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Dad's Old Silver King and Joe Capalco
My father, Charles Diehl, grew up in the Elsworth, Ohio area during the Depression on a small working farm. I never saw the place, nor was I around during his early years. What I know about those hard times comes from listening to Dad and his old pals reminisce from time to time. One of the old timers that would sit with Dad and chew the fat about the 'good ole days' was Joe Capalco.
Joe wasn't like most of my Dad's friends. He rarely worked that we knew of. Always had plenty of time to stop by when my Dad was home and just stay around for hours at a time. He didn't have a family, I guess we were as close as it got. My brother Chris and I were always glad to see Joe, though. Even though it seemed that Joe never had two nickels to rub together, he always had a nice shiny dime for each of us.
Joe and Dad would talk from time to time about the old Silver King Dad had and how it broke his arm one morning trying to crank start it. Dad never really got along with power equipment, let alone a tractor. He was a true teamster…had a passion and a gift for horses. From his early days on the farm, he worked with horses. I listened to more than one story of how he would acquire a couple of 'knuckleheads from so an' so' and have to turn them into a solid team after they had run him through a fence row or two. He never gave up though. As I said, he had a gift.
As I got older, I always wondered how my Dad got to be friends with Joe and wondered even more as to why my Mom, Barb, put up with Joe. We were not high class by any means when I was growing up. Dad had left his love, skidding logs with his teams, to drive steel truck…not for love, but for money. We always had what we needed but not much else. But Mom always took care of the house and life was good on the small farm we had. It did seem that whenever Joe would come over that all rules of the house were put on hold, though.
Joe would come over always at least a month removed from his last bath. Lord only knows what all was stuck to the cap he never took off. I do not believe he knew that clothes could actually be laundered. But Mom always had a good word for Joe. Always had more than a full plate for him at the table, no matter what time of day Joe might arrive. Never said an unkind word to Joe even during the one Thanksgiving that Joe came to dinner.
Prior to this particular Thanksgiving, Mom had scrimped and save for some time to buy hear dream sectional davenport (that's a couch for you non-old timers). It was a beautiful blue one. Wrapped all the way around two walls. My Mom was as proud as could be.
Joe came over that Thanksgiving and was particularly 'ripe' for some reason. Maybe due to the cold weather he had missed even the prior month's scrubbing. But regardless, Mom greeted Joe like a visiting dignitary. When Joe went into the front room, I figured there was no way Mom was going to let him park his grimy bibs on that new couch. To my surprise, she never batted an eye as Joe sat there, had Thanksgiving dinner and then went back to take a long nap, right there on Mom's first new piece of good furniture! I was dumbfounded. If my brother or I and even Dad so much as came in dusty from the barn, Mom would in no uncertain terms tell us to '…get the @&!# off that couch!'. But there sat Joe, no problem.
By now you may be wondering what Joe has to do with my Dad's old Silver King. Well, as I got even older, one evening the conversation turned to the day's news and the sad news that Joe had been killed in a roadside automobile accident. We were all saddened by the news, Joe really was liked and maybe loved by us all. As the evening wore on, stories started to flow about 'Good Ole Joe'. Most I had heard many times. One I had not. The story of how Joe pulled my Dad out from under that old Silver King one winter's day. The story of how Joe saved my Dad's life.
As the story went, Dad had acquired an old Silver King, in payment for work done I believe. Dad didn't really need the Silver King, a good strong team was all he needed in the tight quarters of a woods. But for some reason he started using the Silver King to skid logs up in a woods near Mantua, Ohio. On the day in question, Dad had finished in the woods where he was working and it was time to load the Silver King on the truck and go home.
He was alone that afternoon, as was the norm, so Dad put down some rough cut planks to bed of his truck to load the tractor. He soon found out that tractors don't walk planks as sure footed as a team of Belgians. As the weather turned to freezing rain, Dad took the Silver King up the planks. About half way up was as far as he got. The tractor, Dad still on the seat, came tumbling off those planks crashing to the frozen ground.
Dad was a WW II vet who got hit by an explosive in France. But he said that was nothing compared to the pain of that tractor's steering wheel lodged in his chest, the rear tire crushing his previously wounded leg. He thought he was a goner. No one around those woods to hear him even if he could cry out. It was getting dusk. He could not move. There was more than a few bones and skin broken. This just might be it.
Joe was just out 'visitin' in the neighborhood that day when on his way back to the railroad line shack where he lived, he remembered that good ole Charlie was working in the woods nearby. May as well stop in and say 'hey'. Charlie usually had a spare sandwich that Barb had made anyways.
When Joe arrived, Dad was just half conscience. Couldn't talk. Could barely breath. Somehow, with the aid of a roughcut oak two by four, Joe pried and pried until he got that Silver King up just enough for Dad to get out. Joe helped him to his truck and away they went to the hospital (with a short stop at the Freedom Tavern for a beer glass full of whiskey to brace Dad for the trip).
It all became crystal clear that evening. Joe had bought himself a 'free pass' with Barbara Diehl, my Mom, that afternoon. Joe could do no wrong from that point forward.
I can still hear Mom '….go ahead Joe, you sit right there on the couch. And you boys go and get Joe something to eat until dinners ready'. I'm sure she said 'thanks' to Joe that day, as well as I have, every day since I heard how Joe had saved my Dad's life. Thanks Joe.