Jerry Nelson: Bob has a smoking problem, but he's a hard worker

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

Fall is here, which means that it’s the season for autumn cleanup. At our house this process includes such questions as, “What is this thing and why is it taking up so much space in our basement?”

If the answer turns out to be “the furnace,” it’s probably been much too long since you’ve visited the cellar. And if your basement is like ours, it tends to accumulate stuff seemingly of its own accord. It’s as if it has access to a replicator device as seen on "Star Trek," except that the replicator is only capable of producing stuff that could maybe prove to be slightly useful at some point in some indefinable future.

Every so often, my wife and I will be moved by the It’s About Time That We Got Organized spirit and embark on a random jag of decluttering. We’ll get rid of a bunch of old stuff, which merely makes room for it to be replaced by newer stuff.

One of the neaten-up projects I decided to tackle this fall was cleaning our old barn.

The barn that sits on our farmstead sports a gambrel roof and red steel siding. It’s charming and iconic and a real pain to clean.

My Grandpa Nelson purchased our barn from a neighboring farmer and moved it here sometime in the 1940s. He used this occasion to customize the barn’s interior layout with two rows of stanchions for his milk cows and a hodgepodge of pens for calves and horses.

When my wife and I purchased this farm, we decided that the stanchions and the cramped little pens were of limited use for housing our Jersey steers. I deconstructed the pens that Grandpa had created but left one row of stanchions. The necks of Grandpa’s cows had spent innumerable hours polishing the stanchions’ two by fours, leaving the lumber as glossy as a gemstone.

My pal Bob has a smoking habbit, but never complains.

This fall it occurred to me that the manure pack in the barn was getting so deep that it wouldn’t be long before our steers’ heads would bump the ceiling. This made judging the steers’ size a challenge because even the smallest animal would appear to be gigantic.

Grandpa’s floor plan had resulted in a labyrinthine arrangement of wooden posts. Because of this, the easiest way to clean the barn is with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. But in this case, “easy” translates as “backbreaking.”

I have cleaned our barn by hand. It’s a long and arduous task that feels similar to using a wheelbarrow and a pitchfork to build the Hoover Dam.

It’s been said that money can’t buy friends. That might be true, but you can certainly rent them.

I rented a pal I’ll call Bob. Bob can’t think for himself and has an annoying smoking habit. But he’s as strong as a herd of two dozen workhorses.

Bob was hanging around at a local rent-all center when I learned that he was willing to perform hard labor. I was willing to pay, so it was a perfect match.

I took Bob out to our barn and instructed him to have at it. His massive frame barely fit through the barn door.

Since Bob couldn’t think for himself, I had to ride him every step of the way. It took no small amount of concentration to maneuver him through the barn without pinballing from pillar to post.

Bob and I soon got the hang of things. It was deeply satisfying to watch him lift immense slabs of compacted manure off the barn’s floor. When the going got tough, Bob just smoked a little more. He never complained about how hard he was working.

I used my loader tractor to spread the moo poo on our garden. Every square inch of that patch of ground has been thoroughly manured. Our garden now contains more organic matter than a municipal compost pile.

As Bob labored, it occurred to me that the manure was feeding the garden, which would feed me so that I could continue to feed our Jersey steers who would produce more manure. That isn’t exactly the same as the circle of life which was central to "The Lion King". It’s better. This is because part of our circle involves my wife and me enjoying fresh veggies and tender, mouthwatering, farm-raised ribeye steaks.

It also dawned on me that Bob and I were removing a bunch of stuff in order to make room for more stuff. It would be extremely gratifying if he could also help clean our basement. But I’m pretty sure that a skid steer loader would never fit through our front door.

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 book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.