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Seeing red devils


Mowing has turned into a great little side job for me. Besides introducing me to alternate life styles, like pot-smoking gnomes, it gets me out of the house, it also lets me work with manly, dangerous equipment like a truck, weed whacker, chain saw and a zero-turn radius mower (ZTR).
Not that running a newspaper was sheltered work. Once I dropped an X-Acto® knife while doing paste up, and by reflex slid my foot under it to break its fall. The razor sharp blade sliced as easily through the canvas of my sneakers as it did through a vein on the top of my foot and stuck in a metatarsal bone. When I tried to yank the dagger out, the handle slid off from the blade. By the time a pliers was found my shoe was filled with blood.
I hope I never drop a running chain saw.
Actually, I dabbled in mowing as a summer job about 10 years back. Then I had a Snapper. It was quick, nimble and priced right. It did have one weak area, however, the front wheels bent every time I hit the odd tombstone that bubbled up on the vacant lot I was mowing at the time. But that’s another story.
When I got into mowing this time, I purchased a Wright ZTR, manufactured in Maryland. I came across the brand while researching on the Internet. I liked that it was sturdier than most. I also liked that it was made in America, but the real selling point was that it’s one of the fastest mowers available.
It travels, up to 15 mph according to the manual. This may not seem like a lot if you’ve never piloted one of these babies, but let me tell you, it’s cooking. When I push the sturdy drive levers forward my head snaps back and it’s off I go. So if you happen to be driving though North Liberty and see a blur with an orange hat, it’s me. If you’re walking by, be careful, my peripheral vision isn’t what it used to be. Wouldn’t want to shred another pedestrian, yet another story to be filled in later.
The limited liability company (LLC) I created to protect me from frivolous lawsuits is called Orange Hat Mowing. People are so litigious these days. And don’t bother trying to call, the company’s not listed. Who wants more work?
I have plenty of work now. Besides trimming the pines, picking up after the floods and sobering up the odd gnome that passes out under the shrubs (see last week’s column), I also have to mow, pick up trash, trim and spray weeds along the fence line.
The last job mentioned actually takes a while as an old chain link fence stands along two sides of the property.
On the north, the fence parallels the single railroad track called the CRANDIC. Opened in 1904, CRANDIC trains were powered by electricity and serviced the towns of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, hence the name CR and IC. The route quickly became popular with commuters and freight shippers as the road between the towns was of poor quality. In 1922, for example, an inch of rain fell during a University of Iowa football game and nearly 1,500 fans in 500 cars were stuck in the mud when they tried to return home to or through Cedar Rapids. The CRANDIC sent out a special rescue train to bring them home. In 1939, six used, lightweight, high-speed passenger cars called red devils were put on line. The cars were capable of traveling at speeds up to 120 mph but never reached their full potential on the 27-mile route. They did go fast, and a popular jingle of the day used to promote the train was “Swing and Sway the CRANDIC way.”
As regular readers of this column know, I often sense things that are from another world or dimension. As explained a couple years ago, for example, I made a small fortune because I was able to see a ghost. More recently I’ve become drinking buddies with a gnome that lives in the weeds near the apartment I mow. And on calm days when I least expect it, I see a faded blur of a red devil heading down the old railroad line.