The Unforgettable Kindness of Atlantic

My wife, Leanna, and I were on 1-80 traveling to Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire. The time, January 1974 (I was 23 years old), when the clutch in our truck started slipping. We noticed a sign advertising the city of Atlantic. We pulled off I-80 into your city as we also noticed you had an International Harvester dealer (I think it was the Atlantic Farm Equipment Company) that hopefully could fix our truck. We pulled into the dealership, and I went to see the service department manager to get a time they could work on my truck. I was told not for at least a week. We found a mom-and-pop motel (sorry don’t recall the name) that was affordable. We had to figure out what to do. The owner (again I don’t recall names), a very nice older lady, showed us to our room. The owner fell in love with our six-month-old baby, Steven, and brought us a crib and other blankets for him. I enquired if there were any other mechanics in the area and was told yes, but very expensive. I explained I was in the United States Air Force and my family, and I were trying to get to my duty station in New Hampshire. When I left Mountain View, Wyoming, we had ten days for traveling so my wife and I figured we would have plenty of time. Now with the clutch being out on the truck and not being able to get fixed for at least a week would put me in a bad situation not reporting to my next duty station on time. The owner didn’t say a word, just shook her head and said good night.

About 5:30 pm a knock came on the door to our room and again it was the elderly lady. She told us we were to go to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant, Leanna and I looked at each other not quite sure what was going on but did as the lady instructed. Arriving, we noticed a meal was already set out for us. I told them we didn’t have the budget for that much food, but they just waved a hand and told us it was on them. I said thanks but you don’t need to do this. The ladies in the restaurant just smiled and told us it was no bother. One of the ladies present asked if she could hold Steven as Leanna and I ate our supper. This continued again the next morning as we were again instructed to go to another restaurant for breakfast and lunch, then again ack to Kentucky Fried Chicken that evening.

Once back at the motel, the manager told me to take our truck up to the dealership the next morning. Again, Leanna and I didn’t understand what was happening but did as instructed. The following morning, I limped my truck to the dealership, but before any work was to be done, asked how much it would cost as I would need to contact my father so he could wire me the money. The service manager told me “we would discuss the matter later”. Then they took me right in.

The mechanic had just started to work on my truck and was complaining he could smell gasoline. I went white, I had forgotten about a 55-gallon drum in the back of the truck filled with emergency gasoline, provided by my wife’s father. My truck was parked under the heater in the shop, the gasoline started to expand leaking from the large bung cap. Panic mode hit us all at the same time and quickly we all pushed the truck outside. The service mechanic graciously got a forklift to remove the drum. We all were relieved as this could have been a disaster by exploding inside the shop. The day waned and the mechanic worked on my truck for nearly 12 hours. The time was around 7:30 pm and finally it was time to pay the bill. The mechanic told me his labor was free, the clutch was paid for by someone in town and I would have to pay for only a throw out bearing. My total bill, $66.00. I nearly fainted and I felt like crying. Again, I asked what is going on here? The mechanic just smiled, laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “now let’s go load that 55-gallon drum of mass destruction back in your truck”.

The following morning Leanna, little Steven, and I after being told our stay at the motel was free, then treated once again with a wonderful breakfast, i asked the motel manager and all standing around how could all the events that had transpired in the last few days cost us nothing? There were several people in the restaurant to see us off, but then the motel manager (who orchestrated the entire soiree, by pulling your wonderful amenities, together) told us our debt had been paid because of my service to our country. Prior to leaving, I tried to sit down and write out a card expressing our love and thanks to the city of Atlantic, Iowa. I asked how does one pay an entire city for so much love shown to me and my family. Leanna, my now “three sons” and I did and still do feel indebted to the beautiful city of Atlantic. Our love reaches out to the manager of the motel, and each and every person that took my family in as one of their own. The time came for us all to say goodbye. Tears were flowing from all present, but I want you all to know our tears were from leaving a family as close to us as our own families.

As time went on, I wrote to the wonderful lady that overseen the events that took place so many years ago, but as time went by, I started to lack that duty. The time is January 2024, fifty years have gone by, and I am now 71 years young. Together Leanna and I just celebrated our 52nd anniversary. I gave “Uncle Sam” six years of service then went back home to Mountain View, Wyoming working for a mining firm for 40 years and 4 months, retiring in 2015. I joined the local volunteer fire department and continued my service to our community for 30 years, 20 of those as chief. I continued to volunteer my time and service to all in need of my help, all due to your kindness to me and my little family.

 I now have 14 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren with more on the way, I’m sure. I have a debt I can only pay through giving to others what you gave to us.  I’m writing my life story to give to my children and to leave a record of my time here on earth. Leanna and I felt we needed to reach out to the people of your beautiful city once again as you all played an intricate part in this story. Once again thank you for all your wonderful hospitality. You all will continue to be in our hearts and prayers, may God bless the city of Atlantic, Iowa as well as each of you and yours.

Tim & Leanna Slagowski