Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Those Magnificent Men....


"A non-mechanic friend has shared a story about repairing his old tractor. All went well: he got stuck things loose, loose things tight. But then things got so eerie I wonder if I shouldn’t send condolences to his widow without waiting for the obit. He finished the job…with no spare parts, no parts missing. That’s just not right. Not the way it goes. Something is horribly wrong. I presume the machine will explode first time he cranks it. Such a pity. He meant well. R.I.P. Bill".....Roger Welsch

Up, down, flying around, looping the loop and defying the ground.

They're all frightfully keen, those magnificent men in their flying machines.

From the 1965 movie

No one remembers how many harvests it has been in that fence row rusting picturesquely and providing a silent contrast to the rattling augers and whining bin fans. Most farms have an "Island of Misfit Toys", so to speak: machinery too worn or obsolete even to be traded. This old tractor was parked off to the side on a farm Blake's grandfather first rented back in the Depression years. One day, in passing, Blake told me the old Minneapolis was the first tractor he ever drove; the Hursts had an active stable of Minneapolis-Molines up til the 1980s.
The old tractor was history....and no more...until Ryan, with the blessing of the Hurst Brothers, drug it out of that fence row and into his garage as his very first tractor restoration project. I won't go into all the dead ends and u-turns and retrofitting and research and road trips this restoration entailed; anyone who has worked with machinery...old machinery....derelict old machinery...can fill in the blanks. But on Christmas Day, this piece of our family farm past, wearing a festive red bow, rattled to life and backed down off the flat bed under its own power. It was a pretty darn thrilling moment....
The local air aficionados, including my brother in law and Congressman, have a growing collection of old military planes down at our tiny airport, born of a love of history and flight. It isn't unusual for us to be "buzzed" by a WWII trainer while we are watering mum lines on a summer's day. A few years ago, I hitched a ride down to the Missouri State Fair with Brooks in one of these vintage craft, cruising below the clouds over the Missouri River bottoms and landing in Sedalia behind the massive decrepit Missouri Pacific repair shops. To infer I was anything more than a tourist on this trip would be operating under false pretenses, but it was impossible not to feel a little glamour, a hint of the romance of the past, had rubbed off on me during the flight.
This fascination with the machines of the past is more than just a private affair. Unlike art masterpieces of antiquity or one of a kind precious stones, the magnificent planes and hardworking farm equipment of our heritage are still machines that work. They fly in formation or mow hay, re-enact famous battles or carry their drivers along narrow blue highways changed primarily in the past century by pavement.

Thanks to folks with one foot in the past, crowds in the present can flock to the Greatest Little Airshow at the Gould Peterson Airport and get up close and personal with a Japanese Zero...but even more importantly, watch the graceful plane go through its paces and see what made it so feared, instead of hearing a lecture about a dull and dusty grounded fossil.

Coaxing a convoy of antique tractors to start up may not be as loud as the Tora! Tora! Tora! Exhibition at the WingNuts Flying Circus, but the grumbling, rumbling and popping of all those engines brings a smile to onlooker's faces that needs no words. The machines in a tractor cruise aren't just eye candy; they are road worthy and ready to go 40 miles under their own power, sit a bit, and do it over again. The tool boxes bolted to the frames are not for show and the grease and oil are proof that these tractors may be antique, but they are far from toys. A parade of old tractors rumbling around a county square with the Red, White, and Blue billowing behind them is a vignette Norman Rockwell might have conceived, but the tractors aren't cunning reproductions; they are vital and alive, not just for show.

Come out to the country some summer weekend! Find a thresher's reunion, a steam engine show, or a tractor cruise! Come to a place where history is alive with gears and wheels and smoke and fumes, where you can ride your past right into the present....



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We're on a Mission....

"And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters."
Field of Dreams, 1989

Charlie says he went to a game at Wrigley Field once: he thinks it was about 1948. I remember going to a game there once too; the memory is vivid even though I wasn't very old. The day was cold; the stadium was empty; the Cubs were shut out. I couldn't sit still, but it didn't matter; there was no one sitting anywhere close to us. What year was it? I don't know but it has now taken me a half century to get back there.

This pilgrimage...and yes, that's the right word for it...has always been just around the corner, a possibility, an option, but never reached the threshold of a plan, a date, a promise....or purchasing tickets. This year I watched the calendar for the Cubs/Cardinals dates like someone looking for the winning numbers in the lottery. There they were: dates in July, away from planting (so I thought!) months from harvest, a Monday night game, perfect for a drive up from our neck of the woods to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Shopping for those seats was a labor of love, as I imagined the big green and white manual scoreboard in center field with the pennants atop snapping in the breeze, the bleacher seats above the ivy from which disgruntled fans would fling opposing teams' homers, the fans watching from the housetops across Waveland and Sheffield. This view is what we'd watched on television ever since cable brought us the wonders of baseball on WGN. That was just after Harry Caray joined the Cubs as announcer. Hearing Harry back on the job and watching the Cards in our living room on a summer's eve was about as good as it got for two fans of modest means.

The caravans made their way to Chicago from three different directions on three different interstates, touching base by text and photo...a Five Guys break here, a brew pub there, our lunch at a busy Culver's in Geneseo, Illinois, joining three tables of ladies playing bridge and a remarkably quiet clutch of Girl Scouts in pastel t shirts.

The western Missouri contingent and the St. Louis contingent come to a traffic jam at exit 267 on I-55 simultaneously. We throw down our windows and wave like crazy people: what are the odds? Tracy has traveled thousands of miles to get to St. Louis...and now has ridden another 300 plus miles to watch two teams she doesn't root for play ball! It is Wrigley, of course; she says her husband envies her opportunity to see a game there.

The Illinois toll roads separate us. Text traffic:

Mark: We got delayed at the toll booth. Was coins only and the person in front of us kept throwing pennies. Finally gave up and drove on....

Kenzie: Wait that was us!!! The first 3 toll booths stole all the quarters....

The walk down Addison takes us under the EL. Levi, his neck craned to watch the train, has more big league ballparks under his belt than most fans. He swings and skips between his daddy and great grandpa. Ben is wearing number 7, Holliday's number. Charlie's shirt says "SINCE 56", a reference to Millie and Charlie's 50th wedding anniversary. We tease him, "SINCE didn't have much of a chance in the big leagues if he wore number 56!" The sidewalks and sports bars are teeming, a mass of Baby Bear Blue and Redbird Red.
The seats are heavenly...the panorama of green field and the mosaic of the crowd unrolls before us . We can see the whole field, every position, the ballet of adjustments between pitcher and batter.
The crowd in the ballpark is a live thing, a moody creature flexing and shrugging depending on the caprice of the game. It's a new experience, watching your team play off their home turf.
Levi applauds with the crowd, much to the delight of the Cubs fans behind us. He will get his chance to cheer for the Cards... The lights come on as the sky fades from lavender to blue velvet....
..and then....it rains. Because that's the kind of baseball year it has been. We wait..and wait...and finally open our umbrellas and splash our way back to the cars, our night at the ballpark shortened by an inning and a half.

To paraphrase Harry Caray, it was still "a bee-yooo-ti-ful day for baseball...": a one of a kind trip to a place rooted in the past (never mind those giant annoyingly bright jumbotrons), a place part of every fan's fiber, a game part of our collective memory for years to come....

Actor Bill Murray, rabid Cubs fan, made news the next day calling Cardinals fans 'satan's messengers'. Seems a bit uncalled for and extreme. The Cub fans sitting behind us were loud and not shy about jeering at a Cardinal player or two. But visiting with them after the seventh inning stretch made it clear that no offense was intended to red clad fans: we are all part of Baseball Nation, Red and Blue.

After all, we all stand as one at seventh inning stretch time to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'...

.... because we are at Wrigley.

P.S...More text traffic:

Mark: Approaching B-U-T-ful Joliet. At least that's what Laura claims from her youthful memories.
Me: We are just a few from I-55...We hear Joliet, we think prison...More childhood memories..
Me: Field trip for my 5th grade class.
Mark: I hear you were in maxim security.
Kenzie: "We're gettin the band back together."
Mark: What band?
Kenzie: "We're on a mission from God."
Me: Nice one! Sing it!

ELWOOD No, they don't got my address, I falsified my renewal. I put down 1060 West Addison,
JAKE 1060 West Addison?...That's Wrigley Field!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


All his successors gone before him have done ’t; and all his ancestors that come after him may.
William Shakespeare
It is Independence Day, and we traditionally celebrate it by exercising our freedom to assemble. We feast in our bounty on hunks of sauced and grilled meats, red,white and blue dessert creations, homemade ice cream and whatever the garden gods have seen fit to ripen. We play out of doors whatever the weather, kids and grown ups together, to tide the young ones over as long as possible from the paper bags of things that go boom in the night.

Thus has it been, as Shakespeare would say, for those gone before us...and the memories are so ripe and sweet from year to year, that we hope those that come after us pass their Independence Days in the very same rhythm, growing a family history from deep roots.

The Fourth has deep roots at my folk's farm in Moniteau county.  Aunts and uncles and cousins and grannies gathered from corners round the state beginning back in the early '80s.  There was a volleyball net, and corkball against the wood doors of the building we call 1916.
Lee and Ann were the beautiful women at the lower end of the age bracket (ages three and up); they were celebrated with their very own t shirts, emblazoned HeebieJeebie on the back.

Years passed; kids grew; the family continued to gather for food and drink, merriment and music, hikes and horseshoes.

We grew good roots.  Fast forward twenty or thirty years.  There are still kids like Aaron ready to throw horseshoes for the very first time. And littler kids, like Josh, sulking because the adults think a 2 1/2 pound shoe in his hand could be considered weaponized.

Is there more than one manufacturer of horseshoes? I'm fairly certain these are the same shoes my grandfather and his sons tossed into the fescue at the farm near Holts Summit years ago.  The red and green paint is barely a patina.  The shoes were forged in Duluth.  Lizzie wants to know if they came from real horses...

As it has for lo these many summers, the screened breezeway of the former apple market and current summer resort for houseplants channels the evening breeze and keeps the flies at bay while we eat supper.

But even dessert of anniversary cake and birthday cherry crisp leaves too much daylight before fireworks time...a trip down to the creek behind the 4 wheeler gives the kids a chance to kick off their shoes and tiptoe across the cherty gravel and cool stream looking for rocks to take home.  Chunks of Moniteau county sandstone and limestone find their way up the hill, solid stepping stones and artifacts for Atchison county gardens.

Kids and water and rocks...thus has it ever been....

We remember now...

...and we will remember when.