by Duane Preimsberger


Burville “Bud” Wenke and I worked together as Patrol Sergeants and later Detectives at Firestone Station. Bud was one of those folks who could be described as a good guy! He was hard working, ethical, interested in the job and willing to try new things. He was well liked and respected as an equal by those with whom he worked. Unfortunately, Bud did have one failing; he was accident prone and seemed always to be bearing the residual markings of one calamity or another. Some were his fault and others weren’t. I heard him once described as an individual who might come out of his house on a perfectly wonderful Southern California day; a day on which the sun would be brightly glowing, a deep blue cloudless sky would surround the area and the climate was nothing short of remarkably pleasant. On that day, Bud Wenke would be struck by lightening!


Bud often did things that would create circumstances that might lead to disaster. One example occurred when Bud was using a grinding wheel in his garage at home only to have it disintegrate and send shrapnel into his face creating a disfigurement in the middle of his forehead that looked like an indentation in which to place a precious stone. It was not uncommon to see him limping or moving with some degree of difficulty on the Mondays following his weekend do-it-yourself projects. Bud took a good deal of kidding about his propensity for self inflicted injury with a good spirit.


Although I wasn’t present for the following event, it was told to me third or fourth hand and I have a reasonable belief that it has been only modestly altered from reality and that’s why the disclaimer!


The entire 40 man Detective Bureau knew something was up with Bud on the Monday morning when he entered the office with his right hand crammed deeply into his pants pocket. No one asked initially what was wrong as we watched him try to operate left handed. He unlocked his desk drawer left handed, he poured himself a cup of coffee left handed and he even tried to write some notes in his red book, daily record, with his left hand. All of his attempts seemed cumbersome and unnatural and it wasn’t until he sneezed and automatically drew his right hand out of his pocket to stifle the sneeze that the latest affliction was seen.


The end of his right middle finger was heavily bandaged and that drew an immediate litany of remarks both clever and crude about what might have befallen him over the weekend. Few fingers possess the lore and legend of the one that Bud had injured and the entire Detective Bureau waited to hear the rendition of, “how it happened.”   


It took little coaxing to get Bud to tell the tale and it turned out to be one worth hearing. It began with the Wenke family loading up into their Ford Pinto station wagon with the faux wood sides for a trip to the zoo. The kids were especially delighted to have an opportunity to see the animals that were drawn in their children’s books up close and personal. Soon the questions began arising from the back seat; “Can we pet the lions? Will there be real elephants? And of course, are we there yet?”


They got a parking space fairly close to the zoo entrance and soon the Wenke family had purchased their tickets, headed for the entrance turnstiles and had entered the zoo grounds.


One of the very first things that the kids saw was a standard at major zoos, it was the petting area. There, small, docile animals await the ministrations of young visitors who stuff feed pellets into their mouths with one hand while petting them with the other. The Wenke children rushed into the enclosure and began approaching the various critters, only to have them turn away and go to another youngster who had the food pellets that had been purchased from a machine within the petting enclosure. Before long the Wenke kids were near tears because the animals wouldn’t allow them to be near. At that point Mom got into the act and explained to a rather tight fisted Dad that he would put a quarter in the feed machine and get the kids the stuff, the food pellets, needed to enjoy their visit or he’d suffer the consequences!


Bud had been married long enough to realize that the only answer to the protestation from his wife was to take from his pocket and squeeze open his plastic coin carrier, extract a quarter, that wasn’t a collectors coin, and then insert it into the feed pellet machine. He managed to do this rather deftly and then he turned the red knob that activated the machinery that released the brown paper bag filled with feed pellets so that it fell into the tray below. The machine ground and then clunked but failed to provide a bag of feed into the tray.


Now some say that a better approach to the problem would have been to jiggle the red handle or attempt to tip the machine back and forth, to bang on it smartly or to ask one of the zoo employees for help; but Bud did none of these things. Instead, he dropped to his hands and knees and opened the small door at the top of the delivery tray and angled his head around in such a way so that he could peer into the inner mechanisms of the feed pellet machine.  As he did this he could see that his bag; the one that had cost an entire quarter, was apparently stuck far inside and needed some help to drop to its final resting place.



So Bud, the same man who was often subjected to the wrath of the do-it-yourself gods, stuck his right arm completely inside the pellet machine all the way to his armpit. While in that position, although uncomfortable he could feel around and claw at the jammed bag with his longest finger, the middle one. Slowly, the bag seemed to loosen from the grip of the machinery and a smile began to appear on Bud’s face as he seemingly overcame the machine that was holding back his children from their rightful enjoyment of the petting zoo!


The bag dropped and at the same instant the machine made another clunking sound and Bud found that this devilish device had now seized his middle finger in the grips of its gears and was refusing to let him go. He struggled for a moment but found that he was definitely stuck and in pain from the pressure that the machinery had placed on his trapped middle finger. Not only was Bud stuck but his position prevented other families from being able to access the machine and now other children weren’t able to enjoy the pleasures of the petting zoo because Bud obstructed the use of the machine and its delivery of feed pellets.


In a relatively brief period of time, onlookers were complaining that Bud was probably a feed pellet thief or worse a machine burglar who’d finally received his comeuppance. Some were even suggesting calling for the cops to come and arrest him. Additionally, his wife was whispering that they were very embarrassed by his position on the ground and he could hear his kids, in the background, whining that they needed Dad to get out of their way so that they could retrieve the bag of feed and enjoy the petting zoo animals.


Bud began to put to use all of the investigative skills and abilities he garnered as a Firestone Station Detective in an effort to successfully solve the dilemma that confronted him and his family. He recoiled at the thought of either cops or fireman coming to his rescue and so he was left with what he thought was his only option. Bud implemented his plan and in doing so he pulled loose his stuck finger and he left a small piece of flesh from the end of his middle finger and his fingernail within the maw of the feed pellet machine.


Supposedly, once free, Buds ensuing yelling and dance routine as he waved his bleeding finger around in the air before finally clutching it under his left armpit would have caught the approving eyes of even the most sophisticated American Indian Dancer appearing at a Pow-Wow.


There was a first aid station at the zoo and that’s where Bud got some immediate attention for his painful wound, before exiting the zoo for a rather subdued trip home. One on which Bud drove totally left handed.


Yes, the kids missed their chance, that time, to pet the lions and to see the elephants but they did learn some new vocabulary words from Dad that made Mom pale at their use.


Bud got a lot of kidding about his misadventure from his fellows at Firestone Detectives. A few days later a document appeared, written in Olde English style, by an anonymous scribe, reminiscent of William Shakespeare. The document portrayed Bud as a Knight, Sir Burville Wenke, and recounted his adventures as a battle with the Feede Beaste, a terrible dragon who attempted to devour Bud, starting at his middle fingertip. It got a whole lot of comments and laughter.


The most interesting call came from the staff at the South Gate Municipal court who wondered about what they saw when Detective Wenke pulled his right hand out of his pocket in order to take the oath as a sworn witness in a criminal case; they were curious about why his middle finger was so heavily bandaged?


Yes, it was just another day in the never ending and unusual annals of Firestone Station!