How it all began

One of Those Days

by Nelda Werkmeister,
Co-Owner of ND MillWerk Salvage and Sales

Starting our own business wasn’t exactly a dream come true, but more a sequence of unsolicited events. The startup company’s first shipment to an out-of-state customer, however, was a dream – more commonly referred to as a nightmare!

I was both nervous and excited. Our customer, who also happened to be our friends, wanted their vintage hardwood flooring shipped so they could begin installation that weekend. Upon getting the news, I ordered the strapping materials needed to secure the load for pickup. They were due to arrive Thursday morning. The truck to transport the goods to the Twin Cities was also due to arrive on Thursday. My husband and business partner would not be around on Thursday, however. I was on my own.

By 11 o’clock Thursday morning I was wondering where the FedEx truck with my strapping was. The online tracking option simply showed it in route. In the meantime a friendly truck driver called to say he had one stop left before heading to the farm place where this particular flooring was temporarily stored. Now what was I going to do? The transport driver was on his way, I had no strapping materials, and I had ten miles to cover to get to the shipping point of origin!

Living in a rural area makes shipping and delivery a challenge, sometimes with few options. I called Rick, the owner of our local small-town hardware store. “I need help. Do you have anything that might work as strapping for my flooring shipment?” He not only helped, but gave me two choices! With strapping material onboard, I raced back to the house for a forgotten pair of scissors.

As I left town in our 15-year-old Dodge Caravan with over 200,000 miles on it, I simply prayed that it would keep running at least one more day. All is well as I drive along, with our 5-year-old safely strapped into his car seat. I gasp to myself as the farm place, our stopping point, comes into view. Where there were once several old buildings and an established driveway, there was now newly tilled ground and a rock-covered lane. There was one building remaining at the top of the hill. There’s no way a semi could safely traverse the narrow lane, let alone maneuver up the hill to load and get back down the hill.

I quickly devised a plan. I could load the hardwood flooring into our van and back down the hill to meet the semi. Even the 14-foot lengths of flooring would be okay over such a short distance.

Our faithful van was now at the top of the hill, a few feet from the old building housing the precious flooring planks. I entered the building through a side door. Drew, our son, followed. As he got inside, the side door latched – from the outside! The daunting task of opening the overhead door lay ahead, and now there was no other way out. I remembered the broken pane of glass, creating a space large enough for a child’s body. I lowered Drew out the window to the outside. He reopened the side door, and we then activated the built-in wedge to keep it open. Now to get the overhead door open.

There was no electric door opener or even a spring-loaded anything. I put my muscle and 135-pound body into getting that old wooden door up in the air. As my face became moist with perspiration from both exertion and escalating anxiety, the door moved, but not very much. I tried to think what my handyman husband might do and looked around to see what materials might serve as tools. The 12-foot 2×4 leaning against the wall was just what I needed to raise the door to the top.

Now to get the wood planks into bundles. My cell phone rings. The truck driver is minutes away, needing final directions. I work as quickly as possible, wrapping each bundle several times. Because I must now load each bundle into the van by myself, the bundles are smaller and there are more of them. I can feel the sweat dripping down my chest when I hear the semi. I run down the hill to tell the driver I’m almost ready and will bring the load down to his trailer.

I run back up the hill, finish wrapping the bundles of flooring, load them onto the van, buckle my son into his car seat, and begin backing down the hill. I stop a few feet from the semi-trailer and get out to help load.

The kind driver places each stack of that precious cargo into his trailer and says it will be fine. He comments how busy he is with several stops left yet that day. I sign the bill of lading and breathe a quick sigh of relief. Drew and I have a few stops to make in a nearby town about fifteen miles away. But I can’t find Drew.

We’re parked on what was once a large ranch. This is Midwestern prairie land. In other words, you can see a long ways in all directions. There’s a farmstead to the northwest, a hog confinement to the southwest, and freshly tilled black dirt to the east. What we cannot see is a young boy. I had already stuck my head in the concrete culvert to the north. Culverts are like big pipes underneath driveways, placed to allow the rain water to disperse evenly through the ditches and thus avoid flooding. This was a nice big culvert, a magic tunnel or secret passageway in a child’s imagination. I remember playing in them myself as a kid, even though we were warned of the dangers of doing so.

I thank the driver for all his help. He’s been looking for Drew, too. I tell him I used to work for a trucking company, so I know the last thing you want to be doing is waiting. I encouraged him to get back on the road. He stays.

I have looked at the top of the hill, in the building, calling out Drew’s name. By now it’s becoming more difficult to calm the pounding of my heart. The driver has already looked in his cab. Semis are not quiet-running vehicles. Could someone have picked Drew up without us knowing? Further to the south is a spillway-sized (huge) culvert. It seems too far away for Drew to have gotten to in such a short time, but I don’t know where else to look. I tell the driver if Drew’s not there, I will call for help. As I’m walking south alongside the ditch, I see someone walking on the overturned soil several feet above the ditch. Drew comes into view. The baseball cap on his head looks like a giant cobweb. After hugging him, scolding him, and sharing the good news with the driver, I notice that he’s soaking wet from his knees down.

The overhead door needs closing, so I edge into the driver’s seat after helping Drew into the van. The old van starts right up and I put it into low gear to head back up the hill. Big mistake! The years and miles have taken a toll on the gear shift. The only way to disengage low gear is manually, under the hood. I know how to do that! But because I’m parked on an incline, even with the vehicle locked in gear and the parking brake on, the van will roll downhill if I take my foot off the brake. I’m wondering if I can roll safely to a level place where I can get out of the van, but I’m only a semi truck/trailer’s length from a blacktop road. I look behind me and see that the driver is adjusting his trailer load. What luck! I honk the horn and yell for help – one more time. My hero for the day, the driver easily pops the van out of gear after I briefly explained the situation. He’s on his way, and we’ve one last time parked at the top of the hill in front of the old building.

Drew’s shivering by this time. I pour the water out of both his boots, then remove his wet socks and pants. He sits back down in the van, and I wrap a jacket around him to warm him. He’s doing okay. I retrieve the scissors and strapping material from the building and tidy it up again. I literally hung myself on the overhead door and eventually got it closed. With the building secure and the van repacked, there was just one more thing to do. Remember that Drew is now in his underwear and we have to stop at a nearby town. I wring out Drew’s pants, which were soaked from his culvert adventure, and lodge them between the window and the window seal, hoping they will air dry over the next 15 miles. This can only be accomplished on the driver’s side because the passenger window is held in the closed position with ever-magic duct tape.

It’s okay to laugh…NOW. The shipment of vintage flooring made it to the Twin Cities. Drew (wearing mostly dry pants) and I completed our errands and arrived home safely. The Dodge Caravan still runs, although we don’t take it out of town anymore.