The siren’s song

On occasion, usually in an urban setting (for some unknown reason), I speak in the manner of Garrison Kiellor’s Norwegian rural Minnesota characters. This is especially easy for me having spent much time visiting the Norwegian colony at Griggstown, N.J. One early spring day, Stephanie and I were aboard the Metro train near Falls Church, Va., boring deeper into Washington, D.C., to attend a Crosby Stills Nash and Young concert. (Neil was the only thing “young” about these four old-timers).

The riders on this Metro run were especially bored and taciturn — but polite, of course. The train stopped at a station platform and I happened to notice that the platform was textured differently near the edge to prevent slipping. I commented on this observation in Kiellorese.

“Dat’s a pretty good ting they got dere — if ya’ got some manure on yer boot ‘cha won’t slip and fall onto the track, dontcha know.”

Having overheard us, the fellow in the seat ahead of us turned around and smiled. Soon we were exchanging stories of childhood pasture patty encounters. He was from rural Pennsylvania which certainly has no shortage of these bovine land mines.

His wife chimed in with similar experiences from her home state of New Hampshire.

Since I had some choice in the matter, I chose to represent my native New Jersey rather than my adopted West Virginia since the Jersey dairy cow pasture patties are legendary. I thought that I had won the day with my tales of going in ankle deep in shiny Thom McCann school shoes while walking home from after school detention. However, my wife, Stephanie, the delegate from Iowa, related tales of historic manure spills that blocked Interstate highways and that were visible from outer space.

The point is that a boring train ride turned into a party at the mere mention of manure among four people with rural backgrounds. This example demonstrates that there are many sights, sounds and smells (especially smells) that lend a feeling of warmth and security to the rural heart.

So it went with me late one spring night. I awoke to my mind rushing over events in the world and my relatively trivial personal cares. Though I’m comforted in the knowledge that all of these matters are in God’s hands and a positive outcome is assured, this did little to settle the two Italian sausage subs with peppers and onions that I had for supper. These two “gombas” were not only talking to me but were hurling defiance with eloquence worthy of Churchill. (Since these subs remained in place, perhaps “hurling” isn’t the best choice of words here.)

Somewhere in the predawn, I lay awake listening to the sounds in the still air. A hound barked on a distant ridge, a semi shifted gears out on the highway. Then I heard it — or maybe not — one of those elusive sounds — like foxes barking in the corn.

Yes, there it was … what may sound like an air raid-like siren to the uninitiated — one continuous siren-like note; Hoooo …. This was the distinctive song of the Hardie Duo-Fan orchard sprayer, a relic of the 1950s and ‘60s still favored by a few fruit growers. A local grower was getting an early start and taking advantage of the still morning air before the sun could stir up the breeze. My thoughts were thus redirected to apples, peaches, trees, old comfortably worn wooden ladders and vintage tractors. With the help of a few antacid tablets, I easily regained peaceful oblivion.

I heard a Hardie a few days ago. I had just walked out the door of Winchester Equipment and thought that I had heard the sprayer just over the rise behind the building in the Solenburger orchard. Moving along, I arrived at a hilltop overlooking this orchard and scanned the valley for the characteristic white cloud moving through the trees. All sprayers make a visible display of airborne spray but the Hardie looks as though it is being followed by its own weather system.

The sprayer’s pump and huge fans are powered by an on board 312 cubic inch Ford V-8 industrial engine. According to my motor’s auto repair manual, 1953-61, even the most demure version of this engine puts out 215 horsepower and can easily be modified to exceed 300. That’s a lot of wind. The branches beside the Hardie’s fans bend as if they are in a hurricane.

I proceeded to a farm near Opequon (Frog Eye) about 6 miles distant. There, the sound of the Hardie persisted but was noticeably louder. It then occurred to me that I was hearing the same machine at both locations, an example of how the sound of this sprayer can carry. The sprayer that I had heard in the predawn stillness could have been 20 miles away.

Hardies aren’t bashful about using fuel so the day of the Hardie Duo-Fan sprayer may be coming to a close. Someone should record the song of the Hardie — not so much for history but for use in those sleep/sound machines.

Let’s see as we check the settings on a future sleep/sound machine … surf, breeze in the pines, babbling brook… ah, Hardie Duo-Fan orchard sprayer 10 miles distant at 3 a.m. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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