Ice

Number Two asked, “Papa, can you check to see if the ice is okay?” 

I applaud any and all safety concerns from a teenager, but it’s been a cold winter. You could drive a tank across our slough without any danger of it crashing through the ice.   

That’s if you could get it started. 

Every place has a downside or two. Florida has giant pythons hanging from every highway overpass, the Caribbean has hurricanes, and England has Boris Johnson. 

Here on the prairie, we have winter. A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance sat nervously through a meeting that was running long, because he’d left a Knipco heater running under his Bobcat. I understood how he felt. Calling your insurance company to tell them your skid steer loader had burned would be unpleasant. Calling them to say you were responsible would be worse. They’d be sure to ask how it happened and you’d have to say, “Well, I put a giant kerosene-burning flamethrower beneath a fuel tank containing diesel fuel, in hopes of turning it from jelly into a fluid, which might possibly flow into the engine.” 

Hey, I understand awkward conversations. After all, I’m a guy who shot himself in the hand with a rifle, but even for me, that would be a heavy lift. 

Years ago, my dad and I were doing chores for a neighbor who was hospitalized. We’d just had a three-day blizzard and couldn’t help but notice there were several feet of snow covered the roof of his machine shed. It hadn’t caved in, but that happening wasn’t out of the question. As we stood there wondering if we should do something and what that something would be, his brother drove in the yard. His plan was to push a large round bale of hay inside the machine shed and light it on fire, making use of the rising heat to warm the metal roof enough that the snow would slide off.  

From a physics standpoint, the plan seemed solid. Hot air rises and all that. 

From a prudence point of view, setting 1,000 pounds of dry grass on fire inside a wood-framed building seemed a little iffy.   

I like to think of myself as a problem solver, but...damn. 

My dad and I did the cowardly thing – we got out of there as fast as possible so no blame could attach to us. I didn’t hear any fire trucks, so everything must have turned out okay. 

This last story might leave quite a few readers wondering what I’m talking about, but it was a learning experience for me and it is winter related. When we were building our first hog house, winter had come early and unexpectedly - and stayed. A storm had been brewing all day and to get the carpenters home, I needed to clear a path down the driveway. The only equipment we had to move snow was a Minneapolis Moline tractor with a Farmhand loader on it. The tractor was a 1954 model, as am I, but that's the only thing we had in common. It had an electric start, which worked about half the time. 

You want to hear a fun story about starting motors on vehicles? In 1908, a man named Byron Carter was helping a lady start her car when the engine backfired, the crank hit him in the face, and he ended up dying from his injuries. Carter was a good friend of Henry Leland, the founder of Cadillac, and Henry talked to an engineer named Charles Kettering and bada-bing, cars that started with a key, not a crank. 

The first electric start cars came out in 1912, but no one much cared what happened to farmers, so tractors that started with cranks were around a long time.   

There’s a technique for starting an engine with a crank. You start with the crank down, fold your thumb out of the way, pull it only half a turn...it’s a little complicated, but if you do it right the engine usually starts. There’s another method you can use, but then you find yourself lying on the ground with blood running into your eyes. On the upside, the odds are you do it wrong only once. 

Don’t ask how I know this. 

Sunday was not nearly as traumatic. The only thing that went awry was when Number Three and I were pretending to be sled dogs and he tripped, I fell over him, and we were both run over by a sled full of giggles. 

Luckily, the ice was very thick. 

Copyright 2022 Brent Olson