The Farm

Everybody called it The Farm, even though it wasn’t really. It was just 60 acres of woods down a dirt road in eastern Connecticut. There were a couple of those plastic Quonset huts out in the middle of the clearing just above the creek, and an old trailer Lance lived in, and sometimes the Sandwich Lady.

Randy had some of his high-tech tomatoes in the greenhouses and made a nickel selling them around, but before Lance got his idea and brought in the fire barrels and nail guns, it was just property. Not much ever happened on the place except one time the federal boys cut holes in the greenhouses to check if there wasn’t somebody growin’ dope in there. Nobody was, of course.

Lance was, and is, an idea man and a truck driver. We’ve been friends ever since the days we both ran for this little flatbed outfit just across the state line. He was there when I signed on, and showed me the ropes about hauling printing presses on single drops. We did a lot of that. Lance was sick of it. One day he couldn’t find a stick of freight off the piers in Jersey, and somebody asked him if he wanted some pallets. So he loaded his single drop with pallets and brought them back to Connecticut. He sold those free pallets for a buck a piece and made $400 for a 200-mile trip. That was the beginning of Lance’s idea.

All Lance needed to make his idea work was land. He had boys like Pete and Smokin’ Joe, who started drinking early; Easy, the ex-stripper; Doogie; and Strabo, who sometimes fed his family on roadkill. They were good boys and hard workers, but they weren’t working. Some of them you had to round up from wherever they had fallen down the night before, but once you got them over to the fire barrel and warmed up, they could sling a nail gun and strip a pallet faster than an old mule can kick his feed bucket. Randy had land and a keen sense of the worth of a dollar. Well, the gist of it is, there’s not much freight that moves without a pallet under it. Lance figured if he could get pallets for free and fix them up, he could make a profit.

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By that time I owned a single drop and was helping out. You can put a lot of pallets on a single drop. Lance is an enterprising sort and he had customers all over. He even had a customer in Alabama. Most guys would think it wasn’t worth it to haul pallets that far, but we worked out a deal I was very happy with. Those old boys on the radio would eyeball my dropdeck looking like a pregnant python and get to ratchet-jawin’ about how could a man stoop so low as to put pallets on his trailer. I just smiled. Lance and I had figured out how to strap down those pallets with a long strap and a loop of steel wire over each stack. It took all day to load, and sometimes the pallets were an odd size that had to be manhandled in a certain way. Even though my single drop was a 102, some loads were wide. If the customer wanted 500 pallets we found a way to get them on.

The Farm was a hard place in the winter. There was no shelter except the trailer. Standing around a barrel was warmer. It was a good place to have a smoke and pick the ice off your mustache. We all got along; that was the best part.

That was seven, maybe eight years ago. The Farm is back to being a farm, and Lance’s outfit is in its second factory. Randy still runs the place and has about 60 men working and a fleet of 10 trucks. Lance sold out years ago and does what he wants to do now. In less than five years he made a business and sold it for enough to retire and indulge in his first love, bass fishing. He bought himself a house, a new truck, a new boat and all the fancy fish-finding gear you can imagine.

Well, you know some guys get lucky, some guys try so hard they bust and some guys get good ideas and follow them up with a good plan. There are plenty of simple ideas out there. There’s nothing more simple than a pallet.

The last time I talked to Lance he was restless. Randy was asking him to reinvest and help out selling, but Lance had other ideas. He though maybe he would buy a truck. A man ought to be able to make money if he can buy a truck outright. Then again, he said, there was a guy up in Vermont who had a magazine for sale . . .

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