Friday, April 10, 2009

Timing is Everything

Last fall, I built a small shack at the lake—then I cut holes in the floor. Come January, I planned to move the shack onto winter’s frozen water, in order that I might enjoy a bit of ice-fishing.

When the ice was thick enough to support a tractor, Frankie (a local farmer and owner of the nearby bait shop) offered to help, and pulled it onto the ice with his old Farmall H.

I spent a lot of time in my hide-out—fishing, eating, drinking, and napping… dreaming of catching the big one.

It’s a tricky thing to judge when the time is right to pull a shack off the ice. It was forecast to be warm on the day Frankie called me to meet him so we could retrieve mine. In fact, the temperature had been rising all night. By the time I met Frankie, there was an inch of slush on top of the ice.

Frankie pulled the Farmall to the edge of the lake. A half-mile away, there was a big John Deere pulling another shack off the ice. When the John Deere made it to shore without incident, Frankie decided it would be alright to take the Farmall out.

We rode through a cold spray of slush, and then chained the shack to the tractor so we could drag it back to shore. Frankie eased the Farmall forward to tension the chain—then gave it a tug. The shed didn’t budge. On inspection, the shed appeared to be shallowly frozen in the ice under the slush. I used a pair of fencing pliers from the tool box of the tractor to chip at the ice, and signaled for Frankie to try again.

Edging forward, he gave it another pull. This time, the shed seemed ready to break free, so Frankie dropped the Farmall into a lower gear and throttled-up before popping the clutch.

The shed remained locked in the ice as the tractor heaved forward then reared up like a circus pony! Frankie flattened the clutch pedal, causing the front end to drop through the ice with a crash and a splash!

The thrust of the tractor’s forward-falling plunge caused the shed to finally break free and skate forward, as the groaning ice slowly continued to open, seemingly intent on swallowing the tractor, with Frankie still aboard, motionless, and gripping the steering wheel. The ice eventually held—with the Farmall wedged in the gulf. Frankie, ever so gently, reached with his foot to feel for some good ice on which to make his escape.

We were still formulating a rescue plan when the lake refroze that night.

For the next several days, people drove out to the lake to see our Agricultural Ice-Sculpture. Frankie’s insurance agent was one of those visitors. The agent just shook his head as Frankie and I suggested elaborate plans to rescue the tractor. A helicopter was mentioned at one point, but by then the agent was walking toward his car.

I don’t know when the wreck went to the bottom of the lake—but that’s where it is today. I’m still working on a plan to salvage it (the tractor, not the shack). I’ve given up on the helicopter idea—it would probably just open a whole new can of worms insurance-wise.

Maybe, if I time it right, I can retrieve it when the water level of the lake drops this summer. After all, as I’ve learned... timing is everything.

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