It turned out OK in the end, really. The dog never did attack. The man really wasn’t a criminal. He didn’t accuse me of trying to steal the goat. And I found out later that chicken fighting was perfectly legal in that state. Oh yes, we managed to get that “R” home also.
The following story is fact. The names have been changed to protect the innocent—me! You’ll also notice that I’ve even refrained from mentioning the state in question. Somehow I doubt that my main character would see the humor in this tale. I didn’t until later—much later.
Roger and I were in a neighboring southern state to pick up a 730D that we had bought over the phone some months prior. Our contact down there is only marginally infected with the green and yellow bug. His interest lies in supplementing his income by dealing in junk. He happens upon an old two cylinder, now and again, which he in turn passes on to us. At a profit, mind you. I wouldn’t attempt to guess his cut on every deal and he’s much too cagey to ask.
We drove down to his place to pick up the 730 and to scout around for any other bargains. The days passed and none of us came up with anything much. Steve, our friend, told Roger of an “R” he knew of that was sitting in the fence row of a cotton field. Might be worth looking into, he said.
The fact that Steve was giving out information was a little out of character; he’s usually very close-mouthed about his sources. He comes up with the tractors and we don’t question him too closely about their origins. It was normally a good arrangement.
“Call first,” was his only instruction. “This particular guy has a reputation for having several irons in the fire; all of them hot,” he smiled, mysteriously, and gave us the phone number.
The fact that Steve wanted nothing to do with this tractor should have struck us as peculiar, but fools rush in, as they say.
Roger made the call the next morning and our luck was in; the fellow answered on the first ring. Sitting and listening to Roger’s side of the conversation, it sounded pretty typical. We had done similar deals many times before. A few directions and we were on our way.
On the long drive out, Roger filled me in on a few details. The owner of the “R’s” name was Hammon. The tractor, indeed, was his and had thrown a fan blade clean through the radiator coming back from the field one evening. Mr. Hammon apparently had no time for such nonsense and had let her sit. For six years, to be exact. Good news for us, I thought—several irons—Steve had said, hmmmm. Roger usually has good instincts abut people and this seemed to be routine to him, so I let the worry go.
All the while, the country speeding past my window was getting rougher. The farms were getting farther apart. If you’re familiar with the terms “toolies,” you know what I mean. We finally pulled down a narrow clay road with grass growing down the center. Shortly, a stark two-story house presented itself. Roger eased the truck and trailer into the rutted drive. A cacophony of barks greeted us.
Two things struck me at once—first was that in what would have been Hammon’s front yard were row after row of oil drums cut in half. A door had carefully been cut and tethered to each makeshift hut was an exotic colored chicken. There seemed to be about 35 of these, all in orderly rows. The second strange thing was that although the smell and sound of dogs was overpowering, there was only one dog in sight. I use the term “dog” loosely. He looked to be a cross between a D-9 Caterpillar and a pit bull. The size of the dog was soon surpassed only by the size of the man following him.
“Hammon?” Roger said politely, getting out of the truck and offering his hand.
“Call me Ham,” he grumbled and rattled Roger’s teeth with a grim handshake.
Ham’s name was strangely apt. He was well over six feet and appeared to be exactly that wide across his meaty shoulders. A full black beard and shoulder length hair completed his menacing look. He didn’t resemble any of the tractor people that we had dealt with up to that point. Actually, he kind of looked like a star of one of those movies that you don’t let your kids watch late at night, especially if you would like to sleep yourself.
I was duly introduced and he grunted in my general direction.
“Tractor’s down the road a piece” and he looked doubtfully at our 30 foot trailer. “It’ll be your job to get that thing in the field, though—c’mon,” and with that, he loaded the dog in an old International pickup and sped away, scaring a few chickens in the process.
“Not much of a talker, is he?” I asked Roger uneasily. Frankly, I was ready to leave right then. “Do you know why those chickens are tied like that?”
The whole set-up was curious and I had never seen anything quite like it before. We had a few laying hens when I was a kid, but they certainly didn’t look like that. Why, most of those looked like roosters to me!
About that time, everything clicked. This scary looking guy raised fighting cocks! Back home, that sport was very illegal and a body didn’t mess with someone who raised them on the sly. My panic must have shown, because when I glanced over at Roger for comfort, he was wearing a duplicate expression. He smiled at me weakly and said nothing. Oh boy, I thought, pit bulls and fighting chickens—what had we gotten ourselves into?
Up ahead, Ham lumbered out onto the road, looking for all the world like the last Neanderthal on earth. We could see an “R” sitting not too far away. Roger wiggled, turned and managed to get the trailer into the field, crossing a huge cattle guard barring the way.
Ham raised goats. There were a million goats in every size and shape. They were loose, everywhere. About two dozen immediately hopped onto our rig the instant it stopped. I had to shut my door carefully to avoid squashing one.
Ham was standing impatiently at the tractor, motioning Roger over. Determined not to be separated, I kept close behind him.
The men talked. Hammon seemed to find his tongue and recounted what we had already been told. It had indeed thrown a fan blade. The cores of the radiator were sliced neatly in two. Otherwise, it looked faultless. The sheet metal, tires, gauges, it even had a PTO. No way would we let this one go.
“It’ll run if we pull it, I think,” said Ham as he clambered up into the seat and yanked back the clutch. “Go get yonder truck and back her up.” Roger shrugged at me and did as he was told. (Who would argue?)
“Looks like you have plenty of goats,” I said, trying for polite conversation and patting the head of the one that was sampling my shoelace.
“Cain’t keep the durn neighbors from stealing them.” He eyed me suspiciously over his bushy beard. “A man that’ll steal a goat cain’t be trusted.” He regarded me solemnly. Since there didn’t seem to be another house around for miles, I just nodded and smiled.
Hitching up was no problem. Ham never left the seat. The tractor had a buggy top that someone had tried to redo with an old white bedsheet. I retreated to our rig, goats in tow, and off they went.
“Git to goin’!” Ham bellowed at Roger. The “R” would hit along until they stopped, then it would quit, too. Now at one time, Ham had obviously poured oil down the manifold to help keep it from setting up. Apparently he had planned on not being the one that got doused in oil when it was started again. The faster the “R” popped, the more the oil flew, the smoke rolled and the louder Ham roared at Roger to “git to goin’!” The last I saw of them as they headed down the road, Ham looked like an extra in a minstrel show. Everything was black but the whites of his eyes and the tattered remnants of that old sheet gaily fluttered in the breeze.
OK, I thought, now I’ve got to get the trailer to wherever they stop. Pushing a few goats aside, I fired up the truck and started to ease back over that cattle guard. Just as the truck tires hit the first rung, I glanced in the rear view. I had on a full load of goats! They were hopping merrily off and on, quite happy about the new game. Not wanting to lose track of the men, I vaulted out and shooed them off. I gained maybe four feet and back on jumped those blasted animals. Out I came, waving my arms like a lunatic and before I could get behind the wheel, I would hear hooves on metal. They were determined to ride across!
I knew Ham would be very upset, to say the least, if I let his goats get away. So back and forth I went, shoo, and race for the truck, gaining a few feet each time. Finally, panting and out of temper, I raced the length of the trailer, flung myself into the cab—and came face to fang with the monster dog of Ham’s. He sat not 10 inches from me on the seat and was able to look me square in the eye. I got back out at roughly the speed of light.
Now what? I thought, pacing a safe distance from the truck. Roger is somewhere up this road wondering why I’m not bringing the rig, I finally managed to get out without a single infernal goat—and now from nowhere comes this monstrous creature!
The dog watched me expectantly. Maybe he’s not mean—maybe he just looks that way, maybe he only wants a ride, I thought. Cautiously I eased back into the seat and, gritting my teeth, reached for the gearshift. The dog gazed unconcerned out the window and my hand was still attached to my wrist. Slowly we traveled up the road.
There, I said to the dog, see? If you don’t panic, problems will solve themselves. We’ll just get the tractor bought, we won’t offend Ham or his dog, we’ll get out of here—and I’ll never speak to Steve again!
Up ahead, Roger and Ham had the “R” running (sort of) and were leaning against the truck, jawing away like old pals. Not concerned in the least about me, I thought, easing to a stop. About that time, I heard a plaintive “BAAAA” from behind me. There, perched on one of our suitcases in the back, was a very small, very spotted goat. He had ridden the whole way and I didn’t notice. Even the dog looked startled.
That’s it, I thought, now this huge man is going to think I tried to steal his goat and Roger and I will never be seen again. All this for a John Deere!
We lived to tell the tale. My panic was a little premature. Mr. Hammon was kinder than he looked, and acted. Seemed that he had had the same problem himself of the goats trying to ride over the cattle guard. He merely tossed the culprit aside and laughed. The monster dog’s name was Sinner (gulp!) and he was indeed a pit bull. Raised as a pet only, naturally.
After Mr. Hammon actually talked with me, I got brave and timidly asked him about the chickens. Big mistake! The lecture that ensued on the finer points of cock fighting lasted a full hour. He had practiced this for 20 years. Roger and I learned more than we ever wanted to know, right down to an impromptu demonstration!
We brought the tractor home. I cringe a little every time I look at it. Bad memories! I guess the only way to avoid people problems is to avoid people. If you like the John Deeres, you’ve got to like the folks who own them—all kinds.