The Angels Were Looking Out For Us

Gerry Driesen handed me a short story titled “My First Corner Was Almost My Last’ to post on the website. That story has inspired me to write and post a similar story about four high schoolers, one of which was yours truly. In Gerry’s story he makes the comment, “It’s amazing to realize that all four of us could have been injured or killed that day.” My story echoes that comment.

An annual tradition at Helena High School in Helena, Montana in the Spring of each year was to paint the “H”. Decades earlier a huge “H” was constructed with boulders on the side of Mt. Helena facing the city, near the summit of a mountain that rose over 2000 feet. Students would lug buckets of whitewash up there and paint the rocks after the snow melted.

My friend Dick Lay, along with Jim Zugle and Ed Overturf decided it would be an excellent idea to drive up to the “H” in Dick’s family’s WWII Willeys Jeep that had been fitted with a homemade aluminum top for weather protection. There were no roll bars, or seat belts.

It was only a two-seater, so Zugle was crouched in the space behind the seats, I was sitting on the hump between the driver’s and passenger’s seats; Lay was driving and Overturf was in the passenger seat.

We were nearly to the “H” when the overloaded Jeep stalled and started to roll backward. I was hauling on the emergency brake between my knees (to no effect) when we came to a level path that slowed our unexpected backwards motion but caused the front wheels to jackknife.

I can recall getting dirt in my mouth as the floor boards were now overhead as we rolled over

Jim Zugle and Dick Lay in the Jeep just after the incident circa 1950

at least once, landing on the wheels. Zugle had been thrown out and Overturf was laying on top of me. The only pain I had was the gear shift poking my backside. Lay was still in the driver’s seat.

Wonders of all wonders, none of us were seriously hurt except for a few bruises. The aluminum top was laying off to one side. I don’t recall any parental retribution from the incident. I think all the parents were glad their brilliant sons had survived.

As an afterword to this story, Ed Overturf was my best man when Nila and I were married, and I was best man for him when he married Marie Austin. He went on to graduate with an accounting degree after high school and became one of six general auditors for Exxon, managing a staff of 300 auditors for Exxon’s non-petroleum companies. He died quite young at fifty-five from colon cancer.


  1. Marie Overturf on April 1, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Hi Milt,
    The angels surely were looking out for you guys. I still shake my head when I remember it. You were good kids, no drinking or partying, just too adventuresome for your own good. Great picture! No kidding? you were carrying a camera? Never missed a good opportunity.

  2. Mark on April 1, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    It’s always illuminating to find out you almost weren’t from this story. As your son, I can’ t say I remember seeing that photo and if I did, maybe I just blanked it out!

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