Summertime entertainment

Farm Forum

During their summer break from the classroom, many youngsters are busily honing their math skills, boning up on geography and going over their phonics lessons.

I am joshing, of course. The majority of school-agers view summer vacation as an opportunity forget everything they learned during the previous academic year. At least that’s what I did.

It seems like kids nowadays can’t bear to be more than a few inches away from the garish glow of a video screen. Eyewitnesses have informed me that even a quick trip to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone requires the use of their vehicle’s onboard entertainment system.

Such dependence on digital media wasn’t tolerated when I was a kid. Yes, it’s true, digital media hadn’t yet been invented. But even if it had, we would have never been allowed consume so much of it that we would be gripped by withdrawal symptoms should we be deprived of a video interface for a couple of seconds.

Besides, when I was growing up on our dairy farm, we had something that was far superior to any electronic device. We had a water tank.

Our farm’s water tank was a squat cylinder made of ancient oaken staves that were held together by corroded steel hoops. Imagine if Jack had scaled the beanstalk and only managed to make off with the bottom portion of one of the giant’s barrels.

A few feet from the water tank was our wellbore, which was topped by a pump jack that was old enough to have drawn water for Adam and Eve. The pump jack had a greasy cast iron crankcase that was spun by an electric motor and an unshielded, finger-mangling V-belt.

The brim of the tank was just the right height for cows to drink. It was also the perfect height for kids who might be fascinated by water. The water tank/ pump jack area was considered somewhat dangerous and our parents often warned my siblings and me not to play there. The water tank thus seemed as enticing as a forbidden fruit and we played in it as much as possible.

The water tank wasn’t much fun in the depths of winter. But during the summertime, it became our farm’s entertainment center.

When the truly hot weather arrived, the water tank transformed. Almost overnight, all manner of life sprang forth within its translucent depths.

First came an emerald film of algae on its walls and bottom. It’s not like we had planted the algae, so its origins were a deep mystery.

Before long we could see water bugs patrolling the verdant underwater forest. We hadn’t ordered any water bugs and hadn’t the foggiest notion regarding whence they came. Their arrival was an entomological enigma.

It was fascinating to watch the submarine beetles dart hither and yon throughout their aquatic realm. We thought that the water bugs were extremely good at holding their breaths until we noticed that they carried a tiny bubble of air with them when they dove. It was the insect version of scuba diving.

We felt that our aquarium lacked diversity, so we would catch frogs and drop them into the tank. Frogs can also hold their breaths for an extremely long time, so we tried to force them back to the surface by depth-charging them with pebbles. We understood very little regarding the refraction of light by water, so no frog was ever in danger of being hit.

At mid-afternoon our herd of 30 Holsteins would troop home from the pasture and seek out the water tank like lumbering, laser-guided missiles. The thirsty cows would crowd around the tank, their anvil heads thumping one another. They drank with great gusto, the boluses of water rippling the skin of their necks as it gushed down their gullets.

The cows could empty the tank and it sometimes appeared that our requisitioned amphibians might be in danger.

“I hope the cows don’t drink a frog!” said one of my younger sisters.

“Yeah,” I replied, “She could get a frog in her throat!”

I had heard that cats are natural swimmers, so I took one to the water tank and put this theory to the test. I learned that a barn cat can indeed swim without any lessons. I also learned that the closer a cat gets to water, the more ferociously it scratches.

At midsummer, Dad would declare that it was time to clean the water tank. We bucketed out its remaining water and used shovels to scrape its bottom.

As we tossed out the last bit of slimy green liquid, Dad would invariably mutter, “I wish the cows wouldn’t leave all these pebbles on the bottom of the tank!”

If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.