The Great Ice Capades of 1971
*From Dinner with WT by Rick Baber, TigerEye Publications, 2010
It’s hard to remember whose idea it was. Or
even the exact date that it happened. All I know for sure is that it was the
very cold winter of the first year I was in high school.
Jr. High had been pretty much a breeze. To
be honest, I never had much of a problem with my grades, so I didn’t see the
point of wasting valuable teenage time doing foolish things like studying. This
was a time for having fun. The only thing was, in our small town
of about 7000, there wasn’t much fun to be had if we didn’t make it ourselves.
That usually consisted of something that could get us in trouble. So those of
us with extra time on our hands would create new and innovative ways of getting
into trouble. It didn’t matter, much, if it was not
exactly legal. All that mattered was that it was fun – and that nobody had done
it before. Sure, we were thugs – but we were creative thugs.
The plots in Jr. High had been limited to
Jr. High minds: Stealing and dumping into the river every fire extinguisher in
the school district; Putting Fred in a 55 gallon barrel and rolling him down
the hall – mowing the principal over as he inadvertently walked out his
door; Releasing the hand brakes on the school busses so they would roll
backwards into the bayou behind the bus parking lot; Running our motorcycles gang’s
flag up the flagpole, padlocking it on, and then setting the tall grass around
the pole on fire when the principal climbed up there to cut the lock. Mischief.
But nothing that was ever intended to hurt anybody.
With 1970 came high school. We weren’t
prepared to change our lifestyles just because we had to change schools. If
anything, we should be more cunning than ever now. We had the wisdom of three
years of experience at our disposal. And now we could drive.
Man, the (open) halls of the High School
were cold. Upperclassmen walked up and down them, carrying books and looking as
if they had some sort of educational agenda in mind. It was frightening. What
were they doing to these people up here on this hill? How
could they have forgotten that spirit of hell raising so deeply instilled in
all of us? Some things would have to change up here if we were going to be able
to tolerate it. It was obvious though, that it was going to take some time.
This was the age of causes. What we needed was a cause.
As autumn gave way to winter the expression
on nearly every student’s face changed from “I’m an adult now, and I’m here to
get a quality education” to “Man! It’s cold outside. I wish it would snow so we
could get a day off from this rat hole and sleep in where it’s warm.”
Complacency had given way to discontent. The basic elements leading to an
insurrection were there, but the spark was missing.
Then it snowed. Every kid in the school was
glued to the 10 o’clock TV news that night, with a transistor radio stuck up to
one ear anticipating the inevitable announcement that all Batesville schools
would be closed the following day. The announcement did not come. It was
business as usual – which was unusual in itself because, in past years, it would
only take a light dusting of snow to get us out of school. This was nearly a
blizzard by Arkansas standards. There must’ve been one or two inches of the
stuff on the ground. There are places in the world that are equipped to deal
with the hazard of the frozen white on streets and highways, but Arkansas
isn’t, and never has been, one of those places. Counties and cities have better
things to do with their money than to blow it on snow plows that would only be
used once every blue moon. So, when it snowed even a little bit our Pavlovian
conditioning had us blowing off the homework and staying up for the midnight
movie on TV. It didn’t’ work this time. We were … well … unhappy.
An informal student inquisition commenced
immediately. Who was the Bozo in charge, and what would it take for him to
declare a snow day? Just getting out of school wasn’t all that important now.
Tradition was at stake. Our cause was born.
After a few days of tedious investigation,
it was determined how the process of declaring a “snow day” worked. School
Superintendent Coats had recently purchased a four-wheel drive vehicle. On any
morning that there was a question as to whether the condition of the roads was
so hazardous as to create a dangerous situation for the busses, he would get up
very early and drive the county roads, as well as the hill to the high school.
His reasoning was simple: if he could make it, the busses could make it. If the
busses could make it, school was on. Therefore: if he could make it, we had to
get out of bed.
This was war. In 1970 very few high school
students had four wheel drives. We had ’67 Mustangs, and Camaros, and VW bugs.
What made that madman think our lives were any less important than those kids on
the busses? At least that was the propaganda we used to rally people around our
Sometime in the next few weeks, a plan was
conceived amid the smell of French fries and pizza burgers with mustard, slaw,
and hot sauce, in the dining room of Tommy’s Kingburger. Some of the greatest radical
minds in town, left over from the 60’s, decided that what we had to do was make
sure that nobody could make it up that hill. Not even Coats. It would require a
great deal of effort. Much more than that used to get out of bed in the morning
and drive to school. It would involve enormous risk and the requisitioning of
some very expensive mechanical equipment – namely, some of our parents’
vehicles – at a particular time of the evening when we were supposed to be in
bed seeing visions of sugarplums. But it would be worth it. It would be fun. It
With 1971, winter came on strong, and there
wasn’t another snow cloud in sight. It was just very, very cold. The daytime
temperature hadn’t climbed above twenty degrees in over a week. What we had to
do was ice the road over. And we had to do it so well that nothing
could get up the hill to the high school. There was only one road, excluding
the rocky trail up the back way we called the “baja”. Nobody would expect us to
bring our cars up that way. The busses sure couldn’t get up there. The
original plan was to release the fireplugs on top of the hill so the water
would run down and freeze on the road. There were minor obstacles that
presented themselves in association with this scheme – specifically, how to
distribute the water over the road in such a manner as to cover it totally and
completely. The guy we put in charge of stealing a fire
hose failed miserably. If we had just opened the hydrants, the water would
simply freeze up there as it came out and we’d have an ice sculpture as a
memorial to our failure instead of our long-anticipated triumph over nazi
authority. No, it had to be done better than that. We’d have to do it manually.
And we’d have to do it soon. Nobody knew how long this cold snap was going to
Row Lake was more like a big pond. It sat
on the edge of the cemetery property down where the road forked to go up to the
school. The water there was relatively warm and had frozen only in a thin layer
around the banks. From this junction there was little traffic up toward the
school – as it was the only thing up there – on
any weeknight. We would have to use the lake as our water supply, and transport
it about a half-mile up to the hill in barrels by way of pickup trucks. Timing
was of the essence. There had been a history of school vandalisms in our town
(no, it wasn’t us) so the police had begun to make
regular nightly tours around to all the schools. The trucks would have to fill
up quickly at the lake because there was occasional traffic down there. While
the trucks were away from the lake, distributing their loads, there would have to be a
guard hidden behind one of the tombstones down by the intersection with a
walkie-talkie. Another guard up on the hill to warn the rest of us if anybody was coming. With four pickups,
each carrying four 55 gallon barrels, we figured the whole mission could be
accomplished in an hour. This allowed for each truck to make two trips.
That was a total of 1760 gallons
of water, which should freeze quickly, creating a sufficient slick.
There was a bus out that night. It seems
like it was the basketball team, but my memory fails me on that. This was
instrumental in our plan. The bus was due back in around midnight. We would
have the road impassable by the time it returned. The bus driver would, in
turn, report the road condition to someone of authority within the school
system, who would report it to
Superintendent Coats – who would have no choice but to call school off the
We did have friends and relatives on that
bus, and we didn’t want anybody to get hurt. Two guys were commissioned to
paint a large sign to place just up the road from the intersection, which was
to read “BUS BEWARE. SLICK ROADS!”
There were maybe 15 people directly
involved in this conspiracy. All of us had taken an oath of secrecy. Not in the
literal sense. It was simply understood that if word got out and our plan was
foiled that the bigmouth would be exposed and relieved of some part of his anatomy
that he had not demonstrated the right to
own. Of course, we had to tell our girlfriends so they wouldn’t think we were
out running around on them all night. That was OK for me, but for some of the
guys I think it might have been a mistake.
As always, we were at Tommy’s on that
fateful night. Around nine o’clock, when everybody usually left on weeknights,
we hung around. Already the plan was beginning to unravel. Nobody had seen the
sign guys. Only two of the four trucks we were supposed to use showed up.
I think the same excuse applied
to both of the no-shows: “My dad wouldn’t let me use it.” But our school motto
was “A Pioneer Never Quits” and by-God we weren’t about to now. About 12 of us
piled into the two pickups and embarked upon our expedition to the lake.
Others, not so bold as to
brave the 12-degree weather,
followed in cars. Probably a total of 20 guys by now. So there was a minor
security leak. These things happen. But these guys were all cool. Nothing to
I’ve always been told that water froze at
32 degrees. The water we hand dipped from Row Lake that night could not have
been over five. Short bucket brigades were formed between the trucks and the
water. We’d dip in wastepaper baskets and then hand the full
one to the next guy to pass up to the barrel man while accepting an empty one
coming the other way. It was the epitome of teamwork, dedication, and sacrifice
for the cause that, if it had only been used for good instead of mischief, was
the kind of thing that produced greatness.
Four of the eight barrels that were
supposed to have been on the two missing trucks were split between these two.
We had to work faster than we had originally planned. In doing so, nearly every
one of the guys on the ground got spilled upon. When the water splashed on our
green army jackets it would freeze instantly. The working conditions were
lacking, at best. But we were sure our plan would succeed.
We worked our way up the hill, meticulously
spilling the water from the barrels as the drivers slowly took the trucks
upwards – carefully avoiding the narrow grass shoulders on each side of the
road, as we were saving these for our escape routes. It was amazing. The water
froze the instant it hit the street. From out of nowhere, guys appeared on foot
with sleds. They would actually follow the trucks on them.
This was working better than we could have
imagined, despite the fact that our walkie-talkie man had forgotten to bring
After the first load was applied, one of the
drivers made the announcement that he had to get his dad’s pickup home.
Everybody was cold and tired and wet. Most of us thought the job was done well
enough to accomplish our goal, and agreed that we should call it a night. It
was about 10 o’clock. Big D and Larry Jack did not agree. They felt that we
should apply some more water to the road and then come down to finish off the
job by slicking the shoulders as well. They convinced one of the other guys
that his dad would be sound asleep, and that we could
“borrow” his truck without even having to disturb him. Big D and Larry Jack
weren’t the kind of guys with whom any of us risked confrontation, so we,
basically, stole the guy’s dad’s truck. In about 30 minutes we were back at the lake,
shivering, loading up the pickups just one more time.
By the time we loaded the last barrels most
everybody (the sledders and spectators) had gone home. I got to ride back up
the hill inside Big D’s truck. Little me in the middle with D driving and Larry
on the other side. As we rounded the first curve through the woods
approaching the hill we could see the headlights of a car spinning around in
the low place just before you start up the big curve. John and Fred (brothers),
Jim, and Frankie were just behind us in the other vehicle. As we approached the
car on the ice, about two hundred yards away, its headlights went out. We
laughed. Obviously somebody down there having fun who thought we were the cops.
The car had slid a little off the road into the woods just at the foot of the
icy hill. D steered over into the grass and we began our ascent. About 50 yards
beyond that a blue light appeared in Big D’s rear view mirror – behind the
“Shit!” I heard Danny say it, and I got
this terrible feeling that something had gone horribly wrong.
The car we had laughed about, spinning
around on the ice, was a cop car. When I turned around to look there were two
of them behind the second truck. D goosed ours in an attempt to speed up the
hill on the shoulder, then escape down the baja. The shoulder was rough and
water was splashing from the barrels in the back. I looked ahead and saw the flashing of two more sets
of blue lights coming over the hill above us. The truck started spinning out.
We were caught in our own trap!
In a moment two of the police cars slid
sideways in front, and behind each pickup. The doors flew open and cops
appeared with pistols extended over the hoods of the cars. I think one guy had
a shotgun. What did they think we were going to do? Freeze them to
death? We weren’t going anywhere. The pickups were stuck. The cops had chains
on their tires. They were prepared.
“Come out of the vehicles with your hands
up!” commanded a voice over one of those bullhorns.
Larry looked at me calmly, and quietly
spoke in his slow southern drawl. “Do ya reckon we oughta run?”
I knew I was going to be in jail in a few
minutes – if these guys didn’t just start shooting and kill us – but something
about the way he said that just struck me as incredibly funny. I was laughing
uncontrollably when one of the cops jerked Danny’s door open and started
dragging us out of the truck. He was the one who had been driving the car that
was spinning on the ice. He obviously failed to see the humor of the situation.
He grabbed me by the hair and nearly broke my nose on the steering wheel as he
yanked me out. I heard Fred back there yelling
“Don’t push me you ….” (Well, use your imagination.), and looked back in time
to see him literally picked up and thrown into the back seat of another car.
They loaded us all up in just two cars and
we headed for the police station. Our driver didn’t have anything to say to us.
We could see that he was still weak-kneed from the ordeal on the ice. As we
neared the cemetery, Larry leaned over to me and said, “Tell him to turn
the radio up.”
“Sir,” I said, all to happy to comply,
“Could you turn the radio up a little?”
It was ten or fifteen seconds before he
Danny was laughing under his breath. Larry
leaned over to me again and whispered, “Tell him.”
Although I really didn’t think it was a
good idea, I was more afraid of D and Larry than I was this cop. I mean, he had
to live by some kind of rules.
“Sir,” I repeated, “We can’t hear the radio
You know how, when you were a little kid,
you would fight with your sister in the back seat on the way to grandma’s
house? Your dad would yell at you and you would continue until he lost all
control? That’s what this cop did. With a crushing backblow from his right hand
he violently, and blindly, swung back to hit me in
the mouth. Which is, I imagine, what I would have wanted to do if I were him. I
guess he was a rookie or something because he totally forgot about that wire cage
between the front and back seats. A deluge of obscenities poured from his mouth
almost as fast as the blood squirted from his busted knuckles. Danny buried his
face between my shoulder and the back of the seat to conceal
his laughter. Larry went ahead and laughed out loud.
Soon we arrived at the police station and
were herded inside where the chief of police was waiting. The chief of police!
Almost midnight and we got the Chief! We were big time criminals. Nobody ever
got the chief this late at night. The fire chief was there too. To this
day I don’t know why he was there. Our cop came in behind us, wrapping a
handkerchief around his bloody hand.
“Boys,” began the chief, “I want each one
of you to call your parents and have them come down here”.
He was the only one of the policemen who
didn’t appear to be angry. As a matter of fact, it looked to me like he was
trying very hard to fight back a smile. Maybe even laughter.
One by one we took our turns on the phone.
Most of the calls were short and spoken in the low, muffled voices guys use to
tell their girlfriends “I love you too Honey” when there are other guys in the room. When
Frankie was on the phone he turned to the chief. “My mom’s in her housecoat.
She wants to know if she can just drive up and honk and somebody’ll come out to
It was a small town. “Yeah, Frankie,” the
My turn rolled around. My sister answered
“Robin, let me talk to dad.”
“He’s asleep,” she said, “He’s really mad
‘cause it’s after midnight and you’re not home yet.”
“Okay. Let me talk to him.”
“I’m not gonna wake him up.” She
“You better just come on
home or you’re gonna be in big trouble.”
Everybody seemed to gather around the phone
to hear my conversation.
“Robin!” I was getting a little upset with
her. “I’m kind of in some trouble anyway. Now wake him up!” Already I could
hear snickering from the guys. She laid down the phone and I waited for what seemed
like an eternity.
He didn’t sound too mad when he picked up
the phone. “Hello.”
“Dad,” I began. (I thought that was a good
place to begin) “Do you think you could come pick me up?”
“You got car trouble?” I always had car
“No. I’m down here at the city
It got quiet. I thought he might have
fallen back to sleep.
“Come on home.” He said sharply.
“No, really, I’m in jail.”
“Goddammit!” he was getting miffed, “Quit
fuckin’ around and get your ass home!”
Everybody, including some of the cops, was
laughing now. I handed the phone to Mr. Collins, the fire chief, and asked him
to try his luck. He explained the situation to my dad and hung up.
In just a few minutes parents started showing
up. Frankie’s mom pulled up and honked, and he was allowed to go home with her.
Somehow, Jim got out of there too, leaving only five of us to face the music.
My dad came in and talked to the chief, and it was determined that we would be
charged with “malicious mischief”.
(Although we later discovered a loophole in the definition that would have
rendered that an inappropriate charge.) My dad cut a deal with them. If we
could make the road passable by morning, and then spend the next Saturday
picking up trash along the highway, they would drop the charges. An hour
or so later we were riding atop two Independence County trucks filled with
sawdust back out to the scene of the crime. And it was cold up there.
With square-ended shovels we emptied those
two trucks while my dad walked alongside them pointing to places that we needed
to cover. We finished sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when my dad
told me that I’d better catch a few winks because I was
going to school at 8 o’clock.
When we walked in the door at home my
mother was sitting there on the steps, weeping because her firstborn had turned
out to be a criminal. She’d been on the phone to my girlfriend around 10, trying to
find out where I was. Becky kept the secret and, basically, lied, and told her
that she didn’t know. Then mom called her back to inform her that I’d called
from the jail, and a discussion ensued as to how I ever became a juvenile
delinquent. The old man didn’t say anything else. He just went to
bed. After I shook my mother I did the same.
School didn’t actually start until around
10 o’clock that next morning. The sawdust had melted the ice, then it froze
back over with the sawdust inside it. Cars were stuck all over the hill and half of the guys
volunteered to miss the first two periods to push the ones they could up to the
dry pavement. A few people with 4-wheel-drives were shuttling back & forth
to get the stranded students to class. It was a nice community effort. I was
told to report directly to the principal’s office when I arrived. The other six
guys were already there, smiling as I walked through the door.
Mr. Cross was not in a good mood that
morning. He didn’t offer me any friendly greeting. No coffee. No “How’z the
family?” No Pop Tarts. Nothing. I took my seat and he began his presentation,
slowly and deliberately.
“I don’t believe that just the seven of you
planned and pulled off this entire caper. I, therefore, don’t believe it would
be fair of me to expel just the seven of you and allow the other culprits to go unpunished. Tell
ya what I’m gonna do…” He stood up and wiped his hand across his face, like he
always did when he was frustrated. “…I’m going to give you until 2 o’clock. At
that time I want everybody who had anything to do with the planning or execution
of this incident assembled in the library. You guys should not have to take the
rap for everybody responsible. Now, get out of here.”
As soon as the door shut behind us we all
knew what we had to do. We went about spreading the word.
When the 2 o’clock bell rang, Mr. Cross
pushed his way into the library. Assembled there was a good eighty percent of
the student population. Girls, nerds, boy scout types. Even the typing and
bookkeeping teachers. It was heartwarming.
Shoving people aside, he made his
way to the center of the big room and looked around with his hands on his hips.
A disgusted look on his face. Sort of nodding his head “yes” as he looked
sternly around the room into the huge crowd.
He began to scream. “I WANT
EVERYBODY NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED WITH THIS ICING INCIDENT OUT OF HERE NOW!”
Everybody started to leave, save the seven
of us around the table in the middle.
“COME BACK HERE!” he screamed.
Cross calmed his voice a little. “If you
knew about this plan, or were actively involved in it, then stay. If you didn’t
know anything about it, then leave.”
He took another
long look around the room, doing that nodding thing again. Then he wiped that
hand across his face and stormed out the door. It slammed so hard against the
outside wall as he threw it open that the glass broke.
“Well,” Larry Jack said, “I guess we can go
We still had to pick up the trash, per the
deal my dad had made with the cops, but we didn’t get kicked out of school. For
our efforts we made the front page of The Batesville Guard under the title of
“Ice Capades”. They didn’t mention our names, because we were minors. But we
knew who we were.
Maybe high school wasn’t going to be so bad
(c) 2010, Rick Baber, TigerEye Publications