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Irons in the fire: He did it because he could

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 22 May 2020

The newest tractor on the place is 40 years old. We call the 2003 Ford the “new pickup.” The closest thing we have to a side-by-side ATV is the ’93 Chevy 3/4-ton with a modified flatbed we use to feed the cows.

When we put up a “new” stretch of fence, it’s with wire and steel posts we’ve salvaged from the old hayfield where we put in the second-hand pivot. There isn’t really much that’s new or shiny on our outfit. My official statement in answer to the not-quite-trashy-nor-vintage façade of the place would be something like this:

“My commonsense approach to life and business dictates no need or desire to own all the newest and brightest gadgets. I’m an efficient, low-cost rancher who’s learned to place profitability above appearances.”

The whole truth, however, would likely reveal that statement to be, at best, a half-truth. I like new stuff. I would absolutely love to upgrade some of the crappy equipment and vehicles we stumble through life with. The truth is: There’s still a hump or two we need to get over and a final payment or three we need to make before we can expand and upgrade like we’d prefer. And since we’re in full confession mode, if I really were so efficient, I’d probably be looking at a couple of those hills and payments in my rearview mirror and not through the cracked windshield of a horizon in front of me.

So we have this 15-year-old four-wheeler we got from my nephew’s in-laws, who run a used car place and pawn shop. It was, of course, gently used when we got it, and the miles and hours we’ve added to it as we check water, calves and fences have not necessarily been of the gentle variety. We do the minor mechanic jobs when the clanking and grunting become a little too obnoxious, but sometimes what ails the machine requires a trip into town.

In such cases, we’ll load the beast into the rusty 16-foot stock trailer and cart it the 25 miles into Burley to the local dealership, where I’ll unload it among rows of the slickest, newest, fastest, toughest contraptions on the market. I feel like little Pedro leading his burro across the track at Ruidoso. In spite of my insecurities, the mechanic masterminds who work there have always been pleasant, helpful and fair in every step of the repair process.

The latest ailment of our Polaris patient was a worn-out CV joint. It had been banging for months, and we’d put off the inevitable for as long as we could. We ordered the parts online, watched a YouTube repair video and tore the thing apart. It didn’t seem to be too big of a project, and my 83-year-old father did most of the work until he needed some sharper eyes to help with the final steps.

All I needed to do was jerk on the outer CV axle, which was supposed to trigger a pin which would allow the housing to come free of the transaxle, which would allow for easy installation of the new CV joint. How do I delicately phrase this …? It didn’t work. I busted the old joint, and the housing wouldn’t budge, despite my most colorful language and valiant efforts.

Grandpa was in town a few days later and stopped by the dealership. They told him to bring the patient in to the shop and they’d take care of it. So haul it to town we did. We dumped the machine off at the shop, and Mark said he’d call when he had the job done. I figured it would take at least a Benjamin Franklin to pay for the labor but expected an even bigger bill because that’s just how things work in my world.

We left the shop and headed to the feedlot 10 minutes outside of town to check on some heifers we were feeding there. We hadn’t even pulled up to the bunk at the first pen when Grandpa’s phone rang. It was Mark, back at the shop. I figured he’d have some reason why the old four-wheeler was too far gone to fix. Instead, he said he’d finished the job and we could pick it up any time. After the heifer inspection, we made the short trip back into town to pick up the patient. When we inquired about payment, Mark just shrugged his shoulders and waved us off.

“Don’t worry about it,” he cheerfully exclaimed. “It’s on me. Just give us a good review on Facebook or something and pass it on.”

Say what? Dude, what is this, 1947? We’re in the 21st century. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. It maybe wasn’t a big deal to him, but it certainly was to me. He didn’t give us a break on a deal because we were big spenders. He did it because it was a kind and decent gesture. He did it because he could.

In a time when greed and self-serving behavior is more often the rule than the exception, I found a nugget worth more to me than the Placerville mother lode. You don’t have to give everything to change the whole world, but there’s no reason you can’t give something to change somebody’s world.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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