The Covered Bridge Chronicles – The Contest


The did not start out to be a good one for George and me. We had been used to jumping in the car, traveling fast via George’s leaded foot, and covering a lot of territory in 12 hours or less. This day shaped up early to be a frustrating one and each of us sensed it.

To begin, our sister and her husband had arrived in town earlier in the week, and wanting to spend some time with us, volunteered to go bridge hunting, which we enthusiastically agreed to do. Our sister Jane and her husband Tom had rented an automobile and Tom offered to drive.

As I have mentioned once or twice in earlier stories, when George drives we arrive at our destination well under the projected time as determined by AAA or web mapping services. With Tom behind the wheel, the time factor has a significant multiplier to it because he is at the opposite end of the spectrum as George.

The drive lingered, with us making a couple of stops that George and I alone would not have made, plus with the slower driving rate it took us a good hour to hour and a half longer to arrive at our destination than it had taken George and I to complete a couple of weeks prior to this.

We left at 7:30 a.m., and normally we would be taking pictures by 10:00 or 10:30. This day, however, found us approaching our destination nearing noon and searching for a fast food restaurant, which we spied and went inside with the intent of eating sitting down. Normally George and I ate food on the run to conserve time.

There were about 30 covered bridges in the county, and when we had last visited, we had photographed all of them in a day. That did not appear possible for this excursion.

A young man waited on us. I use the term man because he was not a teenager, but likely in his early twenties. The first thing one would notice about him was his face, which bore the appearance of having been beaten with a club or brass knuckles. He took our order and George ordered one of the meals that came with fries and a drink.

George desired a larger drink, so he asked, “How much more for a large drink?”

This question obviously bewildered the young man, for he stood speechless for a number of seconds, and after deep thought replied, “Just a little bit more.”

George waited for a better answer, but upon realizing none was imminent, he agreed to get the larger drink.

Meanwhile, waiting for our food, we overheard the young man arguing with a supervisor.

“But I’ve got to leave,” he protested loudly. “I’m still in the competition, in the championship!”

After considerable squabbling, the employee briskly walked out the door, not too happy.

We left the restaurant and headed to a town about 10 miles away. From there we could fan out in one of five directions and encounter numerous bridges. When we arrived in that location we came upon a mad scene, for it appeared as if the entire town had congregated along the main street, filling it completely. There were numerous cheers coming from the throng and faces looked happy.

Naturally, we parked and made our way to the crowd to discover what was taking place. At first we had difficulty seeing but then spied bleachers off to our right, which offered us a good view.

Inside a rectangular marked off area covered with tons of dirt were two men who were participating in various events, with each man apparently trying to prove he was the stronger, better man. Scattered about the rectangle were large objects, including automobile engine blocks, tremendous hunks of stone—limestone, I believe, from a nearby quarry—30-foot logs, and sundry other large things.

At this moment, the two men stood at one end of the rectangle behind a line. In front of each of them lay an anvil. A man dressed as a circus ringmaster held up his hand, in which he held a starter’s gun, and fired. Each man picked up his anvil and tossed it as far as he could. Meanwhile the crowd began counting down from 30. As soon as each man tossed his anvil, he ran to it, picked it up again and heaved it with all his might. At the end of the countdown, the man who had tossed his anvil the farthest was declared the winner and he was presented with a basket full of prizes, some of which we assumed was money.

George and I wished silently that we could have seen more of the competitions.

The items were cleared away from the arena, and men replaced them with rakes, hoes, shovels, bean poles, post hole diggers, sickles, and other objects that belonged in a tool shed or a barn.

Then the ringmaster roused the crowd with the announcement, “This is what you’ve all been waiting for. The competition’s been going on all week, and we’re down to our final two contestants. Give them a huge welcome as they make their way to the arena.”

The crowd complied and two young men went inside the marked-off area.

“Look,” said Jane, “it’s the guy from the restaurant!”

The young man who apparently could not tell a 30-cent difference in drinks strutted, bare-chested. There were welts, cuts and scars all over his arms, abdomen, face (which we had already seen) and back. The man at the other bore a similar appearance.

“I wonder what this is all about?” I asked no one in particular.

However, Tom had momentarily left us, and when he returned, he provided us with the necessary information.

“There’s been some type of man contest going on all week,” he said, “but it’s not just a strongest man or baddest man type of thing. They’re competing for a woman and a whole lot of money. The money and the woman go together. She’s an heiress or something. When she came into the money she knew every man would be out trying to get her to marry him, so she announced she would not entertain anyone’s advances, but that a contest must be held which would determine the worthiest man.”

“What’s the deal with all the farm equipment?” asked George.

“That’s part of it,” continued Tom. “They were each told they could choose 10 farm items to use in combat against their opponent. The only stipulation was that it could not run, like a tractor or chainsaw. But anything they can lift they can use as weapons. There’s no time limit and no time outs. When one of the two is not able to fight, the match is over.”

“That’s barbaric,” said Joan. “Something out of gladiator times. And fighting for a woman? How sexist can you get?”

“It was her idea,” observed Tom, but that did not appease our sister, who fumed and said she wanted to leave at least half a dozen times during the fight.

The fast food worker’s name was Billy, and his opponent went by Tad.

The fight commenced, and it was brutal. The opponents grabbed things that lay near them and mainly used them offensively, although at times the items had to be used in a defensive manner. Billy took a blow to the back with jumper cables, and blood immediately began to flow. He whacked Tad over the head with a garden hoe and later dodged a swinging spade.

The fight continued for nearly 15 minutes, but finally Tad finished off Billy with a rake handle to the gut, followed by an uppercut by the same weapon that left Billy in an unconscious heap. The crowd cheered violently throughout, but none so much as when the ringmaster raised Tad’s left hand in victory, declaring him the winner. He had attempted to raise Tad’s right hand originally, but the wrist lay at a crooked angle, obviously broken.

After tending to Billy’s wounds and bringing him back to consciousness and taking him out of the arena, the ringmaster announced that now it was time for Tad to receive his reward for winning the contest.

“And now, here is the object of this battle for manly mastery, Miss Isabel Greathouse!”

The crowd cheered their loudest cheer, and a path was parted along the side, as when Moses parted the Red Sea, and into the arena trod Isabel Greathouse.

George, Tom, and I laughed out loud at the sight of her, but Joan glowered in disgust. Isabel Greathouse was a woman who appeared to be around 50 years old, stood less than five feet tall and weighed at least 400 pounds. She moved as quickly as she could, but in no way could it be called running, to her future husband, put him in a bear hug and kissed him profusely.

We left the scene and hunted covered bridges, of which we found four. Neither Tom nor Joan were impressed with the marvels of covered bridge construction, so we cut our stay short in covered bridge country.

On the return home, George volunteered to drive. We stopped at the same restaurant that we had in the morning, and sure enough, Billy was again working, although his face was so swollen and bruised I do not see how he could do anything.

“We were at the contest,” said George as he stepped to the counter. “That was quite a fight you had.”

Billy mumbled something unintelligible from his swollen lips.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, I think you came out the winner, though. I mean, that’s about the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen,” George said.

Billy looked through one eye at him and replied in an acerbic tone, “Who cares what she looks like. I don’t want to be working here the rest of my life. I’d take the beating again if I could’ve won.”

“I don’t understand. You’d need an awful good reason,” replied George.

“Fifty million dollars is plenty of reason,” said Billy. “I’ll get over being beat up. Don’t know if I’ll ever get over being poor and having to work here the rest of my life.”

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