More stories from my Miss Spent Youth
This is true for many farm kids in my era. We learned to drive by steering tractors around the farm or in the field. Then we graduated to farm trucks and lastly cars.
I loved to help my dad, especially in the spring of the year. This was my opportunity to test my driving skills and then maybe add a few more wrinkles. Springtime found us busy preparing to plant the crop or set up equipment to spray for weeds and insects.
This story is about the latter. My father had set up to get water on a farm but forgot to bring the insecticide from our storage. It was a short three-mile jaunt and he thought I was capable of driving a car to fetch the chemical while he fine-tuned the sprayer.
I was pretty adept at finding the clutch and shifting three on the tree all the while looking through the steering wheel to keep myself on the road. I made it to the storage and proudly loaded the chemical and started my return trip.
I made it without incident until I reached the approach to the farmer’s yard. Deftly shifting into second and applying the brakes, I quickly reached the approach. I guess in my haste to downshift, I failed to realize my ground speed. Like an old stock car driver on dirt, I put the car into a skid and slide. I was sweating bullets and never took a breath as the old Meteor took the approach.
Well that trip cost my dad a trip to the body shop. The old Meteor was trying to hang to the gravel like a cat on the end of a blanket. Much to my dismay, the Meteor found a large cottonwood tree and became a smaller version of itself.
I was twelve years old and I aged fifty years in less than five seconds.
I learned to drive at an early age, something that many today have not had the opportunity. I don’t know why today we are so different. Maybe we were more forgiving in the past.
I lived right across the street from the RCMP barracks. In our little town, the RCMP patrolled the border and neighboring towns and villages. This little detachment had it’s fair share of drama but very lenient with me and our family. I think because my mother always had the police officers at our house for Christmas or New Years celebrations.
I was fifteen and did not have a driver’s license. My dad and mom decided to take the younger siblings on a holiday to the west coast and left me to keep an eye on the crops as well as monitor phone calls. This soon became boring but I would take the old GMC pick up out the back lane and drive through town and out to check the fields. Everything was in a holding pattern and I was on top of zero issues.
Then a phone call came from a farmer friend to have my dad gravel his lane. It was a long lane, about 3/8 of a mile. I wrote down the request and forgot about it for about ten seconds.
I had been to the gravel pit many times with my dad. I knew how to start the equipment to self – load and what constituted good road gravel. My only consideration was the seventy mile round trip and if I would meet my RCMP neighbors on the road.
I set my alarm clock for five am. The town and the RCMP barracks were eerily quiet as I rolled the tandem out of town. One load after another I put gravel down on the lane. I laid it down so smooth, there were no humps or bumps. Finally I dropped the last load right in front of the farmer’s house. Not a bad day as I snuck back into town.
The neighboring farmers had seen the truck gravelling the lane and two days later another call. This was from the farmer who owned the large cottonwood tree I smacked five years earlier.
Sure dad could gravel his lane I said with confidence. Well, it became another project I was about to take on and did so successfully.
I took three calls in that two weeks of holiday and made the many trips to the gravel pit without accident or injury. Well sort of-
When my parents came home I went through all the usual questions. How are the fields: any messages and did you finish the work list? Yes, yes and yes. By the way, you have to send invoices to Cyril, Gordon and Will. I left the list for you.
There was this puzzled look on my dad’s face and when he read the details, I though I was dead meat! Luckily he was happy to be home and started to count up my trips to the gravel pit. All he could say was; I guess you helped pay for our holidays and that was the last I ever heard of that episode.
I lived right on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota. I was fortunate to have friends on both sides of the border and this is a story about my American friend Robert.
As soon as I turned sixteen I was able to drive across the border and visit my friends. Robert was about a year older than me and together you can imagine trouble was a brewing.
Robert’s parents were farmers and at one time farmed over a township of land. Their father Virgil was also a pilot and often flew to Lake of the Woods where the family had a cottage. Robert must have watched his father because flying became his passion in later years.
This particular summer day, the family was away and left Robert home. I dropped in to say hello and the next thing I find myself in a hangar with Robert and his dad’s airplane. Let’s take her for a spin is what I heard next. Are you sure?
“Sure” was the confident reply.
I had never been in a plane before so I was quite excited and a bit fearful. I knew Robert was stealing a ride on his dad’s plane but putting caution to the wind, I jumped in and snugged up the seat belt.
Robert warmed up the engine and taxied out of the hangar. In front of us was a one – track strip of grass that was the airstrip. After talking to an air controller somewhere in Minnesota, the engine started to rev. It is too late now I thought and hoped someone would find me if we crashed.
Like a seasoned pro, Robert applied the throttle and held the brakes. The plane lurched forward, gained speed and we were airborne. Only then did I asked Robert if he had done this before.
It was an awesome flight, travelling in the freedom of a small plane. We went here and there, recognizing landmarks as we continued this adventure. After a half hour Robert was getting bored. He started to talk airplane jargon like negative lift, spins and rolls. He explained that this plane was designed not to spin and so he demonstrated once, twice and then went to negative lift and well as doing barrel rolls.
I was unsure when we left the ground but now I was green as grass and begging to be put down. Looking at the pilot, all I saw was a huge grin and he pointed to the stack of waste bags behind my seat.
I didn’t want to spew all over the plane and spend my day house cleaning so I continued begging to be put down. It may have only taken minutes but felt like hours as I felt the first bounce off the grass airstrip. I don’t know how fast we were going put I was trying to push my door open so I could spew my guts out. I couldn’t care less if I fell out before the plane stopped either. But the door wasn’t budging and my cheeks were filling fast!!
Needless to say I survived that ride, wobbly at the knees and sick to my stomach. It was the only time I got to fly with Robert. We did end up laughing at my experience many times over and I will never forget my first airplane ride.
In my day, we all remember the big block engines and the tin cans that held these beautiful engines in place. We never heard or thought much of a four cylinders or six cylinder engine in the day. They were found in swathers and combines or farm tractors.
Forgotten names like GTO, Road Runner, Charger and Barracuda were hot topics of the day. We recognize V’8 engines with monikers 389, 409, 427, 429, 440 and 500 cubic inches of rumbling, tire peeling power.
Of course you have a lot more engineering in today’s vehicles but there is nothing like listening to these big block engines as we emulated Don Gartlits or Bob Glidden under the street lamps of our little towns.
I started to think about this story and now questioned myself. How come no one complained about street racing in a one- horse town in the dark of night and ripping past the one and only hospital? Or some silly bird turning tire-smoking donuts at midnight on the three major intersections of what we called down town?
If I ever decide to build a Sunday driver, you can bet it will be an open wheel roadster for mom and me. It will sport a big block with serious horsepower and nice big, fat Mickey Thompson racing tires to put the power to the ground.
Chemicals used back in the day were very harsh and not nearly as versatile as they are today. Chemicals were used for a specific weed or pest control. Not at all like today’s selective herbicides and insecticides that can cover a wide spectrum of problems without damaging the main crop.
There was a chemical called Toxaphene that was an insecticide used to control the sugar beet Webworm. Once this creature established itself in a field, its appetite would defoliate acres of sugar beets in a matter of a couple of days.
I don’t know or remember exactly the butterflies that laid the eggs in sugar beet fields but I was always taught to watch out for little white butterflies.
If there were a lot of butterflies being disturbed while walking through a field, one would be certain that an infestation was about to occur.
On one of the family excursions to the coast, I was travelling the back roads checking on my father’s field. One day I noticed a discoloration in the bright green of the beet tops and decided it warranted a closer look.
About a ¼ mile into the field I saw a huge area of denuded beet plants and millions of Webworms happily munching down on the succulent leaves. If I told you I could hear the worms chewing on the leaves, believe it.
This was a time for action, as cell phones would not be around for another forty years. I rummaged around in my father’s storage shed looking for something to spray on these worms. In a far off corner, covered in dust was a half full, five-gallon can of Toxaphene. I dusted off the label and read the mixing instructions and hurried went off to fight the worms.
I realized after looking at the contents that I had just enough to cover the infestation and a small area around the damaged area. This would be enough to hold the worms at bay until my father came home.
Like dutiful son I went about my business and laid down the spray. This chemical was amazing as I swept the area with the tractor and sprayer. In every pass I could see countless worms hanging and falling off the sprayed leaves. This was a killer product if I had ever seen one. I worked for six hours until I expended all the spray and went home a proud man.
When the family came home, I explained the issue with the Webworms. My father wanted to look at the problem but I told him I had sprayed that part of the field and there was no more issues with the worms.
He asked me what I had used and was ashen faced and almost speechless when I told him it was Toxaphene. Once he gathered himself, he went on to tell me that he had put the can in the corner a few years prior because the sugar factory banned all use of this chemical. Any farmer caught with Toxaphene residue in their sugar beets could have their entire crop confiscated and their contract revoked! That could mean the end of my dad’s farming career and put our family in dire straits.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. My father was very concerned but not angry. All we could do is await any fall out. It was a very long summer for all of us but there were no repercussions.
Here is another story about our neighbours, the RCMP.
Small town Manitoba is nothing like we experience today. Everyone knew everyone or made the time to meet knew residents. Our house was always open to our neighbours, especially the single recruits that came through on their journey to becoming full fledged RCMP officers.
On this particularly cold Christmas, my uncles were down from the city to visit our family. The constables and the sergeant had been over the day before an mother had provided them with a huge Christmas dinner. Not to be out done, the staff sergeant and the constables invited my dad and uncles over to the detachment for some refreshments.
I remember my dad and uncles getting bundled up for the short jaunt across the road and watching as they struggled through deep snow. It was probably one in the afternoon. It was getting pretty dark as I kept peering out of our living room window. My mother was getting anxious, as our supper was getting cold. Finally she phoned the detachment and asked the staff sergeant to sent the men home.
That was a sight to behold. It was rather entertaining as eight kids were all peering out the window in near darkness, giving my mother a description of what we saw. Finally she came to the window to have a look for herself.
There were three combatants, not four attempting this journey. Not one was standing, but on all fours. The snow was deep enough that only their backs were showing as they struggled to get home. It was pretty entertaining trying to figure out who was making the best progress and finally my mother went out to help them home. The one uncle never made the house till the next day and all of them were deathly ill. Not from the cold and snow, but the drink.
Another neighbour had gone to his house and brought in some illicit brew when the legal brew ran out. This was the icing on the cake and our enjoyment for the entire Christmas holiday.
Many people do not realize some oriental people cannot convert alcohol into sugar and carbohydrates. It is in our genetic make up. If you are like me, once drunk, you stay drunk. I think other than an uncle or two; I am the most susceptible to this fact and will probably write a story about it.
Maybe I will call it a Cheap Drunk or Getting my Moneys Worth!