Corn stubble

The sight of a large dump truck, the Old Black Truck and a mo-ped parked in a cornfield just outside Berryville greeted passersby on the little country road. The driver of the dump truck, owner of one of those myriad small paving companies from Front Royal, wisely guided the truck into the edge of a field of corn stubble when he felt the engine sputter and stop. Pavers and excavators pay close attention to the weather and can “read the ground.” He could tell that the field was dry enough to drive on without getting stuck.
I wasn’t called to this scene, I was simply passing by en route home from a tractor repair job along the Shenandoah River. Volunteer road rescue is a hobby of mine. I just can’t justify passing a motorist in distress while I’m hauling thousands of pounds of tools, compressed air and vehicle lifting equipment.
I also am not of a mind to take advantage of the situation – there is no charge, though gratuities are accepted. Over the years, this hobby has brought me enough goodwill in the Valley to far exceed the value of simply writing up a bill. And this goodwill, as some may already be aware, eventually leads to more good quality patronage. In some instances though, it takes a little extra effort to visualize these future benefits.
The scene was already slightly comical before I added my truck to it. The dump truck’s hood was up and a tall, swarthy man in dark blue work clothes was frantically trying to address the problem while the other fellow leaned on his moped watching. Perhaps moped man was the customer who was having the paving done somewhere close by.
There was a load of hot asphalt on the truck, which has particularly serious implications. The material on the truck cost the contractor several hundred dollars, likely in cash, at the insistence of the asphalt producer. As it cools, this material hardens into the stuff that we drive on. The contractor would like to see it do just that but as a smooth driveway surface, not as a solid 10-ton block in the bed of his truck. Without engine power, he couldn’t even raise the bed to abandon the load before it set up.
The object of his efforts was a large spin-on diesel fuel filter. Lacking the proper wrench, he had devised a sort of tourniquet arrangement in order to grip and loosen the smooth, round filter. This was a good idea and would likely have met with success but the filter, apparently having been over-tightened, wouldn’t yield. In so doing, though, the fellow had won my respect as a truck man.
I handed him a large filter wrench from my toolboxes and we soon had the filter off. The filter contained a large quantity of water, rust and the exoskeletal remains of possibly extinct insect species. After dumping out the crud, we used my siphon hose to fill the filter with clean fuel from the truck’s tank. He then reinstalled the filter. I brought out the wrenches necessary for the fuel system air bleeding procedure and we both took our positions around the engine. This fellow definitely knew the drill.
The roar of the diesel engine and the longed-for black smoke were soon forthcoming. The engine settled back to a healthy idle as we lowered the engine cover and affixed the latches. The contractor reached into his pocket and produced a folded bundle of cash. I expected him to peel off a bill or two but he instead handed me the entire wad. I handed it back.
“That’s OK, buddy, we’re both in business here, I’m glad to help out.” I said, looking down and dislodging a stalk of corn stubble with the toe of my greasy work boot. “Hold on to some cash for yourself — you don’t know what else might happen before you get paid.”
“Listen, I gotta go.” he said, thrusting the wad of bills at me with enough force to knock me back a half step. “You saved my life — take it all.” I pocketed the cash as he sped away, the smell of diesel smoke combining with the fragrance of fresh asphalt. To my surprise, moped man didn’t follow. Apparently, he had just come out to watch this poor soul suffer.
“I need you to work on a tractor for me,” he said. “It’s at my neighbor’s place and he says he’s gonna git a lawyer and keep it if I don’t get it out of there. He’s lying, though, he just wants to steal it from me all legal-like.”
He went on to describe where his home was (no phone). From the description, I recognized it as a trash-strewn acre or so with junked cars and trucks, their hoods permanently raised, scattered about the place. Let’s see, I thought; It’s late in a work day and the guy has the time to ride a moped (the preferred mode of transportation of those who have lost their driver’s license) out to watch another fellow’s business nearly fail, his home is the local eyesore, he’s playing the victim and his phone is disconnected. Oh, be still my heart!
I mumbled some non-committal reply and drove away leaving moped man in the stubble field to savor the afterglow of these exciting events. Traditionally, paving contractors are rumored to carry large quantities of presidential flash cards with big numbers. I pulled the Old Black Truck into an orchard access road anxious to tally my newfound fortune. It was all one-dollar bills – twenty-two of them. I had to laugh at myself. It was a welcome windfall nonetheless and all profit at that. The old Hippie and I would enjoy some wine that evening that actually required a corkscrew.


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