Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Fell a Tree Without Hitting the House

Step 1
Find Yourself an Ol’ Codger Who’s Done it a Hundred Times.

In this case, he’s easy to find. Look no further than my dad. A year and a half shy of 80 years old and he can still work circles around me.

I work with old people every day—so I know old. This guy's in better health than most people half his age. He could’ve been a card-carrying member of AARP for the last 28 years—but he doesn’t need ‘em.

Never even swung a golf club.

Gets up every day at 6 AM. Pulls on his overalls, laces up his boots, walks outside and tackles any job he has a mind to.

A dying breed.


Master of all.

I’m not kidding.

This guy can do anything if it’s even remotely related to plumbing, electrical work, concrete work, welding, design, engineering, woodwork, heating, auto mechanics, roofing, finish work, farming, etc.

He’s an artist with a shovel.

Need a custom part made from steel? He’ll fire up his blacksmithing tools and pound you out a piece on the anvil.

And he’s no hayseed either.

Yeah, he was a typical Utah farm boy—until he left home and went to school…. Then he turned himself into a scholar with bachelor's and master's work at BYU, Ph.D. work at Columbia University, and a Fulbright scholarship to study northern European economies.

Step 2
Fire Up a 91 Year-Old Tractor.

That’s right. 91 years old. As in built in 1918.

Really—who has a 91 year-old tractor out in the shed that they crank up on a regular basis and use for real work?


The thing’s beyond antique—it’s ancient!

My kids asked me what color it used to be. I didn’t know how to answer them. I’m sure it was a nifty color once-upon-a-time, but now it’s just rust and grease.

My grampa bought the tractor "used" in 1925. Farmed hundreds of acres around his home. Dad learned how to drive it when he was six. At the time he could barely push in the clutch.

Unlike most tractors at the time, this one uses tracks instead of wheels.

Last Saturday Dad calls me up and says, “I’m taking down a tree with the old tractor. Do you and your kids want to watch?”

Well, I’ve seen this routine plenty of times…but my kids haven’t, so I say, “Sure, we’ll be over in a few minutes.”

We arrive a while later and he laughs at my oldest son, Jason, because Jason’s wearing shorts. It’s about 20 degrees in the shade.

Dad's holding a bucket of warm water. As he pours it into the tractor’s radiator he explains that it has to be warm—because the tractor’s massive block is so cold that cold water would instantly freeze.

I’m thinking: Huh. Smart.

1918 was a while before electric starters, so this ol’ Cletrac needs to be cranked. I watch my dad with his left hand on the choke and his right hand turning the crank. It occurs to me that the tractor looks like an extension of himself—he’s done this so many times that the tractor and he are one. He casually turns the crank and I’m thinking: you better give it a little more elbow grease or it will never start.

Click on the play button to see and hear it.

But he knows his tractor.

And after a few nonchalant—almost effortless—cranks…it fires right up.

Back in the day when this thing was built they didn’t bother with mufflers—so the fire shoots straight out of the manifold. And there’s no doubt if it’s running or not—it’s loud.

Step 3
Drive Through the Snow, Hook a Long Chain Between Tractor and Tree, and Put Tension on the Chain.

Click on the play button to see and hear it.

I wondered about the wisdom of driving the old beast through the pasture and orchard—all the while grinding through a foot of snow. Would it get stuck? Would this turn into an oh-shoot-the-thing’s-stuck-now sort of a day?

But again, no worries.

The Cletrac busted through the snow like it was the ancestor of modern-day snowcats.

Which, come to think of it, it is.

Step 4
Make Son Nervous By Nearly Cutting All the Way Through Tree.

So what do you do when the ol’ codger (who's done this a hundred times) is wearing earmuffs, focusing intently on where he’s cutting...and can’t see the tree start to sway above him?

Suddenly his son (me) starts imagining all sorts of scenarios:

1) The tree does a slow pirouette and comes crashing down on Ol’ Codger—all while his son and grandchildren look on in horrified silence.

2) Ol’ Codger’s quick and valiant son (me) jumps forward at the last second and tackles Ol’ Codger to the ground while the tree narrowly misses them both. After an enormous sigh of relief, they both look down to see the chainsaw imbedded in Ol’ Codger’s leg.

3) Ol’ Codger’s son (me) sees the danger, shouts at Ol’ Codger (who can’t hear him), then strides quickly forward and grabs Ol’ Codger’s arm to alert him. Ol’ Codger is startled, nearly drops the chainsaw, is decidedly unhappy with his jumpy son, and lets loose with a string of cusswords.

None of those scenarios seemed particularly pleasant, so I just crossed my fingers and reminded myself that he’s done this a hundred times.

Step 5
Drop the Cletrac into Forward Gear, Let Out the Clutch, and Pull the Tree Down in Precisely the Direction You Want it to Fall.

Click on the play button to see and hear it.

Slick as a whistle.

Step 6
Give Rides to All the Grandkids.

And let the seventeen year-old in shorts drive the thing himself.


Jason and Diana said...

you always have the best posts!

Keri Bartlett Bullock! said...

I especially want to send "Step 1" to my Dad as an indirect tribute from me, as in I'd acknowledge you as the author of course! Right down until it reads, "And he's no hayseed either", my amazing Dad is described through your writing (minus the fact that he's ten years younger & has swung a golf club, as there's not mainstream sport he hasn't played). This entry so moved me (as opposed to the others?). I like your "Some Rights Reserved" note! -never noticed that before. The Creative Commons thing is cool, for now anyway, 'til you finally publish that 'officially' copyrighted book you're going to write with "All Rights Reserved." Do it!

roast, mashed potatoes, & corn said...

Easy to see why you and your family are the way the are. That is except the on in shorts a 20 degrees. Pardon the play on words but the acorn never fall far from the tree.

Anonymous said...

Derek, this is your long and far away cousin Rachelle Care Rohner' All the way from ariz. I absolutely loved seeing the old tractor being started up. It brought back memories of seeing Grandpa do it himself. Memories of spending hours playing on the old tractor and pretending to drive it. What a great heritage we have and I love your Dad for carrying it on!

Marmee said...

I love this tribute to your dad. He's a treasure.

Shauna Brown