November 1999
s m u g
by anthony kim

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Tractor Pull

I am heading north on I-5 from PDX toward Olympia, capitol city of Washington astride my trusty 1985 BMW K100RS steed. Ambient temp 73ºF, the skies are bright blue with sunlight although obscured here and there by thick banks of cloud. There is no wind to speak of so the sailing is brisk for 60 odd miles until traffic just stops, and goes, and stops, and goes, in a desultory manner resembling molasses in January until eventually there is a trail of creeping vehicles as far back and forward as the eye can see. In an automobile this state of affairs isn't so bad if for no other reason than that in the car, one has reasonably comfortable seating for this kind of nonsense. Some kind soul in a mid-70's beater must have noticed me squirming in the saddle after the first few miles of trickling along have taken their toll upon my butt muscles leans out of his car yelling "Take the Jackson Highway exit a mile up the road - take the back way." I yell thanks, cutting over to the shoulder of the road, making my illegal way to the exit. The driver of only one vehicle who berates me, then proceeds to break the law and rides the shoulder to the exit himself.

Jackson Highway has the feel of a road that once was an actual highway but which has since languished in the shadow of its evil stepsister the "Interstate Highway." As such it has two really great attributes: well-paved, wide roads and a route that takes one through and by every possible item of interest that lies between hypothetical points A and B. This kind of road, according to Pirsig in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,' is what makes motorcycling what it is all about. He may have a point. All that time idling in the traffic jam sucks fuel for adventure from the gas tank and makes finding fuel the first priority after leaving I-5. Thus the town of (holy) Toledo, is a welcome sight with its promise of a fueling center. Toledo does not disappoint. The Shell station there whose bathroom is well kept and obviously used more by personnel than by consumers has bold magic marker admonishments written on college ruled notebook paper taped up in strategic places about the john: "SMILE AND GREET THE CUSTOMER" "CUSTOMERS ARE OUR BUSINESS, THANK THEM FOR IT." In retrospect, I realize that I was smiled at, greeted and thanked for that measly $4.00 sale of premium unleaded.

Two miles up the road I run into my 70's beater friend and flash him a peace sign as I continue north up Jackson Hwy, and he turns off to the west. The topography up here in this part of Washington is difficult to describe. One would like to describe it as rolling hills, however, the hills tend to be more like a series of giant low slung moguls on an uneven plain that tend to suddenly rise up into sharp-edged wooded ridges and buttes. While a spread might have a fenced area of 5-15 acres, the land undulates and meanders in a series of soft round mounds and trough-like depressions. In the distance is always the knife-edged line of dark green mountains. As I tool along these roads the big question that invariably pops into my mind is how do the locals make their living? This is farm country, but there seems to be as many parks as there are dairy farms. While this is more like ranchtown than dairyville, even herefords, angus, and longhorns seem underrepresented.

In Oregon one finds vast fields of grass, mint, wheat, or clover, while here in Washington there seems to be endless empty pasture or giant lawns, with a smattering of hayfields.

It comes as no surprise when, three miles out of (holy) Toledo, I spy a handpainted sign advertising something I cannot read but nevertheless pulls the handlebars of my bike to the right. I pull into the Cowlitz County Fairgrounds to the Cowlitz County Tractor Fair. One whole weekend dedicated to tractors. This is no small event either, at least four hundred non-tractor vehicles are here, and of those, more than fifty are RV's that have come to park and camp. Arrayed on the fair grounds I find more tractors in one place than I have ever seen in my life, parked in clumps.

In a roped off area, one clump is inhabited by Green and Yellow John Deere products. Models A, RA, RS, and probably every other permutation of the John Deere tractor ever made, including the bulldozers. Some have been lovingly restored and sit as precious and beautiful relics of a bygone farming era, others stove up, rusty, and barely able to make the show, but proud because, after all, they are here. The category that makes me feel awe are vintage rides e.g. Model A, manufactory 1949, but still used for everyday chores. They are kept up by zealots, for though the seven foot tall rear tires may be worn from recent use, the frame and engine sparkle as well as flat paint can from obsessive washing and the loving care that these hardbitten farmers must lavish upon their working farm implements to keep them in this 'showroom' condition.

Another section of the fairgrounds is dedicated to 'Oliver' brand tractors, one that I am unfamiliar with. They are handsome beasts, and I'm sorry that they did not, or seem not to have lasted the course. Oliver's colors are Red (Indian red if you are a classic crayola color nut) and cream. They seem to have been built in the 40's. Another section is given over to some incredibly crude elephantine, kerosene powered monsters that weigh in at over 4 tons yet generate something like a mere 8 HP. The brand name escapes me but their city of manufacture is La Pointe, Indiana. I don't remember seeing anything by International Harvester or Case, perhaps this is a regional thing, or perhaps willful blindness. By now, if your eyes are not glazed over, I wonder what all the fuss is about. Well, it's not just tractors -- there seems to be a well developed subculture of tractor hangers-on that is dedicated to a species of single piston engine that was used to do such things as winnow, pump water, crush ore-bearing rock, grind grain, and whatever else could be thought up by man's ingenuity. Another exhibit is given over to vintage chain saws, McCullough , mostly, but also Ingersoll-Rand. Some exhibitors, show various old hand-tools and finally, there is an alleyway lined with trailers and RV's that make up a bazaar that sells everything from modern day Made in China Harley-Davidson/Rebel flag kerchief's to ancient and modern axe-heads, to vintage magazines, to rusty old relic handguns to goo-gaws, to framed prints, to quilts, to shellacked photographs of John Wayne; you get the picture.

Lest you think that this sort of thing is an isolated incident, note that the fellow ahead of me in line for a 'Canadian' Hotdog (pork and beef as opposed to all beef, I wanted to ask if I was buying a style: 'Canadian Hotdog' or a hotdog made in Canada, but did not), was wearing a cap adorned with pins announcing various other tractor shows that had occurred within the state and also within the year.

The sort of person who attends tractor shows in the state of Washington: 1999. Lots of farmers, for one. I say this with confidence, although I don't know it as fact. Quite simply, there were lots of men in their late 40's early 50's, with misshapen faces, bodies, limbs, etc. who in addition wore such things as coveralls, funny (not intentionally so) hats, and unstylish facial hair, who also seemed to know one another. This was the hillbilly contingent of farmers. The other kind, the one that I am familiar with was there also. These men come with their wives. The menfolk are invariably spare and lanky or compact but wiry, with lined or weathered faces. What differentiates them most from the hillbilly farmer, apart from the absence of belly and other anatomical oddities is their dress. Trousers are usually gray, forest green or blue, nowadays they are made by Dickies. Shirts are of paper thin material with plaid print. Often the black leather belt is pulled in tight so that a few inches at the end flops off into space. They wear twistflex spiedel band watches. These people also seem to be in their 60's and beyond.

There were also lots of farmer wannabes. These are the couples, yes couples in their 30's to early 40's, who have obviously got the bug but perhaps not the lifestyle. For instance the men wear suspenders with their jeans but not full blown overalls, or might have facial hair but not of biblical proportions, and might be working on a gut but not the kind that actually changes the way one moves. It could be that these are the third generation of farmer which is qualitatively no different than the two subgroups described above, just representative of a different era. What unites them is their shared love of the tractor.

While I was taking all this in, a very cool thing was going on right next door, which happens to be the Toledo airport. This airstrip is populated by, with one exception, vintage single prop planes. We fair goers were treated to the spectacle of restored, bi-planes (and more modern ones) taking off, buzzing about over our heads and finally landing, as well as Piper Cubs, and Cessna's, and a single Dauntless, a World War II era fighter bomber that flew around our heads for a while and finally "dive-bombed" the airport before circling again and landing. Finally, a great roar went up from the airstrip and the single dual-engined aircraft hangared there lumbered into the air. A DC-3. That craft flew upwards, seemingly forever,and I fantasize about being a flak gunner and the logistics of bringing something like that thing down. After what seemed like an hour of twisting straight up into the heavens without actually moving anywhere in space, something happened, and somebody looks up and points and then I do too and way, way, way up there some tiny dots appeared and then grew larger and larger still, until it became clear that a whole passel of people had leapt from the plane and were hurtling towards us, hands held in communion, then POOF, chutes begin opening all over the place, and 20 or so gaily coloured flying wings came sailing down amongst us.

I walked back to my ride, zipped my jacket, pulled on my helmet my gloves, mounted up and was gone.

in the junk drawer

feature car
ac/dc gun
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

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