When I had the hardware store in Boatville, and Mom and Dad came up from Iowa to visit, Dad would come into the store with me Saturday morning.

I had received a patio table and chairs from a customer in lieu of payment, and that sat up front in the store, and quickly became a gathering spot for wired-up old timers after they drank enough coffee across the street in the GossipBox Café to float an ocean liner.

These esteemed gentlemen (liars, gossipers, nay-sayers and big talkers—my kind of people) would then sit around and solve the world’s problems. Dad coming into this mix at first worried me, but it turned out that not only could Dad hold his own, he quickly proved even better at the game.

There was Einar, and Willard, and Melvin, (Not their real names.) and of course my dad. Talk moved to steam engines.

The dynamics here were such that each of the three had long ago mutually agreed to nod favorably in general agreement with no matter what outrageous yarn or position that the other of them came out with. Anything else would have broken them apart, and although they barely liked each other, they liked telling stories even better.

So when Willard blurted out some outrageous yarn about the Hart-Paar steam engine, the others got ready to nod. But Dad said that in fact, that wasn’t true, that the Hart-Paar’s drive pulley was on the rear left, not the front right (or something like that). The others saw immediately that Willard, the no-good lying son-of-a-biscuit, was going to finally get his come-uppance. They didn’t nod.

Willard, not quite catching on that the game was up, ran out another fabrication about something else, and when Dad pointed out that in fact that also wasn’t quite the way it was—he was being reasonably quiet about it—Willard leaped to his feet, left, and came back minutes later with a model of that steam engine under discussion. Dad pointed out the feature on the engine which proved him right. Things quieted down for a bit, but Willard couldn’t quite contain himself, and ran another falsehood up the yardarm.

By now, even though he had been proven wrong twice, he couldn’t help himself and tried to play catch up. His yarns became even more numerous. More outrageous. Things he had been saying and getting away with and built up even more with each successful telling were now even challenged by members of the gathering crowd. His two friends began to smell blood.

At which Dad spun out a yarn from some relatives who had wheat-farmed in the Dakotas back when. “Yes,” dad said, “when that eight-foot flywheel came loose, they had to track it five miles through chest-high wheat.” This was impossible for Willard to disprove, since it sounded like Dad had been there. (Nope.) Dad could have added to the yarn by saying he’d heard of one that came off after the bearing seized, and the wheel, throwing sparks and hot metal as it escaped into the wheat field, left a trail of fire behind it.  He didn’t need to. Willard was on the ropes.

“Of course,” Dad added, now on a roll, so to speak, “those flywheels became even larger with those first distillate-powered internal-combustion threshing machines.” He surveyed the crowd, and then satisfied that everyone was listening to him, he added, pointing to one of the now three models that Willard had fetched from his house, “that was where the Jesus Christ bar went.”

Willard couldn’t help himself, and thinking he had Dad on this one, asked quite sarcastically whatever could that be, that bar?

“Well,” Dad said, “you put a seven-foot- steel bar in those pegs, and pulled down on it to start that huge engine.”

Willard sputtered. Dad went on. “Once in a while, the engine would backfire, and it would throw that bar half a mile out into the wheat field, and that was how it got its name.”

“Someone,” he said, “would say: ‘Jesus Christ, where’d that bar go!’”

Laughter. Lots of laughter. The winner: Dad.

Folks came in for months wondering when Dad was going to make a return visit. 

Very fun.