It is a good thing in life to get experiences that give you diverse points of view on society. These varied experiences moderates a person with empathy and nuance. A valuable one for me was spending much time at a working family farm of a good friend of mine in St. Genevieve, Missouri. I started to go down there on weekends around sixth grade to play and work. There were large diesel tractors to run, harvesting combines, hay baling machines and of course large grain trucks. Add to this, most of the equipment was rather old and needed a good deal of fixing. What a playground for a budding mechanical kid. Luckily, Mr. Govro was a good professional mechanic and I learned a lot. We worked during the times when things needed to be done and rode motorcycles and hunted squirrels on the times when they did not. I was never much of a hunter but squirrel hunting consisted of walking in the woods and debating all sorts of philosophical questions while at the same time, carrying shot guns ready to blast any small thing that interrupts our debates. Blam! Blam! “Now, where were we? Oh yes, what is conscious self awareness” not thinking much about the couple of critters being a little less conscious and self aware than a minute ago. That bothered me a little, but I figured ‘that is just the way it goes in country life, always has been’. I’m not against hunting, just decided I don’t like it much anymore.
When thinking about what chores needed to be done, we were always thinking about what chores would be the most fun, AKA what has you operating the largest machinery. Running the backhoe was my favorite. Of course any excuse to drive the old, unlicensed pickup truck from one farm to the other was a bonus. Their two farm properties were joined by a windy gravel road. A fun windy gravel road. A fun windy gravel road that required us to drive the 1966 dilapidated Chevy truck at warp speed, drifting it sideways around every turn. At one point, driving in a hay field, the driver, Jeff, made an unexpected (and unnecessary) hard left turn. The sleepy passenger, being me, flew out of the seldom working door and found myself running along. All would have been fine had we not been going faster than I was able to run. I got a few steps in before doing a superman impersonation along the field. Although superman usually doesn’t end up covered head to toe with grass stains. I was doing a fairly good job of holding my temper in check while getting back into the truck when Jeff, showing no emotion, said “hurry up, we’ve got to get to work.”
When I became 16, I was able to drive down to the farm on my own. Of course the windy roads can only be driven one way. After taking the Frei family station wagon airborne over one of the hilltops, the gas tank decided to depart on the landing. “Dad, there was something wrong with the gas tank on the car. Don’t worry, I was able to wire it up well enough to get back home. Aren’t you proud of me?”
Running machines and racing cars to the hardest extent possible was a love of mine from the start. As a young kid, I built a go kart out of scrap lumber around our home and shop. Even the wheels were made of plywood. I would push the thing up the long hill on our driveway and zoom down, skidding this way and that way. The skid marks consisted of a trail of sawdust. The wheels kept getting smaller and smaller. A later modification consisted of installing a wooden steering wheel with two ropes, each wrapped around the axle of the steering wheel in opposite directions. Before, it had been steered by putting your feet on the swiveling front axle. The idea was to make it more like a car. In reality, it turned the thing into a deathtrap. This, combined with the wooden wheels getting comically small, spelled the end of the poor thing.
As a later kid of 15 years old, I was picked up by the police at around 2 AM doing donuts in the snow on a field of the local high school. Yes, I snuck out with the family station wagon. No damage was done, other than I was in some serious trouble.