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Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Breakfast Conversation Among Antique Tractors…

It’s not bluegrass tunes that greet me this morning aspatriotic antique Gladys and I bounce along between these hulking field beasts of yesteryear at the 2011 Antique Tractor and Threshing Bee in the Valley, but the cheerful lyrics from “Oklahoma.” This day it’s a medley of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mooooorning” as I make my way through a pasture full of old machines out to pasture themselves. The lifting fog promises a beautiful day. Last year’s post ( “Got Old Tractor…?,” 8/13) gave center stage to the International Harvesters (“If it’s not red, leave it in the shed”), Farmalls, Massey Fergusons and John Deeres. This morning, though, I thought I’d talk to a few of the folks who’ve come to gawk at and appreciate a bit of mechanical nostalgia. But that can wait. Now it’s breakfast time.

I park Gladys behind the portable washing stations and head for “Elmer’s Kitchen” where a friendly lady takes my five dollars.Elmer's Crew “You’re not Elmer, are you?” I ask and at the same time realize this annual event commemorates the old Valley patriarch, Elmer Frohning. She smiles: “No, that would be very strange.” And it would be a surprise indeed to have Elmer serve me up breakfast as the old gentleman passed on years ago.

I’m handed a substantial plate of breakfast: a pile of scrambled eggs, three link sausages, two saucer-sized pancakes, and I pour myself a large cup of steaming coffee. Now this is just an observation, not a criticism, but what I’m served at the Grange pancake breakfasts would at best fill half the plate I set before me at the table this morning. Valley breakfast

Among those at the breakfast tables are Gramma Frohning, son Bert and David Flickner. Bert motions me to a chair, but before I settle in, I decide to record the Frohnings at breakfast. David sees the flash, knows he’s been digitized, and quickly asks: “Don’t you need some sort of release or permission for that photo?” Hey, Dave, it’s not like The Ripple is the paparrazi. A wise guy comment deserves a wise guy response. “Don’t worry, Dave, I’ll photo shop you out.”A Frohning breakfast (If it’s repartee you want, you’d be hard pressed to top The Ripple.) I seat myself next to Bert and am about to reach for the syrup, when a spirited little lady on my left stops me. She slides a big plate of butter my way. “You better butter those up before they get cold,” she says and I do. Before I can fall to, however, Bert brings me up to date on his latest news: a recent knee injury he’ll have MRI’d, his new diesel motorhome, and his fast-approaching retirement in March, and what he plans to do in retirement. Then the Frohnings and Dave rise in unison and wander off. I look down at my breakfast, now shivering on the plate, look up and discover I’m all alone at a very long table. One of the kitchen help is cleaning up behind me, swishing a damp cloth over syrup dribbles and pancake crumbs, readying the table for the next customers. She heads back to the kitchen, and as she passes, I complain,”No one wants to have breakfast with me!” As if she’s talking to a forlorn child, the lady replies,“I’ll have breakfast with you.” “There’s plenty of room,” I reply and and take a sip of coffee. At least it’s still warm.

I’m just slicing into my pancakes when someone sets a warm plate of breakfast next to me, slides out a chair, and sits. It’s the kitchen lady, true to her word. She introduces herself as Lynette and this is her second year volunteering in Elmer’s Kitchen. Lynette has a four and a half acre farm in Duvall and is in the market for a tractor. No antiques but a functioning machine to work her acreage. Our conversation turns out to be just what The Ripple is seeking. Breakfast with LynetteI explain my presence at this year’s Tractor Show, tell Lynette I rode my bike to the event. “You mean this kind of bike?”she says and twists her wrist as if she’s gunning a motorcycle. “Just my three-speed Columbia, Gladys,” I tell her. The conversation turns to ‘cycles, and I learn I am sharing breakfast with an ex-biker babe. “Ah!” says Lynette, “It’s like flying,”and lifts her arms like wings, sways a bit, as if she’s in a flight simulator. Her first motorcycle was a 1977 Triumph Bonneville 750; Lynette still has that cycle and plans to restore it. The Triumph was her only transportation when she was a college student. “I don’t ride anymore,” she informs me. “Too dangerous out there now.”

I learn some interesting facts from Lynette. For instance: Harley riders have great respect for the old Triumphs; the engine oil canister for her cycle is in the frame of the bike, circulates through it to lubricate the engine; she has been invited to Sturgis, South Dakota, the motorcycle Mecca of the world; she has yet to visit Sturgis; a single woman with all those testosterone- fueled Harley riders…I don’t think so; Lynette did drive her Triumph cross country to Michigan in 1986 to attend her brother’s wedding. Like so many others these days, Lynette is unemployed, laid off after eight years of work. She has an MBA, not an easy thing to market in today’s fragile economy.  Lynette certainly has some marketable skills: she has cooked professionally at hotels and restaurants in the area, the Issaquah Hilton, for one. Elmer has some real talent addressing the griddle again this year.

We pause our chatting to allow a big John Deere to pop-pop and chug past, a hay wagon filled with kids in tow. Lynette tells me how the farmers used to start their old diesel tractors in the days before igniters. She laughs, “They would charge the prime chamber with some chemical or liquid [kerosene, maybe?], toss in their partially smoked cigarette, and the resulting explosion started the diesel engine.” “Just like the old flintlock muskets,” I reply. Wonder how the non-smokers and chewers started their rigs? Flint and steel, maybe.

Lynette finishes her breakfast. “They’re probably wondering where I went,” she laughs. I thank her for sharing breakfast and conversation with me, shake her hand, and introduce myself and The Ripple. She tells me she has her own blog: “Little Cricket Chronicles,” a rather pleasing mouthful of alliteration, in my opinion. Then before I can ask her if she had any tattoos from her biker days, she heads back to the kitchen to resume her volunteering.

Outside I encounter a frenzied Gramma Snow. She has misplaced her raffle quilts and is interrogating the BBQ vendor in whose trailer she believes she stored them. I hope she finds them—I bought six raffle tickets for the iris quilt back in June.Got me covered After searching another trailer or two, Gramma locates her quilts; she had forgotten where she had stored the box. I carry the quilts to the Historical Society’s booth where Gramma gives me detailed instructions on how to hang them on the rack for display.

Off in the distance I see the Threshing Bee is thrashing away, belching straw and chaff into the Valley air like some antediluvian, long necked dinosaur. I wander down to watch the show.out with the chaff (2)The old Oliver thresher is a clanking box of spinning wheels, flopping belts and thundering body parts. I watch a couple of young men fork shocks of wheat into its hungry mouth. Old OllieNext to the thresher is a hopper, the receptacle for the separated wheat, and a trailer where an observer can watch the grain funnel into the bin. I climb up on the trailer alongside another onlooker and watch a meager trickle of grain slither down the chute.  I remark it must have taken a long time for that little spittle of kernels to yield that pile of wheat in the grain sack.Golden grain My companion tells me when a certain weight  collects in a bin, it tips and disgorges the grain in a stream. And sure enough, a couple minutes later an impressive gusher of wheat rattles down the chute and into the bag.Grain streamI leave the clamor of the threshing scene pondering the the words “vintage,” “classic,” and “antique.” Is there a distinction here?  Regardless, it’s been a morning filled with old stuff: old farm equipment, an old motorcycle, old gents wandering about in a haze of nostalgia, an old-fashioned country breakfast, and good old conversation.

I’m strolling back to Gladys (who in my absence has been schmoozing it up with a sleek little mountain bike) when next to a little tent I spy a piece of furniture that freezes me in my tracks. I admire its construction, the sturdy wooden frame—not a hint of plastic anywhere—hinged together with solid iron hardware. It is a veritable work of art. And cleverly designed, too, its owner tells me and demonstrates the furniture’s dual purpose. Release a couple wooden latches, flip the seat and chair, and suddenly, like those transformer toys, the base becomes a table.This antique has its own special provenance,too; it has done faithful duty for eight grandchildren. A price tag with “$60”written on it dangles from one arm. “Quite a bargain,” I think, “for this little beauty!”  

High Chair

Before I know it, I’m back with the truck and sixty dollars. Table ChairThe seller, a pleasant little grandmother whose own two grandchildren ate and played in that chair, is pleased I returned for it. And I can tell it’s not just about the money either.

On my way home, my purchase secured firmly in the truck bed, I’m bewildered by my whimsical purchase. What’s this? Ride out in the Valley to look at antique tractors and end up buying a vintage highchair? “It’s just too beautiful a piece of furniture and history to pass up,” I reason. And, besides, there just might be a use for it someday.

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  1. Sounds like it was a lovely morning in the Valley. Surprisingly, I'm not feeling too much pressure to fill that beautiful piece of furniture. Love you!

  2. That's good. You're way too big to fit in it now anyway.

  3. It occurred to me the other day that I know next to nothing about you outside of the classroom. And for the last several posts, I thought Gladys was your wife. I'm happy to understand she is your bike.

    Did you know Stu and Bev Lee? They lived just a block away from SHS for several decades (unfortunately they have both passed on). Anyway, one day Stu was talking about his computer that he had named Shirley...because surely she would know the answer to all of his questions.

    What's the story on Gladys?

  4. A wife named Gladys??? SURELY you jest, Ms. B. If you want to know Gladys's story, read "Roll on, Columbia, Roll on...," March 2, 2010. Gladys figures prominently in many posts; after all, she's my Valley escort.