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Men in Big Trucks

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Experts arrive to save the day

They come in very big trucks, and they always save us from disaster. Over the 20 years that we have had our rudimentary summer cabin, they have been the heroes who come to the rescue in the nick of time. Their expertise varies. Their professionalism doesn’t.

“Men in big trucks”—the phrase, the concept—comes from Running to the Mountain, Jon Katz’s delightful memoir about renovating an isolated cabin in Upstate New York.

Our cabin has needed many men in big trucks. Over the years, the trucks have arrived bearing the men and the logos of many local businesses, though we’ve had exceptions—one vehicle was tiny, and one job included women.

The first high-drama event with a man in a big truck involved Ron Shoebridge of Shoebridge Well Drilling in 1995. Though plumbed, the cabin lacked a well. (Legend has it that the cabin was for the foreman of the now-dormant orchard up the hill, and the cabin had shared a well with the orchard owner’s nearby house; that arrangement had long since expired, as was evidenced by the piles of empty gallon jugs that we had found on the property when we bought it—they had most likely been used to haul water to the cabin for various purposes like cooking, cleaning, flushing.)

Ron tried several sites, even witched for them, but only found water that was too shallow for code. Nervous weeks passed, and just when we were about to give up and try to sell the dysfunctional place, he struck good water that was 320 feet down—I celebrated by buying a shower curtain.

It wasn’t quite that simple, though. Trouble was that the septic system had been demolished when the shared-well arrangement expired, so Bonney Brothers arrived to dig a new septic. (Weirdly, we had opted to do this before having water installed, adding to the tension of the well-drilling adventure.) However, we needed to be sure that the septic was far enough away from the property line, so along came a surveyor (Crystal Surveying) in a somewhat smaller truck. Oh, and we needed enough power to handle all this, so Olsen Electric spent some time in our dreadful “Michigan basement” installing new circuit breakers and more power than the place had ever seen.

Eventually—with water and power now working—we needed the plumbing connected, so Lane Plumbing & Heating began a long career at our house, arriving annually for one disaster or another. (We do our own “opening” and “closing,” meaning that we turn on the water and power ourselves rather than hiring someone to get our cabin ready for the summer and winter seasons, respectively, but Lane’s guys helpfully painted orange arrows in the basement indicating all the valves involved, after a mishap with a valve that had been left closed for the winter… oops.)

At least twice, the plumbing crisis has involved a new septic pump, once requiring Lane’s guys to dig—for hours—through septic muck, and in the rain, no less. Those crises have also required men in gigantic trucks and long hoses to back in and pump out the septic system (Benzie & Interlochen Pumping Service, then Elliott’s Ken-Jac Pumping Service). Sometime in this sequence, Olsen Electric returned to install power, and Gillison Excavating built a riser to make the pumping easier for all the next times.

Eighteen Novembers after Ron Shoebridge dug our very deep well, his company—now in the person of Joe Demerly—addressed the effects of time and hard water: the well had suddenly shut down. Joe removed 320 feet of greasy pipes with his bare hands, replaced the pump, installed new connectors, washed up with blue Dawn detergent, and was gone before the end of the day.

Fortunately the water at the cabin is plentiful—great pressure!—but it’s literally off the charts for hardness, and my grey hair was turning orange. We finally caved and had Pure Water Works (Traverse City) install a water softener; they come seasonally in big white vans to tweak things that we’ve never understood.

A contractor—Jim Donley of Lipp Construction—removed the sagging, mossy roof and re-oriented it, which was a long project. Many years later, Concrete Designs Inc. (Grawn) spent days removing part of the foundation and replacing it with one having “connectivity”—tilting slightly eastward, the house had apparently been supported only by friction and gravity.

Hershey Pest Control counts as a man in a big truck, despite having arrived in a tiny Ford Fiesta. With canisters and tubing, he has dealt with carpenter ants (holding a stethoscope to the wall, he said, “I hear thousands of them screaming,” after doing his deed with something sprayed in) and with red squirrels (he set traps, blocked up holes, and had interesting things to say about “roving bands of juveniles”).

Other big trucks have brought men to the rescue on a more occasional basis. ReStore comes occasionally to collect remains of more normal, gradual improvement projects, and Bill (One Man and His Truck) has hauled off large dead appliances. Various tree-trimmers (Treetop, Smitty’s) have made logs out of dead trees.

The only time that we invited big trucks for purposes other than to avert disaster was to add a screened porch. Larry Kinney was just starting his green-building business (Harmony Homes Construction). He arrived one winter in a big truck with helpers and sent photos periodically. We never saw the actual trucks or their chaos; we were able to just walk into a perfect new space the following spring.

Well, and there’s one more kind of big truck that has come to the cabin unplanned, twice: a Benzie County ambulance, filled with EMTs, has found our cabin (not easy), taken over the situation, carried off a man in distress, and saved his life. One of the times, the ambulance was accompanied by Yukons full of EMTs—Park Rangers from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (These big trucks are the ones that have included women.)

Our own job skills over the decades involve mostly words and paperwork, not especially helpful in cabin disasters. So needless to say that our admiration for the men, and women, who arrive in their big trucks (or other vehicles) from throughout Benzie County and beyond—promptly, reliably, and always so needed—is huge. In every case, these experts have been awesome to watch: they arrive with all the equipment and tools that they might need, they diagnose complex problems quickly, they waste no time on anything but the job, they wash up with blue Dawn detergent, and they back out down a long and twisting lane, leaving us with a cabin that is working again, at least for another season.

They’ll be back—but with luck, not the ambulances.

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