Raising Cain about the grain in the lane

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Speaking with a traveler, Frank Toller, who had stopped by to get a tire repaired, gave them a chance to vent a little. He had been admiring their farm and asking how they were doing and what were their plans for change if any.

“Every year we try to get our friends grain to market, before the snow comes. More than once we have lost not only grain but a tractor or wagon because of an avalanche from the early snow and the drivers just can’t get out of the way in time. If we could raise enough money to get a couple of older trucks, we would be much better off. The problem is the farmers are a little reluctant to invest in trucks, because they don’t understand why we can’t just keep doing what we have been doing. Those in the city do not understand poor farmers and just assume things are going ok, or don’t know and in some cases, don’t feel they need to know about our hauling business and are also disinclined to provide capital for it.”

Ben and Luke had been in business for many years but could never seem to get beyond the same routine every year. They were fruit and vegetable farmers, but also did quite well, in the winter, repairing farm equipment. They were some of the only garden farmers in the area. 

Somewhere back in time, their parents had started to haul grain to market in the fall, for the much poorer, grain farmers. They charged very little allowing the poor farmers to pick for them, on their orchard, in exchange for the hauling. Without someone to haul grain it would just sit in bags or on wagons and eventually rot.  Some of the business people said,

“Why do you haul for those lazy farmers? The more you haul, the more they raise for you to haul.”

Ben and Luke just felt like it was their responsibility to continue to help out the poor as they themselves, were doing so much better.  Because of the kind of roads and the mountainous terrain, horses had always been used, making the job long and not just a little arduous. Eventually they graduated to tractors but the loads to the mill, were not much bigger.

Frank Toller suggested, they let a lot more people know about their problem, get a committee together and attempt to get investments to start a real hauling business, starting with volunteers and as soon as possible hiring drivers, using the proper trucks.

 “See a Solicitor” he said, “and then get some influential people together who might be willing to help raise money. Everyone will gain from your plan so it should be a small effort to make it work.”

“There is one more important thing” Frank said, “in any business. Do not attempt to run it yourself. Give the running of the business to the most dedicated person and let them tell you what is needed. Be sure and give them all the credit. That is, see that they get all the credit they deserve.  Unlike your investors, and your committee members, that person will be close to the workings and be your best investment and advisor. You will be able to do your own work at home and with just a little of your involvement, trust your manager to allow you to do well.”

They thanked Frank and the next week they were off to see a Solicitor in the City and started the ball rolling. Arson Weakley was known for his help in Real Estate and property management, and they were told he had helped set up several businesses. Arson felt they had a good plan and he would be willing to invest as soon as they had a little more information.

Time went on and through Arson and others, soon they had a committee together who would talk about the necessities, doing various investigating, applying for any necessary papers, determining costs and feasibility.

As the committee grew, they found they had some of the best known and influential people in town. Business people, and people of status. More than once the newspaper wrote about their plans and the great wok they were taking on. The more they were known, the more people wanted to be a part of saving the poor farmers.

There were parties and get togethers, explaining their plans and get togethers to just thank the people who were involved. Ben and Luke, when they could attend, met people they had never even been close to. They ate food served in ways they had only heard of and treated like royalty. Often, they were reminded how lucky they were to have the committee they did, making their decisions, as it was a fine group of people.  

Ester McPherson was a young lady who would always come with her father, when he dropped off grain, if it were not a school day. She would always be anxious to hear about the experiences of the wagon drivers. Ester was going to school at Thorsten Agricultural college and would be graduating in a few months. She said she had no immediate plans and came looking for a job. She liked what they did and hoped there might be a place for her in their business.

What a great manager Ben and Luke thought. Honest, young and able to do long days. She seemed very able to make decisions on her own. Everyone knew her and was not likely to cross her as she knew how to tell them what they needed to hear. Ester knew the business better than anyone, no question about that. More importantly, she wanted, as much as them to make it work for the poor farmers.

Unfortunately, the committee didn’t agree and thought, she was just too young. Said, her parents didn’t do all that well. This was not the kind of job for a woman and, she might do well cleaning up or maybe driving in a few years after she grew up.

“No, they would not vote to put her to work as a manager.”  

Ben and Luke were disappointed but felt the committee must know best. After all, isn’t that what they were supposed to be doing, making decisions for the good of all? 

On the other hand, Herb Clement, knew that Fran and Joe Clark’s son Jack, had graduated from the university several years ago, with a business degree, was working at the electric plant, part time and was looking for a different job. Fran had been the mayor several years ago and his wife had been on the Planning Board at the hospital.

The meeting just went on,

“And the next thing on the agenda is the one-year celebration of the creation of our organization.” So, it went. “Let us be thankful for the opportunity to put our talents to wok and remind ourselves of all the great work we are doing”.

Some of the committee planed an interview with Jack Clark, and going out to the Clark’s house, found Jack to be just what they needed. They reported back to Ben, Luke and the rest of the committee, “He is intelligent, dresses well, did well in school and seems to be a gentleman. He will be able to talk with all your customers, sponsors, and business people. We strongly suggest going with him.

Once again Ben and Luke’s humility got in the way of what they really wanted to say and Jack was voted in.

On another day, a farmer came to Ben to say, he had heard of a nice truck which was for sale, out at the old Smith, hog farm, that Ron Brady owned now.

Off they went, finding the old hog farm much improved and different than the last time they had been by. The hogs were all gone and in their place, several pieces of machinery, building materials and more, all in a kind of order. Mr. Brady was glad to meet them, showing them the truck, back in the woods with tall grass and small trees growing up all around it. He said,

“It will need a better battery in it and I will change some spark plugs but I am sure it will run and it will do what you need better than anything else around. That is pretty much what it was used for before Henry Smith passed away. His wife Mary went to live with her daughter, selling the farm, just as it was. Before Mary left she told me, it was a shame to have to part with the old truck. It was her husband’s pet and later on and just before he died, the business was going really well. He had been doing some hauling for the government and they had invested a lot in his truck so he would be sure to make it through the mountain pass, even in the worst weather and in the roughest weather. Go and take a look at it and do come back when you are ready. I would like to see it get some work”.

On hearing this they were a little skeptical, thinking “it can’t be too good, out there in the woods all this time! “

Taking the short walk to the woods and the truck they found, at least at first, more or less what they had expected. A weed covered, rusty old truck, cracked windows, with small trees growing up around it.

They walked, and fought their way through weeds and brush, going in separate directions, looking under around and over, giving it the once over as well as the twice and several more times over. Without advance discussion and coming together near the back of the truck they both looked at each other.

“Did you see what I seen?” “Oh my gosh. This is beautiful. I just can’t believe it. We will have this thing hauling the first week we get it.” Luke said, “And spend the rest of the winter, gussieing it up” Ben said.

“The equipment that has been replaced on the undercarriage is worth as much as a new truck. Everything has been beefed up, kept up, and well lubed and the woods have more or less sheltered it. The sheet metal on the fenders and cab is much heavier than what they put on em today. Someone has fixed this up well beyond what it originally was. I can see our name on the side and we can have Harry Bantry do his fancy lettering stuff, painting on it, all the names of the folks we haul for.”

Ben and Luke knew enough about vehicles and equipment, that it was no difficult job to see the potential in this old truck. This was more than anything they had ever dreamed of.  It would take a little money to get it where they would like it, as it was going to get some hard use but so well suited for their needs.

At the next meeting with the committee, they were anxious to tell everyone about their find. They could hardly contain themselves as they spurted out their description of the vehicle careful to not brag about what they would be able to do with it.

The people listened, somewhat half-heartedly and were not near as enthusiastic as Ben and Luke expected. In fact, some, were looking around the room, as if not wanting to be the first one to be seen, paying attention and waiting for some other to make the first move.  Finally, someone on the committee decided they would go and check out the vehicle before making any quick decisions, quickly moving on to other business.

Sometime later, after much hounding by Ben and Luke, some of the committee decided to take the trip out to the old hog farm and look at this “old rusty truck in the woods”.  Arriving and having to walk all the way across what was an old barnyard, through several gates and at least two hundred feet into the woods, there it was. Sitting there on a bit of a hill, rusty, worn paint, cracked windows and all.

This was a large truck with a very large truck box for the grain. Probably much larger than needed for now but Ben and Luke argued that in time it would probably be too small if all went well. Also, for now it could be divided up to accommodate more than one grain and in that way, saving trips. The truck was being used in the woods to bring out firewood at the time, and had been left there for several years. It looked rough but in fact, started with very little effort, the fresh battery and few parts changed by, Mr. Brady, allowed it to start and run, just as he had said.  Still the seats were almost gone from wear and vandalism. The paint was mostly gone with some rust holes and some bent and broken body parts.  Tires were worn but still all had air and looked to Ben, Luke and Ron Brady, as though they could be driven on for several years.

Some in the committee group suggested the condition was just too bad. John had worked in an upholstery shop and said the cost to upholster the seats would be very expensive.  Sharon said, “she would be ashamed to be a part of a business owning anything that ugly.” Marv’s father had owned a motorcycle shop and felt it would be just too much work to fix it up. Argument after argument came up, all without much thought but, none the less, against buying the truck. Again, Ben and Luke argued, they had been doing repairs for years and they would be able with some small investment, to put the truck on the road.

Secretly they knew it would be an easy task to do the body work replace the seats and do a repaint. Used parts, with a lot of labor, which they had more than enough time for in the winter months. They knew mechanical work and had already determined that that part of it, was in pretty good shape. They could see it had had some serious work done, to bring the motor and the rest of the mechanical up to almost new condition, just before it had been parked.  They also knew because of the size, it was suited about as perfect as any used truck could be for their purpose. If they were to look for a brand new one it would greatly resemble the properties of this old truck, not be near as close to what they needed unless it was also re worked and the cost would be astronomical. They so badly wanted to tell more of their abilities, but that would be bragging and bragging was not something they did.  They had learned from a young age to be humble and allow people to judge you by what they seen in you. Had the people on the committee, known them better or tried, to get to know them better, many things might have gone smother.  

Mr. Brady was a person, very few people liked, and it was said he owned a lot of things and shouldn’t be trusted. Other than that, not a lot was known about him.  It seemed just because he owned a lot, he shouldn’t be trusted. The fact that he knew a lot about trucks, seemed to Ben and Luke, he was the guy to invest in. At the very least invest more time in.

Mr. Brady told Ben and Luke, if they wanted, to get it out of the woods, it would be a lot of work, but they could rent it and decide if they would like to buy it.

The committee was not so impressed. Latter on, back in town they complained about the useless trip. They talked as if Ben and Luke were not even in the room, insulting them with every word. They talked about the dirt and weeds, and why would anyone leave a truck out in the woods, if it had any value at all. Who would even think of such a thing.

One day when some of the committee members were in the diner, where they would often meet, Dan mentioned a truck they might be interested in. Dan Foley was a very successful tailor and owned several men’s stores. He knew Ralph banes, an automobile salesman who he had talked to, at the diner at breakfast. Ralph had told him about an almost brand-new panel truck for sale, on his lot and they should come and look at it.

Shortly thereafter, the group looked at the much smaller truck. A small closed truck in almost new condition with almost new tires and reported to get good mileage. The truck could be bought on time and with the warranty most of the labor for repairs would be covered for the next year.

Ben said, “The small truck will have to be loaded by hand and every thing in grain bags.” Herb on the committee said “Let the lazy farmers load their own.”

Luke argued that the price seemed way too high, the warrantee was only good for labor and not the parts and only for one year. “In a year they would still be doing repair work themselves” Cathy on the committee said, “have the drivers, drive slower so there are not so many repairs.”

He said, “At best, the small truck would only haul a fraction of what the large truck would haul” but the committee just refused to hear that as if Luke hadn’t said it.

They looked at several trucks over several months and in time, the committee felt the panel truck on Ralph’s lot would be the best investment and so the deal was made.

Before the truck could be used it was necessary to rebuild the front end, and replace springs and shocks to accommodate the heavy loads they would be hauling. That of course was not covered by the warrantee as the truck had been in working order. Just not for the heavier loads. The cost to do the rework was as much as the price of the truck and still didn’t make up for the small size. Ben and Luke were stunned but the committee just took it in stride, and acted as if they were getting a bonus.

The small truck made it through nicely, on days when there was no great amount of snow and it was necessary to use the tractors to pull the wagons on the bad days. The small truck increased their number of loads to market by a considerable amount on some days, being able to make more than one trip but because of not being able to handle even as much as the tractors and the snow and having to use the tractors on those days the total for the year was looking much smaller. The committee refused to see or hear of that.

One day, Ben and Luke were gone, doing business with the grain company and had left the decisions of driving the grain to their new manager Jack Clark. Jack was anxious to make a name for himself and was anxious to get as many wagons out as he could. On that day, when the tractors were being used an avalanche took a wagon. The driver was killed, and one of the tractors lost as well as the loss of the entire load.

Ester McPherson had warned about going out on such days as she had seen some of the snow and possible avalanches when she was riding with the drivers as a young girl. Instead the committee had hired a manager who had been successful in school as well as at the electric plant.

Ben and Luke, as well as their family were devastated. In all the years, they had lost a wagon here and there, several wagons but never a human death. Of course, he was a friend they knew well, which didn’t make it any easier.

A small article appeared in the local paper but not much more. Ben, Luke, Ester and some of the other drivers but other than the family’s, that was about it. At the funeral they talked with the family of the deceased but everyone knew there wasn’t a lot to be said.  

Ben and Luke argued that, “had they owned the larger truck from Mr. Brady, they would have accomplished most if not all of their hauling, long before the heavy snow season.”

Every one else, had other arguments weather they had any idea of the situation or not. Ben and Luke were farmers. What could they know. Some said the large truck might have blown a tire or ran out of gas, ignoring completely, that they would be hauling outside of the avalanche season. Some suggested they should have just used the small truck more starting earlier and maybe putting up lights along the road so they could see better at night. Once again forgetting the hauling, had everything to do with the time of year. More than one said they should just cheer up and be glad it wasn’t them.

“Time will pass and you will forget about this. We have all, put it behind us!”

Ben and Luke kept up, their own farms, doing well enough but never settling with the accident. They were even more careful, resulting in less grain being hauled. Much of the grain would be seen sitting around in containers or on small wagons and people would complain about the clutter along the road.  Every year more and more grain would be wasted leaving family’s poor and wondering if they should move away, if only they could.

It was very difficult for Ben and Luke, knowing that what happened was more or less what they had predicted. People depended on them to haul their grain. For many it meant everything to a decent survival. Still the thought of yet another accident, which was easily predicted was almost impossible to live with. All of their backers seemed content with, we are so sorry, but that is just the price of doing business or, it probably would have happened anyway.

The committee agreed it was a terrible accident and it should be brought up at the next meeting, “which by the way” said Lila, “is coming up at our new office soon and, Oh, Betty, don’t forget. You were going to make those wonderful brownies for us. Anyway, hopefully, Ralph Banes is going to be at it, to tell us about yet another fine truck he has been scouring the country for. It sounds as great as the last one and according to Ralph,” “even better”.

Ben and Luke and their families, had spent a lot of time in church after the event. I don’t know where all this is going” said Luke, “but I feel sure something will change for the better.”  Ben’s wife said, “You guys have been doing the best you could, God will show you one day.”  The strength of the family seemed like the first spring flowers after a hard winter. Things would get better!

WJRIII

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