Lessons learned on gravel roads

How I came to love pick up trucks so much probably lies in the way in which I learned to drive.  I grew up in eastern Iowa amongst some of the richest soil that God blessed Earth with.  Mile upon mile of mostly flat prairie that had been plowed under and replaced with hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of acres of corn and soybean fields interrupted by occasional rolling hills, all connected by gravel roads.  One afternoon while riding with my father on those gravel roads he stopped our truck, asked me to sit on his lap and while he controlled the accelerator pedal and brake, I steered.  It was a simpler time to be sure…in the late 1970’s and I was probably around eleven or twelve at the time.  At first I was terrified, not wanting this responsibility nor wanting to crash.  I learned how to counter-steer when the truck started to fishtail.  How to keep the tires in the “path” and not in the loose gravel along the sides of the road…and how to get over when you met a big old John Deere hauling a disk towards you.  While all of these lessons were unnerving I grew to love driving trucks.

“Truck One” was my Dad’s truck.  Fairly basic.  It had an AM/FM radio and shifter on the floor.  I drove this truck on my very first romantic encounter with a young lady from a neighboring town named Becky (the girl…not the town).  I won the girls affection and attention for a few short-lived months.  Truck 1.  Car 0.

Dad’s truck. I treated it like it was my own.

“Truck Two”.  I had turned sixteen years old and the first car of my own to drive was a pick up truck.  If I’m remembering it correctly it was a 1972 Chevy LUV.  Basic transportation.  Rusty.  Needed new brakes.  Manual stick shift and no power steering.  AM radio.  Would hold exactly three high school sophomores.  Dad and I bought it for $800 as a “project” for him and I to work on, grinding out the rust, filling the holes with Bondo putty or cutting sheet metal and riveting it to the body then spraying with gray primer.  After a $99 Earl Scheib paint job it was sold.  It was a safe and reliable means of transportation.  Truck Two was tough to drive and ride in and a pleasure to get rid of.

I found out quickly that I didn’t like sanding and grinding rust off of metal. I must have had a grayish pall during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.

Here’s that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.


“Truck Three” came in 1987.  I had my first full-time job. I was making $300 a week and was rolling in money.  Literally…rolling in dough.  Single and wanting a new, more reliable vehicle (one that would start when I wanted it to start) I traded in my 1975 Ford Maverick and bought a brand-spanking new Madza B2000 pick-up.  Small four cylinder engine, stick shift, heat, bench seat and no radio (though I added one in the months to come).  A short time later I took out the future honorable Constance Sue Ripley in this truck.  After the vows were spoken (and not to be taken back) the Mrs. admitted that she wasn’t exactly beholden to me at first glance. “You showed up wearing cowboy boots and driving a truck…”.  Its a good thing that I still had a full head of brown wavy hair back then or else I still might be single.  Dead serious.  Anyway…romance won out.  Truck 2.  Car 0.  I also took Connie to the hospital in this truck when Jordan was born.  Cold, dark and windy in the predawn hours of a December morn…bucking snowdrifts along the way.  Sturdy and reliable we eventually traded in Truck Three on a minivan for a growing family once Kid Two came along.

Truck Three was my first new “car”. No radio or AC. Bench seat. But it was all MINE


Truck Four was my Dad’s truck…again.  This time around it was for a drastically different reason.  My folks were moving off of the farm and didn’t need their truck.  A 1999 Ford F250 three-quarter ton with a V10 engine.  I bought it because we needed a another vehicle at our household.  Dad had kept it in awesome condition and it gave me considerable consolation after his death.  At times, while driving it, I could hear him speak.  I know that sounds stupid, but that truck helped me some days when I missed him a great deal.  I eventually sold that truck to my brother who still drives it to this day.

Truck Five was my nicest truck.  Purchased brand new in 2007.  It had many nice things that I didn’t have in most of my early trucks.  Air conditioning.  AM/FM radio with CD player.  Crew cab so that we could fit the whole family and go on vacations.  ABS brakes, power windows and door locks….all pretty standard stuff but for a guy who remembers using the hand crank to roll down his windows on a hot summer day it’s almost an extravagance to have something like power windows.  We moved all three daughters out of our house and to college in these last two trucks.  I started officiating basketball and baseball games in these two trucks.  I’ll tell you something….a truck makes a great umpire vehicle.  Just park it, drop down the tailgate, sit down and get your equipment on for the game.  I really loved Truck Five and didn’t see an end to its service to our family but things change.  We’re empty-nesters now.  No kids to ferry about (and no grand-kids on the foreseeable horizon…).  Warranties expire and things are going to need fixed or replaced eventually.  We usually keep our cars and trucks until they die or cost us too much to keep up.  I debated for several months on what I should do, if anything.  It seems to me that you’re either making a monthly payment on a new vehicle or paying to have the older one fixed.  This is why I reluctantly traded in Truck Five on a new car.

Ed…my 80+ year old neighbor said that my Silverado looked like a fire engine. What a great compliment!

Our new car has so many features in it that I may have to hire an eight year old to show me how to use them all correctly.  A six speaker music system that’s pared through Bluetooth with the ITunes on my phone (good-bye multiple CD’s in my armrest!!).  It has Sirius radio for several months!  Instead of a gear shifter it has a dial near my arm rest that I turn to select a gear.  It has a back up camera.  I can call folks while driving. It doesn’t have keys and I push a button to start it.  While the engine is half the size that I’m used too its turbo-charged and very responsive.  I actually have to “think” to use this car because its so simple to drive.  I’m not saying that its idiot-proof…but its a big step in that direction.  It’s also a really sharp looking blue.  Electric Blue….to be sure.

This car is too nice for me. Sporty and fast…it’ll take some time to get used to it. Maybe listening to some Johnny Cash while driving it will help

I’m going to be honest…I got a little misty when I turned my truck in.  While most folks view their cars and trucks as purely utilitarian objects I’ve come to love each and every one of my trucks.  Each time that I’ve driven them they take me back to a time in my life.  A first date.  Going to basketball practice.  A time in our garage working with Dad on a repair.  My last date as a charming single guy.  A trip to the hospital with a very pregnant and uncomfortable spouse.  Moving our kids around.  Road trips and vacations.   A time when I could still sit on my Father’s lap and steer his truck around those winding gravel roads of my childhood.  I miss many things in my life that shiny new buttons and whistles will never, ever replace.  I guess I’m still just that farm kid at heart.

The Ripley boys after a day of painting.  From left to right.  Brian, Dan, Me and Dad




We begin todays blog in 1966 where I was added to the bottom of the batting line-up as Richard Matthew Ripley, the third and youngest son of Charlie and Marcie Ripley….Davenport Iowa.

An early record of me and my brothers. Brian's looking at Mom like "...do we have to keep him...?"

An early record of me and my brothers. Brian’s looking at Mom like “…do we have to keep him…?”

I moved from the city to the country at the tender age of two (not for political, religious nor financial reasons) to just outside historic New Liberty Iowa…a town that had exactly one bank, one library, one volunteer fire station and two bars with a handful of faithful Christians sprinkled in for good measure. I brought my parents and brothers with me at the time as I felt it’d be unfair to leave them to fend for themselves in the city.  Nothing of consequence happened until first grade when I set our barn on fire.  You read that correctly…I set a barn on fire.  I blame the school system for not teaching us practical, if not life-altering, stuff such as “don’t play with matches in a barn full of straw since straw burns almost as fast as rocket fuel” or “you shouldn’t pee on an electric fence, it’ll emotionally and mentally scar you for life” or “how to shoot a BB gun without hitting window glass.”  THAT kind of information would have been INVALUABLE to a kid like yours truly who had LOADS of time on his hands.  I found out about this time that humor could potentially save me from a good old fashioned spanking.  I was across my Mother’s lap, butt up, clinching for the punishment that I deserved to get as her hand was descending upon me when I started shouting “THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!!” My brothers fell off their chairs laughing as I continued with my defense and Mom started laughing too…so much in fact that she couldn’t finish whipping me.  We all had a good laugh and I made a mental note to have a one-liner handy for most occasions AND that I doubt that I’d get that same leniency twice in one lifetime from a deserved spanking.

Dan, Brian and I. Look at the size of that forehead. (note to self...wear bow-ties more often)

Dan, Brian and I. Look at the size of that forehead. (note to self…wear bow-ties more often)

I included the photo below if for no other reason that its the only photograph of me without a bald spot.  Just look at it!  Soft brown hair.  Straight and smooth….just like the man writing this crap.

1975 was a good year for hair for yours truly. Dead serious...it got wavy and curly just weeks after this photo was taken at Peace Church Bennett Iowa

1975 was a good year for hair for yours truly. Dead serious…it got wavy and curly just weeks after this photo was taken at Peace Church Bennett Iowa

My circles of influence ran like this:

  1. Family & dog
  2. Friends at school
  3. (repeat)

Here’s the Ripley clan in 1975.  I’m arm in arm with my cousin Doug (before he became known as Dirty Doug of Mercer County Illinois).  Doug got me into a lot of trouble, but nothing that killed either one of us…but there’s still time.

1975-1976 Ripley's Galore!!

1975-1976 Ripley’s Galore!!

Here’s why I don’t ride motorcycles.  I rode Craig “Coonie” Conrad’s Honda minibike directly into the side of school lunch lady (Gladys Lynch’s)  grass green Pontiac LeMans in the spring of 1977.  Fourteen stitches later I didn’t have the same “need for speed” as just an hour before.  Go figure.

Fun. Fast. Not entirely idiot-proof

Fun. Fast. Not entirely idiot-proof

Here’s a fun fact for all of you Ripley Minions out there.  How many kids did I graduate with in the class of 1984 from Bennett Community High School?  Twenty-four.  Just twenty-four kids.  Twelve boys.  Twelve girls.  Most of us had been together since Kindergarten, while others had been added to the mix along the way…and by the fall of 1983 we were pretty much sick of seeing each other.  I was an average student and average athlete. The girls in our class either dated guys from other schools or guys that had already graduated (looking back our guys didn’t really give the girls a deep gene pool to draw from…honestly) while the guys in my class casually dated the lower grades or out of town as well.  I remember wanting to get the hell out of Bennett so badly that I didn’t really say goodbye to anyone.  I got my diploma and left.  I wasn’t mad…just ready for a new scene with different people.  I can’t speak for my classmates…but I think that the feeling was mutual.

Graduation May 1984 Bennett Community High.

Graduation May 1984 Bennett Community High.

It wasn’t all bad.  I worked detasseling corn for three summers as well as baling hay and straw.  I got a job working at a truck stop restaurant my senior year where I found out quickly that I didn’t care for working over a steam table nor fryers. I moved to Cedar Rapids, about an hour away from New Liberty, for college.  I’d make it back to Bennett and New Liberty through the years, but only to visit my parents, occasionally running into former classmates with polite conversations.

It really didn’t happen that way…or did it?  Regardless I’ve made it back to Bennett for several class reunions and had a blast.  Flat out…my former classmates are just good people.  I wish that I could be around them more.  They entertain me.  They remind me of what was, stories either not heard or forgotten.  They’re doing well and I’m happy to see them when I do. Truth be told…its kinda hard for a group of balding, heavy-set middle-aged men who grew up in our school to be pompous and our female counterparts are looking good with solid careers and good kids.

College was just like high school but with more beer and a lot more idle time.  I met a guy in the fall of ’84 who would become my best friend…hell…he’s like a brother to me.  We’ve been drunk together, gotten in trouble together (those two most often go hand in hand) gone to rock concerts,  been in each others weddings, watched as each has raised their families, worked with each other (I hired Dave one time, and he got me to sell used cars with him for five months…so we’re even) shared concerns over our parents, drank more beer and conversed about plans for possible world domination, etc, etc.  As I scanned through the photos from this period of my life I chuckled at how many photos included Dave.  A quick but not complete summary.

Me and Dave in Des Moines 1986

Me and Dave in Des Moines 1986

Dave and me in class at Kirkwood. Look at my hair. I'd give a weeks pay to have that hair again for a few days.

Dave and me in class at Kirkwood. Look at my hair. I’d give a weeks pay to have that hair again for a few days.

Jeff Hopkins, Dave and I on Jeff's birthday at Dori's apartment. May 1986.

Jeff Hopkins, Dave and I on Jeff’s birthday at Dori’s apartment. May 1986.

I graduated from college in May of 1986 at age 19. During this time I had joined a company that hired me and would transfer me to Mason City Iowa, roughly four hours from my family, my friends and all the fun that I had grown used to.  I was to be alone, working 70-80 hours week in a place that I didn’t like, with people who were ANCIENT (they were in their late 30’s and early forties).  It was terrible and probably the best thing for me at that stage of my life…getting me out of my comfort zone and making a career.  I was miserable. I was lonely.  That was 1986-1987.  In the fall of 1987 things started to get better.  Mason City had become my home.  I was 21 and things weren’t as bad as they were.  I was coming into my own.  1988 started like ’87 ended…quietly and without anything going on…then “she” came into my life wearing baggy sweatpants and puffy winter parka and life as I knew it would be forever changed.

I’ve been blessed to be born into the family that I’m in.  I’ve been blessed with good health, stunning good looks, a quick wit and a humbleness unrivaled.  She…wouldn’t buy any of it.  Tune in next week.

God bless…





Its the year of “50 Eve”

I turned 49 earlier today in case you weren’t awoken to the sound of the huge display of fireworks over the city at midnight, nor the huge marching band parading up my street serenading the three block area surrounding the Palatial Estates and you probably didn’t hear the polka band that had set up shop in our kitchen (unless you were one of the many well-wishers lined up on the sidewalk and driveway…awaiting your chance to say something catchy and memorable on this…Friday February 6th….the day of my 49th birthday and the beginning of the year now known as “50 Eve” for yours truly.  If you didn’t make it by now….don’t sweat it….you’ve got 364 days left to surprise me with something.

My 48th year went pretty darn well, honestly.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Oldest daughter got a career job that she loves.
  • Another year of marriage to my smokin’ hot wife Connie Sue.  I continue to delight her so much that her brain sometimes confuses “joy” with “utter distain” at the sounds,  scents and sights that a middle-aged man like yours truly “puts out there” for her enjoyment.  Silly girl.
  • I umpired varsity baseball…a goal of mine that was met.
  • I received a post-season basketball tournament game assignment just a few days ago.  That was a huge goal of mine and, Thank God, with the help of my mentor and officiating partners…got that recognition! (in only my third year for gosh sakes!)
  • We continue to celebrate my Mom’s good health. She’s still full of piss and vinegar in her 80′s…the stubborn ol’ German that she is.  We love her to death.
  • Connie and I are now “empty-nesters” and are planning vacations for just the two of us.
  • Seeing my classmates from high school at our reunion.  Thirty years later…they’re just terrific people.

No “birthday blog” would be complete without a goofy photo of the celebrant in their early years.  Here’s your dose of laughter America.  You’re welcome.

130 pounds just teeming with testosterone.  In 1983 the thing to wear at Bennett High was bib overalls, a flannel shirt and mirrored sunglasses....in your parents kitchen.  Practically irresistible to upper (and lower) classman of the opposite sex...I somehow maintained my virginity well into my twenties.  (my basketball warm ups and uniform are hanging on the door knob in the right of the photo.  Coolest uni's EVER!)

130 pounds just teeming with testosterone. In 1983 the thing to wear at Bennett High was bib overalls, a flannel shirt and mirrored sunglasses….in your parents kitchen. Practically irresistible to upper (and lower) classman of the opposite sex…I somehow maintained my virginity well into my twenties. (my basketball warm ups and uniform are hanging on the door knob in the right of the photo. Coolest uni’s EVER!)

Here’s a throwback photo….me chasing a kid from Oxford Junction at a Junior Varsity game in ’83.

Avert your eyes if you don't like seeing A LOT of upper thigh.  (notice the crowd...we really didn't pack them in the old gym for the JV games)  Look at the mad hops Kory Stuhr has along the baseline (I'm pretty certain he cannot attain the same height these days without the assistance of a step ladder)

Avert your eyes if you don’t like seeing A LOT of upper thigh. (notice the crowd…we really didn’t pack them in the old gym for the JV games) Look at the mad hops Kory Stuhr has along the baseline (I’m pretty certain he cannot attain the same height these days without the assistance of a step ladder)

My Junior year student ID….because…you know…EVERYBODY was trying to attend Bennett High illegally since it was such a cool-ass place to go to and learn about wielding (both arc and gas), no-till farming, crop rotation and Consumer Math (after I dropped Algebra).  My graduating class in ’84 was 24 kids.  Twelve boys.  Twelve girls.  We could have probably done without the photo ID’s.  In that community….if we did something wrong…our parents probably knew about it before we got home from doing it….or shortly thereafter.

I was voted "Junior class male" MOST LIKELY TO BECOME THE UNI-BOMBER"  Jeez...how about those eyebrows?

I was voted “Junior class male” MOST LIKELY TO BECOME THE UNI-BOMBER” Jeez…how about those eyebrows?

How many blessings do I have in my life…..?

...more than these two arms could ever hold.  (you could also title this photo "twirling!!  I'm twirling!!  Look at me TWIRL!!")

…more than these two arms could ever hold. (you could also title this photo “twirling!! I’m twirling!! Look at me TWIRL!!”)

And lastly….I actually enjoy the music of the early 80’s (and this is from the generation that brought you Dee Snyder’s Twisted Sister to the for front).  Simple, fun and bouncy songs that make you happy.  One of my favorites is Diesel’s Sausalito Summernight.  An obscure song from a foreign group that got into the Top 40 enough to be heard but quickly forgotten.  Thank God for YouTube.  Here they are, getting together for a tribute concert…rockin’ it better now…than back then.  See if you remember it.


Thanks for reading.  God bless.


That DREADED first day of school…and the 2,327 that followed

To say that I wasn’t much of a student while attending Bennett Community School is like comparing a birthday cake to Brussels sprouts…it wasn’t even close.

As a kid I had a great life on the farm.  My dog.  My cats.  My bike.  The creek.  Batman TV show in the afternoon.  Drinking cool water from a garden hose. Feeding the hogs grass through the fence, why my day was already filled with cool stuff to do…why would I need school?  Who would watch the barn, the hog house and garage while I was gone?!  Who would keep an eye on Mom and her whereabouts?   I had an already full agenda, now you just want me to drop everything and wear pants and get onto that yellow school bus?  Yeah…sure…sounds like a blast.  How about I just stay home and help Mom out around the house.

As an adult (of age, not of mental maturity…I have a fart app on my smart phoneso suck it) I’ve always felt a bit of relief when, at this time of year, I don’t have to go back to school.  My thirteen year school prison sentence served, I’ve been on parole for thirty plus years.  It would only serve as poetic justice that I would fall in love with and marry a school teacher.  She enjoys her summers off (technically…she’s unemployed but whenever I suggest that she gain part-time employment during her summers she shoots me the stink-eye that lets me know that I will be lonely for several nights until I worm my way back into her good graces).  While she loves teaching (she’s darned good at it…if I had, had a teacher like her I might have amounted to something…like an astronaut or something neat-o) she kind of dreads going back to school too (like I dread Monday’s I suppose).

Fall 1971.  A young Dick Ripley starts his 13 year school prison sentence.  I think that my facial expression tells it all.

Fall 1971. A young Dick Ripley starts his 13 year school prison sentence. I think that my facial expression says it all.  So with that…I’m off the hook for yet another school year.  Thank God!



Have a great week and may God bless you and yours,