The Village Pump

by SteveHulse on May 10, 2019 · 3 comments

If only it could talk…

I saw some pictures of the new gas station in Virginia City, MT the other
day. It is beautifully done and historically mostly accurate… a great job,
all in all, very well done.

How could this news possibly matter to anyone outside of a resident of V.C.
who is low on gas? Well, it happens to matter to me, who was a resident of
V.C. for a long time… and was usually low on gas during my teenage years
there. But that’s not the reason it matters to me. No, it matters because the
pics of the new Village Pump let loose a series of memories that shot my
brain into that rare place where you’re about to either laugh or cry, and have no idea which it will be. Almost laugh? I took a full keg of beer from my parents’ bar and thought they wouldn’t notice. Almost cry? I fell in love that summer. Twice.

You see, the Village Pump was a central player in one of the most magical
summers I had as a young man. I graduated in ’62, and worked for the
Forest Service that summer. Next summer I worked in an open pit mine
outside Sheridan with my dad and Lloyd Brook. Then came the summer of
’64, I believe. (It was a long time ago, you know? Things can get a touch
foggy after that length of time…) The Village Pump needed someone to run
it and manage it that summer, and, having found mining to be body-building but mind-numbing, I got the job.

I was 21, getting ready to go back east to music school, and the gas station
job was perfect for me. The hours were 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the job
description was to man the pumps, which back then included a window
wash, check the oil, radiator water, and the tire pressure. Regular was 38
cents a gallon, Ethyl (premium to you young ‘runs) was $.41. Imagine that!
When there were no customers at the pumps, I was charged with polishing
the brass on all the old cars that sat quietly in the adjoining Carriage House.
There were about 12 old cars in there… everything from a 1908 Buick to a
1912 Cadillac to a to an old Ford Towncar to a ’31 Bugatti, which I absolutely
loved! Most of the brass was on the headlights and radiators, easy to clean
and maintain… the perfect job for that particular time in my life.

On slow days Jody Williams, who lived across the street from the Village
Pump, would walk over and play cards with me for nickels. I had a
small radio that picked up a Butte am station, and an electric coffee pot…
I was set! Joe Glosson would walk up from the playhouse where he worked
that summer, and we would listen to Barbra Streisand sing “People”
and talk about how we were going to change the world. Oh, and who were
the hot-looking waitri (our plural for waitresses) down at The Farg – the
Wells Fargo Coffee House. If Joe Glosson reads this by chance, I dare him
not to smile when he reads “waitri at the Farg! Ah, that’s another long story.

Many crazy and wonderful things happened in Virginia City that summer,
not the least of which it snowed 6 inches August 17th. This pic was
of two Fords, the old and the new, and me, the station manager. The Mustang was brand new, belonged to my Uncle Stan, who was visiting us from Shelton, Washington and let me have it for the day. That Model T ran pretty well, and when I wasn’t busy I’d try to con the young women in town into a ride in it. I can hear it now… “I just had a ride in that Model T with Steve Hulse!”
“Really! How was it?”
“Well, Steve was kind of strange, but the old car was really fun!”

As I mentioned, there were many “happenings” in V.C. that summer, too
many to mention here, but we have to at least tip our hat to a few of them…
Ford Bovey pulling some bed springs chained to his Jeep, up the main street
in the morning with 3 or 4 girls riding on the springs, sparks flying. Then there was Art York, the bartender at the Bale that summer, who rolled his brand new pickup on the curve in front of the Opera House, having just picked it up in Butte and gotten sloshed at Chick’s on the way home. I think it was July 10th. Highway Patrol pulls up with Art’s new truck upside down and steaming.
“What happened here, Art?”
Art paused. Finally, “Black ice.”
The officer had to smile. “Jesus, Art, it’s the middle of July!”

The Village Pump was there the summer afternoon I was about 12, and got
into a fight with some tourist kid who called my bike “stupid-looking.” It was a good fight, his parents finally pulled him off me and Ricky and I rode our “stupid-looking” bikes up to the bathrooms behind the Village Pump to get my nose to stop bleeding and get me cleaned up a bit.

The Village Pump was there when I broke my promise to not sell any of the old Model T parts that were in the garage there. One afternoon I broke down and sold a model T starter to a tourist who begged and begged me, and I finally sold one to him for $75. My conscience ( a slippery, devious and small brain particle back then) told me it was okay, that there were still six or seven more upstairs in a box. No one ever found out. Until now.

There was also the big Elk Fry that summer, when Dave poached an Elk
and we had a kegger and a huge Elk fry up at the Easton Mine one night
after the play let out. Many interesting things developed that evening. And
of course there was the night when Dennis Olsen stumbled out of my folks’
bar and fell down on the sidewalk… totally out of it. when we discovered him out there later, he was sleeping blissfully, his glasses on the sidewalk beside his head, broken, and a big stream of pee wending its way down the sidewalk from his pants. Poor Olsen. Later that summer The Frogman threw Olsen through the Coffee House window, but he survived that, too.

But I guess my favorite memory of that summer has to be of the morning
I was almost late for work. I had spent the night down in the trailer court
with Judy, and had slept in. Seeing the clock next to her bed read 5:55 and
thinking, naively, that R.J., my “boss” might be checking on me, I threw on
my work clothes, grabbed my boots and socks and ran out of Judy’s
trailer and right up Main Street at six in the morning. I was a touch late, but
no one knew, and of course it couldn’t have mattered less. But being
something of a dumb shit back then, I didn’t know. Anyway, the next evening after work I was down at the Farg, checking out the waitri, when Gene Hanni, a local, sat down beside me at the counter. “So, young Hulse,” he began, a slightly evil smile beginning to form on his lips, “I saw the damndest thing out on the street yesterday morning, something I still can’t quite believe I actually might have seen.”
“Really, Gene,” i replied, sipping my hot tea, knowing exactly where this
was headed.
“Yessir. I’m not sure I saw it, but I’m pretty sure. It was really something…”
“Well, what was it?”
“You’re not going to believe it when I tell you! I thought I saw you running
right up the middle of the street yesterday morning, bare feet, shirt hanging
out… that couldn’t have been you, could it??” The smile was bigger now.
I sipped my tea. He was having way too much fun. “I think I was home
that morning, Gene.”
“Heh heh. You were running up the middle of the street like a scared-ass
rabbit, Stevie! Are you telling me that wasn’t you? And does Mama Hulse
know about this?”
I finally smiled back at him. “No, Gene. No and no, in that order.”

These two pics are 53 years apart. Time has taken its toll on both the old
Village Pump and me. But we’re both still here, heads high. I do think,
however, that I’ll try to find the contractor who re-did our dear old Village
Pump and ask him if he can do the same for me! I would love to run up
Main Street bare foot, to my job at the Village Pump, one more time!

Steve Hulse


Listening To Ourselves

by SteveHulse on April 12, 2019 · 1 comment

Ok, so I admit it. In the past, I’ve made fun of Jerry Vale. “Who the hell is
Jerry Vale?” you might ask. He was a pop vocalist, Wikipedia says.
Jerry Vale was an American singer and actor. During the 1950s and 1960s,
he reached the top of the pop charts with his interpretations of romantic ballads, including a cover of the Eddy Arnold hit “You Don’t Know Me” and “Have You Looked into Your Heart”. He had a successful career, and I read somewhere that Frank Sinatra loved Jerry, thought he had one of the best voices anywhere.

Well, maybe he did, but I’m old enough to have heard Jerry many times,
and to my ear, he was totally one dimensional… always medium to full
voice. Yes, his vocal texture was unique and one could recognize it a
mile away. But did it move me? No. Not even a little bit. I never heard a
hint of emotion in his singing. He moved enough people, though, that he lived well, had an apartment in NewYork, a home in Palm Desert, and owned a minor league baseball team in Florida for a time.

Now that you know the object of my somewhat mis-placed mirth, I’ll
explain it to you. Years ago I read an interview with Jerry’s wife. They
were in New York at the time, and some magazine was asking her
about her, and Jerry’s, life, now that he was retired. And that right there,
my friends, is the reason for my Jerry Vale rant. The interviewer asked his
wife what Jerry did these days. She replied, “He sits in his music room
and listens to all his records all day.”

For some reason, that cracked me up! What a self-indulgent dufus… sitting
there listening to yourself! I shared what I thought was my humorous
Jerry Vale story with several friends, who smiled. Little did I know that
they knew me, and knew that before long, I’d be doing the exact same thing! And they were right.

I have since looked more closely at Jerry Vale’s life, and am embarrassed that I ever poked fun at him. For in comparison, which is fair to do here, he was an international singing star, and I was a jingle writer in Atlanta. Jerry sang on some of the music in the films of Martin Scorsese. ’Nuff said.

This is being written right after I’ve spent two hours listening to my own
recorded music on headphones, with a fat glass of wine, late in the evening.
What a self-indulgent dufus! I’m now Jerry Vale, and I’m doing the same
damn thing I thought was so funny several years ago! Actually, I’m not
even Jerry Vale… Frank Sinatra never even knew who I was. I never
touched the heights Jerry reached, never traveled the world and performed
in front of the crowds he drew… what the hell was I thinking, to poke fun
at a man who reached the hearts of millions??

So yes, I’m embarrassed, and somewhat ashamed. But I also understand
now. When we get old, there’s a natural tendency to take a look back at
what we did with our lives, what we accomplished… what tiny difference
we might have made in this swirl of life insanity. Were we any good?
Did we do anything that might still stand out as quality, worthwhile? Is
there anything out there right now that we can still lay claim to, still be
proud of?

These questions become important when one is over seventy. I wonder
almost every day if I could have done more if I’d tried a little harder…
then I remember how hard I went, how late I worked, how driven I was.
I was a small town boy, and the big city inspired me to almost kill myself
trying to prove myself. If I have nothing else, I have the knowledge that
I gave it my all, was the best that I could be, and left some quality music
out there on the table. None of my musical contributions were earth-
shattering, nor necessarily memorable, but they were “what was needed”
at the time. That has to count for something. It doesn’t take much, after
all, to justify our existence here. If even one or two people that are still
alive can say to us, “Yes, I remember that recording session. That was a
good piece you wrote, and you wrote it under a hard deadline… sure,
I remember that!”

And right there, that means the world to me now. Sure, I know I busted
my butt back then to do well, but it’s so strange… just one person
acknowledging it makes a world of difference! Somehow, it completes me.
And so, Jerry, I tip my hat to you. You were one hell of a singer, you
touched the hearts of millions. You rose from humble beginnings and
made it all the way. And I laughed at you, because I was jealous of what
you accomplished in your life. I didn’t understand that when we’re done
with our careers, there’s not much left to do except look back on it at
some point, examine it and try to see if we made any difference…
any difference at all.

Steve Hulse

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by SteveHulse February 4, 2019

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B and I are in Montana this week, moving my lifelong possessions from my cabin in Virginia City to Whidbey Island, Washington. I contracted Ray Taylor to build this cabin for me back in 1979. He did a fantastic job on it and it was my home base, and my heart, for 38 years. Much […]

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Big Memories Of Small Times

by SteveHulse July 8, 2018

Being back in Montana for the 4th of July week has brought back some delicious memories of my childhood here. I’m sure you all have these, and I hope mine can stir a few of yours. It’s the 2nd of July, 2018, and we just got to my cabin this afternoon. Betty Ann unpacked us […]

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An Empty Bucket

by SteveHulse June 28, 2018

We’ve all got a bucket list, right? Maybe not written down, maybe not in order of importance… but if someone asked you, at a cocktail party, what’s on your bucket list, you’d quickly be able to think of a few things. Don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t have a bucket list, […]

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