Recollections of a Small Town
SMALL FARM BOY vs. BIG FARM MACHINE
Pulled to a ripened wheat field by a tractor, this great beast called
a binder was soon turned to the task at hand. To a boy of eight, it was
clearly a thing to be followed and catch a ride on when Pop wasn’t around.
Think of it as an oversized scythe mower like highway crews use.
The farm binder did more than just cut grain, it bundled the straw
in manageable sheaves for hauling to the barnyard and an itinerant threshing
crew which took a tithe in wheat grains. But back to the field and the
A huge reel with slim wooden paddles deftly swept the cut grain onto
a moving canvas belt and into a bundler. Wowee, the thing wrapped twine
around a bundle of suitable size and kicked it right out to be tossed on
wagons. And tied a neat knot in the twine to keep it together!
It was marvelous, but things do go wrong–as they have since mankind
made his first appearance--yet managed to survive. One glorious afternoon
in late summer I followed the sound of engines and mower-snicker and hitched
a ride on the binder.
While balancing on a narrow border facing the reel and mesmerized
by the march of wheat on the conveyor belt, the tractor suddenly stopped
and I belly-flopped onto the wide belt.
Just as suddenly the tractor started forward again with a small,
panicked boy carried merrily along on the big belt. No desert was harder
to cross than the one I scrambled over to the edge and fell off on spiky
wheat stubble. That stuff stings a bare back and legs, and a butt clad
in thin shorts. But at least the ground was not moving. A bit later, the
tractor driver heard words that boys of tender years should not know.
Nevertheless, with the obduracy of youth, I later wangled a short
stint in the binder operator’s seat and access to levers unmanageable by
Now that boy has learned much about man’s progress from the hunter/gatherer
ever moving with the seasons, but predestined toward controlling fire in
caves and hanging around long enough to grow grain in successive seasons,
devise machines to help with harvesting--and possibly kill fellow humans
off as efficiently as they did the wooly mammoths.
Well, we do have central heating, TV, and lights at night. And the
six-pound laptop computer that records these immortal syllables for all
posterity. All with little thought to a cave bear stomping down the driveway.
Farming has always been a contest between man and earth’s elements--water,
wind, soil, and even fire. A burning barn is an awful thing to see. But
old farmers keep at it, no matter what the cost.
20 April 2004
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