More Dogs on Main Street
I spent a few days last week in Wisconsin. I had a business meeting near Madison. The flight to and from involved changing planes, tight connections, and all the usual airport horrors. For some reason, it worked smoothly. Connections worked like clockwork, the planes were clean, the employees pleasant and helpful. Obviously something was terribly wrong. I was tempted to call United Airlines to report the situation, as I’m sure they would want to take corrective action so it didn’t happen again. Anytime a complicated itinerary goes smoothly, you know they left a nickel on the table.
It was really remarkable in Milwaukee. I had arrived at the airport hours early for my flight to accommodate a friend with an earlier flight. I checked my bag (I was carrying contraband toothpaste and couldn’t carry it on). The guy at the counter was dressed in overalls and appeared to be a baggage handler, not a ticket agent. He voluntarily tried to re-book me on an earlier flight. When that didn’t work, he gave me a list of things to go see in downtown Milwaukee and sent me to the cab stand. Later, he was the gate agent as we boarded the plane. I asked if he were also going to be the pilot, and he said he wasn’t flying it, but I saw him on the tarmac guiding the plane away from the gate. Apparently United has only one employee in Milwaukee, but he’s very good.
We stayed at the suburban edge of Madison. It was the weekend of the Wisconsin-Michigan football game, and there was hardly a hotel room to be had. So we were out in the ‘burbs, nestled into the freeway interchange in that ubiquitous American landscape of strip malls, budget motels, car dealerships and franchise restaurants. I was going to be in meetings the whole time, so it didn’t matter much, but it was a little discouraging to have spent all that time in the air and airports to arrive at someplace that was indistinguishable from Kimball Junction.
Worse, Madison is supposed to be a great city. My nephew went to school there and loved it. As bad as staying at Kimball Junction would be, time and the crazed football traffic made it nearly impossible to get into central Madison. Imagine staying at the Junction without getting into Park City. The synthetic, franchised sameness of it was discouraging. Where did the regional richness of America go?
The meetings broke a little early one day, and I had seen an advertisement in "Red Power" magazine for an International Harvester Tractor show and auction in nearby Eagle. So I went to the tractor show. As synthetic and homogenized as the industrial park at the edge of Madison is, all you have to do is get 25 miles off the freeway to find the real thing. I had landed in Lake Wobegon.
The tractor auction was in a big octagonal barn, with dozens of tables of miscellaneous stuff stacked around the perimeter. Outside there were pallets of tractor parts, mostly unidentified other than with signs that said "Parts," but which appeared to be incomplete engine blocks, cylinder heads minus some of the valves, a bushel basket of assorted pistons, and five-gallon buckets of gears not attached to anything. There were also about 30 old Farmall tractors in various states of rigor mortis. Where the piles of spare parts left off and the complete tractors began was not exactly clear. It was a gradual transition. But there were a couple of really first-rate restorations there.
There were several little items inside that I wanted to buy – a baseball hat and a couple of T-shirts, though the shirts were mostly XXXL. The lady at the cash box was stunned when I asked how I could buy them. "Oh, golly," she said in Minnesota Swedish, "This isn’t a swap meet, it’s an auction."
I still needed clarification. You mean that all these people are going to sit here in this barn (where the temperature alternated between -30 and 120 depending on whether the heater was on or off) while they auction off a thousand baseball hats one at a time? "You betcha. We’ll be here ’til 10 tonight, and start up again at 8:30 tomorrow." Apparently they have not heard of eBay.
Outside, looking at the row of tractors, I engaged in casual conversation with several other men checking things out. I was kind of surprised to see one tractor with the battery cable wrapped in duct tape. It seemed like a bad sales presentation when a new cable is only a few bucks. Nothing calls the integrity of the whole machine into question like duct tape. But I overheard Karl telling Carl that the owner of the tractor (no doubt another Carl) had done a very neat job of wrapping the duct tape on it, perhaps suggesting similarly meticulous, though thrifty, care elsewhere.
Before I left, they introduced Emily, whose last name was 16 syllables of unpronounceable German. Eleven-year-old Emily and her grandfather had done a beautiful restoration of a mid-1950s Farmall Cub. They had donated it to the raffle as a fundraiser for a tractor museum. The auctioneer asked Emily how she felt about giving her tractor away after all that effort. She said it was hard, but it was for a good cause. The auctioneer then asked her if she had any words of advice for the winner of the raffle. Emily paused for a second, and then told the crowd of a couple of hundred people that if the raffle winner "didn’t change the oil regular, I’ll track him down and gut him like a fish."
I expected the place to explode with laughter, but instead, the crowd kind of nodded to each other and acknowledged that anybody who won that Cub and neglected it really deserved to be gutted like a fish.
Meanwhile, back in Madison, even the strip-mall restaurants were packed with football fans. Go Badgers!
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.