Farmer Diary: True love blooms when boy meets skid steer

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Editor’s note: American News contributor John Papendick is spending his summer helping on the family farm in Faulk County. He is writing about his adventures in a series of columns.

I fell in love working on the farm this summer.

I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t help it. At first, I was a little scared — scared and intrigued, all at the same time.

There were no sleek lines, but rather, a beefy look. Not overly beefy, but strong and athletic looking.

This new object of my affection was not shy in showing off versatility. It was built for life on the farm, armed with a variety of tools and up for any task.

Loud, yet not obnoxious. Adventurous, yet not foolish. Steady, consistent speed, yet no ribbons for winning any races.

Yes, you guessed it. I am talking about my skid steer.

Listen to me, “my skid steer.” My brother-in-law and his family would have several thousand reason$ to argue why “Mustang Sally” is not my skid steer.

I am just borrowing her for the summer.

I have found the skid steer to be an amazing piece of farm equipment. Give me a farm with its long to-do list and a skid steer with its long list of attachments, and I am ready to go to work.

I know there are farm tasks that I can’t accomplish with my skid steer. But my skid steer doesn’t know that, and I refuse to tell her.

She is up for anything. Need to remove a big rock or small tree? Lift an engine into a pickup? Move a wagon, horse trailer or anything with a hitch? Move dirt, cement pieces or anything else you can think of? Clean up a building site? Smooth out a dirt pathway? Grant access onto or off a roof? Remove fence posts or roll up wire?

A few weeks into this farming gig, I thought I was in complete control of this rig. With a skid steer and life, it is all about throttle control.

My arrogance was quickly shattered, as well as almost shattering the front windshield of my skid steer.

I was moving a post-hole digger with my pallet-forks attachment. As I picked up the digger, I did not see its power take-off (PTO) shaft attachment that you hook to a power source to make the digger dig.

As I confidently raised the digger off the ground in record speed — another mistake, the free-swinging, iron PTO shaft made its appearance. After that, everything seemed to happen in slow-motion right before my eyes.

Inside the cab, with only a glass windshield between me and this arm of iron swinging toward me, I reached my arms out as if I were going to catch the object before it hit the glass.

Of course, that didn’t work.

Smack.

The PTO iron shaft hit the glass with full force. By this time, I had closed my eyes.

A loud bang is all I heard. When I opened my eyes, I saw the shaft swinging away from my unshattered windshield.

Later, I asked if my skid steer had safety glass. It did not, so I was extremely fortunate that I did not break the windshield.

I made three other stupid mistakes with my skid steer that day. It was a good lesson in how easily “operator error” can happen.

I drove away from the farm that day with more respect for the work I was doing. And the next day, I left my arrogance at home.

Longtime South Dakota journalist John Papendick is a freelance writer, public speaker and seeker of new life experiences. Email papendickjohn@gmail.com.