Hummel column: A man and his 19-horse machine
His grandfather had farmed with horses -- the original horsepower. His father had driven big powerful trucks that hauled gas. Now in the third generation, the man himself worked in an office far removed from horses, horsepower and powerful engines.
For years he walked behind mowers in small yards and large. Then one day he found himself on a small tractor with an acre of lawn before him. The machine had the power of 19 of his grandpa's horses. There had never been anything in the office where he worked that stirred his steering wheel in the same way as the feel of those 19 horses working for him.
How many times had he watched and envied the Zamboni operator clearing and smoothing the ice between periods of hockey. Have you ever watched a good Zamboni driver? They're artists on ice-smoothing tractors, performing for hundreds, sometimes thousands of fans. They're like figure skaters out there on the ice. And you can tell they love it. As the man chugged along on the lawn with his 19 horses, he imaged he was a Zamboni operator performing in his prime.
Then he remembered the gas trucks and lumber trucks he had driven in high school. He sat high and reveled in the power. When the lumber truck was loaded with planks and boards that stuck out over the end of the box, the unbalanced load lifted the weight off the front tires of the truck so the tires danced lightly on the road. The bouncing front tires added an element of excitement to the drive. The experience made him feel like a man.
He understands why retired teachers and white collar guys are eager to drive huge beet trucks and grain trucks during the fall harvest. All that size, muscle and horsepower stimulates a surge that is never duplicated in the classroom, show room or an office. They rarely get to operate the farm tractors and combines, but that would only heighten the excitement.
As he put-puts around in circles with his 19 horses he imagines what it would be like to hit the freeways in an 18-wheeler. No wonder they write songs of adventure about big semis on the open highways. Make room for those boys in the truck stops -- they eat their eggs with steak and pork chops. Those guys are legendary for their conspicuous manhood.
How could you top the excitement of an 18-wheeler? Oh, when you're riding on the saddle of 19 horses, you can imagine plenty more. Like piloting a big jet. Those folks wear uniforms like military officers and they call them "captain." They are the kings of the air and the princes of the airports. Can you imagine pulling back the stick and lifting one of those huge babies off the runway with a couple hundred passengers sitting behind you? Wow.
Military recruiters know our weaknesses. If they can get us to imagine driving a big truck or tractor, a tank that can roll over anything in its path or piloting a powerful plane, they can get us to sign on to the opportunities, challenges and the excitement for years at a time. You may end up being a military bookkeeper, but no recruiter will ever tempt you with that bait.
Want more? Can you imagine being commander of some floating city -- an aircraft carrier loaded with planes or a battleship or cruise boat with thousands of sailors or passengers onboard? It's an 18-wheeler times thousands.
The imagination powered by 19 horses considers power in all its forms: the power of a big loud motorcycle that snorts like a "hawg" with handlebars high in the air (only for show, the bikers tell me), the power and speed of an Indy car (they'll soon be running in the Indy 500) or a NASCAR, or perhaps the granddaddy of all power trips -- a shot into outer space in a space vehicle.
Yes, when man stepped from behind his horses or his walking mower onto a tractor, he stepped into a new world of excitement, the world where power, noise and testosterone combine to form the high-test fuel of imagination turned loose, one that can blast him from one acre of brown grass down the highways, into the skies, across vast oceans or into outer space.