May 27, 1988

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The Great

Orient Buckboard Race


Martha Treichler

Grandfather ran his new Orient Buckboard against a horse, but it was a woman who won the race.

The woman was my grandmother. And when she saw the new Orient Buckboard drive into the yard that summer afternoon in 1905, she didn't think she'd won anything. One of those new cars was the last thing in the world she wanted. She'd been washing clothes that morning and the struggle with the old cook stove had just about finished her. Finally she had got the wash boiler hot, but when the first dipper full of steaming water went into the tub she found it had sprung a leak.

"Joe!" she called to my father, who was carrying an armful of wood into the house, "Hurry up and bring me a needle and a rag!" Deftly she poked the rag into the leak and pulled it through from the bottom until the small hole was packed tight with cloth.

When the Buckboard turned in she was hanging up the last batch of overalls and she didn't stop. To Joe's ten-year-old eyes the varnished Buckboard, with its red painted trim and touches of brass, was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. With a whoop he ran to where it had come to a stop and fingered the red and gold trimmed fenders.

"Retty!" called my grandfather, and for the first time the two on the ground noticed the stranger in preacher's garb on the seat beside Grandfather.

"This is Brother Brumbaugh, Retta, and this is my wife and son Joe. We've had dinner, Retta, but Brother Brombaugh will have supper with us before we go to meeting this evening."

They had already been to one of the week of revival meetings, but they had traveled by buggy that time, pulled by old Kate.

Grandmother welcomed Rev. Brombaugh into the sitting room and asked about his wife and family as calmly as if she hadn't a care in the world, but inside she was seething.

Of course she loved Grandpa, she couldn't help it. He was big and handsome with an irresistible smile and broad shoulders and a chest like a barrel. He never scolded, never got angry, but he did do just as he wanted, and—although Grandma was always the one to lose her temper and fire off at him—she always lost.

You see, Grandpa just couldn't resist machines and tools. It was in his blood, and there wasn't anything he could do about it or Grandma could do about it. He had the biggest threshing machine and the best big black steam engine to pull it. He had a corn sheller and a feed grinder run by a big gas engine. He had a forge, a metal drill, and a big tool chest of the newest and best of everything—not to mention all the usual farming implements.

But Grandma's kitchen equipment was simple. She had a water bucket to fill at the pump in the yard, two dish pans—one of these doubled as her bread pan—a few kettles, a big crockery mixing bowl and a big spoon, and little more besides the cook stove.

As she went out to the garden for carrots her eyes shot sparks at the new car. She knew who would ride to the meeting that night in it, and she knew she and Joe and Baby Sarah would be taking the buggy.

When she came back from the garden with her pan of vegetables, Joe and the two men were outside again admiring the Orient Buckboard. Grandfather was saying, "We'll get to Cambridge tonight faster than we've ever made it before! The wonder of it! The world will never be the same again!"

"It is a marvelous thing," said Rev. Brumbaugh, "but how does it work?"

As Grandmother went into the kitchen to start supper, Grandfather was explaining with great enthusiasm just how it did work. Joe and the preacher hung on his every word.

Grandma was the first one ready after supper. Grandpa and Joe had been late with their chores because of their preoccupation with the new car, and Grandma was sitting at the table in her Sunday black visiting with Rev. Brumbaugh when Grandpa and Joe came in to change.

Joe had hoped right up to the last minute that he would be allowed to go with the men, and he stuck close to Grandfather as they crossed the lawn to where old Kate was hitched to the buggy, right beside the new Orient Buckboard. But when Grandfather said, kindly but firmly, "Son," father knew he wouldn't be riding in the new car. "Son," said Grandfather again, putting his hand on father's head, "Mother will need you to hold Baby Sarah while she drives, and you can take a turn driving, too." This eased the sting a little for Joe, and he climbed into the old buggy without complaint.

Grandmother lifted up Sarah beside him, then gave a startled, "OH!" as Grandfather swung her up beside the children. Grandfather laughed.

"Retta," he said, "You start ahead, I have to check the gasoline and oil, but don't wait for us because we'll get there before you do anyway."

Grandmother didn't smile as she noted the pleased look on Grandfather's face. He's mighty satisfied with his new toy, she said to herself, and he's going to get a real race whether he knows it or not!

Grandfather said, "Say, Retta, could we put an extra can of gasoline on the back of the buggy?" He started toward them with the tin of fuel in his hand but Grandmother had already given old Kate a sharp swat with the reins and she didn't stop.

"That car's not much good if it has to have a horse along to carry the fuel," she said, and turned into the road with an agonized screech from the buggy wheels. From the look on Grandfather's face, Joe saw he knew—right then—he was in for a race.

Once on the road, Grandmother let Kate settle into a steady jog. Joe pleaded, "Can't you make her go faster?" He knew now Grandmother was going to try to win a race, and since he had been forced onto the horse's side, he was all for the horse.

"It's seven miles," said Grandmother, "we'll have to save her strength for the last stretch. If we ran her too hard now she'd have to stop and walk. Let's see if we can keep her jogging most of the way."

They had gone almost two miles when they heard the roar of the Buckboard and in a few moments it passed them in a cloud of dust. Both Grandfather and Rev. Brumbaugh waved grandly as they flew by.

Grandmother looked at Joe. "They aren't there yet," she said.

Sure enough, just a mile farther on they rounded a bend and there sat the Buckboard with a jack under an axle. Grandfather was wielding the tire tools furiously while Rev. Brumbaugh looked on apprehensively, a can of patching equipment in his hand. Grandmother saw a thoughtful look in the minister's eye as he answered her wave.

The tire change must have been made without a hitch because the buggy was only half a mile farther on when again the cloud of dust overtook them.

This time Joe was the one who said, "They aren't there yet," but he said it without any real conviction. How he would have loved to come sweeping up in the new car to the crowd of early comers at the church step! How he would have liked, especially, for a certain high and mighty Master Jeth Miller to see him climb down from that red running board! He was half way through a big sigh of self pity when he noticed that although the dust cloud had disappeared from the road ahead, the Buckboard hadn't. It had stopped again, about a half mile up the road.

Grandfather's face was red and shiny. He had a pair of pliers in one hand and a piece of wire in the other. Joe remembered some of the things he'd heard that afternoon and said, "Maybe the chain broke, and Poppa has to put in a new link."

Joe began to have hope that maybe the horse could win. His spirits soared. Grandmother felt the same lift. Even old Kate seemed to spring along more jauntily. But their elation was short lived. They were hardly out of sight again when the roar, and the dust approached and passed them.

Silently, they went on. Blackbirds sang from the side of the road and the honeysuckle perfume was heavy in the air. They noticed neither. Suddenly they came up over a little slope and there sat the Buckboard.

As they drew even with the car Grandma stopped with a "Whoa, Kate. What is it now, Roy?"

Grandfather was crawling on his hands and knees, pawing the dust. "Ball bearings," he muttered. "Fell out and rolled all over—never find 'em all."

Grandmother said quietly to Joe, "You better stay and help your dad." Aloud she added, "Would Rev. Brumbaugh like to go on in with me?" And before Grandfather could stand up to reply, Rev. Brumbaugh had scrambled off the Buckboard and taken Joe's place in the buggy. As Grandmother drove off, Joe and Grandfather were both still on their knees in the dust.

The rest of the ride into town was quiet except for little Sarah's good-natured, if untranslatable, exchanges with the minister and the whip-poor-wills calling each other from far off. No roaring cloud of dust overtook them. Quietly they drove into the churchyard, tied up the horse, and went in.

The opening hymns were over, the special numbers given, the offering taken, and the sermon on its way, before Grandmother heard the familiar chug.

But she didn't feel as elated about winning the race as she thought she would. When she had left home she had hated the Orient Buckboard for a whole list of reasons. She had hated being pushed off in the buggy when Grandfather was riding in state in the new car; she had hated Grandfather's wasting money on a car when they needed so many things around the house, and maybe, a little bit, she had even resented Grandfather for being so strong and handsome and daring.

Well, she had seen him crawling in the dust, humiliated for himself and his machine, and it didn't make her feel one bit happier. In fact, she had a miserable lump inside her chest.

Just then Grandfather slipped into the seat beside her. He gave her a smile, set baby Sarah on his lap, and turned his face toward the preacher. Grandmother smiled, too, and sneaked another look at him to make sure. Why, he wasn't a bit downcast! There was a happy, faraway look in his eyes as if he were humming along, without flat tires or lost berings, in his Orient Buckboard.

© 1988, Martha Treichler
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