Rimwracked Wheels, Boggle-Eyed Frogs

BILL NYE, 'twas, who wrote the long-forgotten line, ``Today a felloe spoke to me in the Hub.''

Here's a glossary:

Felloe - the rim of a wheel.

Spoke - one of the bars, rods, or rungs radiating from the hub or nave of a wheel and supporting the rim or felloe.

Hub - the part of a wheel in central position around which all revolves; the Hub, the city of Boston (the hub of the universe).

Explanations never improve any jest, and spoil a pun, but I thought of Bill Nye's line when a lady down the road said her dishwashing machine was rimwracked, and she was politicking with her husband for a new one.

I see even the big dictionary doesn't support me with rimwrack, but it is still a good word. Wrack, by the way, is a bust-up of sorts, and takes the place of wreck, sometimes. There's an island down Muscongus Bay called Wreck Island, even by elderly fishermen who should know better - it's Wrack Island, wrack being the sea debris cast up by the tides. Nothing to do with a shipwreck.

In distant days, sea wrack was packaged and sold in fine stores for some purpose or other - maybe for greasing boots or tanning hides. So a wheel gets rimwracked when the spokes and felloes dry and the joint gets loose and wears, resulting in wobbling and worse, and an annoying rattle. To be rimwracked is to be in the last stages of abuse, but it is not a word the old-timers would think of applying to a dishwashing machine that has squandered its warranty.

If you responded in time, a wheel that was loose in the joints could be saved by the wheelwright and restored. A temporary, and often consecutive, make-do - and one that was cheaper than going to see Tom Wright the wheelwright who couldn't write his name right - was the brook passage. This would be by a bridge over a brook, where folks riding by with horse and buggy could leave the road and descend to ford the stream and come up again on the other side. This was efficacious in several ways.

1. It was pleasant to sit there in the waterside melody of the babbling brook, with nothing to do for the nonce save watch an elderly frog at water's edge boggle his eyes and wait for a fly to favor him.

2. The horse got a drink.

3. The horse also got his feet wet. This was good, and it moistened the hooves, and the horse seemed to like the cooling effect. When a horse finished drinking at the brook passage, he was never in a hurry to move along, but stood there in a linger that pleased his fetlocks. He would switch his tail to drum up the fly business for the bug-eyed frog. It was usual, fact is, to let the old plug enjoy himself until he was ready to start up by himself.

4. The brook passage also wet the wheels - spokes and felloes - so the joints would swell and prevent rimwracking. (The same principle caused the prudent farmer to keep his ax in a pail of water between outings, thus sparing himself the annoyance of a loose ax-handle.)

In my casual recollections, it was around 1925 or so that our foolish state-highway engineers improved (sic) our lower road with a new bridge over Dearing's Brook and eliminated the brook passage that had served the community since colonial days. In 1925 or so, the automobile was still in its infancy thereabouts, but the horse and buggy was by no means extinct. Shortly after the new bridge was opened, and the brook passage was no longer available, our resident ironworker, farrier, wheelwright, and tinker, Lemuel Blethen, was swamped with rimwracked wheels, and he couldn't keep up. This flurry lasted until buggies dwindled and the tin lizzie fructified. Farmers could no longer wet their wheels, and you can't stick a horse and buggy in a pail with the ax. The expensive improvements of the highway engineers, I've felt, are always at the cost of something precious.

Well, we don't need to wet our horses' hooves nowadays, and people don't know about rimwracked felloes and spokes. Haven't seen a horse and buggy in a long time. But, neither have I seen a boggle-eyed bullfrog at water's edge - sitting there in tranquil anticipation, paying no attention to aught else, and waiting for some dobbin to tail-shoo him a delicious fly.

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