On Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, I called the old farmhouse number knowing that Steve and Martha would be there. I wanted to know if they had any questions about the equipment before I took off for points out of cellphone range.
I never intended for the nickname I gave Steve, "Reverend Deadly," to persist like it has. In addition to the usual tractor talk, Martha mentioned that their 2 sons recently presented Steve a T‑shirt printed with the words "Reverend Deadly." So much for Reverend Deadly — I just wanted to mention the T‑shirt thing. This story really has more to do with Martha and her brother, John.
There's an old single car garage at the farm. It could have started out as a carriage house, but, anyway, it's one of those buildings you can easily imagine housing a Model T. Attached to this garage is a lean-to structure, probably dating from the early to mid-20th century.
There are a couple small, older tractors under this structure as well as one lawn and garden tractor of relatively late production, which we wanted to access for use around the place. Here's the problem: For reasons known only to him, John spread a large tarp over these tractors and implements. This in itself wasn’t a problem — perhaps the roof leaked. However, it soon became apparent that a community of skunks had moved in under the tarp. Martha dubbed this "the biodome for skunks."
Martha thanked me for calling but said that they would be leaving that afternoon for their home in Norfolk; Steve had to work Sunday. (Well, duh ... I had forgotten about this condition of his employment.) She expressed some concern that an hibachi grill, a family heirloom, had somehow disappeared. There had been a work crew in the house over the winter, and she suggested that one of the crew may have snagged it.
Imagine her disappointment — all set to grill burgers outside on a perfect late spring day, and the grill is nowhere to be found. Add to this the feeling of having been robbed. She alluded to a slight possibility that the grill may be in the skunk biodome, but she was afraid to go searching there.
As a lover of quiet and solitude, I like to work on the warm weather holidays. It's kind of like having the world to yourself. In selecting a lonely place to spend Memorial Day, I chose these quiet 300 Loudoun County acres. One of the tractor's finish mower decks needed some repair, and the larger Farmalls not housed in the barn needed the customary tinkering so that they could be moved for mowing. It was also time to raid the skunk biodome.
Here’s the plan: Armed with a 16-gauge shotgun, I would nose a Farmall C up to the tarp and attach one of the grommets to the tractor. Then with the 16-gauge at the ready, I would back the tractor away from the shed bringing the tarp with it. I ran into Glenn Oates of D&G Equipment at the local Liberty station as I was preparing to leave for the farm. I described the plan to him. "Will this be before or after you get sprayed?" he asked. I really didn't have an answer.
What little traffic that moved along the roads was unhurried. A high school band played at a ceremony at one of the larger cemeteries. I hope the rifle salute didn't set off the car alarms in the parking area. Hay-making wasn't taking a break on this perfect day. I ducked down Bishop Meade Road past Millwood with its old restored mills and other buildings with limestone fences surrounded by irises and tall phlox.
Mowing was in progress at Sandstone Farm. I stopped to talk with the mower operator who found room for 2 cold beers in her lunch box. Next was a stop at C.S. Arms at Upperville. Nothing among the antique guns there struck my fancy or price range. On the far side of Upperville, the tents and temporary stables are just about all in place for the 161st Upperville Horse Show, which started Monday.
At the farm, 2 large John Deeres pulled grain drills across leased fields of ragged, immature and unevenly germinated winter wheat. I counted the seed hoppers across the back of one of the drills — 12. The numbers on the larger tractor's hood were obscured by a loader frame. I signaled to the driver to raise the loader, slightly so I could read the number; he just waved, smiled and shrugged. It's quite likely that he understood me but all of the tractor's auxiliary hydraulics were probably occupied by the drill.
I wondered what they might be planting since I had already seen corn a few inches tall near Millwood. It seemed a bit late to be planting corn while it is still early for soybeans. I talked with Charles Slater of Augusta at Thursday night’s meeting. In his youth, Mr. Slater farmed these fields for Egypt Farms of Philomont, Va. He said that with the unusual weather we’ve had this spring, corn planted at the customary time would likely have rotted in the ground. He concluded that Tranco Farm's big Deeres were definitely planting corn. Time will tell.
I fixed the mower deck on the International 100 and tried it out. Now for the feature event. After loading the 16-gauge Iver Johnson Champion and putting extra shells in a back pocket, I rehearsed a few quick reloadings. I moved the shells to another pocket. Look out; I'm ready now.
I moved the Farmall C tractor into position and proceeded to tie the huge tarp to the C's cultivator bar. This is when I would be the most vulnerable — inches from the biodome, the sound of the tractor's engine covering up the sound of an approaching skunk. Climbing aboard the C, I selected reverse gear and trained the bead of the gun on the general area where the skunks might emerge.
My personal rules of engagement dictate that, should the skunks retreat, I would hold my fire. I can't shoot them just for being skunks. (I'm not sure whether this was discussed at Geneva.) If the skunks decided to confront this red monster, I hoped that I could get a shot off before they did. The C backed away bringing the expansive tarp with it. Nothing happened. There were no skunks to be seen, but there was the hibachi waiting on the seat of the Craftsman garden tractor. Martha hadn't been robbed after all. I mowed until around 5. What happens next is up to Steve, that rifle toting preacher in the Reverend Deadly T‑shirt.
First published June 4, 2014