I knew something was wrong when no one else bid on the tractor – but by then it was too late and I owned it.
It happened at an estate auction not far from home. The only thing of value was an old Minneapolis Moline tractor dozing in the weeds. So when the auctioneer started the bid at fifty bucks, I raised my hand – everyone else kept theirs deep in their pockets.
Soon after, a neighbor shuffled up and asked if I ever heard of Old Bill Dahler.
I said no.
“He lived to be a hundred and fifteen years old,” he told me, “Do you know how he managed that?”
“It took over a century for the devil to work up the courage to take him,” he said.
I laughed, he didn’t.
“Neither God nor nature created anything vicious enough to tangle with old Bill,” he said, “the man was so vile that rattlesnakes refused to bite him and tornadoes veered out of his way. In fact the only thing that had anything to do with him was that tractor and a lot of folks say a bit of old Bill still lives in it.”
I figured he was pulling my leg.
“Have you thought about how you are going to get it home?” he asked.
“Well, if it starts,” I told him, “I’m going to drive it.”
“I feared as much,” he said. “Mind if we move our trucks first?”
So they did. The circle of pickups parked around the auction site unspooled itself and threaded its way down the driveway to form a long line on the shoulder of the county road.
Everyone wanted to watch me attempt to drive the tractor.
I borrowed some jumper cables and some gas and in less than a minute I had the old thing snorting black smoke.
I swear I didn’t touch the clutch or the shift lever but the instant I got settled in the seat, the old tractor reared up on its drawbar like a warhorse and bucked me off. I rolled frantically out of the way and lucky I did because then it snarled, spun around and pounced. If I hadn’t scampered onto the boggy ground of the Minnesota Mosquito Preserve, I would have been a goner.
Then it turned on my neighbors, who beat an undignified retreat – leaving me to slush about in the swamp while the tractor patrolled an adjoining field. Every time I stepped onto firmer soil, it pawed at the ground with its big rear tires, snorted blue smoke and charged.
So I called my buddy Stan. He can fix anything.
“Have you ever driven the devil out of a machine?” I asked.
“Not yet,” he said.
“Do you know how?“
“Not really but I can ask around.”
By the time Stan arrived, the tractor had run out of gas. So we winched it up onto a trailer and lashed it down with logging chains, least it get any ideas, and hauled it back to my shed.
There – Stan began an elaborate ceremony.
He produced a cardboard box full of candles and set about arranging them in a complex configuration around the tractor. He formed a ring around each massive tire with multi-colored candles made of wax poured into canning jars. He lined the hood with smaller ones, ensuring that each was a different color and shape. Next he carefully placed candles in the recesses of the engine and radiator.
After he lit the candles, he turned off the shed lights and in the eerie glow of hundreds of flames, he set about sprinkling herbs, leaves, twigs and husks onto any surface of the tractor that would hold them.
Then he stepped back and folded his arms to watch and wait.
“Gosh Stan,” I asked, “aren’t you supposed to recite incantations or read from an old scroll or something?”
“What for?” he asked.
“To drive old man Dahler out of my tractor,” I said.
“Naw,” he said, “I’m going to let the scented candles and potpourri do that.”
“Dude… have you ever been to a tourist town?” he asked, “the next time you go, watch how the wives drag their husbands into the shops then watch as the guys come running out as soon as they catch a whiff of that nasty stuff.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“Hey, I figured it would work on the spirit of old man Dahler just as well.”
And it did.