The Prune: Val-deri, val-dera, happy wanderer not chicken about grilling

TODD SHARP TESTS his Happy Wanderer Camping Grill, courtesy of A. Rowley Tool and Engineering Co. in Green Lake. submitted photo

by Todd Sharp

I’m much more of a wandering salesman than a traveling salesman.

This past week I wandered into A. Rowley Tool and Engineering Co. in Green Lake to talk with them about a graduation sponsorship. As I approached the reception area, I noticed all kinds of products displayed in the glass cases. Beautifully crafted metal parts for something mystical and poetic as well as artistic and functional.

I knew going in what they did. My grandfather, Jim Sharp, was good friends with Grandpa A. Rowley. I heard stories of the two of them sharing ideas and designs to make their lives more enjoyable and solve curiosities.

Years ago Rowley Corp. produced these wonderful grills, The Happy Wanderer Camping Grill, a bit bigger than an 11 x 18 cake pan with a grill on top.

They were magically configured so the coals didn’t flare up, despite the grill grate sitting less than an inch from the coals.

The brochure tells the theory behind the magic: “Keeping the charcoal heat below the flashpoint of the grease dropping, the charcoal will not flame.”

My grandfather was proud of his friend’s invention and bought a mess of the grills and gave one to each of his sons — my uncles and father — and still had a few in his garage on Shepard Street before he moved into a senior assisted-living apartment.

I am proud and fortunate enough to have one of my very own Happy Wanderer grills.

I asked questions about the grills and had a nice conversation.

They no longer produce them but happened to have a few in storage upstairs. A couple minutes later I was presented with a dusty box about the size of a loaf of bread, certainly not the Happy Wanderer Grill of my youth, but I was grateful.

This was even more fantastic.

It was a very well built, battery-powered rotisserie for cooking rabbit, chicken, prime rib or even a giant zucchini over a campfire.

Inside the box were brackets to swivel the rotisserie, an 18-inch skewer, an electric motor to turn the skewer and a really cool fan, like an old-fashioned mini hair dryer to regulate the heat from the coals or wood as needed.

It was Memorial Day weekend and I was going to make a rotisserie chicken.

We found a delicious looking 3 lb. organic chicken at the Green Lake Farmers Market from Avrom Farms Friday afternoon. It was small enough to roast in about an hour on this contraption.

Now, we just needed to buy a 6-volt battery and a couple baking potatoes and we were set to start the experiment.

Setting up the fire pit close to the garden would offer a chance to keep an eye on the bird while tilling the dirt and planting a few tomatoes and peppers.

One bird, two stones.

Olive oil and bronzing spices were rubbed over the chicken. I dug a roasting pit, lit the coals, set up the rotisserie and connected the battery terminals.

The biggest question we had about actually cooking the chicken was whether or not the battery would last the entire time.

Unlike the original Happy Wanderer, this grill didn’t keep the fire from flaring.

As the chicken spun, the juices drizzled into the same spots. As the melting chicken fat hit the coals there were big flames. After moving the coals to one side, the rotating upside, the problem was solved.

An hour and a half later the tomatoes were planted and we had delicious bronzed (and slightly blackened) roasted organic chicken to savor.

Turns out the battery had enough power to spin the chicken to perfection and to help me spin a new story about the Happy Wanderer Grills and Spit Roasting.

I’m grateful I wandered into A.Rowley Co. this past week and for my grandpa, who recognized quality craftsmanship and taught me to cherish a productive afternoon with good friends.

Editor’s note: Although Todd Sharp isn’t chicken about roasting others, he wears his game face when he sells advertising for the Green Laker, Express and The Ripon Commonwealth Press.