The character of disrepair

When he needed to go grab a spare part for his hay equipment, my neighbor borrowed our small farm utility vehicle to blast down the gravel road and back to his shop to grab what was needed.

When he returned, his face was red. It wasn’t a redness in his cheeks, like he was blushing, but more centered around his nose and forehead, and it appeared freshly inflamed.

“Hey, just a heads up,” he said. “Don’t drive this thing very fast.”

I was a bit puzzled. Like any old piece of machinery, this over-sized four-wheeler with a dump-bed had it’s fair share of quirks and problems. What had a forgotten to tell him?

My mind quickly wandered through the list of known ailments of the machine. I had told him about the poor idle, and how he might have to re-start it every time he wanted to change between forward and reverse. I had told him about how the engine had a  tendency to backfire, and how the accelerator pedal was really loose and unresponsive. But none of these issues explained his warning against driving fast.

“Why? What happened?” I asked.

His faced briefly winced.

“The engine hood, apparently it isn’t secured,” he said.

And then the entire scenario appeared in my mind’s eye, vivid and clear.

“Oh shoot,” I said. “Yea, I forgot to tell you about that. Did it flip up?”

Indeed it had. And while he was driving 25 miles per hour down the gravel road it had blown up and smacked him directly in the forehead and nose. Not only does it hurt pretty bad, getting smacked in the face by a large piece of fiberglass, but the sudden verticalization of the engine hood completely obscures your view, and so – while still going 25 miles per hour – he was suddenly no longer able to see the road in front of him.

As my comment indicated, I had been aware of the poorly-latched engine hood. But because the list of items in disrepair on any given piece of equipment is quite long, I had overlooked it when I told him about things to watch out for.

As you might have guessed, the reason I had known to ask if the engine hood had flipped up was because it had indeed happened to me as well.

I was driving down our field road from the back pasture, enjoying a sunny afternoon in the summer of 2021, when I hit a bump and BAMMM! the engine hood blew up and smacked me in the face in the exact same way it had just done to my neighbor.

I kicked myself for having forgotten to mention this issue to him, but also gave myself a break, considering the lists of “issues” with our various pieces of farm machinery are quite long.

If my neighbor had asked to borrow our tractor, the first thing I would have told him to watch out for was the fact that the parking brake no longer works… and then I would have told him that sometimes the steering wheel falls downward and lands in your lap while you’re driving… or that the fuel gauge hasn’t functioned since Reagan was president….or that the throttle will creep up on it’s own when you least expect it.

You’ve surely had a car like this before in your life, right? A sedan where you had to unlock the driver’s door by first opening the passenger door and then reaching across to push the button…. A station wagon that – once in a blue moon – you had to use a screwdriver across the starter terminals in order to get the engine to turn over…. An old pickup that you could never trust parking on any type of incline… We all have “old car” stories.

These are, of course, signs of disrepair. But if we have to look at them with a “glass is half-full” lens, we can call them “character”. All of the machinery we have on our farm has plenty of character.

“It smarts, doesn’t it?” I said, watching the redness in his forehead throb.

“Yea, my face feels like its on fire. Scared the heck out of me when suddenly I could no longer see the road and my nose crunched against my face as the engine hood made contact,” he replied.

“Sorry about that. I’ll try and mention all of the quirks before you borrow something again.”

Thanks for reading,

Farmer Andre

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