Lost in time

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The older we get, the more memories we have stored away someplace in our brains. The sense of smell can trigger a flood of those memories which have been lost in time. The whiff of fresh-tilled soil in the spring will transport an old farmer back to days of their youth when they drove a two-bottom plow across the family land for the first time using a two-cylinder tractor.

One of my top five smells is fresh-chopped corn silage. I would even rank it above the smell of red roses. For me, corn silage time signals the start of crisp mornings, fresh apple cider and Friday nights under the lights. As I inhale a large handful of fresh-chopped corn, I close my eyes and relax. This is my reward for enduring these long, hot, dry summer days.

“It is done,” Mark announced as he came in the house for lunch today. He had pulled the corn head off the chopper. He was so glad to mark that job off the list as completed. What a relief. The last few days of wrapping up the silage harvest had been more than challenging.

We started chopping 10 days earlier. We were concerned at how green the corn stalks still were, but due to the dry summer and low humidity, the stalks were losing moisture quickly. We needed to get moving. It was time to start hauling boxes.

Many of the rains this summer and early fall have missed our little neck of the woods. Even though I have cringed while writing out the check for the electric bill this summer, I am thankful we were able to water our crops to grow feed for the cows. As Mark was working his way around the outer edges of the fields, you could see what the crops could have been without the irrigation pivots. Not a pretty site.

We all settled in to a steady routine of clearing corn off the fields and filling silos and bags. We were moving right along, and things were running smoothly until they weren’t. The last four days were a struggle with breakdowns and parts runs every day. Apparently, a special nut and bolt near the processor snapped off and belts were burned. Three times. We traveled to Wadena, Paynesville and Little Falls in an effort to keep things moving.

Once we had our equipment fixed, then the rented bagger decided it wanted extra attention too. A large chain broke. It took Mark and Austin the good part of an afternoon to tear apart and put everything back together. When they were done, they were covered with a thick, pasty grease. There isn’t enough soap to get all that off their hands, shirts and jeans.

There were a few more small breakdowns with PTO shafts and quick-hitches on the boxes before the last load was brought in from the fields. We finished just in the nick of time. Now we can start mending and repairing equipment before we put it away for the year.

As Mark was fixing, he was combing through his stash of salvage parts and tools to keep things moving forward. All farmers have stashes of things that could have more uses left in them. Many barns and rafters are filled with such treasures.

For many of us living on generational family farms, there are stockpiles of hidden treasures from days gone by. The early generations didn’t have much and saved everything. The next generation kept the old things for nostalgia. Today we have so much stuff. Where do we store it and why? As our older generation disappears so does the knowledge of what things are and how they work.

My friend Ann was telling me about an odd piece of equipment hanging on the wall of their old garage. She didn’t recognize what it could possibly be used for. Luckily, Ron knew it was the crank for a Model T car. When was the last time that was used? Here it is still hanging on the nail, waiting to be used again.

Many farm tools have become lost to time as guys who used them or hung them on a nail in the back shed have been long gone. Faint memories of past stories or common sense could help identify the use but not always. Austin was at a farmer’s museum in Montana a couple years back. He recognized many of the pieces of his collection and even could guess how some things were used because he saw many of those things stored in sheds and rafters around our farm. One of the most unique things he saw was a “chastity belt” for cows to keep the bull from breeding them. We don’t have one of those hanging around, but he figured out what it was meant to do. 

Ann and I both have an itch to start cleaning out the sheds on our farms, but what do you do with all of the stuff collected over the generations? Not all the kids are thrilled about keeping obsolete objects just because they were great-grandpa’s, but we don’t want to lose things to time either. I guess we’ll have to settle for rearranging the hidden treasures found in our old sheds and discover new uses for old tools.

Ann was telling me her grandchildren are reading the “Little House” stories. She thought she had old Karo syrup tin pails or tin lard pails on a shelf in one of the old sheds. She wants to bring the books to life by showing the kids what a lunch pail from the days of Laura Ingalls looked like.

As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.

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