This winter was one of the iciest I can remember in the 30 years we have been here. I finally had to strap crampons on my snow boots. They’re the cheap 4 pronged kind that just go under the instep, but it didn’t matter. I waltzed down to the corrals to feed horses without fear for the first time in days—maybe even weeks. The ice was that bad! Here, we were not worrying about global warming. Here, we were in the midst of our very own mini ice age. With just a few notable exceptions, the temperatures hovered around the single digits to low teens at night and the mid 20’s to low 30’s during the day. This lasted for about six weeks. Oh, and the exceptions were when the temperatures dropped down to zero, not when it warmed up. And it snowed. It was not the heavy backbreaking kind of snow that you start getting sick of slogging through after one day. It wasn’t even deep enough to bother pulling out the tractor and plowing the road, but it was too deep to labor through every day without pulling a “poor man’s plow job” and driving a truck around the property to break trail wherever we might choose to walk.
So why complain about all of that pretty white fluffy stuff? Because after one dazzling day, it wasn’t pretty, white, or fluffy anymore! On those rare days when the outside temperature warmed up into the mid 30’s and the sun came out, the snow would begin to melt off. Only, beginning is about as far as it ever got. You see, it takes most of the day to warm up that far, and just about when things start to soften up a little bit, the sun goes down. So, you got these little teaser patches of brown dirt showing through, but mostly what you got was ice—especially where you had already walked or packed it down with the truck. And just about the time when you got enough brown patches of dirt showing through that you could hopscotch your way down to feed the horses and avoid maybe half of the ice, it snowed and the cycle started all over again. Only now there was ice hiding under fresh snow just waiting to catch you unawares!
Then finally, the cold spell broke!… sort of… The week started with 6” of snow on Sunday morning. Then on Wednesday, we had “The Big Melt” where it warmed up to the high 40’s, turning the roads into an intricate river system, my corrals into the “Great Horse Poop Lakes” and everything else into an Okeefenokee style bog. And then the sun went down. And we had own our very own ice skating rink! Ergo crampons.
And yet, there was a silver lining. Every day when I went down to feed the horses, no matter what the temperature was (we saw 0o several times), my horses had water. Not the solid crunchy kind, mind you, but the clear, wonderful liquid kind of water we only used to dream about in cold snaps like this. And how did this come about?
THE WATER PROJECT FROM HELL!
I blame RFDTV really. I had RFDTV once. That was back before we decided we were too cheap to pay for satellite TV because you have a hundred channels and there is STILL NOTHING ON! We got the channel package that included RFD-TV because the latent horse crazy girl inside of me insisted. I have a rule about horse programs: If it has horses in it, I will watch it. I may point and laugh at the screen. I may yell and scream at the totally clueless people in the show who are putting glitter on their horses’ butts or making kissing noises so often that even the dog starts howling. I may even write angry letters to the powers that be, but I will watch it. I even watch the commercials because they have horses in them (which makes bathroom breaks kind of tough!). Most of them have crazy claims, like “if you feed your horse Vitamin X—the only horse vitamin you will ever need—it will be able to jump 8 foot fences and win the Kentucky Derby!” But the craziest, absolutely far-outest commercial I saw was for a watering device that required no power and would not freeze. I would sooner believe in Vitamin X!
But, alas, we ditched satellite. Even now, my horse crazy inner girl really misses RFDTV. She would be willing to pay $60.00 per month just to have that one channel, but I have had to tell her no. She was not happy. Eventually, to appease her, I went to the web page of the horse waterers (Bar Bar A is the name brand) to find out the true story. What I found out is that—unlike Vitamin X—these watering devices are a truly ingenious invention. Basically, they consist of a 5 foot pipe that you bury 3 or so feet of in the ground. The valves and guts and important things are at the bottom of the pipe, so once they are buried, they are 3 feet underground; hence, they don’t freeze! The horse pushes on a paddle to get the water to fill the bowl to drink. When the horse finishes, the excess water drains back out of the bowl and out the bottom of the pipe… three feet underground. It’s a brilliant idea really—no standing water, so no freezing in winter and no mosquitoes in summer. It also requires no power to run a heater. What could be simpler? (Can you hear me sniggering?)
So I bought 3, which costs roughly about 3 years worth of RFDTV, but it would be worth it, right? The plan was to hire “the guy” to come out with a backhoe and dig ditches for the water lines, slap a bunch of PVC together, and voila! Piece of pie! Simple as cake! Only about that time I lost my horse to colic which turns out to cost a ridiculously spectacular amount of money, so the backhoe had to wait. And wait it did. Next, the batteries in our power system died which turned out to cost a STUPENDOUSLY, ridiculously spectacular amount of money—yeouch! Suddenly, the water lines were so far down the list of priorities that we barely remembered the project. Occasionally, one of us would vaguely mention that we ought to put those waterers in, but then our conversation would just sort of taper off into indistinct mumbling and we would forget about it for another few months. The waterers themselves sat languishing in a shed in their original cardboard boxes, which slowly began to decompose so that it looked like we were conducting some sort of lame experiment on how many years cardboard can last.
Until this year that is. This year, the stars all lined up and the good fairy of horse projects waved her little wand and I stopped mumbling and stated boldly for all to hear that “I’m gonna call the guy.” Only, David wouldn’t hear of calling “the guy.” Being a guy himself, he has this theory that all it takes to be “the guy” and not just “some guy” is the right piece of heavy equipment. (More sniggering? Ladies! Get your minds out of the gutter.) David’s theory is why pay “the guy” when you can rent the right piece of heavy equipment and be your own guy and save money. Besides, that way he gets to dig in the dirt, which (pay attention ladies) is apparently a very powerful guy fantasy that starts when they are 3 and begin digging massive trench warfare layouts in the backyard for those little plastic soldiers and ends, well… never.
This thrifty be-your-own-guy plan depended heavily on our ability to haul said piece of equipment the 30 miles from the rental place ourselves using a flatbed trailer. Fortunately, we have access to a flatbed trailer that we can borrow from David’s generous Aunt and Uncle in Reno. A side note about flatbed trailers: This may be the single most useful piece of equipment after your basic tractor—possibly, even more useful since you can use it to haul the tractor to other places thus rendering IT (the tractor) even more useful. Naturally, after borrowing one for most of last year, I want one of my own. Only I want a bigger one that can haul even more weight! (Does this surprise anyone?) So step one was: pick up the trailer. Step two was: take it back because David’s cousin suddenly needed it. Did anybody catch the foreshadowing there? We didn’t either! We just blithely picked the trailer back up after they were done figuring “what could be more simple!”
But it was summer, and I was so busy doing my usual summer activities and hauling loads of hay (on the trailer) and rebuilding my hay barn and attending math conferences and sailing with David, that we could never seem to find a weekend to rent the excavator that we wanted to use. We finally found a weekend in September that would work. The plan was for me to drive the truck, hauling the trailer, to work on Friday and drive into Gardnerville after work to pick up the excavator. We would use it all weekend, then David would return it Monday morning on his way to work. There is no rocket science operating here, right? Simple plan? The only thing operating here was fate. I’m not only starting to believe in fate, I have begun to become very superstitious after some of the strangely coincidental events we have been through. I believe that Loki is more than just a character in the Avengers movie and on this particular day, he was rolling his dice or throwing darts at a board or whatever he does to decide what mischief to cause whenever he gets bored, and the dart landed smack on the road between me and the excavator.
We got word at school around 2:00 that there might be a problem. There was a fire and the road was currently closed. After a few phone calls to the Sheriff’s office and the fire information people, we confirmed that the road would be closed for at least a few hours. The alternatives were drive out through Yerington and back in from the east—a dramatically long detour that would add more than 100 miles to the trip. Or… drive over Monitor Pass which would only add about 20 minutes, but would involve hauling a rather largish flatbed trailer over a steep pass on a narrow winding two-lane road. Not great alternatives, but I simply wouldn’t make it to the rental place before closing if I went the long way so it was off to the pass. Along with everyone else on the planet!
You see, all of the 395 traffic was being routed over Monitor Pass, so there we all were—cars galore, motor homes, flatbed trailers, 18 wheelers, covered wagons—you name it, it was up there! The first thing that happened as we were waiting to turn left off of 395 is that a motor home coming down the last little narrow canyon lost its brakes. I was fortunate to be stuck in the left turn lane, but two of my friends had made the turn ahead of me and one nearly got hit by the guy. She said he passed so close, she could see the look of abject terror on his face. Amazingly, he managed to thread his way through the mess of cars, cross the oncoming lane without hitting anyone and pull off onto a large dirt area where he was able to stop about 10 feet before the highway. As I finally made the turn onto Monitor Pass Road, I couldn’t help but wonder what other disasters might be waiting for us.
And I was right to be concerned about hauling the flatbed over that road. The trailer is at least a foot wider than the truck, so I had to pay careful attention to its position in the lane. On the left hand turns, it had a tendency to wander over into the oncoming lane, which I’m sure provided thrills for one or two oncoming drivers. It was certainly more exciting than I was hoping for when I had to pass oncoming trucks and motor homes. On the right hand curves, it had a tendency to want to go off the edge of the pavement. This would not have been such a big deal if the edge of the pavement had been in good shape. It wasn’t. I think I had the whole shebang airborne a couple of times after hitting potholes or spots where the pavement had crumbled away. But I made it into town in time to pick up the precious excavator. I was all ready to head home! Except the road was still closed.
So David (who had joined me on his way home from work) and I went out for pizza and hoped they would open the road. They didn’t. So now I had to make the same decision, only now instead of hauling an empty 2200 pound flatbed trailer over a steep, winding, narrow road, I was hauling about 6000 pounds of trailer plus excavator. The prospect was scary, but I knew the truck could do it—after all, there was a reason I insisted on that Allison transmission, and 100 miles through Yerington still sounded like 100 miles. The question was could I do it? Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights? Yep, don’t like those drop-offs. I could have wimped out and traded David for the Camry, but I don’t like to wimp out. Every time I wimp out, next time is tougher. So I went for it.
And it was fine. Well, it was almost fine. The trip up was uneventful and the traffic had really thinned out, thankfully, but as we headed down the ski slope that is the east side of the pass, I caught up to another truck hauling a utility type trailer. He obviously did not have an Allison transmission. I was discovering that third gear would hold the truck and trailer at a very nice speed of around 35 miles per hour with only the occasional use of the brakes. As soon as I hit the downgrade, I fiddled with the trailer brakes and found the sweet spot where the trailer wouldn’t grab the truck or push it either. Not so this fellow in front of me. He was apparently of the opinion that one uses the trailer brakes to slow the entire rig! I started smelling this horrible burnt brake shoe odor and got a little panicky wondering if it was me. How could my brakes be burning? I was barely using them! Then I caught up to him. Corner after corner, I watched acrid white smoke boil out of his trailer brakes. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it and wouldn’t have been surprised to see flames shooting out of the trailer wheels. Thinking of the motor home, I started to worry that he would lose his brakes. I thought to myself “jeez, if I watch this guy go over the edge, I’ll never be able to drive again!”
Finally, I shifted into second and putzed along at about 25. I figured I’d give him time to get a few turns ahead of me and then I could stop cringing every time I saw the cloud of white smoke. And if he went over the edge, well, at least I wouldn’t see it. I can’t imagine he got to the bottom without doing lasting damage to his brake system. I never did see him after that because I pulled over when I finally got to the bottom of the drop-off section. I really had to pee and there’s just no bleeding place to pull off with a truck and trailer where a girl can rush off and hide discreetly in the bushes anywhere along that road. I’d been waiting for this perfect little wooded spot with a long pull-out for about 20 miles. Too much root beer with our pizza dinner!
Anyway, we made it home, complete with truck, trailer, excavator and my fragile panic disorder all intact. I was tickled pink that the truck did so well. I would not even have made the attempt in my old truck! Thinking that we had thwarted Loki, we happily went to bed knowing that in two days of hard work we would have ourselves a new water system. Yeah, you know that didn’t go exactly as planned…