Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The County Fair

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Quote of the day:

..."(he) Had eyes Luther'd seen before in the white poor-spent his whole life eating rage in place of food. Developed a taste for it he wouldn't lose no matter how regular he ate for the rest of his life."

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

Today's Vocabulary Word: Spurge: what comes out of a jet engine after collision with a bird.

The second week of September, right after Labor Day, Vernon County holds it's fair. I generally avoid the fair. The kiddie rides aren't for me. The food, a tad expensive, unless you're willing to consider it a donation for whatever local church is serving meat loaf and smashed potatoes. My friend Dogg runs into Stan the logger at the fair. Afterward, he tells me that Stan sells cull logs and will deliver them right to your place. "Get a hold of him right away," Dogg tells me. "If you want firewood, you need to get on his list." I call the number in the book. First, I call in the evening. The next time during the day. I get a busy signal at 8 pm. and an answering machine around noon. I leave my name, phone number and a brief message. "Call me," I tell the answering machine. A week transpires. No word from Stan. I talk to Dogg. "Keep after him, " Dogg says. I leave another message. Finally in desperation, I talk to a relative who works with Dogg. She gives me his cell phone number. Stan answers on the first ring. I repeat the same message as I did for the answering machine. Stan says it'll be about a month. "That's fine," I say. Dogg is going in the hospital for an operation on his thumb. He'll be unable to help me cut and split the firewood for about two weeks. September becomes October. I send Stan directions on how to find our place.

The third week of October, I'm getting restless. No word from Stan. His relative says you have to keep after him. Her exact words, " He's Polish ya know." Dogg tells me about Stan's brother who has the nickname No Show Joe Dogg used to work with Joe until Joe started losing jobs that he'd begin and never finish.

I'm worried. We have a two week supply of silver maple and a bit of elm and oak scavenged from a woman that Dogg meets at Wal-Mart. We work at cutting a large elm tree that has fallen in her yard. We remove most of the elm and fill our truck with oak lying at the edge of a hayfield. Then the deal with the woman goes south. She allows someone with big equipment to remove most of the oak in the hayfield. She hesitates allowing us to cut limbs from a logging operation at the edge of another field-offering excuses. On a day after work, when we're cleaning up the last of the elm, Dogg asks about bow hunting on her land. Her answer to Doug's request for permission is, "Probably not." Well, that sucks and we leave. In desperation, I ask my neighbor about cutting a downed oak in the field below his farm. He gives me his usual, "We'll see what happens." This is another way of saying probably not" I call Stan's cell. "It'll be about a week," he says. A week passes by and no firewood.

I ask my Amish friend Enis about the Amish family that sells firewood off the highway. Advertising cut stock on a sign near their white farmhouse , I see old fashioned wagons with metal rimmed wheels filled with split oak. Enis says he doesn't know anything about them. I'm getting a dozen eggs and a scraggly looking man with an unkempt beard delivers a trailer load of split firewood. It appears to be a tough year for firewood. Enis is tight lipped and I don't push it.

My wife and I are taking a short trip to the city to celebrate her father's 87th birthday. Stan calls on the Thursday before we leave. "I've got some black locust," he says. "I don't know anything about black locust," I tell Stan. He describes the logs, tells me where they came from and advises me to come up to his place off Highway 14 to check them out. "Some people prefer black locust," he says. I consult with Dogg.

"What d'ya know about black locust?" I ask. At first Dogg confuses black locust with iron wood. He tells me to have a number of back up chains for my Stihl. "It'll eat 'em up," he says. He says I should go to Stan's place, take my chain saw and do a test cut. "Check it out," he says. I look up black locust on the net. Wikipedia tells me that it makes excellent firewood and long lasting fence posts. The wood is rot resistant. It's snowing when I get to Stan's blue house off a county road. There are cars and trucks parked behind the house, but no one appears to be around. He has a sawmill 100 yards behind the house and logs stacked everywhere. There's a pile of stacked 4X4's. The yard is muddy. I walk carefully up to what looks like the pile described to me on the phone. Most of the logs are 5-8 inches in diameter. They're green. You can see the green inner bark where a few are bruised. I fire up my 16" Stihl and cut the end off a log. Seems all right to me I tell myself. To be certain, I double check with Stan on my cell phone before I leave the wood yard. "Looks good, " I say. " When can you deliver ?"
"When do you want it?" he asks. I think about our trip and tell him Monday. Stan asks when I'll be back from the city. He suggests late Sunday or Monday.

I call Dogg and set up a time on Monday when he can come with his log splitter. "10 am after I go out bow hunting, " he says. Dogg pulls up towing an old splitter behind an equally old pea green pick-up truck. We split leftover silver maple in the front field and move to some maple I salvaged from the flood on the south fence line. Snow and sleet alternate as we split all available firewood, including some previously split oak and elm. Stan said he'd arrive about 10:30 Monday morning. It's 12:30. I call him on his cell phone. "Had a few hoses break," he says. For the past week, he's been addressing me as Mister_______. "I'm on my way, just passing the junk yard."

Stan drives down the town road to our place. We consult over the best place to drop the logs. His logging truck is piled high. Now that I've met him, I realize I've misjudged him. He's younger than I thought. He's not obese and very polite. Dogg brought along the rack from a buck he found-shot with an arrow and left for dead. The two of the them gush over the 12 points on the rack. Dogg tells the buck story while Stan wonders what kind of score the rack would total.

Stan is hesitant to drive in the neighbor's cornfield without permission. "$250 fine ya know for trespassing," he says. I'm guessing he's had a few run ins. Then, a stroke of luck. The new neighbor, who traded his farm in the Beaver Dam area for this 400 head dairy farm, drives up in his John Deere. I introduce myself and ask permission to dump the load along my south fence line. The new neighbor says, "Sure, no problem." He adds, " I'm not Mike," referring to the former owner who was always at odds with neighbors and the local authorities. As he drives away towing a spring tooth and disc cultivator, Stan says with admiration, " That's a $250,000 tractor ya know." Later the new neighbor stops and tells the splitting crew while I'm off dealing with a workman who's installing a new deck door, " I'll wait to plow the section closest to you until spring." I'm thrilled that he's considerate and generous in case Stan can deliver a new load of oak logs. My original request was oak for its long burning and great heat potential.

Stan goes to work unloading the logs. On the rear of his truck is a hoist or crane. He plants two stabilizer feet firmly in the grass and lays several logs on the ground to keep the other logs off the wet soil. Then he piles the logs perpendicualr to the foundation logs. Obviously he's done this before. Dogg looks up at the electric wires overhead which are waving in the breeze. "I hope those are telephone wires," he says as Stan brushes the top of his crane with the wires.

Now I understand why people are so tolerant of Stan's idiosyncrasies. The pile of black locust is huge. It's a real deal, in spite of the hours I'll spend cutting and splitting. Once safely stacked under my lean to and in the basement, the wood should last most of the winter. The promised load of oak will set us up for the upcoming year.

We work in godawful conditions. Rain, sleet and chilling wind. My son and I haven't had lunch. We knock off for a short sandwich break. Dogg continues splitting cut logs. When we return, Dogg is ready to quit. He's wet and cold. I don't argue. As were walking away, out of the corner of my eye, I see a little figure scurrying over the logs. I don't get a good look, but it appears to be Tom, the gnome who swings in the forty foot Norway pine in the front yard. I'll come out before dark and see what he is up to.

No comments: