Passing It On

We Almost Died That Night
By William Morton, Ed.D | Dec 11, 2013
William Morton, Ed.D

In the summer of 1942, my lifetime-best-friend, Arden, and I had four days off from our job at the theater in Salmon, Idaho, when we shared a near-death experience.

Borrowing our friend’s 1931 model A Ford coupe, we drove out of the Salmon River Valley south through the Arco desert (now Idaho National Laboratory) toward the Snake River. Arden’s aunt farmed near the Wyoming border.

What we were not prepared for was that our bald tires would have 10 flats during the trip. Tires back then had inner tubes that, when pierced with sharp objects, lost air pressure and went flat. The tire was taken off, the inner tube taken out, and the inner tube was patched with special glue and patches.

Afterwards, the inner tube went back into the tire, the tire was put back on the rim, and air was pumped into the tube with a hand pump. Each time took at least a half hour, and much sweat and swearing. Most of the secondary highways were graveled, allowing for hazardous potholes and loose gravel.

When it was my turn to drive, I tested the accelerator lever under the steering wheel. I hit loose gravel and began to skid from one side of the road to the other. We experienced long minutes of fear, and visions of rolling over before I was able to push the lever up to slow our progress, finally getting the car under control.

Fortunately, no one was coming from the opposite direction. When I stopped, we found gravel imbedded between the tire and the rim. It had to be dug out, but it was in too far and the tire had to be removed.  That’s when we discovered we had no tire iron (flat piece of steel). Providence showed us a little weathered farmhouse and barns less than a quarter of a mile away.

Hiking there, we were delighted to meet an old Japanese man who listened to our story and smiled. He went to his tool shed and found what could pass as a tire iron, and gave it to us. We were grateful to find anyone along this desert road, especially one who was so generous. He even invited us to have lunch with his family.

At the time I remember thinking they were happy to have some company. Arden and I had been well-trained by our mothers, and we responded by visiting and thanking them profusely. Later, we often wondered if they were allowed to remain on their little farm while so many other Japanese had been interned south in Minidoka, Idaho, following Dec. 7, 1941. We hoped not.

With our tire repaired and our bellies full, we drove south to our destinations. Fortunately, being just 16, both of us were resilient and could deal with almost any diversity. However, 10 flats on our own two bald tires was challenging. Thanks to our Japanese friend, we had the necessary tools, and an air pump, to patch the old tubes.

Before we launched on our travels, a challenge developed. My tongue broke out in tiny white blisters, making it difficult to eat solid foods. The local pharmacist looked at it and said, “Just rinse your mouth several times a day with hydrogen peroxide.”

It worked. Within a week my tongue was back to normal, and I was certainly happy to get back on solid foods. However, chicken and noodles had sustained me during most of the trip, being prescribed by “Auntie,” Arden’s aunt.

Our exploration along the Snake River advanced as far south and west to American Falls dam, and the towns of Pocatello, Blackfoot and Idaho Falls, before our time was up and we turned north to the “River of no Return,” as the Native Indians had named the Salmon River.

Arden was driving across the desert late at night with no town within 50 miles. I was sound asleep and suddenly was thrown back and forth in the small coupe (no seatbelts then). By the time I could open my eyes Arden had skidded to a stop along the side of the graveled road and confessed, “I just fell asleep.”

We spent the rest of the night sleeping sitting up. The morning sunshine revealed how we had skidded across the road to the shoulder before Arden regained control.

It was more than 50 years later when Arden revealed to me that a bus was coming straight at him, honking its horn and blinking its lights to warn him. He awoke just in time to avoid a horrible collision, gain control and slide safely to the side of the road.

His confession was “We almost died that night!” When he told me this, he was emaciated with cancer. He passed away a few days later, perhaps feeling better with his “confession.” I will always remember him as my best friend, a vibrant, compassionate and popular young man ready to always help others.

William (Bill) Morton, Ed.D had a 30-year diversified career as a teacher, speech therapist, audiologist and administrator of special education. During that time he did much academic writing. He is a published author who is currently writing memoirs of his life with his wife, JoAnn Stevens, and of their designing and implementing Rotary educational programs in various parts of the world.

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