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COLUMNIST: Brush hog offers ultimate guy experience

A brush hog is the common name for a large, flat, heavy-duty mower that fits on the three-point attachment behind a farm tractor, and is driven by the tractor's power take-off. They're quite handy, will mow large weeds, small trees, and gopher mounds which go through with a satisfying "whump!" of flying dirt. With a five-foot brush hog behind a tractor, one can mow through just about anything that the tractor will go through.

Over the past years, my brush hog and I have had a lot of fun knocking down various noxious growths. It's highly enjoyable to look behind you and see the cleared path that you and your brush hog have just slashed. Matter of fact, when it comes to guy stuff, it is just about the ultimate experience to back up to a six-foot-tall growth of prickly ash that would rip you to shreds were you to try to walk through it, rev up the tractor engine, let out the clutch, and--in a few seconds of crashing, flying shreds of wood and vibrating chaos--chew it up into a million little pieces of spaghetti and spit it out.

Brush hogs have a five-foot-wide, half-inch-thick steel blade that is nearly indestructible. They only have one or two mortal enemies. Rocks, for example, do not recognize the brush hog's sovereignty over them. Over the years, I have learned to wear my motorcycle helmet to keep from being brained by the small rocks. The big ones, however, cause the brush hog to recoil up and down, while the sound of the blade trying to destroy the rock sounds like cannon fire.

Last summer, there were so many thistles in my fields that I received a nice letter from The Weed Prince, who lives in a tax-payer supported castle at the county seat. I don't remember the exact wording of the letter, but it basically complimented me on the number, variety, and sheer magnitude of my noxious weeds, and pointed out that, remarkable as they were, I'd better get rid of them.

I hooked up the brush hog, went out there, and found out that most of the really big thistles grew right out of gopher mounds, which as you remember are the other deadly enemy of the brush hog, and after two days of grinding them down, the brush hog died.

I found another used one at a machinery jockey, a nice one that the jockey said had been owned by a little old lady who only used it to mow between her Begonias. The only problem was, he couldn't find the power take-off shaft that was supposed to come with it. "No problemo," he said, "I'll drop it off at your farm when I come across it."

He doesn't go by my farm much, evidently, so, tired of waiting for it, I took the shaft off the broken brush hog, and kind of forgot about it. Winter came. I took off the brush hog and in its place installed the snow blower. Snowblowers have only one real enemy: anything that gets buried in snow banks. That includes stuff like frozen cow patties, chunks of firewood, and aluminum canoes.

There weren't any cow patties that winter, and after shortening up the family canoe a couple of winter's back, I kept that in the shed, but a chunk of firewood ruined the power take-off shaft. Most of these shafts are common, so I just called the machinery jockey that maybe owed me one. The thing was, by then, I couldn't remember for sure if I had gotten one from him.

"Hello," I said to him as I told him who I was. Remember that brush hog that I bought from you last summer? Did you give me the shaft?" There. Can't be any clearer than that. I was in a hurry, snow was banking up quickly, debris was being hidden from sight.

"Oh, yeah," he replied. "I remember the brush hog. Weren't you happy with it?" He sounded forgetful. I don't think he remembered at all.

I told him that I was happy, but I told him I wasn't sure whether or not he had given me the shaft.

"Listen," he said, a bit huffily, I thought, "We give good deals. We don't give customers the shaft."

"You said you'd give me the shaft."

"Are you nuts," he said, "We don't come right out and tell people we're giving them the shaft."

"Yes you do. You told me that."

"Aren't you happy with that brush hog?" he asked me.

"Yes, I am happy with it."

"Well, then, don't be claiming you got the shaft on the deal."

I said: "I'm not claiming that. I'm claiming that I want the shaft. I need the shaft. I just wondered, since I cannot remember for sure, did I really get the shaft?"

"Well," he said kind of quietly, "Most folks don't want me to give'em the shaft."

"Well," I said, "You sold some machinery to my neighbor, and he told me that he got the shaft."

The jockey said: "That neighbor's a damned liar. I never gave him the shaft."

"Anyway," I said, "That's irrelevant, I want to know whether or not I got the shaft."

"Ok," he said, "I gave you the shaft."

"You didn't."

"Yes, I did."



One of the most peculiar conversations that I have ever had.