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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Tommy Joe Invents the Jet Boat

By Ralph "Gonzo" Crosby

It was summer. That meant we would be dividing our time between banging up our knees on the asphalt and getting strawberries on our butts from sliding into second base. Although race cars were our first love, playing baseball was a part of life for a kid in South Florida. Tommy Joe and I played on the same team and we were always just good enough to sneak onto the All Star team. Down here, we had what was called "Big League." It was really just Pony League, but for some unknown adult reason, we were in Big League. 

When Tommy Joe wasn't pitching, he was our short stop. He had pitched two no hitters as a little leaguer and had a blazing but wandering fast ball. Many a stunned batter would rub his temple and mutter curses at TJ on the way to first base. We were on a team called Broward County All Stars, later changed to U S A South. We would usually pummel the teams from Canada and New York then have close games with the California kids. The kids from up north liked to play hockey and basketball. When the temperature dropped, they weren't keen on shagging fly balls in waist high snow. 

Down here the temperature didn't drop, so our parents were forced to find dozens of ways to keep us detained outside all day year round. We played more baseball than any other kids in the country. This year we were facing the team from Mexico. These were some relentless hombres! About half of them wound up on the Houston Astros a few years later. It was against "The Mexico Stars" that Tommy Joe pulled off the most difficult play in all of sports. It figured he would wait until the most dramatic moment to do it! 

We were leading one to nothing in the top of the seventh, which was the final inning in our league. It was the Mexican boys' last shot. They were determined to go down swinging. TJ was at short stop, I was playing first, and Crazy Norman was pitching. Norman walked a guy and the next batter singled, putting men on first and second. Tommy Joe casually chewed his Bazooka gum and blew a bubble about the size of Charlie Brown's head; he told Norman not to sweat it. 

Our coach was having convulsions and the look of panic was apparent in the eyes of the parents in the stands behind our dugout. The Mexicans tried a trick run and hit play, similar to a hit and run, except the base runners took off way before the batter swung. Both runners took off with the pitch. The batter hit a line drive into the hustling Tommy Joe's glove. Tommy reached over and tagged the runner going to third, and then he dove head first into the second base bag, tagging the surprised runner sliding face first into it! AN UNASSISTED TRIPLE PLAY! 

As they say, the crowd went crazy! We were all rolling around in the infield dirt overwhelmed by what we had witnessed. Dads were high-fiving, moms were tossing babies into the air, and it was almost as grand as any Saturday morning we spent racing down the land fill in the soap boxers!

After the All Star games were over, we could devote our summer time to our next favorite pastimes. Long before Bay Watch there was a television show that riveted young, testosterone laden boys to the screen -- The Mickey Mouse Club! Ah... I swooned; Annette was about to strut out in her skin tight Mouseketeer outfit! Every boy in America was glued five inches from the screen spellbound by Annette and her magnificent ears. TJ and I watched in blissful adoration for awhile. Then it was time to hit the Schwinn Sting Rays for a rendezvous with Zeke's Uncle Thurmon. 

Uncle Thurmon worked at Port Everglades and he would have an endless hoard of components we turned into racing cars. He told us he had something that would really knock our socks off this time. We thought he was just using a well worn expression. He informed us they were upgrading the fire boats at the port. He had managed to finagle a water cannon from the fire department! We had fallen heir to a bunch of pretty extraordinary things in our youth, but this looked like it might just be the ultimate prize. 

Uncle Thurmon showed us how if we kept one end of the hose in the canal, we could knock down kids almost a block away just by pointing the nozzle at them and blasting away! Man this was too much! It got so no one would even drive by TJ's house! Forget trying to skate or walk past. We could roll the meanest dog up the street and into his yard like we were washing leaves off the driveway! Another little prank that had us falling down in side splitting laughter was to lob a hundred gallon stream of ice cold water over one of the neighbor's roofs and onto the back of an unsuspecting sunbather. 

We tried to turn it into a money maker by using it to wash cars. Our first customer wasn't real pleased as TJ blasted the window out of her Impala and filled the front seat with cat tails, pond scum, and a couple dozen wiggling minnows. Mr. C. always had that glint in his eye when he saw something that had the potential to go fast and peel off a couple layers of our skin off. He looked at the water cannon for a long time, eyeballing, scratching his chin, laying down, and tugging every wire and hose. 

He then came up with an idea that would make stunt men everywhere jealous. "Boys, bring that thing into the garage." He rubbed his hands together, barely containing his excitement. Over the next six nights, our priceless water gun was transformed into the first jet boat propulsion unit. Down here, we have a boat that is like a no frills Boston Whaler; it's called a Jon boat. Jon boats come in all sizes and lengths but only one shape. They are shaped like the tubs that you mix cement in with a hoe. If you got the notion to bake the biggest corn bread in the world, a Jon boat would be the perfect baking pan. 

Mr. Cauldwell had a pretty good size Jon boat with an anemic 9.9 horsepower Evinrude hanging from the stern. We had caught thousands of bass and sunfish with the Jon boat, but we never had an inkling as to what its real potential was until that fateful weekend. We were up early Saturday morning. We hauled the Jon boat down from the garage and across Tommy's back yard on a little dolly. Mr. C. had mounted the water cannon facing backwards from the stern in of the back of the boat. 

There was a little piece of hose that stuck down into the water; the other end was hooked to the water cannon. The cannon's pump would suck the canal water into a compression chamber, combine it with air, and shoot it through the nozzle. We figured that if we aimed the spray from the nozzle behind the boat it would propel us forward down the narrow canal at a pleasant little clip. The pump was humming along and Tommy barked for me to get in. I had a subconscious vision of nervous men in little barrels tumbling down big waterfalls. 

"OK," I said," but take it easy 'til we see how she handles." Tommy Joe and Tina Turner had a lot in common, neither one of them ever like to take it "nice... and easy." We were Rolling on the River! Tommy told me to look for things floating in the water while he steered us with the water stream. I looked for my life jacket instead. We were zigzagging down the canal at a pace the crew of the Miss Budweiser would envy. The bow started to lift so TJ aimed the cannon up a little and tried to plane us back down. 

The cannon got a little out of control and Tommy began strafing docks, back porches, and screened in patios. As we free styled our way down the canal, I could see the porch screens blowing out of their frames and patio furniture swirling up into the trees. Ducks, dogs, cats, and kids were scrambling across the grass along the river bank. TJ was holding on for all he was worth; the little Jon boat was drawing about an inch of water and accelerating faster and faster! 

Tommy whipped the cannon around and chopped down a row of banana trees along the back of Debbie Stilwell's house. We were drawing quite a crowd of onlookers along the bank. People were dashing about and hitting the deck as we careened by. TJ had us turned around and we were bearing down on his back yard like a runaway torpedo. The runaway boat had what was called a Bimini Top on it. It was a kinda psychedelic flower design canvas convertible top.

You could pull it up with one hand and get some relief from the sun by huddling under it. I reached over and yanked it up. It immediately blew back, skipped on the water, and trailed behind the boat. It looked like Jimi Hendrix was out parasailing with us! I could just make out Uncle Thurmon's face on the other side of his truck's windshield as we went sliding over his hood and into the garage. Uncle Thurmon almost had the water cannon back on the wrecker when the Harbor Patrol Officers came sprinting up the driveway. 

I began another parent imposed sentence. I could use the rest. I flicked on the TV. M I C -- K E Y -- M - O - U - S - E.


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