Tale #3 – “The Hopkins Dump”


It happened one evening near Halloween in 1964 but it was no prank. It involved a task the men of our church were to do around 6 o’clock at the parsonage. We were to move a piano.

This was not just any piano. It was one of those monsters musicians call “an old upright.” The huge instrument had presided over the living room of the old Parmalee place near Hopkins, Michigan for many years. Jim Parmalee, the young adult son of the family had been called upon to move it, more than once, I understand. Later that evening Jim’s dad told me Jim hated to move the gargantuan beast. He had said, “This piano belongs on the Hopkins Dump.” The Parmalee family had loaned the house to the church as a parsonage which accounted for our presence there. My wife played it occasionally but I never attempted to move it. (Simpson’s my name, not Samson!)

Our church had just finished its new building. The plan was to donate the old instrument to the church for use until we could get one a little more suitable. On this particular prayer meeting night some of us had agreed to move it out and take it to the church in a truck and the others would gather at the church to move it in.

Chuck Davis, one of the young guys showed up with his red Chevrolet pick-up and backed up to the front porch, a big concrete affair. He dropped the tailgate and it looked like we had a fighting chance to wrestle the piano aboard. After a short planning session we were ready to gang up on the dark walnut finished and beautiful old instrument.

Shoulder to shoulder six or seven of us staggered and strained toward the front door with our greatly challenging burden. Mercifully we made it through the opening and onto the truck’s bed without incident. When we set it down the vehicle seemed to strain an objection as it absorbed the weight. No matter, it was in the truck and we were safe now.

The decision had been made that Chuck, one of the teenage boys and I, the pastor, were to accompany the piano to the church where we were to bring it in, dedicate it to the Lord’s work and hold prayer meeting in the lower level of the church. The other guys rolled away in their cars to meet us there.

As Chuck hooked the heavily- laden pick-up in gear he remarked, “Do you suppose we should tie it down?” Never one to give a bashful answer, I remarked, “Are you kidding? Where could it go, as heavy as it is?”

“Okay,” he said, “We’ll just take it easy.” And we did.

The trip called for about a three-mile run over a “tarmac” road which had its share of potholes. Chuck decided, instead, to enter the 131 Freeway at Hopkins and proceed north to the Wayland interchange and get off there, just yards from the church site. He eased the heavily-laden truck out of the yard and onto the road with our youth, Brian, riding between us on the seat.

The drive over the back road to the interstate was uneventful. The three of us laughed and joked as we made our way toward the Hopkins interchange. That particular junction was unlighted and as we approached the big highway, coming along the side road, we were presented with a gradual grade leading to the ramp. Chuck accelerated slightly to climb the grade but was moving ever so slowly. A slight left turn was necessary to finish the trip to the top of the ramp. Now for what we didn’t notice:

Just at the last turn to the left, the pavement was slightly concave with a small dip to the left. I don’t remember what Chuck and I were talking about but our conversation was rudely interrupted. In a split second the truck rocked violently to the left and just as quickly lurched upright again. At that moment, even with the windows rolled up, we were all aghast by the terrible sound we heard.

The shattering crash was followed immediately with numerous other sounds, both high and low, tinkling and rumbling. I looked at Chuck with a start. “What was that,? I muttered. Of course I knew what it was but I didn’t want to believe. He jumped the brakes and we all piled out of the truck in amazed disbelief.

On the pavement, to the left and scattered all around was “the piano.” No, not a piano but a twisted mess of broken walnut finish wood, wires, broken keys and other debris too smashed to recognize. What happened next is the most incredible part of the story. The three of us stood momentarily in the now hushed darkness and, together, broke out into uncontrollable laughter.

Suddenly our darkened and awful picture was brightened by approaching headlights. A car coming very tentatively up the same grade, driven by a middle-aged lady, moved slowly around our pile of ruin. As the lady passed she stuck her head out the window and called, “Do you need any help?” So help me, I could not come back to reality. I merely blurted out, in my frozen state of stupefaction, between rolls of laughter, “No, ma,am, we’re just working with our piano!” Giving the whole scene an incredulous look, she drove on.

We three stood in the darkness like transgressors presiding over the results of our sin. Together we sounded it out: “What do we do?” Then Chuck came to life: “Didn’t Jim Parmalee say it belonged on the Hopkins dump. Let’s take it there.” We looked at each other and then at our “piano.” I managed a grunt of agreement with Chuck and we slowly began “loading” it into the truck.

Loading went quickly what with the smallness of the largest pieces now that we had “broken down” the job. In only a few minutes we had finished and had arrived at the dump just a mile or so away. As we finished throwing off the debris, I reached down and retrieved a “morsel.”

Like three kids tardy to school we drove sheepishly into the church parking lot. The congregants, assembled on the front porch, were in no mood to look the other way at the empty truck.

“Where ya been?” and “Yer late!” Were the most common calls that reached our ears. But the ones that presented the worst challenge were: “Where’s the piano?” and the one my wife raised, “Oh, no!,” as she held her head.
Once inside, it became my “solemn” responsibility to explain. But, alas, the rolls of laughter again began to spill out. Giddiness took over and I could only stammer as I raised my solitary “souvenir,” an ivory from one key, and blurted out, “This is all we saved!”

No, I wasn’t fired, because, I think, nobody else could stop laughing either. I think that, secretly, everyone agreed with Jim.

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