By Jim Surber
HCP columnist


It’s difficult after 50-plus years to accurately relate youthful thoughts, fears and reactions, but another personal experience recently came to mind that may bring a smile or even a hearty laugh.

It was the summer of 1967 in early July, and time to harvest wheat. My father and uncle owned no self-propelled combine, but had a relatively large crop of wheat that year. This required them to hire another farmer with a larger combine to take in the crop.

Today, all participants in this tale are deceased but me. Like Officer Joe Friday, names may have been changed to protect the innocent, and I will refer to the combine owner by only his first name, which was Floyd.

All was going well on that blistering hot summer day. Floyd’s combine churned through the wheat as we hauled the grain away in wagons and elevated it into the granary. My father and uncle earnestly hoped, and frequently stated their wishes that the always-dreaded machinery breakdown episode would spare us, since predictions of severe storms were imminent for the following day.

Then the dreaded event happened. A key part on Floyd’s combine broke and the machine was useless without its replacement. He drove it back to our barnyard, quickly removed the defective part and stated the nearest parts dealer was in Russellville which was some 25 miles away in the next county.

Things now became really interesting. Dad, extremely agitated, shouted at me, “You take him in your car and I don’t give a damn how fast you drive. Just get to Russellville so he can get that part and get back here fast!”

This was true empowerment, the likes of which this 16-year-old had never before experienced. Dad was well-aware of (and always hated) my penchant for fast driving but also knew my Chevy was much faster than his. I respected and concurred with his quick decision.

In a flash, the kid and the 50-something farmer had thrown the combine part into the trunk of my car and were speeding down the local roads with windows down, radio off and accelerator to the floor. Turning on U.S. 62, I fervently yelled at Floyd to keep a sharp eye out behind us for any State Patrol, while I would try to spot them in advance.

I was now beside myself, contemplating the proposition of being “caught” greatly over the speed limit and ending up in the Juvenile Court of one of two counties. One life lesson learned is that whenever cited for excessive speed, I was always guilty.

We flew through Fincastle, Macon and Ash Ridge and slid into the machinery dealer’s parking lot in Russellville a few minutes later, unscathed and in record time.

Grabbing the part, we ran inside to the counter as Floyd shouted the make, model and particular part needed for the combine. The parts man quickly retrieved a new part, Floyd signed a receipt, and we were back on the road with yours truly smiling and silently predicting that we would make it back in record time.

Speeding back north on U.S. 62, I was still frantic about the unpredictable presence of the long arm of the law, but breathed a short sigh of relief as we crossed the Highland County line. Just a little bit farther and we’d be off the highway and back on the safe, country roads to home that I knew well and had driven for at least the last two to three years.

It was then that events took a turn to the surreal. We were approaching what had been known for years as the “Y Restaurant.” At this point in time, the business was under new ownership and had been transformed from family dining to what was then commonly known as a “beer joint.”

Just as it came into view Floyd yelled, “A beer would really taste good on this hot day.” I quickly yelled back, “But Floyd, we can’t waste any time or Dad will kill us, and I don’t have any money!” Floyd’s answer gave me the chills as he shouted, “Boy, I said that I want a beer, now you pull in there!”

A multitude of thoughts were racing through my mind. Was I to become a multiple law-breaker? What if I’m recognized and reported to the cops, or worse yet, my Dad? We are supposed to respect our elders, right? I jerked the wheel, veered the car into the parking lot, and walked behind Floyd inside the door and sat down with him at the bar.

This was a time when 18-year-olds could legally drink beer and be drafted, but were too young to vote. Of course, none of that really mattered because I was only 16.

Floyd ordered two beers. “Drink up, it tastes great,” said Floyd, so I immediately began to guzzle the brown bottle, reasoning that the sooner we got the beer down, the quicker back on the road to keep me out of very hot water.

Floyd was still savoring his beer long after mine had been killed, and I stared at the revolving second hand of the large electric clock behind the bar. Just as he finished, while I hoped and prayed to be back on the road; Floyd ordered two more beers.

“Floyd,” I exclaimed, “We can’t do this or the old man will kill both of us!” He sternly replied, “Boy, I’m calling the shots here, so you just drink your beer and then we’ll go.”

After what seemed to me like an eternity, we were back on the road with only a few short miles to go. As we skidded into the barnyard, Dad was already in rare form, screaming in his best military-command voice long before I shut off the engine.

“Where the hell have you been? I know damn well you had more than enough time to get there and get back before now!” My mind was again racing because I knew all too well that his appraisal was correct. I braced myself for the next inevitable salvo.

Then the unthinkable happened. Floyd sternly replied, “Maynard, don’t you blame the boy. It was not his fault, and he did a fine job. That parts man in Russellville took forever to get us the right part. I’ll have it replaced in no time and be back to running your wheat!”

I had just received reprieve of a magnitude never before experienced, and spent the rest of the day positioning myself downwind and at a sufficient distance from Dad and Uncle Cedric to not betray Floyd and reveal the truth. The wheat was finally finished that day.

I did do the right thing, and told Dad the whole story. As I recall, it was sometime in the late 1990s.

Jim Surber is the Darke County engineer and a columnist for The Highland County Press.