Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Tale of the Massey Ferguson 165 and the Missing Dipstick

When I was lad of about 11 or 12, I was already driving the tractors around the farm fields doing simple tasks like topping thistles. The public roads were however, off limits. Not so much due to traffic (there was none, aside from the postman) but for an inexperienced driver, the margin for error was almost zero. The roads were narrow and winding, and there were ditches and drains and dogs. No place for a novice - as I soon discovered.

During the summer months, every morning around 10am we dropped off a 150 gallon stainless steel milk tank out on the "New Road", which was about a mile distant. From there Sharkey transferred the milk into a bigger tanker truck. Our mobile tank was practically full after the previous evening and this mornings milking. Each afternoon around 3.30pm, Fergus would head back out on the Massey-Ferguson 165 tractor to get the empty milk tank. Now this was the kid of job I thought I could handle and I begged my father over and over until he agreed to let me drive the tractor and retrieve the tank. Therein lies the problem with youthful exuberance and adult acquiescence.

I loved driving the 165 because of the big tires, the commanding view, the foot throttle... There were no problems making the drive to the rendezvous point. But when I got there, I realized the task was not so straight forward. There were several large bags of calf feed that had been delivered to us and needed to be brought home. The smart thing to do would be to make two trips but being a cocky 12 yr old, I figured I could pull off the same balancing act as my older brother. I hitched up the tank and heaved the bags of feed on top of it. A precarious balancing act ensued. I let the clutch out slowly and managed to not jerk the bags off the tank. I turned up Connor's Hill in second gear, already feeling proud and giving the tractor plenty of throttle. About halfway up the hill, I looked over my right shoulder to make sure the bags were not slipping - and in the ensuing seconds, disaster struck. The tractor veered ever so slightly to the right on the narrow road and the front wheels caught and started to climb the 70 degree embankment. An experienced driver would have immediately eased off the throttle, depreesed the clutch and pulled the steering hard to the left. I did nothing - instead I panicked and froze.

In seconds the tractor had tried to scale the steep embankment but reaching a point where it could no longer climb, it sort of skidded out sideways and with its center of gravity all askew, the 165 toppled over on its side and stalled out. It happened in slow motion and I remember being thrown around the cab a bit and having sore elbows and shoulders but otherwise I was fine. Thank goodness for the heavy duty safety cab. The 165 lay on its side, silent in the middle of the road and looking very unorthodox and sort of pitiful with its wheels horizontal. Not a soul had witnessed my collision with calamity. I was convinced the tractor was totaled and while I was able to run home unscathed, my ego was truly bruised and I was wondering where on earth would I find the thousands of pounds needed to buy a new tractor.

I arrived breathless and faced my father and brother eating at the kitchen table. I blubbered out my misfortune. Daddy said very little as he finished his meal but he was not what you would call pleased. Fergus and himself made their way out to the accident scene by way of the smaller tractor - the 65, which had a front loader. I was left to run along behind. Now I was some sort of stray - no longer trusted near valuable machinery. I did not think there was any way the 65 could right the much bigger and heavier 165 but I discounted the grown-up's ingenuity. First they unhitched the milk tank (which curiously had remained right side up) and through a series of maneuvers involving wire cables, Daddy and Fergus managed to drag the 165 into a position where they could lift it off its side using the 65's loader and then back on to four wheels. It settled on terra firma with a jolt and looked none the worse for wear, despite having spilt some oil and fuel on the road.

Fergus put diesel in the 165's tank from a five gallon drum and climbed into the cab. He engaged the brake and placed it in neutral and gave me a glare. The moment of truth was here: had I managed to crack the engine block, destroy the gearbox and ruin the main workhorse of the farm? I think I would have run away to Dublin (or at least Longford) if it did not start... but Fergus got it going on the first turn of the key. Needless to say, he drove it home and as I sat alongside him, the humiliated passenger. I silently absorbed the tongue lashing I had coming to me. The 165 sounded the same as it always did, which was a comfort. I would not after all, be foreced into becoming a dock worker in Dublin , sending home shillings as a means for a new tractor. My father followed on the 65, probably realizing his youngest son was not cut out for the farming life.

When we reached home I expected Mícheál to (rightfully) chew me out but all he said was "May that be a lesson to you". And it was - for a while anyway. Later in the evening after milking, Fergus and I surveyed the damage to the 165, There really wasn't any aside from some chipped paint - and a missing dipstick. Necessity being the mother of invention, he replaced the dipstick with a fat six inch nail. Weeks later as I biked home from Killina school, I would walk slowly up Connor's Hill, kicking aside leaves and looking for the elusive dipstick. It never showed up. Many years later and thousands of miles away from Connor's Hill, I often inquired about the 165, always happy to hear that it was still in service.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Winding down

Summer is beginning to wind down. It is not as intensely hot as it was a few weeks back and it is actually nice to sit outside doing nothing, emphasis on doing nothing. The sun is still strong so exertion needs to minimal but you can feel the season has turned. The pool no longer feels like a warm bathtub and with the kids back in school, it is seeing fewer cannonballs and daredevil plunges off the diving board.

Fall approaches. The Carroll H.S. Dragons have already played and lost their first football game and Wednesday Sept. 1 sees the opening of dove season. For many, the dove is a symbol of peace. In Texas, it is hunted like a common varmint. People say there are only two seasons in TX, hot and hotter... but there are really several: Dove, Deer, Turkey and so on. I went on a dove hunt a few years back on a large spread out east of Austin. Although there was about ten of us, we shot only a few birds and the bag limit of 15 (per gun) was never in danger. The hunt is as much about camaraderie, telling stories and having a big outdoor grilling session in the evening, as it is about reducing the dove population. It is just another ritual that signals that fall is imminent.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Trio from Theo

The young man with so much promise finally came good on Saturday as the Gunners walloped six without reply past hapless Blackpool. Definitely Theo Walcott's finest performance in an Arsenal shirt. His first goal came at the end of a typical Arsenal move involving several quick passes with the ball never leaving the ground. The marking was appalling and Theo was able to basically pass the ball into the net. The Blackburn defence was a bit tighter for his second but his quick turn caught them by surprise, the goalie was leaning to his left and the ball nutmegged the center back and angled to the goalies right. His third was the best of the three; he cut in from the right, skipped around two (or was it three?) 'Pool backs as if they were not there and dispatched the ball into the net with aplomb. It was Henry-esque. Too bad the opposition were so poor and the 6-0 drubbing has to be discounted a bit. After all, Arsenal were lucky to get a 1-1 draw opening day at Anfield. A firmer test awaits this weekend at Blackburn, where Big Sam will ensure the Gunners come away battered and bruised. It will be interesting to see who starts on Saturday. I think Arshavin has been sub-par and maybe a game off will re-energize him - but the spark seems to have gone - although he is not as fat arsed this season as last.

Interesting that the supposed new CB signing from Sevilla (Squillaci) has not been formally announced yet. Medical problems? I was hoping they would get Mertesacker or even Hangeland from Fulham. Already too many French players at the Emirates - the World Cup debacle for Les Bleus proves they cannot be trusted. Seems Vieira, Petit and Pires were a different generation. And Henry disgraced himself in Paris against Ireland. The good news is that Wenger seems to have abandoned the Africa route. Good players but when you lose them for four weeks every second January to the ACN, then it is better to pass. Now if only we could sign a decent 'keeper. Almunia is not the answer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

See The World and Never Leave Texas. Part 1: Roanoke

When living in Austin a few years back, I came up with idea of writing a Texas travel book in the Bill Bryson / John Kelso mode. It would be a tongue in cheek comparison of a town elsewhere and its worthy Texas namesake. The humorous bit is that some of these Texas towns are on the other end of the spectrum compared to their faraway cousins. The obvious example is Paris. Anyway, this idea came before blogs were around and realizing that I would never be able to write a book, the whole thing was shelved. But now that we are back in TX, and the blog is up and running, I have a green light. The plan is to visit the Texas hamlet, take a few pics, get a feel for the place and compare it to its twin(s). The other town doesn't warrant a visit, that is what the Internet is for… First up is Roanoke, TX. Easy one because it is three miles from Southlake.

Roanoke TX, pop. 2,810. We drove around on Sat afternoon when it was 106F, so it seemed more like pop. ten, including me and the two young boys. Even the normally busy Oak Street was deserted. The town planners decided a few years back to plow some dollars in Oak Street and it has paid handsome dividends. The new sidewalks, lampposts and traffic circles are really well presented and the new storefronts look great - see photo to left. Under the watch of the water tower are several restaurants, the most famous being Babes Chicken House. I have not been to this one - but I have been to its sister joint, Bubbas near SMU in Dallas. Their chicken and biscuits are excellent. Across from Babes is a burger joint and a few stores north was Mi Familia Tex Mex. I mean in terms of the three basic food groups, what more could one want? The revitalized edition of Downtown Roanoke is definitely more authentic than Town Square, South(f)lake.

As we made a u-turn on Front Street we were faced by a freight train hauling coal that must have been a mile long. Its horn wailed and it rumbled along for a good ten minutes. We were not too sure what to make of this cowboy and horse bronze statue on Byron Nelson Parkway. Certainly the herd had moved on without him. He seems to be looking back at the strip mall and wondering where the prairie went. Behind him, the ubiquitous Taco Bell and the equally common F350 dually and landscape crew.

First settled in 1847, Roanoke was named after Roanoke VA. Most famous resident was the aforementioned Byron Nelson, winner of 5 majors on the pro-golf circuit. Born in Waxahachie TX in 1912, he retired to his ranch on Roanoke at the age of 34 and was an active member of the Roanoke Church of Christ. This was when golfers were role models...

The Roanoke VA edition has a population of almost 300,000 and can claim Wayne Newton!!! and the mouthy Tiki Barber as its own. It has a daily newspaper (the adventurously named "Times") and a bunch of TV and radio stations. Seems like a real city... This one is close but the Wayne Newton factor tips the scales in favor of the Texas edition of Roanoke. I guarantee the food is way better...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer in Southlake

It has not rained in Big D for what seems at least six or seven weeks. Typical Texas summer. Running the sprinkler every other day to keep the grass from turning brown. Why bother? It dies back in the fall anyway... This whole keeping the lawn green thing is such a waste. We had 18 straight days in Aug where the daytime high was over 100F, that's 38C+ for you metric-heads. The streak broke on Tues when it only got to 99F but Weds was back to 102F and we expect at least another week of triple digits.

Summer in Southlake and Texas is like winter up north; people don't venture out much unless they have to.

A couple of weeks back around 4.30am we heard water pelting against the bedroom window. Convinced we were getting an early morning thunderstorm, I rolled over and back to sleep contentedly. Mrs. B advised in the morning that it was not rain. Ever vigilant, she actually got up to investigate and diagnosed a busted sprinkler head outside. The following Saturday I was happy to dig out the leaking head and screw in a new one. $4 part at Lowes. I like doing these kind of repairs but in Southlake-land it is practically verboten to do such menial work. New Money dictates calling in a contractor for the simplest of tasks. Southlakers would prefer to be at Nordstroms or bringing the Lexus in for a service. So it was inevitable that "Southlake" has been replaced in my vocabulary by "SouthFlake" or "SouthFake". Fake tan, fake teeth, fake t... well, you get the point. Let's keep this thing PG rated.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

San Diego

"Go West, Young Man" instructed Horace Greeley and so we did - but only for a week. We wished it could have been longer, the 75 degree weather in sunny San Diego was a welcome respite from the blast furnace that is Tejas in August. Big D has had two solid weeks of temps over 100F. And so a quick recap of our week in So Cal...
The decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Midway (1943-1992) was once the largest vessel in the world. The maps in the control tower showing targets in Baghdad reminded us of this ships true purpose. (Click on pic's to enlarge)

The world famous San Diego Zoo. Highlight was the birthday party of the young panda (one year old), complete with a cake made of ice and bamboo. And the Meerkats, of course...

La playa. We went to the beach practically every day. Starting from the south: Imperial Beach (only a few miles from Mexico, but you could never tell. Site of the 2010 US Open Sand Castle Competition); Silver Strand; Coronado - what a hotel!; Ocean and Mission Beaches - surfin' USA; La Jolla, and finally Torrey Pines. Each different, each magnificent.


Balboa Park - we went here several days. One of the largest urban parks in the world. Many great sights, including an auto museum (more on that in a later post) and the coolest model train museum you will ever see.

We spent a day in LA (Dead Loss Angeles - per The Stranglers) where Mrs B's cousin was kind enough to give us a whirlwind tour of Malibu, Bel Air, Beverley Hills and Hollywood. A day was enough. Very crowded and when traffic is crawling on a Saturday afternoon on a freeway that has seven lanes in one direction... it is time to get of Dodge, or even "We boned down Vernon, make a right on Normandie..."

Favorite spot: the view of La Jolla and the expanse of the Pacific from the Birch Aquarium. French Riviera-esque. Why go to Europe when we have THIS?

And we squeezed in Legoland, Mission San Diego, an afternoon in the mountains and a Padres game.

Say what you will about CA's political leanings (The Left Coast, The Land of Fruits and Nuts, etc.) and fiscal crisis, coastal California is beautiful and at various times on our vacation we discussed the CA job market, real estate situation there. Who wouldn't?
Finally, take a listen to this John Mayall / Johnny Almond masterpiece:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Cork Militia

The Rossies acquitted themselves admirably today against a much stronger Cork team. We even had the temerity to take the lead at once stage in the second half and for a brief minute it looked like another upset was in the cards. But the Leesiders found another gear and from then on it was men against our boys. No shame in losing to the overall favorites for Sam; indeed didn't the Cork militia beat the Turks at Waterloo?

"You've heard of Julius Ceasar and the great Napolean too,
And how the Cork militia beat the Turks at Waterloo;
But there's a page of glory that as yet remains uncut,
And that's the warlike story of old Slattery's Mounted Foot.

And down from the mountains came the squadrons and platoons,
Four-and-twenty fighting men and a couple of stout gossoons;
When going into action held each musket by the butt,
We sang this song and marched along, the Slattery's mounted Foot"

- Percy French 1854-1920

One of Roscommon's most famous sons, Percy French, was born less than a mile from Camogue. When I was growing up there was not much left of the French estate, it had been divided up among local farmers by the Land Commission in 1965. The house was demolished and Michéal told me some of the rubble went into the floor of our silage pit... to think that maybe a brick where PF as a boy scratched his initials with a penknife is now under the hoof of a heifer. Percy would probably laugh and write a catchy song about that one.

I remember riding my bike home from Killina school one time and sneaking in under the fence wire at Cullen's to check out the remains of Cloonyquinn House. One of the tall gable walls was still standing but the most exciting remenants were the cellars - if I was brave enough I could have crawled down in there.

Cloonyquinn House, as drawn by Percy French, watercolor, 1895

I heard stories growing up about the successful Percy French Festivals held in the late 1950's and the huge crowds that came. The picture below of the organizing committee is a real treasure, not just for our parents Michéal and Rita (circled), but for all the other neighbors as well. What enterprise they had! Percy's nieces are seated upfront.

The Percy French Society at Cloonyquinn House, 1957

Click Photo to Enlarge

Back Row
Mickey Beirne, Michael Finnerty, Frankie Rushe, Mickey Croghan, Fergus Beirne, Michael Peter Padian, Harry Connor, James Kelly, Jim Dalton, Rita Croghan, Kate Dalton, Patsy Cunnane

Three men standing: Seamus De Nash, John Joe Burke, Mehaul Beirne

Middle Row
May McGrath, Sonny Cunnane, Marie Kelly, Teresa Keenan, Carmel Kelly, Rita Beirne, Bride Connor, Ms H. French, Nancy McGrath, Alice Beirne, Teresa McGrath, Marie Beirne, Mary Kate De Nash, Rita Kelly, Molly Brady, [Unknown], Tom Beirne, Peter Carney, Mary Carroll

Front Row
Robbie Kilgallon, Mrs Kilgallon, Joan French, Harry French, Ettie French, Paddy Dillon, John Finnerty, Tom McHale

One outcome of their efforts was the creation of The Percy French Memorial Scholarship Fund. Fergus took advantage of this in 1972 and attended St. Nathy's in Ballaghaderreen. Former distinguished St. Nathy's alumni included Dermot Earley and John O'Connor ("Jigger")... see earlier entry - this blog has now come full circle.