E. Coyote ingenuity about us in the line shop, and Wes was too proud to let his baby get towed in.

Working with Wes could be a trip. He was backwoods country. He’d been known to serve groundhog at his dinner table and just tell his kids it was four legged chicken. Wes was a big damn Hoosier who looked like Hulk Hogan minus the steroids. Bald spot still present, though.

Also, Wes thought of himself as the Great White Hunter. He could skin a roadkill raccoon in less than 15 minutes for its pelt, and from what I heard around the shop, was a pretty good shot as well. There was no animal Wes didn’t consider himself the master of.

It bears mentioning that there was wildlife on the airfield. We had groundhogs that were abnormally large. Think Rodents of Unusual Size, here. There was also, down at the south end of Taxiway 7, a fox.

We’d seen the fox a few times, and we knew where its den was. And so it came to pass that on an absolutely frigid Midwest morning that Wes looked at me and said with determination “Today I get me a fox pelt. I want that tail for a hat.”

I stopped shivering for just long enough to look at him in disbelief, then huddled back into my coat. One Three’s heat left a lot to be desired.

Wes parked the van about 20 yards from the den, grabbed a manhole hook, and opened the door. “Listen to the radio, and let me know if we get any calls. This won’t take long.” He stepped off with confidence. 10 yards out, he dropped to his knees, then to his belly, low crawling through the snow like a marine on a beach.

It didn’t take Wes long to get into position. For my part, I propped my steel-toed boots up on the “doghouse” to let the heat soak into them, and watched out the windshield as Wes lay in the snow, manhole hook cocked and ready.

I’ll take great moments in cliché for $800 Alex.

The answer: Cancelling your number 1 show.

What is Outfoxing the Fox?

Correct, you have control of the board.

After only about 10 minutes, I watched as the fox stuck its head up out of its den…2 feet behind Wes’ boots. It paused, looking at him. It then climbed the rest of the way out of the hole, and sauntered away. I’m sure it was laughing, in its vulpine way. It may or may not have sung a Danny Kaye number, I was too busy chuckling.

I leaned over and tapped the horn. Wes’ head snapped up, a glare on his face that seemed to say “Whatthefuckdoyouthinkyou’redoingyougoddamnmoron!!!” I simply pointed behind me to the retreating form of the fox. Wes hung his head, in frustration or shame, and then walked back to One Three, defeated.

He opened the door, hung the manhole hook on its holder, and sat in the driver’s seat. The silence lingered between us, his hand hovering on the gear shift.

“Back door”, I said.

“Shut the fuck up”, he said. We both chuckled, and realized that some idioms come with truth attached. Wes never did get that fox tail, but as a shop we put a dent in the groundhog population. But that’s another story.


  1. Too funny! Thanks for sharing the laugh!

  2. Great story and despite the determination exhibited by Wes, I'm kind of glad the fox out-foxed him.

  3. @Jumble: no problemo, I love to share!

    @Empress: Me too, actually. The groundhogs I hated, the fox...was actually on our side of that great groundhog vs airfield electricians debate.


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