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Author Frank Ball delivers an engaging, poignant account, contrasting of idyllic times growing up and the remote, icy climes of his later years in his memoir, Ball of Yarns – From 87 Years of Worthy Experience.
Born in 1931, Ball was raised in rural California. Often left on his own, the result was a series of escapades with the first object of his affections – vehicles of any kind. An early solo experiment with his father’s sedan gave him the heady feeling of “wheels unguided by human hands.” A next adventure involved rebuilding, with his brother, a neglected Chevy Roadster that Ball proudly drove to school in the sixth grade. Yet another, more terrifying event occurred when he and a friend decided it would be fun to take a farm tractor up into the mountains on a snowy day; the descent was “reminiscent of a scene from the Keystone Cops.”
In high school, he and his pals visited an inactive bomb-testing site and exploded “dud” ordnance for kicks, and he later drove a racecar and worked as a pitman for that sport. Ball served in the military during World War II, stateside, getting technical education leading to a career in electronics, in which he excelled. After retirement, he and his wife Josie pursued more exploits together, living for long stints in Antarctica, she as a cook and he as an all-round mechanical whiz. It provided an atmosphere of camaraderie where the person nearest to a disaster had to deal with it immediately or risk the whole camp’s population freezing to death.
Ball tells his life saga in engagingly short, chronological episodes, most only a page or two. He has provided a few photographs to underpin his often-amusing narrative. His writing style shows a particularly strong ability to put the reader into the frame. This is especially the case with his story of going into the salvage business with a friend. Using shallow-water diving gear, they discovered a submerged vessel near the San Diego Bay. Pirating bits of it, mostly brass propellers, they were observed, and a story made the local newspapers since the vessel was, in fact, an abandoned US Navy submarine. Equally enthralling are the many aspects revealed about his working in frigid conditions, repairing everything from aircraft fuel pumps to urinals and figuring out for his own amusement how long it takes a cup of hot coffee to freeze when setting out in the subzero cold. And even in his eighties, he is still repairing and driving vintage cars.
Ball’s well-organized reminiscences will charm anyone with a love of vehicles, machines, youthful high jinx, and general mischief. His compelling American story speaks to timeless values of passion, family, ingenuity, determination, and legacy.