Chain of Fools  
 

by Pete Kolozsy
 
My friend Johnny Koske is a veteran showman. He has the distinction of being the only operator to ever put up a set of Highstrikers in the Rose Garden of The White House. At the personal request of the President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
 
Johnny is semi-retired now. (He's mothballed his equipment in a semi-trailer.) He keeps bees. Oh, he will still occasionally go and play a spot....as long as it isn't too far from home.

I wonder sometimes if I may be responsible for that.
 
I guess it was probably about fifteen years ago that I was playing Columbus, GA with my Rope Ladder ( a truly mean-spirited hustle designed to leave the victim exhausted and bruised as well as fiscally damaged ) and Johnny was there with his Highstrikers. He had the best set of mechanical 'Strikers I've ever seen. They were over 30 feet tall. He kept the G loose. He threw stock like it was Xmas and he was Santa. 
 
People loved that joint!  Some big guy would make a show of hefting all the wooden mauls to determine which one suited him the best. He'd take several aborted practice swings like a batter warming up. He would step up to the massive hardwood Base and smack the rubber dock bumper on the end of that lever a mighty blow. When it rang everyone would be amazed that the Chaser didn't just rip the Bell right off the top of the Column ! You could hear it ring blocks away !
 
Then some skinny little fella would come up and sheepishly take the first maul that came to hand and halfheartedly whack the Bumper. Surprise and joy would light his face when the chaser struck the gong a resounding clang.
" It's not how hard you hit it that counts ! It's how you hit it ! " they would all say to each other, nodding their heads wisely.
 
That was the beauty of this joint. It made people feel good about themselves. Everybody got a prize.
 
Of course, this meant that he had to carry a lot of stock over the road. He had a thirty-five foot , domed-roof , three axle horse trailer packed to the gills with stock.  This stock was as varied as you would find at a larger type flea market: T-shirts - framed pictures - stuffed toys - knick-knacks - jewelry - hats - flags of all nations - etc. etc. etc.
 
The 'Strikers loaded on the outside of the trailer and Johnny pulled this impressively heavy load with a three-quarter
ton Ford pick-up. It reminded me of an alley cat trying to drag off a hippo.
 
The morning after teardown in Columbus I saw my friend was having some trouble getting his truck hitched-up to his trailer. I walked over to see if he needed a hand. He informed me that the reverse gear had gone out in his transmission and asked if I would push his truck under the kingpin with the front bumper of my truck. I got my truck and did just that. With only minor damages to both vehicles.
 
I watched him pull off the lot and wondered how the heck he managed to get that load down the road without a major catastrophe. Those thoughts, it turned out , were loaded with prophesy.
 
I had some breakfast and was maybe an hour behind him on the route to Pensacola FL , which was our next spot.

It wasn't very long before I ran into a jam. Traffic on my side of the highway was backed up clean out of sight and I could see heavy smoke in the distance. I got a feeling of dread. There was no doubt in my mind that it was him.
 
Since I wasn't pulling a trailer I saw no sense in waiting around a mile from the scene when maybe I could lend a hand, so I pulled my truck off the road and drove the shoulder all the way. Annoyed honking following me as I went.
  
There was Johnny's rig. Broke down and smoking but still in one piece, blocking traffic. I pulled up in front of it and
hooked a chain from the back of mine to the front of his and we managed to get it off the road onto the shoulder.
"My tranny burned up, I got to be in Pensacola tomorrow, what the hell am I gonna do?" Johnny mourned.

Now,  it was Sunday morning. I knew that the chances of getting his tranny rebuilt in time was nil. I couldn't hitch my truck to his trailer because he had a fifthweel hitch and I only had a Reese. It was a good 250 miles to Pensacola. There was only one solution.
 
" Johnny, get behind the wheel and I'll drag you to the truckstop."
He eyed the towchain dubiously. "Pete, are you sure that thing will hold?"
 
I reassured him with total confidence, "Johnny, if it busts you can buy me a new one."
He wasn't convinced, " How far is the truckstop? "
"  It's just down the road, Johnny."
 
So we pulled out onto the highway the same way we'd pulled off of it. Connected by a chain.

I would glance into the rearview mirror from time to time and see poor old Johnny gesticulating wildly to me what I took to mean that I should slow the hell down. I couldn't. Not if I wanted to make the next hill. This was a lot more weight than my old Dodge half ton was used to. I would guess that between the three vehicles my Chrysler 318 was hauling close to 40,000 lbs of fun down the road. Speed was my only ally.
 
So it went for about 60 miles. Then I saw the truckstop. I pulled in and parked under some shade trees.
" Pete, you crazy S.O.B.! You nearly got us both killed! "

Johnny was holding his hand to his heart, but I assumed this was only for effect.

"Johnny, we'll have to stay here until it gets dark. My truck is overheating and it'll burn up before we make it to Pensacola."

He seemed a little stunned at the very idea of going any further with this caper.

He motioned toward the garage behind the restaurant and said " I'm going to find a mechanic."
 
I told him to suit himself and hung my hammock from the hoodlatch of his truck to the back door of mine.
Right over the towchain.

I went to sleep.
 
I awoke to coldness. It was dark. I got up and surveyed the scene, sleepily.
Johnny was stretched out in the cab of his truck, asleep.

I walked around all three vehicles with a light and inspected the running gear and tires. All seemed satisfactory.

I went for coffee.
 
Johnny was still asleep when I got back.
I woke him up and gave him a cup of hot coffee.
We said nothing.
 
Finally I asked if he was ready. He asked me how far I thought it was. I told him 2 hundred.
"Keep it slow, Pete"

" I need speed to make the hills." I told him.
"Do your best, I burned up my brakes about 30 miles ago trying to stop you."

No wonder my engine got hot!
 
So we went. Back roads to avoid the cops. Average speed 60 MPH.
Things had been going fine for several hours when I came to the top of a hill and saw the sign " Narrow Bridge ".
Looking down the slope I could barely discern the bridge in the darkness.
I had no trouble, however,  making out the clearance lights of the big semi truck heading towards us an equal distance on the other side of the narrow bridge. We couldn't all be on that bridge at the same time, we wouldn't fit!
 
Johnny had no brakes. If I tried to stop he would smack into me and we'd wreck.
 We were going downhill, the semi was going uphill. That meant we had an advantage. Gravity.
I downshifted to third gear and floorboarded the accelerator pedal.
We took off like a rocket down that slope!
I was almost to the bridge when I shifted back to fourth gear and noted my speed was close to 90 MPH.
I kept the gas pedal down all the way across and it didn't look like we'd clear him but we did. Barely.
 
Just as we came off the other side of the bridge the big truck went by.
Horn blaring and driver shaking his fist out the window.
I paid no attention because immediately after that was when Johnny ran over the towchain with his front tire.
Man! It looked like the Fourth Of July complete with fireworks!
 
The chain snapped in two and Johnny's left front tire was riding it like a skateboard.
Sparks from the chain lit up the scene in my mirror.
Johnny did not look pleased. I could see his face.
I stayed a short distance in front of him as we coasted to an eventual stop on the shoulder of the road.
 
We both got out and looked the situation over.
"Well that about got us killed, Pete."
" It sure makes you appreciate this night air, don't it? Take a deep breath, Johnny. Ain't it great to be alive?"
And it truly was.
 
We spent about fifteen minutes looking for the half of the chain that came off my truck.
Johnny's half was still conveniently attached to his truck.
We bolted the two halves together to finish the jump.
We only had twenty miles left to go.
 
Johnny still tells the story to this day.
It is his favorite jackpot and he brings it up every time I see him.
He never did buy me a new towchain.
He probably thinks I'm better off without one.----
 


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