"Du dummes, undankbares Stück Scheiße!" Jost Neubert screamed. He waved his arms and hit the old John Deere Model B tractor with his hat. The tractor hadn't seen this much work in decades, and steam now poured out of the radiator. "Warum jetzt??"
Jost had harvested five acres of wheat on the other end of the field this morning, and had hoped to bring in a large portion of his crop before the sun set. But here it was, early afternoon and only half an acre harvested when the tractor broke down.
He unhitched the pull-type combine harvester from the tractor. I wish I had one of those fancy motorized harvesters.
The tractor, like the land he was farming, had once belonged to Ted Moritz's father. The land had been slated to become a subdivision until the Ring of Fire intervened. Ted's father had also been an avid fan of what he called the "Golden Age" of mechanized farming and spent a lot of time restoring old tractors and farm implements. Except for a few items that he held onto for sentimental reasons, Ted sold most of his father's collection.
"Having problems, Mr. Neubert?"
Jost looked up. He could barely make out Gary Rose standing near the road, accompanied by Marie Moritz.
"Yeah, Gary," he shouted. "Can you come take a look at it?" Gary Rose was the ad-hoc mechanic on the Neubert farm, and he had been responsible for keeping the two tractors, which were pushing the half-century mark, in operating condition. That had been a tall order, since two years of hard work for the Grange, along with a lack of regular maintenance, had taken their toll on the engines.
Gary looked the tractor over and shook his head. "Looks like you're really cooked her. I don't know if I'll be able to fix her this time." He paused a moment. "It might take all night, but maybe I can have the crawler back together by tomorrow."
"That would be great, Gary," Jost said. "I really need to get this crop in. Sometimes I wish I could have a new mechanical beast. Then I wouldn't have to keep you here all night working on these old beasts."
Marie shrugged. "He was talking with Mr. Neubert, Tad. It looked like he was having some problems with one of Dad's tractors."
Tad, Phil Jenkins and Albert Neubert were comparing different teams in one of the final video football games released before the Ring of Fire.
"Son of a . . . " Phil said. He cut himself off. He swore enough lately, and his mother hadn't been thrilled to learn of his expanded vocabulary. "All right, guys. It looks like Gary won't be joining us today. Let's get started without him."
"Isn't that Gary?" Albert said. He was looking out the large front window that overlooked the street. Gary was walking by, apparently oblivious to everything around him.
A mischievous smile spread across Phil's face. "Let's sneak up on him."
Gary was lost in his own little world contemplating the work he had to do when he reached the shed. He began to unlock the door, not even realizing he was doing it.
"Hey Gary!" someone shouted.
Gary fumbled with his keys and dropped them.
"Hey!" the voice called again. It was Phil Jenkins. "You gonna come up and join us?"
"Not today, Phil," Gary said. "I got work to do."
"Sure." Phil smirked. "You just don't want to come up because Sunshine isn't there."
Gary felt the blush creeping up his face. He had nursed a huge crush on Sunshine Moritz for some time now. Not that it mattered. She never noticed him, since she was after Phil. Gary's stumbling efforts to get her attention hadn't even gotten the time of day out of her..
"It has nothing to do with Sunshine," he said. "I need to finish fixing the other tractor so Jost can get his harvest in. And how's Maria these days?"
Phil rolled his eyes. "Come on, man. That's low. You know she left two weeks ago. Why don't you at least come up, pick your team, and play your first game? We can simulate the rest until you're done. Or we can come down and help you so you get done sooner."
"What're you? Crazy? Unless you're gonna be here at three in the morning helping me, I don't think that's gonna happen. If it wasn't a Friday, I wouldn't even be doing this."
"Come on," Phil said. "Why can't Mr. Moritz do this? They're his tractors. Besides, you know you want to come up and see if Sunshine is home."
"You're not going to drop this until I go up there, are you?" Gary asked.
"No," Phil said. "I'll even help you out. Even if it takes all night."
Gary chuckled. "The last time you said that, you fell asleep at eleven. Right in the middle of Office Space, too."
"I'll stay up this time," Phil said. "I swear. We're not watching some crappy movie."
"Dude," Gary said, "it's not a crappy movie. You just have no sense of humor."
"Right," Phil said. "Keep telling yourself that. So are you coming?"
"Yeah. Let's go."
Gary yawned. It had to be about three in the morning.
He didn't know how Phil could sleep on the shed's concrete floor with only a cruddy old blanket to keep him warm, but he somehow managed that an hour ago. At least all the hard work was done by then. Phil had stayed awake long enough to get the engine remounted on the tractor's chassis and reconnected to the drive train.
Gary was beginning to feel a little tired himself, and he wished he had a Coke or something. He could use the quick boost of energy.
He yawned again and picked up the shop manual—an old book that showed how the engine and drive train fit together. The picture started to blur, and he shook his head to clear his vision. Thank God that Mr. Moritz and his father used to restore these things. I don't know how I would get it done without them.
He flipped through the book until he found the exploded view of the drawing he was looking for. He rubbed some sleep from his eyes and pressed on with his work.
Gary was startled awake by a rooster's crow. He wiped some drool from the corners of his mouth and massaged a kink out of his neck. The tractor seat wasn't the most comfortable place to sleep, but it was much better than a concrete floor.
Phil was still sleeping in the same spot. The floor couldn't have been as warm or comfortable as a bed, and he was amazed that Phil hadn't gone home.
After a few quick stretches, Gary inspected the tractor, hoping he hadn't missed anything. Having the tractor break out in the field because he missed something would be a bad thing, and he didn't want Jost to miss a rent payment to Uncle Huddy.
The rooster crowed again. Oh crap! I bet it's already after 6. Mom is gonna be pissed when I get home. I should have called her before I started working on this. I'm dead.
"Yes, Mrs. Rose," Mrs. Neubert said. "I'll send someone down to check on Gary, and when he gets up here, I'll make sure he calls. And I'm sorry this whole thing happened. Jost should have had more sense to make sure he checked in with you first. You have a good day."
Wilhelmine Matz watched as her aunt carefully navigated the minefield that Gary's poor sense had caused. She was always amazed by Aunt Franziska's diplomacy skills and tact, and hoped that she had inherited them..
"Mina, would you be a dear and go down to the shed to check on Gary? And tell him to come up here when he gets done. I should have some breakfast ready soon."
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