I apologize for the late posting of this chapter. I was injured in a car accident and really wasn't able to get much done with the story. J.P.
After our little hug fest we went out to join our hosts. Petes and Tessa grabbed us as soon as we emerged. Tessa grabbed Wade and Kelly and sat between them on the sofa. Petes offered Brandon a hug and it was accepted readily.
"So your design is ready to test eh, Peter?" Brandon inquired.
"Yes, I have it all set up in a test vineyard, are you familiar with the concept of a heat pump?" Pete asked.
"Yes, I grew up on a farm in Oregon and we used them in the livestock barns."
"If you want to come to my room I can show you the pattern we use for laying the pipes out in the vineyard," Peter offered.
"Sure, I guess I'm bunking in your room anyway," Brandon agreed grabbing his bag and following Peter.
"Um, I never asked, do you want me to call you Peter or Pete or what. I imagine the whole Petes thing is between you and Dad," Brandon asked.
Pete is fine, I'm not that sensitive but yeah the Petes thing is Uncle Rob and me, I appreciate you asking. You know you're really lucky to have a father like him. He's the best uncle anyone could have," Peter proclaimed.
"Yeah I know, finding him really turned my life around. He just said I should come see what kind of work he had for me to do and it was all stuff I used to do on the farm,"
"Can I asked why you left your farm? If I'm being too nosy just tell me and I'll drop it." Peter asked.
"No it's okay, but it's kind of boring at least a lot of it, let's get into that once we come up for bed. Which one am I using?" Brandon asked.
"The one on the right, the nightstand is empty and there's an empty chest of drawers on that side. It's the one that doesn't have junk piled up on the top. Towels are in the cupboard in the bathroom, let me know if there's anything else you need," Peter offered.
"I just wear shorts when I sleep unless it's cold is that okay here?
"Sure, I wear the same or even less, I'm cool with anything,"
"Great, I better get myself unpacked, um where will Kelly, Wade and Carter be sleeping?" Brandon inquired.
"Next door in the small guest room. It has twin beds and a trundle, it's usually kids staying in there," Peter answered.
"Cool, I'll be able to hear if Carter gets upset during the night. That crash shook Kelly up pretty bad so I'll be listening for him too. He's had it really bad and now he's adjusted to having a real life and a family to love him. But he has times when he loses sight of that, so I listen."
Peter just smiled sweetly at Brandon and patted his shoulder. "I'll listen too, if you need to talk."
"Thanks, I've been doing okay lately but stuff happens," Brandon allowed. I kind of worry that I messed up Rob's life a little bit. I mean he was single and had no demands on him except being a part time cop. Now he's getting married and adopting the three of us. I love Kelly and Carter but is what I did to Rob right? I just worry that he doesn't really want me or Kelly and he's kinda trapped now," Brandon croaked out through a tight throat.
"I think I can help you with that, Rob doesn't do stuff he doesn't want to do. When he says something he means it whether it's I love you, or you're completely wrong. Rob loves you, he loves Kelly and Carter too, I saw how he acted when we visited you. I've known Rob since I was born, besides my dad he was the first man to hold me because Grampa was sick and wouldn't come to the hospital. Look if Rob didn't love you he'd have to put on a hell of an act and he just doesn't do that. And Ally is the kind of woman that um…if I ever get married I'd like a woman like her. She's not girly and frail, she's a lot like my sister and she has brains and talent, if Tessa wasn't my sister Randy would be out of luck. Well maybe not entirely because I don't think a girl like Tessa will give it up for Joe average. When she chooses someone she'll go straight at him. And he better treat her good or I'll stomp his ass," Peter finished.
Brandon stared for a moment and then chuckled, "you dig you sister that much? That's gotta be a first, I never heard anyone talk about his sister that way but I think I understand. You know, she probably wants someone like you , or maybe like your Dad cos you’re a lot alike. It's nothing weird, I understand."
"Thanks man, Tessa and I have always been really close , like twins except a year apart. I suppose that no guy she marries will ever be good enough in my eyes or Dad's. But that's our problem not hers," Peter concluded.
"Yeah, I think you're right Pete, it's good that you understand that or you could lose her," Brandon ventured.
"Anyway here's those plans for the drilling patterns, I'm really nervous if this will work the way we planned. My original machine worked pretty good but it kept breaking the frame and drive units. It was almost fifty percent weld metal and fish plates when Rob stepped in," Peter said.
"I wonder if Rob designed it with a variable track width, cos if they wanted to use this with other crops the spacing would be different right?" Brandon asked.
"Crap!, why didn't I think about that? Let's go find Rob and ask him about that. Maybe it can be retrofitted to the design or maybe the change could be an upgrade. Of course it's one more thing to break, yeah we should talk to Rob," Peter looked up to see Brandon trembling with silent laughter.
"What?!" Peter demanded.
"Just watching your brain work, it reminds me of someone," Brandon snorted. "C'mon let's go find Rob."
Downstairs Tessa had managed to interest Wade, Carter and Kelly in a puzzle she was working on. It was one of those fifteen hundred piece puzzles and this one was of various large cats. Leopard's, Servals, Tigers, Caracals and many others. Carter found half the head of a Fishing cat and squealed his excitement.
"You should find the pieces with a pond or stream because that looks like a Fishing cat and they hang out near the water," Kelly suggested.
Moments later Kelly whooped at finding a piece with the bat ears of a Serval, He looked at the cover of the box and discovered it was three servals lounging together in tall grass. A mother and two nearly grown kittens appeared to be taking a break from the midday heat.
"Here's a Caracal's ear, see the tufts? Let's see the box so we can locate where he belongs," Wade nearly shouted.
The photo was in bands representing African Asian and South American cats in their own natural environs.
Brandon and Peter watched the fun and then went in search of me.
They found me on the veranda sipping a glass of very good zinfandel and munching crackers with various cheeses. I was sitting with Ali enjoying the afternoon breeze, we weren't talking just communing quietly.
"Hi Ali, Hi Uncle Rob, I have a question about other uses for the machine, can we talk or would you rather do it later?" Peter asked carefully.
"You guys go ahead and talk, I'm going to see how the puzzle is coming along and then see if Jeannie needs any help in the kitchen," Ally instructed.
"So what's on your minds guys?" I asked.
"Well Brandon asked if the tracks could be variable width for other crop spacings. Like lettuce and strawberries, I think most spacings could be accommodated in one unit for the widest possible application, what do you think," Peter asked.
"I think you need to consult the county commissioner or just do some research on crop spacing and see what the variables are. I've seen construction tracked vehicles that have variable track width, adapting a system like that would be relatively easy if there's a market," I speculated.
Both boys grinned and said thanks, they disappeared up the stairs to get online and see what they could learn.
The machine had been hauled up in a closed trailer and spools of tubing had been delivered to perform the test installation.
Paul had joined our numbers as well as most of the workers, this was a big moment because it could change the nature of wine grape production and make their lives easier. Every year vineyards put out a lot of labor just protecting vines from sudden or prolonged frosts. With a heating element in the solution tank the vines and grapes could survive at a stable temperature without the crystalizing effects of frosts on growing grapes. Dan had wondered aloud if a mylar hood over the rows could prevent losing the heat that the system generated and still pass sunlight enough to keep the vines happy. He and Paul had devised a removable awning system to do just that. We all hoped it would work.
With the machine in place Peter took hold of the remote control and attached it to the harness. It would keep the controller snug against the operator for easy adjustment and it would remain in place so the operator didn't have to worry about dropping it.
I opened the panel at the back of the machine and turned on the key, the system went through its diagnostic mode and then showed ready. Peter hit the start button on the remote and the small Cummins diesel growled. It was surprisingly quiet. Peter guided the unit to the first waypoint pushed the GPS button and the machine drove to the first drilling position. I had placed a five gallon bucket at the spot where the outrigger for that side would deploy. Sure enough the outrigger wouldn't get any closer than two feet of the bucket. In the next drill sight we put in a simulated vine and hoped for the same result.
The bucket was removed and the unit was allowed to start its drilling cycle. We all watched as several thousand dollars-worth of flexible drill stock buried itself along with a very expensive steerable bit. Peter was cautious and proceeded slowly and the drill completed its cycle and the second hole was drilled the same way. The second hole was the tense one but the steerable bit worked like a champ and connected the two holes exactly where it had been expected. The bit was removed and the tow line attached to the flex stock. A spool of tubing was attached to the free end of the tow line and when the flex stock was clear, the towline was run through the sheave and attached to the winch. The whole system performed as designed, hole after hole was drilled and the stand in grape vine wasn't disturbed in any way by the machine.
It was a successful test and everything worked exactly as planned. Peter was doused with champagne and we all made our way back to the patio for a barbecue.
Sadly the trip was a short affair, we made our way back to the airport and took off for home. The flight was unremarkable except for a visitor who entered the pattern for Santa Paula against the instructions. He was quickly warned off and began circling the correct direction for landing. It's not an unusual problem and completely unnecessary since approach information is broadcast continuously. You just have to listen which is beyond the skill set of some pilots. By the end of the flight even Kelly was asleep with only Ally and I in the front discussing wedding plans.
We arrived home early enough that I decided to call Kelly's grandmother. Evelyn answered and we shared some small talk. I discussed the idea of her and Ed being our guests for thanksgiving at a hotel in Grand Rapids. I told her that we'd be happy to drive out and pick them up if Ed didn't feel up to the drive and that they could stay the night and we'd take them home after breakfast.
Evelyn thought it was a fine idea and Ed was inclined to agree.
After our call I informed Ally and the rest of the family that it was all set up.
I had reserved rooms and a private dining room in a very nice hotel in Grand Rapids.
The next hurdle was Halloween, Carter changed his mind about costumes at least once a day. I told him if he kept it up he'd have no time to put it together. He finally decide on being a Kangaroo. Kelly chose to be an android. The head piece of the costume was the trickiest part. The head consisted of a plastic casting of a bald manikin's head and then the face was cut off and replaced with a black mesh. He rigged L.E.D.s inside the mask to flash in a random pattern. We made a jacket from the same material as the face and we ran wires and more L.E.D.s down his arms. He wore a body suit with his soccer cup to hide any unfortunate outlines.
Ally helped Brandon with a pair of werewolf trousers. Specially padded with fur poking through splits in the fabric. A brown wig, a bit of makeup and a carefully constructed furry muzzle were applied by me and of course the obligatory set of fanged teeth. He won a prize at the community party. He told me this would be the last time he would dress for Halloween. Trick or treating wasn't safe or logistically sound in our area so the community held a large party for all the kids that wanted to come. The lure of games and other kids brought most of the kids to the community center. I picked up Espen and got a look at the DR. Who costume he had put together. He had opted for the Tom Baker version with the overcoat and scarf. He had a curly wig and a well-worn fedora to complete the ensemble.
I did warn him that only a few people would recognize the fourth doctor but he was happy with the outfit.
All the boys complimented the other's costumes and we ran the whole bunch to the party in two cars. Jack and Mary would be along a bit later so I had picked up Ronnie when I collected Espen. Ronnie had chosen a zombie baseball player as his costume. His ragged little league uniform and Jack's make-up work did the trick.
Wade bowled us all over, he had dressed as Puck from Midsummer night's dream. And he was convincing, Cammie had done an excellent job with the basic costume and makeup. The sheer greenish bodystocking and the overlay of the leafy outer garment were well executed but Dennis had been involved too. Wade's wings actually were able to spread. The effect was impressive and I was sure he'd win a prize for his portrayal. We lined the boys up for a photo before we loaded them into the vehicles for transport. Wade's wings had to be removed so he could manage a car ride but Dennis had planned for that.
Kelly had a mask with and one without the head piece. He didn't want to wear it in the car. It would save his batteries for the lights too.
Kelly and Wade were the last through the doors at the community center and tons of kids were swarming around but they stopped when they got a look at Brandon. He growled and howled a bit and some of the little ones looked a bit unnerved so he sat and scratched imaginary fleas and got some laughs. He also discovered he couldn't hold a conversation with his teeth in. Girls found him very interesting but he stayed with Espen most of the evening. Wade won the big prize for best costume and Kelly came second with his android costume. All the kids received a prize bag with candy, treats and toys. Carter was absolutely adorable in his kangaroo suit, I suspected he'd want a big boy's costume next Halloween.
The party ended at nine although most of the younger kids had been spirited home. It was after all a school night. Jack and Mary told Ronny to say his goodbyes and took their battered looking child home after sufficient hugging. Espen would stay with us but Ronny hadn't brought any school clothes. Wade had his morning chores just like Brandon and Kelly. Carter would help Kelly until we could find something he could do safely on his own.