• Another Stupid Trick



    The first time that phrase rang in my ears was in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. My family had a small farm and I was performing an experiment at age seven. Specifically I had stuck my tongue on an iron fence post when the temperature was below zero. Sure enough the tongue stuck fast. After berating me, my father finally went in the house and came back with some hot water to unstick me with the high volume criticism of, “Another Stupid Trick”. I heard that mantra of his many times in the following years in varying circumstances. Once when I was testing the current in an electric barbed wire fence and couldn’t let go; another when I cut my own hair and hit an ear, and again when I drove our milk cows into the river to see if they could swim. There were many, many rants as the years slid by, some when he was an old man and I was middle aged, apparently with the proclivity to still do very stupid things.

    As I looked at my current predicament, I sort of wished my dad were still around so he could yell at me once again. He certainly would have been justified. Next door to our home is a vacant lot – the slope starts out at about a fifteen-degrees, flattens slightly and then plunges at its south side to about thirty degrees. I’d had my truck on the lot a few times disposing of hazardous waste materials – lots of tumble weeds to hide the left over car batteries. With a good start and a little weight in the back you can climb back up to the road without too much trouble.

    Each May residents in our area are required to cut down and clear all weeds on their vacant lots. Fire Hazard Prevention. Well this year nothing had happened next door by the 10th of May so I decided to help my neighbor out. My sturdy 2001 GMC pickup seemed just the vehicle for weed mowing. I especially liked that the weeds were about four to five feet high – some dried, but some still green.

    Now this may sound foolhardy to most, but I was a veteran automotive weed cutter from years ago in Utah. Then I had a four-wheel drive Dodge Ram and found that it just gobbled weeds under those big tires. I was clearing the growth along a lengthy stretch of curb when I hit a hidden fire hydrant and damaged a front wheel, but that is a story for another time.

    The next-door lot in question is 150 feet across by 200 feet deep so I ran my first trial parallel to the top. The weeds went down a tumbling, dust and dirt filling the air. Then, reverse, and power back across at probably thirty MPH, moving downward a couple of feet or so with each pass. Back and forth, tires spinning exhaust roaring, foliage shooting in the air and adhering to the fenders. The tires did most of the real weed carnage after the bumper and undercarriage mashed them down a bit. As some of the weeds flew over the top of the truck, I felt like I was with Rommel’s Afrika Korps on the way to El Alamein. My dog Sam had started out in the back of the truck but was showing increasing signs of exiting, especially during the times he was able to keep his paws under him. I finally put him in the front with me, but had to use rather harsh language to encourage him to ride shotgun.

    It was hard to cover all of the weeds precisely, so some of the time, if I could get a little momentum, I’d swing up, crisscrossing North to South, but would usually spin out after a few yards. I did cramp the wheel all the way over a few times on the way down to spin donuts, but came dangerously close to tipping the truck over.

    I was “Gettin’ Er’ Done” and the personal enjoyment was nothing short of amazing. I figured any possible damage I was doing to the GMC fell under a normal wear and tear category, but wished I had got an extended warranty as I was bouncing along.

    As Sam and I roared across the lot, we gradually moved downhill – sliding on the soft soil and downed weeds. Eventually we were at the edge of the slippery slope. I would start across, gun the engine and reach warp speed before touching the weeds on the edge. Sometimes the rear end would start to go over, but I’d goose the engine and we would spin up again tossing debris far into the abyss.

    Finally we went just a weed too far. The truck was now on the Thirty-degree slope. I should have quit right then and thought the whole thing over. However some reptilian part of my brain suggested that I just go forward to the lot edge and then I would be able to back up the hill. Not Good. Every time I tried, the Truck, Sam and I bucked and went sliding further down slope and dangerously close to the Eucalyptus trees. The going back and forth had also trenched foot deep ruts in the field. We came to a halt. My dad’s persistent voice rang in my ears, but I was undaunted. I figured there was someway out of this.

    I looked under the truck – dangerously tilted such that I exited the high side door – rear axle about an inch from being high centered. My loyal companion Sam jumped free, turned traitor, and hightailed it back to the house. It looked as if I needed a way to pull the truck up the hill, maybe with some weight on the high side to keep the truck righted.

    However by now I was at least 100 feet away from any semblance of flat ground and 160 feet away from the road. I briefly thought of calling a towing company, but musing about the ridicule of the driver, the questionable length of his tow cable and probable reluctance to go down into the sloping lot were major deterrents.

    It seemed to me that if had a rope/chain/cable between a solid object and the truck, perhaps I could somehow wrench the back of the pickup up hill. The problem was the 100-foot length needed – eventually I cobbled together a small log chain, a somewhat heavy dog chain, two tow straps and a climbing rope. I was exiting the garage when I remembered I needed some hooks and grabbed the door jam to go back in. At that exact moment the wind gusted – I jerked my hand away but the door caught my fingers as it slammed. As the pain rocketed up my arm, my first thought was that I had lost some of my digits. I opened the door, and found that only my little finger had been trapped. It looked somewhat like an undercooked Minute Steak, but flatter. After the jumping, cursing, and screaming were over, I ran to the washbasin to run cold water and to see how bad it was. Pretty bad. I attempted to remold the flesh back into something resembling my original finger with some minor success, but the nail was another matter – throbbing and turning purple rapidly. This required attention before I could get back to the task at hand.

    Wrapping the finger in ice, I remembered that there were remedies for crushed fingernails, but no details presented themselves to my mind. With one hand, I typed in “Smashed Nails” on Google and found that the best advice was to go to the Emergency Room. Not wanting to further entertain the familiar staff at the hospital, I expanded my search. The first suggestion was to drill a small hole in the nail with a Jeweler’s Drill. Right. Who the Hell has a Jeweler’s Drill in their toolbox, house, or anywhere for that matter? Besides, the thought of drilling through my pounding nail to relieve the building pressure was beyond my comprehension. Momentarily I thought about getting my Black Max Power Drill out and putting in a small bit, but I just couldn’t see myself holding my finger on the bench and then drilling downward with the other hand.

    The second Internet remedy was to heat a pin and burn a hole through the nail releasing the pressure. The injured nail was supposed to just give way without any pressure on the needle. Hmmm. Maybe this could work. No pin, but I had plenty of paper clips. Straightened one out and held it over the stove flame. When hot I touched it to the nail – little smoke, some brown color, but no relief hole. I’d expected a spurt of fluid as the needle went through the nail and into the accumulated blood. Over the next ten minutes, I tried different parts of my nail five times with no penetration, just pain. Then I heated the paper clip red hot and pushed harder. No success, but unbelievable screaming and jumping as the point coagulated the blood and came in contact with the nail bed.

    Okay, the truck was waiting and I had to get serious. I got some toenail clippers and started in. Little chunks of virgin nail were chopped away as I got closer to the blackest part. I had bad remembrances of doing this to a toe in an earlier fiasco. Finally with tears running down my face and ready to pass out, I hit the mother load. Dark red blood squirted out and the pain decreased to the point I couldn’t tell if the invasion of the clippers hurt worse or the pressure on the nail. But I was now ready to revisit my earlier vehicle problem. I did drench the entire finger in Alcohol, which, of course, brought on another wave of gut wrenching pain.

    The vehicle of choice to rescue the truck was my Kia Amanti, a well-known Korean luxury car with front wheel drive. Some of my friends say that KIA stand for Korean Imitation Automobile, but they are just envious. Anyway, I eased the Amanti down to the semi–flat area and then hooked up my five unit towing apparatus. I then backed the Kia up and put tension on the lines – at an obtuse angle. Somehow I thought that with the tight towline, and with my advanced knowledge of geometry, that this would be a solution, and I would be able to swing the truck rear end. I also loaded the truck bed with some concrete I had previously dumped on the neighbor’s lot as a soil additive.

    However since the Kia was stationery, all I did in backing the truck was to slide the front end further toward the trees. I also bent one of the hooks, damaged an under part of the Kia and broke the climbing rope. This now called for drastic action, such as waiting for my wife to come home so she could operate the Kia in reverse as a tow vehicle while I backed the truck and followed her up the hill.

    She came home just before dark. I immediately pressed her into service, but after looking at the truck, the Amanti, the combination tow ropes, and the trenches dug by the back wheels of the truck, she immediately said it was time for a call to AAA. I pleaded that she at least try. This brought on one of those looks that said, “why did I marry this idiot”, but she agreed to try one time.

    I had her back the Kia up to where the chains, tow straps, and spliced climbing ropes were taut as piano wires and ran for the truck. I waived a hand signal in the hastening twilight. She backed the Amanti as I roared in reverse. At first there was some progress, but then my wheels spun and bounced – dirt flying, tires smoking, vehicles fishtailing. The chains finally went slack so I stopped spinning the tires, which by this time were burrowing their way to China. They had dug double 18-inch trenches – firmly high centering the axle and transmission. I could hear my wife yelling, so, I leaped out and started to run up the hill. However I was distracted by the flames now shooting up around the truck bed. The friction and velocity of the tires had unfortunately set some of the dry weeds afire and it was spreading rapidly. So this is how it’s supposed to work for the Boy Scouts – starting a blaze with tinder and friction. I ineffectively stomped around on the flames, but finally gave up and began tossing dirt thrown up from the wheels. It did strike me as a bit ironic that my attempt to clear the weeds for Fire Prevention had actually resulted in me starting a pretty good blaze.

    I got the fire out with no other problems than scorched shoes and minor hand burns, and then crawled up the hill to my hysterical wife. She was in the process of exiting the Kia tow vehicle screaming that, “We are lucky to be alive”. Secretly I blamed her for not keeping the Amanti heading backwards with the gas pedal floored – I was sure that was the real reason I couldn’t get the truck out. “That’s it”, she said, “I quit”, but I begged for one more try. She finally relented if I would follow her suggestion to pull the truck forward against the trees, line it up away from the trenches I had dug and go easy as I started in reverse. I knew this would not work, but agreed, in a show of marital harmony. It was now dark but we turned on the headlights.

    I encouraged her to keep the Kia going backwards regardless of what happened and we started slowly to move. Much to my amazement and I’m sure to her surprise, the truck gradually moved up the hill and onto semi level ground. We were saved. She gave me an “I told you so” look and drove the Kia up and out of the lot. The entire ordeal from start to finish had only taken about four hours with minor damage to truck and car, towing combinations slightly hammered, burns on my hands, smashed finger and a terrified dog. All and all, a better than average outing.

    However I could hear my father’s voice in my head. “Another Stupid Trick”.

    May 2010

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