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The Diving Rig

It was a hot summer afternoon in the Boise Valley. The year was 1953 and my cousin Hoss and I were peddling home from the mighty metropolis of Caldwell. Even the breeze passing by us as we pedaled along, was hot and did little to cool us down. In those days most of the valley farms employed flood irrigation from a series of hundreds of mile of ditches and canals, making the humidity nearly unbearable.

We were on our way home from the Saturday matinee at the Fox theater, a weekly ritual for us. It was a great flick; John Wayne was a hardhat diver salvaging sunken treasure. Unfortunately John Wayne died when he got caught by a giant oyster or some other sea critter. That wouldn’t be a problem for us. There were no such critters in the Boise River or Lake Lowell. All the way home we dreamed aloud one to one another, sharing exciting prospects of what we’d do once we had our diving rig. We might even get rich plucking sunken boats, motors and fishing gear from the depths. The possibilities were endless. Heck, we could even help find drowned people.

Once back at the farm we got to work on our own diving rig. We rounded up one of grandpa’s garden hoses. That was the most important element. Then we went scrounging through the trash pile looking for something suitable as a helmet. Never found anything that would fit easily over Hoss’ head. Hoss would obviously be the test diver. It was important that I be simply an observer in case there were any problems. As head engineer it was best that I not get caught up in the trial phase. Well, no helmet, no diving rig. And then it came to me, we didn’t need a helmet. He could simply put the hose in his mouth to breath. One of those moment of inspiration that come to creators such as myself.

We headed for Milford Creek, hose in hand to prove out this new idea. Since it was so simple I did the first test dive myself. It went real well as long as I didn’t go over a foot deep. For some mysterious reason it became very hard to breath when I tried to go deeper. Hoss did another dive with the same results. We couldn’t figure out why it didn’t work. It was so simple. It worked in the movie. Ahhh, but wait, John Wayne had a guy up in the boat that was operating a hand pump. Maybe for some reason we need a pump. A tire pump would work just fine, so we quickly liberated grandpa’s and headed back to the canal, taking along his electrical tape as well to connect the two.

The outcome was more successful than we could ever have hoped for. Hoss took it all the way to the bottom, and breathed ok. We were on our way. What could possibly stop us now? We’d already tested it to five feet. We grabbed our bikes and were ready to head for the river, when I saw Grandpa’s big galvanized bucket hanging from the spigot. Eureka, there it was, the helmet. But how would we hook the air hose to the bucket.? We thought about putting a hole in it to run the hose through. It was a good idea, but we were quite sure that it wouldn’t be wise. Another flash of inspiration, We can just stick the hose deep in the bucket and tie it off to the bucket handle. “But how do I see out?“, Hoss asked. Another flash of brilliance. “Everything we’re looking for is on the bottom”, I said, “Just look down.” That boosted his spirits as he daydreamed of the booty we would soon have. It was as good as in our hands. As quickly as problems arose, they melted away when faced with the product of my highly scientific mind.

We set about attaching the hose with a short piece of baling twine, one of the handiest articles to be found in any barnyard. It’s applications were literally unlimited. Then Hoss said, “I think I need divers boots like John Wayne had. It’s really hard to stay down.” Well, we had no weighted boots, but we had lots of junk and baling twine. We set to work and soon had two lines, bracelets of bolts, nuts, washers and anything else we could find. These would be tied around his ankles. We then made a weight belt for his waist from a number of broken harrow teeth and a small anvil. Just to be on the safe side we also filled his pockets with uncle Vern’s large lead sinkers he used when sturgeon fishing. Now it was finally time to head for the river.

A mile or so down Lansing Lane was a rutted old farm road that led to a very wide spot in the river. Someone had built a small dock and a row boat was tied there. It formed a small cove that for some reason was pretty darn deep, probably about fifteen feet. We carried the hose, bucket, tire pump and baling twine to the end of the dock and assembled the device for sea trials. Expectations were high as we suited Hoss up for the first deep dive and then sat him on the edge of the dock with his feet hanging in the water. It wasn’t much to look at. But then again, the first airplane wasn’t a pretty sight either.

He sat there, in a moment of obvious anticipation, then pushed off sinking quietly out of sight. I immediately grabbed the tire pump and started pumping at a slow pace. A moment passed. For some reason there were no bubbles coming up so I doubled the pace. Still nothing. I started pumping wildly now. With each stroke I was hearing a loud hiss at my feet. The tape connecting the pump and the hose was inflated to the size of a baseball, spewing out all the air. About that time I see Hoss surface, at least the bucket broached the surface, along with his hands flailing, trying to swim and trying to get the bucket off his head. That would be no easy chore. It probably had ten feet of baling twine wrapped around his armpits and tied to the handle. We didn’t want it to float off. He disappeared again in seconds. But not to worry. In the movie the John Wayne had a safety line so he could be pulled up in an emergency. So did we. This was an emergency so I started trying to pull him up. Darn he was heavy. While I was struggling to lift him, he was scrambling to rid himself of all the weights, but, with little success. We made sure they were securely attached as well. He broke the surface again. This time bail of the bucket had managed to somehow slip under his chin holding his head back. He couldn’t lift his face out of the water with the bucket being full. Suddenly the safety line snapped and he was gone again. It seemed an eternity, longer I’m sure for Hoss. And then he popped up again, the bucket still fixed firmly under his chin. This time though he was closer to the dock and I was able to snag a piece of the twine and drag him over. He just hung there gasping for breath, and coughing up small spurts of water. I cut the bucket off his head and got him up on the dock where he lay, still wheezing, as I briefed him on the different aspects of the design failure. We needed to make a better connection between the hoses. And we needed to come up with a much better weight system, one that has quick release slip knots. My mind was a flurry of possible remedies as I outlined the various solutions. We might even put a window in the bucket. It would be a whole lot more fun if you could look around, not just down. He interrupted my critique, his voice rasping, “I ain’t gonna do that again. I thought I was going to drown”. ”Yeah, but you didn’t”, I reminded him. “Next time we’ll braid the safety line from the twine. No chance of that breaking”. “Shit I couldn‘t breathe. The water came up over my face, and I couldn’t get the stupid bucket off”.. He didn’t care about my analysis. He just lay there carrying on about not wanting to drown.

Well that put me on the spot. He was the only one of my cousins who I could rely on fully. He’d repeated numerous parachute jumps from the barn, He was even ready to try my next glider, after a fluke structural failure in one wing caused his first test flight to end badly. He never had any problem in trusting my judgment before. If he’d trust me enough to fetch a skunk we had cornered., why shouldn’t he trust me now? Did I mention that Hoss was mildly retarded. Well not really that mildly. He wasn’t too smart, but he was a great buddy. And a darn good test pilot.

I had it figured out. I was ready to go. All I needed was a new test pilot. Perhaps his brother Jimmy would take it on, though I wasn’t sure he trusted me much after we launched him out of that gigantic slingshot. No one would have believed he’d go that far. Missed the pile of hay completely.

No, I’d stick with Hoss. If he didn’t want to go ahead on it, then we’d just find some new adventure. And there were many. Everyday was an adventure to us.