Gray clouds collected overhead as I bumped along the gravel road in Dad’s old grain truck last week. Ducking my head, I stared up at the darkening mass thoughtfully.
“Wonder if these windshield wipers work?” I mused aloud. I’d been helping Dad by taking several loads of grain to the cleaning plant in nearby Lashburn, Saskatchewan. It’s important that weed seeds be sifted out and the oats (used for feeding cattle all winter) be made ready for planting. Raising cattle means a grain truck doesn’t get much use on our farm, so it’d been a while since the old beast had been driven.
I rumbled along with the window down, taking in the sounds of waterfowl, songbirds and smells of the countryside. The scent of black poplar, its sticky sap warmed under the sun, has always been one of my favourites, along with the smell of freshly turned earth in nearby fields. All was well with the world.
And then the rain began. At first it was only a few specks and I ignored them, but as it began to rain in earnest, I located the switch and the wipers sprang to life. Whew.
Naturally, the one on the passenger side worked beautifully, cleaning away a winter’s worth of dust with a single swipe. My wiper, however, skimmed the surface fitfully, mixing dirt and water into sludge and spreading it evenly across. With no way to see and nowhere to stop, I slid to the center of the bench seat, and drove for two miles squinting out one tiny spot that was clear. It was a bit tense.
For my next trip out, Bill swapped them round for me and everything was fine, but it got me thinking back to my days driving a truck for Bulldog Corral Cleaning. This would never have happened there. We had a strict routine each morning of cleaning all windows and mirrors before moving the trucks. I should have remembered.
Nonetheless, many other sorts of things happened on that job that were “a bit tense”. I didn’t say anything at the time, having learned my lesson about voicing fears around a pack of burly truck drivers, but I often held my breath as we slowly climbed almost vertical hills with a swaying load of muck, and sprayed it to the summer breeze.
I honestly don’t know which was worse: trying to climb a steep, grassy hill that’s been sprayed with slippery cow manure, or trying to drive down one without slithering all the way to the bottom.
One day I’d done just that. We’d left ourselves a wide section of clear ground to travel on since once tires are slicked up with manure it’s impossible to get traction, but wind had carried the muck farther than I’d thought. I was almost to the top of a mountainous hillside when the big duel wheels started to spin uselessly. Braking was pointless; turning the truck to dry ground hopeless. Inexorably I started sliding back downhill, gathering speed fast.
Heart in mouth, I gazed into the rear view mirror as the huge boulders I’d avoided on other trips swept past. Then, the truck began turning sideways as it slid and I envisioned hitting a rock and rolling over and over to my doom.
Suddenly, we came to a shuddering halt at the bottom of the gorge and I slumped over the wheel. I was alive and the truck was okay. I could see Lloyd, one of the other drivers, watching out his side window with huge eyes and an ashen face.
A few deep breaths later I gathered myself, put it in gear, and finished the job.
Ah well, all in a day’s work.