Ten years ago, I bought my first pair of bib overalls – hickory striped, also known as railroad bibs as part of a Halloween outfit I wanted to wear when my grandkids came trick or treating. I wore them for that one night and not again, thinking they were horribly uncomfortable. They hung in my work room closet for the next nine years as I wore through countless pairs of Carhartt work jeans.
    The work jeans are the baggy style with the hammer loop and vice grip pocket. The hammer loop is especially useful every morning to hang my teat dipper on when milking fresh cows. The jeans would wear thin quickly from the daily washing and drying and in 8-10 months would rip a hole in the buttocks area. At that point, I was not allowed to wear them, not even to the dairy in the dark early mornings.
    The biggest issue with the jeans started a few years ago. No matter how tight I cinched my belt, I could not keep them from working downhill. I am sure Carhartt changed the design and caused the problem because I have maintained my funnel figure for many years. I guess I was in style with my low riding jeans if I was walking around the Mall of America.
    This past winter, I got so fed up with pulling up my jeans constantly that I rewashed the striped bibs and tried them on. They still fit great, but I felt so out of character wearing them. Then the light bulb went on in my head. I will buy a blue denim pair of bibs, wear a hoodie sweatshirt over them, and nobody will ever notice I am wearing bibs. That worked great until Deb took one look at me and said, “Your jeans look funny.” Nobody else noticed at all through the remainder of the winter and the long cold spring.
    All of the sudden, the hot weather hit, and my fashion secret was exposed for all to see. My granddaughters giggled, my daughters shook their heads, and my employees asked how old I was. The ladies at the bank and the farm store gave me second looks and smiled while they quickly looked back down at their computer screens. I have come to the conclusion there are two types of farmers that wear bib overalls. First are those unmarried guys who have worn them since their mom ran them through the wringer wash machine, and second are married guys like me who have enough self-confidence to wear them despite what our wives say.
    Bib overalls should be open to some modern day updates however. First, they should make the front chest pockets 1 inch longer so we could snap them shut over our cell phone. This pocket is an excellent place for a phone, but in my occupation I am afraid it could fall out while inspecting a manure flume or gutter. The second update manufacturers should make is replacing all the metal fasteners with heavy duty plastic clips. This would eliminate the terrible noise chatter when they are tumbling in the clothes dryer. I suppose the manufacturers think if we are backwards enough to wear bibs, we still dry everything on a clothesline.
    One hot, humid morning earlier this week, when I went to milk the fresh cows, I thought it is too hot to wear jeans or bibs. So, I put on an old pair of jean shorts, T-shirt and muck boots. When I arrived at the dairy, my assistant, Eddie, said there was a cow locked in the headlocks that I better check for a calf. I grabbed a couple arm sleeves and put my arm in the cow. Instantly the cow blew out 5 gallons of urine and fluids right inside my boots. I had been thinking about making my oldest pair of bibs into bib shorts, but now I have abandoned that idea completely. The cow had twin Angus cross calves in case you are wondering.
    A few days ago, I was wearing my bibs when Rita’s dad, Tom Albrecht, stopped by to help us run the field cultivator. Tom took one look at me and proceeded to tell his bib story.     
    Apparently when he was growing up, most farmers wore denim bibs for farm work. However, when there was an important social event like a school program or Christmas party, those same farmers dressed up by wearing their hickory striped railroad bibs with a dress collar shirt underneath and a tie tucked inside the bib front. It is a good thing I have not gotten my railroad bibs full of grease from farm work. They are ready to party.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.