Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bob Tale--Uncle Jim and Mr. Aintbroke

As my college friend Bob told his stories about Uncle Jim and his farm in rural New Jersey, it was clear that Jim’s operation was not some hobby farm, but one that grew a respectable amount of crops. Dot had her own vegetable patch and Bob said her meals were some of the best he had ever had.  It was a change from the Italian restaurant food he ate at home. Jim primarily raised corn, and so when the harvest came in, he employed several high school and college students to help gather the crops. Jim had a small John Deere combine, a big Ford tractor and a small one, and a Ford stake truck. The tractor towed a high-sided trailer into which the harvested ears fell. Once it was full, they loaded the crop onto the stake truck to take it to the co-op. Like most farmers, large and small, Jim depended on his equipment.

Of course, machines broke down and needed repair. Jim was a fair mechanic, like most farmers, and he could weld and fix most things.  But when something big went wrong, like when an engine blew or a transmission went bad, he called on his mechanic, a fellow named Sweeney. Sweeney was a big rough-looking fellow who seemed to wear the same brown overalls day after day. No one knew if Sweeney was his first name or his last:  Jim called him Mr. Sweeney, and he never said anything about it.  Sweeney never said much anyhow, but he was a genius of a mechanic who could fix anything.  His helper was a young man of indeterminate age who said even less than Sweeney did. No one was quite sure he knew how to speak.

Jim had heard about Sweeney from some other farmers in the area.  “He’s good,” they told him, “But he doesn’t like to replace anything unless it’s good and broken.” Bob said he went with Jim one time to pick up a part Sweeney had ordered for him that he couldn’t get otherwise.  The old farm he lived on had a small barn that he had converted into a garage and the wrecks of about a hundred cars covering the hillside. Bob told Jim if a Saint Bernard showed up he was leaving.

Dot had another name for Sweeney.  She called him Mr. Aintbroke or just Aintbroke because the first time Jim called him out to work on a tractor and the truck when the engines were making odd noises, Aintbroke listened to the engines and said, “Naw, that engine’s still good.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dot handled the financial end of the farm, and she asked Jim if it wouldn’t be better to do preventative maintenance on the equipment. Jim did what he could, oil changes and lubes and so forth, but he just thought and said, “No, I’ll stay with Aintbroke. He’s good and he’s fast and charges a reasonable price.” They both took to calling him Aintbroke when he wasn’t around.

Well, the corn harvest was proceeding well with every piece of equipment going full bore. The corn picker was making an odd grinding sound, the tractor’s valves were clattering and the stake truck was belching black smoke.  They were still running, but just barely. Then it happened.  Every piece of equipment stopped, one after the other, in the space of a few minutes. Jim and his helpers stood there.  Then he went into the house to call Aintbroke.  Dot heard the machines stop suddenly and greeted him at the door.  “So, are they broken now?” she asked. Jim didn’t answer.

Aintbroke  had to replace the engines on all three machines, and it took a few days until they could be shipped to the farm. Aintbroke showed up and worked straight through, as was his custom.  He never seemed to stop, even to eat.

In the meantime, Jim was able to make do with the small tractor and the pickup truck. A neighbor loaned him a combine, and while Bob said the work was twice as hard, they got it done.  Aintbroke finished installing the new engines about the time the harvest was done. Jim and Bob and the helpers fired them up and they all roared with new power.  Aintbroke and his assistant climbed into their ancient rust-covered wrecker and drove off.

As the crew came into the house to eat, Dot greeted them. “So I guess the equipment ain’t broke any more,” she said.

Bob said Aintbroke was Jim’s mechanic through the four years of college that I knew Bob. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

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