Wednesday, February 21, 2024

After Action Report (Cumberland Saga)

The sun was a fading, orange ball on the western horizon when Sig looked at Blain and raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question. The trailer was empty.

Like Blain, Sig only had a few quick bites to eat for lunch. Unlike Blain, Sig had been relentlessly burning four-hundred Calories an hour for the last ten hours.

Blain drew his fore-finger across his throat in the universal signal “We are done.”

Sig banged his shovel against the back of Lliam’s seat. When Lliam looked back, Sig repeated Blain’s signal. Lliam nodded in agreement. As much as he liked driving a tractor, ten hours is a long day for a 14-year-old.

Peggy saw Lliam turn toward the barn with Sig still riding in the trailer. She had not quite caught up to Lliam but she was close, oh, so very close. Finishing this load would put her slightly ahead of Lliam...but then she would be done, too.

Peggy nodded to Blain as he walked toward her to give her the news. She wanted  to let him know that she had seen his signal to Sig. There was no reason for Blain to walk a single step more than necessary. Peggy had seen that he had been on his feet the entire day. He even took turns shoveling when there were lulls or air-bubbles in number of volunteers showing up.

It had been a very long day for all parties concerned.

Blain trudged toward the barn where Roger housed the tractor and got there just as Sig got out of the trailer. It was clear that he was stiff and sore from the exercise he had demanded of his shoveling muscles.

Sig said, in a gruff voice “I would like it if you and Sarah came over after dinner. We can sit on the patio and talk about what we need to do tomorrow.”

Blain nodded. All he wanted to do was to eat dinner and crash, but if Sig wanted to chit-chat...well, Blain figured he could sleep with his eyes open.

Dinner was a quick throw-together of cold cornbread and beans. Then Sarah and Blain hustled over to Sig’s.

Sig was in his rocking chair, smoking his pipe. Gregor was smoking a cigar...Blain didn’t even know that he smoked, but he should have been able to guess. Alice of Roger-and-Alice was there. Alice informed them that Roger had a strained back so she was attending in his stead. Sig indicated the chairs where Blain and Sarah could sit. Sig handed him a pipe and said “This en’s yers.” It was already charged with a modest load of tobacco.

Blain’s mind raced ahead. There was NO WAY Sig could have heard about his losing his temper with Constanze. Unless Sig was playing three-dimensional mind-games, the pipe was a conciliatory gesture and Blain felt obliged to indulge.

Which he did. He was more cautious about pulling in the smoke and the warming calmness was a gentle rush.

Sig started out, “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.”

Gregor grunted. It was not the first time he had heard this.

“Sally said the storm is expected to hit about 4:00 tomorrow afternoon” Gregor volunteered.

Blain leaned back and looked at the smoke drifting up in an arrow-straight shaft from the bowl of his pipe before breaking into curls and loops. “We got about a third of the plots fertilized” he said.

Sig nodded. That is about what he had figured. 

Gregor added "We are about out of limestone. I gotta get some more but I can do tomorrow before the sun rises."

Then looking over at Alice "Is there money for that?"

"I can git ya some. See me in the mornin'. We will be up early" Alice said.

Blain was figuring out that Roger-and-Alice were the equivalent of a small bank.

“Any way we can speed up spreading the fertilizer?” Sig asked.

Gregor volunteered “We had a steep learning-curve this morning. We will come out of the starting-blocks a lot quicker tomorrow.”

There was some truth to what Gregor said. The morning was more than half gone before they got the second tractor on-line.

Blain rolled over in his mind possible solutions. There wasn't room for more than four shovelers on a trailer but maybe a fifth shoveler working from the back? It would be a filthy job in the slip-stream of the other shovelers and he wasn’t sure it would actually empty the trailer any quicker.

“I just wish there was a way to not lose 20 minutes when Lliam and Peggy have to go to get another trailer” Blain blurted out.

Gregor looked at him as if he was daft. “There is. Don’t you remember? If we had another trailer then I could have one staged at the turn-around.”

Blain looked confused.

Gregor explained. “The way it works now, Lliam or Peggy shows up with an empty trailer. They have to unhook it. I have to hook it up to my truck. I drive the 2.3 miles to the chicken-farm and Roger dumps a load of manure into the trailer. I drive back to the end of the driveway. I unhook the trailer. Lliam or Peggy has to hook it up and then drive to the field before you can start spreading.’

Blain was tired. His mind was not as sharp as it usually was.

“I don’t see why another trailer would help. Can you draw me a picture?” Blain said. He had enough trust in Gregor to know that Gregor would not make sport of him.

“If we had a third trailer, I could have it filled and waiting for him at the end of the driveway. Heck, I know how high his ball-hitch is. I could have the tongue of the trailer a couple inches higher. He can back up, I can drop the tongue and throw the dogs and he would be on his way in less than half a minute.” Gregor said.

Alice, Sarah, Sig, Blain and Gregor contemplated the possibility of each tractor going from spreading fertilizer from 40 minutes on the hour to 55 minutes.

Blain was the first to break the silence. “Sally has another trailer but the tires don’t hold air.”

Gregor said “Flat tires can be fixed. What size wheels and tires?”

Blain was embarrassed. Lliam would have known the answer but it wasn’t something Blain ever thought would be important. “I don’t know” he admitted.

Gregor looked over at Sig, his dad. “Do I have your permission to call Sally and ask him?

“As long as you don’t send no pictures and you don’t dawdle with unnecessary small-talk” Sig said.

Gregor rolled his eyes. “This is Sally that I will be talking to. It ain’t like its possible to have a short conversation with him.”

Sig sighed “Whatever. Just be as short as you can.”

Ten minutes later, Gregor had ascertained that Sally’s trailer with the leaking tires took 8-bolt, Chevy rims and yes, such rims and tires were available in the Cove. He had also negotiated the use of the third trailer in exchange for replacing the leaking tires-and-rims with good ones.

“How did you know we have those rims?” Blain asked.

“The van you are living in, what make and model is it?” Gregor asked.

“Its a 3500 Chevy Express, why?” Blain asked.

“How many bolts to the wheels on your van take?” Gregor asked.

“I dunno” Blain said, feeling stupid. “Eight?”

“Yup!” Gregor said.

“Rather than keep ya-all waiting in the morning, I figure I will go over and change out the wheels and tires tonight” Gregor said. "That's what lights are for."

Blain started to stand up “I’ll come with you”

Sarah laid her hand on Blain’s arm.

Gregor said “Nope. I got this.” and walked out of the circle of light.

Sarah then said to Blain “Will you walk me home?”

As they were leaving the patio, Alice saw Sarah reach out and slide her hand into Blain’s. He reciprocated, entwining his fingers with her's.

Looking over at Alice who was still seated even though the meeting was clearly over, Sig asked “What is on your mind?”

Alice had hardly said a word during the meeting.

“Something you need to know about” Alice said. “I had five young ladies in my kitchen tellin’ me a story...


  1. Always keep us hanging...

  2. You are getting better and better, sir. Well done.

    1. And Joe was pretty good to begin with...
      "Well done", Aye!
      Boat Guy

  3. It was conversations like Sig and Blain had that started me on the path to being observant. My old journeyman told me only once, "You need to anticipate what your lead man will need and have it ready. He shouldn't have to ask you for anything. Anticipate the part or tool he needs and have it to hand." I learned his job that way, and made leadman 10 months early.

  4. Thinking about Lliam at age 14 putting in a 10 hour day driving a tractor makes me recall an article I read in a farm magazine 50 some years ago that said that 90% of tractor driver deaths are those less than 19 and over 70. I'm sure the Copperhead tractors are from or before that time. I do short days now as I can see that happening.---ken

    1. We had a fatality in Eaton Rapids many, many years ago. A very young man was driving a tractor near a drainage ditch that was cut through muck. The tire tracks showed he had been driving close to the edge.

      There were no witnesses. He was found in the bottom of the ditch with the rolled-over tractor pinning him beneath the water-level.

      Speculation was that he may have been startled by pheasants flushing and jerked the wheel.

  5. If you didn't grow up around tractors you should know there is a leaning curve and it kills a lot of people each year. Well, it's like saying a gun kills people. People do stupid or ignorant things and then the tractor does it's thing. Which is leep pulling or flipping or pinning you down. So no matter who you want to blame you are maimed or dead.
    In my 60 plus years I have lost t2 friends that both had experience to tractor deaths.

    1. My Dad's '48 John Deere has nearly killed him twice. Once He buried it in some muck, popped the clutch and the the tractor stood right up and almost went over backwards.
      The second time was on an steep incline, tires grabbed and nearly flipped again. Only thing that saved him both times was God's grace and instinctively mashing the clutch in. I was there for both incidents and can still remember the feeling of helpless terror 20 years later.

  6. I knew 2 also that died. But I know several that walk kinda funny.---ken

    1. I know more people who walk funny due to horses than due to tractors.

    2. Ouch
      I'm in that group.
      June will be 2 years and I still walk funny. Over 4000 hours in my various Kubota and 3 years running a front end loader as a youth, knock on wood no injuries.

  7. Sig shoveling shit for 10hrs at his age, Blain taking the lead for the first time for the group, and Lliam running tractor all day are all generations shifting roles that make them stronger.

    Sig - old bull still running his muscles

    Blain - prime bull taking the reins

    Lliam - young bull w a key technical job

    1. You know, that never occurred to me but you are 100% right.

      To my way of thinking, Sig was the catalyst. He stepped back so others could step-up. But he was not malicious about it. He gave them nudges where needed.

      Something about the prospect of a very real risk of going without food makes people results-oriented. They don't care if the team is "diverse" or "Intersectionally progressive". They want fat, protein and calories. Put the best people in the right positions and cross-train for next year, just-in-case.

    2. Sig is an outstanding leader.

  8. I gotta say that of all the things I do on the farm shoveling beats me up more than anything else. The absolute worst is trying to shovel sticky clay.

  9. My great uncle rolled a Farmall "A" many, many years ago. It was before my time, I guess he got hurt pretty bad, but went on to farm many more years. That's the one similar to a Farmall Cub, only a little bigger. Has the offset motor and driveline, like the cub. Easy to roll it if you get the left side downhill on a steep slope. I still have the tractor, my Dad got it from his aunt, back in the 90's, he and my uncle restored it. Great Uncle had kept using it, but he had widened the "short axle" side by reversing the dished wheel and also added a bunch of wheel weights to the other side, to be sure it stayed upright on his Ozark hillside farm.

  10. *Three* trailers. Imagine that. I've said many a time that majority of problems in life are logistics problems and solved accordingly.
    Always pointed out, 'but this one is a people problem!' Which at the most extreme level the answer is, 'ok, now where do we hide the body?' (grin)

    Alan E.


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