Jerry Nelson: Why a dairy farm bus tour reminded me of my childhood

Jerry Nelson
Local Columnist
Jerry Nelson

Long bus rides are not my thing.

This is probably due to my childhood experiences with school buses. The bus would stop at the end of our farm’s driveway early every school day morning. After my siblings and I piled aboard, the bus would jostle along on a teeth-loosening, convoluted route that traversed much of the state. We would arrive at the school just in time for the start of classes.

The torture of the bus ride was followed immediately by the punishment of attending class. No wonder buses give me a bad vibe.

Our school buses had zero climate control, so we had to endure whatever Mother Nature was dishing out. The buses were sweltering when the weather was hot and bone-chillingly frigid in the wintertime. There was a small heater for the driver, but its output was approximately the same as that of a birthday candle.

When the bus windows frosted over, we would use the sides of our hands and fingertips to make fake baby footprints on the glass. We hoped that a passing motorist would see the footprints and think, “Omigosh! There’s a barefoot baby in that bus and he’s so desperate to get out that he’s sending a distress signal with his tiny feet! We have to stop the bus and rescue that poor baby!”

The bus became a mobile pizza oven during hot weather. We would slide the windows down, but the increased airflow did little to decrease our discomfort. It felt as though we were in a wind tunnel that was attached to a blowtorch.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, I often became carsick as a kid. Because of this, I was allowed sit in the front seat between our parents during long car rides. I always felt better when I could see the road. And it was elevating to be up front with the adults.

Sadly, this issue remained unresolved for my long school bus rides. Many a mile passed as I fought the feeling that breakfast might make a second appearance. Our family physician should have given me a card that read, “To whom it may concern: Please let this boy ride in the front seat or there may be projectile consequences.”

You can see why I was wary when I recently participated in a dairy farm bus tour.

I tried to get a seat at the front, but they were occupied by our tour guides. Where was that doctor’s card when I really needed it?

Jerry's view from a tour bus as it travels between dairy farms.

I sat a few rows from the front, next to a young lady named Maggie. Maggie was personable and upbeat, a very pleasant traveling companion. After a few minutes of conversation, I realized that Maggie is just 20 years old. I have socks older than that.

The bus lumbered and lurched toward our first dairy farm visit. Upon arrival, we were offered coffee and donuts and chocolate milk. Not a bad way to start a day, although I was worried about what this food combination might mean for my stomach.

After viewing Holsteins lounging in sand-bedded free stalls — every day is a day at the beach for those cows — we reboarded the bus and rumbled toward our next stop, a dairy farm that has an on-farm cheesemaking facility.

It was a scorching hot and windy summer day. Modern buses, I learned, have air conditioners that are powerful enough to turn passengers into ice cubes. Stepping out of the bus and into the superheated summer air was like exiting a freezer and entering a hairdryer set to “incinerate.”

But it wasn’t all bad because we got to sample some cheese curds. I wasn’t brave enough to try the spicy ones that were labeled, simply, “reaper.”

We were trundled back onto our buses and headed for our next stop, a dairy farm that milks cows with robots. I continued to chat with Maggie, secretly hoping that the combination of chocolate milk, donuts and cheese curds wouldn’t produce an eruption.

Milking robots in no way resemble C-3PO. They are purpose-built machines, controlled by computers that collect scads of data including what sort of mood the bossies were in when they were milked.

We were also treated to more dairy goodies, including yummy cheese-and-roast-beef hoagies.

During the entirety of the bus ride, my view consisted of a small patch of windshield and the backs of several heads. I chatted with Maggie during the interminable homeward leg and was thus able to keep my mind off my stomach.

In retrospect, the dairy bus tour was a thoroughly pleasant experience. My only regret is that I lacked the courage to try the fiery “reaper” curds.

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