But the best fort of all was inspired by superhero headquarters, as well as by the Monkees and a short-lived Saturday morning TV show called The Kids From Caper. The house where I grew up was on the edge of the town. Across the highway began the suburbs, but on my side of the road were mostly commercial buildings, a few spare houses, and empty fields. Next to our house were two vacant lots. Our immediate neighbors used to have a small house that felt like setting for a Dorothea Lange photo, but it was struck by lightning one rainy night and burned to the ground. Beyond that was an abandoned house with a plethora of detritus out back. The yard held a rusted tractor from the 30’s, a couple discarded lawnmowers, threadbare car tires, miscellaneous derelict building supplies including a pile of asbestos tiles, and a structure that used to be a combination chicken coop and horse stable.
In the logic of childhood, since no one appeared to own the property we assumed it was available for exploration. I spent hours digging up odd bits of machinery and equipment from the yard. The wire chicken cages were intriguing, large enough for a chicken, but too small to climb in. It was my neighbor Tod who got the idea of using the asbestos tiles as throwing stars, with a satisfying result when they shattered on impact with the side of the house. I imagine that Tod got bored and left after the stack was gone, but I continued to explore the barn. I discovered that by standing on the wall of the stall I could pull myself through a hole in the ceiling into the empty hayloft. It was the perfect spot for a hideout, second only to a secret cave in a hidden mountain.
Pretty soon I had the place spiffed up. The upstairs was my hideout. I swept out decades worth of dust, and replaced the hole with a trapdoor made from cut floorboards and a couple spare hinges. The roof was mostly complete, but a decayed bit of tarpaper and shingles provided an opportunity to mount a home-made periscope crafted from plastic tubing and some mirrors. It gave a 180 degree view of the neighbor’s burned down house and yard – a perfect spot for spying on any intruding evil villains, or my sisters if they showed up.
I hauled up some chairs and used hammer and nails to make shelves for comics, the Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, and a Boy Scout first aid kit. I made my own version of a the Baxter Building’s communication by bringing in some Realistic brand walkie-talkies and a crystal radio built from a kit. To complete the crime lab I put together a fingerprint kit: an ink pad, some typewriter paper, a makeup brush and some baby powder. The best feature, in my opinion at the time, was the burglar alarm. Purchased from Radio Shack, I adapted it to mount on the trapdoor so it would go off whenever the door was opened. I rigged up some fishing line to enable the alarm whenever I left the fort.
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Click here to read Fort Mentality - Part 1