The Trailer Ball Lesson
© Beverly Howard 2007
(Please feel free to link or copy and pass on with credit)

Hard Lesson

A passion for gliders and soaring coupled with the freedom of youth brought me to Texas in the mid ninteen sixties.  Three soaring enthusiasts from across Texas hired me to move there in order to establish and run a soaring center on an abandoned WWII flight training air base which had been turned over to the city of San Marcos for use as the municipal airport.

It was probably one of the lowest paying jobs in Texas at the  time, but that was offset by being able to fly almost every day without having to pay for it as well as the ability to hang out with some of the best customers and friends in the world.

We had a great group of regular pilots, including an oil man from the Houston area who owned and flew one of the most beautiful and high performance gliders of that time, the Swiss built fiberglass Diamant. 

I was surprised to find this pilot already at the airport when we arrived one Saturday, talking with a ruddy nosed man I had never seen before.  It took a while to figure out that the owner had put his beautiful ship up for sale at an unbelievably low price in the only national soaring magazine.  The prospective buyer had subscribed to an "airmail" delivery version of this magazine.  This meant that he had already received the sale advertisement which we would not even see or otherwise have been aware of for another week or two.

It was also obvious that the prospective buyer was pressuring and haranguing the Diamant owner... unbelievably, as we later discovered, over the asking price for the ship.  This went on for several hours, until around mid afternoon when the purchase was finalized and the buyer began to collect his purchase, disassemble it and load it into the trailer for the trip back, a process which took more time than everyone at the airport would have liked.

Throughout the day, friends and customers wandered through with tales of the stranger's pushiness and general unpleasant manner.  Each trip he took into the office darkened my mood a little as he voiced his displeasure over everything from the Coke machine prices to the state of the airport in general, so the general mood brightened up a bit when the trailer was finally hooked up to his pickup... but it darkened again when he disconnected it, then removed the trailer ball from his truck.

A few minutes later, he walked up to the display counter with his 1 7/8 inch trailer ball in hand and proceeded to object to the $5.95 price of the new 2 inch trailer ball in the display case, because, "he already owned a 2 inch trailer ball but neglected to bring it with him, and he had just discovered that the
hitch on the Diamant trailer was 2 inch."

I explained to him it really didn't matter as he could safely use the 1 7/8 inch ball to get the glider back to his home base in Dallas.  He countered that while he knew it was safe to use, it would rattle and bother him on the drive back. ...last straw... long hard day... hot day... busy day... made unpleasant all day by his presence.  As a consequence... I just wanted him to "go away" ...not go away mad... just "GO AWAY!!!" ...and... as far as I was concerned, the sooner the better.

I opened the display case, handed him the new 2" trailer ball, took the used trailer ball out of his hand and said... "Ok, even trade."  He gave the barest hint of a smile, took the new ball back to the truck and everyone's relief was palatable as we watched him finally disappear in the dust of the airport access road.

Despite our unpleasant intruder, it had been a good day of flying for the glider pilots, so, shortly after the sun had set and the massive hangar doors were closed, everyone adjourned to the local Dairy Queen to eat and share the day's flying stories.  Standing in line, I was still chafing and telling a friend about the final insult of the trailer balls.  My friend listened quietly, then responded, "Yep... he got what he wanted." 

He paused, then added, "...and you re enforced his negative behavior."

Worse, he had successfully done the same to the ship's owner, one of the nicest and gentlest people on the planet, who's original asking price, which was far below what the ship was worth, was reduced to even less.

My friend's reminder about "re enforcing bad behavior" has stuck with me for over forty years and provided one life lesson well learned.  I made a decision that night never to reward bad behavior again and that day had trained me to recognize it instantly each time it has happened since.  When it does, I smile... make it very clear that the unreasonable thing they want or want to happen, "just isn't gonna happen!" 

Then, if they don't go away... I do.