My grandad had this old creamy brown flat bed Dodge feed truck. A purely utilitarian piece of equipment. Zero aesthetics. This was before he could afford a proper push button feeder so it was piled high with fifty pound feed sacks of the same color of the truck. Dusty tan. The grime and splattered cow shit that caked every inch of the beast all blended into the authentic ranch palette effortlessly.
Short lengths of rusting baling wire, fencing pliers, eerie dark bottles of animal medicine, and a beat to hell .22 rifle bounced around in the seat between us from early morning to whenever we’d get home, which was never early enough for a restless kid like me. I loved being out doing ranch stuff, but mom was a good cook and the house was always filled with savory aromas followed by damn good food and a warm fireplace. And the heater in the Dodge could be a bit finicky.
When our feed routes passed through town, dread washed over me. Civilization meant other old men with hours of time to kill. These old men had a tendency to be in their driveways working on something, or otherwise arranging decades of junk in various barns in particular order known only to them. And if Jim (what I called our grandad) saw another old timer, it meant getting home for dinner and sorting baseball cards would be delayed an hour, minimum.
It would often start like this. Jim would throw it in neutral and roll into some huge gravel driveway behind an overall-clad wrinkled old codger and blare his horn to see if he could give the old fart a heart attack. If the noise scared his buddy, he’d laugh his hearty laugh exposing yellow, scattered teeth. He’d amble out the creaking pickup door and slam it shut behind him while I sat there dreading the inevitable lengthy exchange.
“I’ve got one fer ya today! You ever seen one of these before?” Turning it over in thick dusty fingers, the farmer now suddenly historian, would eye the object before reckoning, then reckoning some more. “I reckon that’s off the gear box of a ’48 John Deere combine, like ole Hilmer used to have.” Who the hell Hilmer was, I could only guess. Definitely some other old guy who had met his end, probably due to a “reckoning” aneurism. “Yeah, I thought that too, but see this piece sticking off it; that’s kinda bent over a little? That just don’t look quite right.” At this point in the conversation (in my mind) I’d be rolling my eyes screaming “Oh, Goddammit. Just agree to disagree and let’s finish feeding these fucking cows before they starve to death!!!” But, no. At this point another object would appear, then another, until I was wondering if Jim had forgotten about his hungry bovines, or his bored to death grandson.
I’d finally snap out of my daydreaming about Nolan Ryan rookie cards or the tall skinny blonde lifeguard from the pool that summer when I’d hear Jim say, “Well, I best git back to work.” The other guy would agree and say “Well, good talking to ya. See ya tomorrow maybe.” (God, I hoped not) If so, I was going to fake diarrhea, walk home, and price all my baseball cards in an outdated Beckett Baseball Card Pricing Guide. Even that sounded more fun.
What was gained for having sat through an hour long back and forth about a chunk of useless metal I wondered? Learning patience with elders? Maybe. Quietly suppressing rage and frustration? Totally. But these days, when I do a river cleanup, I’ll find some strange object that came off of something else and ponder it for a minute. But only a minute. I’d never bore someone to death in a quest involving tireless figuring and reckoning on what its purpose was before coming to rest in the river bed. Was it for mining? Part of a machine? Who the hell knows?
I’ve probably missed many golden opportunities to carry some unidentifiable object into a museum to have a lab coat clad researcher jump out of their chair and proclaim I had found such and such thing that changed the course of history. Only one other like it had ever been discovered. It was developed in the 1800s by Hilmer So and So, and I should feel extremely lucky to have discovered it.
Maybe I should embrace the old man in myself. Learn to enjoy the mundane. I mean, I was brought up where the small things were all there was. It seems I made my decision to surround myself with a lively city probably to burn off some of that pent up energy that fermented in those years bouncing around in the feed truck. But last week I picked up (with tongs) a vibrator off the road at our local park. A little jarring for a city implant to stumble upon. But I don’t think I’ll bring it by a friend’s house to chat about its origins for an hour. Then again…
One thought on “Know Your Junk”
Great story. Growing up on a ranch in the middle of no where was the best. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Millions grow up in the city but only a fraction of us get to experience life on the prairie. 😘