Not in my Experience (a true story)

Sunset in the orchard

Yesterday afternoon I hauled a load of logs for my friend John. He’s logging with his horses about a mile up the road, a nice patch of spruce belonging to our neighbor Scotty. He sells the spruce to David, who lives about three miles down the road, where he used to do custom milling, but now sells spruce cambium to a local cheesemaker; I guess they use it for aging cheese or something. David build this nifty steam chamber to remove the cambium; he’s the kind of guy who can just pick up a torch and build precisely such a contraption, which means I always feel a little dumb and clumsy in his presence.

Anyway. It was a big load of logs, maybe 1200 feet, which I was happy to see, since my deal with John pays me per 1000-feet hauled. I ain’t getting rich off it – no one gets rich of much of anything to do with forest products, at least no one who actually gets their hands dirty in the process – but I don’t mind a bit when John hands me a check for the loads I hauled the month before, which I’d pretty much forgotten about in the intervening weeks. So in that way it’s like found money.

The mountain was – how to put this nicely? – icy as fuck. Truly, a sheet of ice. I put the truck in low, and basically idled down the hill, tapping the brakes every time I found even a bit of sand for traction, and otherwise just letting the gears hold back the load. Twelve hundred-ish feet of spruce plus trailer isn’t near to the most I’ve hauled, but it’s enough weight that I damn well knew it was back there, and what with the ice and the stream along one side of the road (not to mention my pride), I really didn’t want to end up needing to be pulled out of somewhere I oughtn’t be.

About halfway down the road, I passed a truck coming the other way, towing uphill, a nice, newer Chevy Duramax with a sweet gooseneck trailer upon which was loaded an old plow truck. Even at the time I thought damn, I think I’d rather be towing down than up, because while towing downhill in those conditions can be a little hairy, there’s nothing worse that hauling a heavy load up a slippery hill, losing traction, and sliding backwards. Don’t ask me how I know.

I dropped the trailer at David’s, shot the proverbial shit for a few, then headed back up the mountain road. I was in a fine mood, and had already forgotten about the rig I’d passed on the way down, my sense of self-importance so finely honed that in my mind I was onto the next task of my day, and thinking about how good it’d feel to have that one ticked off, too.

Except that right where the road pitches up before it levels out again (before it gets really steep) at the town hall and the old church, I found the Chevy. Or both Chevy’s, I guess, because the trailered truck was also of GM lineage. Indeed, they had lost traction on the iced road, come to a halt, and begun sliding backwards. Fortunately, the driver had been able to stop the truck and trailer before tipping into the ditch, and with just enough room for traffic to pass. But to put it mildly, it was not a good situation. Not at all.

Let me preface the remainder of my tale with this: While I am no builder of custom cambium-removal devices, and while in so many ways my ingenuity and general resourcefulness fall tragically short, one thing I am pretty good at (and rather enjoy) is extracting stuck vehicles. It’s a niche skill, I’ll give you that, but one that comes in handy ’round these parts. And if it’s someone else who’s stuck, all the better, because of course then the pressure is off. Plus, there’s none of the small embarrassment of being the one who perhaps made a less-than-stellar judgment call and now finds him/her/theirself in a marginalized situation. Yes, I know this small embarrassment very, very well, which is why I can write about it with some authority.

I stop to assess the situation. It’s three men. The center console of the truck is populated by energy drinks, candy wrappers, and a handful of loose ammunition in what looks to me like .270, though I could be wrong. They’re friendly, but a little tense looking, which is understandable given the circumstances, which boils down to the fact that they’re frankly a little screwed. Can’t go forward, can’t go backward, and with the roads so slippery, it’s really not a good place to be sitting on top of 20,000-ish pounds of immobile metal.

I’ll go get my tractor, I say, but already I’m thinking it’s long shot. For one, I don’t have chains on the tractor, and for another, we’re talking 10 tons, uphill, from a dead stop, behind a 50-hp Kubota. I don’t even know how to begin calculating the physics, but simple common sense is telling me it’s not likely. Then again, it’s hard knowin’ not knowin’, as the saying goes.

Alas, I’m right. The tractor spins uselessly, the Duramax spins uselessly, and nothing is resolved with the exception that the quickest, most-convenient extraction option is off the table. I make a  trip over to Danny’s to see if he’s around with his skidder, but as expected, he’s off in the woods somewhere, working. Everyone who’s serious about working the woods is working all the time right now, prices are sky high and the conditions are near to perfect. Scotty has a skidder, too, but I’ve already been past his place on my way to get the logs, so I know he’s not home, either. So I head down the road to Tom’s, because Tom also has a 50-hp Kubota (can’t swing a dead cat ’round this parts without hitting 50-hp of over-priced orange paint), and I figure maybe we can hitch up BOTH tractors to the twin Chevy’s and at least get them up to where things flatten out and then maybe they can turn around and sneak their way back down to where they came from. Because like I said, after the flat section, the road gets really steep again, and there’s not a chance in hell they’ll clear that section.

And this is what we do, and it is (I am not ashamed to say) the absolute highlight of my day (and perhaps my weekend, though who knows what fun today has yet to deliver) to be riding tractors side-by-side with my friend Tom, inching the stranded trucks and trailer up the iced-over mountain road, feeling the dominion thrill of harnessed horsepower, all that metal and rubber and oil and noise at our command, and even better, a couple of stout choker chains thrown into the mix. Does it get any better? Maybe, but not in my life experience thus far. Well… maybe seeing my sons being born. Yeah. That was close, at least.

Soon the tractors, trucks, and trailer are safely to the flattish section of road, so we unhitch, and Tom heads his way and I head mine, back to where I’m framing walls in the upstairs of the house. While I’m working, I think of the men and their load, and hoping they made it back down the hill ok, and I briefly consider taking a little trip, just to be sure.

But the wall won’t frame itself, so I decide to trust that they did.


23 thoughts on “Not in my Experience (a true story)”

  1. LOL…”That was close, at least.”…LOL!! Too funny.
    I know writing is most excellent when someone takes a mundane (to me) subject like unsticking a truck and makes it a great read and entertaining (again, to me). Thanks!

  2. As a kid in the southern-central mountains of New Mexico, most of our deer hunts were days spent pulling other folks trucks out of ditches on the back roads of Ruidoso and Capitan. We never did get a deer, but oh the fun we had driving, hauling, towing, and hiking in the snow!

  3. Great read, thanks, Ben! Funny how I was thinking of just this notion a month ago when the weather here in upstate NY was so bad, with trucks, cars, etc. off the road all over the place, and I saw groups of guys pulling them out, and it struck me how, for guys who work in offices, etc. during the week, that using MACHINES to do some work like must be THE BEST, for them (they sure looked like they were having fun). A great excuse to use machines, achieve a goal, stand around talking about stuff, etc. What also struck me at the time is that I know of not one single woman who would want to do this (myself included). I will do many things that men will do (work out in the woods, etc.) but stuff with vehicles (whether fixing them, checking fluid levels, etc.) is the one thing I tell my husband that it’s up to him.
    Thanks again for a great story!

  4. “I think I can, I think I can . . . I thought I could, I thought I could!” (The little tractors that could; the raw spirit of northern Vermont resourcefulness.) ICE GOIN’ BEN ! !

  5. Nice story. Success on that scale has been rare for me (possibly because our 1988 John Deere 950 is only 29 HP), but I know the feelings, from abject humiliation to giddy triumph. What were you doing out there hauling logs that day anyway? Wouldn’t it have been a good time to be framing walls in the upstairs of a house instead?

  6. This sounds like an adventure my Uncle Delbert would attempt in these Western Pennsylvania hills! The difference is you can write about it and have us all applauding your success. You make me smile.

  7. You guys are so weird. I hate stuff like this, but the guys in my life get off on pulling people out of ditches. I don’t get it, but I’m sure grateful for guys like you.

  8. Must be the Jasper Hill cheese Winnimere that the spruce cambium is used. Some fantastic world class cheeses from the NEK. You’re so brave. Ice scares me.
    Great story.

  9. I’ll have to echo the women. I do not care for trucks, trailer or tractors, and definitely not for driving them on ice, but I really enjoyed this post. I felt your glee!

  10. My boys would have been over-the-moon to have seen this story play out. Since they were tiny, much of their play has involved getting various things intentionally stuck just for the joy of getting them unstuck. Thanks to them, I get it. Besides, I’ve read your work for long enough now that I truly believe you can make almost any subject interesting. Peace!

    1. My boy does the same thing. That and complain that his various imaginary implements have broken, battery died, out of fuel, etc. He’s been watching me for toooo long.

  11. I’ve never hauled heavy in the slick conditions. But I wouldn’t shy away from the chance… I also love to unstick vehicles, etc. I even usually stop to help somebody change a flat tire if I’m not in a real hurry.
    To get back down again is a lot of trust to put into those energy bars and candy drinks, methinks.

  12. Whew! For a moment there I was worried you were going to meet that rig you’d forgotten about coming down the mountain backwards as you were going up . . . but this makes a better story, I’d say.

  13. I just listened to your talk on the Art of Manliness podcast and frankly, I’m shocked that of all the things you think you’re doing to disservice your children you chose to mention raising them in a “lily-white state”, as if they could only be truly fulfilled if they were surrounded by different types of people.

    Now as someone who grew up with the entire color palate enjoyed in America I can say that I think no less of someone who grows up in a monochrome environment, as you have chosen for your children, than someone who grew up with the opportunity, for example, for a Hispanic bi-racial best friend, as I did.

    Tell me, are the children of Japan done a disservice because their country is 98% Japanese? What about the children of Somalia? Chad? China, pre-1950? No, of course not. For some reason every other nation and group are immune to “harming” their children in the way you fear.

    You should be ashamed.

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