Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Early memories

                Good morning! It’s a nice bright sunny morning and 4:00. Ok, so it’s not so sunny. In an earlier post I talked about the early memories I have of life on the farm. I’ll share a few more. Please note the following for all future posts:
               At times I will joke and grouse about the efficiency and other characteristics of government employees. I am only joking. Absolutely none of my comments are founded in truth. I’m just speaking from past experience and I’m sure by now all the dead wood has been culled from the pile. To be honest, I know there are many hard working and well-intentioned folks working for the Man. So just take my comments as light-hearted jesting and nothing more. Maybe I’m just jealous I never made money off the government. To be honest, I just don’t have the mentality to take orders and not think.

               Also, I have had a lot of deals go south on me in the past. The unpaid bills I have been left with add up to around a million bucks. From time to time I may relate some of these experiences from my point of view because they were big deals at the time. 

               Some readers may think I am bitter. I am not. I may have been at times but I’m over the bad feelings and am just sharing the experience. Hopefully others will learn not to be quite as trusting and bone-headed as I. I know forgiveness is a most important attribute and even though I'm poor as dirt now, I sincerely hope the best for all who have prospered from my trusting transactions.

I wrote in an earlier post the beginnings of my family's life in the Columbia Basin. I'll share a few memories of those early years...

The only help dad had the first few years of farming was mom and I. Mom would often drive a tractor while cultivating or working ground and performing many other “man-jobs” around the farm. They worked from early morning until late at night. The two of them did the work of 3 or 4 regular individuals or 15 or 20 government workers. See, I can't help myself!

This was the early days of farming in the Columbia Basin with virtually no automation or comforts of home. Many settlers who came with far more resources than my folks had gave up after a year or less. Scorching sun, blasting wind, massive requirements of long and hard labor, few neighbors in the isolated desert, no infrastructure and rudimentary housing were but a few of the daily pressures on these farms. Some of our neighbors lived in tents. It was a hard life. 

Dad’s second farm (which I now own) consisted of around 100 acres of blow sand. He planted it into hay, which required harvesting 4 or 5 times a year. We had an old mowing machine, which had a long, moving serrated knife sticking out 6 or 8 feet behind the tractor on one side. The knife cut and laid the hay down. It was also hard on the legs of pheasants that hesitated a moment too long. (Nowadays, a swather is the farmer’s weapon of choice. The swather does triple duty. It cuts the hay and runs it through a conditioner, which smashes the hay stems allowing the hay to dry much quicker. Finally, as the newly cut hay exits the swather, it gets channeled into a windrow. Back then, the farmer dropped the hay and then came back several times to rake it into windrows and turn it so it could dry. Finally, after a much longer period of drying than is needed these days with the swather conditioners, the hay would get baled.

When I was 3 (1958), my motor vehicle driving career began. Mom heard the tractor start up one day. She figured it was my dad going out to work ground but after looking outside, decided she had an emergency on her hands. This would not be the last time she had an emergency on her hands when I drove.

I had started the tractor and after pushing the throttle as far forward as it would go, I sat on the seat and yelled: “I go to Ken Benson’s! I go to Ken Benson’s!” Ken was our one and only neighbor at that time and I guess I felt like he might be getting lonely. Luckily, I had pushed the throttle forward and not the clutch; otherwise, I might have gone and seen Ken Benson. She killed the tractor and probably wanted to kill me.

In the summer of my 4th year, my dad needed a driver for his truck so he could stack bales of hay on the back of it. Mom had her hands full with my three younger siblings, all under the age of 3, no running water or bathroom and stuck out in the middle of a dust bowl. Dad had just a couple of pieces of land at that time. One was a field full of hay bales with no one but my dad and I to bring them in. 

We had an old 2-ton Chevy flatbed truck and a ground-driven circular bale elevator that could be hooked to the side of the truck. As the truck motored forward, the elevator would hoist the bales up the side of the truck so a person standing on the truck bed or stacked hay could retrieve and stack the 110 lb. bales of hay. 

Still fresh in my mind is the day I first operated a motor vehicle. We drove a mile down to the field filled with hay bales my dad had just baled. Dad put me in the driver’s seat. I stood 3 or 3 ½ ft tall. There was no way I could reach the pedals so I knelt on the seat and peered over the dash to see out the window. Dad put the truck in gear, let out on the clutch, jumped off the step, hopped on the back of the truck and away we went. The truck had a hand throttle I could use to speed up or slow down. If I needed to stop, I was told to shut the key off.  The only thing I had to worry about was guiding the truck past the bales and into the chute so the elevator could catch and scoop them up.

            As was the case with most farm kids of that era, I was driving tractors and trucks on a regular basis by the time I hit first grade. It was necessary back then as there was so much work to do and the finances of the times usually didn’t allow the luxury of hired help. The vast, modern, heavy-handed regulations and sticky-fingered revenue collecting appetite of the government had not entered our free enterprise system like it has today. One of the benefits to the family farm was that the kids could work and help with the overwhelming workload. The farmer’s offspring pitched in without Big Brother’s intervention. In other words, we worked our butts off. I didn’t like it much then but I am glad now that I had the experience.

            Just before Christmas when I was 4 or 5 years old, my Grandpa Riggs told me a story about a little boy who wanted a pony for Christmas. Like the boy in the story, I also wanted a pony. Grandpa told me that on Christmas morning when the boy put his hand in his stocking, all that was in his hand when he pulled it out was horse manure. The little boy looked at it for a minute and then said “It looks like the pony got away.”

           So on Christmas morning when I got up, my grandpa steered me toward my stocking. He was more excited than I was for me to stick my hand in the stocking to discover its contents. I jammed my hand and arm down the big sock and when I pulled it out, I was clutching a big gob of horse manure, just like the little boy in the story. However, I had a little different reaction. I instinctively threw the green, smelly substance as fast and as hard as I could to get away from it.

              Grandpa howled with laughter. My folks were mortified and jumped on my case. Green horse crap was scattered on the ceiling, walls and floor of our humble abode. The only one who was happy was grandpa.

           After they got the mess cleaned up and my grandpa calmed down, they took me outside and showed me a Shetland pony tied to the fence. I guess he didn’t get away, after all.

Sandy, me and mom

         We had the pony for several years but he was more trouble than he was worth. He was “corral bossy” which meant that at any moment while you were riding him, if he got a notion, he would turn and start running for the corral (his home) as fast as his stubby little legs could go. Once we arrived in the vicinity of the corral, he wouldn’t hit the brakes until he got right to the fence and then lurch to a sudden stop, similar to hitting a brick wall.

        I had little control over the stubborn animal while riding him which immediately downgraded to absolutely no control once he got into his “homeward bound” mode. Whenever he decreased his momentum at the fence, my momentum felt like it increased and continued forward until terra firma or a fence plank halted my progress. My initial love for “Sandy” decreased in direct relation to the number of times he helped me dismount at the Not-So-OK Corral.

           I quit riding him. He got out of the corral one day and happened upon some grain that was stored in a small shed. This horse then made a pig out of himself. He foundered (excess consumption of grain causes their hooves to grow out of control) and soon was useless. Dad got rid of him. Toward the end of his existence, I felt a little better toward the stubborn horse. I liked to think that when I went to kindergarten, it’s possible he helped me hold my schoolwork together whenever I applied Elmer’s Glue to my homework.

             I was eight in the summer of 1963. President John F. Kennedy came to town. He was invited to dedicate a nuclear reactor out on the Hanford Atomic Energy Range, which was just across the Columbia River from our farm. The dedication site was probably 10 miles away from our home as the crow flies.

            Since there were no crows big enough to haul our entire family to the engagement and no bridge in the area we had to drive some 60 miles to get to the site via the Tri-Cities. I remember it was very hot and there seemed to be a countless number of people attending. I looked back and there were over 30,000 people standing out in the hot sand and sun.

           We hung around in a large crowd, hot, sweating and waiting to see the President. He was late but finally arrived in a helicopter. It was an exciting day for our family in spite of the heat and all the traffic and waiting. My mom stood up on a camp stool so she could get a better look until it folded up and she came crashing down. That was the highlight of the day for me.  A few months later Kennedy was assassinated.

          I was in third grade when Oswald did his thing. We were sitting in Mrs. Hayes classroom when the neighboring fourth grade class came bursting in and yelled that the President had been shot. They had been listening to a radio program when the news came on. I'm quite sure no one picked it up off their i-phone.  
Even though he was a Democrat, I remember feeling bad. It was all we could talk about the rest of the day, even on the bus ride home.

           I keep hearing mostly nice things about this blog. I'd like you to spread the news. Just for today, email the blog link or call somebody and tell them to get hooked up. They can Google Ben's Risky Business and that should also get them here. Thanks for your kind words!

1 comment:

ginny said...

Internet back up?