I knew something was seriously wrong after 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 their hands buried deep in their pockets.
After the gavel came down, a neighbor shuffled over to ask, “You ever heard of Old Bill Dahler?”
I told him no.
“He lived to be a hundred and fifteen years old,” he said, “Do you know how he managed that?”
“It took over a hundred years for the devil to work up the courage to take him.”
“Old Bill was so nasty that rattlesnakes refused to bite him and tornadoes veered out of his way. The only thing mean enough to get along with him was that tractor and some say a bit of 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.
“I’m going to drive it, if it starts.”
“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.
With the aid of jumper cables and fresh gas, we got the old beast snorting black smoke in less than a minute.
I swear nothing touched the clutch or the shift lever but the instant I settled in the seat, the old tractor reared up on its drawbar and bucked me off.
I rolled frantically out of the way and it is lucky I did because after it threw me, it 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 the onlookers, 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?”
“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 flat bed and lashed it down with logging chains, least it get any ideas on the way back to my shed.
There – Stan began an elaborate ceremony.
He produced a cardboard box full of scented candles and set about arranging them in a complex configuration. He formed a ring around each massive tire with canning jars full of multi-colored wax and 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 was done with that, he turned off the shed lights and in the eerie glow of hundreds of flames set about sprinkling herbs and incense onto every 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.
“Sure, who hasn’t?”
“Ever seen how wives drag their husbands into little shops with cute names, only to have the old guys scamper back out as soon as they catch a whiff of the candles and poporri?”
“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.