Grade the drive, A+

“Wanna help me grade the drive?” dad would ask.

The answer was always yes.

Our driveway was 1/3 of a mile long, and in need of regular care. We called it grading the drive. Not like a grade you get in school, though.

This driveway used to be a public, maintained road but was decommissioned long before I was around. There’s still a weathered sign at the bottom of the drive that reads, “ROAD VACATED.”

My sister and I used to walk the entire length to wait for the school bus. The neighbor’s land across the road where we waited for the bus was home to a herd of buffalo. My parents devised a contingency plan for our safety if the buffalo were ever to escape. “Get in the ditch and crawl in the culvert under the road.” It never happened, but we were prepared.

Dad would put some earplugs in my ears (my Grandpa Forry had hearing damage, so this was always a priority) and we would be off. I’m assuming that he lost some hearing using this outfit as well.

Our road grader was probably 100 years old then, pulled by a tractor from the 1940s or 1950s. I’d take a seat in the pressed-steel pan seat (quite comfortable to this day) and await my instruction. Ahead of me were two large iron wheels, each raising or lowering the left or right sides of the large blade that would shape the road surface.

Dad would point up or down with his left or right hand and I would make the adjustments to shape the crown of the roadway to ensure the rainwater went where it was supposed to. Mostly, it was me just sitting there bouncing up and down like it was a somewhat useful carnival ride.

One pass down and one pass back was all it usually took, unless a gully-washer of a rainstorm really messed things up. The road needed care only a couple of times each year, and only in the milder months. I do remember putting on some hand-me-down coveralls a few times in the late fall to get things in shape for winter. The light grew dim, as we usually graded the drive after dad got home from work.

At the bottom of the driveway, dad would perform the machinery miracle of turning this whole enormous contraption around in a shockingly small amount of space using only the steering wheel and left brake pedal (or lever, if we were using the model WC) on the tractor. The old tractors had two brakes, one for each rear wheel to help with such turning maneuvers in the field (or driveway).

Grading the drive was such an event that I even got to bring my friend Tim along for the ride, once. He was at our house for a sleepover and I was so excited to share this singular experience with someone else. Mom snapped a picture of it. Tim is no longer with us, but this picture is. And so is the grader.

The drive is now maintained solo with the big tractor and a mounted blade, but this will always remain in my mind one of the things that we just did to keep things in order on the farm.