The Center of the Tire
by S.E. SchlosserWe were all sitting around enjoying another beautiful day of sunshine and warm weather outside our Rat Lake cabin when Tim was struck with an idea. “Why don’t we go for a boat ride this afternoon on Lake Bitabee?” he asked the general populace – which consisted of his fiancé Arlene, myself (his older sister), two little sisters, and our parents. This idea met with general approval from Arlene and myself, but Mom and the younger crowd elected to stay at the lake and Dad wanted to spend the afternoon fishing.
After lunch, Tim put the boat on the trailer and drove out the rugged trail that connected the remote Rat Lake to the outside world, and then out on the dirt road that passed as a main thoroughfare in northern Quebec. Dad followed behind in the other car, having elected to fish on Lac Victoria – which lay a few hundred yards upstream from Lac Bitabee.
We followed the edge of Lac Victoria for two miles. Then Dad turned into a clearing and parked at the edge of the lake, while Tim continued for a quarter of a mile to the Bitabee turn-off. The road leading to the old Mill Pond connecting Lake Victoria and Lake Bitabee was heavily wooded on either side and quite steep ( at least a 45 degree incline). Consisting mostly of loose rocks and sandy soil, it was completely rutted by regular rainfall so that there was no even surface whatsoever. Toward the bottom, the road split to the left to avoid the long, wooded driveway leading to another backwoods cabin. I took one look at the pitted mess and was glad I wasn’t driving!
Tim, a more-than-capable driver, sent Arlene and I to down the hill to the water’s edge in order to guide him as he backed the boat trailer down the steep incline and around the small bend. “Give a yell when the water is halfway up the back tires,” he told us. We nodded, then scampered and slid down the steep hill to the swampy Mill Pond at its base. To our left was the chattering, fast flowing stream spilling endlessly into the pond after its rapid descent from Lac Victoria. In front of us, and as far as we could see, the pond was awash in lily pads and tall weeds. A few low-slung eyeballs blinked at us from among the floating seaweed, indicating the presence of bullfrogs. The whole place smelled of swampy water and the sudden buzz of a mosquito in my ear made me wish I’d remembered to put on bug spray.
Then the back of the boat trailer edged itself around the bend, and Arlene and I began waving encouragingly to Tim, pointing him a little to the right to get him lined up properly. Slowly, inch by inch, Tim backed down the incline to the relatively flat surface next to the water. We watched as the trailer entered the swampy water, scattering fish and bullfrogs. Deeper and deeper into the swamp went the trailer, until – as Tim said – the water was halfway up the back tires. I glanced at Arlene when I judge the boat was far enough in the water. Arlene nodded her agreement and yelled out for Tim to stop the car.
My brother threw the Dodge into park and jumped out of the driver’s seat, eager to launch the boat into the water. In a single glance, I saw him register the fact that he was standing less than a foot from water’s edge. He looked at the back of the car, which was bumper deep in water which now reached – as per instruction -- halfway up the tires. Then he gazed at the boat trailer, which was so deep into the swampy pond that the boat was practically floating away, in spite of being firmly tied down.
Then he said in a very calm voice: “I thought I told you to stop me when the water was halfway up the tires.”
“It is halfway up the tires,” Arlene pointed out in what I considered a reasonable tone.
“The tires of the boat trailer,” Tim practically howled. “Not the CAR! How am I ever going to get it out of here?”
Arlene and I exchanged sheepish glances. The trailer tires? Who’d have thought?
Exasperated, Tim waded out to the boat, pushed it off the trailer, and then walked it over to a tree on the far side of the launch, where he secured it firmly. Then he got back into the car and put it into gear. It stuck fast, the tires whirling helplessly around in the muddy water. Shutting off the engine, Tim got out.
“Maybe if we took the trailer off, it would help the situation,” he said, in what I considered to be a much-too-calm manner. He was starting to scare me. After unhitching the trailer, he dragged it ashore and tucked it to the side of the boat launch area. Before he got back into the car, he explained in minute detail exactly what he wanted me and Arlene to do next; which was to push the back of the car while he tried to rock it out of the muddy water. Wading into the muck – which was rapidly becoming muckier – Arlene and I lined up on opposite sides of the car and shoved with all our might while Tim tried to pull the car out of the Mill pond. No luck.
Judging by the look on Tim’s face, I felt a retreat was necessary. Let his fiancé calm him down a bit. “I’ll get Dad,” I said hastily and plunged up the rocky, sandy, slippery incline. About midway up the Bitabee road was a grassy spot leading down to the creek where the old saw mill once stood. A very-poorly constructed bridge – mostly a large wood slab with a fish-gutting table on top of it – lay across the swiftly running water. It was a good short-cut to the main road, so I took it; sliding down the grassy slope, running hastily across the smelly, make-shift bridge with its spray-sodden boards and slippery fish-scales, and scrambling up the bank on the other side. The main dirt road lay in front of me, with Lac Victoria to my left. I raced across the street, stumbled over the gaudy green-and-orange log bridge that lay over the dam, and out onto the U-shaped dock that guarded the swimming area in front of Victoria Lodge.
Dad was fishing at the center of the dock, and turned when he heard the racket I made as I raced across the bouncing boards to his side.
“Dad, Dad! The car is stuck!” I yelled breathlessly, completely neglecting to tell him why it was stuck and whose fault it was. Dad blinked a few times as he took in my message, then reeled in his line, picked up his tackle, and followed me back out to the road. We took the slightly longer path this time, out to the Bitabee turn-off and then down the steep incline to where Tim and Arlene were still trying to extricate the car from the muddy water.
Dad tried to rock the car out a few times with all three of us standing almost waist-deep in the water, pushing from behind. Finally he gave up. The car was stuck fast. Instructing us to stay put, he went up the hill to his car and drove a mile up the road to the farmhouse of one of the local families whom we had met at the local church many years previously. Ronnie was out in the fields, but his wife obligingly walked my Dad out to where he was mowing the hayfield atop his mighty tracker so he could explain the problem to her husband. Ronnie agreed to come down to the lake after he finished his work for the day. With fervent thanks to both, Dad returned to the Mill Pond to give us the message, and then went back to his fishing.
With nothing to do for the next two hours, Tim took Arlene and I out in the boat. The fresh air and lovely lake scenery did much to cheer us, and the warm sun soon dried out wet clothes. We arrived back just a few minutes before the steady, loud rumbling sound indicated the approach of a farm tractor. We climbed up the steep hill to meet Ronnie, and Dad left off fishing to join us. Ronnie parked the tractor at the top and walked down to assess the problem. Then he backed the tractor down the hill, chained the front bumper of the Dodge to the tractor, and asked Dad to put the car into gear to assist the tractor as it pulled the stricken vehicle out of the water. Ever ready to be helpful, Dad jumped into the driver’s seat and put the car into reverse as the tractor began moving up the steep incline toward the main road.
Tim gave a yell when he saw the wheels of the Dodge spinning backward, but Dad didn’t hear him over the noise of the tractor. Shaking his head in disbelief (and, I am sure, thinking “Am I really RELATED to these people?”) Tim moved over to stand with Arlene and I as we watched the reversing car and the tractor strain back and forth for a moment in a bizarre tug-of war. But the Dodge was no match for the huge tractor. Inch by miserable inch, the car (in spite of my father’s best efforts) slowly crept out of the hole it was digging for itself in the Mill Pond and back up onto solid ground.
Taking no chances with this sorry lot, Ronnie pulled the car all the way up the incline until it was safe and sound on even ground; taking a moment to wave apologetically to the neighbors – who were waiting further down the road for us to stop blocking the entrance to their driveway. It was only when we’d thanked our friend and sent him on his way that the four of us realized that the boat and the boat trailer will still down by the water! Needless to say, it was Dad and Tim who carefully took the car back down the slope to successfully retrieve them.
It has been many years since this incident took place, but I have noticed that Tim still doesn’t ask me to help him direct the boat trailer into the water. I wonder why?