Trailer Trash

The trailer was a baby-blue Howitzer down on its luck. Danny had built it himself: a tall 4 x 6 box with rounded Fifties fenders and a metal rack above. The lid was mostly rotten and there was a hole in the base. Wires trailed where the lights should have been and the paint scurfed off. Danny used it for beer runs to the Soo, but he was thinking about building a larger, legal one. So Rick said.

Danny at the North Gate restaurant/gas station was selling a trailer. Maybe.

The trailer was a baby-blue Howitzer down on its luck. Danny had built it himself: a tall 4 x 6 box with rounded Fifties fenders and a metal rack above. The lid was mostly rotten and there was a hole in the base. Wires trailed where the lights should have been and the paint scurfed off. Danny used it for beer runs to the Soo, but he was thinking about building a larger, legal one. So Rick said.

Ranger Tim needed a trailer to bring his gear south at the end of the season, so we headed up to investigate as an excuse for my second driving lesson. While I tried and failed to line the car up to the petrol pump, Danny scratched his chin and said he didn’t know yet if he wanted to sell the trailer, but if he did he’d want three to four hundred for it. It’d need a bit of work. This seemed a daft amount of money for a vehicle that needed to be pulled, but I stayed quiet. Tim decided to investigate more trailers.

We chatted with Danny’s three-year-old grandson, the best worker in Northern Ontario. Brandon directs operations on his father’s garbage run in the park, and even has his own work-gloves with his name across the knuckles. He is fiercely proud to heft the smaller bags into the truck. “Child labour laws don’t apply to family businesses,” his Dad says, clearly used to explaining away his son’s zeal. He is the happiest kid I’ve seen since the ragged firewood collectives in Asia and Latin America.

Tim and Rick scoured _Sault Star_ classifieds all through August. Every trailer was either too big for the car or already gone. None of John’s leads turned up anything. Canadian Tire (a name of modest scope for a homegrown Wal-Mart) sold an assemble-your-own kit for $950 plus that whopping Canadian sales tax; no lid and no rack, either. A local dealer had a lovely little trailer, so well-balanced you could bounce it on a finger, but when he finally confessed to all the hidden charges, it came to $1400. On trips to town I learned to spot trailers from my peripheral vision as I had once spotted Prada shoes (and more recently, Peregrine falcons). There was nothing decent for sale.

So Tim drove back out to the North Gate to offer Danny two hundred bucks. Danny was busy with the lunch rush and said he’d think about it. Two weeks later, with Tim’s park contract running out, he hadn’t made a decision. He promised to stop by the ranger headquarters in the afternoon when he went to fix a downed park tractor, and Tim posted co-workers to nab him for an answer. Danny caved in the face of this campaign, and eventually agreed to sell it for two fifty, partly counted out in loonies and toonies. Then Brandon helped them unload the trailer.
    “I can do that one!” he yelled crossly when Tim poached a small box. Then he trotted back to the trailer with it and proudly carried it back the shed.

The trailer looked unpromising, but Tim had faith. I offered to help with restoration, and so on Saturday we scoured the park dumps for discarded wood. We found several old wooden road signs, an old jonboat with a hole in it, aluminium strips for patching the jonboat, and sheets of old rubber that might be useful for something. We drove to Wawa, a real frontier town, to buy a light kit. Then he backed the trailer into one of the work bays to get started.

I was the Brandon of the operation: enthusiastic in my borrowed boiler suit, but not especially useful. I insisted on playing the Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West” at full volume; the Broadway chorus puts me in the mood for a road-trip. Tim retaliated briefly with the Beastie Boys. I can’t stand the Beastie Boys. Every song sounds like “Mo-om, I can’t find my college _application_ essay!” But after these musical interludes the work was peaceable. Tim wired in lights, dismantled the lid, and sawed out the rotten wood. While he rebuilt the lid he stuck me in charge of surfaces, where I belong.

I’d been taken with Rick’s suggestion to stick large yellow daisies on the faded, peeling baby blue, but since Tim might need to rely on neighbours for winter storage, he didn’t want to push their kindness with an eyesore. So I sanded. And sanded. And slopped on Park Brown to cover the baby blue. Meanwhile Tim sawed and soldered and hammered and wired, and eventually fitted a new patchwork lid back onto the base. One end, patched with a road sign, now has a large yellow arrow. We sanded the lid right over the fresh paint, speckling it blue and immortalizing our footprints on the wet fenders. The whole thing took two days.

We spent Monday boarding up the Laughing Brook cottage for the winter; cursing at heavy screens, too-short screws, and sandy bolts. I chickened out of paddling in the freezing stream to recover the water pipes for the gravity feed.

The next task, the fun part, was packing in the snow. Tim has seven boats: a fourteen-footer, the salvaged jonboat, large red canoe, a smaller plastic kayak, and three inflatable kayaks. Far too many paddles. Then add a bicycle or two, a large cedar chest, several boxes of books, a hundred-gallon water heater, camping gear, fishing tackle, tools, three computers, a large monitor, a printer, a full stereo system, a Koolatron fridge, a few lamps, and kitchen sundries. Plus me and my rucksack. All of this was to fit in a Honda Accord estate and a 4 x 6 trailer. I knew it could be done, but only because I’ve seen Burmese country buses. I was hoping to pay my passage with the Tetris skills I picked up in the early 90s.

Moving keeps you busy to stop you feeling sad. Early tomorrow I have to board up the Pilot House cabin, and stuff my sleeping gear into the car while Tim greases the trailer axles. A quick walk on the beach to say goodbye to the lake, then a ten-hour drive to Ottawa’s Glebe. I’m looking forward to lowering the tone of my sister’s posh neighbourhood with this shuddering hillbilly wagon, built with such love.

5 thoughts on “Trailer Trash”

  1. I’d love to see a picture of that hillbilly wagon with which you’ll grace your sister’s street! And a picture of Tim, for that matter. The end of a season, and a big change for you…. But then you seem to handle most transitions with great intrepidity!

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  2. Yes please add my vote for some pictures …. I’m so sad there won’t be any further posts about northern Ontario. Hope the journey to Ottawa is a great one with lots of stories to share.

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  3. Urge For Going:
    by Joni Mitchell

    I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
    It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
    When the sun turns traitor cold and all the trees are shivering in a naked row

    I get the urge for going
    But I never seem to go
    I get the urge for going
    When the meadow grass is turning brown
    Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

    I had me a man in summertime
    He had summer-colored skin
    And not another girl in town
    My darling’s heart could win
    But when the leaves fell on the ground
    Bully winds came around, pushed them face down in the snow

    He got the urge for going
    And I had to let him go
    He got the urge for going
    When the meadow grass was turning brown
    Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

    Now the warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
    And all that stays is dying and all that lives is camping out
    See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow

    They got the urge for going
    And they got the wings so they can go
    They get the urge for going
    When the meadow grass is turning brown
    Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in.

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