As I look back on all the jobs I had growing up, I realize that each one, regardless of how miserable they might have been at the time, taught me something.
Probably the most rewarding job in terms of discipline, responsibility, challenging physical work and appreciation for all things outdoor related came the summer of my senior year when I was hired on the summer crew for the USU Dairy Farm, originally located along 800 East in North Logan. Two of my younger brothers also worked there, which was an added bonus when I needed to leave work early for a date and could bribe them to take my irrigation turn or finishing the last load of hay.
Getting to work before the sun was up was difficult at first, but I learned to enjoy the morning sounds of the farm as the animals and the activity associated with their care ushered in the sunrise. Our boss was a great guy who worked hard and played hard. He taught us how to take care of and service the equipment, use the diesel fuel pumps, drive the assortment of tractors, trucks and front loaders, and he exhibited a huge amount of patience as we struggled.
Our first task at the beginning of summer was getting the water turned in from the canal and channeled to where it needed to be. We didn’t have cell phones or radios, so one of us would drive the truck (stick shift) to the head gate at the canal and as soon as it was open would hurry and drive the truck back along the ditch to let the other guys know when to open their head gates. For the rest of the summer we tended to several hand lines and some wheel lines located at the “drainage farm” west of Logan at the end of 1800 North.
It was there that we showed up extra early one morning to shoot a skunk that had been burrowing in the haystacks. Not knowing what to do with the carcass, we grabbed a pitchfork and tossed it up on top of the haystack, which later led to a “discussion” with the boss when it came time to move the hay.
The first crop of hay was always the heaviest, and the first summer I worked there we stacked all the hay bales on flat bed trucks in the field using a side elevator and then drove them to the hay barns and unloaded them with an elevator from the truck to the sheds. The higher in the shed we went, the more challenging it was to get the bales straight and stacked correctly. The very top of the barn was the worst place to be on the stack — clouds of hay dust sticking everywhere down our sweaty shirts and faces — and when the bales started stacking up, they’d often buck off the elevator, crashing to the ground below, which produced howls of laughter from the guys loading and heated exchanges from the guys in “the hole” on the stack.
Our fingers had not yet produced the thick callouses that would appear by summer’s end, so first crop was always a brutal transition time for our hands.
Eventually the dairy would purchase a bale wagon that collected the bales in the field before they were driven to the farm. The advantage was that our boss could collect the bales much faster than the old method; the disadvantage being we had to get all the hay bales he dumped sorted and stacked before he arrived with the next load. We all swore we could hear him laughing as he rounded the corner to dump another stack before we got finished. It became a game to him, and us too I suppose, as we played out the modern version of John Henry vs. the steam drill.
There were several large fields of corn that we were in charge of during the summer. I remember that after the plants were all about 6-8 inches tall, I was assigned the task of fertilizing them. Our boss had just put a new guide wheel on the fertilizer and warned me, “Be careful on the tractor going around that north side of the ditch. If you’re not watching you’ll hit that utility pole.”
Well, the first time around I hit the pole. The boss covered his face as I sheepishly pulled back into the shop five minutes after leaving. He never berated or yelled at me, just showed me how it needed to be repaired. I’ll always remember that conversation and how differently it COULD have played out.
Summer was filled with tending corn fields as we started and monitored hundreds of siphon tubes from ditch to furrows. We watered, cut, baled and stacked hay at the farms in North Logan, Richmond and Wellsville, repaired fences, sprayed weeds, dug ditches and drove tractors back and forth over the corn silage in the pit until all the corn was chopped. This signaled the end of the summer as we went back to school.
Come to think of it, I believe our problems here in America (and the world) would diminish if each and every teenager was allowed the opportunity to work on a farm each summer during their high school years. Hey it worked for me. Just sayin’.
Chad Hawkes is a fifth grade teacher at North Park Elementary School. He can be reached by email at email@example.com