If someone were to walk up to you and ask you to name the greatest invention in the history of mankind, I know what you would say.
You would not say it was the flush toilet. People got by for millennia without flush toilets, and still do, on a regular basis, in some places. Not places you want to go and spend any length of time, probably, but still.
You would not say it was the electric light, since we could use other light sources if necessary. Sure, there would be more fires, but nothing is perfect.
You would not say it was the airplane, considering how often they crash for no reason whatever, and kill important people like Buddy Holly and Lynard Skynard.
No, you would say the greatest invention of all time was duct tape. Not even Sully Puttyâ or Velcroâ, as valuable as both are, can come anywhere close to the indispensability of duct tape in our day-to-day lives. The only thing in the same league is baling wire.
Duct tape was even used in space, when one of our astronauts needed a table. He built one out of spare parts, duct taped together. Another time a buggy used on the moon was damaged, and a fender was reattached with duct tape. You can’t beat a recommendation like that.
Everyone in America, probably on Earth, uses duct tape for all sorts of jobs, but my friend Sam Hoerster recently sent me an email about a guy who put some duct tape to use in a rather unusual way. He fixed an airplane with it.
What happened was, a bush pilot flew a fellow to a spot way out in the middle of nowhere in Alaska to do some fishing. This was not an amphibious plane, as so many in Alaska are. It had wheels, so it could land on land. Which makes you wonder why they call landing on water ‘landing.’ They should call it ‘watering.’
Anyway, they inadvertently left an ice chest and some bait in the plane, which is not advisable. Bears have seriously good noses, and there are lots of bears in Alaska. A bear came along and smelled something to eat in the plane.
I don’t know a lot about planes, but I know they use a lot of Piper Super Cubs in Alaska, and the Super Cub is made of a frame covered in canvas-type material. That’s the way this plane was made, so when the bear went for the bait, it did a considerable amount of damage to the plane. From the wings back to the tail the material on the fuselage was all ripped up. The tail itself was mangled pretty badly, and both tires were blown out. This was a seriously torn up plane.
So the pilot got on the radio and called a friend, and had another pilot bring him two new tires, some plastic sheeting, and three cases of duct tape. He patched the plane up with the plastic and tape, cranked it up, and flew it home. The email doesn’t say anything about getting the plane repaired later, and considering the reputation of Alaskan bush pilots, I’m not at all sure he did.
The email also doesn’t say whether the fisherman got in and flew out with him. I would imagine it was a toss up, whether to risk a flight in a duct taped airplane over miles of wilderness, or sit in a camp where a bear had just gotten a free meal and might very well come back for another one. Tough call.
But people make hard decisions every day, and sometimes they choose poorly. For example, another friend, John Jefferson of Austin, sent me an email about a group of animal rights protestors who recently decided to voice their opinions about people who wear leather clothes. This was a very poor decision, inasmuch as the people they voiced their opinions to were a bunch of bikers in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
The bikers duct taped the protestors up and threw some of them into dumpsters behind local fast food joints. One they duct taped to a tree. Others were forced to eat hot dogs and hamburgers. An event organizer was quoted as saying, "Motorcycle gangs are one of the biggest abusers of wearing leather, and we decided it was high time that we let them know that we disagree with them using it. Ergo, they should stop."
This is one of those stories that, for a guy like me, is too good to be true. Which is why I wasn’t surprised to find out it isn’t. It came from The Best News Site Ever, which is mainly satire. But it was just too good a story not to share, even if it didn’t happen.
I don’t know about the airplane story, but I intend to research it to verify, even if I have to go to Alaska to do it. My only concern is that I’ve never before interviewed a bear . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who once duct taped Buddy Holly to Ronnie Van Zant. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org