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The new Arvin

More Dogs on Main

By Tom Clyde
Park Record columnist

When I was a kid, my father and his brother-in-law were partners in the operation of the ranch. Dad was primarily the financial end of the deal and my Uncle did the physical stuff.

We were around in the summer and headed back to Salt Lake for the winter, leaving my uncle and cousins in what seemed like Siberia at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that, on the best days, we were in the way. On the not so good days, we were an added complication to an already complicated operation.

My uncle was big, tough and gruff. He made the Jack Palance character in the “City Slickers” movies look like Liberace. Other times, he would break out his guitar and sing hilarious old cowboy songs around the bon fire and have everybody laughing until their sides hurt. You never knew which version you would run into, so I made it a hard and fast rule to keep my distance.

That didn’t always work. The list of ways to get things broken, stuck, tipped over, or set on fire was almost endless. Through the years, I tried pretty much every one of them. When things got really bad and I couldn’t get unstuck alone, the next step was Dad, and when he couldn’t solve it, we would admit defeat.

With great trepidation, we would have to go find Uncle Arvin. There was no problem he couldn’t solve. He’d use crowbars, chains, pulleys, profanity and the front-end loader of the tractor. Sooner or later, the truck that was half-tipped over in a ditch was back on firm ground.

The butt-chewing that followed the rescue was a painfully high price to pay. It really would have been better to let the International Scout float down the river than have to explain to Arvin how it got there and have him help retrieve it.

Those sessions had a compound effect. First, the fear of having to get Arvin to rescue me probably improved my judgment, at least somewhat. But the other side of it was that if I got something stuck, I was determined to get it unstuck myself before going for help. So something that two guys could have easily pushed out in the beginning would be completely buried, with a ruined tire and fried clutch, by the time I went for help.

It wasn’t just me. One time Dad thought it would be fun to clear the snow off the pond so we could ice skate. The ice seemed plenty thick, so he started clearing it with the tractor, which immediately fell through. Only the front wheels went in, but there was no backing it out.

The look of terror on my Dad’s face when he softly said, “I guess we better go find Arvin,” was something I had never seen before, and never saw again. I didn’t see the exchange when he announced to Arvin that the tractor was in the pond, but the reaction can’t have been good.

Arvin died several years ago, leaving all of us to rescue ourselves for the most part. It’s been a challenge, but so far, so good. I’m surprised at how many of his extrication tricks I remember. And the cursing.

A few days back, my brother decided that he should do something about a couple of dead trees that were leaning toward the power line to his house. He thought that if my nephew drove his big 4-by-4 out there and pushed on the trees with the bumper, they would fall away from the power line. Like most plans, the motive was good and the theory seemed sound. The only problem is that to get there, he had to drive across a swamp. So the Toyota sank to the floorboards. My brother came to the rescue with his 4-by-4 pickup, which also sank to the floorboards.

From my house, across the river, I noticed several people with the stuck trucks, way off the road, and wondered what in the world they were thinking. They were pushing sticks and rocks into the muck, trying to get something solid under the wheels. The next solid ground under that spot is in China. So we rounded up several lengths of tow chains (which I keep hidden so nobody “borrows” them), coaxed the big tractor to start in the cold, and managed to pull them both out.

My niece later told me that once they admitted it was hopeless, they had all come back to their house. With the smell of defeat and humiliation about them, said, “I guess we better go find Tom.” They convinced her to make the call.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, but apparently I have become the new Arvin.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.


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