The Next Generation
Chapter 16

Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd

Winter, 1986

Ken felt expansive after they left the bank. They'd just passed over a big hurdle. "Let's have lunch in town," he told Judy and his mother.

"Where do you want to go?" Judy asked.

"Bernetti's," Ken told her.

"Ken!" she said. "We haven't been there since the prom! Can we afford it?"

"I figure we ought to be able to eat there once in almost three years," Ken said, signaling for a turn.

Once at the restaurant, Ken didn't hold back; he ordered a steak, with all the trimmings. It came to him nicely done, and he tore into it. "Judy," he said between mouthfuls, "We've got to have steak more often."

"That's mighty expensive," she countered.

Ken shook his head. "What's the use of raising beef if we don't eat some? Mom, what would you say if we slaughtered and froze a nice young steer, rather than selling it? There's no point in selling a steer, and buying it back piece by piece at twice as much a pound."

"We'd sure save on grocery bills," Lydia replied. "But we'd have to get someone to do it. I wouldn't know where to start."

"You know," Judy said. "There's that brooder house just setting out there and going to waste. If we had a few chickens, we could save a little on eggs, and have fried chicken pretty reasonably, too."

"We always used to do that," Lydia said. "I don't know why we quit. It was just too much trouble, I guess."

Ken smiled. "Well, we can look into it. Next year, every dollar counts. Don't expect to eat here again for a while."

Lydia frowned. "The one thing I don't understand about what you told Mr. Daly," she said, "Is how you expect to cut harvesting costs."

"I've got to look into it," Ken responded, smiling. "I was thinking that I might be able to find something like an old Allis-Chalmers 60-inch, like we had before we got the 4296, for junk prices, and fix it up enough to last for a season or two. We'd have to pull it behind the Farmall, but if we're still planning on leasing the place out, a season or two ought to be enough."

"Well, it might work," Lydia agreed. "And, it might not cost too much to find out. When are you going to start looking?"

"This afternoon," Ken said. "I wanted to make sure we were going to be farming next year."

They dropped Lydia off at home; Ken decided to take the pickup, in case he found something to bring home. Judy decided to go along for the ride. "Where to you expect to find something like what you want?" she asked.

"Oh, here or there," Ken told her. "There are people around that make money on the side, hitting auctions and dealing old junk equipment or parts. Roger told me about a few of them while I was in for coffee at Willow Lake a few days back."

Judy soon decided that there was just about nothing more dismal than hunting around among old rusty junk farm equipment on a cloudy, blustery winter afternoon, with the sky spitting snow, to boot.

There were more farm implement junkyards around than Judy realized, and Ken went to several without finding anything that was even remotely like he wanted. About the fourth place he went to, the farmer said, "Yeah, I got a 60 out there. You want to look at it?"

"Might as well," Ken agreed. The farmer/dealer got into the pickup with Ken and Judy, and they drove out through a field of decaying machines. Ken could see through the windshield that the old combine was a hopeless cause, but thought he at least ought to get out and take a look. The three piled out of the pickup.

Closer inspection only confirmed Ken's initial impression; the old machine was a lost cause. "If you're just looking for something to get you through a season, that old 544 over there might do you," the dealer said, pointing at a green self-propelled combine next to the decaying orange Allis-Chalmers.

Ken stood and looked at the rusty green Oliver. "Boy, that looks familiar," Ken said conversationally. "It looks about like the old Moline 4296 we used to have."

The dealer snorted. "Same thing as a 4296, except for the paint job," he said. "Right off the same production line. I'll let you have it for six bills."

The old Sorensen combine had been a good machine, so Ken took a closer look. His first look was at the grain head, and he was surprised to see that it didn't show a lot of wear, where the rest of the machine seemed pretty tattered. He soon decided that the machine didn't have its original head.

The rest of the machine wasn't pretty. The tires were weather-checked, and two were flat. Ken looked in the cab; everything showed lots and lots of wear. One look at the oil sprayed all over the engine compartment confirmed the suspicion of lots of wear, and much worse was indicated from the looks of the fan shrouds.

Finally, Ken shook his head. "I guess maybe it's a little far gone," he said. "I think we'll look some more."

They dropped off the junk dealer at his house, and headed down the road. "Are you about done looking at junk?" Judy asked.

"There's one more place I heard of out this way," Ken said. "Might as well go see."

The next operation was much like the last. "Naw, haven't got one of them that's worth anything," the grease-covered farmer/dealer said. "I mostly buy stuff to sell for parts."

Ken searched his eye over the couple acres of junk machinery; an even more familiar sight caught his attention. "What happened to that Moline 4296 over there?"

"Went through the Combine Demolition Derby at the county fair last year."

Ken and the dealer walked over to the machine. Ken was relieved to see that it wasn't the old, reliable Sorensen machine that Tom had traded off. It would have been a poor way for equipment they'd depended on and had served them well to end up. He looked at the machine; the grain head was all bent to pieces, and a lot of the sheet metal was bent. He looked closer; under the surface damage, he could see that it was a sound machine. "Does it run?" Ken asked.

"Starts right up," the dealer said, clambering up into the cab. He hit the starter; the engine turned over a couple of times, then purred to life. As the engine ran, Ken looked into the engine compartment; he saw signs of a good, clean, tight engine, one that someone had cared for. He could see that the fan shroud had almost no rust on it; the machine had probably been stored inside. The dealer shut down the engine and got out. "This was a good machine," he said. "Too bad they had to crunch it."

"What'll you take for it?" Ken asked.

"Oh, three hundred," the dealer said. "It's worth more than that in parts, but that's assuming someone wants them. This machine is more than twenty years old, and there aren't many left any more."

Ken went back and got into the pickup with Judy. "Are you about done?" she asked.

"Nope," Ken said. "I want to get another look at that Oliver 544."

"I don't get it," she replied, surprised that Ken showed interest in the tattered old Oliver.

"Easy enough," Ken said. "There's two identical machines there, except for the paint job. We're going to turn them into one good one. We'll have more machine than I planned, and for about what I hoped to spend."

"That's going to be a lot of work," Judy said.

"If this works out, we'd be able to sell this machine and make wages out of the reconditioning, even if we never used it. If everything goes right and we can find a corn head for it, we could save as much as eight or ten grand on harvesting costs next fall," Ken said. "Besides, it gives us something else to do this winter."

Ken was able to beat the owner of the junked Oliver down to $500, and spent $50 to get Merle Watson to take his flatbed trailer over to pick it up. The next day, Judy drove Ken back to the other dealer, where Ken had been able to get the price down to $250. Ken drove the mangled Minneapolis-Moline back on its own wheels. Judy followed him in the car every inch of the way, with the Sunbird's blinker lights flashing through lightly blowing snow.

Fortunately, Ken's father had designed the shop door big enough to get their old 4296 inside; there was just enough room for the two similar combines, once their heads had been removed and stored in the machinery shed. Judy had never had much to do with the shop work, but it was more interesting to spend time watching and helping her husband than it was to sit alone in the house. Even Lydia felt lonely at times, and one or twice a day would usually bring a pot of coffee out to the shop; as often as not, she wound up with a wire brush in her hand, cleaning rust and old paint off some piece or another.

The two huge lumps of rust and grease in the shop became something of a social magnet. Bob and Lori spent a couple Saturday afternoons out there with the Sorensens. Lori was now heavily pregnant, and due any time, so usually the girls didn't spend a lot of time in the shop, but Ken was glad to have Bob there, for he knew that Bob knew a lot more about the mechanical end of the combines than he did. With the help of an old service manual left over from the old machine, the two of them sere able to make some sense out of all the bits and pieces.

"G-g-got a qu-qu-estion," Bob said once. "I-Is t-this g-going to be an Ol-Oliver or a M-Moline?"

"Good question," Ken said. "Let's face it, the guts of the machine are going to be the Moline, but I've got a lot of John Deere green paint. I keep thinking that if I mix a little black with it, I can get pretty close to Oliver green."

"T-too b-bad you d-don't h-have a c-corn h-head for it."

"Well, if you hear of one, let me know."

Over a period of days, the battered sheet metal came off of the Moline. Ken figured that as long as he had the machine stripped won, he ought to go through it as much as he could. He soon quit bothering too seriously; close inspection showed that the Moline had a lot of life left in it before it needed a mechanical overhaul. Soon, he turned to stripping the Oliver, repainting and knocking out dents, and hanging the parts on the other combine.

The grain handling areas of the Moline did need some work, as they'd been damaged in the demolition derby, and here Ken was happy to put Judy to work, as much of the repair had to be done in tight corners of the machine where he couldn't reach. It was one of those days when Judy's mother dropped by to see her daughter. She wasn't at home, but Irene could see the Sunbird sitting across the road. "She's out in the shop," Lydia told her.

Wondering what her daughter could be doing out there, Irene went along the well-trodden path through the snow, and opened the door to the shop. An avalanche of noise that sounded something like a machine gun assaulted her ears. Finally, the noise stopped, and Irene heard Ken say, "OK, next one."

"Where's Judith?" she asked, only to have her words drowned out by a renewal of the banging sound.

"Oh, Hi, Mom," she heard Judy's voice; from where, she couldn't tell.

"Judith, where are you?"

"Inside here."

Irene realized that she must mean inside that huge piece of machinery, and couldn't help herself. "Judith Sorensen, what are you doing in there?" she asked severely.

"Bucking rivets," Judy responded. "Hang on, we've only got a few more. OK, Ken, ready." The noise started again. A minute or two later, Irene saw Judith's head poking out of an opening in the combine. Ken crawled out of another space in the machine; Irene couldn't see where.

"Judith, you know you shouldn't be working around a greasy piece of machinery like this," Irene stormed. "You could get yourself hurt. I wonder just what kind of a tomboy I've raised for a daughter."

"Oh, it's all right, Mom", Judy said confidently. "It's kind of fun. Besides, I like to help out. Ken, do you want to rivet that fan shroud flange now? We could break, and I could cook Mom some lunch."

"Aw, let's eat," Ken said.

"Don't bother," Irene said icily. "I think I know what you'd rather be doing. Just wait until your father hears about this."

Ken laughed as he heard the door slam. "What's so funny?" Judy asked.

"I wonder if your father knows how to run an arc welder," Ken smiled. "We'll wind up putting him to work."

The job turned out to be somewhat smaller than Ken expected; by the end of January, the combine was starting to take shape. One day, along toward the end of the month, Ken stepped outside the shop, to see blowing snow and a steel-gray sky. He was glad he hadn't taken the snowplow blade off of the 4630 after he'd used it for the last time, for he could see he'd be using it again, soon. He trudged across the road; Judy had preceded him by a few minutes to make lunch.

"Here he is now," Ken heard Judy say into the phone as he walked inside. She handed the receiver to him, a big smile on her face.

The caller proved to be Bob. "C-come and g-get your new c-corn h-h-head," he said.

"What?"

"I h-h-had to g-go t-to t-the m-machinery auction at Cl-Cloverdale t-today," Bob said. It soon proved that Bob had seen a corn head that would fit on Ken's combine. It had come near the end of the auction, and there had been no bidders, so he bid on it.

"How much?" Ken asked.

"T-twenty bucks."

Ken was dazed, even though he knew things like that happened at auctions. He'd have spent a thousand on it; to the right bidder, it could easily have been worth three times that. "I'll get Merle to come over with his flatbed," Ken said.

"M-M-Merle's in Fl-Florida w-w-with a l-load," Bob told him. You b-better b-bring a farm w-wagon and g-get it."

Ken knew that sometimes machinery could disappear from an auction after being bought; he didn't want that corn head to disappear! He agreed to hook onto a farm wagon with the pickup, and would be in Cloverdale in a couple hours. Bob asked Judy to call Lori and tell her he'd be home late. By the time Judy was off the phone, Ken was in the four-wheel drive pickup, yanking a farm wagon out of the shed. Lunch was forgotten, and Judy watched his taillights disappear into the snowstorm. Without even asking, she knew that if the corn head worked, there would be no repetition of the agony with the old Oliver 70 like last fall.

She dialed Lori on the phone, and gave her Bob's message. "Darn," Lori said. "I was hoping he wouldn't be late. I'm due any time now, and I don't want to be alone in this weather."

"Why don't you come out here?" Judy asked. "I've got lunch almost ready, and no one to eat it with me. I can hop in the car and come in and get you."

"Sounds good," Lori agreed. "I'll leave Jimmy with Mom, and leave a note for Bob to come and get me when he gets home."

Ken didn't want to rush down the slickening roads with the farm wagon, so he took his time. Besides, he had to go through Wrightsville, and he knew the way like the back of his hand after driving to Hinckley Junior College for a year. He found himself wondering how Sylvia was doing. Beyond Wrightsville, the road to Cloverdale was less familiar, and rather more crooked. By now, the roads were nearly snowcovered, and it was drifting across the road in places. Finally, he stopped and locked in the front hubs on the pickup, and continued on carefully in four wheel drive. It took him nearly three hours to get to the auction barn in Cloverdale; by then, the day was fading fast.

The auction barn was nearly deserted, but Bob was faithfully standing by Ken's priceless corn head when he drove up. Fortunately, the auction barn had a heavy loader available, and it was the work of a few minutes to lift the corn head onto the wagon. Ken had thought to bring some chains in the back of the pickup, and soon they were ready to go. "Let's g-get m-m-moving," Bob said. "I d-don't like t-t-to leave Lori a-alone."

"The baby's coming," Lori told Judy.

"Are you sure?"

"Judy, I've been through this before," the pregnant girl said. "I ought to know."

Judy went to the window. It was snowing heavily now. She didn't even want to think about taking the Sunbird out through this storm.

The roads were getting worse; Ken followed Bob's tail lights, and could see that he was all over the road. Even with four wheel drive, the truck was a handful with the corn head in tow. Finally, Ken saw Bob pull into a truck stop; gratefully, he followed. As soon as he came to a stop, Bob got out of the car and climbed into the right side of the truck cab. "I c-can't k-keep it in t-the r-road," he said. "Let's leave t-the c-car h-here and I'll r-ride w-w-with you."

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