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On the Edge of Common Sense: The Little Engine That Could

Baxter Black Published on 24 February 2015

Have you read The Little Engine That Could to your kids or grandkids? Dr. Tom told me a story that brought it back to me.

Two good ol’ Nebraska cowboys were given the task of rebuilding a barbwire fence on an 80-acre pasture. First, they removed the clips and stays from the old top wire on the long side – a quarter-mile long. Being a progressive outfit, they were using modern agriculture technology.

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They backed their pickup to the gatepost on the southeast corner of the pasture. That allowed them to hook the ranch’s homemade wire winder to the free length of wire. The homemade winder contraption was secured to the pickup bed and powered by a 5.5 Briggs and Stratton gasoline engine they robbed off an old lawn mower.

They jerked the little engine to a coughing start with a few tugs on the manual cord, then each jumped up on the tailgate, one on each side of the winder. They appreciated the modern machine marvel that replaced the pain-in-the-buttocks of rolling 1,320 feet of rusty barb wire through the overgrowth, rocks and trash by hand.

They were daydreaming of goin’ to the Zorn Theater in Benkelman, just takin’ it easy. They were stirred out of the fantasy when the wire began to tighten; the little engine that could was going all out and starting to whine.

To paint a better picture of the situation, it would help to know:

  • The truck battery was weak, so when they parked the pickup in the gate, they left the truck engine running.
  • The parking brake, as in most old farm trucks, was broken.
  • It was a manual shift.
  • The gate was 9 feet wide.
  • They had left the doors open.
  • The gate post on the passenger side was an old telephone pole.

Ya know how, when you are part of a big wreck, time seems to slow down? The Little Engine That Could dug in; the truck began moving backwards. As our cowboys’ brains began to puzzle this out, looking first at the taut wire, then the straining winder, back to the opened doors, then at the smoking motor … “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …”

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The little engine tore off both doors, started smoking, then with a screech, froze solid. The cowboys leaped to safety. The pickup died.

Sigh.

When they recovered, they sorted through their options and finally applied another commonly used 21st century technology to save the day; they called the boss on the cell phone. PD

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