The throwback

Farm Forum

The tale goes something like this: a pair of Norwegian homesteader brothers built themselves a nice granary, two stories tall, with a sturdy stairway. Come oat harvest they bagged their gain at the threshing machine, hauled it to the granary, then carried the bags upstairs so they could dump the oats into the bin below.

Being Norwegian, it never occurred to them to simply walk into the bin and dump the grain on the floor.

Some will slap their foreheads and say, “Uffda! That’s the sort of story that gives us Norskies a bad name!” I, on the other hand, think that they were merely throwbacks. And I should know throwbacks, because I am one.

For instance, some perfectly good grass grows in our road ditches and around our farmyard. This stuff will be useful next winter when our half-dozen Jersey steers want something to munch on other than the icicles hanging from the barn roof.

The most efficient way to harvest this hay would be to hire someone with a modern hay cutter thingy. Taking this path would require as much effort as changing channels on the TV.

Being a throwback, I chose a different path. When the hay is ready to cut I fire up my “A” John Deere, a tractor that’s old enough to collect Social Security. I hitch the “A” to my sickle mower, a machine that’s so ancient it’s mentioned in Genesis.

Then I mow the yards and the ditches, jostling over the innumerable humps and bumps. The “A” has Armstrong power steering, so every little knob is telegraphed through the steering wheel to your hands, up your arms and shoulders and into your brain. This is why we throwbacks tend to have a subpar IQ.

The sickle inevitably bites into something that doesn’t agree with it and loses a section. Cutting hay with a missing sickle section is like eating sweet corn with no front teeth: neither pretty nor efficient.

The sickle must be removed so that a new section can be riveted in place. The art of riveting has been around for several thousand years, which makes it a favorite activity for us throwbacks.

Flattening an iron rivet with a ball peen hammer is extremely satisfying — as long as your fingers don’t become part of the flattening process. Percussive maintenance is a tremendous outlet for frustrations.

“Here’s for being forced to change that tire in the rain!” you mutter as the hammer mashes the rivet. “And here’s for the signal dropping out during that important call!” you grunt as the rivet squashes down even farther. A bad day frequently leads to over-flattened rivets.

One must often adopt a Zen attitude while working with old equipment. When the mower broke and needed a new part, I didn’t become irate upon learning that they didn’t have said part at the dealership. I Instead celebrated the fact that the part actually existed and would arrive in a few days. The mower may be slow, but the grass is patient. And becoming impatient with the parts guy wouldn’t help.

As I mowed, the neighbor across the road was harvesting his alfalfa. Comparing his rig to mine would be like comparing the space shuttle to a sparrow. He was buzzing along at speeds normally associated with NASCAR.

I could have hired him and he could have done the job in two minutes instead of my two hours. But what would I learn from that other than how to write a check? I would like to avoid practicing that particular skill.

Once the hay has cured, it must be raked. Again with the bumps and the jostling! Paint could be shaken.

After the hay is raked I call my neighbor Ziggy, who rolls it up into big round bales. Yes, putting the hay into small square bales would be more retro. But I’m somewhat of a lazy throwback.

Moving the big round bales involves hitching the “A” to a two-wheeled cart that was constructed from old oil pipe by a local machinist. The bale is lifted via a hand-cranked winch – a word my Norwegian grandfather pronounced as “wench.” I imagine a really strong wench could also perform this task.

Squirreling the hay into storage evokes a deep sense of satisfaction. “Look at that!” I said to my wife, indicating the hay, “Those bales mean we won’t starve!”

“What, are we going to eat hay soup?” she replied in a tone that indicated she was questioning my sanity.

“No, the steers will eat the hay and we’ll eat the steers. We have it made!”

“You are such a throwback!” she said, shaking her head.

It’s not often that I receive such high praise.

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