Delivery & Installation, Operations, V8I2

Of Lakes, Muddy Hills, and Jumpy Customers

“Eeeek!” The screech cut like a knife through the rain, and I jerked around in time to see Mrs. Fairweather’s feet suspended a good 6 inches off the muddy turf as her hands beat in tiny circles like a hovering hummingbird’s wings. 

The hand whirling seemed to elevate her body, as it seemed like a small eternity before her soggy sneakers descended with a splash into the muck that covered the whole disastrous hillside. 

Great! I thought to myself. All I need now is a screeching lady watching me. Maybe I should tell her to take a chill pill and leave for a few hours.

“Mr. Jason, Mr. Jason, Mr. Jason!” I heard. “Stop what you’re doing right now! We need to talk.” 

I should have known this was going to be an interesting delivery when I attempted to do a site check for this job a month earlier. Incorrect road names, a GPS that refused to cooperate, and no cell service had me wandering the hills around Juniper Lake for an hour before I located this lakeside property. 

On top of those challenges, Sam and Shelly Fairweather’s vague directions included nothing of true value and plenty of useless information. The fact that Old Man Kingsbury had a ’56 Belair in his lawn since 1985 wasn’t helpful, especially when I realized it was actually an El Camino. 

Furthermore, it was on the left side of the road, not the right as Sam had assured me it was. 

When I mentioned this fact after I finally found the place, Sam looked at his hands for a second. He literally mimicked spooning a few bites into his mouth with each hand before sheepishly responding, “I guess I meant the other right.” 

Thankfully, my mirror shades hid the eye roll I nearly did out loud. 

“Well, I’m sorry it took me so long, but here I am,” I said. “What do you have in mind for your shed location?”

“No problem,” Sam drawled. “We were thinking down this bank closer to the lake. We’d like to build stone stairs down to it afterwards and have a nice flat spot where the shed will go. See, half the shed will be our guest cabin.”

As I looked it over, I didn’t see any real difficulties. The ground sloped rather steeply toward the distant lake, but I had done it all before.  

“I should have no trouble as long as you remove these two trees,” I said, indicating two sickly looking bushes. “That should give me a straight shot down the bank and allow me to turn the shed sideways and unload without an issue.”

“But Mr. Jason, I don’t see how you can possibly do that!” Frantically waving hands accompanied Shelly Fairweather’s interjection. “I know you must know what you’re doing, but the hill is just too steep, and—and—and the lake is below, and I just think you should build it on-site here.” 

“Shush, Honey,” Sam interrupted. “I’m sure this guy has done it a few times before. We should trust him. Besides, it will be more expensive if they build it here, right Mr. Kauffman?”

“That’s right,” I replied. “We charge extra to build on-site. I’m certain I can deliver it in one piece and save you that extra cost.” 

“Oh dear! Oh my! I just think it’s so risky, but okay, I guess you know best,” Shelly said. “How soon do you think we can expect delivery? We’re getting an excavator to put in our parking area and build the stone stairway down to the shed. We’d like to have him come right after you deliver the shed.” 

“Well,” I replied, “we’re about four weeks out right now, so I’d say the beginning of June.”

“Perfect,” Mr. Fairweather stated. “We’ll schedule him the second week in June.” 

And so it was with confidence that four weeks later I called the pessimistic Shelly and scheduled delivery for the following Tuesday. 

A small worry nibbled at my subconscious when Shelly announced, “Oh, by the way, our excavator came early and has been working there. We asked him to go ahead and flatten the area where the shed will be going since we decided we don’t want the shed blocked up after all.” 

“Okay,” I replied. “He didn’t change the landscaping where my trailer will be backing down the hill, did he?” 

“Oh no. He only flattened the shed area and brought in gravel to level it,” she assured me. “He’s working on the parking area now and won’t be in your way at all. Plus, he has an excavator there in case you need help putting the shed in place. He said he’s moved lots of sheds with his excavator before.” 

This time the phone hid my eye roll. The few sheds I’d ever seen moved via digging machines went from the rubbish heap into a dumpster. That seemed like the only way an excavator could move a shed. 

“Okay, should be no problem,” I replied. “I’ll see you in three days.”

The end of May and beginning of June is our rainy season here in Montana, and although we rarely get heavy rain, that delivery day seemed bent on setting records for maximum rainfall in the shortest time. My rig was plastered with mud by the time I pulled up to the delivery address. The last 10 miles of dirt roads had seen to that. 

I started seeing problems immediately. It looked like a platoon of tanks had duked it out in this tiny property hanging over the lake below. There wasn’t a square foot of real estate that wasn’t churned into mud, and the devastation from removing a dozen trees left holes scattered about like random bomb craters. 

Little rivulets of muddy water raced pell-mell down the slope, barely slowing as they rushed over the leveled gravel pad that awaited the hapless shed still loaded on my trailer.

Shelly and Sam were nowhere in sight as I trudged around the location with growing dread. The delivery had gone from somewhat difficult to extremely treacherous since I had seen it four weeks earlier. 

The torn-up dirt had deteriorated into treacherous, sucking mud that had me grasping trees to maintain my footing. Backing down the hill into position now looked like a slip-and-slide right into the lake below. The steady downpour did nothing to brighten the outlook. No question, this was going to test my skills and the limits of my abdominal fortitude. 

Faintly through the smattering of the rain I heard a horn, and turning to look back up the hill, I saw the excavator driver waving from inside his dry cab. Slipping and sliding through the treacherous landscape, I managed to clamber up the slope to his machine. 

“Hi, I’m Mike Drummond,” he beamed. “Hey, I tried to clear you a nice pathway down to the shed. Figured I’d make it as easy as possible. How does it look? Oh, and I can help you however you need me to.” 

I decided to play it cool and polite. “We’ll give it our best shot,” I said, turning to look back at the ruined landscape. “I’ll let you know if I need help. Looks like I’ll get wet today.”

I tried to lift my sagging confidence as I trudged back to the truck. No two ways about it, I was in for a long, wet afternoon. 

“Mr. Jason, Mr. Jason!” 

Momentarily distracted from my glum thoughts, I turned to see Shelly waving at me from the road above. 

“Hi, I made it! What do you need me to do?” she asked. 

“Well,” I said, trying to look cheerful, “just stay back and out of the way so I don’t run into you when I start backing down the hill. I will take it nice and slow, and we should have your shed in place in no time.” 

“Okay!” she squealed. “I’m still worried, but I brought my anxiety pills, so I should be fine!” 

Say what? I thought. Anxiety pills? Maybe I need to borrow a few. 

No, I’d be okay, I decided. It was just another adventure in the delivery wilds. 

Backing down that hill proved to be even worse than I had feared. The pouring rain rendered my mirrors nearly useless, and the slick mud under my trailer tires gave very little traction when I tried braking. I had to manually engage the trailer brakes nearly to their max and then stab the truck brakes as little as possible so I could retain steering ability. 

We had gotten permission from the adjoining neighbor to use his blacktop driveway halfway down the hill before veering into the abysmal muddy wasteland created by the over-zealous excavator. 

Much to my dismay, I realized the neighbor was there that day, and in my rain-streaked mirrors, I could see a faint silhouette glowering at me from under a huge poncho. 

“You’re not going to tear my driveway up, are you?” he growled at me the first time I got out of my truck to check clearances. 

“No, that shouldn’t happen,” I replied. “I won’t be turning sharply or skidding anything over the blacktop.” 

“Well, see that you don’t,” he said. “I spent a lot of money on this driveway, and my septic lines go under here as well. I don’t want them torn up.” 

“Alright,” I responded. “I’ll do my best.”

From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Shelly standing a little way off to the side. Her tension was so great that her extremities looked slightly blurry from vibrations coursing through her body. As I watched amusedly without being obvious, I saw her rattle out a few pills from an orange prescription bottle and gulp them down. The sight had me chuckling as I crawled back into the steamy warmth of my Ford. 

Okay, Shelly, I thought. That was the easy part. Now let’s see what you think of the next 30 feet.  

Well, maybe I should have forgone that particular thought pattern, as the hill was clearly determined to humble me that day. As the big, knobby tires on my dually rolled gently off the wet blacktop into the soft mud, I promptly forgot Shelly, the neighbor, and even the excavator. Without warning, the pickup, trailer, and barn headed for the lake below at a gentle but steadily increasing speed. 

The first stab of the brakes was promptly followed by increasingly frantic pumping until I had the pedal flat to the floor and my posterior was no longer touching the seat. Had my rear still been in contact with the seat, I’m sure the leather would have been clenched firmly into a 6-inch tepee. 

Up to this point, my heart was crashing along at a comfortable rate, but the impending swimming trip had it pounding double time. 

As cleanly as I had forgotten the ever-anxious Mrs. Fairweather, a shriek brought me back to where I was. I’m not sure how I heard her over my own yelling, but tension does strange things to a fellow’s senses. Must have sharpened my ears that day. Besides, my yelling wasn’t too loud or long. At least that’s what I told myself. 

Just about the time I decided to change into my swimming trunks, the sliding rig came to a jarring stop. Everything on the dash ended up on the floor, and my head hit the headrest with a thud. 

“Just play it cool, Jason,” I told myself. “Act like you planned that.”

I had to give myself a few seconds to calm down before I slowly opened my door and exited. Knocking knees tend to give one away when trying to play it cool. No reason to let them see that. 

Ignoring the bystanders above me, I sauntered to the back of the trailer to see what I’d hit. Thankfully, the slippery mud hid the quaking of my limbs. At least I hoped it did. I dared not look back at Shelly or the excavator right then. I’d either laugh or weep in nervous tension. Neither seemed like a professional response, so I stoically kept my face turned away. Besides, I was worried about what I’d find damaged from such a dramatic collision. 

Much to my surprise and bewilderment, I could not find what I had hit. At least not until I rounded the far side of my trailer and saw the stump wedged firmly against my trailer tire. No smashed shed or bent trailer frame or broken lights. Just a firmly flattened tire against a larch stump 10 inches in diameter. My relief was nearly palpable. 

Regaining my confident demeanor, I sauntered around the front of the truck where my horror-stricken observers could see me again. 

“Okay,” I said casually, “this is where I’ll spin the shed and unload it down to the leveled pad.” 

“But Mr. Jason!” Shelly exclaimed. “You just slid down the hill! What’s to keep you from sliding farther while you unload?”

“Oh, I parked the trailer with the rear wheel against a tree stump. That will hold me while I unload,” I calmly explained. “If you go around the other side, you’ll see it’s perfectly lined up now.”

Stifling a shaky grin at the expressions on Shelly’s and Mike’s faces, I walked around the shed, loosening straps. Thankfully, the rain had slowed considerably, and I could lower my hoodie to see better. That’s how I could hear the conversation on the other side of the shed.

“He actually tried that?!” Shelly half shrieked, half whispered. “I could have sworn he lost control!”

“Either that, or he’s the coolest cucumber I’ve ever seen,” the excavator muttered. “I’d be headed for town to buy new underwear if that happened to me.” 

On the far side of the shed, I wiped tears of relief and laughter from my eyes. It seemed my keep-it-cool act had passed muster. I still wasn’t sure how the rest of this delivery would go, but I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to be able to move my truck an inch till the shed was unloaded. Even then, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to move without help, but I certainly wasn’t going to try till it was a whole lot lighter. 

Now spinning a smaller shed with the good old barn spinner is no big deal, but with a 12 by 32 shed in play, the procedure becomes a lot more complicated. Since I knew I would be doing this, I had brought along the proper bracing to support the floor. However, I had not explained to the flighty Mrs. Fairweather exactly what would be taking place. Sometimes it’s better to just do your job without explaining it all. 

However, in this situation, maybe I should have explained, because as the little spinner did its thing and the shed began tottering on its pivot, the shriek from the beginning of our story cut like a knife through the drizzling rain.  

“Mr. Jason, Mr. Jason, stop right now!”

Sighing inwardly, I trudged up the hill to the hysterical Shelly.

“Mr. Jason, I need to leave,” she gasped. “My anxiety pills aren’t working, and I need stronger stuff. You just let me know when you’re finished, and I’ll pay you.” She paused and half glared, half stared at me in wonder. “I don’t know how you do it, but I’m a nervous wreck, and I’m not even doing anything.”

Mr. Drummond and I exchanged glances behind her retreating back. I waited till she was out of earshot before I spoke.

“Not sure either how I do it some days,” I admitted. “Days like today sure liven things up.”

The story is too long and boring to explain every detail of how I managed to get the shed in place, but there were more than a few times when I thought the shed was a goner. Luckily, Shelly was gone, or I expect we’d have been calling an ambulance to deal with cardiac arrest on her part. As it was, I nearly needed the ambulance myself a few times. 

In the end, I got the shed close enough and began the process of getting my truck back up to the highway. Eventually I gave up and had Mr. Drummond bring his excavator. Together, we managed to get the truck’s wheels back on pavement, and I was able to claw my way up to the top. Even the excavator had a hard time of it in the mud. 

As I cleaned off my muddy boots and changed into a dry coat, Mr. Drummond sloshed over to my truck.

“Tell me,” he said, “did you try to back up to that stump, or did you get really lucky?”

 “I’ll plead the fifth,” I replied, grinning at him. “I’ve got 20-plus years practice at both.”

“You rascal!” he exclaimed. “You had me there for a bit!”

As the muddy scene disappeared from my rain-streaked mirrors, I decided I would plead the fifth even to myself. Otherwise, I’d have to explain the yelling inside the truck cab earlier, and I didn’t want to face that memory just yet. Far too embarrassing to even think about it. 

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