I don’t have a picture of Chuck because he came to me in a vision as I was lying under my vehicle on a 98-degree day on the dirt road that crosses Froze-to-Death, eight miles south of Ingomar.
(Actually, I don’t have a picture of Chuck because I am a naughty blogger who keeps forgetting her camera at the house when she heads out to partake in everyday adventure. How can I properly document my life online for the whole world to see if I keep leaving my camera on the kitchen counter?)
Let’s back up a bit. This past Monday morning, the kids and I headed down the road (again, 40 miles, all dirt, Ingomar the only sign of civilization therein) to spend the day helping my parents in their ongoing relocation project. About eight miles south of Ingomar, near Mussel Butte, I had to turn down the radio and shush the kids because I thought the pickup was making a strange sound. Sure enough, it wasn’t my imagination — there was a definite thunka-thunka-thunka going on. I pulled to a stop and wasn’t surprised to discover that my passenger-side rear tire was flat.
Of all the dirt-road traveling I’ve done solo with my kids, we’ve never had a flat tire when it was just us. Sure, we’ve had many a flat tire that Daddy fixed while we waited. But never before had I been the only grown-up around to do something about the problem. Today Daddy was far away, in Billings on a parts run, so my littles and I were totally on our own. Wise Woman of North Ingomar that I am, I had packed with us one small bottle of water. (Asher was soon overwhelmed by thirst and guzzled the whole thing.) From our perch atop Mussel Butte I looked around in every direction — the treeless breaks sweeping down to the hardpan on Froze-to-Death Creek to the east. The plains rippling with golden, cured grass to the west. Reservoirs for stock watering dotted the view in all directions, but none of them close, and none of them safe to drink out of.
Additionally, in my rush to leave the house, I’d forgotten head cover for the kids. I had in my possession not a cap or a hat for even one of them. And there we were, stranded on the Ingomar-Hysham Road, about 15 miles north of the next house. Behind us, from where we’d come and through the blur of heat waves, I could see Ingomar sparkling like a diamond. I had just stopped there minutes ago to unload our trash in the town’s Dumpster. Yet I wouldn’t try to walk back there with my three kids in tow — I know from experience that Ingomar can be seen from a long ways off across the sparse prairie and that, like a desert mirage, it’s always farther away than it looks. There are plenty of stories, both rural legend and true life, of folks who tried to walk to Ingomar for help and never made it. I am not scared of the desolation out here, but I am realistic about the dangers.
Complicating the facts is the reality that I don’t have a cell phone… because I am what my in-laws call a quasi-Amish who likes to put herself up to moral challenges (see Newfangled Techno Gizmos to read more about my special kind of crazy). We don’t have cell service here at our house, but I would’ve had service there at Mussel Butte… if only I’d had a phone. I could’ve called my parents and they would’ve sent a ranch employee, probably Ben, up the road to save my day. Instead, there was no way to contact them, and I knew it would be at least an hour before they’d miss us, and another half hour after that before they found us on the side of the road. The possibility that another traveler would come by and find us on that stretch of dirt? Pretty slim.
There was nothing to do but get to work, and I told the kids so, trying to present it as an adventure.
Now. I know I’m a Montana-born-and-bred ranch girl. I know my Dad and husband have patiently gone through the tire-changing method with me many times before. But I personally specialize more in the arts and in people management than I do in mechanics and physical labor. I must admit, to my shame, that I have never, ever had to change a tire all by myself. There has always been a man around to save my bacon. (See? We really do need men!)
Our first step, then, was to go through the cab of the pickup and the bed of the pickup gathering up all the tools we could find. If you have kids, you know what it’s like: you leave them playing in the vehicle for a few minutes every once in a while because they’re happy and distracted and because it gives you a few free minutes to do whatever you want to do, and they go through every object that’s in the pickup and they move everything around and they open things that shouldn’t be opened and they probably throw a few things out the window. That’s how you lose tools that you’ll never see again and which eventually you’ll forget you ever had.
That’s definitely the condition of the interior of our vehicle — nothing where it’s supposed to be and some things lost forever. That meant finding the tire-changing tools (would I even recognize them if I saw them?) would be a bit of a treasure hunt. First of all, I took the carseats out of the pickup and threw them into the barrow ditch. Those things are always in the way. Under the backseat — score! — I found what I was quite sure was the jack. After further rummaging in side pockets, in the glove box, and in the console, and after peeking under the tire chains in the bed of the pickup, we came up with a couple lug wrenches; a pry bar; some long, skinny do-bobber which I was pretty sure had an important use; and a vice grip (which, as it turns out, would be necessary because we never could find all the pieces to the long, skinny do-bobber — see kids-throwing-tools-out-window explanation, above).
The kids and I piled all the tools we’d found on the road back by the tailgate, taking the risk that the baby would pick up something important and toddle away with it in her hot little hands. I had been very concerned to discover that the spare tire was not in the bed of the pickup, where it belonged, but instead somehow attached to the belly of the pickup. I got down on my back and scooched under the pickup for a look. The kids did the same — even Baby Marsielle, who kept trying to stand up and hitting her head on the axle once we were under there. Trying to hold the baby down with one hand, I fiddled at the gizmo that magically seemed to be holding the tire. I banged around with the vice grips, but there was nothing obvious to grab onto. I wracked my brain trying to remember those lessons I’d received from my dad and my husband. Wasn’t there a… some sort of trick to… that’s right! I finally recalled that there should be a “key” somewhere that could be used to release the spare tire, and I was even pretty sure it was in a pouch in the glove box. Lo and behold, I actually found the pouch, then crawled back under the pickup with the key. Lying on my back and looking upward, I put that little key in every possible situation. This little hole here… that wire there… what in the world? The key just didn’t seem to fit.
I hadn’t lost my patience yet, and I never underestimate the probability that my kids and I can accomplish anything together if we put our minds to it. I believed we could change that tire, I really did. But I figured it would take us about five hours to do it… not counting break times.
Oh, Lord, I could really use an angel about now. I know we could do it ourselves… but it would take us a long time.
I decided to crawl back out from under the pickup and look in the pouch to see if there were any directions for how to use this stupid little key. Sure enough, there were directions. I was trying to make sense of them when little Emi piped up. “Someone’s coming! Someone’s coming!”
I didn’t know it was Chuck right away. All I knew was that it was a white utility pickup sweeping in from the south in a cloud of dusty glory, emerging from the heat waves like a celestial army flying low expressly to save me and my kids.
The pickup slowed and pulled up beside us, and I saw that it was Chuck behind the wheel. Chuck from Hysham. Chuck the renowned mechanic. Chuck in his Torgerson’s service truck!
I was so relieved to see him, I was almost giddy with excitement, but I think I held it together pretty well. I know I didn’t cry, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t hug him. Chuck said he was headed up the Sand Springs Road to work on haying equipment for some folks we know, but he figured he had time to stop and help me with the tire. Actually, I offered to help him with my tire, but we both agreed it would be best if I just got out of the way. I was pleased to demonstrate to him that I’d already found the jack and the spare tire key (and I was interested to note that he put the key on the end of the long, skinny do-bobber mentioned above, inserting it not from underneath the pickup but from a hole near the license plate).
He changed our tire effortlessly, in a few minutes, all while listening attentively to Emi’s story-telling and asking appropriate questions of her. He made it look very easy.
But I still think it would’ve taken me and the kids five hours to do that. At least.
When he was finished and we had everything loaded, I borrowed his phone to call my mom and let her know we were okay. Then Chuck continued north while we Blakes continued south.
Chuck’s not an actual angel; I know him to be a real, in-the-flesh human being. Husband to Chrissy. Dad to Daniel and Jo and Brie. Volunteer firefighter. Part-time farmer and full-time mechanic. Just an all-around good guy. But he sure looked like an angel swooping in to save me when I was stranded on the Ingomar Road.
© Tami Blake