We all have heroes, people to whom we look for exemplary qualities and behavior. As a boy growing up in North Lewisburg, I had my share of heroes. In the past, I have written here about many of them. Now, I am taking this opportunity to write about two others. In this blog, and in
others of a similar nature yet to come, I hope to be able to express my gratitude for those folks who have been inspirations to me.
Robert Eldon "Skipper" Lantz, was a tall guy - tall at least to my pre-teen eyes as we encountered each other on Sycamore Street, or at school. We lived just five houses apart as we were growing up 'back in the day.' I saw him quite often, especially after I was 8 years old. His mother, Mary Jane, became one of my Cub Scout leaders. Our den met in her house, and
she accompanied us on our various outings and activities around town.
Skip was generally close-at-hand.
He was about a year older than me, and taller in stature. He had a full head of wavy, blonde hair, and a perpetual smile on his face. There was a gleam in his eyes, which probably came from the thoughts which were circulating in his mind. He was a fun-loving guy, known for his humor and also for his practical jokes. As a boy, he was the natural leader of those of us who lived in the neighborhood. More than once we followed him on excursions through the woods and creek beds of town. He led us on many spontaneous assaults through the water and onto the sandbars which abounded in Spain Creek. We were victorious in each encounter.
Skipper and I developed a close kinship through our activities in Boy Scout Troop 87, let by Scoutmaster John J. Tomlin. One year, Skipper and I were "tapped out" as candidates for the prestigious Order of the Arrow organization. There was an elaborate ceremony, with Native American dances around a large bonfire on the old Shawnee grounds in Logan County. As part of the ritual, all of the boys who were "tapped out" were led away from the crowded campground and deeper into a clearing in the woods. We were all separated within the clearing, with about 20 yards or so of distance between us. We were given a set of oral instructions, which we were to follow for the balance of the night and the following morning as we sat in silence. One of the rules which were emphasized to us was that we were not to talk to each other until someone came to retrieve us in the morning.
So, we sat huddled in our individual areas, each alone in the darkness with our thoughts. Time passed so very slowly, it seemed. Then, I became aware of a low whistle off to my right. As I became more attentive, I realized that someone was whistling Morse code! I soon was able to
decipher the brief message. It was from Skipper! Like me, he was bored. He thought it would be a good idea for us to communicate in code. Soon we were carrying on a conversation in code, without talking to each other, and thus not violating the imposed rule. we whistled back and forth for hours, until daylight. Someone came by to retrieve us and took to the campsite, thus ending our long night vigil.
One other time, Skip and 1 had gone off to an away football game on the team's school bus. We arrived back home around midnight. Skip decided that we should drive to a nearby campsite where the scout troop was spending a weekend outing. so, we gathered up our camping gear, packed his car, and headed toward the bivouac. The site was in a heavily-
wooded area, owned by Milo Gilbert. The woods were on the south side of state route 245, just across the road from the Bob and Eleanor Corbett farm. Unfortunately, the woods were located across a large hayfield. Skipper wanted to be able to sneak up on the campsite - hard to do
getting out of his Pontiac Chieftain automobile. So, while we were still on the highway approaching the area, his plan was for me to turn on my flashlight and to shine the beam on the road's dividing line. As I did so, he turned off the car headlights. The big car lumbered back and forth across the line in the pitch-black night. He slowed down considerably (by all
accounts, Skip had a lead foot when it came to driving). With the flashlight's beam on the roadway, we almost missed the covered drainage culvert which was the entrance way to the hayfield. A loud chuckle escaped him as Skipper suddenly turned the steering wheel of the car, and maneuvered it across the culvert and into the field.
We then bucked and bounced our way across the field, the beam from the flashlight our only source of light in the darkness. Skipper continued to chuckle loudly as we zoomed toward our destination. His laughter stopped suddenly when we were both thrown against the dashboard. The front end of the Pontiac had gone into yet another drainage ditch, the back end of the car sticking momentarily up in the air! Time seemed to stand still as the back of the car came down to rest once again on the ground. It took several seconds for us to realize what had happened as the car stalled. Skip sized up the situation, restarted the car, and put the transmission into reverse. Nothing! The rear tires just dug deeper and deeper into the soft
earth. After a few minutes of this, Skipper decided that we should abandon the car, continue on foot toward the campground, and retrieve the car in the morning.
So, we grabbed our gear and went off across the field and into the woods. We trekked through the foliage with care and approached campsite. It was now very late, the untended campfire had burned down to embers, and absolutely no one was stirring. So much for our planned raid on the camp! Skipper and I separated, found places to spread our sleeping bags and gear, and were soon both fast asleep. I was awakened somewhat rudely a few hours later. Skipper was calling my name, and urging me to get up. He had something to show me. Now! Reluctantly, I got up, put on my boots and coat, and followed him down the trail. Several of the other scouts decided to tag along to see what was going on.
We left the woods, and crossed the hayfield. To my amazement, there stood the old Pontiac - no longer in the ditch. It was parked on solid ground. pulled it out?" I asked aloud. Skipper just shook his head without answering. Examining the scene, we found no note, no evidence of any kind to indicate who had pulled the car out of the ditch. And to the best of my knowledge, in all of the 50 years or so which have passed since that time, no one has ever come forward to clarify the mystery.
Later that same year, near Christmas, Skipper had the use of a new Ford automobile. His uncle either worked for or owned a car dealership I've long forgotten which was the case. Anyway, he had given Skipper the use of a new car for a period of time. Skip wanted to share the joy of the occasion, so he picked up Mike Chamberlain and me to go cruising around
town in the car. It was winter, and snow covered the ground. The streets and roadways were covered with icy patches - a perfect opportunity for Skip to show us his expertise in the art of making "donut" turns. We literally raced around town...remember that Skipper had a lead foot...and produced donuts on streets, at intersections, and in driveways. Skipper was
in the heights of glory as we drove out of town and down country roads to find new spots to perform the automobile maneuvers. Mike and I were not having as much fun as Skipper. All three of us were in the front seat, so Mike and I found ourselves holding on for dear life as the antics continued. We sailed past the Richardson' house, and on past Bucky Sheehe's place. We were "hell bent for leather" as we slipped and slid down the road. With each twist and tum we were treated to Skip's near-hysterical laughter. Then, at almost the exact same second, all three of us realized that this particular road would shortly become a At this current speed, and with the icy road, we would probably not be able to negotiate a turn. Suddenly, we crested a small hill, and there was the aforementioned "T" directly ahead of us. Time seemed to stand still for me as I looked ahead and saw a post and wire fence just beyond the I remember seeing a farmhouse - where Benny Louden and his wife lived - with a light on in the window facing us,
just as Skipper turned the car violently to the right. There was a very real danger that the car would plow sideways into the fence and then roll. The air was filled with that strange laughter. But just as quickly as it had begun, the car skidded to a stop. Snow, ice and gravel rattled back down to earth. I looked past Mike, who was seated in the middle, and saw Skipper - both
of his hands locked firmly around the steering wheel. It was deathly silent as I opened the door and tumbled out onto the roadway. Mike was right behind me. Without a word or a gesture to each other, we both knelt and kissed the ground. It was then that another of Skipper's laughs broke the silence.
We drove back into town more cautiously, more slowly, any donuts. Our fear had spiked and abated...we were now left with our quiet thoughts about what could have happened if Skipper had failed to make that turn.
We decided it was time to call it a night. As Skip drove the car on the narrow street which separated Gregory Street from East Street, he started to negotiate a small curve immediately in front of Robert Stokes' home. The car started to skid, and Skipper could not compensate. 'The car slid off the icy pavement and smashed into the trunk of a very large tree. There was considerable damage to the front bumper of the car, but the vehicle was still drive able. Mike and I both decided to take leave of our companion. I walked across the old school yard to my home on East Street. Mike turned and walked back past Loveland Lumber Yard. Skipper
nursed the battered Ford back to his home, to face his uncle.
From the book: Along Spain Creek (pp168-171)
By: Ralph Lowell Coleman, Jr.