The great sled ride goes adrift: Why I’m not a millionaire

Burt's Eye View

Like most of my great ideas, this one didn’t come off quite the way I envisioned.

The blizzard of 1977 dumped several feet of heavy, wet snow on our farm. Drifts piled up as high as 5 or more feet. We wouldn’t be walking to school uphill both ways — or anywhere else — anytime soon.

One of the great things about living on a farm is that there’s always fresh milk, a stocked freezer and basement shelves jammed with canned vegetables that we picked all summer from our garden.

A blizzard brings a definite end to bean picking and weeding. The downside of a snowstorm on a farm is that you don’t get to lie on the couch and read comic books all day. Trust me on this. I dedicated my young life to the quest.

“Burton William, those cows aren’t going to feed and milk themselves. Get out to the barn, NOW!”

As I struggled into six layers of barn clothes and lined my boots with Wonder Bread bags, I set to work trying to invent ways that the cows could feed and milk themselves. Those conveniences eventually were invented — just not by me. I was distracted on the way out to the barn.

My younger brother Tim led the way. It was slow going. “Dig faster,” I hollered.

“We have another snow shovel.” His breath billowed in smoky puffs. “You’re welcome to help plow.”

I shut up and left Tim to the shoveling that he enjoyed so much. That’s when I noticed a snow drift that nearly reached the roof of the chicken coop. A new plan hatched. It wouldn’t make any money like inventing ways for cows to milk themselves. But it involved excitement, danger and the possibility of broken bones. Perfect!

“We’re going to blast down the chicken coop roof on our sleds.”

After chores, I dragged out the sleds. The snow was heavy enough that we walked up the drift and hopped onto the chicken coop roof. We positioned the sleds at the peak.

Things appeared to be higher and steeper from the roof than they did from the ground.

I nudged Tim. “Have a great run.”

“It was your idea. You go first.”

“I’m not allowed. The inventor always has to watch to take notes for improvements. It’s in the rules.”

“I dunno…”

I’ve never understood why little brothers refuse to listen to an elder’s reason. I smacked my gloved hands onto his back and shoved as hard as I could.

Years later, I related a version of the story in which the sled shoots off the roof, races down the drift, nearly smashes into a tree, and wipes out yards later into a massive drift that looks like a bear’s den.

In real life, the sled wouldn’t move. The runners bogged down in the wet snow and stuck.

We climbed down the drift in anti-climactic defeat.

“You’re sure you weren’t digging your boots into the snow?”

“Nope,” Tim said. “But it’s the first time I didn’t break anything as the test pilot for one of your great ideas.”

“You held the blanket parachute wrong when you jumped out of the tree.”

“Did not.” He pushed the shovel into my hand. “Here. I’m going inside for hot chocolate.”

I tossed the shovel and followed.

Oh, sure, the guy who finally invented a way for cows to milk themselves probably is a multi-millionaire. But where’s the excitement and danger in that?

— Sip hot cocoa with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.


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