Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

On Wednesday, July 11, I picked up the Hampshire Review at Dollar General on the Mountain Top above Romney. It seems to arrive there as early as anywhere so I can grab a copy in the morning then be on my way.

After purchasing a copy, I realized that I had forgotten something at home so decided to give the Review its usual Wednesday-morning perusal at the dining room table in the air-conditioned house instead of while sweating in my truck.

I left the paper folded on the table instead of taking it along as is my custom. It’s a good thing, too, because today, the Old Black Truck wasn’t coming home.

At my first repair call, the small Diesel tractor was right where it stopped in a wide-open Loudoun County pasture. There was no shade for hundreds of feet in any direction. To get my truck into the pasture, I had to open and close 3 gates, 2 of which a mischievous horse tried to take advantage of.

Multiple blasts from the compressed air hose always chases horses away allowing me time to get my truck through the gate and close it behind me. Maybe the sound registers as a big snake in the equine mind.

I diagnosed the problem as I drove up to the tractor; Diesel fuel was leaking down the side of the engine. Where fuel leaks out, air can get in.

Air causes an effect similar to a spongy brake pedal. Air won’t compress solidly enough to force the Diesel fuel injectors to open.

With some new rubber fuel line, and after bleeding the system we were soon making black smoke again. The most difficult part of the job was getting through those gates. By this time, it was getting very hot.

Thankfully, the next job was in the shade.

The owner of this “gray-market” Kubota suggested that the electrical problem on his tractor might be a real puzzler. Unable to reach me during our move, he had another technician look it over and try to get it to start.

After a few hours of tracing wires, he gave up. The prognosis: the wiring was just too old to be reliable. Using the systematic method of beginning at the battery cables using a battery load tester and working my way back, I was able to find the open circuit at the positive battery terminal.

The terminal clamp wasn’t closing adequately and had a thick coating of oxide on the inner surface. Someone had used a wire battery terminal brush, but this was real pocket-knife-go-diggin’ territory. With the removal of some metal from the ends of the clamp with a small reciprocating saw, the connection was tight and the tractor could again be started from the seat.

So, why did my predecessor begin his diagnosis from the wrong end? I don’t know. All I can say is that I can relate having had days like that, too when I over-think things while the diagnostic pattern and sequence that has worked for the past 100 years is right under my nose.

Generally, imagination is a good thing, but it tends to get in the way now and then.

With the work finished, the tractor’s owner and I sat on the wide front porch with a couple of Belgian Lagers. A thunderstorm moved in as they seem to do every afternoon here. I left and driving along Silcott Springs Road noticed that the storm was intensifying. Big surprise.

Now really, folks; western Loudoun County, Va., has some of the worst weather that I’ve ever encountered. In the 20-some years that I’ve been going there, I’ve seen lightning burn down a barn and blow a big chunk of concrete out of another barn’s foundation through the metal re-enforcing bar inside. I’ve seen tops twisted out of trees and where the barometer dropped so suddenly as to cause old, rotted tractor tires to explode.

(Some horse breeders say that these sudden drops in atmospheric pressure cause mass foaling.)

I’ve seen utility poles sheared off next to culverts clogged with bushels of 7/8-inch hail; I measured one.

But that’s the little stuff. A few years ago, hail came down in regulation baseball size. Did I say down? The damage that I saw indicated this hail was moving horizontally. What kind of wind can propel a 1-pound hailstone sideways?

Locals have a number of cute terms to excuse their weather’s nasty behavior, some are; “Isolated weather event,” “microburst” and my personal favorite, “Localized meteorological anomaly.” Call these events what you will, they’re tornados.

They’re often smaller than their western counterparts, but they’re still twisting, churning, freight-train-sounding, Toto-I-have-a-feeling-we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore tornados.

Passing Unison Road, I could see what appeared to be a fog settling in the hollow along Beaver Dam Creek ahead. Tall wisps of white moved above it, against the blackness beyond.

I drove into what appeared to simply be a foggy creek bottom. Looking up through the sunroof, though, I noticed that the wisps and spires were actually moving quite rapidly.

Then everything went dark. Water was so thick on the windshield that except for the absence of giant squids, I might as well have been looking out a porthole of the Nautilus. In the same moment, I felt the impact.

A sizable oak tree had fallen into my path. Unable to see the log, I crashed into it, then went airborne over it. The impact was jarring, intense, sickening – and familiar. I had previously been in a few other collisions and rollovers.

“Oh no, not you again.”

In the next minute, the sun was peeking through. I found myself and the truck in the mouth of a wide gravel driveway. A Latino landscaping crew was helping me gather up the tools that had catapulted from the truck bed.

Damage to the truck was extensive, but I managed to limp it to a regular customer’s farm. Daughter Emily, who lives in Winchester, came to the rescue. As of this writing, I’m still too sore to crawl under the truck for an accurate assessment. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself in the market for another truck.

Well, perhaps you can learn from my mistake; Never drive into a tornado or, for that matter, a “localized meteorological anomaly” – not even a little one. Even a scarecrow knows that since Oz gave him a brain.  

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