Catch you on the flip flop
Bill Fries, famous as C.W. McCall, passes at 93 in Ouray
Former Ouray mayor Bill Fries passed away on April 1 at the age of 93. A tourist turned longtime resident, Fries (pronounced freeze) served as mayor from 1986 to 1992 and raised funds during his tenure to rebuild the historic City Hall of Ouray, which had burned down in 1950. The building, which was designed after the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, was a gift from Thomas Walsh in 1900, owner of the Camp Bird Mine. Walsh’s daughter Evalyn Walsh McLean was the last private owner of the famous Hope Diamond.
Outside of Ouray, Fries was best known as C.W. McCall, the pseudonym he created while working in advertising. Beginning in the 1950s, Fries worked in Omaha and in the early 1970s created an advertising campaign for Old Home Bread. It was for that campaign that he created McCall, a trucker who wheels into the Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Café, nearly out of “red truck fuel.” At the counter, he and Mavis, the gum-smacking waitress character, make eyes at one another over a burger with an Old Home bun. Fries narrated the ad with his deep, deadpan voice, even Mavis’ line when she asks, “Tell me truck man, what’s your name?” The advertising campaign capitalized on the trucker and CB radio craze of the era and went on to earn accolades.
By the mid-1970s, Fries left the advertising agency in Omaha and began his career as C.W. McCall. He had top 20 country hits with “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Café” and “Wolf Creek Pass.”
He chose to stop performing in the 1980s and retired to Ouray. His family announced in February that he was in hospice care for cancer.
Survivors include his wife of 70 years, Rena Bonnema Fries; and three children, Bill Fries III, Mark Fries and Nancy Fries; a sister; four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson.
Truckin’ on down the other side
Wolf Creek Pass, according to some accounts, is based on a story Fries was told by a trucker in Wiggins, Colo., who “was haulin’ chickens/ On a flatbed out of Wiggins/ And we’d spent all night on the uphill side/ Of 37 miles of hell/ Called Wolf Creek Pass/ Which is up on the Great Divide.”
In the tune, McCall and his partner, Earl, put down their Nehi Colas and their “1948 Peterbilt screamed to life,” waking up the chickens. They “commenced a-truckin’/ And them hens commenced a-cluckin’/ And then Earl took out a match/ And scratched his pants/ And lit up the unused half of a dollar cigar and took a puff/ Says “My, ain’t this pretty up here.” McCall warns Earl “this hill can spill us/ You better slow down or you gonna kill us/ Just make one mistake/ And it’s the pearly gates for them 85 crates/ Of USDA-approved cluckers/You wanna hit second?”
In his unmistakable deadpan voice, McCall says the “chromium plated, fully illuminated, genuine accessory shift knob” came off, the hot end of the cigar fell down Earl’s pants cuffs, and “set him right on fire.” The truck was careening down the pass “at the rate of 22,000 telephone poles an hour.”
“I looked at Earl and his eyes was wide/ His lip was curled, and his leg was fried/ And his hand was froze to the wheel/ Like a tongue to a sled in the middle of a blizzard/ I says, Earl, “I’m not the type to complain/ But the time has come for me to explain/ That if you don’t apply some brake real soon/ They’re gonna have to pick us up/ With a stick and a spoon.”
Earl stepped on the brake, and it was “sorta like steppin’ on a plum.”
“Well, from there on down
It just wasn’t real pretty
It was hairpin county
And switchback city
One of ’em looked like a can full’a worms
Another one looked like malaria germs
Right in the middle of the whole damn show
Was a real nice tunnel
Now wouldn’t you know
Sign says clearance to the 12-foot line
But the chickens was stacked to 13-nine
Well we shot that tunnel at a hundred-and-ten
Like gas through a funnel and eggs through a hen
We took that top row of chickens off
Slicker than scum off a Louisiana swamp
Went down and around and around and down
We run outta ground at the edge of town
Bashed into the side of a feed store
In downtown Pagosa Springs.”
His most well-known hit, though, was Convoy, complete with Pig Pen, Rubber Duck, chicken coops full of bears, choppers in the skies, a thousand screamin’ trucks, and “eleven long-haired Friends a’ Jesus in a chartreuse micra-bus.”
Fries told the Associated Press in 1990 the songs were timely as the CB and trucker craze swept the country.
“The jargon was colorful, and the American public liked that, too,” he said. “It was laced with humor, but it had a rebellious feeling about it and people responded to it.”
That rebellious feeling also led to the song’s resurgence in popularity as an anthem during recent truck convoy demonstrations.
“Ah, 10-4, Pig Pen, what’s your twenty?/ OMAHA? Well, they oughta know what to do with them hogs out there fer sure/ Well, mercy sakes, good buddy, we gonna back on outta here, so keep the bugs off your glass and the bears/ Off your tail, We’ll catch you on the flip-flop. This here’s the Rubber Duck on the side/ We gone, ‘bye, ‘bye.”
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