A Grain Combine ride to be remembered
by Tim White
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We’ve all had” those” days. This one was between peanut planting and wh eat cutting when you spend your time getting grain harvesting equipment ready. At 4 p.m. we had completed all that I had planned for the day but it was in that window of time where its too late to start something new and too early to go home.
For a variety of reasons, none of them really impressive, I had left the combine in the field where we had finished using it the previous fall . The most obvious reason for leaving it there was the all too familiar axiom of, “I was sick to the bottom of my soul of fooling with it”. I’m sure all farmers have experienced this phenomenon. Anyway it was decided to go get it and bring it home to start work on it the next morning. A simple matter requiring neither knowledge nor any exceptional skill. Not a note worthy event in the least. Just go get the thing and drive it home. That’s all. It was only three miles from the shop so it should have been the simplest of all jobs.
My able bodied assistant at the time was a gifted, easy going, affable character who possessed a charming personality but a total disregard for all traffic laws. Specifically those designed to eliminate the operation of motorized vehicles while under the influence. So sure was he that this didn’t apply to him, that he had to his credit a three page rap sheet testifying to his skill at getting caught. His latest episode involved something to do with a motorcycle and a six-pack. I never got all the details. So it goes without saying that he was without drivers licenses. That will be significant later on.
We got there and got it cranked and full of all the relevant fluids without incident. He had never driven this particular combine and I didn’t think the public road was a good place for him to learn. Besides, what could possibly happen in less than 3 miles? So I got in the drivers seat and he got in the truck and followed me. The first two miles were uneventful although I did smell the distinct aroma of a wire getting hot. Like always I figured it would make it home and we’d trace it down and fix it tomorrow. In reality whatever the piece of equipment is in question it never ever makes it home, or to the end of the row, or until you get through, but for 8000th time, I gambled that it would. And for the 8 thousandth time I lost. Halfway up a hill the engine died. Not a good thing in several respects. We’re on a hill, only half out of the road, and neither one of us has a clue what’s wrong with it. Aside from the obvious embarrassment of being “ broke down” on the shoulder of the road, there are those who think my misfortunes are for their amusement, there was the frequent frustration of “we don’t need this” . He pulls the truck up behind me and I put the transmission in reverse to keep it from rolling back down the hill. There’s a 50 foot deep gully on the right side of the road just to make things interesting. This an older Gleaner combine so the engine is on top at the very back. The only clue we had was the smell of wires burning. Rats are notorious for chewing wires for no apparent reason so it was logical to begin there. There was no visible damage to wires that could be seen. We were both in our mid 30's and knew that shorting across the starter is a big no-no but it seemed obvious that we had lost the electrical circuit since the engine had died without a sputter. He had a screwdriver in his back pocket so I suggested, as a way to confirm that an unseen wire had burned in two, that he lightly touch the screwdriver to the starter. This was conspicuously NOT the case. The exact millisecond that the screwdriver touched the starter the combine cranked up. Bare in mind that we are both on the top back, there’s no one in the drivers seat, the transmission is in reverse, the throttle is wide open, and the truck is directly behind it. The only reason I am still alive today to write this is because when the tail of the combine slid up onto the hood of the truck, causing over $4000 dollars damage in a very brief instant, the wheels miraculously turned left shooting it across the road instead of in to the gully. Or as town folks would say a “ravine”. Realizing there was absolutely nothing whatsoever either of us could do at the time, and we were both there for the ride, wherever it ended, a feeling of resigning one’s self to ones fate prevailed. Had I jumped off I would have had to jump back on somewhere along the way in order to get it stopped. It was like I was somewhere else watching these events unfold.
We crossed the road uneventfully and started down into the ditch. All this happened in probably less than 5 seconds but I had time to contemplate the next event well in advance. I figured since it was front heavy it would flip over when we got onto the steep incline on the opposite side of the ditch. It didn’t. I could see a good sized pine tree coming at us so, thinking it might be another means of ending these unbelievable events, I anticipated running into it and the jolt of a sudden stop. Once again I was wrong. It pushed this 20 inch tree over with ease. Now we were blazing a trail out thru a stand of planted pines. Still not able to fully grasp reality I climbed over the grain tank after we got on level ground and finally got in the drivers seat. I stomped the clutch pedal with such adrenaline laced force that it broke the connecting rod. Reaching over to the console I switched the key off and it was finally over. I just sat there with a stunned and disheveled look for several minutes. When I looked my paid companion, who was probably having thoughts of offering his resignation, was standing there looking at me. His only comment or observation was “wow”. As in “ that was without a doubt the most dramatic ride I’ve ever taken while sober”, in my life.”
Prior to this in my younger years I had jumped a motorcycle across a gully, driven a car 135 miles an hour, drag raced at night on narrow two lane roads, and done just about anything I could think of that was dangerous and would with out a doubt impress girls. But it took a ragged, worn out Gleaner combine of all things to nearly kill me. In quieter times I would reflect on this and marvel at all the mysteries of life surrounding us.
So there we were. Having just survived a wonderful chance at eternity it took a few minutes to gather our thoughts. First of all we were stranded with no ride. We thought. I did finally come back to reality enough to call the sheriff’s office on the fire department radio, they had no one available so a Georgia State Patrol unit was sent. When he arrived we were both just sitting in the truck recuperating. As he began his report he didn’t quite no how to go about filling it out. Not surprisingly he had never encountered anything close to this. I told him my story as best I could, so grateful to be alive that I completely missed the fact that an unlicenced driver had parked the truck there. The look in the troopers eye’s said we might be in trouble. In all honesty I attempted to change my story. It suddenly dawned on me that not only had I nearly killed this man I was now going to be responsible for his jail visit. But after a consultation with his supervisor the trooper determined it was an “incident” instead of an accident. I really think he didn’t have the heart to lock anyone up after all the trauma we’d already experienced. And was grateful for the technicality.
After removing the fan shroud and beating the grill out enough that the fan wouldn’t hit it we limped home. I got another old truck and took him home. I had called my insurance agent and he was there taking pictures when I came back by the spot. It was 50 to 75 yards back off the road in the pines and one had to look closely to see it which thankfully eliminated most of the curiosity seekers. See previous reference to my misfortunes being so entertaining. The next day we removed the clutch rod and welded it back together. Carefully picking our way back out the way we came in. We had to take axes and a chain saw to clear some of the bent over trees in order to get out. When we finally gained the road again I went about 200 yards and it cut off again. Not wishing to risk the experience of a second chapter to the already incomprehensible story we left it there and went to get a tractor to pull it the rest of the way. We stopped under a pecan tree next to the garden and there it sat for 2 years.[ Just another day in the never boring world of agriculture]
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Oh boy, I love this. It was funny and a good testimoney to the goodness of God. I did notice a couple of minor errors though, so you might want to give it another once-over. Other than that, it was well-written and your powers of description are well-developed.