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Never Met a Stranger: Ort as Landing Strip

By T.W. Burger

Many of you might have memories of William Orten Carton, aka “BC” aka “ORT” that extend way past when I moved away. So, I missed a lot of his adult (using the term loosely) antics and his amazing, encyclopedic knowledge about, in no particular order, beer, radio stations, radio station aerial placement, telephone books, 45 rpm records, small towns, particularly in Florida, knowledge of how to roll one’s “L’s”, (as in the Biddle Addlen Schoodle of Eddle Roddling) and other arcane study of puzzling practicality.

I could go on, and often do, but space is limited.

I’ve got most of you beat, because I grew up with the man.

He lived one street over from me in Homewood Hills, a development by the deep-rooted Hunnicutt family. Our first meeting, at about age 14, was not promising; He was riding his bicycle on the wooded lot between our houses. I stepped out from behind a pine tree and knocked him, hiney-over-teacups, off his bike onto the pine straw.

I demanded to know why he had torn up a “fort” I and some friends had built in those very woods.

He sat there laughing, which took me aback. I have only slugged a few people in my life, but none of them before or since ever laughed, especially before they hit the ground.

I don’t remember his explanation about the fort.

Being boys, we naturally became fast friends, and were often getting into things all over the place, some of them hazardous.

We both had big, 26-inch bicycles with knobby balloon tires, and there wasn’t anywhere we wouldn’t go on them; woods, fields, railroad tracks and, of course, roads, anywhere we could return from scratched, filthy, and gloriously entertained.

Our mothers were calm about it. Mostly because we never mentioned the hairier moments, unless there was blood or deep punctures involved, including the one time I had to get a tetanus shot because of the nail that went completely through my foot.

Injuries were rare. Well, ones that left noticeable marks, anyway.

One adventure could easily have turned out otherwise.

One shiny day we had pedaled our rattly steeds down to Ben Burton Park, along the Oconee. This was before it was formally declared a park and certainly a long time before it became infamous for some of the people who liked to hang out - not to say “lurked” - there.

I had wanted to check out the Civil War – era quarry there from which the stones for the original Mitchell Bridge had been built.

The wall of the quarry stood maybe 30 feet high, if I remember right. It was full of horizontal and vertical fissures and looked climbable. I was not sure what type of rock it was, but I took it for granite (sorry).

Bill, as I called him then, had no interest in climbing the face, but I, perhaps the more adventuresome of the two, would not settle until I could scramble up the rockface and conquer the admittedly paltry heights.

Bill said he would stay at the bottom, either for my return or to tell the coroner what happened.

It took longer than I expected. Even then, I was heftier than was good for me, and dragging the extra mass up a vertical cliff was no picnic. It did not help that I was then a heavy smoker.

After a bit, though, I was close to the summit. I heaved myself up to a ledge maybe three feet from the top. At the other end of the ledge was a triangular opening, perhaps a foot wide, maybe a little more. The triangle was occupied by a full=grown bobcat. I also noticed a couple of cute bobcat kitten faces on either side of her.

I did not pay a lot of attention to the kittens, frankly.

Time froze, as it does. I stared at mama. Mama glared at me.

You have never been stared at until you have been fixated by the fiery eyes of an angry mother bobcat from two feet away.

I would have been content to just rest there and catch my breath, perhaps later to continue my climb, minding my own business.

Now, bobcats are no laughing matter. (I was not laughing.) They can get something like more than 3 feet long or more and weigh anywhere up to 60 pounds. They are also blessed with a bristling cornucopia of claws and teeth, many of which mama displayed suddenly, accompanied by a loud, growling hiss.

I took all this to mean she thought I ought to go away.

Briefly, I reviewed my chances.

Climbing past her seemed unwise.

Climbing slowly down the 25 feet or so of rockface behind me, I thought, might test her patience, which seemed already at its breaking point.

Stepping immediately backward that far above terra firma might have seemed ill-advised, but, considering the alternatives, that is what I did.

I also know that Ort stood just below, between me and the aforementioned terra firma.

In the split second before I landed on him, well, I wish I could describe the look on his face. “Puzzled,” might be a good approximation.

The collision of two overweight teenage boys probably made a lot of noise, but I did not hear it over the ringing in my ears as I sorted myself on the forest floor. We each retrieved our glasses and looked at one another. Bill, always of an inquisitive turn of mind, wondered why the hell I had jumped off the cliff right on top of him.

I left out the part about figuring it would be better to land on him rather than on the rock ground, but otherwise summed up the situation succinctly.

Naturally, we both ended up laughing about it. I think I remember Mama glaring down the cliff-face at us, but that just may be a trick of my mind.

We managed to get home on our bikes ok, though we had some sore spots that had not been there when we set out.

When our moms asked where we had been, we both replied, I am sure, that we had been down by the river, by the Mitchell Bridge.

Neither one of us mentioned the bobcat, or my experiment with gravity.

We might have been crazy, but we were not stupid.

William "Ort" Carlson

One of Ort’s younger friends has organized a “Go Fund Me” account on his behalf. Apparently, he has fallen on meager times, and needs our help. He never had a traditional job, and our traditional Social Security system says he does not deserve any money from them. They obviously do not understand how important somebody like Ort can be to a community.

I donated. If I had more, I would give more.

Here is the requet from Lesley Ganschow:

Dearfolk, Ort has been reluctant to let us know, but he is in a very difficult spot and we know Athens will be eager to show him how much his kindness, stories, yarns, and astonishing memory of anecdotes and history has meant to generations of Athenians. For many of us a beer with Ort was bragging rights. Even for those who watched from afar feel like he is a link to the intangible character that makes Athens far more than a town. We recently found out that he is not eligible for social security. He has always kept busy and helpful to many and has been an astonishingly gifted writer. But it has all fallen under the category of untraditional income. He also spent most of his life caring for his mother, who left him a modest inheritance which is now exhausted. Your contribution will help us get him through this current rough patch. He will be able to pay his most basic bills, some property tax, and figure out the next step. It's been a rough year for everyone, so please know the smallest amount is deeply appreciated. Or share this fundraiser with a story. He will love every story and probably remember more than you do!

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

President of Marsh Creek Media, he has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose" is currently writing “Never Met a Stranger.”

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