I’m feeling mildly maudlin today. I was reminded of an old friend of the family, Walter Hall.
He was our neighbour some thirty years ago. I remember going fishing with him and my dad, going up into the slash (place where loggers have cleared trees but there are still a lot of smaller logs they didn’t want on the ground) with them to get firewood, watching them make beer, and so on. I don’t remember the cartoons I watched at that age, but I remember doing these things.
Walt died about ten years ago. He didn’t get a chance to meet my daughter (she was born just a few months before he died), but my son called him ‘Poppa Walt’ — Walt was often around when we came to visit my folks, he was part of the family. In fact, he lived in a suite in my parents’ house (the house I live in now, my office and library now where his suite was).
He was not well-educated, but he was remarkably experienced and resourceful. This little story tells a lot about how he worked and thought.
This house is in a fairly rural area, though it’s becoming less so in the last ten years. I’m on the side of a mountain, and many of my neighbours have some kind of farm (next door has llamas, the guy before him had sheep; many have at least one horse or a pony, and so on). A lot of us have tractors, there has been one here for over fifteen years.
Tractors sometimes get stuck. If you catch it in time you might be able to simply drive away before it happens, but a number of us have gotten somewhat capable and clever at using the tractor bucket to lever and push our way out of holes. As long as you can do it without getting caught, it didn’t happen, no matter what the evidence.
If you get caught at it you can expect people won’t interfere unless asked… but they will ‘help’. You know, stand around, watch what you’re doing in case you make mistakes, offer suggestions (that may or may not be relevant, let alone helpful), that sort of thing.
I did say it’s a fairly rural area, right?
If you ask for assistance, there are any number of big diesel trucks around and tow ropes. I’ve never seen anyone so stuck they couldn’t be gotten loose within about ten minutes (if it’s so muddy you can’t even get a long rope from the tractor to a truck on firm ground, you couldn’t have gotten down there anyway)… but even if it takes half or three-quarters of an hour to get yourself loose, take the moral victory.
There are a lot of Walt stories in my family, but I was reminded of this one so this is the one I’ll tell. I think it does a good job of illustrating something of Walt’s personality.
One day Walt was puttering in the yard with the tractor and hit a soft spot. Since we cleared and drained the swampy area at the bottom of the yard we don’t have so many of these, but this was before that and when the land was still settling after the original landscaping. Sometimes you can drive out of it, but once the treads on the drive wheels are full of mud they’re basically slicks, and by this time the ground had been churned up so there was no way he could bucket his way free… and by now he was up to the axles in mud.
He went over to the woodshed and found a stack of short 2x4s that were slated to become firewood. And a coil of nylon rope that wasn’t being used for anything. He tied the 2x4s the drive wheels and paddled his ass to freedom.
My folks got home to find the tractor parked by the shop, covered in mud to the seat and with the improvised paddles still tied on. There was a HUGE tractor-shaped hole near the pond. Walt was just walking back after hosing the worst of the mud off himself so he could unstrap the paddles and clean the mud off the tractor.
“So, interesting day?”
“Nah, nothing to speak of.”
See? NOTHING. HAPPENED.
(But we tell this story anyway.)