That great sucking sound

22:08, Jan 06 2013
Wayne Timmo’s father, Neil, says it’s not the first time the Fergie has got stuck at Buffalo Beach.
Wayne Timmo’s father, Neil, says it’s not the first time the Fergie has got stuck at Buffalo Beach.

Chief of staff Wayne Timmo 's collection of beach stories just got a new chapter.

As soon as the little orange tractor backed in over its wheels, it looked doubtful it was ever going to get back out again.

Whitianga on a bright summer's day and the temptation to just keep on driving into the gently lapping waves to launch the jetski must have been too much for the driver.

As the wheels spun in vain, the sea lapped halfway up the engine cover of the glorified ride-on while the exhaust bubbled out through the water with a gurgle like the outboard motor it was swiftly becoming.

Frantic shouts swelled the number of helpers struggling to push the drowning vehicle free. Though with me sitting atop a decades older but much larger red Massey Ferguson only metres away, after hauling ashore our little dinghy, driving off or just watching wasn't an option.

But from there it all came quickly unstuck.


Plans to tow little orange out with big red were delayed by a lack of rope, likewise trying to hook the hydraulics under it to lift the front free of the sand while the gathering crowd pushed.

By the time a cable turned up and the attempt was made, big red Fergie itself was sinking, the water rising steadily up her wheels.

Unshackled from her orange burden, it was too late: The sand was churning and settling back to bury her wheels up to the hubs, despite the push of half a dozen fit young guys and a few beefier dads. With the fan churning seawater, she finally stalled and wouldn't restart. Then the ignition gave up, too.

The transmission began to bury itself in the sea floor and the waves lapped at my ankles as I sat in the driver's seat. The feeling of satisfaction at being in a position to lend a hand was quickly overtaken by one of impending doom.

Fergie is no normal tractor. Her grey and red kind are a common enough sight at a beach town, but the sound of her throaty rumble and the shudder of her jerky clutch is the stuff of memories.

She joined the family about 15 years ago and lives stashed in a makeshift shed, beside the only slightly larger makeshift shed that has housed my family for holidays for decades.

My father, Neil, brought a decent car battery on holiday to the family bach especially to fire her up.

"Starts first time," he would proudly proclaim. But after a life spent driving and tinkering with machinery on farm and in forest, he seemed to enjoy it even more if she didn't and he could get his hands dirty.

Now the faithful tractor that had carried everything from boats to the grandkids, who would one day inherit her, was about to become an artificial reef.

Adding further irony was the jetski boys now had the numbers to heft their own tiny tractor free of the sand and push it out with brute muscle power, something impossible for Fergie.

While their tractor trundled up the beach to safety, we dug around Fergie with our hands and later some shovels. A few nervous jokes were exchanged about hillbillies and tractors, as the jetski boys clearly felt sheepish their launch had sparked this comedy of errors .

It's a pity the only real redneck up on the beach was unwilling to risk his giant American Ford F150 to pull us free. Chances are he would have only got stuck, too, but the thought of so much chrome-encased torque sitting unused 50 metres away was stinging.

That was until my wife, Megan, found Fergie's saviour. A similar tractor had been at the beach earlier and Megan had run down nearby streets looking for it.

When she found it and asked for help, the tractor's owner was up like a shot and racing to the rescue.

Against both mine and the jetski boys' predictions, Fergie's sister pulled her gently at first and then so quickly from the sand that Fergie's skinny front wheels were almost flicked sideways in the rush.

I could not thank our rescuer enough. He was a quietly spoken man named Brent, who just shrugged and said I could do the same thing for him next time he was in a similar spot.

He seemed the sort who would never be caught out like that and happily towed Fergie home.

I was just about to head down to the beach to heft the dinghy home on the trailer by hand when the jetski boys turned up with it, towed by none other than their little orange tractor.

"Might want to do something with that fish, soon - it has been sitting in the sun," one of them deadpanned about the long-forgotten catch in the back.

That which had come so unstuck an hour earlier was now largely put back together, spawning one of those holiday tales that sums up the Kiwi traits of neighbourliness, humility and good humour. You sometimes suspect they have disappeared from holiday towns in direct proportion to the rise of multistorey beachside apartments.

Later on, we went to see Brent down the road to thank him again with a bottle of wine. He all but pushed it back into our hands, while inviting us to join in the feast about to come steaming from his barbecue for himself and some mates from over the fence.

That sinking feeling returned later when I called my dad to explain that Fergie wouldn't start.

"Don't worry," said the man who once made a living hacking roads through bush with a bulldozer. "I've got stuck, too, before."

I think he's looking forward to having something to fix.

Waikato Times