He was the strongest, smartest, tallest man in the world.  He knew everything and he could do anything.  He put the bathroom in our house.  He built the walls, put in the doors and windows, the bathtub (raised from the floor), sink and toilet.  He designed and constructed the cupboards under the sink, even the drawers, and made the lowest one a step for the youngest children.  He installed the plumbing and the drains.  Before this, we had an outhouse across the yard from the back door.

He repaired farm equipment: various tractors, the combine, the mower, the baler, the rake, the plow and disk and planters.  He needed to repair them so he could use them to farm, that was his occupation.  He even built a hay wagon when an old one became too worn out to repair.

He fixed our household vehicles too: various cars, pickups, and the grain truck.  There seemed to be a steady stream of them through our lives.  I look at an engine and just shudder.  I can check the oil and coolant levels, and fill them, but don’t expect me to do more than that.

He was patient with me and did not yell at me, not even when I unintentionally destroyed his equipment.  He put me on a tractor the summer I was thirteen to farm with him.  I had no interest in that, but knew he needed help.  Over the next few years, equipment that I used broke.  I once came home from disking a field, breaking up clumps of dirt made by the plow and leveling it in preparation for planting, and he asked what had happened to the last disk in the back row.  Having no idea what he was talking about, I turned around to look.  That eighteen inch, round steel disk was torn like a piece of paper.  I had no clue.  Another time, coming home so sick from riding inside a cloud of dust all afternoon, I didn’t notice that a front tire of the tractor was not only flat, but the rubber was being torn from the rim.  My most amazing feat, though, had to be the front axel of a tractor.

I had been assigned to plow a field while he worked another field nearby.  I was still fairly new to this farming process, probably fourteen or fifteen, and hadn’t learned about the edge of the field.  I’d been working in this field for some time, when Dad came to check on my progress.  He noticed that I had not plowed as close to the edge of the field as he wanted.  He instructed me to watch the plow behind me as I came to the edge of the field, so I could plow as far as possible.  I said I would.  I did want to please him.  Granpa was getting too old to do much work and Dad needed the help.

As I came to the end of the row, I practiced looking behind me, while driving forward, to make sure I pulled the plow out of the ground as close to the edge of the field as possible.  I did this for several turns at the edge of the field.  Then, one time as I turned, the tractor stopt moving.  What was wrong?  I looked forward and found that a front wheel of the tractor had run into the side of a tree.  Not just any tree, but the ONLY tree at the edge of the field.  It was as if I had aimed for it!

The tractor wouldn’t move, the tires were bent, so I walked to the field where my father was working.  I tried to describe the situation, but he did not understand.  He unhooked the equipment he was using and we rode back to my field on his tractor.  We got there and he simply stared in disbelief.  How had it even been possible?!?

Finally, after some minutes of silence, he got on my, now wrecked, tractor (the front wheels, instead of being parallel and pointing forward, were bent to point towards each other), and backed it up.  He also pulled the plow up so it would out of the ground.  Then, he very carefully drove the tractor back into the side of the tree again.  This time, he held the steering wheel straight with all his might; I could see his muscles tense, and pushed the bent wheel along the side of the tree.  Just passed the tree, he stopt.  He got off the tractor, surveyed the result, and told me to resume plowing.  He had re-bent the axel to be straight!  It worked fine from then on and I was more careful to look both ways at the edge of the field!

Another time, I was driving a tractor home with the new hay wagon attached.  I was almost home, coming down a rise in the road.  There was not much gravel on the road then and bedrock jutted out, making tiny steps in the road.  These steps made the wagon bounce up and down.  Suddenly, I heard a different noise and looked back to see the wagon go off the road into the large gully beside the road.  The wagon landed twisted.  I felt sick.  We had built that wagon was not even a week earlier.  I had to go home and confess its destruction.

As I told Dad what had happened, he calmly listened.  I was amazed.  If he had been my mother, he would be screaming hysterically.  That was common for her.  He, on the other hand, began to select tools from the shed and put them on the back of the tractor.  We got to the site and he backed the tractor down into the gully in front of the wagon.  As we got off, he began cutting away the brush and I did too.

“It’s grown up some,” he calmly remarked.  “Since last time I lost equipment here; the baler AND a wagon.”

I was stunned.  No wonder he wasn’t upset.  He’d done the same thing, but worse!!!
When we pulled the wagon out, it straightened itself out.  It was twisted only because of the angles of the sides of the gully.  On the flat road, it was right again.  Only the new paint had been slightly scratched.  I was SO thankful!!!

The roof of the barn on his parents farm, where he was born and had grown up, began to noticeably sag.  He said he needed to “fix” it.  I thought that was impossible.  One day when I came home from school, he announced that he had “fixed” it.  All it took was a cable, stretched from side to side, and winched shorter in the middle.  That held the barn up until, decades later, during a violent wind storm, it blew down.  He and my grandparents had died by then, so they never saw that catastrophe.

“Do you know how to do everything?”  I asked him one day when I was nine or ten as I watched him do something that was incomprehensible to me.

“No,” he replied.  “But, I know I’m not stupid and I’m sure I can figure it out.”

That philosophy served me well when I built a house for my family.  A carpentry crew framed the structure and interior walls,  I finished the rest: the plumbing, the heating/cooling system, the wiring, the interior walls, ceilings, and floors.  I assembled the furnace, hooked it up to the duct-work, and lit it, the evening before our first blizzard of that winter.  Many times I would do a specific task two or three times before I was satisfied it was “right.”  A few times I cut myself and left blood inside the walls.  When I did that, I wrote a note to identify the blood and the date.  I didn’t want someone later to wonder.  It was a three story, two bathroom, five bedroom house.  My biggest carpentry project before this was a floor to ceiling bookcase – which, once it was filled with books, promptly collapsed!  I was ready.

As far as being “the tallest man in the world;” he wasn’t.  He was taller than me all the time he was my father, but he was not six feet tall.  He was fractionally shorter.  He wanted to be six feet tall.  He even asked the person who wrote down his stats for the navy if he could nudge the numbers up to six feet.  The man refused.  My brothers and I are his height now.  We never had the opportunity to look him straight eye to eye, nor could we give him a man-to-man hug.  He was gone before we had grown that tall.
Though I’m now a grandfather, and my father was killed when I was sixteen, he remains my hero.

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