How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Enough to fill a couple trucks, from what I've seen. It's that time of the year when all of the wood-burning stove crowd is getting anxious to get a winter's supply put away before it's too late. No one wants to wake up to a cold house in about mid-January and realize they should have cut another load or two of firewood back when the weather was decent.
We have a few acres of timber in our operation. Over the years, we have had loggers come through and harvest some of the mature trees. We also seem to get a lot of wind, so there is never a shortage of trees that get blown over throughout the year. Cutting firewood is not one of my passions. I leave that kind of fun to the hardy types who want to live in the 1800's.
There are about a dozen different people who come out here regularly to cut firewood. The busy season usually starts in September through early December, depending on snowfall. On some of those weekends, there may be four different trucks in the timber getting their supplies restocked. The October and November firewood crew gets to time-share the woods with the deer hunting crowd. They are each aware that the other may be in the woods and are advised to deal with it accordingly.
For the most part, I'm pretty much hands-off on the whole thing. I will sometime go down to move a few treetops and/or logs around with the skid loader. That has more to do with my ability or inability to get through the woods with my four-wheeler than anything. Calving season is in May and June. Having to hunt for calves in a bunch of brush and treetops isn't fun. Trying to drive the herd through a wooded obstacle course isn't fun either. That's why I will sometimes point out a few trees that I'd like to see removed when a new "woodchuck" shows up to get wood each season.
I'm not looking to have an Autobahn out there in the woods. I'm just looking to remove a few impediments to easy travel. Nothing is worse than having a cow step behind a fallen tree or pile of brush when she knows I can't follow her. She will stand there and sneer at me. Excessively.
My phone rang one day recently during woodchuck season. The caller was a woodchuck, and he didn't sound terribly level, even though he tried to start out with the usual small talk: "Hey, Jeff. What are you up to today?"
I could tell from the tone of his voice that he was stressed.
"Not much. How about you?"
"Well, I've got a favor to ask," Wooden Chuck said. "Is there any way you could bring me a floor jack? I've got a tire problem on my truck."
Yeah, that shouldn't be a problem, I figured. Perhaps I'll bring the Ranch Hand, in case he needs some pneumatic help getting his tire pumped up and/or changed. Then I found out that this wouldn't be a mission to the woods. This would be a mission out on the road. That road wasn't exactly nearby, either. Ranch Hand rescues work well when they're not a long distance from home.
I agreed to bring a floor jack and a couple of blocks. Then the request for tools got much more interesting.
"Hey, you wouldn't happen to have any lug nuts, would you?" Chuck wondered.
Yeah, we may have. We usually keep a spare or two around for when threads get stripped or when it's an after-hours project and you can't get to the auto parts store or the tire shop in a timely fashion.
Chuck and I reviewed the model of his vehicle. I thought we may have a lug nut or two like that.
"Can you bring six?" Chuck asked, a bit strained.
Wow. Six. Um, that's pretty much a full set, I'd say. This should be really, really interesting when I get there. Someone must have had an issue with getting lug nuts tightened after a flat tire change.
I told Wooden Chuck that I'd see if I could find some in town and then I'd get to him as soon as I could.
Turns out he didn't have a whole lot of options. When you need six lug nuts for your wheel, you will pretty much be waiting around until your friend, Mr. AAA, shows up to help.
I wheeled in to Carquest Auto Parts in Cresco and asked about lug nuts for Wooden Chuck's particular truck. No problem. How many did I need?
Man, it's fun to raise some eyebrows in that place without giving an explanation of your project sometimes! One or two, no big deal. Ask for a full set, though, and you get a lot of wheels turning behind the counter.
They had six, so I took those and the rest of my arsenal of tools and hit the road.
When I got to the scene, Wooden Chuck was waiting for me. Amazingly, he didn't pull over at the bottom of hill, or on a curve, or on some super-steep, banked curve incline. He was sitting pretty much on the far right side of the lane of traffic on a dead-level stretch of road. Our surgical repair site didn't even need to be outlined in black Sharpie. It was pretty obvious. Fortunately, it wasn't on the road ditch side, either.
There may still be a mark on my face from where my jaw hit the pavement when I got up close and saw my project. Take a good look at the photo. That is exactly how I found Wooden Chuck's fine unit when I arrived. He went from 55 or 60 mph to zero and did it with his wheel just like that!
Put "teetering on the brink" in the search box and I bet Google Images will get you to that picture.
Wooden Chuck said he heard something about a hundred yards back that didn't sound right, so he decided to pull over and take a look. His first thought was that the small trailer he had behind him was the source of the noise. Then he saw his wheel and probably went Code Lavender (halfway between Code Red and Code Blue).
Even with my deep brain stimulator set at the maximum level, I don't think I could take the tremor out of my voice when I placed a call for assistance like Wooden Chuck did.
We got the floor jack out and raised the truck off the ground just enough to get the wheel back on the hub. Then we got the lug nuts and proceeded to put all six of them on without issue. That part blew my mind. Coasting down the road with no bolts on his wheel and Wooden Chuck managed to not have a single one stripped enough to keep a fresh nut from going on.
That's not how things work in my world. Had that been me, we would have had at least six wheel studs with stripped threads. And the two that worked wouldn't have been on opposite sides. They'd have been next to each other, thereby preventing me from even limping the vehicle back home for better working conditions with two bolts holding it on.
Nope, not Wooden Chuck. Six off; six on; nothing more than a regular tire change. Done and done.
Chuck was ready to start cranking a wrench on the lug nuts when I reached into the pickup and pulled out the best tool -- the cordless impact wrench. One click of the button and the whir of that thing made him smile like you wouldn't believe. Although, I'm pretty sure that the level of adrenaline coursing through his veins at the moment may have allowed him to torque down all the lug nuts without much effort.
The bill for the lug nuts yielded change from a twenty-dollar bill. I suggested to Chuck that an investment in a lottery ticket may not be the worst place to put the change. He seemed to be playing the odds quite well that day.
Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.
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