Hardy Boys no match for 1970s farm action

Levi, left, and Hunter Reese have discovered the Hardy Boys, following in the footsteps of past generations of young readers. They live on a farm near Didsbury, Alta., with their parents, Jaimee and Greg. | Jaimee Reese photo

The adventurous life of these fictional sleuths had a certain appeal but couldn’t rival the exploits of four real-life brothers

Who wouldn’t want the life of a Hardy boy? They caught the villains, they flirted with the pretty high school girls, and they were never chastised for homework left undone.

Plus their doting mother Laura (or Aunt Gertrude) always had “hearty” meals ready for them.

Their lives were too good to be true — too unbelievable. We’d trade ours; maybe.

On weekends, evenings, and summers, Joe and Frank Hardy waited for trouble to appear, then go after it and clean it up. They always helped their dad, Fenton Hardy, a retired New York City detective, round up the rabble in Bayport (maybe Connecticut?) and put the local riff-raff behind bars.

In their idyllic lives, the Hardy boys hung out at a local diner, sipping milkshakes with their buddies, Chet Morton and Biff Hooper. As for girlfriends, Frank and Joe always had Callie Shaw and Iola Morton (Chet’s sister) to swoon over them. The book’s graphics often showed them with pressed pants too. Crazy good.

Let’s compare that to my three brothers and myself in the early-1970s. We lived on an 800-acre mixed farm, adjacent to the small hamlet of Basswood, Man.

We “Basswood Boys” would often begin our Saturdays by mucking out the barn in our chore clothes and loading the manure spreader. Then, because cows like to eat, there’d be five mix-mill loads to grind and fill the cattle self-feeders for the week. In the evening, after Mom’s “hearty” supper, we’d watch hockey on TV, but we’d occasionally fall asleep during the third period.

Try as I might, I can’t recall any strawberry milkshakes, girlfriends to chat up and wearing pressed pants in the barn. The comfort was that my school buddies were usually doing the same things — helping their dads catch up on the farm work. Where were Chet and Biff when you needed them to fix fences?

However, the unreal world of the Hardy boys provided a mild escape for our real world.

In Grade 6 in 1971, I discovered the books in the library at Tanner’s Crossing School in Minnedosa, Man. Then even better, I had a buddy who had a collection. Bryan McGuirk was kind enough to loan them out. I readily grabbed them, one by one.

Returning each book a week later, Bryan may have thought I was a slow reader. I wasn’t though. I actually could start on a book during the hour-long school bus ride home. I could finish it off in the evening, especially if, much to Dad’s chagrin, I’d skip out on chores. I was slow only because I had three brothers who also liked them. They would often read them, so I’d re-loan Bryan’s loaned book. I never told Bryan. I didn’t think he’d mind.

While my two older sisters dreamily read Harlequin Romance books, we brothers devoured the rough-and-tumble Hardy Boy adventures. We loved the chase scenes. The bad guys were always unkempt and grizzled. They were shady and shifty. The Hardys could out-run and out-smart them. Good guys won — always.

In the space of a year-long obsession, I’d guess we read 50 of the 55 in the series (now there are more). We memorized the titles we missed, like “Secret of the Old Mill,” should we happen to spot it in a used bookstore or in a relative’s house. My brothers kept up with my reading pace, just as they did with the action on the farm.

Unlike our Basswood Boys action, we never read about the Hardy boys pulling a newborn calf into the world, going for a midnight pond hockey game at -30 C, or tobogganing until their legs ached from the uphill walk. I don’t recall them loading the hayrack with 170 bales when Dad said the limit was 125. He wasn’t home that July afternoon.

Neither were Frank and Joe around to pick stones for the third consecutive school-day evening to meet Dad’s spring seeding deadline. Our book title might be: “The Basswood Boys and the Endless Stone-Picking.”

Plus, I don’t believe the Bayport brothers joyously held the “found” week-old kittens in the hayloft. Five squeaky oh-so-soft kitties divided well with four brothers — one Basswood Boy had the joy of two.

While the Hardy boys were chasing down bank robbers in their speedboat named Sleuth, we chased cattle into corrals for vaccinations.

The Hardys explored old castles, but we sleuthed the Little Saskatchewan River Valley ravines a short distance north of our farm. We found saskatoon berries, the ever-so-healthy purple delights. We ate as many as we picked. We explored endlessly. Mom never complained. “The Basswood Boys and the Hidden Hills Mystery.”

While the Hardy boys got lost in a cave and stumbled across a few gold bars, we brothers traced and walked the deep wide ruts on the southern edge of Long Lake. Aren’t those ruts evidence of the Red River carts wheeling the pioneers along the Carlton Trail? “The Basswood Boys and the Secret Frontier Trail.”

At the lakeshore, we picked wild cranberries. We also found the wild hazelnuts that Dad so enjoyed. He dried and shelled the nuts in winter. Mom ground them up and then baked the crushed nuts in with her oatmeal cookies. A better cookie does not exist.

And while Frank and Joe dodged a wrench thrown by an escaped convict mechanic, the Basswood boys helped Dad in his shop overhaul the engine on a farm tractor. We’d use the wrench to hold the bolt head while Dad turned the nut. I discovered that a vice-grip also clamped nicely on a younger brother’s nose. It was worth a laugh.

And after all the drama, as the Hardy boys gulped their milkshakes, we Basswood boys took small sips of Mom’s new end-of-summer dandelion wine. We had picked many five-gallon pails-full of the yellow flowers for the production. The best use ever of those weeds, I still say.

“The Basswood Boys and Momma’s Feel-Good Elixir.”

Five years ago, a friend offered me his collection of 55 Hardy Boy books. I seized the chance. I then pondered my next action. Re-read? Huummm. I did remember these two young farm boys at my parent’s Lutheran Church at Didsbury, Alta. I sent a text message to their parents’ cellphone number. Mrs. Reese soon responded.

“Would your boys enjoy Hardy boy books?” I asked.

“Sure, but they don’t have many,” she answered.

We quickly made a deal. I met her days later in a coffee shop parking lot for the hand-off. I am sure it looked shady and suspicious. I was unshaven too. My pants were not pressed. I didn’t care. The Hardy boys weren’t around, so they wouldn’t have questioned us anyway. Besides, they’re not real.

However, the Reese boys, Hunter, 18, and Levi, 12, do exist. They live farm boy adventures, as we did 50 years ago. They’ll have great stories (or book titles) for a lifetime. Their tales will rival those of the Hardy boys. And I am sure their mother feeds them hearty meals to power their exploits.

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