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Jim Participates In the Flying-Tractor Event

The ranch owner sent Jim up to help me fix the fence. Jim wanted to learn how to use a chain saw, so we went over safety rules, and I showed him what the rules meant with the saw in action. Then he took the saw and cut fallen trees off the fence and the road along the fence. I watched him and corrected him as needed.

He asked, "You think I know enough to fall some of those dead trees?"

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"Work with me while I drop some, and then we'll see what you can do." I told him how to fall a tree, and I said, "That's just right. Let's see you do it."

His saw roared as he cut a notch into the front of the tree, then stepped around and cut from the back toward the notch. The tree tipped and fell - crunch! - smashing the fence flat.

Jim stood, saw idling, and looked at the dead tree on the fence, amazed. He said, "What happened?"

I walked over and pointed at the stump. "You let your saw drift off the straight line in the back-cut. The tree started to tip. The thin part of the hinge broke and allowed the tree to twist, like this. Then the rest of the hinge broke, and it fell straight down from here."

"Straight down on the fence. What's the penalty?"

"Penalty is, we have to fix the fence."

"Boy, that sure was stupid."

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"I don't call it stupid. That wasn't bad for the first tree you ever dropped, only five feet off target."

We left good fence behind us every day. We went to work at daylight so we could quit early enough to go swimming or look around the country.

We drove the tractor and wagon down beside the fence, doubled back along the ridge, and loaded rocks to fill the rock jacks we built about every 100 yards to stabilize the fence.

The third day up the fence, Jim said, "Why don't we just go straight up the hill for rocks? We'd cut off two miles of driving."

"It's too steep, Jim. People get killed when these wheel tractors tip over backwards on them."

"Naw. Up that swale ain't too steep. I've driven my mother's wheel tractor up steeper slopes than that."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'm sure."

I said, "OK. If you're confident, you drive it, and I'll walk up."

It would have gone all right, but the rear wheels spun in soft ground near the top, and he couldn't get any forward motion.

I said, "If the wheels dig any deeper, it will come over backward. See if you can get it backed out and turned around. Once you head down, you're OK. These tip over backward or sideways, but they never top over going downhill forward."

He turned around and started down. He held the clutch in, and the tractor picked up speed fast.

I yelled, "Let the clutch out!" but the tractor was bouncing by then, and putting the brakes on or letting the clutch out did no good. The tractor hit, bounced, skewed sideways, and hit and bounced in the other direction. Jim stood up, swung the steering wheel, and headed it straight down. Chain saw, fence tools, posts, and wire flew off the wagon in every direction.

Halfway down the hill, Jim started a deep, loud "haw-haw-haw!" and kept it up all the way down. The ground leveled out, and the wheels stayed on the ground. Jim got the tractor slowed down and then stopped and sat there a few feet from the fence, "haw-haw-haw!"

I leaped tools and posts and sagebrush, running down the hill. When I got there, he was bent over the steering wheel, laughing hard.

"Have you gone clear nuts? Weren't you even scared?"

He wiped away tears and said, "I was scared near out of my jeans. I was right at the top of one of them high bounces when what you said up there come into my mind like you was saying it to me right then, 'They never tip over going downhill forward.' Haw-haw-haw!"

I never could see that guy laughing hard without getting caught up in it. We laughed so long and hard, we had no energy left for barbed-wire fence. We had to quit work for the day, pick up my wife and daughters, and go swimming.

Every time we looked at each other the rest of the afternoon, we started to laugh at the humor of our flying-tractor event and with relief that they never do tip over going downhill forward.

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