Friday afternoon in Valley Falls High School was a time of great anticipation. The weekend was almost there and plans had to be made.
The first thing to decide was where we were going to have the party. Since our town was on the edge of a state wildlife area, there were many options. During third hour study hall it was decided that we would have the party at an old rock quarry a few miles from town. It was near the river and out of the way so we wouldn’t be bothered by anyone.
The next part of the plan started to take shape when a couple friends and I volunteered to get the keg of beer. We had a friend who could get the keg directly from the beer truck. This meant that we spent the rest of the school day collecting money from other classmates until we had enough for the beer and crushed ice.
One of our classmates had a dad who owned a beer tap, so he was our go-to guy. By the end of the day we had the money and met up with our friend who would make the purchase from the beer truck.
I snuck one of our plastic trash barrels from the garage and threw it in the back of my car. We then drove to the grocery store and purchased 30 pounds of crushed ice. Next we met up with our friend and put the trash can in his pickup with the keg and then packed the ice on it.
One of our friends had also gone to the store and he had bought a large supply of plastic cups. We then gathered our motley crew together and headed out of town.
We picked up our friend with the beer tap. This device would be watched over like it was some sort of national defense secret because without it, the keg was not useable and if it were lost or broken, the owner would no doubt come looking for us.
We got to the rock quarry just as it was getting dark. We set up the keg in the trash can with ice on it and installed the tap. It had a hand pump on it to pressurize the keg, so somebody got the job of pumping up the keg. This didn’t take too long because it was still full of beer.
Several of us then went off in different directions in search of fire wood.
After about 20 minutes we each had made it back with various tree limbs, old boards and the odd tire, we’d found in the brush. Since this was an old rock quarry, there was no grass to catch fire. It was like a big gravel parking lot.
I had external speakers in my car and a power booster, so I was the designated music provider. We pulled the speakers out and set them on the roof of the car. With the power booster, it belted out music, which filled the quarry like a concert.
Since we were so close to Kansas City we would shift between rock music on KY-102 and various cassette tapes we had.
The party required 4 ingredients: girls, beer, music, and a fire.
We used gasoline to start the firewood. One of the guys happened to have a small gas can in the back of his truck so it was emptied on the pile of wood. It was WAAAAY more gasoline than was needed or safe. That didn’t matter to us because we were excited about starting the nights activities. One of the guys came up with a lighter which was used to ignite the gasoline in a giant….. WHOOOOSH. The rather large fireball was probably noted by people in nearby towns and satellite pictures.
It wasn’t too long before people began to drive up. There were cars and pickups parked all around the fire and along both sides of the road leading into the quarry. Many times there were 20-40 people at a time. Many would leave to go get food or alternate beverages, depending on their tastes. Of course as the evening wore on, people would leave with their girlfriend or a girl who was just friendly and find a secluded dark spot to go “parking”.
It was a great time since we were all young, dum, and bullet proof. Occasionally we would get reports on who was in town cruising Main. We were a pretty friendly group of people so I don’t remember too many times that there was any angry drama. It was a small town so everyone knew everyone else pretty well.
Occasionally a strange vehicle from another school or town might show up. If it was girls, then that was a bonus. If it was strange guys, then we’d have to find out if they were “cool” and good to party with.
The biggest chance for drama came from people who were going with a steady girlfriend or boyfriend. Inevitably, at some point during the night, one of them would say the wrong thing or try to make the other jealous by talking or hanging out with a different person. There’d be an argument and maybe some yelling that resulted in tears. If things really got bad, you might have a class ring or letter jacket thrown at the owner as a sign of anger and rejection.
The next step would be the guy getting into his car or truck and spinning around in circles and then screaming off down the road. Once in a while it was the girl who spun her car around in the gravel and blew off down the road in anger.
As the night wore on there would be all sorts of mini dramas played out. It was interesting to watch, unless you were the one involved.
Of course there was always that guy who had too many drinks who thought he could walk through the fire. It never worked, but was good for some laughs. I should know, because I had a green coat with several burn holes in it from being “that guy”.
As the night progressed, we would periodically send people out to find more wood for the bonfire. The fire was important because it was the center of the party. Everyone stood around it or close by. It seemed to draw people to it in the cool night air.
This particular party lasted throughout the night and around 2am we discovered that the fire was burning out and we were out of wood. This is when young, dum, and a little drunk really kicked in.
I got the birght idea of getting in my car and driving to the lake, about 4 miles away, to find more wood. I knew that there was always a lot of drift wood just sitting on the lake shore. So we put the speakers back in the car and my friend Mark got into the backseat. My other good friend, David, got into the front passenger seat. We were set to go for more wood and told the people at the fire to take care of the keg and we would return with firewood.
The funny part now is that we were in a 2 door Chevy Monza. This is not a very big car. It has a trunk…….a very small trunk. I’m not sure now how much wood we were ever going to get in that trunk.
Nevertheless, we sped down Ferguson Road toward the campground, Paradise Point, where we’d find the drift wood. It was after 2 am and I was pretty sure that Mark had either passed out or just fell asleep in the back seat. He sort of just slumped over and laid down.
I sped down Ferguson Road with the windows open and the Van Halen, AC/DC, and ZZTop blasting on the stereo. We got to the Paradise Point road and I slid the car in a wild right turn. Luckily for us, and the public, it was late enough that we didn’t see any other vehicles. It was pretty quiet and deserted.
Neither David or I had any clue as to which road to turn down and Mark was passed out in the back. I turned this way and that way. We’d end up in a dead end or a camping area, but no lake. I was just speeding around the park, skidding around corners, and generally lost.
Finally I got onto a paved road which seemed to head north in a straight shot. Since it was a straight road and going downhill, I sped up to where I was going close to 50 miles per hour.
The road continued downhill as the trees whizzed by us. Suddenly, I passed a yellow road sign. It was so quick I didn’t even see what it said. I sort of said in an offhand voice “Did you see what that sign said?” David shrugged and said “no”.
And then…………. from the guy I thought was passed out, came a voice from out of the back seat,………………”BOAT RAMP.”
Holy Crap!!!!!………NOOOOOOOOOOOOO……. I slammed on the breaks as hard as I could. I’m surprised I didn’t push that break pedal through the floor of the car……..The brakes locked and the car skidded for what seemed like an eternity!……….Come on car………STOOOOOPP!!……If I’d had time I would have opened the door and drug my foot like Fred Flintstone………. As with many situations of stress, time seemed to slow down. My eyes bugged out and I screamed like a little girl as the reality of where we were headed quickly sunk in…………………..We could hear the tires screach as they slid along the paved road. It was hard to tell the difference between the sound of the sliding tires and our screams of terror!……Finally, the car came to a stop in a cloud of tire smoke and dust…..
It was then that Mark sat up in the backseat. “Whoa, that was wild.”
David and I just sat there speechless…………….all we could see in our headlights was water…………………nothing but water!……
After a few minutes of making sure I hadn’t soiled myself, I pried each of my fingers from the steering wheel one at a time……I had gripped it so hard I’m surprised it didn’t have fingerprints on it.
I put the car in park and quietly got out of the car with David and, the now wide awake, Mark. It was eerily quiet with the water calm and glassy smooth. There was the strong smell of melted tire rubber. I looked down and the front tires were within inches of the water. We were so close that you couldn’t walk around the front of the car without stepping in lake water.
It had scared the (insert word) out of me!
We sort of stood there nervously thinking about how close we had come to becoming a submarine. After several minutes I began to feel the adrenaline begin to subside so I got back in the car and backed up.
I will never forget the voice out of the darkness……………..”Boat Ramp.”
God is good. He works through those around us when we don’t have the good sense to slow down and read the road signs of life.