Saline High School Class of 1968: In Memoriam

 06/22/2018 - 00:51

The Saline Post is featuring the lives and stories of the 100th graduating class from Saline Area Schools, the Class of 1968. There are 16 members of the class whose voices have been silenced by their untimely deaths.

The members of the Class of 1968 who have passed away include:

Daniel Bird (08-14-2015) (Daniel Bird’s story as told by classmate Amy Shankleton-Novess)

Danny Bird and I grew up as neighbors together, attending church and youth group. He grew up on a dairy farm on Judd Road. I remember hayrides and sledding down their huge hill on school 'snow days'. I got married and moved to Germany with my husband in the Army, Danny married Jane and he was in the Air Force and served in Japan where he and Jane adopted Robbie. Eventually Dan and Jan divorced. When he got out of the Air Force he worked repairing electronic and hospital equipment in Wisconsin and North Carolina. He married Renee and she survives. Danny was a kind person, always willing to help out.

Paul Emery ((08-11-1973) (Paul Emery’s story as told by his sister Betty White & classmate Bert Emerson)

(Betty) My brother Paul Emery loved life in general. He worked on a local farm after school and during the summer. I believe that is where he got the love for tractors, cars and trucks. He also dragged raced his 68 Camaro at the Milan speedway and did well. He really loved his motorcycle. He lost his life on his motorcycle in the summer of 1973 when he was struck by a drunk driver in Saline. He was a happy young man and was well liked by all. He did great in school and enjoyed his friends. Paul was always willing to help anyone. Thank you so much Steve for asking about Paul. He was a kind and happy brother who we all miss every day.

(Bert) Several of the years when we were in high school, Paul Emery and I shared a locker. I don’t remember that he and I had any classes together and I don’t recall whether we had any contact other than at our locker.

Paul never really said very much. He was a quiet guy, probably shy. He was big; probably close to six feet tall; at least 200 pounds. He wore very thick glasses that made his eyes look big too. He told me once that someone he knew called him “Bear.” He shared that tidbit in a way that made me think he liked being called Bear. I decided that I would call him Bear when I’d see him. “Hey Bear! How ‘ya doing?” Big Grin.

I thought he was a nice guy. He had a great grin.

Robin Flickinger (10-30-1987) (Robin Flickinger’s story as told by Diane Seeger, Bill Rentfro, Jackie Leonard Rowe & David Katz)

(Diane & Bill) Robin (Benny) Flickinger seemed quiet to people who didn't know him well. But to his friends, he was a real comic. His nickname was "Flick" or "the Bird." He served in the U.S. Navy on the USS Constellation in Vietnam. One time he wrote a letter home to Bill and Linda Rentfro on a roll of toilet paper! Benny died in 1987. You are missed by many and remembered fondly. Rest in peace, my funny friend.

(Jackie) I would like to share one of my memories of Robin "Benny" Flickinger - I learned the art of "drag racing" on Austin Road with ​Benny (in his '64 Tempest) ​and Bill Rentfro (in his ‘68 Chevy Camaro). Of course, I'm sharing this now, when I won't be grounded by my parents!!

(David) Benny and I started school in the same room, at the same time in a brand-new school in Year One of the brand-new Saline Consolidated School District. Since we were morning kindergarten it meant that Benny, like me, must have lived on the South side of U.S. 112 (now U.S.12) because that's what determined morning or afternoon class. (According to Rob Bassett, David must be dreaming as he believes that David and Benny were north siders. Leave it to a north sider to try and get to the cool south side of U.S. 112). Benny had the toys which he would bring in during show and tell. Along with the sonic booms which regularly rattled those big window-walls, were the sounds of little jaws dropping when Benny brought in the complete Tonka Road Building Set of orange trucks, dozers and graders. It was the set we probably had seen on display in the store but never imagined anyone would have it.

Janis Gessner Munson (11-15-2014) (Janis Gessner Munson’s story as told by Nicola Crumb)

Jan was from Ohio and moved to Saline in our junior year. I can't remember what originally brought us together as friends but whatever it was, it stuck. She was quiet but fun. We were total opposites. But we so enjoyed each other's uniqueness. After graduation Jan attended a private business program in Ann Arbor. Following her graduation from the business program, she went to work for National Bank and Trust in Ann Arbor as a teller. Within a few months she advanced to Head Teller. She continued to get promoted through the ranks until she served the bank traveling around the country managing buyout transitions, handling millions of $'s. Jan was married for a short time in the early '70's. Upon her retirement she moved back to her birth place, Grand Rapids. Jan loved to travel and each summer made her way throughout the US and around the world. In Oct of '14, she and a friend traveled down the Rhine. Her passing in November was sudden and unexpected. Our differences continued throughout our life. She was a single, professional career woman who traveled all over the world and I was a married, stay at home Mom and despite these differences, we remained lifelong friends. Each time we got together there was never a loss for conversation. I've always been grateful for our friendship and our bond as sisters in Christ.

Richard Heskett (01-09-2014) (Rick Heskett’s story as told by his sister Sherry)

Rick and I were both born in Germany while Dad was stationed there with the Army. Rick was about 4 when we moved to the states. Rick actually remembered our time there (I do not). Rick passed away in January of 2014. Before that Rick had volunteered for the Army and served in Korea. After returning he married and had 3 children (4 grandchildren) while living in Whitmore Lake. Most of Rick’s jobs while in Michigan had to do with electronics. Rick divorced his first wife he moved to Indiana. Once in Indiana, he married again and earned a degree in biology. Rick became a professor at Ball State University, teaching Environmental Biology. Rick enjoyed puttering around in his yard with his "science" experiments on his plants and trees. He enjoyed making his little piece of earth as environmentally friendly as he could.

Gerald Hieber (03-28-2015) (Gerald Hieber’s story as told by Sharon Burkhardt Mischakoff, David Katz & Rob Bassett)

(Sharon) I moved to Saline with my family when I was entering the fourth grade (1960). The very first person my age that I met was a boy who lived further down on N. Harris Street from where we were renting a home in town. The young man’s name was Jerry (Gerald Hieber) and he had lived in Saline since birth. He reached out to me, my brother and my sister to help introduce us to other kids in the neighborhood and make us feel welcome. Decades later, just a few years before his passing, he reached out to me again when he learned my husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Care giving can make a person feel they are alone. Jerry’s call reminded me that there are always others there willing to lend a hand.

(David Katz) Jerry was real proud of his, "Five-three," a big '53 Buick two-door with portholes and all. This was about the same time we were bench mates on the varsity football team. Along with, "Riding the pine," together we shared a common lack of enthusiasm which included plotting to tow the steel practice sled into the cornfield with his Buick and moving the bench back a foot or so when the more school-spirited bench-warmers rose and cheered Hornet advancements.

(Rob Bassett) Rob said that Jerry bestowed one of the greatest nicknames of all time. He said, “just write it, the Class of 1968 will know what it was. OK Class of 1968, Rob wouldn’t provide the greatest nickname of all time. Will someone share it at the banquet?


Douglas Houghton (03-09-2018) (Doug Houghton’s story as told by Doug’s wife Carolyn Houghton and Mary Beth Danneffel)

(Carolyn) Doug’s father (Elmer L. Houghton) died when Doug was 12. I contacted Doug's sister to make sure I had the details correct regarding Elmer's death. Doug's sister was out in a canoe on the lake when the wind came up and was pushing her further out into the deep. Elmer went out to help her back to shore. He paddled out rather than use the motor. Elmer reached his daughter and helped to row her back to calmer water. While Doug’s sister was paddling to shore, she turned and saw her father slumped over and then fall into the lake. He had a heart attack. No one seems to know if the heart attack killed him or if he drowned after falling in. And Doug was there and was about 12 when it happened. I never saw him angry about his father's death but I didn't know him until he was in his late 20's, so perhaps the anger had just evolved into great sorrow for him as he was very close to his father. I know his father's death impacted him in many ways. Whether it changed him from what he could have been had his father lived, I don't know. What I do know is that he was a very kind and giving man. 

Doug smoked for years and contracted COPD a few years ago, as well as Afib. He was in 4th stage COPD when they diagnosed lung cancer. The cancer spread to his brain within 4 months and he "Graduated" to glory on March 9th, 2018. I know Doug is in glory because he accepted Christ as Savior at age 28 and it greatly enhanced his life. He was very instrumental in getting Fellowship Bible Church in Bomoseen/Castleton, VT, built after the church had gone down to 6 people attending Sunday services. It was quite a "God thing!" The church now has about 80 people who worship there weekly. And when Doug found out that he was dying, his big thing was to witness to his unsaved friends and tell them what Christ had done for him in his life.

He gave his Harley motorcycle to his son a few months before he died and he really was not happy about that. I tell people now that he's in glory bugging the Lord for a Harley. Do you think they have Harley's in glory? (Carolyn – yes I do.)

(Mary Beth) I knew Doug Houghton while attending Saline High School, especially our junior and senior years. I still have a photograph that was taken at my mother's home before the senior prom. There was a second photo that included my best friend Cindy, Doug and I. It seemed that Doug didn't like school. His father was a principal and died when Doug was young. Later they named an elementary school after Doug's father (Houghton Elementary School on Mills St.) which has since been torn down. Doug was bitter about his father's untimely death but I found Doug to be a sweet guy. We stopped seeing each other after high school, when I started college at the University of Michigan. It's been a really long time ago. I'm sorry I can't provide more details.

Robert Kirkpatrick (06-03-2011) (Robert Kirkpatrick’s story as told by Kathy Brown Gill)

Bob was by all accounts a great guy with loads of charisma and a genuine like for his classmates. Talented in music and school, he also played sports, was Class President, loved cars and was an all round interesting person to be with and around. He enjoyed his band which was a hit at any party they were at. Bob lost his father in high school to cancer and his mother to a heart attack in early college. It was his adopted Aunt Veda that helped him out during this time. While at Ferris State College (now University) and owning a convertible he drove the Ferris State Homecoming Queen Danielle in their parade. It's my understanding they dated and were later married. In the mid 70's the road became bumpy under the influence of other relatives and sketchy to the rest of us. Many years later I heard that he was living in central Florida with his family and working as a carpenter. I can only hope he was happy there and definitely believe he deserved it for being such a sweet caring person in the early part of his life.

Alan Kivi (01-13-2011) (Alan Kivi’s story as told by David Katz)

(David) Alan was very smart at science. He taught me how to charge-up the capacitors in physics class and put them back in the box for the next unsuspecting student.

Delores Lee Szymchack (03-23-2016) (Delores Lee Szymchack’s story as told by Sharon Burkhardt Mischakoff & David Katz)

My own personal favorite Delores Lee Szymchack moment happened at one of our reunions at Terry Sheats’ home (perhaps the 30th?). When Dee spotted one of her favorites across the room, she went running and jumped into his arms and he caught her as though she was sitting still! I was amazed at her energy and flexibility, so much so, that now, I can’t adequately recall if it was Gerald Smith or Gerald Hieber that exhibited his upper body strength!!! I am so grateful for the memories.

(David) Dan Cranston had an ill-fated party at his absent grandparents’ house near Milan. I didn't know Delores very well but when the party was getting out of hand she found me to help repel some inebriates who wouldn't leave her alone. I didn't think I was doing much but at the end of the night she gave me a big kiss, calling me her protector. The next day we mopped an inch of beer from the living room and discovered many household items had been stolen.

Gregory Leidheiser (08-01-2009) (Greg Leidheiser’s story as told by Sharon Burkhardt Mischakoff & David Katz)

For three years, Greg was a part of our Bible School class at Trinity Lutheran Church. We met every Saturday morning and Wednesday evening during the school year for three years in hopes of being confirmed at the end of 8th grade. As you can imagine, there were many times when sunny weekends would urge us not to be inside a church on a Saturday morning. Greg had several older siblings and a younger sister, so he dutifully followed along the required path. At some point, however, he was absent on the weekend due to an accident. His eye had fallen victim to a random BB gun, permanently altering his vision. That one experience caused my decision to not allow my own two sons to have BB guns of their own, and my older son still faults me for my judgment!

(David) Greg was the only Key Club member I ever heard of who went to the convention to actually participate in the caucuses, voting and whatever else was going on besides drinking and smoking.

Susan Malinczak Cheek (10-12-2001) (Susan Malinczak Cheek’s story as told by Sharon Burkhardt Mischakoff)

When I first moved to Saline in fourth grade, we lived in a rental apartment for the first few months on North Harris Street. Once the construction of our new home was complete, we moved across Michigan Avenue and into the house on South Harris which backed up to Jensen Elementary School. At that time, we were amidst vacant and other lots that were about to be under construction as Saline started to sprawl further to the south. There were lots of kids in the neighborhood—the Freys, Belleaus, Browns, Chambers, but the Malinczak family was the largest. Susie Malinczak had been born in the upper middle of the pack but, I believe, was the oldest girl. She often helped her mother oversee the activities of the younger kids in the family. One day, my mother heard Georgie Malinczak screaming for help in one of the lots nearby. There had been a lot of rain and the clay soil worked like quicksand. Sure enough Georgie was stuck. Soon Susie appeared and came to his rescue...but not before Georgie had successfully walked out of his boots, socks, and into his bare feet in order to make progress through the slimy mud!

Robert Russell.jpg

Robert Russell (08-23-2013) (Robert Russell’s story as told by Gilda Bone, Robert Tinker and Ann Cooper)

(Gilda) Robert Russell was a dear friend for many, many years. In high school, we didn’t really “run with the same crowd”…if you know what I mean, but we did cross paths a couple of times and enjoyed each other’s company. Bob was more of a “biker guy” in high school and I was more of a “band geek”. He reached out to me, and I was impressed that a high school guy would do that.

After high school and in college, we got to know each other better and were fast friends for many years. Bob was always fun loving, very bright, passionate about many causes, loved the outdoors, loved “the environment”, loved science and technology, always full of energy and “on a mission”.

After college, we didn’t see each other for some time because Bob moved to Australia for several years. He married and had a daughter, Brea. When that marriage ended Bob found who I would consider “the love of his life”, Sally Van Vleck. Sally owned an Inn in Traverse City, The Neahtawanta Inn, and when they got together and married, Bob and Sally were both “Inn Keepers”. It is a lovely place located right on the water. Sally and Bob shared many common cause interests – the environment, “all natural stuff”. Sally is an avid yoga practitioner and they have a lovely “yoga room” in the Inn where Sally conducted classes.

Ann Heininger and Jim Cooper also had a wonderful inn in Traverse City called the The Oaks Resort. They have since “sold and retired” (those bums!), but Bob and Sally would come over to visit when more Saline folks were “Up at the Oaks” for a long weekend. At times, we would meet them at the Neahtawanta, too. It was great fun and ALWAYS rousing conversation. Many different views were shared enthusiastically.

Needless to say, Bob is greatly missed, not only by his long time Saline friends but also by his Traverse City Community where he remained very active. I’m leaving out a business he started that his friends still operate. He was just “a man with a mission”. At the end of his life, when he faced his cancer, he did it with all the strength and enthusiasm he brought to every project. He left us too soon.

(Ann) Remembering Robert—

In the early 1970s, we worked together in the University of Michigan Schistosomiasis Labs, paying for college by preparing lab materials for scientists around the country. After Australia, Robert returned to Ann Arbor and opened a silk screening business. He created tee-shirts for my Latin students while I was teaching at Pioneer.


Robert H. “Bob” Russell was a longtime Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) community member who left us all too soon on August 23, 2013. Bob started off teaching science and biology to high school students in Australia, then college students in the US. He was the co-founder of Jet Photo Works and created websites for the grantees of The Pierce Family Foundation in Chicago as well as many nonprofit organizations in the Traverse City area. He and his wife Sally Van Vleck founded and were co-directors of the Neahtawanta Research and Education Center for 26 years. His mastery of computer technology is legendary and he co-founded Traverse Communication Company in 1993, the first Internet Service Provider in Traverse City, MI. Bob, you are missed and remembered by the NTEN Community. Finally, the Reliance Reading Project was set up in his name

(Robert) I’ve known Bob Russell since 2nd grade. We were on and off friends through school and college. We reconnected in 1987 when he invited me to his wedding to Sally Van Vleck at the Neahtawanta Inn north of Traverse City. Bob settled in to the life of an innkeeper at the Inn (a bed & breakfast), for which his gregarious nature was well suited. Besides the endless chores of greeting guests, laundering, sweeping, and bed making, Bob became a great vegetarian cook and he prepared most of the morning meals for guests.

The Inn was originally built in the 1800s and required a lot of maintenance, so Bob added property manager to his work load. I assisted Bob, as the Inn Architect, on the design and construction of several renovation projects at the Inn over the years including: a three-story, roofed, wood fire escape and balcony system; a new timber framed kitchen, laundry, and service entry addition with large vaulted yoga room above; numerous rearrangements of rooms and baths; a solar hot water system, and finally reconstruction of 1/3 of the Inn damaged during a fire in 2013. Bob’s alter ego, Cap’n Blackheart, was just the task master needed to pull off these feats of renewal.

At the same time as their wedding, Bob and Sally created the Neatawanta Research and Education Center ( This was the vehicle through which they channeled their skills in community organizing. I am proud to have served on its board all these years. NREC has sponsored numerous events such as the annual Candle Float down the Boardman River to commemorate the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima; environmental actions to preserve the Traverse City watershed; anti-war protests; education around the economic impacts of corporate operations on the local economy; coordination for the local manifestation of the annual Bioneers Conference, Great Lakes Bioneers, held at Northwestern Michigan College for 10+ years; and numerous workshops and community gatherings at the Inn (

Bob read widely and kept a well stocked library at the Inn. Any visitors could quickly explore the latest scientific and social issues of the day. At the time of Bob’s passing, he was heavily into the concept of Resilience. He videotaped a series of talks on the subject and left a list of 12 books that he thought would be most useful for guiding his local community into the future (

Marvin Tinsley (02-13-2015) (Marvin Tinsley’s story as told by Sharon Burkhardt Mischakoff)

Marvin Tinsley single-handedly changed my outlook on the world. Marvin was the only African American student in our grade and high school! He was friendly, well-mannered, and participated on the football team. Growing up in Saline in the 1960’s, there was one well established family of color and that was the Woods family. The siblings were adults when we entered the high school. Marvin was an only child but treated each of his classmates as though they were his family. He taught me that you should never judge a book by its cover, that we are all equal and I’ve tried to pass that belief on to my own children, grandchildren, and over 300 day care children.

Laurie Webster Albanice (04-11-1999) (Laurie Webster Albanice’s story as told by Sharon Burkhardt Mischakoff, Brian Clay Collins, David Katz, April Pronk and Nicola Widmayer Crumb)

(Sharon) I remember Laurie as always smiling. She was friendly, focused and intelligent. At some point in high school, she was diagnosed with a condition that caused her to be allergic to the sun. From that point on, she had to dress so that she maximized clothing coverage for her body and that included hats. I admit that I, for one, was inspired by her fashion as she attended to her health and yet she always kept smiling!

(Brian) Laurie was diagnosed with lupus while in high school. I remember when Laurie was hospitalized at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor for lengthy periods of time throughout our junior and senior years. I remember visiting her several times and was always impressed that she maintained a positive attitude and managed to always smile through her pain. In spite of her absences from school, she remained an excellent student and even graduated in the top five of our class of ’68. 

(April) Throughout her school years, from elementary to high school, Laurie Webster was a very intelligent and hardworking student. She consistently was listed on the "straight A" honor rolls during her school years.  It was known to many students that during High School, and possibly prior to that, that Laurie suffered from lupus. She had to take 42 pills a day while in school, and additional medication in the morning and evening at home. In spite of those challenges, she persevered and graduated with her class in 1968.

(Nicola) Laurie and I were country neighbors, I lived on Saline AA Rd and Laurie lived about 3-4 fields behind me on Maple. We'd hike back and forth in the summers of junior high. Across the road, her grandpa and grandma Webster raised about 3500 turkeys. Many times Laurie would drag me out to the turkey pasture where we'd walk amongst the great white beasts. Freaked me right out despite her reassurance of my safety. She was knock dead crazy about the Beatles. We would sing "She Loves Me..." at the top of our lungs, then scream!!! At lunch in school we would often trade sandwiches, as she ALWAYS had turkey and she would take whatever I had in my lunch pail, didn't matter, as long as it wasn't turkey! Laurie was always a good friend despite our interests changing as we went into high school. 

(David) I lived about four miles from town and started riding my bike around the 6th grade which let me participate in the fabled town kid experience which included more fun, more friends and more freedom. As I was about to depart on my new adventure my mother told me to stop by Laurie's house because she'd like to ride to school, too. "But, Mom!!" It must have been sometime in the '90's I had a chance to talk with her and found out that her and her husband had attempted to live in the inner city Detroit and try to make a difference. Just as another family I had known to try that, it didn't work.

Kathryn Wood Morton (07-13-2015) (Kathryn Wood Morton’s story as told by Terri Nowlan Hand & Bert Emerson)
(Terri) Kathy was my closest and dearest friend for over 50 years. We met in our freshman year of high school, both new to Saline High and we became instant buddies. It was so wonderful to have an instant friend. Over the years we always had each other's back. She was like a “second mom” to my two daughters and they loved her dearly. I moved from Michigan in 1990 and we didn't see very much of each other but we kept in touch. I came back to visit in 2014 with my daughters and we had a great time reminiscing and being together. Kathy was gracious, kind, and one of the most giving and loving women I have ever known. She is sorely missed.

(Bert) I was saddened to learn of Kathy Wood’s death. I remember her as a quietly smiling, pleasant high school classmate and an up-the-road neighbor. I also remember her as the best tractor driver I ever saw.

Harold (Kathy’s father) liked hiring boys from neighboring farms because we knew farm work and farm equipment. We worked hard at home so we knew how to, and did, work hard for him. Harold paid us a dollar an hour and generally found everybody a soft drink on hot days. Talk about high-paying opportunity: Working spare time at the Wood’s farm paid a dollar an hour and a soft drink better than we figured we’d get at home.

As for working conditions, Harold was content to let us work unsupervised, pleased to stay out of the way. Terry (Kathy’s brother) was four years younger than we; no one expected him to keep up. It seems now as if Kathy was always around whenever there was driving to be done. Sometimes she’d be there for the heavy work. She could more than keep up with us but was usually chased off hard labor jobs. Poor Harold was torn between getting work done or, we suspected, enforcing standing orders from Marilyn (Harold’s wife) that restricted Kathy’s farm work to equipment operation. Little that we saw of her, we all liked Kathy.

It has been all of forty years since Harold Wood purchased my father’s herd of dairy cows. For a couple of years, he also rented much of our farm acreage. Likely the last time I saw any of the Woods, Kathy was baling hay south of our barn. Harold had driven his pick-up down to check on Kathy and was leaning against his pick-up truck talking with my father when I drove in. Before I said much more than hello, the sound of a tractor drew our collective attention to the far corner of the yard, to the lane that had been worn around the end of the big barn. Here came Kathy, driving their John Deere 40-20 tractor. Hitched to the tractor was their hay baler. A huge wagon, chock full of just-baled hay, was towed behind the baler.

As Kathy drove into the yard, Harold launched himself from the pick-up truck fender. He’d apparently decided that it was too late in the day to pull the hay up the road to their farm. Rain was coming. They’d have to get the hay undercover. As the wagon wouldn’t fit in any of their barns, the choices were to drive the load home and unload it as quickly as possible; or they could park the wagon, still loaded, in our barn. However, large as our barn was, the load could not be pulled onto the barn floor because there wasn’t enough room for both a tractor and the wagon. If that huge load of hay were going to be parked on our barn’s upper floor, the wagon would fit only if it were pushed in ahead of a tractor.

As he walked towards the baler, Harold gestured to Kathy (index finger lamely waved in the general direction of the wagon) that he would disconnect the wagon from the baler. He apparently planned to also detach the baler from the tractor, then to use the John Deere to push the big load onto the barn floor. Kathy waved him off. He needn’t unhitch the wagon.

Filtering her steering through the physics of backing the two-wheeled baler, Kathy intended to push the four-wheeled wagon up an irregular grade while accommodating a slight curve, through a narrow door-way with the purpose of parking the huge load of hay on our barn’s upper floor.

“O-o-kay!” Harold’s eyebrows said as a prideful little grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. He was about to see proof whether anyone could successfully back an overloaded four-wheeled wagon hitched through a two-wheeled cart. His daughter would do it first.

Kathy slid the tractor’s gear selector to a forward setting, then drove the rig in a wide rounded loop that crested back of the hill providing access to the barn’s upper level. Hauling the whole train as close to the open barn door as she could manage, virtually at the threshold of the barn door, Kathy cut the wheel hard, turning the tractor back down the hill. The train was most of the way down the hill before the big wagon towed squarely behind the baler. The tractor, the baler and the wagon were parked in a straight line with the back of the wagon aimed at the barn door opening. Kathy had all of the axles parallel with each other and almost perpendicular to the path onto the barn floor.

Turned partly in the tractor’s seat, also twisted slightly at the waist so she could see where the wagon was backing, Kathy slid the tractor’s transmission into reverse. The tractor engine complained slightly as the inertia of weight against the tractor was reversed up the hill. Rather than an immediate jumble of a half dozen countervailing chain reaction errors that backing a complex load generally concocted, Kathy maintained the three-on rank of the train. She started the parade smoothly, then rode it smartly up the hill. The coupled pivot points twisted minor adjustments prescribed at Kathy’s wrist, then reversed at the tractor’s drawbar, then interpreted by each hitch as needed to reestablish the straight-line formation. The top rail of the wagon cage cleared the barn door header. Then, anti-climatically, the wagon was on the barn floor. Harold squeezed between the bale-thrower and the barn door-post, and pulled the pin linking the wagon tongue and the baler.

As smoothly as the tractor and the baler and wagon were backed up the hill, the tractor and baler rolled back down, leaving the wagon squarely placed on the barn floor. With a glance over her shoulder, Kathy’s quick wave toward their farm signaled where she and the baler were headed. She was wearing her shy-but-pleasant expression as she drove passed us.

She was a nice person to be around and the best tractor driver I’ve ever seen.

Steven Sheldon's picture
Steven Sheldon