Friday, September 18, 2015

Waiting for the fire...

had its moments at Dunn Vineyards, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley:                                           


    Serious water dispersal will be needed if the fire does arrive, more water than is easily imagined up here, and moveable. Near the winery and office is a classic red - well, faded mauve - International fire engine built in 1947 by Van Pelt of Oakdale CA (“since 1925”), an elegant conglomeration of red domed lights, old cloth hoses folded and stacked like hundred-foot pythons, rubber hoses on hand-rolled wheels, spidery railings, various accoutrements out of a Buster Keyton adventure, and an eight-hundred-gallon water tank Randy now fills with a big plastic pipe running down from the well’s concrete collecting tank.
   Randy bought the engine as is from Mike Robbins long ago, when the owner of Sprng Mountain Vineyards - aka Falcon Crest - was in bankruptcy despite the success of a vinous soap opera as bad in the way of Dallas. The transmission was jammed and Robbins agreed to take $1,500 for this classic, so Randy borrowed a crowbar, got it running in ten minutes, and drove up Howell Mountain. In those days he looked a lot like Robert Redford - same beard and strawberry blonde hair - and that day he parked it in the field south of the house where it has mostly lived, until potential disaster brought it forward.
    The engine mounted on the back pumps to the big hoses. It has a choke and primer, and pushing the button precipitates some choking noises and a blast of black smoke. Then the motor turns over with authority, filling the afternoon with the resonance of old-timey, unmuffled America. Some flat cloth hoses are pulled out onto the grass, up the stairs and across the office porch. They expand as the engine pumps in water, the nozzle - sculpted brass, a work of art in its own right - for one frightening moment before the motor’s shut off blasts a torrent as thick as a man’s arm, barely uncontrollable.
        The smaller rubber hoses emit streams of water less likely break windows. That pump’s run off the main engine, so Randy gets it running, too. The rubber coils throb as they come off the roller. Pull the fancy nozzle’s trigger and a shaft of water ascends vertically halfway up a towering Doug fir.                                                

   Night falls, and the fire's still a threat. The sign on the shed, put together by a friend out of vintage neon glass, says it all: Wine.                       

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