The Fighters

On the dairy farm, I had lots of chances to get outdoors. Watching the sky could be a relaxing pastime. It’s a reason to appreciate creation. After a high pressure system arrives in the summer, the clouds can have beautiful “fluffy” cumulus clouds and the low humidity would be pleasant.

I miss the sky when I visit Chicago. If I don’t leave the downtown, the skyscrapers won’t let me see much of the sky.

When things need to be done outside in the fields, it can be really pleasant. One thing that needs to be done is process the fields. Our main crop, hay, was always a source of work. We preferred alfalfa, which is a legume. It uses bacteria to take nitrogen from the air and “fix ” it so that the fields need less fertilizer. Alfalfa is nutritious for the cattle.

When it was ready, we mowed the hay. The mower is a machine that uses the tractor’s PTO. It’s some gearing and a “cutting bar” that stretched out to the side It had guides that help keep the hay from moving sideways. Behind them were some triangular teeth with really sharp edges. The tractor made the cutting bar oscillate left to right rapidly so that it could cut the hay close to ground level against the guides.

That’s where watching the sky becomes important.

Hay needs to dry before it can be baled up and stored. Rain interrupts the drying and if we’re unlucky, it could even make the hay get moldy. That’s less palatable for the cattle. However, if you store it when it is too wet, it risks spontaneously combusting and causing a fire.

A couple of times, when I was outside, I saw a military fighter plane go by heading north. It was going low to the ground and very fast. I never learned its origin nor destination. Fort Wayne had some military activities at Baer Field so that might explain it.

Sometimes, on the highway I-69, there would be a caravan of military vehicles go by. The trucks were all painted in camouflage. They were going out on training exercises, as best as I knew.

At the time, my attitude toward the military was pretty negative. I didn’t know anyone in the family that was in the service; maybe it was a throwback to the negative attitude toward Vietnam vets from earlier and I never knew any better..

Now, on Veterans Day, I can have breakfast with a friend who served in Iraq. At the time, when we were mostly at peace, the military seemed less relevant, but now I can appreciate the sacrifices they make.

Scared of heights?

I never really think about it, but I’m not afraid of heights. However, in the city on a tall building, I don’t like being on the edge so I have my limits on that.

The farm we had had a 50′ and 60′ (15-18m) silos. It was really grimy climbing into them. There was a closed channel on the side. It was really messy because the silage was thrown down the same chute to a conveyer belt to feed the cattle.

A silo is a place to store chopped corn that is preserved by the weight and lack of oxygen. To put new silage in, there was a little separate chute that led up the side with a slide at the top that could be turned to spread the new silage evenly. It was important to be careful because, if it plugged up, it was tedious to clean it out.

What’s most notable on the farm was how we powered the impeller to push new silage up. Normally we would have used a tractor and its PTO. A PTO is a “power take off” crank coming out the back of a tractor that could drive equipment. For example, it could power a baling machine that packs alfalfa and compacts it with twine into 40-50 pound (18-22kg) cubes. That made a lot of work for us kids in the summer!

For our silo, dad took an old car (an Impala or Taurus?). He welded a big flywheel on the drive shaft and used a belt to make the blower rotate. I remember the right setting was to have the engine set to 30 or 40 mph (50-65km/h) in reverse.

By having a dedicated machine, it saved the need for an extra tractor and the inconvenience of manipulating a tractor into the right position over and over. The impeller had a bar with universal joints to give some flexibility, but it was still challenging to get a tractor hooked up.

My lack of fear of heights came in play because I would climb up the outside to keep the silage in the right place. The path up was with a small metal ladder in the open air. Around the ladder was a little metal cage so you had a little protection if you fell. We never had a safety harness like linemen use when they climb a power pole. It must have been relatively safe because I never heard stories of people falling.

There’s lots of stories about the farm.