Fall: Firewood, State Fair's, & Ferris Wheels

I have always enjoyed the transition from summer to fall. September is a busy month at our house: birthdays, anniversary, and stories.

I have always enjoyed the transition from summer to fall. September is a busy month at our house: we celebrate two birthdays and our anniversary so is the Utah State Fair September 8-18. After years of missing the Fair, I promised Jill that we were absolutely going to the Fair this year. When I stepped into the park, a vision of crazy roommates turned carnival barkers made me smile.

The last week of August 1982, a couple of roommates (brothers) invited me to travel the state and county fair circuit with them and sell Teflon coated cookware.

"You only have to pitch in $500," one said.

"To buy inventory," the other said with a wink.

I had the money, but I was going back home to attend college. But I almost changed my mind.

I had been cutting firewood north of Ashton, Idaho, since the middle of July. The work was hard, dusty, and sticky. Many of the trees were huge yellow pine, which had sap oozing from every pore, but I didn't mind. Filling a low riding two wheel drive Dodge Ram truck with a 12 foot stake body (A stake body truck is essentially a flatbed truck with built-in sockets surrounding the edge of the bed. This enables the user to install upright stakes to create a “fence” around the load) requires a lot of effort. My work truck carried approximately 4000 lbs of cut logs.

Each day started early in the morning, driving to the Targhee National Forest 40 miles northeast of where I was living. The forest service clear cut trees that were infected with beetles, and my boss bought the felled trees for firewood. There was competition for the wood with other harvesters, but I had to work with it.

My job was to cut the trees into sixteen inch logs and load them on the truck. Once loaded, I drove the load to Idaho Falls, weigh the load at the feedlot, then unload the wood at the firewood lot. For the effort, the boss paid me 4 cents a pound. He provided the truck, fuel, and oil and gas for the chainsaw. I provided the chainsaw. He paid me cash after each delivery.

The first few weeks I was cutting two truck loads a day, making good money with a helper. At first, the wood was next to the truck, making cutting and loading easy. But later I drove further into the clearings, dodging stumps to get closer to the trees. They did not equip the truck to drive over stumps, so I spent a lot of time trying to avoid them. Eventually, the closest I could get was 10-15 yards from the trees, which meant a lot of walking. It wasn't too long before my helper quit and I was on my own. By the end of August, I was cutting and loading one cord of wood a day. I had to harvest a minimum of 2600 lbs to get the 4 cents a pound, otherwise the owner deducted the cost of the truck gas from my pay.

One particular day, the last week of August, everything went wrong. I broke the chain on the saw, hit a stump and broke the steering arm, and lost the Seiko watch my mom had given me as a gift during the first hour on the job. I spent most of the morning filling the truck with logs and looking for the watch. Finding the watch was the highlight of the morning. At noon I started walking 10 miles to Ashton because who picks up a hitchhiker carrying a chainsaw with a 32 inch bar, at least since 1974 when the Texas Chainsaw Massacre graced the silver screen — Nobody — and there was no way I was leaving the chainsaw behind. Walking even in forest country is hot and exhausting.

At the gas station in Ashton, tired and frustrated, I called my boss. If you're thinking, "Oh! The boss will be understanding..."

The boss was a young guy about my age. He talked big, saying that he could do three trucks a day, but he never had time to come work with me because he was too busy answering the phone—couldn’t miss a sale, he would say. He picked up the phone.

"Hi," he said.

“Dude, I hit a stump and broke the truck’s steering arm.”

"Where is my truck?"

“In a clearing off the main road 10 miles from Ashton,”

"Is it driveable?"


"I am deducting the cost of fixing the truck from your pay." He continued with an expletive laden rant, yelling, "YOU ARE A..."

When he finished and after a long silence, I said, "I quit!" And that was the end of the conversation. I felt satisfied knowing that he would unload the truck before he could have it towed and that someone else would grab that load before he could get back to it. Twisted, I know.

"Mister, do you want to sell that saw?" a farmer pumping gas asked. " I will give you 100 bucks for it."

I suppose he had heard the one sided conversation I was having on the pay phone. Since I was holding the phone a few inches from my ear, anyone interested could hear. I laughed at him and said, "No thanks!" Farmers are so cheap I know I worked for a few.

"How much then?" he asked.

"How about 600 bucks?" He looked at me for a long time. I turned to walk into the store.

"Hey kid, how about 400 if it starts on the first pull and 300 if it doesn't?"

"Deal!" Now one thing is for sure, is this—Idaho farmers know quality and always have a wad in their pocket, and are risk adverse. But I was confident in the saw. I took the saw over to him and set it on his tailgate. The pull string started the saw when he jerked it. He looked surprised, but satisfied. He peeled off four one hundred-dollar bills and handed them to me.

"How about a ride to Rexburg?" I asked.

"Sorry kid, I am going the opposite direction."

Since there was no phone in the room I was renting, I called my landlord. She got one roommate on the phone. "I need a ride," I asked, no I was tired, so I was begging. He insisted on a full tank of gas and dinner at the diner in St. Anthony as payment. Lucky me... the brothers took advantage of my low spirits to pitch their carnival barker's scheme "Teflon Coated Pans" from Ashton to St Anthony, during dinner at the diner, and the last 15 miles to Rexburg. I couldn't help but blab my whole day looking for sympathy, but then bragging to them how I sold my saw to the farmer. I should have kept that to myself. Now they knew for sure I had cash and were excited. Like sharks circling the casual swimmer.

The tale they spun on the drive home: you will meet all kinds of women and the money—thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars to be made in just a few months. They made it sound as if people were lining up to buy teflon coated pans already. And girls are right now buying perfume and clothes, expecting my arrival. The only break in their talking came when I asked them where we were sleeping. A long pause and a vague response that made no sense was their best answer. I had lived in my car earlier in the spring and had no wish to do it again. I was skeptical of the brothers. They always had money but never worked.

In the middle of the night, I wavered. Common sense prevailed, and I quietly dressed, put my clothes in my pillowcase, folded my blanket, and left for home long before the brothers stirred. Maybe they were disappointed or even angry when they discovered I was gone. We didn't have cell phones back then, and I didn't leave my contact information behind.

The following year, a week before we married, my fiance Jill and I went to the Utah State Fair. I thought I saw the brothers pitching knives to a crowd and wondered if they were still mad, but I didn't go to the booth. Was it an apparition born of guilt for ditching them? Maybe. I didn't get close enough to tell. Instead, we veered to the glass-art booth and bought a glass miniature of the Salt Lake Temple that we later in the week set on the top of our wedding cake.

A few weeks ago, we went back to the Utah State Fair the week before our 39th anniversary. I thought I saw the brothers again pitching a set of copper pans. This time, I walked closer. Nope, not them. Later, we ducked into a booth where a young Israeli woman was pitching nerve stimulators. She hooked up the stimulators to my aching feet and another set to my wife's sore back. Both of us felt the magic she was talking about.

Gadgets are always on sale at the Fair, and the sale price is always negotiable. I know quality electronics when I see them and I had a wad of credit cards. And the carnival baker, she is the savvy kid that knows any sale price above a hundred bucks was pure profit...

Later we rode the Ferris wheel for 8 tickets. I smiled at my beautiful bride as I white knuckled the bar that held us in.

Happy Anniversary!