For the want of a nail…

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It’s a poem that comes with various nuances but that extends back in time to at least the 14th century when it was a children’s nursery rhyme. To Americans, we attribute it to the great Ben Franklin since he once printed it in Poor Richard’s Almanac, but the genius from Philadelphia conducted a bit of plagiarism in this one.

Many tie Ben’s printing of it to a line from Shakespeare’s Richard III. As King Richard dies on the battlefield, his last words are, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”

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Here’s what the kids, possibly Shakespeare, and definitely Franklin were thinking about.

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

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For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

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It wasn’t a nail, but a thermostat setting last Wednesday that set another cascade of circumstances into play. If you’re not a believer in the effect of unforeseen circumstances, well, you just haven’t paid enough attention. The world is full of these seemingly unrelated incidents that can be tied back to a common cause.

Our daughter Staci, and son-in-law Adam, with Jayne and Norah in tow, flew home for the Christmas break from Pittsburg last Wednesday, at least they were scheduled to fly to Riverton.

It seems every time they fly here, whether it’s July or December, there is a problem with United Air Lines.

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This time the problem wasn’t directly applicable to the “Less than Friendly Skies” (their motto if you haven’t had the pleasure) but to that little holiday gift Mother Nature dished out last week in the form of a subzero bomb cyclone.

The storm that hit us late morning last Wednesday, arriving in Denver an hour after sunset. The kids arrived just as it hit, but flights were still leaving Denver with just slight delays.

For some unknown reason, a technician shut the heat off in the aircraft headed for Riverton just before boarding began. No heat with the temperature plummeting well past zero on its descent is no joke.

Here is the “nail” in the poem. The other departing aircraft were kept warm as the ground crew prepared them for takeoff.

We watched online, and Adam and Staci watched in person as flights to Ft. Collins (who flies from Denver to Ft. Collins?), Cheyenne (same question), Aspen, and longer destinations, flights scheduled after theirs, departed. The counter explained the plane was being heated and to expect an hour delay. The hour turned to two, then three, then a cancellation.

We’ve flown a lot with United, so we already had a reservation for them at a nearby hotel, just in case.

Here comes the first appearance of the “horse and rider.”  The next flight available was Christmas Eve, three days later, arriving at 10:30 pm. They rented a car instead, but living where we do, with such few amenities common to other areas, there was no place to drop off a rental car. It had to go to Natrona County Airport in Casper.

After a short night, Adam drove north on Interstate 25 towards the Oil City. The wind at Chugwater was ridiculous as usual, but aside from fog at Glenrock, it wasn’t bad. I headed east to Casper in my GMC pickup, with a couple of booster seats for the girls in the back.

It was -38 Thursday morning when I left the house.

Another “nail, rider or horse” is on the way, this time it was the fuel line in my truck. When we drive to Casper we usually have just enough fuel to get there, so we can save a few dollars buying their much less expensive gas. This time, with the temperature hovering near 40 below, I added a few extra gallons, along with a bottle of Heat to keep the fuel flowing.

Before they arrived I had time to pick up lunch, fill the truck for $2.12 a gallon, and added another bottle of Heat.

We made our rendezvous, loaded everyone, and headed back on a clear, crisp morning on dry roads, but the temperature never raised above -29.  Dropping back into our little valley, it dropped to -34 and near Stott’s Equipment just north of Riverton, the truck began to lose power, presenting a little early Christmas present with the warning “Reduced Engine Power.”

I’m still working on that issue four days later.

We limped home at 22 mph, but the truck now randomly kicks in and out of that reduced power mode. A mechanic is on schedule as soon as I can get the truck in. No, I’ve never had this problem before, but then again, I’ve never driven 250 miles with the temperature that cold either.

The kids made it home, that’s the important part, but their luggage wasn’t so lucky.

United canceled flights to Riverton Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week, finally arriving on Saturday, but the plane was so full of four days of luggage that much of it was left in Denver.

Sunday, their lonely bag was finally reunited with them.

A couple of passengers we spoke to late Christmas Eve had been in the airport for three straight days, now that’s living. Others were there to pick up their luggage after flying to Laramie on Friday morning (Laramie from Denver?) where they were able to meet family for a ride home. Many chose the rental car route back to our version of civilization with vehicle swaps like ours in Casper.

All, because a technician turned off the heat.

We accept a lot of things living where we do, isolation, lack of medical care, fewer amenities than other areas, and extreme weather that doesn’t affect the rest of the Cowboy State since they don’t suffer the temperature inversions that await us each December and January.

But it is our choice. When we’re nailed by the choice of someone else, we’re not that eager to accept it.

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