Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

I have no other excuse for using a previously published story than today is the date mentioned in the title. It seemed the obvious thing to do — it sort of followed me home. Can you recall a day when you looked back at the past 12 hours and said, "That was one really strange day; you can stop hiding now, Mr. Funt?" Of course, we all can. (Though we may not all remember Allen Funt, creator of Candid Camera.) This story recalls such a day 12 years ago on the Loudoun County, Va., end of my tractor repair route. The story was originally published in the October/November 2012 issue of Antique Power magazine in my column "Of Grease and Chaff."

OG&C will have a counterpart in Vintage Truck magazine starting with the March/April 2015 issue. My new old truck oriented column "Granny Gear" will be replacing Revis Z. Worthams’ "Tailgate Talk" in that publication. (Yes, old timers, it's my "5th column" — I noticed that, too.) Both Antique Power and Vintage Truck are available by subscription or at Tractor Supply, Barnes and Noble and (so I'm told) other large book stores. I hope to meet you there. 

There was a sprinkling rain on the day before Thanksgiving Day 2002. A client had lost engine oil pressure in his John Deere 2355. He asked me to stop by the field where he had left the tractor whenever I could get around to it. Feeling part of the suspense that he must have felt prompted me to go have a look; though, there was a strong likelihood that I might get rained out.

I found the tractor in a hayfield near Lenah, Va. The tractors name is Hermann. The John Deere is so named because it once belonged to actor Fred Gwynne, aka Herman Munster, from the 1960s situation comedy, “The Munsters.” My favorite Gwynne role, however, was as officer, Frances Muldoon, in the ’50s TV series, “Car 54 Where are You?” I found myself singing what I could remember of that show's theme song as I traced the wiring to the oil pressure gauge sending unit. "There's a traffic jam in Harlem that's backed up to Jackson Heights — there's a scout troop short a child, Kreuchev's due at Idlewild.... “Car 54, Where are you?"

I had the pleasure of reporting to the tractor's owner, an important figure in international law enforcement who I'm not at liberty to name, that the wire leading to the oil pressure sending unit had vibrated loose and grounded — there was nothing wrong with the tractor.

The rain held off though the day was dark and gloomy. My next stop was at the home of the (also unnamed) inventor of the police car mounted pursuit camera. These folks weren't home, but their tractor's problem was quickly resolved.

My day of celebrity encounters wasn't over. Stopping at the Safeway in Purcellville, Va., I noticed a familiar silvery-gold Mercedes Benz pulled up along the curb at the front of the store. A short, blonde figure was loading groceries — newly retired U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. I had recently replaced the crankshaft in her Massey Ferguson 135.

We exchanged pleasantries; she reported that the tractor was doing well. I suggested that, since she does own a working farm, that a sequel to her book Madam Secretary might be Madam Farmer. She really liked the idea — I'll be watching for it. I must confess, though, that I've never been able to finish Madam Secretary. Another client, the late Dr. James Troup, who also had regular dealings with Ms. Albright through his antique shop, confided to me that he had the same problem. Now that Dr. Troup is gone, I suppose it's safe to divulge our little secret.

Of books written by my clients, I recommend “A Backward Glance,” by Todd Addis. Tales of colorful country folks, fox hunting, veterinary medicine and the Penmardel hounds hold my interest more than the international political scene. It's easy to overdose when you're bombarded with international news daily. However, I'm looking forward to reading Madam Farmer.

My adventures then took a sadder turn. Navigating a dirt road on the way home, I came across a television news crew. A small private plane had crashed into a house. There was no one in the house; however, the elderly couple flying the plane didn't survive. The newscast would say that they simply became disoriented in the thick gloom and low cloud cover. Even so, my adventures were not at an end, and the day's theme would strangely follow me home.

We have a flea market nearby where a fellow sells old VHS tapes. We maintain a functional though obsolete VHS player so that we can view our occasional finds. So, who doesn't love Marty McFly? Canadian actor Michael J. Fox starred as another character in a 1987 movie entitled, “The Secret of My Success,” which we watched that evening.

The movie was only so-so but toward the end, there was a brief appearance by Fred Gwynne. Fred played a ruthless investor named "Donny," apparently modeled after Donald Trump aka "The Donald" ("The Donald" invariably reminds me of a cartoon duck in an embossingly incomplete sailor suit) intent on a hostile takeover of Michael’s cousin’s firm. Fred was deeply tanned, except for his forehead.

Most folks might assume that he had gotten such a tan on the golf course But we country folks know better. I considered the year of the film and compared it to the production period of the John Deere 2355; 1986-1988. I had to chuckle. Fred had obviously been out farming in the sunshine, wearing his complimentary John Deere cap on his new John Deere 2355 tractor that would later bear his name — sort of.

I seem to have spent a lifetime of bumping into celebrities. This has been largely due to frequent accidents of geography. But who is the most important celebrity that I've met so far? Well, it was someone that I met while working in the Smithsonian, a little fellow by the name of Charley McCarthy. I admit that the conversation was a bit one-sided. 

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