A warm St. Patrick’s Day and sudden snowmelt turned Eden’s backroads into a viscous muck that stranded one unlucky Connecticut visitor in the mud for hours.
This visitor, however, was lucky enough to get stuck in front of Ralph Monticello’s home.
Ken Byrne was headed to the Babcock Preserve that day with a friend, driving down Crooks Road, when his brand-new Hyundai Crossover became intractably mired in front of one of the few residences on that section of the road.
“That turned out to be my good fortune,” Byrne wrote in a letter to the Eden Selectboard, “because a gentleman named Ralph lives there, without whose help I’d likely still be stuck in the mud. There is, of course, no cell phone or internet service in the area, and if Ralph hadn’t been so gracious with his time, land line and knowledge of the town, I don’t know what I’d have done.”
Monticello is a spry and bright-eyed octogenarian, cutting the figure of a classic Vermonter in his work clothes with a red handkerchief around his neck. When two men and their small dog became stranded outside of his home around noon, he put aside his day’s work and did all he could to give them a hand.
“A lot of things have been on my mind. The, you might say, riot-ish election campaign we had a year and a half ago, and then the results of Jan. 6 were troubling for our nation, and I think I felt really interested in my emotions because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Monticello said. “So, I was really sensitive to reaching out and helping. I think that had an influence when I saw someone in need. I just said, ‘Well, I’m gonna stick with him. They have a real need.’”
Though he couldn’t invite them inside due to the precautions he’s taking against COVID-19, as the virus can be more dangerous to older people and far less transmittable in outdoor settings, Monticello spent the afternoon outside with Byrne and his friend doing his best to help.
First, they attempted to get Hyundai’s roadside assistance program to come to the rescue, but due to some technicalities that turned into a dead end.
Then they called Ricky Morin, the chair of the Eden Selectboard and the town’s road commissioner. Morin said he would’ve liked to help Byrne out, but insurance restrictions wouldn’t allow it.
Byrne said he was impressed by Morin’s concern about the road conditions and Monticello said that, though the town closed the road for a time after this incident, Morin made sure he was able to safely get out of his driveway.
With all other options exhausted, Monticello connected Byrne with Marcoux’s Wrecker Service, who also couldn’t help due to the poor condition of roads across Lamoille County that day.
In the meantime, a Lamoille County Transportation school bus taking kids home got stuck next to Byrne’s sedan, turning the unplanned mud season meeting in front of Monticello’s home into a full-blown party. The 83-year-old Monticello got out a shovel and got in the mud to help free the bus.
Parents picked up some of the students while others walked home, but some of the kids were stranded on the bus for over an hour before some digging and expert maneuvering on the part of the bus driver eventually freed them.
Byrne wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t until after 5 p.m. when the tow truck eventually arrived, but he only expressed his gratitude after the incident.
“He spent hours with me, chatting about anything and everything and being invaluable in finding a tow truck on a day when everyone was getting stuck,” Byrne wrote.
Though Monticello has owned his 1850 farmhouse for 50 years, he has only spent occasional mud seasons on the property while busy in his former lives as an economist and conservationist in Massachusetts before retiring to his current occupation as organic potato farmer.
Still, he said he’d never seen the roads quite so bad and even briefly lost a boot that day after the mud refused to give it up without a fight.
After Byrne returned home, he was moved enough to write to the selectboard to ensure Monticello’s kindness was known.
“You’ve got a great town there, I’d like to nominate Ralph for Citizen of the Year in Eden, Vermont,” he wrote.
But to Monticello, Byrne’s letter was the most remarkable part of this story.
“How often do we take the time to write a nice thank you like Ken did?” he said. “I think that's probably the point. I mean, very honestly, I don’t deserve that much praise for my work that day, but Ken certainly appreciated it and the letter showed it.”