Liberty Theater part 4
by John Gilbert
I was at Lisa’s early on Thursday Morning. She was very pretty in the long shirt covering her bathing suit and blue flip flops. I was in cutoff’s and a T shirt. Always the gentleman, I opened her door and in a moment we were driving out Macon Rd. heading for the little hamlet of Juniper, Georgia.
Lake Juniper was actually the millpond to an abandoned factory. I was told that the derelict building had once been a coffin factory but I don’t know if that was so. Many years ago a stream had been dammed to supply water to the waterwheel. A wooden bridge had been built over the dam which made the perfect platform for diving into the lake. We parked alongside the road next to the bridge. Since a new road had been built some distance away, there was little traffic over the single lane wooden bridge. There were already a few other swimmers present as we walked onto the bridge. Lisa had not been to Juniper before so I took a moment to point out the various features around the area.
“That was a coffin factory,” I said pointing at the badly weathered, two story building. “They say that on moonless nights you can still hear the workmen sawing the lumber to make the caskets.”
She just smirked at me, realizing that I was making up a story as I went. We then walked down a concrete abutment to the waters edge. The morning was hot but the water was cool and invigorating as we waded in. I then swam to the dam where there were a timber frame just under the water. It mad a perfect place to sit and listen to the water spill over the dam. Lisa followed and we sat and talked for a while.
“I’ve got to register for school next week. Would you mind giving me a ride to school on Monday?” She asked.
I was only too happy to oblige. I was quite taken by Lisa and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done for her. I felt that she liked me very much too. She wore her Senior ring on her left hand and many times when we were together, she would turn the ring over to show just the band if other girls were around. It then looked like she was wearing a wedding ring. I was very flattered.
We swam and talked and swam some more until the sun was high and the air was hot and we were hungry. The horseflies were pestering us so I decided that it was time to leave.
“Hey, let’s stop by my favorite place, Macon Road Barbecue,” I suggested as we pulled away from the lake.
“I’m not dressed to go out,” she protested.
“Well, I’m not either. Anyway, it’s not exactly a fancy restaurant.”
She rolled her eyes and agreed. Girls are like that, always worried about the way they look. Guys don’t care. I just wanted my favorite barbecue sandwich.
Macon Road Barbecue was located next door to the Edgewood Drive-in. There was a little path that lead from the Edgewood’s box office, through the woods, and came out behind the restaurant. When I would work at the Edgewood, a big treat was to go there and get a sandwich. They were expensive. They cost 45¢ each but they were the best! It is the barbecue that to this day that I judge all others by and I have never had its equal.
After eating I drove Lisa home. I spent the rest of the afternoon going through my camping equipment. I really missed camping but I wanted to be ready when the weather turned cooler.
Going through my camping gear only served to whet my taste for camping. As I sat in the Liberty’s booth the next night it tried to visualize a cold weather camping scene. I found paper and pen and jotted down some prose.
(After these many years, I found the story that I wrote but I’ve misplaced it for now. As soon as I find it again, I’ll insert it into the story.)
The Liberty always opened at 11:00 AM on the weekends. The temperature was already in the 90’s when the theater opened. As the day wore on the theater filled. The staff even had to open the balcony. I was sitting in my recliner when at about 2:00 the sound dropped to half its normal volume. I stepped to the pre-amp and turned the knob to a higher number. As I sat back down I heard a high-pitched whine coming from the generator room. Next the room light dropped to a red glow. I looked out of the spotlight port to see the picture on the screen fading away. I jumped to the lamp to check the carbons when the whining grew louder. There was a sudden thump and everything went dark. The generator ground to a stop. People in the theater started yelling and I heard Freddy Brown’s footsteps pounding up the stairs.
“Gilbert, what did you do?” he demanded.
“I didn’t do anything,” I answered as I flipped switches and pressed buttons trying to get things restarted.
“Well, you had to do something!”
“I was reading a magazine,” I protested.
He turned and disappeared into the dark theater. There was an emergency light over the back exit that offered the only light in the building but in only a couple of minutes it had gone dark too. The theater was filled with people complaining and it was getting hot fast. In another moment I saw the back exit door open and a shaft of bright sunlight filtered through the screen. Someone was checking the fuses back stage.
“Hey man, what happened?”
I looked up to see a dark face peering through the spotlight port. Someone had stood on the back of his seat and was looking through the window.
“I dunno,” I replied. “Something happened with the power.”
It grew hotter and hotter. Silhouetted figures moved behind the screen as they went from fuse box to fuse box. I thought I heard someone say “I found it” above the din and in a moment one light came on in my booth. One air conditioning unit also came on as well as half the stage lights. I had threading lamps in one projector but not the other and the generator would not start.
“You blew out the fuses,” said Freddy Brown as he appeared at the booth door. “Can you get the show going?”
“No. I’ve already tried. The amps are off and I have no lamps.”
“I’ve called Don Breedon, the electrician. He should be here in a few minutes.”
As I sat in the partly lit booth, I remembered that there was a backup rectifier in the generator room. I opened the access door but the light wouldn’t come on. It would have to wait.
A half hour passed and I again saw figures moving behind the screen and in another moment all of the lights came back on. The second air conditioning unit came to life and the amps came back on. I tried the generator button but it wouldn’t work. The light was now on in the generator room and I crawled in. I noticed a dusty switch box on the wall and I turned its lever to the on position. Large dust covered glass bulbs inside the unit came to light. I knew that these were Tunger bulbs and I had seen this kind of rectifier at other theaters but there was usually two, one for each lamp. I crawled out of the access room just in time to hear Don’s friendly voice.
“Hi Johnny. So you’re now at the Liberty.
I had known Don for many years. He had done a lot of the electrical work at the Edgewood. I loved electrical things and he was always interesting to talk with.
“Yep. What happened?”
“Something took out the Buss Fuses. I’m suspecting that old generator,” he said as he crawled into the access room.
I dashed to the projector that had been running and struck the carbons. They flared to life. I turned the motor on and the sound started with a loud, low pitch as it came back up to speed. I had to turn the volume back to its normal level. I was now back on the screen and the audience settled back down.
In a few moments the changeover bell rang. As usual I stepped up the next projector and struck the lamp. To my horror, the lamp on the running projector went out. I dashed to that projector and re-started its lamp. Then I saw that the lamp in the other projector had gone out. It dawned on me that the single rectifier would run only one lamp at a time. I instantly had a thought. I opened the lamp house dowser then opened the changeover plate with my finger. Instead of using the changeover peddle on the floor, I would simply change the lamps. I watched for the changeover ques on the screen and when I saw the first set of ques, I turned on the motor switch. I now had eight seconds uitil the next mark. I grabbed the carbon feed knob and held fast. Just then I saw the second que mark and I rolled the knob. The carbon lit and the other lamp went out. It made a kind of fade between projectors on the screen but it worked.
“Looks like the brushes in the generator wore out and shorted on the armature,” Don said as he crawled out of the access room. “It’ll be tomorrow before I can fix it.”
We chatted for a few moments before he left. Just before 6:00, James McCarty came through the door.
“Heard you had a bit of a problem.”
I told him the whole story and showed him how I was making changeovers.
“We’re way off schedule,” I told him. “I’m sure Mr. Brown will figure out something.”
Just then Freddy Brown popped into the booth to see how things were going.
“Gilbert, you really don’t want to leave do you? I mean, you’ve got this changeover thing down pat.”
“I’m sure James can handle it just fine,” I said as I headed for the door.
It had been a long day and I was ready to head for home. Besides, I had to call Lisa and make sure that everything was still on for taking her to school on Monday. I was looking forward to my time with her but I was in for an unexpected surprise.