- I am a Gypsy Prince -
by Harry AnderS, Dutch psychotherapist and writer of 'books with a message'

Book 1 - Heir to the Throne

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20. Repairing an old snow scooter; and a ride in our woods.

    Suddenly, I heard Michail's truck, entering our secluded camp and stopping in our parking lot.
Of course, I wanted to know if he and Pietro had any success in the gadjo world...
Therefore, I left my Mom and our cooking dinner, and raced outside to greet them!
Michail had a huge smile on his face, while I jumped up at him to let him catch me in midair.
As usual, he almost crushed me in his strong arms, before he kissed my head and put me down again.

    In the meantime, Pietro was pulling some extremely strange vehicle out of Michail's truck...
It could be some small motorbike, but the weird thing didn't have any visible wheels attached!
Its front looked like a pair of small skis; while its back only held some mysterious rubber band.
How would anybody ever be able to drive such an unpractical thing?

    Pietro sat his weird motorbike down onto its skis and rubber band; and stroked it lovingly.
Obviously, he was very happy to be its proud owner; but I didn't understand why that was.
Maybe, the thing wasn't a motorbike at all, and Pietro had planned to use it for something totally different...
    Feeling more and more curious, I asked him:

    "Pietro, what are you bringing home now? Is this a motorbike? Why doesn't it have any wheels?"

    "I bet you never saw one before! This isn't a motorbike, but it's called a 'snow scooter'. They use it for transportation across the snowy mountains.
"I found it on a mining company dump; and I will try to repair it. Then, we can use it during the winter, to cross through our snowy woods..."

    Of course, I squatted down next to the strange thing, and looked it over curiously.
It had an engine, a handle bar, and a fuel tank, just like any other normal motor bike; but how did it work?
I understood how you might steer the 'snow scooter' with its skis; but what could be the use of that mysterious rubber band...
    Well, let's ask Pietro about it:

    "Pietro, I don't understand why your snow scooter has a rubber band instead of a normal wheel..."

    "This rubber band is called a 'caterpillar'; and the snow scooter uses it to move itself across the snow."

    Huh? I still didn't understand how this weird vehicle would ever be able to move itself...
Besides, the rubber band didn't look at all like a caterpillar, which always turned into a butterfly at the end of its life.
Could Pietro be wrong, although he was our technical man?
Let's see what he is going to do next...

    Pietro attached a piece of rope to some small wheel next to the engine, and pulled the rope...
Suddenly, the strange caterpillar band stirred; and its surface moved a little bit from front to back!
NOW, I understood how this strange vehicle could move on a snowy surface...
Of course, the moving rubber band walked on the snow without sinking into it; and, with the skis in front, you could steer the scooter...
Wow, those gadjo's had to be really technical, to be able to invent such a clever thing!

    I only hoped Pietro would be able to repair his snow scooter, and ride on it.
This would be far better than walking on homemade snowshoes, or having snow chains attached to our cars!
Maybe, he would even allow me to join him, for a ride?
That would be fun!

    However, my Mom called me; and I had to go back to our caravan to have dinner with my parents...
Reluctantly, I left the snow scooter, after promising Pietro to be back as soon as possible.
He would put his scooter into one of our spare caravans, where he would try to repair it.
Maybe, as his little mechanical engineer, I would be allowed to help him?
That is, of course, if my parents agreed...

    I jumped high into the air from sudden joy; and raced to our caravan, to ask my Mom and Dad for their permission!


    Two days later, I had learned quite a lot about two-stroke-engines, throttles, clogged nozzles, spark plugs, and a broken piston ring due to an overheated cylinder.
Pietro and I were working closely together; disassembling 'our' snow scooter, and trying to repair all its broken parts.
As a technical man, he knew how the scooter worked; and he patiently answered all the questions my over-curious brain came up with.
Fortunately, he had an enormous wooden box, filled to the brim with all sorts of technical stuff!
Every time we needed something, we were able to find a usable replacement from his box.

    Near the end of the day, both Pietro and I were covered with grease and oil, now looking like real machinists!
Playing it safe, Pietro first took me to his caravan to wash me, because he thought my parents wouldn't be too happy with their rather greasy son...
We took a shower and scrubbed each other thoroughly, using lots of yellow soap and hot water, trying to look a bit more presentable.
However, the moment I showed up in our own caravan, my Mom immediately told me that my ears and fingernails were still greasy...
She didn't complain too much; but I had to wash myself again!

    Four days later, Pietro and I had reassembled all the carefully cleaned and mended parts of our snow scooter.
That is, with the exception of one large bolt we couldn't find, although we had turned everything in our spare caravan upside down at least two times!
Pietro thought it wouldn't be a very important item; so we left it out until we would be able to find a replacement...
We looked everything else over for the last time, to be sure we hadn't forgotten anything really important.
Then, we dragged our snow scooter outside, into the snow, for its first trial trip.

    Pietro handed me a small jerry can; and I poured some fuel from it into the tank.
Thinking this should be enough for our first short ride, I secured the tank cap, while Pietro put the can away.
We had attached a new starting cord; and Pietro held the scooter, while I pulled the new cord with all my force.
At first, the engine only rumbled; and I pulled the cord again...
Then, it coughed and spat out a very smelly dark cloud!

    Pietro and I started to cheer; and we looked at each other with beaming oil-smeared faces:

    "We DID it! There is still life in this thing! Let's try it again..."

    Again, Pietro held the scooter; while I pulled the starting cord, using both hands...
Suddenly, the engine started to mumble and splutter; until its protesting diminished and it calmed down.
Now, its softly murmuring rumble almost sounded like music, at least to my ears!
Its smelly dark cloud disappeared slowly, while the engine started to behave exactly as it should.
Pietro turned the throttle a little bit, and the sound reacted by cheering loudly.
He turned the throttle back, and the engine went back to murmuring.

    We DID it.
We really did it!
We had repaired our throwaway snow scooter, and brought it back to life!
Pietro stopped the engine, and helped me fill the fuel tank to the brim.

    By now, a whole bunch of grown-ups and children had gathered around our cloud-spewing snow scooter.
They looked curiously at what we were doing, while uttering all sorts of funny comments and witty remarks.
They even asked us when we were going to produce the next solar eclipse...
However, Pietro and I couldn't care less; and we ignored them totally!
We were bringing a seemingly dead snow scooter back to life, and that was all that mattered...

    I closed the tank cap, Pietro mounted the saddle, and I pulled the starting cord again.
Immediately, the engine came to life, murmuring softly, again sounding like beautiful music.
I got tears in my eyes from happiness, and furtively wiped them away with an oil-smeared hand.
We had really brought our dead throwaway snow scooter back to life!

    Pietro turned towards me, with a big smile on his face, and asked me:

    "What do you think; shall we go for a short ride, to try our scooter out?"

    I nodded enthusiastically, climbed behind Pietro, held onto him, and told him:

    "Okay, let’s go!"

    Pietro put his hands onto the handle bar, and switched its safety gear into forward.
Then, he turned the throttle a little bit up, the engine cheered, and our snow scooter started to move!
Carefully, Pietro turned the throttle up a little bit more, and our scooter jumped forward...


    To our disappointment, we heard a loud metallic sound, and our snow scooter stalled!
Its engine stopped, and the sudden silence was deafening...
What the heck had happened?

    The gathered people around us started to chuckle, shaking their heads in disbelief...
Obviously, they thought we would never be able to repair such an old piece of junk.
    Only little Dimi stepped towards me, and asked:

    "Harold? Why has your snow scooter stopped? I thought you repaired it and would go for a ride?"

    "Yeah, well... I think there's still something wrong with it. We will have to repair it again."

    "Can I help you?"

    "Sure; when we find out what's wrong with it..."

    Pietro and I stared at each other; and we could clearly see the disappointment in each other's eyes...
What the heck could have happened to our again lifeless snow scooter?
    After a moment, Pietro started to curse, while he kicked the poor thing in frustration:

    "It has a broken gear, dammit. That is why they had thrown it away! I should have known it..."

    Could Pietro be right?
Could our so carefully repaired snow scooter really have a broken gear?
Then, why hadn't we seen the damage, while we were disassembling and inspecting every single part of the engine?
To me, the loud 'clang' didn't sound like a broken gear; but more like some jammed metal thing on its outside...

    I started to think, while I closed my eyes to concentrate easier.
Using my memory, I pictured our snow scooter in my mind; while I tried to understand what could have happened...
What could have caused the sudden metallic 'clang' sound, clearly coming from its outside?
In my mind, I saw the engine's crankshaft, going into the automatic clutch, turning a small sprocket around...
A heavy chain, emerging from the engine housing, connected the sprocket to the caterpillar gear wheel...

    Thinking it over again, I was now absolutely sure:
Only the moving chain could have caused that metallic clang sound!
Could the chain be broken; or had it involuntarily jammed into something?
Let's find out what the problem is!

    I crouched down next to our scooter, and looked at where the chain disappeared into the engine housing...
A second later, I started to shriek with laughter, from the sudden relief.
I had found the problem!
At the far end of the chain, next to the engine, I saw a large bolt, jammed in between the chain and the small sprocket!
There was our missing bolt...

    I jumped up, bumped into Pietro who looked very surprised, and told him:

    "Pietro, I have found our missing bolt! It's stuck in between the chain and the sprocket..."

    For a moment, Pietro stared at me, as if he didn't believe what I had told him...
Then, a huge smile appeared on his face, while he ruffled my hair with his oil-covered hand.
He squatted down next to our snow scooter, and stared in surprise at the jammed bolt...
Then, he started to bellow with laughter!
    He ruffled my hair again, while he told me:

    "Harry, you really are a mechanical engineer! In fact, you are the best engineer I've ever known! You found our problem in no time...
"What is your advice now? Shall we remove the jammed bolt, put it where it belongs, and try to go for a ride again?"

    I nodded my consent, and we went back to work.
A few older boys helped us put our snow scooter back into our warmed spare caravan.
Again working closely together, Pietro and I disassembled the engine housing; until we were able to free the sprocket.
We fished the missing bolt out of its hiding place, and immediately screwed it into the empty hole where it belonged.
Then, we reassembled the engine housing, and rechecked everything for the last time.

    Again, we dragged our repaired snow scooter outside.
Pietro mounted its saddle and held the handle bar, while I pulled the starting cord.
The engine came to life immediately; again murmuring softly, like beautiful music.
Pietro pulled the gear into forward and carefully turned the throttle up, this time a lot more hesitantly...
A moment later, the automatic clutch turned the sprocket around, and the caterpillar band pushed our scooter forward!
Pietro turned the throttle up a little bit more; and the scooter moved a couple of feet...

    Yes! We DID it.
This time, we REALLY did it!

    I jumped onto our scooter, behind Pietro's back, and firmly held onto him.
Pietro turned the throttle up some more, and off we went!
I cheered loudly to the roaring sound of the engine, jumping up and down and feeling elated.
We had really brought our dead snow scooter back to life!

    Pietro started to ride very slowly; while he tried out the brakes and tested the skis.
He wanted to be absolutely sure that everything was working reliably and safely!
    Now that he was satisfied, he shouted over his shoulder:

    "Are you ready for a fast ride? Then, hold on to me; and, please, don't let go, because I want to bring you home in one piece!"

    "Okay! Don't worry about me, and let's go!"

    I clamped onto Pietro's back with both hands; while Pietro opened the throttle and let the engine roar at full power.
Immediately, we jumped forward, suddenly spraying a huge fountain of snow towards our onlookers!
My surprised friends started to scold us; while they swiftly jumped out of the way, suddenly looking like snowmen...

    I stuck out my tongue towards them, cheered loudly, and felt on cloud nine.
This was the real life!
Although this was the first time I rode some kind of motor vehicle, I already felt totally at ease on our snow scooter.
It was as if my body remembered what it had to do to keep its balance, by leaning to the left or to the right into the curves.
After a moment, I lessened my death grip on Pietro somewhat, and started to look around...

    Pietro steered our snow scooter around the outside of our camp, going faster and faster.
When I looked back at where we came from, I saw our trail clearly outlined in the snow.
I had lots of fun, and enjoyed our ride very much.

    Then, before we reached our parking lot, Pietro competently steered our snow scooter into our open woods!
Suddenly, we crossed snowy valleys, slalomed around frozen trees, and jumped small hills.
Now, I had the time of my life, and couldn't stop cheering!

    After some time, Pietro stopped, turned towards me, and asked me:

    "What do you think... Do you want to climb in front of me, and drive our scooter?"

    What? Did I hear this correctly?
Would Pietro really allow me to drive our snow scooter, all by myself?
    Feeling very elated, I shouted from enthusiasm:

    "Can I really? Oh, yes! Of course, I want to drive our scooter!"

    I jumped off my seat, and waited impatiently until Pietro had shifted backwards.
Then, I mounted the saddle of our still softly murmuring snow scooter, and stretched my arms out to reach the handle bar...
Pietro put his arms around my small waist and held me; sitting ready to intervene immediately if necessary.
I turned the throttle handle a little bit, and our scooter reacted immediately and started to move forward on my command!

    Almost immediately, I found out that I was still way too young to really enjoy driving our scooter.
My body sat in an awkward position, with my arms outstretched to the maximum, and my short legs dangling free...
Either I was too small, or our snow scooter was way too big for me!
Riding in a straight line was fun, but I couldn't steer its skis around the curves without a lot of help from Pietro.

    After some more trying, Pietro and I decided to switch back to our original positions.
Of course, I felt a bit disappointed, but fortunately not too much.
I only had to wait until I had grown some more, or until I had found a smaller snow scooter...
When would I finally have my growth spurt?

    Again, Pietro let our snow scooter roar and jump, while racing back to our camp.
This time, a whole bunch of jealous kids was waiting for us to show up...
They cheered loudly when they saw us, and immediately crowded around our scooter.
    Of course, they wanted to have their turn:

    "Now, it's my turn! Come on, Harold, you have been riding long enough..."

    "Yes, but... Listen, YOU didn't help Pietro! Now, I think it’s a little bit MY snow scooter as well..."

    Fortunately, but still a bit hesitantly, my friends admitted that I could be right.
I HAD helped Pietro all the time, and even detected why the engine suddenly stalled.
Now, of course, I had first rights...

    Pietro grinned; while he told my friends that I was absolutely right.
It really was OUR snow scooter, because I had done most of the repairing!
After politely asking me for my permission, he finally let the first kid climb behind his back.
He rode the kid around the camp a few times, accelerating while producing high fountains of snow.
Then, he returned, to collect the next one...
One by one, all my friends had their ride and felt satisfied.

    At last, our snow scooter ran out of fuel and started to hiccup.
Pietro parked it at the back of our spare caravan, and went home to wash up and still his hunger.
All the kids went home as well, after thanking me for letting them have their rides, and still chattering about the fun they had.
I followed them to our own caravan; feeling oily and satisfied, but also tired and very hungry.



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Harry AnderS, Dutch psychotherapist and writer of 'books with a message'

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