The Journal of Prevarication
By Jim Cook
Official State Liar of Arizona
I wouldn’t compare the Mexican scorch lizard to a lightning bolt. But I remember the time that lightning got hold of my brother Jake’s car, and it moved at a speed that would make a drag racer’s jaw drop.
I bring this up because it’s another summer story. Those 115-degree days are coming, bringing with them fierce thunderstorms. I don’t like lightning, but it brings with it a lot of our yearly quota of rain.
We lived above the Mogollon Rim, one of the hot spots for lightning storms in Arizona. I’ve seen lightning shatter big pine trees, knock the “lightning arrestors” off telephone lines, and hurl a tenderfoot Forest Ranger fifteen feet.
Jake and Dean and I had Mom’s 1928 World Book encyclopedia, which had all kinds of learning projects for kids. We made electromagnets by winding wire around nails. I made myself a crude telegraph key, using an electromagnet and strips of tin cut from a coffee can.
Forest Service workers, including our dad, were replacing the ground-return phone line–a single strand of stout copper wire strung from tree to tree across the forest. It connected all the wooden wall phones in firefighters’ cabins and lookout towers.
One Saturday morning, Big Jake got to eyeing the coil of copper wire that had been left at the foot of a tree next to the Long Valley Road. He started winding it around the base of the tree.
He said he was going to make himself a giant electromagnet. He told Dean and me to go get our red wagon and see if we could round up some old car batteries around the ranger station.
While we were gone, Big Jake wound three layers of wire around the tree. He started checking to see if there was any juice left in the batteries we had brought.
We were so absorbed in science that we had not noticed the thickening thunderheads overhead.
A bolt of lightning hit that phone line not far from where we were standing. I always knew that a thunderstorm had to start somewhere, but I’d rather not be there.
Electricity surged through Jake’s electromagnet, which reached out for nearby metal objects. It got the wagon, and Jakes’s 1929 Ford coupe, which was sitting in the shade about 100 feet away.
That Ford went from 0 to 60, sideways, in a nanosecond. It hit the tree hard enough to mash the coiled wire through the bark and into the wood. The Ford was a whole lot thinner.
We knew we’d catch hell from Dad. But first, Jake had to explain to a skeptical deputy sheriff how he had managed to hit that tree sideways with his car.