Mark: Isuzu jumping

Mark and I shared a truck while we were in high school.  It was a little Isuzu pickup.  Here’s a picture:

The Isuzu

Mark and John Carter were the ones who first started jumping the Isuzu as the jump site was close to John Carter’s house.  Mark later showed me the location.  If I remember correctly, it’s marked here on this map:

We would often take the Isuzu during our lunch break at Morgan High, drive down S 290 W St, then turn up W 500 S St. Depending on how adventurous we were, we’d either floor it or take it easy. A slight rise in the road right about where the truck is on the map would launch the Isuzu in the air. I don’t think we jumped very far, but it was definitely a jump. Sometimes, depending on the weather, there would also be a mud puddle on the other side of the jump, resulting in a messy splash and mud flying everywhere. I believe Mark would occasionally take people on the jump with them in the back to intentionally cover them with mud on the rainy days.

Oh, and Dad, the reason why the windshield in the Isuzu kept breaking was because of the jumping; Mark and I just never told you that was why. Poor little truck got pretty beat up over the years.

Mark: kicking me out of the tent

This is a story I regularly tell people when I want to get a little sympathy for having a crazy upbringing.  My Dad was long in charge of scouting when I was growing up.  For some reason I always made the cut as to which of the kids got to go with my dad when he was taking scouts somewhere, typically camping.  I don’t recall Josh ever going, so I was the youngest boy on many of these outings.  While a lot of the camps were fun (I still remember Troy and Mike out-paddling all the other troops to win the Broken Paddle Award at one camp), one of the outings was brutal.  And, I don’t recall if it was with the scouts or not, but we did later go there with scouts.  I think this time may have been a preparatory hike to help my Dad remember the area, but the photos below suggest otherwise.

Anyway, we went hiking in the Uintahs.  I couldn’t have been more than 6, 7, or maybe 8 at the time.  Mark would have been two years older.  The hike in to the campsite was 10 miles.  I can manage 10 miles in a day hiking today just fine.  But when I was ~6, ugh, it was like the Bataan Death March (to me; obviously the Bataan Death March was much worse in reality).  I could also be conflating the two times we did this hike, but I distinctly recall on one of them that it was a very wet spring and the trail, which typically crossed a dry creek bed, instead crossed a field of mud about 2 feet deep.  I took two pairs of shoes on that trip; one of them is still buried deep within the mud field in the Uintahs.

Just as we arrived at the campsite, a hail storm blew in.  My Dad wanted to get a fire started, so he had us hold a tarp over the fire pit while he tried to start the fire.  As the youngest and shortest kid around, I obviously was holding the tarp the lowest.  A gust of wind blew through, lifting the center of the tarp up, and all the hail that had collected on the top of the tarp went down the lowest point, which was directly above my head — and down the back of my shirt and coat.  I got no sympathy, just yells of “Don’t let go!” and “Hold the tarp higher!”

Eventually the storm blew over and we started to get settled.  My remaining pair of shoes was soaking wet, so I put them on the wire rack near the fire to dry and went to bed.  Mark and I were sharing a tent (the one in the picture below):

Mark's disdain for my obvious lack of muscles is apparent in this photo

Once we finally made it to bed, I didn’t feel well.  About midnight I had to get up to urinate.  And about 2:00 am I felt so bad I got up and vomited right outside the tent.  Mark heard it, then smelled it, then kicked me out of the tent.  I recall pleading with him to let me back in at 2:00 in the morning.  He finally relented (parental intervention may have been involved), but he didn’t want to have to smell the vomit I likely had all over me.

I eventually fell back asleep in my vomit covered clothes, and when I woke in the morning, I found that the soles of my shoes had melted onto the wire grill by the fire.  I had to pry them off the grill.

The positive twist to this story is that I was really at the bottom of the bottom when it comes to bad luck and things got better after that.  Here’s another photo from that trip where I’m feeling a little better (and Mark’s pretending to eat a raw fish):

Mark is the second from the right in the red shirt.

Mark: fire drills

Mark would occasionally let me drive the car home from school when we were both attending Morgan High together.  And that usually meant we had a car full of people (typically no one in the trunk, but at least five or six of us in the car).  One of the things we almost always did was have a fire drill at the Peterson exit.

The idea was basically that the driver would get out, run around the car to the passenger side, and the passenger would switch to the driver’s side.  If the driver didn’t make it to the passenger’s side in time, they could be left behind.  And, if you were feeling adventurous, you could have the people in the back seats run around as well.  An added risk was the possibility of a car pulling to a stop behind you or a sheriff’s deputy dropping by.  We didn’t do the fire drills every day, but we did them regularly, and occasionally someone wouldn’t make it back to their seat by the time the new driver was situated, which meant they got left behind.

I have vague recollections of people also jumping on the hood of the car or even on the roof, though we usually wouldn’t go any further than the gravel turnout  (just north of the exit in the map) if that was the case.  And some people have suggested, though I don’t remember it, that people were run into or even run over during our fire drills.  I don’t recall that ever occurring, but it could have.

Mark: visiting Park City

I don’t recall why we were going to Park City, but I know that’s where we went.  It may have been for a game or just to meet up with some people Mark know, but what I do recall is that Mark borrowed my Dad’s Honda and then proceeded to fill it beyond full.  I’m sure there were two people in the passenger seat, and at least five or six in the backseat.  Tom Triplett and I rode in the trunk all the way to Park City.  So, in a car made to fit 5 people, we managed to squeeze in 10 of us.  I don’t even think what we did in Park City was worth the trip, but I do remember Mark being perfectly fine with Tom and I riding in the trunk!

Mark: dodging trains

This is another one of the activities that we did regularly, so I don’t have any real stories, per se, but I can describe what we would do.  I also don’t recall who all did this with us, but I’m pretty sure Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett, Murray Triplett, Mark, John Carter, and Todd Haws all did this at one point or another.   I will also admit that this was probably the most dangerous thing we ever did.

Not far from the overpass we frequented is a train bridge.  Here it is in Google Maps:

The bridge goes over the Weber River, and just below the bridge on the east side was a little beach that was often frequented by couples making out and other people looking for fun.  Often when we would get bored messing with cars on the freeway, or while doing that and we’d hear a train coming, we’d head to the train bridge for some excitement.  There were three activities we engaged in.  All of them were extremely dangerous.  I’ll start with the least dangerous, which is marked in red on the map.

The bridge seems like it was basically designed for people to climb it (maybe the engineers thought no one would be that stupid).  On the ends it sloped up at a relatively mild 30 to 35 degree incline and had large, protruding rivets that made it particularly easy to climb the ends of the bridge.  But, even easier, were the support columns holding up the upper trestles.  While they also had easy to grasp rivets, they were made up of X-shaped cross bars, which meant you could easily scale them.  Anyone not afraid of heights with just moderate climbing skills could scale the bridge and be on top of the trestle in about a minute.

The spot marked in red was actually a nice big crossbar that ran across the tracks.  It was about 4 to 5 feet tall and had thick ledges on the top and the bottom and long cross beams, making it easy to cross.  If you timed it just right, you could climb up the end of the bridge, move onto that crossbeam, and watch as the train approached.  And if the train’s interior light was on, you also got to see the face of the conductor as he initially freaked out, then honked his horn and did his best job to scold you for both scaring the crap out of him and being so stupid.  While standing on that cross piece, the train would run just a few feet below you.  While certainly dangerous, once you were up on the cross bar, you were relatively safe.  The riskiest part after the train had gone by was getting down.

The spot marked with yellow is actually a little deceptive because it did not entail climbing up on top of the trestle.  Along side the train tracks along the bridge was a walkway.  It was a couple feet wide, at most.  It could be used to easily cross the bridge when there was no train.  However, when there was a train, the train actually hung far enough over the side of the tracks that, if you were walking along the walkway, you’d be hit (and probably die).  But what you could do, if you were looking for a thrill, is lay down on the walkway before the train came.  The train was always three or so feet above the walkway.  So, if you laid down before the train got there, you could literally lay underneath the train as it whizzed past above you.  If you sat up, you were going to die.  If you made a wrong move, you were going to die.  You had to commit, and simply lay there, with thousands of tons of steel rolling over your prostrate body.  Yeah, that was dangerous.

But I’ve saved the best for last.  This was done in the spot indicated with the blue marker.  To do this you’d climb up to the top of the trestle.  As you can see from the map, at the top of the trestle are x-shaped cross beams.  Once you got on top of the bridge, you could sit on one of the cross beams and inch your way toward where they crossed.  These beams were also made up of x-shaped beams with about 1 foot gaps in them (at the wide end; like the picture above).  I can remember the first time I did this I climbed to the top of the bridge and, on the other side, were Todd Haws and John Carter.  I think Mark was in the red spot, getting ready for the train to come.  John and Todd had to coax me out to the center, then one of them, I think Todd, showed me how you did the next thing.  You would work your way around to the east side of the cross and face west, put your legs through the gaps in the X’s, then swing upside down.  It’s kind of hard to picture, but basically you would be hanging from the top of the bridge by your legs with your head facing the oncoming train.  Remember, I said that the red spot was a couple of feet above the train.  The top crossbeams were about 6 to 8 feet above the train.  So, when you would flip upside down, you’d be hanging a good 3 feet above the train.  There was always the risk that the train might have a slightly taller car that you couldn’t see that would hit you, but that’s unlikely as trains have to be very exact dimensions.  And, of course, there was the possibility of slipping and falling onto a train crossing under you at about 50 mph.  But we never did.

As far as I know, no one was ever hurt doing this, at least no one was when I was down there.  I’m certainly not going to recommend these activities as I’m still a bit surprised I did them myself.  But these were the kinds of things we were doing on the weekends when Mark and I were teenagers.

Mark: running from cops

Unlike my brother Danny, who tried to get away from the police in Morgan in a car, Mark and I did it on foot.  And we succeeded, whereas Danny failed (yes, we are so competitive we even compete in how deviant we can be!).

Mark, Mitch Johnson, and I went down to the same overpass I mentioned in my previous story about bedapping with Mark one night just to, well, mess around.  We weren’t bedapping that night.  I think we did play the bedapping game I described where you run down the off ramp, but with our clothes on.  We were also running across the freeway and otherwise just messing around.

While messing around, a Morgan County Sheriff’s cruiser drove past on the freeway and must have seen us.  We had heard that some people had called in complaints about kids at the overpass, so we were wary when we saw the cruiser go by, but we didn’t think much of it.  However, a few minutes later, Mark came running under the overpass to where Mitch Johnson and I were and yelled at us to run up the side of the overpass and onto the freeway.  The Sheriff’s cruiser had turned around in the canyon and was heading down the off-ramp.  We ran to the top of the underside of the overpass, in between the two sides of the freeway, and hopped the fence.  Just as we got over the fence, we saw lights coming down Old Highway Road.  It was another Sheriff’s cruiser.  They were trying to trap us.  Here’s a map to illustrate:

The first one pulled up underneath the overpass and the deputy got out.  The second one pulled up underneath the overpass on the other side and the other deputy got out.  They started shining their flashlights around, but by that time we were already gone.  We ran a short way up the on-ramp, cut across, then ran up through the trees and shrubs toward where Savage’s old house was (N 6300 W).  We stopped right where the road turns and watched the two Sheriff’s deputies look for us.  We probably watched them for about 20 minutes as they scrambled up the underside of the overpass and wandered around, trying to find us.  They obviously had no clue about the lay of the land.  They were never going to find us.  We didn’t even need to walk along Old Highway Road to get home as we all knew about the connection to Robinson Lane.  We eventually left, leaving the Sheriff’s deputies wandering around looking for the kids playing on the overpass.

Mark: Bedapping

Mark never told me who, exactly, came up with the name or the idea, but he did introduce me to the “sport” he called “bedapping.”  Mark probably came up with the idea and the name – he was a bit nutty like that.

Bedapping is basically just another name for streaking, but there were goals involved: (1) don’t get caught, (2) don’t let anyone realize who you are, and (3) let your butt be seen.

The process was simple: First, wait until the sun went down – you always bedap at night to reduce the odds of you being identified.  Second, decide on your target.  Typically we did this at the overpass near my parents’ house in Mountain Green, UT, but Mark recounted doing this at the homes of girls in his high school class as well.  Third, go to your target location, take off all your clothes except your shoes and socks, and stash your clothes somewhere safe.  Fourth, figure out a way to be seen, but not identified, and run around naked for a while.

This eventually developed into a rather dangerous game that we played at the overpass. Here’s how it worked.  One of the faster guys would be positioned almost at the very top of the off-ramp of I-84.  Every 15 to 20 feet down the off-ramp another naked boy would be stationed all the way down to the cattle guard just south of the actual overpass.  The naked boy at the top of the off-ramp would start running when they saw a car signal that it was going to exit.  The rest of the naked boys couldn’t run until that first boy passed their position.  The goal was to outrun the car driving down the off-ramp and make it under the overpass where you could hide behind the pillars as the car passed.  If you were able to hide behind the pillars, you could remain anonymous and all the drivers of the cars would see was naked butts fleeing down the off-ramp.  Here’s a map with some markers to illustrate (this is the actual location, by the way):

I recall one night when Mark and several of his friends teamed up with myself and several of my friends to play the bedapping game.  We probably had 10 to 15 guys playing.  Mark, who was always daring, would typically be the guy at the very top.  It helped that he was super fast.  I, on the other hand, was never very fast, so I was typically near the end of the off-ramp.  We probably ran down the ramp 10 times that night, but one of those sticks out.  It was pretty typical for cars to slow way down and idle down the off-ramp and through the overpass, probably to avoid seeing anything more than naked butts.  One of the cars that idled through the off-ramp that night must have had its interior lights on because I was able to clearly make out the face of Robert Poll, who was, at the time, the Stake President (for my non-Mormon friends, that’s a position pretty high up in the Mormon hierarchy).  I remember quite clearly his beet-red face peering out the window as though he were trying to identify the naked butts climbing all over the underside of the overpass, scrambling to not be identified.  I believe we succeeded as no one was ever called in to his office on account of what we did.

I’d love to know if someone out there was on the receiving end of one of Mark’s (or my) bedapping games; I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your headlights suddenly pick up one naked butt running away from you, then two, then three.. then a dozen.  Now I think it would be hilarious, but I’m sure not everyone would see it that way.

Mark: In the Dog House

My sister-in-law asked me quite a while ago to write down some stories I remember of my brother Mark who passed away last year.  I made a list of stories for her back when she asked but am just now finding the time to write down some of the stories.  Here is the first in what will likely be a series of stories about my brother.  Oh, and just to be on the safe side, these stories are how I remember these events; others may disagree with how things happened.  These are all from a very long time ago, so there may be some errors in my memory.

In the Dog House

I don’t recall exactly what age we were, but I was probably close to 8 or 10, which means Mark would have been around 10 to 12.  I also don’t recall exactly what possessed us to do what we did, but I do remember what it was we did.  We were playing in our parents’ backyard with matches.  If I’m not mistaken, Wenn Chaston was also there.  Mark had the matches and would reward Wenn and I with a match for every piece of paper or bunch of flammable, dry weeds we found that we could light on fire.  Since Mark made the hunt for tinder competitive, Wenn and I began searching for bigger and bigger objects we could burn.  At some point one of us, I don’t remember who, ended up finding the neighbor’s dog house.  At the time I believe it was the Dixon’s who lived in the house next door to my parents.  They had a dog, but the dog stayed inside, so the dog house was derelict.  We gathered some of our tinder, carried it to the dog house, and proceeded to stack it in and around the dog house to insure it burned.

Lighting a dog house on fire probably wouldn’t be a huge issue, except for the fact that the dog house was in storage under the Dixon’s wooden deck and was backed right up next to their wood-shingled home!

I’m a bit fuzzy on what happened next, but I seem to recall some hesitation in lighting it on fire, but then it was lit, probably by Mark.  I’m also fuzzy as to when we ran, whether it was before or after the fire engine showed up, but it didn’t take them long.  Someone must have seen the smoke billowing out from under the deck as the fire engine arrived quickly and the fire was put out before it did any real damage to the deck or the house.

I have a very vivid memory of walking toward the front yard of the Dixon’s house between our house and their house and seeing the fire engine parked on the road.

The next thing I remember is my mother screaming at Mark and I, followed by a pretty vicious lashing with a belt.

We never played that game with matches ever again (though I do think Nate Williams lit the field opposite his house on fire that same summer or the summer after; neither Mark or I were involved).

orchard stories

When my aunts and uncles were out here visiting a couple weeks ago, it reminded me of some stories from when I worked in the orchards one of them ran. The orchard was in Pleasant View, UT, which is where my Dad is from and where many of my relatives still live. I created a map of the orchard here. Here are some of the stories I remembered:

Selling Smarts:

The orchard wasn’t particularly lucrative, though my aunt did say it made them money most years. But there is a funny story that goes with the orchard. I don’t know which ancestor originally planted the orchard, but I do know my great grandfather, Mormon Cragun, worked out there (and, sadly, died from an accident in the orchard). But my grandfather, Earl Budge Cragun, owned a lot of land around the orchard, including, apparently (according to my aunt), about 300 acres directly above (kind of north and east) of the orchard (it’s marked on the map). The land was littered with enormous rocks and was basically worthless to my grandfather, as he was primarily interested in farming. When someone approached him about the land above the orchard, he was ecstatic to get rid of it and sold it for a paltry $300 for the entire 300 acres. The person who bought the property saw something my grandfather didn’t: The looming market for massive rocks for lawn decoration. This market boomed in the 1980s and 1990s in Utah; people wanted large rocks to decorate their yards. One of my close friends up the street from where I lived had a yard bordered by rocks like this. The guy who bought the orchard extracted the rocks and sold them for, get this, literally millions and millions of dollars. He turned that $300 investment into a multi-million dollar business.

This was always a sore spot in Cragun family lore. The guy also negotiated for easement rights for the property, so he was able to access the quarry. Enormous trucks ran up and down the side of the orchard for years. When the family eventually sold the orchard, they sold it to the owners of the rock quarry, who tore down most of the trees and put in a road to make access to the quarry easier. So, grandpa, about my inheritance… 😐 (That’s a joke; I’m not expecting an inheritance!)

Sweet Cherry Tumble

Some background on cherries. There are really two basic kinds of cherries: sweet cherries and pie cherries. The ones you buy in the store with the stems on them are called sweet cherries. The ones you buy in cans for cherry pie are called pie cherries. I describe below how pie cherries are harvested, but sweet cherries, because they need the stems on them to stay fresh, are generally harvested by hand. We’d start work around 5 am and work until 1 pm, so they were harvested when they were moist. We got paid by the pound. And by “we” I mean, every young kid in Pleasant View, plus a lot of my relatives, and occasionally migrant laborers who, of course, only spoke Spanish. I have a lot of stories from the time we spent picking cherries, like the day my cousin Matt Winston spent picking cherries with us. Matt’s now a semi-famous actor, but he has an amazing sense of humor. He wasn’t particularly interested in making money or even picking cherries, but he did keep us all entertained the day he was there. My favorite memory of that day is him wondering how many cherries he could fit in his mouth at one time. I don’t remember the number (I think it was in the 30s), but it was a lot, and he looked hilarious.

Anyway, with all the young kids working out there (I was doing this at 6, too), it was amazing there were not more accidents. The youngest kids would pick the low hanging fruit, but older kids climbed ladders and used sky hooks to pull branches down. I remember one day watching a young girl who was new to picking cherries climb a ladder a couple of trees away from me. She hadn’t placed her ladder well and it tipped over, dumping her a good 10 or 15 feet to the ground. She fell hard and immediately started screaming. I was probably 10 or 11 at the time (I’m not sure), but I remember watching my cousin’s husband, who had just barely joined the family, McKell Young, leap from his ladder and run to her aid. He was there in a split second and immediately calmed her down and started to splint her terribly broken arm. McKell is now a dentist in Missouri with a handful of kids, but whenever I think of McKell, I think of this story.

Here’s a picture of McKell with one of his children a few years after that at an Easter family gathering in the orchard:

If I remember correctly, as a result of this incident they raised the minimum age for non-family workers to 12; the girl was younger than that. Also, according to my aunt, that was the only bone broken bone in the orchard (she even remembered the girl’s name, though I forget it now).

Tractor Tale #1: Oh Brother!

The orchard was very much a family business. My aunt and uncle’s children worked in the orchard most of their lives, and many of their cousins (me included) also worked out there. I started working in the orchard at 6, and was driving tractors by the time I was around 8. My first tractor driving job was to drive the tractor pulling the cherry tanker along side the harvester.

For that to make sense you probably need a bit of an explanation of how pie cherry harvesting is done To harvest pie cherries, at least 3 tractors (more like 4 or 5) are required. One tractor pulls a large trailer called the harvester. Here’s my rudimentary drawing of a harvester:


The harvester has one side that faces the cherry tree being harvested (depicted above). Two people would ride on this side (the faces). When they pull up to a tree, they pull out a large tarp attached to a winch on the harvester (in blue) until it covers the ground under the harvester. The yellow in the picture is my attempt to depict the fabric above the trailer that catches any cherries that fall that way. Once the cherries are shaken from the tree (see diagram below), the winch pulls the tarp back in, dropping the cherries through a hole in the harvester and down to the other side, depicted here:

Two or three people work on this side. The green boxes represent bins. The cherries fall through the hole in the harvester and into these bins, where the workers remove as many leaves, twigs, dead birds, etc. as possible. Once the bins fill up, they are carried down a row of trees where the cherry tanker, pulled by another tractor, is waiting. Here’s my depiction of a tanker:

The cherry tanker is a large trailer that is filled with hundreds of gallons of water. The cherries, as they are harvested, are dumped into the cherry tanker. The water keeps them from getting smashed and keeps them fresh. It also helps all the leaves and sticks float to the top, where they are later skimmed away (my first job at 6 was to skim the crap out the tankers).

And now the shaker. An attachment is connected to another tractor that has a two-pronged extension on it. That attachment wraps around the tree like shown below:

The gray prongs are what is called the shaker (I tried my best). They wrap around the tree then shake it like crazy. The two tarps attached to the harvester (in the background) catch the cherries then send them into the harvester. That’s basically how it’s done. Oh, and this starts at 10 pm and continues until 10 am – harvesting at night keeps the moisture in the cherries so they stay fresh longer.

Anyway, back to the story. My second job in the orchard was to drive the cherry tanker. This is a pretty easy job since all I had to do was keep the tanker level with the harvester – every time it moved, I moved. That made it easy for those dumping bins of cherries to get them into the tanker. Mind you I started doing this when I was about 8: someone believed I was responsible enough to drive an enormous tractor attached to a multi-ton tanker when I was 8 years old.

There were two hard parts to the job. First, it went on, non-stop, all night for about 4 weeks. At 8 (and now), I liked sleeping at night. So, I had a hard time staying awake. Sometimes I’d fall asleep and the other workers would yell at me. The other hard part was making sure that no one was around the tanker when I pulled forward. Remember, this is an all steel tanker filled with hundreds of gallons of water and hundreds of pounds of cherries. It weighed several tons by the time it was full.

Well, one night I checked behind me to make sure no one was dumping cherries into the tanker then pulled forward. As I did I heard a scream. It was my brother Danny. If you look back at the diagram of the cherry tanker you’ll see that the tires are actually on the outside. He had stepped up to dump a bin of cherries just after I checked and stepped between the tires. His leg was there when I pulled forward. The tanker rode up the back of his leg and threw him face first into the ground. Luckily others heard the scream and came running. And, luckily, the ground was soft. I ran over his leg, but it was mostly just pushed into the dirt, so there was little damage done – mostly bruising. I felt terrible, but no one really blamed me for it as accidents were pretty common out there (though rarely serious, which is amazing). Danny got the night off (with pay), but was back the next day.

Here’s a picture of me a bit older pulling the tarps out on the harvester (the shaker is in the background). This is the only picture I have of my working in the orchard:

Tractor Tale #2: Hang On!

My oldest brother, Troy, was an orchard regular and old hand out there. He had been working out there for years, and by the time this happened he must have been close to 18. He had graduated from most of the crappy jobs to a periphery job: he managed the cherry tankers. Basically he used a fourth tractor to pick up the full tankers, take them down to have them skimmed, then filled the empty tankers with water and delivered them, as needed, to where the rest of us were working. His job was pretty nice because he could basically lay on the tanker as it filled and, if he angled it just right, when it got to the right level, the water would leak out, getting him a little wet, and waking him up. Sometimes he’d sleep, other times he’d read. He had the dream job out there.

I rode up with him one night to watch as he filled the tankers. Rather than wait for it to finish filling this time, he decided he’d rather take the tractor for a spin. So, he told me to hop on (they are all one seat tractors) and hang on. The orchard is laid out in rows and the rows are easy to drive along. But Troy was more interested in having a wild ride, so he angled the tractor down the hill and started driving from row to row, plowing through trees, irrigation ditches, and anything else in our way as we went. I don’t think we took out any trees, but by the time he was done, I felt like the trees had taken me out. I was covered in scratches and had leaves and branches all over me. He was hollering and screaming the whole time. I’m not sure how often he did that, but he seemed to be an old pro at it.

Tractor Tale #3: I’m going to die!

I saved my favorite story for last. I worked in the orchard during the summers until I was 16 or 17, when my aunt and uncle started negotiating to sell it. I learned a lot out there and saw some amazing things, but this is one story I’ll never forget. You can’t see it in the Google Maps link above, but the orchard is actually on a hillside. And by hillside, I mean a fairly steep incline, probably a 7 to 10 degree incline. That’s not much of a problem if you take it an angle, like the side roads in the orchard did. It’s also not a problem if you’re driving down one of the rows as they are terraced so you hardly notice the incline. But if you ever take the middle road in the orchard, you face that entire incline. Now, driving a tractor alone up or down the main road isn’t a problem – those things have so much horsepower that it’s not an issue at all. But, if you’re pulling a cherry tanker, that can be a serious problem. Cherry tankers weigh several tons when full.

I faced this scenario for the first time one day when I was about 12 years-old. Someone asked me to drive a full tanker of cherries down to the skimming station at the bottom of the orchard. If I was near one of the sides of the orchard, I would have taken one of those, which isn’t much of a problem. But I was near the middle road (you can see it in the map), and since I figured I’d need to learn how to do this some time, I decided to just go ahead and drive the tanker down the middle road. There were two problems with my thinking here. First, I had never done this and no one had ever shown me how. Second, just above the skimming station, the middle road in the orchard takes a sharp left turn. If you miss the turn, there’s about a 30 foot drop off. Remember, the orchard was on a hillside. Whoever designed the orchard hadn’t made the best decision building the road that way, but I don’t recall it ever really being a serious problem (though I’m sure someone has missed that turn before).

So, I hopped on the tractor and headed down the center of the orchard. As I inched my way down the steep road, I started to notice that I was going a little too fast. I was in first gear, but it was still too fast for my novice abilities, so I pushed in the clutch on the tractor and hit the brakes. The multi-ton tanker behind me laughed at my rookie mistake – those brakes on the loose dirt weren’t going to stop it. It kept coming, picking up speed. The tractor started sliding, and then started to jackknife as the tanker was pushing it out of the way. I was still probably a couple hundred feet or so from the drop off when I started skidding. But I knew it was coming, and I was still picking up speed. If the trailer and tractor didn’t flip, killing me in the process, then I’d probably slide over the edge and certainly die. My heart raced and my life flashed before my eyes – the only time this has ever happened to me. I was going to die!

Then, it hit me: My brother Troy had told me a short time before this what to do, “Whenever you’re driving a tanker down one of the roads headed down hill, don’t EVER take it out of gear! If you do, the tractor’s brakes won’t be able to stop it and you’ll wreck.” That was the answer – put it back in gear. I slammed the gear shift into first and popped the clutch. And, like the magic I thought it was at the time, the tractor slowed to a near standstill, the tanker straightened out, and everything returned to normal. The tractor’s brakes couldn’t slow the tanker, but the tractor’s engine could. I inched my way toward the turn as slowly as possible and made it safely. With only a couple of close contenders, this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to dying (the close contenders are fun stories too!).

Here’s a final picture of another Easter party out at the “Good Earth” which is what we called it. We used to have a great time hiding easter candy on the rocks and having races to find it all. McKell is in the picture with his son (male in sunglasses on the left). I’m standing, next to me is my younger brother, Josh, then my two cousins, Brian and Nate Belnap. This rock was about 15 feet tall and was a blast to climb:

So, those are my orchard stories. I hope you enjoyed them.