Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 26, 2015; Samish Iron Works

This unassuming building surrounded by water was the world headquarters of the Samish Iron Works.  On this date, probably in the winter of 1975 the Samish Slough had flooded thanks to heavy rains, a quick mountain snow melt and an untimely high tide.  Fortunately, the water came up fast, and left fast.

On a normal day, the lot now covered with water, would instead be occupied with farm implements in need of repair, a pick-up truck or two, (farmers watching their equipment getting repaired), and a few neighbors just stopping by to see what's up.

A man named Clifford Wright owned this building.  You would never guess by looking at it, but this was also the workshop of a man who was nothing shy of a mechanical genius.  The complex physics and chemistry of heating and cooling metal alloys to bring their twisted damage back into true line came natural to Cliff.  Torch in hand, he'd heat a wedge here, let it cool, a line there, let it cool, and smaller wedge just right there.  It was amazing to see thick bars of steel slowly move without so much of a swing of a hammer.

How to straighten steel with a torch?  "That's just common knowledge," as Cliff would say.

Two side dump wagons were produced from that little shop along with a hydraulic push gate manure spreader.  Silage choppers were rebuilt here, dump beds on trucks built, and PTO shafts by the hundreds were straightened and repaired.

Sounds like a full time job, does it not?  It was and it wasn't. To be sure Cliff had more business than he needed, and it all was done between about 8AM and 3PM during the week.  You see, Cliff had a full time job, working swing shift as a welder for the Skagit Corporation, building logging towers and components for off shore drilling rigs.

Saturdays work might start a little early, but would usually wind down around 4 for "social hour."  In those days, Cornfield Whiskey was Cliff's drink of choice.  More than once I started milking right after "social hour" and really didn't come around to noticing anything until about half way through the second string of cows.

This past Friday evening a group of us gathered here at Cliff's shop for one last "social hour."  Cliff passed away earlier this month and everyone close it him thought it fitting that we honor his memory with whiskey and bullshit.

And oh how the stories and spirits flowed late into the night, just as Cliff would have wanted.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19, 2015; The Dandy Oliver

This is Don Pierson, sitting on his "dandy Oliver.  I worked for Don and Eva on their dairy farm in Bow, WA for a couple of years right after Janice and I were married.  Don had a couple of "newer" tractors, an IH Hydro with a loader that we used to plow and green chop, Big John, (a JD 3020 gas spot) we used for heavier fieldwork and pulling the corn chopper, and Little John, a 2010 with a loader which was the scrapping tractor.  But the "dandy Oliver" was Don's favorite.

It caught on fire once, long before I worked there, so any evidence of the green paint job was long gone.  The transmission was a little suspect, jamming now and again requiring a 9/16" end wrench and screw driver to pop it back into the right synchros.  As Don used to say, "It uses some water, but very little gas," and then shuffle off chuckling to himself.

I'd use the Oliver to pull the smaller manure spreader and rake hay.  However its real mission, the main reason it stayed on the farm since World War II, the Oliver pulled Don's two row corn planter.  As the fields were prepped for corn, there was always a bit of tension in the air.  The Oliver often wasn't running that great, and although the IH could pull the planter, that, in Don's mind wasn't an option.

"Corn won't grow if you don't plant it with the dandy Oliver," he would tell me.

Was he kidding?  I don't think so. I honestly believe Don's success in raising silage corn hinged directly on the dandy Oliver, with Don driving, pulling that planter.  Hard to start, missing, carburetor leaking gas, no matter, in the first warm weeks of May, one way or the other, the dandy Oliver had to be field ready.

When Don retired from farming and his machinery went on the auction block, I took one last photo of him on the dandy Oliver.  As I recall, a young fellow bought the tractor with the intent to restore it.  Whether he did or not, I don't know. 

I sometimes wonder, if restored, would the corn grow as tall?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

April 11, 2015; Springtime in the Rockies

Cattle grazing on new grass growing in between melting snow, that's springtime in the Rockies.


Having dinner outside in your shirt sleeves, only to wake up to a fresh coating of snow the next morning, that's springtime in the Rockies.

Trickling streams become white water torrents, that's springtime in the Rockies.

When a helper set tops the Great Divide in the morning sun........

....only to return a few hours later in a falling snow, that's springtime in the Rockies.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5, 2015: Ruins

We have never been a people content with the status quo.  Standing pat with what you were dealt just isn't in our make-up.  Expanding, changing, updating, that's what we do best.  And when we do, we are usually in such a hurry, useless it's torn down and replaced with better on the very spot, we have no issue just to leave the old behind.

Up in the North Cascades, above US 2 over Stevens Pass this drive to improve and leave the old behind is illustrated, by the mile.  The Iron Goat Trail now takes hikers along the old Great Northern route up the west slope of the pass.  Interpretive signage tells the story of the GN's drive to build and then rebuild and then rebuild again their troubled right-a-way.  Each time they left behind the unused for Mother Nature to exercise her will.

Before the days of the Iron Goat Trail I felt like I was on an Indiana Jones style quest when exploring the old grade.  There were a few rough trails here and there, but it was mostly a case of tromping through the heavy underbrush that so hampered the early locators with names like Haskell and Stevens.  Eventually the narrow way would widen slightly and large timbers would jut from the rain soaked ferns and scrub alder.  The thick second growth timber would make it hard to get my bearings.  Is this part of the old siding of Alvin, or the sheds to the west?

Maybe one of the oldest artifacts left behind by the Great Northern's struggle to conquer the Cascades isn't even a part of the Iron Goat Trail.  On the eastside of the pass, only 100 yards or so above the hustle of US 2, a small cedar grows over a wood axle still attached to a rotting wagon wheel.  At first glance you might think this is the remains of some poor pioneer's wagon.  Only miles from their destination of the Puget Sound lowlands, their prairie schooner gave up and fell apart.

But no, nothing quite so grand.  This is the remains of one of probably thousands of the two wheeled, mule pulled carts used in grading the railroad from the Twin Cities to Seattle.  The first Great Northern line over the pass required a series to switchbacks sawing up to the summit.  This cart was used to build that route.  Whether it was just left behind after the railroad was completed in 1893, or the axle broke during the process and it was cast aside, I'll never know.

What I do know, this old wheel does share one thing in common with the ruins littering Windy Mountain on the west slope.  In the rush to build, to finish so it could be upgraded and rebuilt, this too was cast aside and left behind.