|My Dumptruck Chevron Bead and the Wood Rats|
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It’s been a while since I checked in and since I had a little bead excitement here at the ranch I thought I’d let you in on it. It doesn’t take much to get us excited up here in the outback so if this lets you down on the excitement scale, I apologize in advance.
I got this bead some 30 years ago at a Rendezvous somewhere in Northern California. I think I won it at a Round Robin game. Never seen a chevron quite like it before or since, so it has always been pretty special to me, three layers red white red and the red is the prettiest transparent red. It glows in the sun. I liked this bead so much I put it on my rendezvous rig key chain immediately. It has graced the keys of several trucks since, the last of which has been the ranch dump truck.
We got this old Chevy dump truck about 20 years ago. At first we used it quite a lot, hauling firewood, gravel, manure from cleaning out the corrals and barn, and trash to the dump. We ran it ten or fifteen times a year so it was always up and ready for work. Sometime in the last ten years we began using it less and less but someone always went out every couple of months and got it running and warmed it up to keep it limber. Somewhere between three and five years ago that habit got lost in the shuffle of busy ranch life and travel. The old truck at this point hasn’t done any work in years and it seems no one has started it either. Well, I needed to get a load of road base gravel mix to fix a muddy hole in the road by the barn so I went out to face the music. I counted on needing a fresh battery and some extra gas and starting fluid so got myself prepared. Sadly when I got to the truck with my gear I found that the wood rats had been busy in there. It was a god-awful mess. They had made a nest under the seat and had left literally inches of their little poop pellets glued to the floor with their urine, Ugh. It stunk to high heaven too. This ain’t the first time I’ve had to face a truck rat mess so I got down to it and spent the afternoon cleaning out the cab before I made any effort to start the truck. Vehicle rodents are the worst kind of rodent, both mice and rats. They eat wires and hoses and live in their own waste. They are just plain destructive.
We always leave the keys to the ranch trucks in the ashtray or door pocket of the truck, that way no one has to go looking for them. The old dump had an empty ashtray so I kept an eye out for the keys and my old treasured bead as I was cleaning it out. Wood rats are also known as pack rats and they are famous for hauling all manner of things into their nests. We had a van parked here over a fall and winter one year with the carburetor in a state of repair, and in the spring found a nest the size of a kitchen sink in the back, with everything from wrenches to small parts to green tomatoes to coyote turds in it. There were bits of string, an old tooth brush, even a chewed up oil rag in that mess, so I figured I’d find my keys and bead in the nest under the seat. But the nest had no keys; it had beer caps, a candy wrapper, an old radiator cap, and a rusty pocketknife in it but no keys.
The next day I got the spare keys from our key drawer and went out to get the truck running. Everything was in order with a spoonful of fuel in the carb and new battery and when I cranked her over she started right up - for a minute - then quit. After several tries at this I took the fuel line off the carb to find no fuel. Not being a real serious mechanic, I called our local mechanic, Brownie. Brownie can fix anything and he does house calls. So he came out with his truck full of tools. Brownie is an old Korea war vet who grew up in Minnesota. He retired up here after 30 years as a union heavy equipment mechanic down in Nevada. Whenever he hears anyone complain about our winters up here in the outback he will exclaim that in Minnesota the winters make ours look like fall weather up there. He swears that he had to walk four miles each way to school in six feet of snow at 40 below with only a baked potato ( his lunch ) in his pocket to keep his hands warm. If he is making that exclamation in the bar he often adds that it was uphill both ways. He is good Irish Catholic stock so I suspect there may be some truth about the potato. Brownie is pretty old, at least 84 now, but he is spry. He can still fit into his old navy duds. He is fit as a fiddle. He’s about 5 foot 7 and 145 pounds of solid muscle and bone. Some people in the neighborhood think he is too old to be turning wrenches, and when he hears one say something he tells them to mind their own business that he is going to live to be 110 and will work til he dies. He likes his work. He was an engine mechanic in the navy and has turned wrenches ever since. He lied about his age to get in the navy back then. He was 16 and told them he was 17. No one he works for ever complains about his age or his speed, because Brown never fails to get a rig running whether it’s an old Cat dozer or a Farmall tractor or most anything in between. He doesn’t charge for BS time either, and he likes to have some conversation along with his work. He does draw the line at computerized machines. He says they are for college kids.
So brownie shows up in his coveralls and gets to work. He locates the fuel filter under the truck and finds no fuel there despite my having put five gallons of fresh gas in the tank. He determines that there is a blockage in the tank feed line, probably in the tank so he is going to have to drop the tank to find the problem. We siphon the gas out and he gets under the truck and starts asking for wrenches. The tank is empty so shouldn’t weigh too much and he plans on just letting it down easily after he removes the brackets holding it up. After some time of wrenching noises and mumbles and clunks there issues a large CRASH from under the truck. Followed by “Holy Lightning! Lover of Thunder!” That was Brownie swearing. He has never cursed, only uses Holy Lightning and various extensions, like "Lover of Thunder, or Lover of Thunder and His Brother Adolph” Depending on the severity of need. The tank came down bang right on top of him, which wouldn’t have been too bad, but wedged between the tank, and the bed of the truck was a very large dense wood rat nest. It was nasty and gross and heavy. And when released it sort of exploded and fouled a large area under the truck along with Brownie. He came out from under the truck hissing and spitting and I sent him straight to the house to get a shower. He always carries spare overalls because he never knows what he will be getting into and this trip he really needed them. While he was in the house I pulled the tank out to find that the rats had eaten the rubber fuel hose in half so there was the problem. And when I raked out all the nest debris along with a couple of beer cans some horse manure, bits baling twine, a couple of writing pens and an old spark plug, there were the keys to the truck and my missing cherished bead. I was so glad to get that bead back I moved it right away to the keychain of my town rig. The bead on that keychain was an old small seven layer, which I moved to the dump truck.
When Brownie came back out he put on a new piece of fuel line and got the tank back in place and in no time had the old truck running like nothing had ever been wrong.
We are lucky to have a fine mechanic like Brownie up here and we kept him over for dinner. He is charming, and has a lot of stories he likes to tell. I sure hope he does live to be 110. It’ll show those old busybodies. And I am really lucky and happy to have my bead back. Those rats could have hauled it off into the junipers and I’d have never seen it again. So there was my big bead excitement. Hope you all winter well and have your firewood in.
And don’t forget to keep that string in the middle of the hole,