Preparing for unexpected consequences.
Poor quality winter weather is common in rural areas, there are times when your ranch might experience inconvenient conditions at a time when other relaxed folks are barbecuing and planning which shrubs to put alongside the garage. Adverse conditions resulting from the impending blustering storms manifest themselves in a variety of ways, many of them unexpected and consequential.
I fondly remember my sixth-grade teacher offhandedly mentioning, the day before a forecasted storm, a surefire way to cause a school snow day was to flush a few ice cubes down the toilet.
Now, I was never one to live up to my full potential, but if there was a stone’s throw of a chance that I might have an entire day to myself without parent supervision, you can bet I was going to try for it. You see, this was exactly about the time that I was working on a sled-mounted potato gun to defend my home from invasive red squirrels.
The missing link in my operation was the push button sparker from the gas grill.
It was stored in the garage and I couldn’t discreetly acquire it since it was about the same time of year that Dad was heavily using the garage to try and keep Meister Braü from going out of business; which is a narrative for another time…
The point is, I temporarily diverted my artillery-focused ingenuity towards the snow day situation. Assuming that if ice cubes down the toilet were good… then a few dozen shovelfuls of snow directly through an open manhole cover and into the septic tank was better. Sure enough, we had a snow day! But both Mom and Dad took off work to rip up the carpet in the basement and I spent the day carrying shop vacs full of brown sewer water up the stairs. I never did get the sparker, or the can of ether I had my eye on.
Now, the public service announcements on daytime TV will tell you all about winter survival. You can even buy a winter prep car kit through an FFA fundraiser. Growing up, we had a few of these in the minivan, all happened to be missing the chocolate bars and matches.
If you ever happen to actually need to use one of these kits, you’re probably the one to blame for the missing chocolate, but check the pockets of your 11-year-old son’s jacket for the matches. Sure, he’ll waste a few on small leaf piles in the back ravine, but once it gets down to the last few he’ll be saving them for making floating fires when the creek thaws and his dad takes the old gas out of the tractor.
Despite the danger to humans, winter is often hardest on livestock and pets.
Your best bet is to keep animals contained in a safe area with an electric fence. As the winter progresses, make sure to check the voltage. Fences can ground out under the snow, making it hard to find the object drawing the voltage.
One such situation figures prominently in my childhood.
Shortly after the septic tank debacle, I realized that I needed a base of operations for my red squirrel vendetta, and began fashioning a sort of “headquarters” out of a large drift near the back pasture. Keep in mind that the potato gun was not yet functional, since I was still short a grill sparker, and Mom had used up all my matches on menthol cigarettes while waiting for Dad to come home and pull the minivan out of the ditch just a half mile past the mailbox.
So, I was basically defending the ranch with a Red Ryder BB gun.
Of course, anyone that’s ever protected a homestead with a spring-action firearm knows that you can’t make a snow tunnel long enough to be truly safe, but you can try. This was a good-sized drift, which happened to straddle the electric fence. The exact location of which I didn’t know until I pushed my wet knee into the wet snow on the wet ground and reached forward with one last jab of the aluminum scoop shovel to send a 2,000-volt wake-up call through my arms and down my leg.
Jumping up I hit the roof, sending the top of my frozen bunker cascading down around me. In the ensuing panic, the shovel was left behind, inconveniently connecting the fence wires to the frozen soil beneath the snow and thus grounding out the fence.
He looked for hours, but Dad couldn’t find the short and had to buy a bigger 10-joule fencer to compensate.
This along, with the carpet replacement, caused a temporary strain on finances. Meaning Dad had to give up the Meister Braüs in favor of the then cheaper white-label, generic “Beer;” Meister Braü went out of business, Dad shot the squirrels with a shotgun for stress relief, and I moved on to building carp traps with chicken wire in the spring-thawed river.
To summarize, should you find yourself experiencing blizzard conditions in February, keep in mind that lots of boys in rural areas are born around October, the 10th month of the year. Be safe this winter!
This post was written by Nick Schmitz, February, 2016.