Friday, April 24, 2020

The Farmer's Code

Having lived in the country pretty much all of our adult lives we have come to love the country life. On the surface it seems like a slower paced life and in some ways it is, but when you really open your eyes you see it is as hectic as or even more hectic than the lives of people living in the city. 

Imagine the success of your entire year being dependent on just a few short weeks in the spring and fall. And worse yet it being dependent on something you have absolutely no control over. So when the weather is right and it is planting time there is no time for idle chit chat, it is all hands on deck working the fields and getting the crop in the ground as fast as you can as one rain storm could grind the whole operation to a halt for a week or more and when you are talking growing seasons a week is a long time. So the days on the farm start at sunrise and end at sunset, sometimes well after. 

Another thing I learned even before we started coming up here is that there is a secret society among farmers. I am not sure of the whole scope and structure but I think they have meetings, a secret handshake and even a newsletter that I will never get to see. You ever walk into a country restaurant and there is a group of old men around a table and as one they all turn and look at you when you walk in? Well, that is probably one of those meetings! Or do you ever see a farm truck going down the road very early in the morning when everyone else has not even gotten out of their pajamas yet? Yup, they are returning from one of their secret meetings. 

So what goes on at these meetings? I really don’t know for sure but I am pretty sure the first thing they teach the new farmers is how to wave at other vehicles on the road. From what I can deduce there are two different waves the farmers and ranchers use across the country. I don’t know if it is regional or if they belong to different farmer gangs but there are definitely two waves. The first is the one finger wave. For you city slickers it is not the finger you are thinking of, it is the index finger on your right hand. To do it properly you have to have your right hand at the top of the steering wheel and when a vehicle passes you lift your index finger and arc it from left to right like the 10:00 position to the 2:00 position as the vehicle passes. The other method is similar but has a slight variation and requires two fingers, the index finger and the finger many of you were thinking about in the first place. With your right hand in the same position, you lift both fingers at the same time holding them together like they are fused together. Then you move them ever so slightly from left to right as you pass the oncoming vehicle not 10-2, not like 10-11 or maybe just 10:45. For you lefties out there the same can be done with the left hand but you have to make sure your move your finger from right to left like 2:00 to 10:00. By the way, if a farmer or rancher does not give you one of the above waves, it is the equivalent of getting the middle finger.

The other thing I learned is that things are always breaking at the farm. It is not a matter of “if” it is a matter of “when”. This was hard to get used to. Field work is hard on equipment and sometimes trees, fence lines and other things jump right out in front of you. Which brings me to the second thing they for sure teach them in farmer school. Always blame the new guy for anything that goes wrong. Unfortunately for me, I am the new guy so if anything breaks down, yup, it is my fault. It does not even matter if I am using the piece of equipment when it breaks, heck it does not even matter if I was within 5 miles of it or as I found out in previous years if I am even in the same state. It is still my fault! I wish they had a new, new guy so I had someone to blame!

With roughly 5,000 acres to plant in the next few weeks. Farmer Bob, Chris and Dylan have been ready getting equipment ready prior to our arrival so for the most part the equipment was all set and ready to hit the field!

With the smaller camper we were actually able to park right next to the shop on concrete! No more walking 100 yards to use the bathroom and shower.
Our camping spot for the next 4 weeks
The day after our arrival we started treating some peas. Pretty much everything they do around is done by weight. A bushel of peas is 60#’s and at roughly 3-3½ bushels/acre they can calculate how many bushels of seed they need per field. They had gotten a new treater since I had been here last. This one is a lot bigger and more sophisticated and will treat about 1,000# of peas per minute.
The seed comes out of the grain bin through the blue conveyor and dumps into the black hopper on the right side, it then travels up the conveyor to the left, mixes with the treatment and goes into the conveyor over the truck where it comes out blue and treated! The have to do test weights on the peas and calibrate the treater to put just the right amount of treatment on each batch. 

In some fields we need to "Salford" the field which uses a series of corrugated discs and rollers to open up the soil and break up the residue remaining from the previous crop. Opening the soil does a couple of things; it will help dry out some wet areas and it will also allow the sun to penetrate the soil better warming it up. 

I spent a couple of afternoons Salfording a couple of fields. 

Frost and Salfording will bring up some rocks so we will go around the fields and pick up some of the larger rocks that surface. The rock picker they have has teeth on the bottom and a wheel to move the rocks into the basket. So as you are driving through the field and you see a rock you lower the basket so the teeth are just below the rock and then the wheel scoops it into the basket. Not really hard work but your neck gets sore after a few hours as you are always looking back and down to the basket to make sure you get the rock and not scoop up a bucket full of dirt along with it.
Then the planter arrives to do its job. Funny, they never let me run the planter.....probably because if you screw planting up the entire field is shot for the year! The seeds are dumped from the truck up the conveyer and into the seed cart...
Then Chris went around the field with the air seeder planting 72 rows at a time planting roughly 465 acres in two days.  
Air Seeder with Seed Cart behind it
I then came in behind him and rolled the field. Speaking of rolling, they got a new roller this year! 
I took a picture of if before it ever hit the field so we can remember how it looked with all its lights on it with no dents or dings! 

That reminds me of another Farmer’s Code Rule. This one I actually taught Farmer a few years ago during my first year here. The rule is “Never tell the new guy not to hit a tree”. I will spare you the details, let’s just say it took two days and a lot of welds but we got everything back together again. Since that day he has never told me to not hit a tree!
The roller packs the rocks down and compresses the ground which covers the seeds. There were no trees on this field so the rolling went without incident. 

I made a run to the local elevator and picked up 20 tons of Urea. It has been over a year since I drove the semi and I am happy to report everything went smoothly. I might have ground a gear or two but had no witnesses so it didn’t happen!
Filling the front of the trailer
That's what 11 tons of Urea looks like
Barb and the dogs are getting in a lot of walks and reading. 
Dakota, reading Daisy a story

Daisy reading her own story
After all her activity working on the house I think she (Barb) is going a little stir-crazy. She is enjoying the down time but feels like she should be doing something else as well....

The rest of the fields are too wet to get into right now but will hopefully dry up in the next few days. In the meantime I will continue to see what I can find out about this secret farmers society and pass on any details in my next post!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Final Days in South Dakota

Our time in South Dakota has come to an end and it is time for us to move on and hit the road again!  The last time we left here for an adventure was in late December when we headed south down to Quartzsite Arizona to visit friends and sell our 5th wheel. This time we are headed in the opposite direction, north to North Dakota to The Farm where Barb and I have not been to (together at least) since the fall of '18. I am so looking forward to some time behind the steering wheel of a tractor where I can connect with what we think was our true calling in life. In a past life Barb and I are convinced we were definitely farmers or ranchers (and frontiersmen before that) as to us there is nothing better than the farming lifestyle. 

Our past 11 weeks in South Dakota were mixed with some great accomplishments and some things we hoped to get done waiting for our return. My biggest was to get the siding done. I know everyone has been waiting with bated breath to see if we got the long 88’ wall done on the west side. This side is particularly challenging as the panels of steel are 16’ tall, 40”wide and weigh ~50#’s. Carrying them and standing them up is quite challenging, add wind to the mix which turns the panels into big sails and it turns into a circus!

Kevin arrived for a 3 day visit, we worked on his house a couple of days getting some electrical work done. The last afternoon he was here we spent a few hours putting up starter and J channel on the west side which was a great help. When he asked if I wanted help putting up a few panels I could not say “YES! quick enough!

He was up high in the basket and I would carry the panels over to him. He would grab an end and we would get it into position and screw the top and bottoms before moving onto the next panel.
  In 3 hours we got all 50’ of the garage done and put a serious dent into west side! 
Day 1 progress
 The next day after Kevin headed home, I was able to get the lower garage wall done on the north side and 4 panels (roughly 12’) done. Although slow, I was very happy with the progress as not only was I working alone, I also had to cut each of the panels to fit around the upper and lower windows.
We are going to put stone on the lower section where you still see white

Day 2 progress
Then the weather went to pot. 
Rain and snow the next 3 days followed by 3 days of high winds and high temps in the 20’s. I managed to get out there and get 1 more panel up but it was just too cold, wet and windy to really make any progress. 
This is where we ended up for now. 
The last two days I spent going around the house and putting a screw in every 9” horizontally and 30” vertically. The last thing we wanted was to come home in a couple months to find it had all blown off in a storm! I put in somewhere between 600 and 700 screws in 20 degree temps and 20 mph winds. I could work for 10-15 minutes before my fingers would go numb and I would have to go in to thaw them up. I was able to get the last section screwed down hours before we loaded up the camper and hit the road. So although we only got about ¾ of the west wall done, given the weather, I was very happy to get that much done. 

Inside the house, when the snow was really coming down we started putting vertical T&G pine on the upper east wall. 
When it was done we put up an elk mount that belongs to a friend of ours that did not have room for it in his new house. His loss is our gain!

Easter was pretty mellow. We got lots of Snapchats from Forrest and Jessica of the kids coloring and looking for Easter Eggs. Man, they are growing up quick!
Kendall and Dylan coloring Easter eggs

Kendall with her Easter basket

Lily, all dressed up for Easter!
Wednesday morning after putting the last few screws in we put the camper on the truck, loaded our last few things and were ready to hit the road!
We added the cargo carrier to the top and rack on the back for extra storage

The cows came down to the gate to see us off!
It is an 8 hour drive to the farm. We did not know if we were going to drive straight through or stop somewhere.  The trip itself was pretty uneventful. The funniest thing was when we stopped for lunch at Culvers. Our truck with the camper would not fit through the drive thru so Barb stood in line behind a line of cars. 

When we got to Dickenson ND it was 5:30 and we were only 3 hours away so we kept on a driv'in. With the time change we arrived at 9:30pm and after a short welcome chat with Farmer Bob, we settled into bed and are ready to hit the fields! 

Friday, April 3, 2020

We Are Survivors

As I write this I am sitting inside our home looking outside watching the snow fall (yes, we went from a high of 60 to a low of 2 this week). The birds are flitting around the feeder without a care in the world and the deer are wandering through the forest browsing on whatever tasty little morsels they find. 
Two things came to mind as I watch these scenes unfold before me. One is the life goes on for most creatures without a thought or care of what is going on with the human population around the world. No matter how bad it gets these birds and deer will continue to do their things without a second thought. 

The other thought that comes to mind is the number of doomsday predictions we have survived in our lifetimes. Some, like our current situation are serious threats, while others were nothing more than media hype and pure speculation on the part of "experts". 

Over the course of the last 50 something years we have survived…..

In 1970 it was predicted that the next ice age would occur by the year 2000. The year 2000 came and we not only survived the nonexistent ice age, we also survived the Y2K scare!

A year later in 1971 they then predicted the ice age would occur by 2020. (well, it is snowing…so maybe…)  Remember the acid rains of the 80’s that were going to melt the skin from our faces? Or how about 1989 when we were told the rising sea levels would wipe out nations by the year 2000? How about the killer bees of the 70’s or the 1966 prediction that the world would deplete all its oil in the next 10 years.

We have survived all those and more. More recently in 2012 we survived the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar. The clock struck 12:00 and nothing happened. There are hundreds of other examples, what is your favorite? 

So life goes on and we work on our house just waiting for the world to end. 

Regardless of the world situation laundry happens. Thanks to everyone who offered their opinions and experiences on their washers. In the end Barb went with a Maytag top load washer. She ordered them from Best Buy which is closed to the public but she was able to order it on line, drive to Rapid City where they loaded it in the trailer and she did not even need to get out of the truck! 
That's one happy wife!
This week I was able to make some good progress with the siding. The south side is now done! That took 3 days. The bonus was that I was able to take down the satellite dish and remount it and it worked!
I got the gable end of the north side done, one more day. 
Just the bottom of the north side and the whole west side left!
Then the snow hit and shut us inside for a few days. We had to run to the courthouse that morning to have some papers notarized and filed. They did not actually let us in the courthouse but met us at the door, notarized the paperwork and took it inside. We then went to the grocery store to get a few essentials. Main Street in Custer was piled with snow!
Snow piled up in the middle of Main
When we got to the grocery store I noticed this cool artwork on our rims
Winter Wheel Art
The rest of the day we did not do any work and just watched movies.  We got a taste of what it would be like if we did not have any projects. We were going stir crazy by 3:00 and both of us were walking around the house looking for small projects to keep us busy.

So we started packing for our next adventure, whatever that might be. As of right now it is going to North Dakota to help plant the crops at The Farm. From there things are up in the air. Oregon to visit our son? Alaska? Back here? Who knows.... The only thing I know for sure is as much as we as humans like to think we are in control, we are not, not by a longshot. We are merely small bit players in a much bigger play along for the ride. Nonetheless, the experts will continue to make their predictions with no real clue.
Barb and I? We are going to pack hoping for the best, we shall see. 

Until then we still have a few weeks left here playing our roles. I need 5-6 more days to get the 88 feet of 16 foot panels on the west side. Luckily over 50’ of that has no doors and windows so we are hoping for some sunny windless days!