A thirst for complication

A thirst for complication

Some days, it feels like people just make it their mission to throw a wrench in my plans at every opportunity. "Hey, I bet things are going fairly well for Jeff right now. Let's see what we can do to change that!"

This is August. You need to stay properly hydrated in the heat of the summer. Anyone will tell you that. What they won't tell you is that every day inside a shrimp operation based in a former elementary school in the Midwest is always August. In February, it still kind of feels like August in there. Not blistering hot, but warm and plenty humid.

Accordingly, the staff at Sherlock Shrimp likes to stay hydrated. They drink a lot of water while working. The tap water is barely okay there, but they prefer bottled water. I don't spend nearly as much time there as the rest of them, in large part because my lungs really don't like super-humid conditions. When I do, I'm always hanging onto something to drink.

I'm also in charge of getting supplies for the place. That frequently includes water. First, it was two cases of water. That went fairly quickly, so I'd start getting three or four cases at a time. Then I tried larger bottles. That didn't seem to slow down consumption. If these people were cattle, I'd throw some salt in their ration to curb their consumption. They're not cattle, and this isn't feed, so salt would only multiply their needs/demands. That's not what I wanted.

One trip for water yielded yet another interesting option for the staff. I found bottles with flip-top caps instead of screw-on lids. They were around 24-ounce bottles. The staff frequently has their hands in pools of water and other less-than-sterile conditions, so they thought the easy access of the flip-top was awesome.

"Get more of these bottles next time!" was the order I was given.

My next trip to Rochester, Minnesota, took me back to Costco where I got the flip-top water supply. I snagged an employee walking by and asked if it was possible for me to get an entire pallet of water instead of buying it by the case. Quite frankly, they put the water at the far end of the store, and steering a cart with 100 bottles of water in it through the maze of other customers isn't my idea of vacation. Costco is all about bulk, so I wanted to see if I could go bulk with my needs.

"Yes, sir, you can get a pallet!" the Costco staffer told me. "We'll just have you go up front to pay for it and then you'll pull around back to the loading dock area and they'll load the pallet for you. (Long, awkward pause.) You do have a truck, don't you?"

Uh, yeah. I mean, I've seen a few mattresses going down the road in the last year on the roofs of cars with driver and passenger arms out the window as the human tie-down straps, but I'm thinking a pallet of water is more than my biceps and my Buick roof are up for today. Take a good look at me and my tan and think about your question again, Costco Staffer. Do you really think there's a chance I don't have a truck?

Good enough. I'd be getting a pallet the next time I came for water. A pallet would have 45 cases of 24 bottles of water. No more of this hundred or so bottles at a time. I'd take 1,080 bottles instead and I wouldn't be paying around $1.25 or $1.50 each for them like I would at the store. They'd be closer to twenty cents.

Because this was Costco, I decided not to review the bit of science known as Kramer's Theory with the staffer: "Retail is for suckers!"

Look it up. I'd start with YouTube.

Making the trip with Mom

The stars aligned for some time off one afternoon recently. It was a decent day, so I decided to see if my mother wanted to ride shotgun with me in the truck to Rochester. She's a working fool in her 80's with no Neutral or Park gear. If the ground is thawed, she's either digging in it or mowing something growing on it. A road trip might be a good distraction to get her out of the sun for a while. Plus, she knows a ride with me almost always ends with some kind of decent food out of the deal.

We got to Costco and went back to the water area. It took us several staff members to figure out how we could get a pallet of flip-top bottles and how much it would weigh.

Yeah, you read that right. I actually thought about limits for once. For all of the bales, corn and other stuff I've hauled all of these years, I actually stopped and thought about this cargo and the numbers involved first. It was mainly because a Costco staffer asked what I had for a truck. Sadly, we were not driving the big screamin' diesel with the gooseneck flatbed this time. No one ever wants to ride with me in that. We were driving a half-ton truck instead.

All the math was completed and everyone decided it would work. Mom and I pulled around to the loading dock and got the pallet of water positioned on the truck's cargo box. It was actually a different angle than I figured. Not so much for the water, but for me. This thing was heavier than I thought it might be, which made me think back to other stuff I've hauled in this truck before. No red flags came up, so we hit the road with the wrapped pallet of clear refreshment.

The trip home was uneventful. Our cargo (Yeah, yeah, my cargo. If anything happened, I knew I was instantly solo on this deal.) wasn't wobbly or anything, but it sure wasn't something you'd forget about being behind you. I decided to take the straighter, more boring route home from Rochester rather than the scenic, curvy route. Those ditches on the scenic route would be much steeper for me to have to retrieve my pallet of individual surviving water bottles from if anything happened.

Mom was dropped off at home and even posed for a photo to prove to people that she does participate in my lunacy from time to time. Plus, I figured that would also allow me to prove that we got this mission completed successfully. It wasn't a trip to Epcot for her, but she seemed to enjoy it anyway.

I headed home to do a few things before delivering the water to the school the next morning. Right as I came out of the driveway at headquarters, I was reminded of something. We had widened the driveway a few years ago when we got a semi. I wanted something wide enough that I didn't have to concentrate on a major traffic maneuver when I came in and out with a load. It didn't need to be wide enough to turn completely around without stopping, but it needed to be wider than what we had before.

My reminder came up as I heard and felt something behind me. A quick look revealed that my load had transformed itself into Italian sculpture. I was now transporting The Leaning Tower of Pisa . . . if it had been built by engineering students from a very, very small community college engineering department . . . . without enough money for calculators, computers, smartphones or slide rules, but still with enough money for beer.

This was unfortunate. Seventy miles from Costco to Cresco at full speed without incident and I find trouble in the driveway at home at a slow speed, in a really, really wide driveway, of course, and plenty slow. Nothing to blame it on but physics, I guess.

This is why so many people die in accidents close to home. Their pallet of bottled water tips over and crushes them. You see it on the Internet all the time.

I'll wait while you Google it.

Leaning not tipping

My pallet didn't tip over. It leaned. Big difference. Huge, huge difference. Tipping over is what happens to irresponsible drivers. Leaning to one side is just a minor adjustment for a qualified driver to adapt to and proceed. I hadn't cracked this egg. I had simply squished it into sort of a water balloon animal like any good clown would.    

The load was still portable, so I kept driving. Got myself into my driveway (also widened in the past) without issue and then plotted strategy. The plastic wrap was still around the pallet like a good egg shell would be. If I took my pallet forks on the skid loader, I could apply the right pressure from the side of the load and straighten it right up.

Theory would be trumped by reality. The straight edge of a pallet fork would probably crack the egg shell. I'd go all John Belushi Samurai Deli and slice right through the bottles horizontally. Not good.

Better solution? Hay!

Really, when is hay not a better solution to any problem? C'mon, pay attention!

I'd take a small round bale and use it as my leaning wedge to straighten up my pallet. A smooth, soft, round surface would put just enough pressure against the sculpture to straighten it up and get me back in a position to make it to Ridgeway.

Two out of three ain't bad. I had smooth and soft covered. Round didn't really work for the force I needed. A big square bale may have been better, but I didn't have any nearby and easily accessible. My baby bale just straightened me up a little bit. A baby step, as it were. It wasn't enough structural rehab to make the trip to Ridgeway. Besides, there would be way too many people between here and there who would know me when the plan didn't work.   

Another option. Unhook the livestock trailer from the big screamin' diesel and put the newly-nearly-transformed pallet onto that. It has kind of a flatbed with tapered sides. It also has hooks to which I could attach tie-down straps. It's not that I hadn't tied my load down in Rochester, it's just that, well, okay, I hadn't. Plastic was supposed to be my space-age polymer savior. They do tremendous work with it on The Cartoon Network every day.

A quick test move with the pallet forks proved that this pallet wasn't ready for transport yet. It was still too tippy. Straps weren't going to do the trick. Structural rehab may very well be a 12-step program.  

Next option. Different tool. Geography and topography would be my friend. I'd park the Ranch Hand next to my truck. It has a large flatbed on it that sticks out to the edge of the vehicle and it sits about two feet higher than the truck. I could put a couple of empty pallets on the Ranch Hand and pull up as close to the truck as possible. That would allow me to reach over and transfer the cases on my own and not have to involve anyone else in my self-inflicted idiocy. I would be my own one-man-Amish-bucket-brigade.

That worked fairly well, and went fairly quickly. I now had two pallets of bottles stacked securely (because I have just enough history with little square bales and feed sacks to know how to stack a pile) on the Ranch Hand and ready for transport. They were a bit more low-profile than my original plan.

Next problem. Logistics. How do I get two vehicles down to Ridgeway to unload three pallets without sharing my misfortune? I could take the truck and then walk over to the co-op to borrow their forklift, but I'd still need help getting in the door with the pallet. I could throw some cardboard that the feed company puts between the pallet and the stack of feed sacks, over the two small pallets of water and strap it down on the Ranch Hand, but that would still tie up a lot of time in the commute and I don't like to borrow the co-op's forklift that long.

Decision time. I'd put a pallet in the back of the truck and deliver it to school during normal business hours so that the staff could unload it from a more reasonable height than the Ranch Hand bed. Make three trips out of it and it should go fairly quickly. I'd maybe even toss out the fact that I had more where this first pallet came from and I'd bring it when the first one was unloaded. Leaving out the fact that my original pallet didn't make it would be coincidental, not intentional. 

To keep it fun, my free day was when the electric co-op decided to install new poles and lines on my road. A mile and a half long in the whole county, poles that last forty or fifty years, and they decided that was the day to do it. I can weave around their equipment on the road (especially with my new, lower center of gravity water pallets) but I couldn't drive through the maze of trucks they had in my yard, or the wires they had on the ground across my driveway.

Next option. I'd go through the hayfield next to the buildings! The one between me and the road, right next to my round bales, on the shortcut to the highway? Nope. Too easy. That one was too tall to drive down hay, and I'd really prefer to make broad, general turns than short, sharp turns these days in my water transport efforts.

Something about being gun-shy and lessons learned.  

To add yet another wrinkle, when the crew set the new poles out to be placed later, they rolled them off in the ditch near the new location for each pole. One of the poles goes next to the fence where my cows were grazing at the time. It's in a valley next to the road. That particular pole was rolled off into the ditch and landed directly on top of my electric fence. Poles in proximity to the fence aren't a problem. Poles on the electric fence are a big problem.

My water transport day started out with an early morning phone call that my herd was free-ranging it at the moment. More specifically, they were making good time down the road. They wanted to see some new country. Who doesn't like a summer vacation away from home?

I got the herd returned to their penalty box for a few hours where they could sit and think about what they'd done before returning to their usual surroundings. Then I got the grapple attachment for the skid loader and proceeded to move the new electric pole about two feet from where it should have been to start with the previous day.

Returning favors

My multiple trips with single, low-profile pallets of water were made without incident. The new electric lines were back up when I was done, so Woodrow and I decided to clean out some pens in the feedlot and haul it to the stockpile at another farm. It was a fairly calm day with little breeze. That would add just the right touch for driving by an electric crew with a fragrant package and a cloud of dust following us like Charlie Brown's friend, Pig-pen.

I appreciate the early morning roundup, guys! Favors should always be returned.

A couple loads into our adventure, Woodrow called to let me know he had a flat tire on the spreader. He was on the road just outside the driveway at the other place. I showed up with the Ranch Hand and its on-board air compressor to add just enough air to get him back to the shop where we could take the tire off and get it uptown to be fixed. Strangely enough, we had just had it fixed a day or two before. It was a slow leak that would never go completely flat, but would be just low enough to always need air.

The tire problem was fixed and we were back at it once again. Then another call came in for assistance. A motorist was stalled along the highway and had walked to a nearby neighbor's house in need of assistance. Turns out his big screamin' diesel had run out of fuel in an area unfamiliar to him. The neighbor he chose for help decided we'd be a better source for him. The neighbor must think we have three capital A's in a row in our name or something.

The name is Ryan. Only one "A," and it's lower case. Make a note.  

Woodrow got some diesel in a jug and head