Monday, July 15, 2013

Fine things from Eastern Europe

This may come as a surprise to you, but it is possible country music superstar Kenny Chesney and I live very different lives. For instance, while he is mostly bald and covers his bare skull with a cowboy hat, I have all my hair. Not to pick on the poor guy or anything, but that is just a fact.
Another difference is his girl thinks his tractor is sexy. He sang a whole song about it. "She thinks my tractor's sexy," he repeats about a hundred times in the chorus. She even brings him fried chicken and sweet tea during the song to try to convince him to take her for a ride.
My wife, on the other hand, hasn't made fried chicken since we were dating and finds very little romantic about tractors. I have found this repeatedly over the last seven years we've lived here on the ranch. Take for instance last week when I called her from an auction sale.
"Hey Honey!"
"Wow, you sound particularly charming this morning. I wish I was there to stare into your beautiful eyes."
"What did you buy?"
"Why do you think I bought something?"
"Quit stalling. What is it?"
"A tractor."
There was more to the conversation, but this is a family show, so we will end right there before things get rough. Let's just say that she did not start frying chicken and brewing sweet tea when she hung up the phone.
Yes, I did buy another tractor. In the last seven years, this is the fifth one I have drug home (notice I did not say "drove" home. A vast majority have been drug home). But I had a good reason to purchase this one, which I explained to Nicole. You see, I have a Polish wife (maiden name is Jastrzebski) and a Russian rifle (a Mosin Nagant), so it seemed a good idea to buy a Belarus tractor to bridge the gap as Belarus is the only thing standing between Poland and Moscow.
That explanation sounded better in my head, which is where I should have left it. Especially since my Polish wife starting eyeing my Russian rifle after I brought home the Belarus tractor.
This new tractor has many features my Oliver 1555 tractor doesn't. For instance it has a cab, which for the past few years doubled as an apartment for a small but growing family of mice. It has a heater that has kept me nothing but warm this past week while loading bales, even though the 90 degree sunny days have probably helped with that too. And it has brakes. I have never, not even once, owned a tractor with working two brakes. I probably won't use them anyway, but it is nice to know they are there.
A while back I wrote about the Russian rifle I bought and how when you need ammunition for it, you simply send a bottle of vodka to a fellow named Ivan over in Chernogolovka and he would dig around in the ground for old military ammo, and when he found some, if he sobered up, he would send it to America. With the Belarus, there is no such reliable system for finding parts. As a matter of fact, it is downright difficult to find new replacement parts.
Since the Belarus tractors are factory made out of the finest recycled beer cans available, you pretty much have to custom fabricate your own parts. I even came up with a simple three step program for building parts.
Step 1: Buy a case of Budweiser.
Step 2: Pour it out. No sense drinking anything as awful as Budweiser. Seriously.
Step 3: With a hammer, roughly form the part you need. That is how they do it at the plant, so it should work for you.
 As you can tell, parts just take a little work and a little imagination, but cost less than John Deere parts, which you cannot buy for $18.99 a case at any gas station in town.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, my new tractor has an AM/FM radio. I have spent several days in the tractor searching the stations for old Kenny Chesney songs, which none of the stations play, because none of the radio stations in this world have played a decent song since I graduated high school. I bet that has happened to you too. But that's another story for another day.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The end of a journey

If you think this four part series on our trip to South Dakota is long, you should have been in the Jeep for the return trip with Dan the I'm Very, Very Mad Baby Man. But we better talk about the wedding first since that was the whole reason we went.
My good buddy Dave got married Saturday night in Custer State Park at Sylvan Lake. We did not get there until a couple hours before the ceremony so we missed the morning's activities (Mostly on purpose. You will understand by the end of the next paragraph).
You see Dave is a runner and an adventurer, so for his wedding day, he planned a triathlon right there in the park with a several mile bike ride, three miles of running, and a swim across Sylvan Lake. In my book, that is the definition of insanity. But in Dave's world, that is a pretty regular Saturday. He told me he was going to seat the wedding guests according to what place they finished the race. I told him I have no problem sitting in the back.
So yeah, we missed that. But we got there a couple hours early and Elizabeth and I were able to go rock climbing in a place her mother definitely would not have approved of while Nicole watched Dan throw most of the rocks in Custer State Park into the lake. Unless, of course, South Dakota State Parks prohibit the throwing of rocks into the lake, in which case Nicole and Dan did something else more legal that I will think of later at the court date.
The ceremony was very nice, and had everything. For those of you scoring at home, a good wedding ceremony needs A) a groom, B) a bride,  C) a short-winded preacher, and D) a ring boy who has to go the bathroom during the ceremony. This wedding hit on all categories.
After the wedding there was a big supper and dance. Every place setting had a little bag with graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey bars. Mix that with the candles on the table, and we were all chowing down on s'mores before the meal. This is by far the greatest idea in the history of wedding receptions and should be made a wedding law. I for one will now refuse to RSVP until I find out if s'mores ingredients will be provided.
Then the dance started. The last time I danced gracefully was, um, never. I can't even remember the last time I danced awkwardly. But Elizabeth had the moves. She danced slow songs. She danced fast songs. And she danced them all the exact same way.
Elizabeth danced until she shoved a piece of glass up her foot, which slowed her down until I dug it out, and then she was dancing again. She showed toughness and endurance on that dance floor. I'm fearful that she is the kind of kid who will grow up to be in triathlons or something crazy like that.
Anyway, all good things must come to an end, so we packed up and headed to our hotel for the night, and then took off early the next morning for home. This is where it all went downhill.
First, I decided to take a short-cut from Custer to Deadwood, which has 7,000 short little corners and a very reduced speed limit, if you pay attention to things like reduced speed limits, which I don't. Since Dan doesn't talk very much yet, he did not notify us of the fact that the 7,000 short little corners were making him car sick. Until he threw up. That was our notification.
After that, he was mad. Very, very mad. And he cried and cried and cried and cried. Sometimes he yelled. For a brief while he fell asleep, but that was just so he would have the energy to cry harder once he woke up. I'd estimate that of the eight hour trip home, he cried about 137 hours. It felt that way.
Then we got to Washburn and turned east towards our place. At Washburn he stopped crying. On Highway 22 he started smiling. When we turned onto gravel he laughed. As we rolled to a stop in our yard, he was on cloud nine. I opened his door, unbuckled him and set him on the ground.
"Happy! Happy! Happy!" he yelled as he ran around the yard. He was just like the old father from Duck Dynasty, except with much less facial hair.

And I agreed it was good to be home. Based on the success of our family vacation, we are already planning another trip. In the year 2028.

Seeing the four faces

You may be thinking, "Oh great, Neumiller is STILL writing about his lousy family vacation. Can't he find something else to lie about this week?"
The answer is, sadly, no I cannot. You see it all comes down to accounting and the IRS. Since I did not vote for President Obama in the last election, the IRS has been directed to make sure I write at least three to four thousand words about a topic before I can deduct any of the expenses I accrued researching that column. However, any writer who voted for Obama only needs to write a small paragraph to qualify for deductions, and every sentence in that paragraph can end in a preposition. You don't even want to know what you have to do to qualify for a deduction if you write articles for the American Tea Party Against Illegal Immigration, Recording of Phone Records, and High Taxes (But Loves Guns) magazine.
Anyway, last week we ended this column by leaving Cabela's in Rapid City. From there we headed to Mount Rushmore because, as those of you who have been to South Dakota know, it is the law. If a South Dakotan finds out you were in their state and didn't go to Rushmore, he is allowed to drive to your home, abduct you, and take you back to his home and force you to watch reruns of Tom Brokaw newscasts (South Dakota's only famous person) from the 80's as punishment. They take their Mount Rushmore seriously.
Flashback alert: The last time I was at Rushmore I was almost arrested, but this time went better. Back in 2002 when Nicole and I were dating, we went down there for a weekend of camping in the Black Hills over spring break. Some people go where it is warm. Others of us go to where the black bears are just coming out of hibernation. Since we were camping in a little tent (the smaller the tent, the better when you are dating) I took with a .44 magnum handgun just in case a bear decided we looked delicious.
After camping for a night, we went to Mount Rushmore where we were met by a Highway Patrol who asked if we had anything dangerous in our car (this was a few months after 9/11). I said there was a gun in the trunk. He was not impressed. At that point he asked if he needed to bring in a drug dog. I made the mistake of saying, "I don't think so."
Apparently the only correct answer was "No, sir!" Pretty soon he was digging through the trunk of the car and calling for backup. The next officer brought this big mirror thing to inspect the underside of the car. When it was all said and done, he gave me a good lecture about firearms (even though I was 100 percent legal) and made me take the air freshener off the rearview mirror because apparently that was against state law. I was relieved he didn't take me to the state penitentiary to watch Tom Brokaw for three to eight years.
Fast-forward alert: This time the only person who talked to us before we entered Rushmore was the lady who needed $12 before we were allowed to park our car. She never once asked about guns or drugs. Since it was the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, there were approximately 73,000 other people there (72,950 of whom were from east Asia) so she must have decided to cut out the friendly chit-chat we received last time.
Both Elizabeth the Lizard and Dan the Broken Leg Man were pretty impressed with the stone faces. Lizard wanted to get as close as we could to the base of the monument so she could look up the presidents' noses and see if there were any boogers. That's my daughter.
We did the "Strenuous Trail Loop" which was only strenuous if you get winded walking to the refrigerator from the dining room table and did the touristy thing of taking lots and lots of pictures where it looks like one of us is picking the nose of Abraham Lincoln (And you wonder where my daughter gets it from).
From there we headed to the final destination of our trip, which was my buddy Dave's wedding. But we'll save that for next week. Take that IRS.

The Mecca of S.D.

When I last left you (that sounded like the opening to a country song) we were on a family vacation and had just arrived in Spearfish, South Dakota. This is the first town our daughter Elizabeth the Lizard made a friend, mostly because it was the first town we let her out of the Jeep.
We stopped at a restaurant to eat where she quickly explained to the lady running the till that we were from North Dakota, we lived in the country, we have a horse named Hot Dog, one of her goats just had babies, we were going to a wedding, she was going to dance, she brought a pretty dress with, she hoped to see a boy named Gentry, her little brother Dan is still one year old even though she is five, her mom teaches Spanish and her dad coaches basketball. The lady at the till simply wanted to know if we wanted medium or large fries. And if you think that was a run-on sentence, you should hear Elizabeth talk.
It was like that everywhere we stopped. If anybody simply looked her direction, she gave that individual a quick rundown of her life story. At one point during the trip she asked a waitress, "Do you know my grandma?" Surprisingly, the waitress did not. But about five minutes later she had a pretty good idea about grandma.
On the other hand, Dan the Broken Leg Man just smiled. That is pretty much what he did for four days, except on the way home, but we'll get to that later. As a matter of fact, he was often so quiet in the Jeep I would ask, "Is Dan in the Jeep?" just in case we forgot him somewhere. I'd look in the rear view mirror and he'd smile back at me and still not make a peep. It was wonderful.
We didn't do much in Spearfish other than sleep, but bright and early I got the family up the next morning because we were only an hour away from what I consider the Mecca of South Dakota. That's right: Cabela's.
(You maybe thought I would say Mount Rushmore. It is a nice place, some would say historic, but just try to buy a trolling motor there.)
I had been selling Cabela's pretty hard to Elizabeth for the past couple months. If you use an excited voice and act like something is the coolest thing in the world, pretty soon your kid believes you. Except Brussels sprouts. That trick doesn't work on any vegetable that nasty. But Cabela's has chocolate and stuffed animals, so it was a pretty easy sell.
When we drove into the parking lot, Elizabeth was almost foaming at the mouth with excitement. I was for sure foaming at the mouth thinking of guns and fishing rods and knives and cast iron fry pans and thermal underwear (It was a cold spring).
Lizard and I were immediately off, leaving Nicole and Dan in the dust. We went to the mountain, we went to the fish tank, then we circled the store six or seven times. But here is where it got weird: While we were checking out the sites and Elizabeth was telling family secrets to any Cabela's employee who happened to ask if we were looking for anything in particular, Nicole was filling up a cart. She was doing some serious shopping.
I've been on the outs with the Man Card committee ever since I bought and quickly sold that minivan, and just when I was about to get my Man Card back, I was outspent by my wife at Cabela's. Now I have three more years probation before I can reapply from this little incident. But it was worth it because if Nicole likes Cabela's, there is a chance I get to go back there again. At least once the credit card quits setting off smoke alarms.
From there, we headed deeper into the Black Hills to find the one place Nicole really wanted to go. But that was boring and we're about out of space, so never mind about that.
Anyway, next week we will continue on with day three of this rambling vacation story. Just be glad I can't somehow fit a slide machine in this newpaper.