A Grilled Cheese with That

In the northern part of our county, the old Costner farmhouse burned down. Nobody was hurt, but six fire departments were called. It was a big shindig. Word got out quickly and a crowd assembled forthwith. And yet, despite good turnout, our local food truck failed to show. It’s normally ubiquitous at big gatherings, so I expected it to arrive griddles blazing, ready to capitalize and serve artisanal grilled-cheese sandwiches to the gawkers. Myself, I’d have gotten the five-cheese on rye with rosemary garnish.

Turns out a seventy-five-year-old man had been squatting in this dilapidated farmhouse–who knew? Apparently, the whole countryside knew; it was kinda of a well-known secret. The old man accidentally started the fire with a propane heater.

Only the absentee landowner was surprised to hear about the squatter. In fact, they were surprised to hear about the farmhouse. No doubt, representatives from the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) had intentions to get out and walk the land before they flipped it to developers, but they just hadn’t had time to make it down from New York. In any event, they were glad to hear that an eye-sore on their property was now gone.

Personally, I cringe when I hear “eye-sore” used to describe a dilapidated farmhouse like the Costner house. It wasn’t trashy or even really junky, just old and derelict. If anything, I think old farmhouses add to the landscape. Though I like watching stuff burn as much as the next fella, I hate to see old farmhouses go.

Don’t Judge a Farm by its Combine

Momma always said, “Don’t judge a farm by its combine.” It’s an agricultural truth as old as time. The farmer with the 2021 edition of the GPS-guided soybean destroyer with tracks like an army tank and a 80-foot cutting head may be closer to the verge of bankruptcy than the little old fella with the Gleaner circa 1978. So don’t judge me when I show you my combine circa 1955 because I could be a quadruple billionaire who just likes running old equipment. I’m not (I’m just too poor to afford the GPS-guided-army-tank combine myself) but the point here is I could be rich–despite appearances–and you shouldn’t judge. You can laugh though; I’m not that sensitive.

This is our Allis Chalmers All Crop Harvester, a 66 model (6′ 6″ cutting head).

Polecat-prone Areas

Looming threats are everywhere–earthquakes in California, tornadoes in the Midwest, floods down east. Even Shelby, City of Pleasant Living, is prone to its own form of natural disaster. Several years ago, I witnessed firsthand the horrible aftermath of one such tragedy–people coughing and gagging, eyes watering, and the horrified look in the owner’s eyes as he pointed to the exit. 

“Get out! Get out! No skunk clothes!” he said, rather unkindly. You know it’s bad when dry cleaners refuse that much business, my wife’s entire wardrobe, for fear of contaminating clothes of other customers. The epicenter for the stink bomb was our house, which registered a 9.6 on the rollover gagging scale. It was a night attack, right after a lightning bolt scared a skunk taking shelter in our crawlspace. We woke up coughing, lungs burning, dazed and confused.



By Hank Ketcham. From Sept. 22nd, 1978, Wisconsin State Journal

“Is the house on fire?” my wife said.

“No, that ain’t smoke,” I said. “That’s skunk.”

Throughout the next six months, we endured a lot of side-eye and upturned noses while out in public, but, with faith, we made it through our calamity and the smell eventually dissipated.

Over the years, we’ve had many more trials with skunks, and I’m pretty sure skunks are good candidates for world domination. As far as I can tell, they have no natural predators, save cars. So, if you live in polecat-prone areas, like Shelby, be careful out there–you never know when one might raise its tail.

Book Review: Flat Broke with Two Goats

At the library, I stumbled upon Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer Mcgaha. I thought the title indicated something in the agrarian humor genre. I thought wrong. This book is a bluntly honest memoir, recipes included–think Ron Rash’s Appalachian grittiness sprinkled into Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The setting is rural western North Carolina. At times, the subject matter, which includes a vivid description of domestic abuse, is intense and heart-rending. But once chickens and goats arrive on the premises, the story takes an uplifting turn. The writing is top-notch, with a poetic rhythm; here’s a passage:  

“My grandmother grew up on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina, and in her recollections, farm life was never idyllic. The work was backbreaking and constant, food hard to come by. On frigid winter mornings, she woke covered with snow that had drifted through the slats  in the bedroom walls. Still, her stories made me dream of the three-room log cabin in which she was raised, of her nine brothers and sisters, of the mother who cooked dinner for twelve on a woodstove, of the father who spent his days plowing fields and hoeing potatoes, tending cows and hogs and chickens.”

Farmer to the Rescue

All this wet weather has me thinking: 

One great honor that farmers experience is pulling another farmer out of a bog, ditch, or otherwise similar predicament of inertia. If your tractor ever bogs down to a rear axle, don’t worry–a farmer, likely your worst nemesis, will soon materialize out of nowhere with a tow cable and a newfound interest in your welfare. After extracting your tractor from the bog, the farmer will recite the “aw shucks, it could of happened to anyone” spiel before quickly proceeding to the nearest gas station grill or other gathering place of farm folk to tell everyone what a dimwit you were for getting stuck in a bog. 

Nearly as fulfilling as witnessing another farmer’s mistake is rescuing a hapless inhabitant of the city. Thus, imagine the great joy that the farmer who pulled Henry Ford from a muddy road experienced. In the following story, dated August 11th, 1922, you’ll notice the farmer is not named, but knowing how the law of stuckness works, we can suspect it was likely Louis Chevrolet or one of the Dodge Brothers who happened to rescue Mr. Ford and then quickly went off to find the nearest newspaper reporter.

From August 11th, 1922, Montgomery Advertiser

Still, as embarrassing as it is to be pulled out, doing so can prevent further calamity. Many farmers have suffered injuries or worse when a tractor, bogged down to the rear axle, suddenly reared up and performed a backflip. As with all aspects of farm safety, it’s better to be safe and a little embarrassed than proud and dead.