Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Parts Run

I have been writing a farm life column for a regional agricultural publication for nearly 10 years. In that time, I have received more comments about one column than all of the others combined. I think that the following piece resonates with farm wives because it is the absolute, universal truth. And, to date, it is the only column that has ever elicited a rebuttal column (written by a parts guy).

When a piece of equipment breaks down on a farm or ranch, it always breaks at a critical time. Swathers break during haying. Tractors break during seeding. Combines break during harvest.
When it is ascertained that the breakdown cannot be cured with duct tape or baling twine, the farm wife is contacted.

“I need you to go get parts,” the farmer or rancher will declare urgently.

The first time my dad said that to me, I was somewhat excited. The parts store held a kind of mystique for me because I had never actually entered it.

When I was a small child, I thought the parts store was “town.” My dad would come in the house and tell us we had to go to town, and after the hour-long drive all I remember is sitting in the back seat of our station wagon in front of the parts store.

It seemed like hours that we would wait for my dad to make his purchases. To my mother, it must have seemed like days.

She was forced to listen to three bored and cranky kids taking their frustrations out upon one another.

“Moooooooooom, Jimmy’s hitting me,” my sister or I would holler.

“Knock it off!” responded the fatigued voice from the front seat.

“Moooooooooom, Colleen’s on my side of the car.”

“What did I just tell you?” growled my mother.

As time wore on, the hot vinyl seats would stick to the backs of our bare legs, and we would yearn to run around.

“Sit down and be quiet!” my mom would mutter. “Did your dad get lost in there, or what?”

Finally, he would emerge from the parts store, and we would head home.

Now that I would finally be able to enter the store, I wondered what I would find there that held my father’s attention for such long periods of time.

I pulled the car up to the familiar building and anxiously entered it. Once inside, I couldn’t understand how my dad could spend so long in such a boring place.

After that trip, I realized that the parts store is an entirely different place for women than for men.

For men, it is a sort of Mecca. From farms and ranches everywhere, they make their pilgrimages to the place that houses the answers to their mechanical problems.

For most women, it is a building of doom.

During a woman’s first parts run, she is usually unaware of the mistakes she is about to make. Her spouse has told her exactly what she needs to bring home, and she relays this information to the man behind the counter.

He punches the information into the computer, looks up and asks, “Is that an “A” model or a “B” model?”

She panics. Her husband didn’t tell her there would be any questions. She was supposed to give the information to the parts guy, grab the part, and attempt to break a land speed record on her way home with the merchandise.

The parts guy recognizes the distraught look on the woman’s face and gives his co-worker a knowing smirk.

“Well, is it an ’82 baler or an ’83?” he asks.

“’82?”she guesses.

He disappears down the long aisle of boxes and returns with a small package. She signs the slip and heads home, feeling for the first time the doom that the parts store instills in a woman who has just bought the wrong part.

The parts guy is smiling when she returns with the package two or three hours later.

“It’s an ‘83, huh?” he laughs.

It is not so funny to her, since she’s the one who encountered the wrath of the rancher who is home watching the rain clouds build up over his broken baler.

The next time, she returns to the parts store a much smarter woman. She has written down the necessary information. Feeling more confident than ever, she passes her note to the parts guy.
I am convinced that parts guys go to special training sessions where they learn a secret language to make farm wives feel stupid. Even if the wife has all the significant information written on a carefully organized note, the parts guy will always look up from the computer and ask a question in a language that might as well be Greek.

“Is it the left galutaclophy or the right galutaclophy that is broken?” he asks in his secret code.

“Right,” she replies, smiling. Having witnessed the breakdown, she clearly remembers the side of the tractor from which the cursing was coming.

He throws the necessary part on the counter. She signs for it and dashes back to the field, convinced that she has purchased the correct part.

No such luck. She is beginning to realize that a strange power is working against her. In fact, some would consider it a conspiracy. Whatever the truth may be, the farm wife will rarely, if ever, return home with exactly the right part, and her husband will become exasperated with her.

She can try insisting that her husband call ahead and tell the parts guy what he needs. It’s a nice tactic, but like all other methods, it has flaws. When she arrives at the store, she may find that they are sold out of the necessary part. They may have it in two different types, or it might come with or without an attachment.

The parts guy does not possess the same sense of urgency as the farm wife, either. He ambles back among the rows of parts, stopping along the way to joke with another parts guy or to answer the phone. Meanwhile, the farm wife is looking at her watch, letting the baby on her hip teeth on the car keys and thinking about how she is going to get the kids fed and run the part to the field at the same time.

Even if she obtains the right part in a timely manner, that strange power that hovers over the farm wife will probably interfere at some point. For example, on her hasty drive home, she may encounter a highway patrol officer who thinks that a broken auger is no excuse to abandon reason and prudence on the road.

It’s a wise woman who takes her sense of humor into the season of breakdowns. In fact, it may be the only thing that preserves her sanity when, in his hurry to put the part back on the grain truck, her husband breaks something else, sending the farm wife back to town.


Julia in Sweden said...

It is quite amazing to see that you can make poetry out of frustration. Or do I confuse it with a hiss trought gritted teeth? *s*
It is, however, always a pleasure to read your posts.
Take care!

Dawn said...

I'm still laughing... only because I've been there. Not for tractor parts, of course - we don't need those here in suburbia. But the story is the same if you substitute "cars" or "plumbing" or "electrical."


farmnwife said...

I concur with your parts store experiences. But from now on I will be using by moto q phone to take pictures of the tractor, implement, broken part, and where the part goes. I have found that even though the farm wife operates the equipment she still has to run to get parts. My promotion to the combine didn't elevate me from that job.


Frazzled Farm Wife said...

I love true. What's sad is the parts guys know me by name and I also know them by! These computers make it so much easier now, they have all of our equipment on the computer and know what year and model they are!!

cndymkr / jean said...

This sort of thing happens here in suburbia too. Here it is the plumbing store. I hate going there. I've learned how to survive all the other supply houses but this one. I've gone in and asked for the exact part and gotten the wrong thing, only to have my father go in two seconds later and get the correct thing. They just like messing with the women.

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

HELLLOO... I have lived this. Now I say "Keep your cell phone on you and ANSWER IT!!"

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I hate being sent to the store for something for my DH.. I've learned to get him to write it all down and I have no problem calling him, while I'm there if they ask me something and I don't have any ideal what the guy behind the counter wants to know..


Jenny said...

Oh Lordy, this is so true! Especially the part about having hubby CALL for the place to set the part out. Logically this should work. Yet, it doesn't.

You left out the thanks you get (or in my case, the lack of thanks) for doing such chores. I got in trouble Saturday when I had to bring lunch to the field after cheer practice, but practice ran a few minutes late. My husband has perfected the art of text messaging and still plowing or planting in a straight line, and I get several a day of him needing this, complaining about that.

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