As soon as we could sit up and ride in the jeep, Dad and Mom would pack us into the jeep and take us hunting. This lasted for years.

My brother, Bill, and I would get into the back seat of the jeep along with a tin insulated water cooler packed with water and ice and Mom would have a tin ice-chest loaded with her wonderful dinner-roll sandwiches of either ham salad, or egg salad and a jar of dill pickles and if we they were going to be out all day, which is what they did on Saturdays, then she would have hamburgers patties and hotdogs and occasionally those wonderful marshmallows for toasting.

Mom would have spent Friday morning loading shotgun shells for Dad. Dad had taught her to use a manual Lee shotgun shell loader and I used to sit at the kitchen table with her as she manually replaced the spent primers and then measured the powder and poured it into each shell, then topping that with powder and wad and pressed the wad into the shell with the hand loader, then she would measure the bird-shot and pour that into each shell and finally she would use a wad-cutter and hammer to cut the small card that covered the shot and then the final step of placing that into a manual crimper which would roll the crimp into the shell. Sometimes she dipped the tip of the shells in melted wax before she started loading them so that the friction from the crimping process would melt and seal the shell as the final step. Mom would gather up the finished shells and pack the shot shell boxes and set them on the sideboard for Dad. I loved to watch her.

We would be awoken early Saturday morning, pull on our shorts and tennis shoes. Eat a fast breakfast and pile into the jeep. We never knew where we were going but over the years we knew every back road behind each of the oil camps on the lake.

Sometimes we were joined by other families and I recall the Pospisals as one. Robert Pospisal was a childhood friend of mine and his parents’ very good friends of mine. When my aunt (Mom’s sister who had been living with us in La Salina) married her boyfriend and lived in Las Cupolas, we would take more than one jeep and sometimes pull a pop-up trailer and head out. We would select a campsite and take the jeeps from there on hunting trips. Mostly we hunted for pigeon, whitetail dove and quail. They were in great abundance and we would come home with the jeep loaded with game. Mom cleaned the birds that Dad shot and into the freezer they went to become a wonderful stew at a later date. I used to help Mom clean the game as Bill and Dad had very weak stomachs.

Dad was a fantastic shot, and would be driving the jeep with the windshield strapped down on the hood and the shotgun propped up between he and Mom and a white-tail dove would fly across the road and he would let go of the steering wheel, disengage the clutch and brake the jeep to a stop and grab the shotgun and aim and fire hitting the bird before it flew into the brush on the opposite side of the road. Truly an amazing feat!!

Mom served as the “pointer” as Dad drove and she would spot and point out the quail and Dad would shoot from the jeep. Bill and I served as birddogs and we would jump out after he was through shooting and fetch the birds. We learned to wring the necks of the wounded birds at very early ages. We loved to pick up and smell the smoking empty shotgun shells that Dad tossed on the floor of the jeep immediately after they were fired as the odor was very pleasing.

It was not unusual for Dad to make roads with the jeep. He would put it into 4-wheel-drive and we would push our way through the underbrush – usually following a cow path. He had an old compass that he had taken from a German Schooner that had been confiscated when the war broke and that he had then mounted in the jeep which was all that he needed to find his way back to a familiar road. We would come upon a nice picnic site and stop to eat, building a nice fire to roast hotdogs and toast marshmallows. You had to keep everything covered as the bees and insects of all kinds would descend upon us.

Other times we would come upon other families that were out hunting in the monte – so we clearly weren’t alone in our endeavors.

Dad had a winch mounted onto the front bumper and then later a cargo container was welded to the back of the jeep. Many a time we found ourselves in predicaments where we had to winch ourselves through some swampy area or across a stream. The water would be so deep that he removed the fan-belt so as not to drown the engine as the jeep crossed.

We saw game of all kinds, orchids of every variety and drove through every kind of terrain from the savannahs to the rain-forests. What an education!!

Dad taught Bill and I to shoot and introduced us to guns at a very early age and that carried over into our teens and eventually as adults. I stopped hunting when I married Pat.

In Tia Juana when we were in our late teens, we had a good friend, José Romero, (José’s father shot the largest Tigre on record at that time) who would bring his father’s 12 gauge shotgun along on the rides. José did not have facilities to load shells and Bill and I would use Dad’s old Lee Loader equipment to load them. We did not have all the components at that time so we used to guess the amount of powder and shot and fabricated powder wads from toilet paper that we pounded into the shells with a hammer. We used to hunt at night using a spot light and, when we fired the shotgun at anything that moved, it would be a big blast with the shot trailed by burning toilet paper. The shotgun shells paper tubes would separate from the brass base from overcharging the shells. Try it some time – it is a spectacular experience. When we were through doing that, José’s shotgun had several obvious bulges in the barrels.

Dad taught my mother, Bill and I to drive with our jeep. I forged a Georgia driver’s license when I was thirteen and used it to get a Cedula which enabled me to drive in Venezuela. I taught my sister, Cris, to drive when she was 11 years old which was about the time she could reach the pedals and she could take the jeep through just about any situation.

I used to load the jeep with my friends at night and we would ride out behind Tia Juana and spend hours riding around and discussing just about anything that came to mind. As a teenager in Lagunillas during Christmas break, I and my American and Venezuelan buddies would buy a bottle of Tres Añejo at the Club, a bucket of ice and limes from the neighbor’s trees and we would ride around until the wee hours of the night drinking Cuba Libres and singing songs accompanied by the guitar and quatro that los muchachos brought with them. I pulled out the throttle (cruise control for you youngsters) and we drove late into the night. During the summer and Christmas breaks in Lagunillas and Tia Juana, I used to gather the Norsworthy girls, Randy and Mike Lanciault, Franca Vettor and others into the jeep and we would spend hours riding around the camp. We had a wonderful time riding about in good or bad weather. The jeep was a way to get away from the parents and the deadly routine of the then small camps.

One night Bill and I were out driving along the dike behind the Tia Juana office when I spotted a “Piro-Piro” that had come up out of the adjacent swamp and was beginning to cross the dike road. I stomped on the accelerator and struck the creature with the front bumper and we just about went over the side of the dike from the impact but I recovered stopped and then backed over its head to apply the coup-de-gras. We threw it into the cargo container and took it home. The next morning, the yardmen came under the house to see it and we asked them if they would like it – yes, they said it was good eating.

Another afternoon, two days before returning to the States for the school season I was driving alone behind the main offices again when I came upon a huge black anaconda which was crossing the road below the dike. Now I was about two sheets to the wind from downing half a dozen Cuba Libres and I decided I was going to kill the constrictor as I wanted to get its skin and I sped up the jeep and bounced over the snake – stopped – looked over my shoulder to see that the darn thing was not fazed and in fact had reversed direction and was heading into the low brush adjacent to the dike. I threw the jeep into 4-wheel drive and went into the brush after it. I proceeded to bounce over the snake at least a dozen times and in the process and also mowed down at least an acre of brush. I never got the snake and perhaps that was a good thing for me as had I attempted to pick it up I may have ended up in it.

Our jeeps brought our family together, provided access to parts of the country we otherwise would not have seen, was a source of fun and adventure for our friends at an early age, and was the reliable family transportation for most of the years we lived in Venezuela following the war.

 

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