"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Salmon Ford

  A WIDE brown dirt road lay straight out beyond the Thunder-chicken Ford hood ornament. Two young men in the car had left their barracks on Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. They were traveling fast in the rising sun, casting for a few days of walleye fishing. Andy and Bart drove across the prairie quickly toward Devil’s Lake. The first hour had sprinted them in missile-like fashion across miles of smooth, recently-scraped and firmly packed dirt road. They were almost halfway to their destination.
 Andy had a home-spun theory about traveling fast on straight gravel roads. As he taught it, Bart.., a California boy, did not argue the point. Not being from a Midwest prairie state, he did not fault his friend’s prairie logic. Andy’s strategy seemed to work. The driver said, “When you drive a dry prairie gravel road, you’ve got to play around until you find a speed that won’t pick up stones.”
  Andy’s strategy was well-planned. At too-low speeds the car would fill with dust. So he said they needed to go a bit faster. Then gravel started to bounce from the tires toward the floor board and rockers, but the dust in the car lessened. As he increased speed, they heard fewer “clinks” and “chinks” as gravel missed the bottom of Andy’s ’56 Ford hardtop.
 Thus, varying speed a bit according to the humidity and other natural wheat field factors that only Andy could talk about at length, they sped up... and the noise stopped. On that morning at precisely 62 mph, Bart noted that relative quiet settled into what had been a dust-raising drill. No longer was dirt coming in, but was seen curling up far behind. He became very glad that there was no oncoming traffic. They would make the two men slow enough to keep stones from hitting windshields.
 Andy explained to Bart that the centrifugal force of the tires overcame any “stickiness” of small pebbles clamped in the tread. The ideal speed threshold was therefore detected only by the relative quiet. With just a slight rumble of rolling wheels, they could then listen to Hank Williams on the radio, and talk to one another at a normal fish-monger's volume.

 Once the two young men achieved that ideal speed with the wide smooth gravel road still allowing safety, Andy maintained a rate just a few mph above the “quiet” speed zone. This took a bit of old-fashioned, astute mid-western throttle play that could make many modern, electronic cruise control envious.
 Andy had sought to get them right up to that ideal speed quickly. He had just paid a body man big bucks to refinish the lower panels of the Ford with the original salmon-like, coral color he liked so much. After the paint restoration was so ably completed and dried for a time at the base hobby shop, he’d attached small rubber mud flaps on the front wheel wells. Andy topped off his work with a bug screen bought at the Western Auto. The screen graced the front of the car to protect the grille. Though Bart had not said so, he thought Andy’s bug catcher a bit much for the beautifully-kept Ford hardtop. However, the bug screen was not just to protect the grill. The screen helped to keep the radiator from being clogged by a bumper crop of grasshoppers. While the overhead valve Ford V-8 did run clean and cool thanks to the regularly washed screen.
 On that day, Andy had more in mind. His prairie practicalities were at work. You see, Andy hailed from South Dakota. He was raised in Mobridge. In his youth he had learned to fish for pike prairie-style. Given that history, he knew exactly what he was doing with his bug screen. While Bart had wondered why they weren’t taking a paved road toward the east that morning, Andy had acquiring bait in his mind.

  Bart was to learn that almost every prairie dusty road they traveled had wide ditches on both sides. In winter, drifted snow would fill them. Those wide, shallow areas Andy used as a resource. Bart discovered his strategy when they drew up to a lonely stop sign.
 The two men sat there for a moment idling at a prairie intersection. There was not a house or barn anywhere in sight. Andy then drove slowly across the rural intersection, and went down the gradual slope into the wide ditch paralleling the road. He started to drive slowly along in the very bottom of the ditch. He picked up a little speed through the still wet grass. Soon minor taps on the front of the car and the splats on the windshield told the tale.


You see, Andy had picked the right road, the right ditch, and had the right height to the rising sun. After a quarter mile or so of ditch running, at the field’s next tractor access road, Andy pulled up out of the ditch and stopped. He quickly jumped out with the keys in his hand. He opened the trunk lid and handed Bart two big empty coffee cans and a pair of gloves. They went to the front grill’s bug screen and started picking live bait! Live, stunned and splattered grasshoppers, beetles, moths and bugs were there! Some of those nasties Bart still can’t describe or identify. Andy grinned, and said, “Now we’ve got bait!”
 I remembered this scene described from Bart many years ago as I strolled through a car show. The show was held next to a little lake in the town where I now live. There I saw a Ford hardtop of the same color as my friend’s former ride. The hardtop sparkled in the morning sun. Beautifully preserved, the Ford Victoria lured both my attention and the focus of my camera lens. I was not, however, the only person gathered by the sight.
 Though it did not have the stone deflecting mud flaps, nor a massive bug screen attached to its grille… the car was a magnet. It worked quite like a bug zapper lit up at night. People gathered around the car. Amid them was a man passing out Christian pamphlets.

 As a minister, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that witness method. I thought of my Air Force buddies and those prairie fishing methods. So I asked the man with the Christian gospel tracts, “What kind of fishing bait did the disciples use?
 He said, “Lord knows…”
 Andy had taught me, “Find a ditch on a lightly traveled road; move at just the right speed, and the bait gathered will be right.”
 Those words tapped into my mind like the bait on his bug screen. I thought about them again as I later unfolded my lawn chair next to the lake. I opened my fishing box after casting out a tasty bug as bait. I looked at the tract the man had given.
 The booklet he was passing to others told about Jesus teaching folks down at the lakeshore. I read a few lessons taught about faith.
 Oddly, only now I remember that Andy had taken that road for a reason. I remembered that I knew him after meeting him in a Lutheran church in Mohall, ND. I realize now that those two young servicemen carried on long conversations about fishing, faith and God’s love supplied. It was three-hook bait given freely by God like bugs in a ditch, but far more profound. 
You see, during many excursions in North Dakota for land-locked salmon, pike, muskies, pickerel and more, Andy had been instrumental in laying the foundation for faith understanding in many people. In quiet trips to Devil’s Lake my fisherman friend shared his faith on more than one occasion, with Bart and others.
 Andy, in somewhat regular practice grown of his mid-western Norwegian Lutheran roots, showed that he lived a baptized life of hooked Christian freedom every day. Whenever possible, he’d gone about prayerfully fishing, hunting and harvesting… gathering the sinful and un-nameable bugs that God had laid out before him. They were like the manna bread given by God to the people of Israel in the desert so long ago.
 I do remember that conversations about Jesus as Lord were spoken easily by Andy. They certainly became part of the day for anyone who sat in a boat with him on a farm pond. The story of Jesus calming the seas seemed fit to be laughed about as he would row hard to beat a rain storm sweeping across the Garrison Reservoir. Through all his witness, Andy would find that a fishing buddy would slowly be brought to know the grace of God.
 I wonder now, “What does the Holy Trinity have in common with a treble hook?” Maybe very little, but it makes for great debate as we might sit alongside each other on the banks of a cold Dakota lake. I think of this after my many years in the pulpit. Andy taught me that it’s amazing who you can catch just by driving slowly through the ditches of life... trolling along... catching devilish bugs maimed… and using them as bait.

Here's a video for those who like to try fishing for people...

About Liking Fish!


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Can Small Be Mighty?

WITH OUR Lord Jesus as example, we see how just one small act can change the Way of the world. Check out this video to see what we mean...

Planting One Small Block Of Faith in the City Square!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Clouds Surrounded...

A LATE night fog slowed progress. I drove home from a distant church meeting. Each time the fog rolled in I tried to use the high beam headlights. The mist would glare back, so that only low beams would allow me to wend my way. Occasionally, I could not see through the clouds at all. I kept stepping on the brake, but the fog’s swirling made it look like the car was still rolling right along. I opened the driver’s door and looked down. The car had indeed stopped. Then rolling slowly forward with the door’s interior light shining on the roadway’s double yellow line, I felt pressed. Remaining there stopped in the road was not an option… for fear of another driver crawling up behind me. I was tense in the darkness, but kept going. By the time I could see and arrived at my hometown street it was close to midnight.
 I rolled up my street toward home and became aware that a glow highlighted a garage doorway in a house located about three doors before my own. Knowing the gear head that called the bi-level place his own, I knew that I’d likely find Nick beneath the hood of his favorite project. Sure enough, the door to the garage was wide open.

 Dressed in a NASCAR tee-shirt and droopy jeans, Nick was draped over the engine housed beneath the open hood. Plenteous fender covers protected the deep metallic blue paint on his Mustang. Engulfed by the V-8 beneath the hood, he worked intently on the ignition system.
 The engine was beautiful. Tasteful appointments of stock and aftermarket baubles accented two chromed, custom rocker arm covers. A tricked out high-performance 4-bbl carb nested nicely on top of a hi-rise aluminum manifold. I knew from previous conversations that the manifold sat ever so lightly between cylinder heads that had been ported, polished, relieved and tulip valve matched by Nick for maximum air flow. He had built this engine over the period of a year, with countless hours of exacting and painstaking work.
 Indeed like the rest of the car, most work in the engine was done personally by Nick. Several years of late night hours had formed his gorgeous set of wheels, given as a hand-me down Ford from his father. He had given the car to Nick while the boy was in high school.

Out of the Mist!
 “Watcha doin, Nick?” I asked.
 Deeply committed to the task, he didn’t even look up to see who it was.
 Apparently recognizing my voice, he said, “I just reworked the distributor. It had a bit too much play in the shaft bushing, so I thought I’d do the whole job once over. While in there, I re-curved the stock centrifugal advance and shimmed the vacuum advance at the speed shop last week. Now I’m dropping the whole works back in.”
 Nick then straightened up from the old couch cushion that supported him, keeping his weight off the radiator housing. He wiped his hands with a shop towel, though not a spot of dirt could be found anywhere in the engine bay.
  A tall young man in his late twenties, Nick looked eyeball-to-eyeball with me as he stood. With a “Pfft”, he blew dark hair back from his brow and said, “Reverend, I had to index and reseat the distributor to the oil pump drive rod again, so I though it should get another shot of oil to the crank and bearings before I fire up this old snake.”

 I nodded, knowing that using an electric drill and a home-made adapter rod, Nick could work the pump until engine oil pressure showed on the dash gauge. I also coldly noted his rather official “Reverend” reference to me as his neighbor, and the pet name “snake” as he spoke about his project car. Though in the past he said that he knew the car wasn’t a “Cobra”, he treated the Mustang like he was a fluted hypnotist entreating his king snake into a wheel stand. I wondered many a time about whether he was the one being hypnotized. Often, on late summer nights, it seems the snake played the flute.
 “How are Jennie and the kids?” I asked quietly, thinking that I’d better keep our voices low or I’d awaken the sleeping home.
 “They’re okay I guess. Jennie has the girls with her down to her parents in Atlanta. I haven’t talked to them for a while.”
  “Oh, when did they go?” I queried.
 He wiped the bent wrench especially angle-made for tightening the Ford engine’s distributor clamp bolt. And without looking up from his task, he said… “They’ve been gone more than a month” He paused a bit… “I don’t know when… or if they’ll come back.”

 I thought for a minute or two about what he said. Then I asked, “Is there a problem, Nick?” 

 He shrugged a little. “Yeah.., I guess. Jennie says she’s going to stay there for a while. She said I don’t spend enough time with her and the girls.”
 He bent over the engine again and started putting the distributor cap in place, turning it slowly so to index it properly.
  “I’m home all the time. It’s not like I’m going out to a bar or clubbin’ or nothing like that.” He then continued, “I’m always out here in the garage every night. She knew where to find me.”

 Usually reluctant to comment casually on marital troubles, I stood trying to do what every friend should do… just listen. But somehow.., what he’d told me was just like that little lifter click people would sometimes hear beneath the forward portion of the right valve cover on a 455cid V-8 Olds. Hearing it, I’d asked myself while listening… is it just a bit of dirt, a bad lifter, a rocker, or is the whole train starting to wobble?
 So boldly I asked… “Nick, when’s the last time you went anywhere on a date with your wife… just the two of you?”
 “I took her to the movies over Thanksgiving.” he said.
 “That’s many months ago. And you both sat there watching the screen, I imagine.., not talking. Did you go somewhere together to talk afterward?"
 Hearing no answer as he clicked the cap’s metal snaps in place, I continued, “I’m no marriage counselor, but it sounds like you folks could use some alone time to talk and share.., every week.”

 Without waiting for an answer, I quickly said “Nick, when’s the last time you took the girls to a car show?”
 He looked up from trying to figure the firing order of the plug wires. He said, “They’re girls. What would they get from a car show?”
 “Lots!” I answered. “My wife goes to shows with me. She, the one who is always shopping, tells me which car she wants. My daughter munches hot dogs, drinks soda and takes pictures of bumpers, hubcaps, and any cute animal hood ornaments she sees. Best of all, we get to bum around, have fun and spend time together.”
 “I spend time with my family right here,” he returned.
  I then struggled to find the right words. “Nick.., please don’t continue to make an idol out of this car. It’s not a god, but it sounds like it does take away your time and energy from your family. Maybe you need to think a bit about some priorities.”
 He straightened up slowly. He kept looking at the engine for a long time. I thought he was getting angry. Finally he said, "You know Reverend, the fog is nearly gone. Your timing seems to be just about right.”

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 May the Holy Spirit Guide You Over the Hills and Through the Dips!