Getting out of the shower after a hot summer August day, putting on my best blue jeans, sweatshirt held under my arm, knowing the evening air was starting to cool. Mom called into the room “Uncle Earl is here”. It was “truck pulls’ ‘ night!! Uncle Earl would load us boys into the back of his black GMC Jimmy, and navigate towards Clearfield for the annual truck and tractor pulls at the Clearfield county fair. He would talk, joke and pick at us as we made our way off of the hill, and into town.
Arriving at the fairgrounds, passing through the gate of the high chain link protected parking lot and being directed to a parking spot. The parking lot was made up of sawdust, mud, and ruts from a week of scattered showers and fair goers vehicles traveling in and out of the parking lot. We were directed to a parking spot by a cigarette doning, “staff” marked reflective vest, rough looking guy waving an almost dead, dim flashlight pointing us to the chosen spot.
As soon as we all unloaded from the Jimmy, the glow and flicker of the fair attraction lights filled your eyes, like the flickering of a movie screen. The air moving through the parking lot, as we followed uncle Earl’s footsteps around mud puddles and smeary mud filled tire ruts, was a combination of smoke, manure, and deep fried foods. All this mixed in with the smell of damp earth and rainfall, excited your mind, and flooded your senses with this once a year treat. It was very easy for me to go into “sensory overload”. Just the excitement of Uncle Earl treating us to this night, the lights, the smells, and now the echoing sounds of enjoyable chaos coming from the now nearing entry gate ran through your ears as if it was your favorite song coming on the radio and as you turn the volume to Max.
Passing through the gate of ticket collecting staff members seated in mud stained lawn chairs, with a haze of cigarette smoke hovering around their spot giving off a stenchy odor’es haze. Handing them your ticket, in exchange for a smudged blue duck stamp on the back side of your hand. Uncle Earl had a walk to him upon this entry like that of a bodyguard, walking in a way to make the trip into the grandstand like a beeline, straight and quick, while keeping us boys all in his vision of protection like a sheep dog would do with its herd of sheep.
Now passing through another ticket gate entering into the grandstand, Uncle Earl handed them our pre-purchased tickets, they would rip the stack in half like a bodybuilder does with a phone book, and then hand him back one side of the paper torn stack. He then handed each one of us boys a section and seat marked ticket stub to tuck into our jeans pocket as he instructed “don’t lose that, if you go out you need that to get back in”. Then off to our seats.
Placing our sweatshirts on the seats for cushion as we sat down, the sound of diesel powered pulling engines poured into my already peaked senses, the smell of the thick black diesel smoke of the warning up last minute checks went through my nose with power like lightning.
The thunderous sounds coming from trucks lining up to compete, making their way around the inner circle of the track would remind uncle Earl to pass out ear plugs. I can remember we didn’t have enough for everyone, so Uncle Earl pinched the soft orange plugs between his fingers and would tear them in half, so that everyone had hearing protection.
Ear plugs in place, the announcer would start things off with introducing a young local talented girl to sing our national anthem. This was always one of my favorite parts, with all the noise and commotion, everything and everyone would fall silent, facing the flag, hats off, and hands over our hearts as the girl would honor our country, and perform this song like an audition to America’s got talent. When her voice and the music faded to end, the crowd would erupt with whistles, clapping, and screams of celebrating freedom and approval for her awesome musical display to our country and the evening of enjoyable country fun we were about to enjoy.
Watching track preparation tractors make laps back and forth leveling and packing the dirt while the first truck was hooking up to the long red weighed pulling sled. The announcer would echo out over the fairground giving names of drivers while they would hook up to the sled, and give a few specs on their fine tuned shined up pulling machine.
Off they would go with a thunderous, smoke billowing, mudslinging speed drivin attempt to get to that “Full Pull” line marked out in white paint at the end of the track. You could feel the vibration of the engines firing cylinders in your chest as they would pass in front of you. The grandstand filled crowd would also be erupting with cheers, and yelling in support of their favorite trucks and drivers. The competition between Ford and Chevy was like that of two rival football teams fighting and pushing hard to get inside the white lines.
Fair week employed kids would pass by in front of the packed seats with a rope strapped tub suspended from their shoulders filled with water and pop while yelling out “water, mountain dew, Pepsi…one dollar” while holding a bottle of water up like a flag, alerting thirsty spectators of their location. It was the same for snacks “peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy”, they would call out into the already noise filled, damp night air with a red and white box of popcorn held above their head.
Uncle Earl always dug into his jeans pocket once or twice in the events of the evening, pulling out a couple green rolled up bills and would wave out to the drink calling tub carrier. Holding up two or three fingers communicating in the noise as to how many drinks he wanted and giving a little shout out “Mountain Dew”. His money would be passed down through the crowd to the exhausted looking drink carrier, and then the signalled drink selections being passed back up through the crowd. Kind of like a rockstar jumping out into a loud crowd, and floating out a bit, then returning back to the stage lifted by the arms of spectators. Only in our case it was dollar bills down, and ice chilled cans of sugar and caffeine coming back.
The full excitement packed evening of pulls nearing an end, we would be alerted by uncle Earl that we were gonna head out in order to beat some of the event ending traffic. Pretty sure we were all ready to go, the excitement of the evening would hit me like a sugar crash. So elevated in the hours of excitement, and mountain dew, that the ride home would be a chore to keep my eyes open.
I can remember while walking out of the loud truck, turbo screaming trackside, I reached into my ear to remove my torn shortened ear plug. It kinda popped from my fingertips and rested in my ear canal just out of reach. Uncle Earl not being able to retrieve it, we stopped off at the first aid station for assistance. However they would not attempt to reach anything into my ear, and recommended a trip to the ER. Even as a kid, I knew that was not an option, and I could wait until getting home to have my mother pull the plug from my ear with a pair of tweezers. The ride home was always quiet with exhaustion anyways, so I wouldn’t be missing out on much conversation from the lodged sound blocking plug.
Loaded back into the Jimmy we made our way out of town, the fair lights fading behind us for another year. The quietness of the dark car seemed extremely quiet after hours of raging diesels passing in front of us. Even though we all used ear plugs, I still had a ring in my ears, magnified by the quietness.
Now at home, thanking Uncle Earl for treating us to such a great night, as we tiredly climbed down from the GMC Jimmy. Making our way to our front door leading into our kitchen where mother would be waiting just inside to hear about our evening. Giving her all the highlighted details of laughs and fun, and also the details to the small sound blocking plug in my ear. That of course caused a few more laughs and giggles when telling her about this. She then took a pair of tweezers with surgeon-like precision and steadiness and “pop” it was out.
Exhausted we would make our way to bed, still telling Mom stories of laughter and thankfulness rooted from Uncle Earl and his love for his nephews.
Young men need good Godly role models that will invest some time. Uncle Earl fit this category for a GMC full of young men. He was helping to sharpen us. Not thinking about it back then, but now I’m certain that it was probably just as much, if not more of a blessing for his memory bank as it was to us boys.