We said goodbye to the Yellow Peril at the Lions Club Annual Sale, November 1986.
I didn’t know the new owner and, looking back, feel that the decent thing to have done would’ve been to light a candle for him. Mind you, Caveat Emptor applied with a vengeance. The Lions Club, eager to benefit their chosen charity, tended to carelessness in their description of the goods for sale. Nothing said by way of promotion could be relied on to any great extent. That much was clearly understood by all. When buying at the auction, anyone bidding was backing his own judgment. No warranty, or mercy, was implied.
The disposal of our Yamaha three-wheeler didn’t have me shedding tears, but I did have a private recall of our early acquaintance. Even before it got to the farm the Yellow Peril, with some help from John, nearly got Brett involved in what would have been an epic smash and enter. Then, soon after it arrived, it tried to drown Steve, and was guilty of a criminal assault on me. After that, it settled down, probably well satisfied with the impact it had had on our little working family. It did, however, remain full of cunning and treachery, ready to vent its malice on the unwary at a moment’s notice. In today’s terms, it needed counselling, and so did we.
We had bought the little dairy farm, Yarrindale, as a family enterprise in the winter of 1983. The deal was ‘walk in – walk out’, although subsequent knowledge suggested that ‘walk in – gallop out’ may have more accurately described the situation. Anyway, we became the proud owners of the farm, the herd, and under the heading ‘miscellaneous’ a great selection of farm plant and farm junk. About halfway down the list was a 175cc farm motorbike. This was of unknown age and bigger and heavier than any ‘Agbike’ had a right to be. Our vendor, a large, well-built gentleman of five feet, ten or eleven, had no problem with it. The newcomers; significantly shorter and lighter ran into immediate difficulties. Dealing with it on a straight, gravel road was not too bad, but trailing a herd of cows in a muddy paddock, through an impossibly pugged gateway and onto a greasy cow-lane was not conducive to an even temper. By the time the rider had dropped it in the mud a few times, it had progressively increased in weight and contrariness.
Bruce, the immediate past-owner, became aware of the problem. I had reached the stage of preferring to walk than use the bike so the situation was pretty obvious. Over a cup of tea, he remarked that what I needed was a three-wheeler. I didn’t find this at all amusing, in fact there was very little to be found amusing about the whole deal. Noting my somewhat grim expression, Bruce realized that I was not quite up with recent developments in farm transport. He explained that motorized three wheelers, known as ATVs were just coming in and were the answer to a cow cocky’s prayers. Our nearest neighbour, Harry, had one so an inspection and demonstration could be arranged immediately.
Somewhat mollified, a quick ‘phone call and Steve and I took off for Harry’s to see what we could learn. Harry was a very large, powerful man, a native of Italy, with a heart of gold. Helping neighbours was just second nature. He demonstrated his new toy with great enthusiasm, charging back and forth, looking like a brown bear sitting on a kid’s trike. This was accompanied by a shouted, mostly incoherent, commentary on the ease with which such a remarkable machine could be handled.
Harry insisted that we each have a turn so that we could see for ourselves what a delight it was in every way. Steve acquitted himself in handy fashion, following Harry’s instructions. I went well, initially, then carefully drove it into a fence for no apparent reason. Sort of a novice-freeze, nervous reaction, or just plain incompetence depending on your viewpoint. It had stalled and Harry was having trouble starting it so, somewhat subdued, we thanked him profusely and left for our afternoon milking.
After some debate it was decided that John would take our station-wagon back to Lilydale. The female contingent were yet to move to the farm so it was an opportunity to bring them up to date. The trials and tribulations were, of course, carefully glossed over. John was to negotiate the purchase of a Yamaha ATV at Ringwood and bring it back on the roof rack.
Brett was to be the first victim of our new toy. John picked up the Peril, paying nearly eighteen hundred of our rapidly diminishing dollars, and called in at the Lilydale house. What had not been planned was that he should take the ATV off the roof rack and give a demonstration of his skill to his mother, and younger brother, and any neighbours who happened to be about. Not yet satisfied, John put Brett on it. Aged fourteen and somewhat inexperienced, Brett managed a few yards on the unfenced front lawn and then had a similar reaction to my own later experience. The trike, at nearly full throttle, with Brett on board but no longer in control, leapt off the three-foot bank from lawn to footpath, crossed the bitumen road at increasing speed and jumped the concrete kerb. Virtually unguided, it crashed through the scrubby garden of the house opposite ours and, faced with the choice of lounge-room window or brick wall, chose the brickwork. Thankfully the impact was cushioned by some heavy bushes. The thought of what may have been is not to be entertained. Brett got out of it with a fright and the ATV won a few bends and dents. John decided to put the Peril back on the roof rack.
I see by my diary that John and machine arrived at Yarrindale on the 22nd of June, 1983 and we unloaded it next day. Steve and I were suitably impressed and not a lot was said about the damage. It was just one of those things. Steve soon got the hang of it and I came in second. Steve’s little trial came one morning about a week later.
We were milking and it was bitterly cold, dark. and with a heavy fog. Steve took the three-wheeler to bring the cows in while I set-up the shed. The herd was in the night paddock closest to the dairy so the set-up had to be done at a gallop to be ready for them. On this occasion however, no cows appeared.
Double checking that all was ready to go, and still no cows, I stood around getting colder and more than a little impatient. Loathe to go far from the well-lit shed, I finally ventured as far as the first gate. The freezing mud was nearly to the top of my gumboots. I peered vainly into the fog. By this time I imagined Steve lying decapitated after slamming full speed into a fence, or severely concussed having hit a recumbent cow, or, hopefully, unhurt but pushing the ATV back with bits of the motor sticking out of it. No headlight could be seen, and no engine could be heard in the cold enveloping fog.
Eventually I heard the familiar wheezing of cold cows on the move and the sucking plops of hooves in deep mud. Shortly, the first cows began passing me for the dairy yard. Some several minutes behind the last of them, Steve emerged from the dark. I spoke to him in friendly fashion: “and where the bloody hell have you been?” He replied with similar courtesy.
Following a fairly silent milking, Steve suggested we get the tractor out. I had noticed that he seemed a bit damp but he had ignored my suggestions that he return to the house and change. He did, however, tip a gallon or two of muddy water out of his boots without offering a coherent explanation. Shortly, in the cold light of a winter’s morning, all was revealed. In common with most other paddocks on Yarrindale, the night paddock came equipped with a small water hole. The fill from the excavation had been removed over time to build up the farm lanes, so it lay nicely level with the surrounding pasture. This shouldn’t have been a problem because, after all, the Yamaha did have a headlight. However, the water was covered, wall-to-wall, with a small floating weed. Green in colour and flat on the water it had combined with the night fog. Some speed and probably a ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ was a diabolical trap for the unwary. A little surprised, Steve had suddenly found himself on a silent ATV in better than two feet of freezing water surrounded by foggy blackness. It was not an occasion of great joy. We lassoed our yellow friend and towed it out. I suppose to its credit, after a bit of a dry out in the workshop and a prime, the thing started and ran remarkably well.
My own little adventure, when the malevolent creature decided to show me who was boss, occurred in broad daylight a couple of days later. There was a much-used cow lane passing an area of swamp in the middle of the farm. This gave access to four separate paddocks and conformed closely to the general overall design of the farm. That is, the busiest lane was located in the lowest and wettest area. Drainage from the four paddocks crossed the lane to enter the swamp. This was to enable the lane to remain a deep bog in both winter or summer. At times, I had been able to negotiate the lane at full twist in first gear. More often I had to get off and walk alongside pushing vigorously while trying to avoid the mud being thrown from the wheels. And, of course, there were those frequent occasions when the trike decided, right in the middle of the bog, that so far was far enough.
This was one of those occasions. It stopped and no amount of wheel spinning could get it to move. I was already mentally deep in doom and this didn’t really help much I suppose. I got off, took up the usual position alongside and pushed hard. With the motor fairly screaming, we got nowhere. I tried pushing it every which way the mud was too deep. Yellow was just sitting on its belly sneering at me.
After twenty minutes of effort a few things were obvious. The boys were unaware of my problem, so I could forget about being saved by a hero with a tractor. I had raised a fearsome glow under my mid-winter garb and was growing weaker by the moment. If I called it quits for a while and cooled down too much I could be in trouble.
Looking at the situation through a red haze, I saw that the front wheel was more than half buried. Ah, that would be it! Trying to push forward from amidships meant that I was inadvertently thrusting downwards on the handlebars. So, I needed to do it a different way. If I stamped the mud down in front of the wheel, the back wheels had enough torque to take care of themselves. With a bit of effort, the Peril should slide along on its belly provided there is no downward thrust. But how to achieve all this without blowing a fuse altogether?
‘Ah,’ said an evil voice. ‘Stand in front of it and pull on the handlebars. With one hand on the throttle it’ll fight its way forward and out.’ Simple! What’s a bit of hypertension anyway? No sooner said, than done. I was already anticipating the feel of a hot shower and a mug of black and strong. I took up a crouching position, knees bent, left hand wrapped onto the throttle, and, leaning backwards, gave it a hearty twist. The analogy of a cork out of a bottle is most apt. The beast fairly leapt forward at me. No reflex could’ve been quick enough but I did try. With my arms rigid, I was suddenly sat down into the mud and laid almost prone by the impetus of the beast. It stopped with the front wheel resting calmly on the family jewels. Actually this is what saved me from a fate worse than death. Overcome by a flash of instinct, I had let go of the throttle and dropped both hands to a position of defence. Satisfied, the beast had stopped. Without that, as I realized later, it would have straddled me, prone and helpless in the mud, and vented its lust. The boys would have found me eventually, probably torn and violated.
Having failed in its evil purpose, the Yellow Peril allowed me to mount up and drive warily back to the house. We were both covered in mud, but that wasn’t unusual. I managed to peel the outer layers off and head for the shower.
One of the boys called out, “Did you check the gates Dad?” I didn’t bother to answer.
We said goodbye to the Yellow Peril at the Lions Club Annual Sale, November 1986.