The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

With nothing better to do, it was time to check the list. “Clean out the tractor tool box” was on it. Ugh. It’s so full that the lid won’t close. It never has closed since I bought the tractor used 25 years ago. The permanent yawn that the lid exhibits lets rain in; plus, I can’t get anything else in it. However, I’d gotten used to it.

The rest of the project list was totally repellent. So I went out to the machine shed and began to empty the tool box.

In it there were: Two empty oil cans. Squirt type. Dry as a bone. Which is why they floated to the top.

Several old socks, used for grease rags. No wonder I’ve got so many unmatched pairs. The tractor has been eating them.

Nuts, bolts, washers, pins, keys, chain links, something that looked like a piece of a meteor, two jackknives with no blades, nails–all rusty, bent, broken, and completely unuseable. These things were the ocean in which everything else floated.

Three battery acid testers. Not even all on one level, but kind of evenly distributed. Good find. I was just getting ready to buy another one.

One gopher trap, mauled by the cutting sections of my hay mower. I vaguely remember warning the neighbor kid not to lose any traps. I hit it just as I was trying to finish mowing. There was rain in the west when I started fixing it. I got wet before I was done. I still have evil thoughts about that kid.

One Spalding tennis ball. I have no idea why. It’s a long way to Wimbledon.

One ½-inch combination wrench. In all the endless junk in the tool box, this was the only functional tool to be found.

One used but shiny imported adjustable wrench. I really thought I’d found something special when I found this wrench lying in the road one day. I remember stopping the tractor, gleefully running back and grabbing it off the hot asphalt road, how this must be my day.

How wrong. When I tried to use it later, it not only ruined the bolt head when it slipped, but two of my knuckles too. However, due to some Law of Something, it has always been the only tool I could ever find when I needed one. Then the tool box ate it. I figure some other knuckle-less farmer threw it back on the road, which was where he found it. Here’s a clue: Don’t pick up the next shiny wrench you see on the road.

One expensive paring knife. Some family’s favorite kitchen knife. My family’s. Mum’s the word.

At this point in the excavation, I passed down into layers of someone else’s history. This must be how archaeologists feel. The hard-packed accumulation of years of field dirt had formed sort of a false bottom. I had to use the expensive paring knife. Out of the bottom layers I found:

More nuts, bolts, washers, pins, keys, chain links, another piece of a meteor, one jackknife with no blades, a piece of horse harness, dozens of bent beyond use fence staples, a Copenhagen can, a gopher foot, and one broken hammer handle. I was approaching National Geographic quality, pre-history stuff.

One large, nasty looking spike. Intuitively, I suddenly knew that some previous farmer had dug this out of a tractor tire, probably the large back one which is filled with expensive fluid for weight, the last of which runs out on the ground just as the Coop repair truck is coming in the driveway.  I’m thinking that the farmer, aware by then that this tool box never gives up its dead, consigned the nail to its depths, that it might never plague him again.

Finally, way down at the bottom, entombed in the soil of 40 years ago, I found dozens of—what else?—farmer matches. I thought and thought about those matches. Why? When? Maybe that ancient farmer struck those matches to illuminate the early days of what has turned out to be the never ending search for the perfect farm program.

Or maybe he smoked.

Well, it’s done. I got the bathroom scale and weighed it all. Thirty-two pounds. Funny, but I still don’t feel satisfied. I took the tractor out and washed it, thinking all the time how for once I didn’t have to worry about water getting into the toolbox, the lid of which was firmly closed. 

I put the tractor back in the shed. I looked at the 32 pounds of stuff lying on the ground. Then I looked at the naked tool box. It looked wrong, and it felt wrong.

I threw all the stuff back into the box.

It’s futile to rewrite history.