January 12, 2011



I guess I’m getting old. Really. I know you doubt it, but it is true. It really came to mind one day last week. Well, really two days last week. I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you, but I did it. Something I had never done before. Something I had sworn that I would never do. To a guy that grew up driving in the badlands, climbing around gumbo hills, twenty-foot washouts, snowdrifts higher than the cab of the pickup, climbing up from the Lost Bridge on glare ice, and numerous other challenges, it was cowardly. But I did it. I chained up before I got stuck!
For forty years, Shirley has begged, threatened, and cajoled me to “put the chains on before we try that hill.” And for forty years, I have gently, but firmly, explained that a real man does not display a lack of confidence by putting chains on before it is absolutely necessary. It is a sign of weakness. A real man will put the chains on after he has slid into the washout. Or after he has slid into a tree and smashed up the side of the pickup, broken the mirror off, and jackknifed the trailer.
And I have, dear reader, I have. I carry the scars of being hit by the handyman jack (which is the most inaptly named invention ever) while trying to jack the pickup up in a washout to put the “bracelets” on. I have slid off hills where mountain goats do not venture, except under pristine conditions.
But last week, I was hauling some oil field stuff back in the badlands. West of Grassy. Butte, that is. And it was glare ice. As nearly every road from here to Florida is, as of this writing. And I had been forewarned. But, being a ‘wannabe’ cowboy, I didn’t put chains on until I started up a pretty long hill. And the hill kept getting steeper and steeper. Then it started to get steeper. I decided I’d better chain up.
It had gotten a little steeper than I had intended. And the parking brake wouldn’t hold the pickup. I put it in four low and figured that would hold. Well, I hoped that would hold. So there I am, sitting halfway up an icy hill with a wonderful view of a canyon below me. I stood there with tears in my eyes as that transmission fought gravity. I would like to say that I quickly slid under the pickup, slapped those chains on, and climbed that hill.
But three-hundred-pound fat guys don’t quickly slide under anything, unless there is food coming out of it. I lay on my belly and tried to hook that inside chain. I couldn’t reach it, and I was squeezing the air from my lungs. I lay on my back and tried to reach under that pickup, but my shoulders would not flex enough. I lay on my side, and by thinking real small (did you know that can help?), I could just barely reach in and hook the chain. The pickup inched back again, and my heart stopped. But then it started again. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this.
Well, I made it. I got that old baby chained up, clawed my way up the hill, and made my delivery. On the way out, I met a tractor-trailer heading back in there. No chains on. That’s a real man, I thought to myself. The last I heard, his truck was still sitting crossways on that hill waiting for a chinook.
The next day I had another load. Up a steeper hill. At the shop, they told me to chain up all four wheels. And be ready to bail out if I lost it.
I chained up on a nice level spot. Getting old does have its advantages!