Some days start out easy enough. They appear to be fairly stress-free and sometimes even wide-open. Then my phone rings and the whole picture changes in seconds.
I looked at my phone one Saturday morning and saw a friend was on the other end, so I answered. He sounded more than mildly stressed as he gave me a greeting I think was sort of window dressing.
"Hi, Jeff. What are you up to today?" he asked.
Oh, not a lot, really. How about you?
"Well, I tell ya what. I ‘encountered an error’ [Editor's note: I cleaned up that statement for a wide audience. That is definitely NOT what he said.] and I could really use your help. I was cuttin' down a tree in my front yard and I dropped it on my house."
Okaaaay. Well, that explains your tone of voice, I guess.
"Is there any way you could bring your tractor over and help me get this cleaned up? My wife is gone and she's just gonna have a fit if she gets home and sees what I did, so I could really use some help."
This particular friend isn't exactly a next-door neighbor. We're in the same area code, but it's not a quick jaunt from my place to his, especially with a tractor. Even so, I was doing some math in my head, trying to remember just how big the big tree in his front yard is and how far from his house it stands. Uh, stood.
Friends periodically ask favors. It happens to everyone. Some favors are small: "Can you give me a ride somewhere?"
Some are medium-sized: "Can you take me to the airport early in the morning?"
Some are big: "Can you stand up with me in my wedding?"
Some are just too unusual to quantify: "Can you help me remove a tree I just cut down onto my house so there's no evidence?"
That one ranks right up there with "Can you help me dispose of the body?"
That's what true friends are for, right? This wasn't exactly a body we were moving, but I wasn't entirely convinced there wouldn't be violence involved if I didn't get there in time, so I decided to hit the road.
All the way there, I kept trying to figure out how I would handle different scenarios. What if he dropped a monster oak right into his living room? Granted, his wife would now have that beautiful skylight she'd always wanted, but she may have a skywall and/or a skybasement, too. This could be like one of those old Vonage commercials.
What if he just brushed the corner of one room with a big branch? Should I take a big blue tarp with me? Do I have enough room anywhere to store a bunch of his household stuff if he suddenly has to move it out while the carpenters work on the rebuild?
More importantly, how big will this tree be? I wonder if it's a small log-chain job, or a big log-chain job. Maybe I'll get to use The Snake from the good people at Dakota Riggers! A guy should always be prepared for a job with mass and force by having his Snake handy. Hate to have a log chain break and take out whatever windows may be left in my friend's house. I had The Snake along just in case.
Obviously, I didn't need to bring a chainsaw. Sounded like there was a sharp one on the scene already.
When I showed up at my friend's yard, I was somewhat relieved to see that he hadn't done a complete demolition job on his house. It wasn't exactly Paul Bunyan PhD work, but it wasn't a disaster. He'd cut the tree down and it sort of landed on his front porch. From a distance, it didn't look bad, but it didn't look great either.
I hopped out of the cab as my friend walked over to me. He didn't look all that cheerful, but I didn't think this was the time to really lighten the mood with a lot of humor, so I kept pretty quiet.
It would be a fairly straightforward job. The angle of the tree carcass and its intersection with the house was such that hooking a chain on and pulling it off the house would probably take the porch right along with it. Yeah, it'd be the quickest and easiest solution, but it wouldn't be the prettiest or the cheapest one long term.
We decided that our best bet may be for me to go around to the other side of the house and see if I could slip my loader bucket underneath the tree and then lift it up as I drove forward while trying to steer away from the house. If the tree was going to slide and collapse, we wanted the motion and momentum to be going away from the house. Worst-case scenario, it would be the ends of the branches doing any damage and not the trunk. The trunkular portion is the part of the tree where the big dollars add up the quickest.
Maybe I'd have been better off with pallet forks. Maybe I'd have been better off with the awesome brush grapple I have for my skid loader. Regardless, I was too far from home to go get the exactly perfect tool for the job. Besides, we were on a deadline. The law would be home within another hour or two and my friend would have a lot of explaining to do to her. I haven't been married very long, but I’ve picked up a few of the basics in short order.
I got the tractor around to the other side of the house. Funny how the tire tracks I left seemed like small potatoes in the big picture of this whole episode. I was sure hoping my friend's wife is a big picture kinda gal.
The loader was positioned under the tree. I was headed toward the house at sort of a 30-degree angle. I very slowly started to hit the hydraulic lever to raise the loader and see if the tree was going to move or if my rear tractor tires were going to become airborne. Thankfully, the tree started to rise toward the heavens! I then cranked my steering wheel to the right and slowly crept forward, fully expecting the tree to slide back onto the loader and take out a minimum of two hydraulic hoses. This was late Saturday morning, of course. It would not be easy to get busted hoses fixed before a certain witness saw the crime scene.
The tree stayed in position. I got the cargo hoisted off the roof and began to move it away from the house. My tracks looked like a check mark by the time I was done. My friend came up to me as I got out of the cab and pretty much gave me a bear hug. He was more than a little pumped that we got the job done without so much as a scuffed shingle to show for it.
He and I got the chain hooked onto the tree carcass and got it moved to another area of his yard where he had a brush pile from some other firewood work. We cleaned up a few of the other big branches and sticks that were left. It didn't look like nothing had happened by any means, but it sure didn't look like there had been a house holocaust either.
Before I got in the tractor to leave, my friend had a question. When I had first arrived at his house, he had asked me to take a picture of the scene. If it turned out well, he wanted to show his wife what had happened. If it didn't turn out well, there'd at least be a recent photo to put on the display at his funeral.
"Jeff, is there any way you could email a copy of that picture to my wife?" my friend asked. "She'll want to see what a [multiple expletives] I am when she's not around!"
Yep, I'll gladly share the evidence. Most people don't believe these stories until they see the photos.
As a special favor for him, Sherill and I happened to find an item in Michigan while we were there to see her family for Thanksgiving. It’s a shirt from her hometown. That's really the town’s name on the shirt. I'm going to see if they'll make my friend the honorary mayor. I think the photo of the tree will be the perfect clincher on his application.
Guy No. 2