On the West Side of the Taconics

He hailed from the west side of a tall and narrow spine of mountains known to the locals as the Taconics.  This ancient chain of mountains rose steeply from low valleys creating a wall of rock and forest between New York to the west and Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont to the east.  Brian Murdock, or just Murdock as he was known to his friends, was from the small borough of Petersburg.  This small rural town in eastern New York was as rugged and independent as the mountains and foot hills that rose to the east.  The area was inhabited with hard working rural folk similar to many of the people that inhabit the Appalachian chain.  These folks generally take pride in honesty, family and friends and not so much in worldly goods or money.

When Murdock was younger he used to wonder why fate had positioned him on these western slopes where everything seemed to come a little slower and a little harder.  The east side of the Taconics, an area known far and wide as the Berkshires, was inhabited by wealthy New Yorkers who had migrated from the big city to western Massachusetts.  The natives of the eastern Taconics in Massachusetts had displaced by big money and the resulting higher taxes, many of whom had resettled in upstate New York as a way of hanging on to their rural heritage.

Murdock saw his residence on the west side of the Taconics as a mixed blessing.  On this side of the mountain things had pretty much stayed as they always had been; rural and poor.  To the east a few of the natives had hung on and made more than proper incomes from all of the wealth around them.  Wealthy people need services, and those clever enough to develop specific skills had prospered.  Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and landscapers and property maintenance workers had all done well.  Those that had chosen to stayed with the now closed mills and dairy farms were mostly those that were displaced.

Murdock hadn’t wasted too much time thinking about his fate.  He was more practical than that.  He liked to think he was the kind of guy that rolled with the punches.  There was no use crying over spilt milk, or that was what his Mother used to tell him.  These days Murdock lived in an older mobile home.  It had wheels when he rolled it on to the homestead some thirty years ago to replace the even older trailer that now sat on its side in the back forty.  The trailer home in which he now lived had been put on blocks, had several wooden additions attached to it so that if you now looked at it from the air would resemble a crucifix, and had a fresh coat of non-glossy paint added to the shell some twenty years ago.  This domicile sat about 250 feet off Route 2.  This road did get a lot of traffic as it was one of the main roads over the Taconics into neighboring Williamstown, Massachusetts the home of Williams College.  He had lived on this property for most of his life.  His parents had died a long time ago.  His 18 year old brother died in a saw mill accident when he was only twelve.  He had been married briefly but his wife ran off with some traveling salesman she met while working at a motel in Troy, a small city to the west.  The old mobile home was all alone in some 100 acres of old field.  The area immediately adjacent to the trailer was adorned with several old outbuildings including two sheds chuck full of old automobile parts, a chicken coop, and old hog palace, and a one car garage that was occasionally emptied for auto repairs.  The old fields were full of old junk cars, trucks, and tractors.  At first it was a collection of old family mechanical heirlooms, but as time passed Murdock added to his collection with junk from neighbors.  These days his primary source of income was from selling old auto parts salvaged from his collection.  Murdock even scavenged old car, truck, and tractor parts from neighbors.  They were happy to get a few bucks for and old alternator or other junk part that he could resell for a small profit.  The junk vehicles were mostly blocked from public view as they here hidden in thick brush, shrubs, and trees that had grown up around them.  Murdock knew that at some point someone would complain about all of this being an illegal junk yard.  The complaint would likely come from some rich bastard on the other side of the hill.

On this day Murdock was looking for a starter off an old Plymouth.  A fellow who restored cars out Albany way knew there was a possibility that Murdock would have an old starter from a ‘53 Plymouth six cylinder that worked or could be rebuilt.  Murdock knew there was an old Plymouth out back, but he wasn’t sure if he had already sold the starter or if the Plymouth was even the right year and model.  The fellow had promised Murdock that he would give him $100 for the starter so Murdock was intent on investigating the issue.

Sure enough in the very back of where a corn field had been some 50 years ago sat a 1953 Plymouth.  The question now was to find out if it were a six cylinder or an eight cylinder.  Murdock noticed there was no hood, in fact an apple tree had grown right up next to the engine through a hole that yielded light next to the coiled springs that wrapped around the shock absorbers.  Murdock counted the spark plug wires and there were six.  This was good news if the starter still remained attached to the engine block.  Murdock got down on his hands and knees in the wet sedges and grass and peered into the dark underbelly of the car.  Given the tires had flattened years ago and the car now rested on all four rusted wheels there was not too much clearance between the car chassis and the ground.  Murdock pulled a pen light out of the right front pocket of his greasy coveralls and shined it towards the back of the engine.  He was happy to see a heavy round cylinder with wires attached to it mounted on the engine block in the light of his flashlight beam.

Murdock reached into a leg pocket and pulled out a can of PB Blaster.  This modern penetrating oil had made his life easier for several years.  He sprayed each bolt the best he could.  He would return the next day in hopes that the PB Blaster had cut through the old rust that formed nearly impenetrable bonds between starter and bolt thread.

Murdock enjoyed the morning walk back to his home.  The brush lot, a field only ten short years ago, was clogged with shrubs and saplings.  Old cars and trucks were found in ramshackle arrangements throughout the area.  Some cars were on their roofs, some were without fenders and hoods, and some cars and old tucks were almost completely intact.  There was a lot of steel out in these woods.  Murdock made mental notes, most of which would be forgotten, of the various makes and models that adorned this area.

Murdock found an old path, once a cart trail, that led directly back to his homestead.  The trail was kept worn by deer, whose prints could be seen in muddy areas.  Murdock had given up hunting deer in season years ago.  There were too many out-of-staters, mostly from Massachusetts, to screw up a good hunting experience.  For the first time in god knows when Murdock noticed birds singing.  He stopped and listened.

“God’s music,” he said to himself.

As Murdock approached his mobile home he noticed that the entire building could use another coat of paint.  He’d have to get something a little better next time; this paint job was only ten years old.

Murdock was greeted at the door of his mobile home by his dog named Blue.  Blue was tied to the stoop with a chain so he would not wander.  This old blue tick hound had not hunted in years, but still enjoyed going in side to warm his bones by the wood stove.  Murdock shared each meal with Blue.  The dog ate eggs and bacon in the morning, part of a sandwich at lunch, and canned spaghetti and meatballs for supper on most days.  Dog food was never part of this hound’s day.

Murdock entered the kitchen from a side door on the mobile home.  The sink was full of dishes, some of them artfully balancing in wait for a washing for more than a week.  The refrigerator, salvaged from a nearby mobile home that had been abandoned, hummed continuously to keep his groceries cold.  Murdock took a loaf of bread out of a bread drawer in the old beat up plywood cabinets, some pulled pork from the fridge, and slapped together a sandwich and a half from three slices of bread.  He gave half of a pulled pork sandwich to Old Blue before he sat at the cluttered kitchen table.  The dog ate the sandwich right off the dirty linoleum floor after pulling it apart and inspecting its contents.

Murdock ate his sandwich as he gazed out the kitchen window.  The steep Taconic Mountains were purple colored.  Murdock didn’t always notice the view but on this day he was almost taken aback by the majesty that this giant mountain presented.  The mountains were almost a violet color with the dark gray contrast of a storm ready sky in the background.  Murdock spoke to Blue.

“See that ole Blue?  Those mountains are shouting today!”

Old Blue looked up from his dining experience for only a moment.  There were more important items on his immediate agenda.

“Blue look!  Those mountains are calling to us!  Maybe we ought to out for one last hunt!  Tomorrow afternoon Blue, I promise ya!  We’re gonna take one last hunt.  You and me, one last hunt!”

Blue continued his focus on the pulled pork.

Murdock took one last look at the Taconic hillside as a fog began to roll in.  He was happy to be exactly where he was.

That evening Murdock stepped outside to pee.  Stars filled the sky.  Murdock took an extra moment to enjoy the view.  He wondered why he no longer took the time to take in the wonders of the night.

The next morning Murdock gathered up his tools, tied old Blue to the stoop, and started up his old backhoe for a short jaunt out to the 53 Plymouth.  He believed the old backhoe would have no problem running over the saplings and shrubs on the way to the Plymouth.  He would use the backhoe to lift the Plymouth off the ground giving him enough clearance to take the starter off of the engine block.  The whole operation should take less than a half an hour if the PB Blaster had worked and the seized bolts were ready to be removed.

Murdock sung to himself while driving the backhoe out to the back forty.  He sang “Achey Breaky Heart”, one of this favorite country western tunes.

As anticipated the old tractor and backhoe had no problem negotiating the old field growth to access the ‘53 Plymouth.  When Murdock pulled up along side the old junk car, he spun the rear end towards the front of the car where the bucket on the hoe would be used to lift the front of the car.  He attached an old logging chain to a tooth on the bucket, wrapped the other end of the chain to the frame of the car on the front end, put the look on that end of the chain over a chain link, and climbed back on the tractor.  Murdcok pushed the lift leaver on the arm of the hoe and the back hoe easily lifted the front end of the car.

Murdock climbed back down off the backhoe.  He looked at the front end of the car dangling on the chain attached to the raised bucket on the backhoe.

“A work of art!” he said to himself.

Murdock grabbed a socket wrench, crawled on his back to where the starter was bolted onto the block, put the socket on the bolts, and was very happy to see that the bolts were no longer seized.

“It’s gonna be a great day!” said Murdock as he pictured the car restoration specialist handing him a hundred dollars for about an hours worth of work.

Murdock turned the socket.  He heard a creaking noise.  The chain snapped.  A loud groan came from under the fallen car.  Clouds cast dark shadows on the Taconic Mountains to the east and a hound howled mournfully in the distance.

  • http://gardenpath.wordpress.com/ Sandy

    Well, heck, I was beginning to like old Murdock! He could have been one of our neighbors in rural Oklahoma. You know, I am going to worry about that dog, don’t you?

  • http://vanillaseven.com/ VanillaSeven

    It’s going to be a great day. I like that :)

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    “God’s music.” This sums up so much of the natural world’s wonders for me. And what a great story! I can picture it all.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com Jack Matthews

    I like the way you start the story with description of the countryside. Sad, but unforgettable. Known many a type that would get carried away with a project and get clipped. I’m one of them, but I was able to walk away.

  • http://outwalkingthedog.wordpress.com Out walking the dog

    Sad and somehow, well, scary. I’m with Sandy – I’m worrying about old Blue. I won’t be able to shake this one.

  • http://www.DancesOfDreams.com/ Icy BC

    Me too..old Murdock is starting to grow on me but it’s going to be a great day..so there I’ll go with it..

    Bill, The Other Side is Canada in my last post..

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