We made a batch of beer last night and I skipped any essential research so back we go into the still fertile fields of memory. Actually I’ve been desperately trying to find a way to make this column be a basis for discussion of issues important to all of us. Maybe a title like “Trump and Putin to wed as soon as the divorce is final” would reach the masses better. Anyway, these personal history stories seem to be well received so here you go.
The Barn Steps
Here we sit, braving more weather extremes. The radar constantly shows rain skirting our farm. That’s farming, not an indicator of anthropomorphic climate change. We rented out the crop ground and maintained our little cow herd two years ago. The pasture is crispy.
Forty years ago we moved into the oldest farmhouse in Ingham Township. We brought 29 gilts and one baby boy. The gilts, we farrowed in a five-acre pasture that we found out was too wet. Starting farming with broken-down buildings and pigs in a swamp builds character. We slept as well at night as the baby boy would allow.
After Christmas my dad called and said he could stop by for a couple of days on his way from California to New York if we could pick him up in Des Moines. Our little SAAB 95 was bucking drifts on the way home. The temperature dropped. The snow was deep. It was 20 below and blowing 50 miles per hour for three days. The 49ers were playing the Bengals in the Superbowl.
We had two water tanks for the pigs with small barrels wired down inside to keep the water thawed with cobs and wood. I dug tunnels to the tanks for the pigs and along the fences so they wouldn’t leave, as if they cared to leave their shelter and straw. We don’t go for walks in weather like that. Would they? I soon learned those trenches were first to fill with snow in a wind like that.
We had two calves we bought from Kenny, our nearly-retired neighbor and farming consultant. Cattle are amazing in the cold but have their limits. When the wind shifted about two degrees it picked up any snow that had settled and said “Let’s go!” The calves were in danger of freezing. The barn had steps going up into a door but the calves were not used to it and wouldn’t go there. I decided to cut a hole in the lean-to.
I could not pull the starter rope on the frozen saw so it went on the warming shelf of the kitchen wood stove. Dad and I ventured out into the blizzard with the saw running. This is a guy who thought the handle on a hydrant was for pumping the water. Dad would tell this story as part of an introduction of us to new acquaintances for years. We got the calves in.
Across the yard to the north was a corn crib that diverted the wind over and down as it hit the house. The master cylinder, a top loading antique wood heater, wouldn’t draw because of that and the fact that the concrete block chimney was too cold, having been tacked onto the north side of the house. I didn’t open the lid again after the first time. A big load of wood lasted three days but should have been six hours. That may be economical, but it sure was cold.
We put a blanket over the kitchen door and lived in the kitchen. Constantly feeding that old stove’s little firebox helped keep me busy.
It’s kinda funny to think of times like those as essential but they are. Our soil here is far superior to Southern soil because of the effects of a winter pause and death. Your first job should be your worst to make you appreciate the ones that come later. We made adjustments and survived. I can’t remember who won the Superbowl.