Book Review: Rust: The Longest War.

At the library, I saw this book on an endcap, calling to me like a rusty tractor implement in the weeds. I couldn’t believe it: someone actually wrote a book, a whole full-length book, about rust–and a legit publisher, like Simon and Schuster, actually published it. I’m glad they did because Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman was an interesting read, though, full disclosure, I’ve invested a lot in rusty farm equipment over the years so I might be a little biased.

Apparently, rust is considered bad by most people who don’t enjoy working on broke-down farm machinery or getting tetanus shots. Also, from reading this book, I learned that most people don’t like rust-flavored drinks, which is why the formulas for aluminum can coatings are guarded like state secrets–that, and most can coatings contain BPA (a factoid that can companies want to keep under wraps). BPA is that pesky chemical that is probably doing bad things to my body right now because I drink entirely too many Diet Cokes straight from the can.

Anyway, this book has lots of rust-related stories. The author actually infiltrated Ball’s Can School (the company that makes Ball canning jars also makes most of the aluminum cans for drink companies, who woulda thunk?) in which drink industry people, most of whom are mustachioed, get together and learn about the complexities of aluminum cans.

The author also tells the story of the eccentric guy who created stainless steel and details a group of brave Department of Defense employees who saved taxpayers a lot of money by promoting rust prevention over rust repair. The author calls this group the “Rusketeers.” Kudos to Jonathan Waldman for thinking of rusketeers and writing a good read on rust.

“On a quiet night, you can hear a Ford rust.”

From Rust: the Longest War

My rusty Ford 4610.

On-Farm Safety Thoughts

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While cladding our old farmhouse in new concrete-board siding, I thought,

“It’d be nice if ladders had heart-rate monitors like treadmills. That way I could simply rest my hands on a rung and know for certain whether I was having a heart attack.”

While driving the tractor down the road, I thought, 

“It’d be swell if old tractors had backup cameras. That way I’d know precisely where to deposit my hay spear in the honking Lexus behind me.”     

While ripping a 2 x 4 down to two 2 x 2s, I realized, 

“It’d be fine and dandy if safety glasses had a defog feature. That way I could better estimate the position of the spinning saw blade to my fingers.” 

While running from yellow jackets, I pondered, 

“Geez, wouldn’t it be grand if steel-toe boots contained a lighter-weight metal alloy. That way at least the geriatric yellow jackets couldn’t catch me.”

While standing in the tractor’s front-in-loader to clean out the barn gutters, I thought, 

“It might be better if I didn’t have life insurance. That way my wife, controlling the loader lever, wouldn’t be so tempted to dump me.

While having an asthma attack from grain dust, I thought,

“I wish breathing wasn’t such an underrated bodily function. That way I’d remember to carry my inhaler, and my wife’s 84-year-old popaw wouldn’t be concocting a way to tube me like a baby calf. 

While watching a coyote swim across a flooded creek, I thought,

“I’m glad I’m not a coyote.”

Window Alert: Fugitive Livestock

The guv’mint agriculture office where I work happens to be a rock’s throw from our local sale barn. This is quite convenient for farmers. After they pick up their check at the sale barn, they can stop by our office to receive treatment for shell shock. Last week, I nearly had to call the paramedics when one dairy farmer about fell-out in the hallway. He realized he actually owed the sale barn money. His little day-old jersey bulls sold for five dollars each, which didn’t cover the minimum sale fee, so he netted a loss for each bull calf sold–talk about giving your calves away. After I helped him compose himself, I gave him some apt advice for his next bull calves: spray-paint them black and pass them off as Angus on Craigslist.

Being so close to the sale barn has perks besides increasing my ability to quickly help dairy farmers in need. During lunch, I like to walk down to the sale barn grill for the purposes of exercise. Dodging trucks with rumbling livestock trailers in tow provides strenuous cardio, and I’m a big proponent of being heart healthy. It’s just happenstance that the destination at the end of my walking route has the best cheeseburger around (insert freshest beef joke here), plus they make a mean batch of onion rings. Also, their fried chicken is quite tasty, especially the skin.  

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Another perk to working so close to the sale barn is I never know what I’m going to see run by my office window. Usually, it’s goats. Apparently, they’re the best escape artists, followed closely in rank by young piglets. Approximately thirty-seven seconds after a fugitive piglet speeds by my window, a posse of sale barn workers will follow in pursuit. If I’m not too bloated from my exertion at lunch, I’ll gladly join in with the posse to help wrangle where needed. Chasing a piglet is even better exercise than dodging livestock trailers.

Usually, I see escaped domesticated livestock out the window, but occasionally I’ll see native wildlife, too. Last week, for instance, I saw the strangest creature. At first glance, I thought it was a skunk and dove under my desk to take cover. I’m a little jumpy when it comes to skunks (read Polecat Prone-Areas). But upon peeking out from under my desk for a second glance, I determined it was no polecat. The creature was too brown and streamline, plus there was no odor involved. And that’s when it hit me–by George, I knew this critter. At church, one frequently stared at me from an old rich lady’s scarf. 

To my knowledge, I had never seen a live mink before in my life–not even in the zoo. But at our yearly conservation field day, our local game warden had a mink pelt and skull he used for show-and-tell with third-graders. Having seen that presentation many times over the years, I felt pretty confident I was observing the rare woodland creature. I even called my coworkers over to the window to observe the mink. It scurried all over the place, giddy with excitement. Then it looked up alertly and made a beeline into the woods. 

“Wow” I thought to myself, “it’s not everyday a person gets to see a mink.”

But no sooner than I thought that, a posse passed by. Apparently, it was no mink at all–just an escaped brown ferret that someone tried offloading at the small animal sale.

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Winter Guests

Decal-Ladybugs

Every winter, all the local ladybugs pack up their belongings and come visit for an extended stay. I’m not sure how they got our address, but word is out, “Ladybugs Welcome.” They act like they own the place. Yesterday, for instance, while I was in the shower, one flew in and slid down the tub wall. It bathed upside down in the bottom of the tub, waving its six little legs like it was having a good ole time trying not to drown. I rescued the hapless bug and gave it a stern lecture on the dangers of tub drains before releasing it back into the wilds of our house. For some reason, we’re okay with ladybugs crawling around. Once, a brave roach filed a discriminatory complaint, but after a ruling from my wife, the complaint was quashed and the complainer, squashed.

If roaches ever evolve into cute little bugs, we’re all in trouble. I mean, when was the last time you squashed a ladybug? Ladybugs are cunning that way. They wear pretty polka dots, eat garden aphids, and bring good luck–all deliberative moves meant to curry favor with humans. They’ve been so successful in their branding campaign that they convinced the Germans to design a car in their image.

Now they’re invading human abodes with no fear of reprisal. Currently, eight ladybugs are doing laps around the frame of our kitchen window. I’d let them out, but they’d just find a way right back in. They’ll leave in the spring without saying goodbye or thank you. In that regard, they’re distinctly unladylike.

Ladybug impression
This is my I-phone’s attempt to take a close up at one of the ladybugs crawling on the counter. Claude Monet would be proud.

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).

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.