A light-hearted look at a 'heavy' hobby
Roger Welsch is the Dave Barry of the tractor restoration set, and his latest book, Old Tractors Never Die: Roger's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Ageless Iron, a collection of columns from Successful Farming magazine, proves it: 'I look through all the books on love and marriage in the Dannebrog (Nebraska) library but couldn't find a single bit of advice about what tractor part is most appropriate for which anniversary.'
This is not a gift for himself, but for his wife, Lovely Linda, who has taken up with and been taken by, old iron. Unfortunately (in Roger's eyes), it is not an Allis-Chalmers WC on which she lavishes her affection, but (gasp!), a John Deere B. (To make matters worse, in real life Roger was run down by a John Deere tractor and suffered grievous injuries.) Nevertheless, Roger magnanimously comes up with a list of possible gifts: '5th Anniversary: 10 quarts of scented crankcase oil. 6th: A romantic evening eating popcorn, drinking strawberry daiquiris and watching engine rebuild videos, one for Allis, one for John Deere.'
Other special days present problems too, Roger notes. Valentine's Day, for example. He figures a magneto might do the trick, along with a poem:
You're the spark plug of my heart, Without you my engine is missing a part, You're still the girl whom I admire, So turn the crank and let 'er fire.
Before his wife caught the bug, she lamented, 'I just wish Roger had a hobby that didn't weigh so much,' whereupon a friend remarked, 'You mean like maybe a hobby weighing 120 pounds, with high heels and long, blond hair?' 'So much for that discussion,' Roger writes.
Roger is always pointing out certain deficiencies: '...what I consider one of the single most important, most neglected elements of the perfect shop: bouquet. Like a good wine, a shop needs just the right 'nose.' In my shop there is the underlying piquancy of Liquid Wrench with a distinct overlay of stale transmission grease. Not to be ignored, however, is the suggestion of rotting rubber and a lingering but ephemeral trace of welding fumes.'
Roger is in a class by himself as he alters an item of everyday life to suit his nefarious purposes, as in the Ageless Iron Olympics chapter: 'Ten-Item Checkbook Balance: This is a mixed-gender, team competition between a husband and wife. The spouse most deeply involved in tractor collecting, restoration, parts or tool buying purchases ten items and conceals the purchases in a checkbook record in such a way that his/her spouse cannot find more than five of the expenditures in a ten-minute period.' There's also the Three-Man Engine Timing: 'All three will at times scream contradictory instructions at each other. ...at least one... member will clearly show judges that he has finger-tested the magneto by a display of standing hair, flaring nostrils, and glowing eyeballs.'
Don't forget the horoscopes. 'It was my birthday and it was my horoscope for the year. It read: 'Women find you attractive, almost irresistible. You are creative and entertaining. You are generous to a fault and have beautiful children. Your future success seems assured because it is. Scorp, you go for it. There's nothing you can't do if you really want to.' Uncanny, isn't it?' Roger says. 'It's almost as if this woman lived in our house, she knows me so well.'
Welsch's appreciation for the absurd is always a hoot, like when he discusses ways to amuse yourself while waiting at the airport: '...lean over to a woman, any woman, and ask her something like, 'You wouldn't happen to have something in your purse I could use as a valve spring compressor, do you?' Or, 'Would you by any chance have a calf puller I could borrow for a few minutes.' Or, 'Excuse me...stupid me...I came to the airport without an engine hoist...would you happen to...?'
One of Welsch's great strengths is his ability to poke fun at himself, as in the last chapter where he writes, on seeing his wife and daughter outside, '...I can see they are out there in the yard...Huh - looks for all the world like they are trying to build a fire up against the west side of the shop, right in that pile of brush and cardboard. Huh. Wonder what that's all about?'
No use wondering what Welsch's latest book is about: it's just pure fun, whether you're into ageless iron or not.
Available from Voyageur Press, 123 North Second Street, Stillwater, MN 55082-5002, 800-837-2210.