WOSTER: Zen driving on the farm - if you need four-wheel-drive, it’s too late
If Nancy and I were ever to have an argument — which, I hasten to note, we do not — it would be over the proper time and technique for the use of four-wheel-drive in vehicles.
She thinks if a person has a vehicle with four-wheel-drive, the driver should have that feature engaged any time there might be a spot of ice anywhere in the county. I think two-wheeling is fine and, in fact, I have a notion that driving in four-wheel burns out the gears. I use four-wheel-drive at times, but very grudgingly, as if I’m being charged by the revolution of the wheel — times four.
I’m a farm kid from the old school, and I grew up with a dad who didn’t think it took four-wheel-drive to get anywhere, if a guy just used his head. It worked for my dad, too, usually. He was pretty savvy about hitting a pool of standing water in a section-line road at just the right speed and angle to make it to dry ground before he’d bled off all the speed and wound up wading to land.
Me? I never quite mastered the speed and angles. I became quite practiced, however, at the technique of wading from a stalled vehicle to dry land. As an enhanced part of my life-lessons-learned, I became pretty good at wading back through the water with a logging chain over my shoulder to hook to the stuck vehicle so my dad could pull me out with the tractor. I suppose one of the reasons I stayed so slender in my farming years was all that walking for help.
My dad knew how to take a rear-wheel-drive sedan through a soggy pasture, staying to the high and relatively dry ground and slicing back and forth through the grass as he found the proper elevations to stay out of the sloppy stuff. He had a built-in topography map in his brain or something.
Me? I saw the same terrain and invariably drove into the lowest, muddiest, tire-grabbingest place in a half-section. In my prime, I drove into places so far from dry land it took two logging chains and a length of cable to reach from my vehicle to the drawbar of the John Deere. I suppose that’s an accomplishment. My dad never seemed to recognize it as such.
I saw him use four-wheel-drive once on the undersized Jeep we had for a while. He used it to climb the side of one of the steep draws in the south pasture past my Uncle Frank’s place, where some of the best chokecherry bushes in the whole world grew. But I also saw times when he turned the Jeep around and backed up those slopes.
I never tried backing up a hill, but as I grew older on the farm, I learned to stay out of tricky spots that might end up with me walking a couple of miles back to the home place to find my dad or big brother. (I usually preferred to find Jim, not my dad. Jim would talk to me all the while we drove back to the mud-hole. The conversation usually wasn’t complimentary toward me, but it was less stressful than my dad’s silence. Perhaps he was quiet only because it was difficult to talk over the pop of the John Deere. Sometimes, though, as I stood on the drawbar and clung to the back of the seat, it seemed the silence was its own, rather intense and quite loud, message.)
When, as a grown man with a family and a job, I finally got a four-wheel-drive vehicle (a Jimmy with about 130,000 miles on it) I had to learn to use it the way the manufacturer probably intended.
Traveling along a wet creek bed near Soldier Creek on one story assignment, I turned to go way out around an obvious soft spot.
“Gun her through it,” my passenger said. “You got four-wheel.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, “but I find it works best if I don’t get into situations where I need it.”
He shook his head. Somewhere, I think, my dad smiled.