The May project

conex box onlineMay is my high-holy month for projects. If I can complete each project I have planned in the month of May, I can spend the summer completing less-pressing, more-enjoyable tasks. This requires a dedication that borders on religious fervor. I really don’t want to discuss the tunnel vision I apply to May tasks, however I want to explain the making of a May task.


Sometimes, a project is built upon the failure of a separate, earlier project. When we installed underground water to the cattle pasture, we began with a compromise. One of the underground pipes which supplied the water was under a little shed and had never been buried deep enough to avoid frost. I covered this pipe with a sheet of foam insulation and kept it heated all winter long. This practice is not sustainable. I don’t do UN-sustainable. In order to replace the pipe, I need to remove the building and concrete pad. The building contains one set of cattle fence energizers which I must move somewhere new. This is wherein the project begins.


I need electricity to power fence energizers. I did have one spot near the fence with a weatherproof electric service. The whole set-up was pretty old though and needed a little updating. I always try to build anything in the same way I’ve seen municipalities build similar projects, only cheaper. I have seen many green electrical boxes in town and they are usually mounted on top of a large poured concrete foundation. In my case, I started by building a box of treated wood around the weatherproof electric box which I had mounted on a new treated post. I then filled the box with some class five gravel that was already on-site. I filled the box within four inches of the top edge then filled the last four inches with concrete.


Last winter I drove to Loretto, Minnesota. I picked up some auction items, one of which was a green, electrical box which the city of Delano had removed from service. That large, green electrical box now sits on top of the concrete pad which occupies the top four inches of my gravel-filled box. I had placed earth anchors into the gravel before I covered it with concrete. It was these anchors I used to tie the electrical box to the concrete pad.


I believe that anything that travels underground should travel within black water pipe. Before I filled that treated wood box with gravel or concrete, I placed black water pipe under the box and up into the middle space of the box. After I filled the box with gravel and concrete, I still had the pipe to form an underground passage from the interior of the electrical box. I used this underground tunnel to pass the insulated wire I use to connect the fence energizer to the fence line. I used to always say you don’t own a post hole or a trench unless you dig it by hand however I now rent a trencher for most projects.


My electrical box/fence energizer project cost me less than $200 dollars, not including at whatever level my labor is valued. It allows me to replace a shed that was impeding progress on a separate project and which only served a summer home to a family of wasps. As I sigh relief at completion of this project, I can only think of what project is next. I mean, it is May.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, A tractor habit

A tractor habit

barnIt’s tough to justify some habits. One aspect of my personality which could be diagnosed as a habit would be my love of old tractors. I am not alone and would like to talk about my habit this week.


First off, I want to be honest. I don’t really like working on old tractors. I like fuel injection and electronic ignition; the aspect of old tractors which I enjoy is style. Any tractor has style. A well-designed tractor enjoys style which is timeless. If I am going to be in the shop then I would prefer building something out of wood. My feeling for old tractors probably begins and ends at my eyeballs because I don’t like to work on them and have only found a few that I truly enjoy driving. We all get older every day and seeing a tractor from my youth in the same condition as it currently displays in my memory, brings me back to youth. I would never trade my 49 year-old brain for the model I carried in my youth but I would trade bodies at the drop of a hat.

Here is my tractor history; (2) Farmall M’s, a 930 Case, an International Harvester 1256, (3) Belarus tractors (actually two but I purchased the same one twice,) a Farmall 460 and a little Massey Ferguson. Both Farmall M’s, the 930 Case, the 460 Farmall and 1256 International could be seen as collectible however none of them were particularly precious. A few old tractors are collectible in any shape however most tractors have to be in good or great shape to demand high money.

One of my Farmall M’s belonged to my dad so that was special. I never did much with the M other than to switch it over to a 12 volt starter. I moved it from shed to shed for about two years and really became tired of maintaining the M. Anytime you collect something, you find out it takes time and space. These are both precious commodities and, although I hated to do it, I sold that old M to a young man from Fertile about eight years ago. He was nice; I hope he still has the tractor.

The older tractors from before the sixties and seventies seem to have stagnated a bit. Real nice older models still bring exceptional money but there doesn’t seem to be to be as high a demand for parts. Poorer condition tractors, even if they run, don’t seem to get the same prices they once garnered. The latest collection trend is the muscle tractor.

“Muscle tractors” were so named as the period in which these tractors were produced is similar to the period in which “muscle cars” were produced. It was a time before OPEC shut oil the oil spigot and so the tractors were heavy with big engines. There was technology to increase traction in these times however plain old weight still played a big part. These were big luxurious tractors such as the John Deere 6030, the International Harvester 1456 or the Allis Chalmers 220. This is only a tiny sample list.

I don’t own a tractor right now however I would hate to think that I will never own another. I think the next tractor I purchase will have to be field-ready and parade-optional. I believe I will approach the purchase in the same systematic way in which I purchase a vehicle. Perhaps I can even enlist my brother Darrel (or Dave?)to help inspect any potential muscle tractor prior to purchase. It is a prospect that is exciting even to consider. I have spent most of the last few years staring at a 1/8 scale International Harvester 706 toy tractor when I visit the hardware Hank store in  town. Maybe it’s time to jump into the sand box again.

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Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, A few things

A few things

barnI thought this week about my expectations of life. I then considered what my dad’s expectations were when he was my age. I think my dad expected his family to love him and respect him. I think he expected to attend church on Sunday and work hard every day. I think life was a surprise and that life was sweet because his expectations were simple. A good day was when mom brought home fresh strawberries to which dad would add a little whole cream and some sugar. I think a nice little surprise like this goes by without notice too often today. This lack of attention due to high expectations leaves people with a lack of satisfaction.

This next paragraph is partly personal; however it is my only way to communicate. I recently received a sum of money at my workplace from an anonymous donor. The wish for this money was that it be used to help those in times of financial need. It was a substantial amount of money and it arrived at my workplace so I have enlisted my employer to help administrate the process. I just wanted the anonymous donor to know that we did receive the money, we are being careful with it and we are using formal channels to do good things with their donation.

I bet those farmers who planted their wheat into dry, cold ground are smiling right now. A few weeks ago, even the most optimistic expectation had lost its shine due to dry conditions. Farmers must have the courage of conviction as they utilized early planting to make use of whatever subsoil moisture existed for germination. This week’s timely rain has compounded those efforts and I have seen a fair amount of wheat already above ground. It is a tremendous outlay of money, time and faith to plant a field to which the outcome will remain unknown for months. I don’t gamble and I don’t grain farm but if I had to do one or the other, I think I would gamble.

I will soon have cattle. I am custom-grazing a few cow/calf pairs this year for some young men who have a small herd just right for our little farm. I am preparing a nice little home for the cattle and will put out the invite as soon as the grass is tall enough to sustain itself during grazing. I have the portable shade structures ready to go and the fence survived with no damage this winter. We’ll see how much of the underground water system was eaten by the gophers even though my good friend, Travis, has established a gopher trap line on our farm. I am confident in his abilities to de-populate our farm of these overly-fanged beasts but it only takes one to chew open a water line. I can take comfort in the fact that I have become skilled at pipe repair. Animals make a farm come alive and things have been kind of peaceful for the last several months-cattle will solve that problem.

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Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Letter to Dave

Letter to Dave

barnDear Dave,


I told you about the recent installation of the cupola I built this winter. I included an 8 watt bulb as part of the cupola and it was worth the effort to wire and install it. The little bulb provides enough light so it can be seen from the gravel road and it provides a nice little glow each evening. I hope you come by some time to see it.

Our nephew, Jamie, and I went for an airplane ride the other day, Dave. I have wanted to fly since I was little and thought perhaps I would take flight lessons. It was a good flight and we saw; our home, Jamie’s home and Viking from the air. You truly have not seen Viking until you’ve seen it from the air-simply breathtaking. Anyway, Jamie took to flight very well but I found it neither scary nor exhilarating. I guess my idea of flight would have been way slower and low enough to see deer. It’s always good to pursue a dream long enough to see if you want to make it reality. In the case of flight, it will remain a dream for now-perhaps not so often dreamt.

I am still unsure of how I will build the no-till drill for my ATV, Dave. It is almost better when I am confused because when I make a decision on a project it usually costs a fair amount of blood and treasure; effort being the blood. I see most of my projects as three years plans; conception, gathering of resources, the build, the re-build and the final build. The last few months are typically the worst as I am tired of the project and tired of spending money. I need to gloat about a finished project just to have enough internal juice to have the will to take on another project. Anyway, the no-till drill will be a winter project or it may sail off with my dream of flight.

Farmers are hitting the fields around here, Dave. I’m sure your farmers are busy out in Carrington too. I recently heard of a farmer attempting to dig out a large rock only to find frost not far below the surface. It’s good to remember that planting is still fairly early, it helps to avoid stress. I recently used the Ag PhD application on my smart phone to take soil samples. I used my phone to map my pasture paddocks after which the Ag Phd app set the points from which I gathered the samples. I then synchronized the information from my phone to my laptop and then created an account that was tied to the sample I’d recently dug. I printed out an order sheet and included it with the samples then shipped them to the laboratory. When the samples arrive, they will test my soil and give me recommendations in just a few days. I once waited 4 months for this same service locally so I am ready to be spoiled.

Bruce Jenner recently announced he was going to become a woman, Dave. The national news called this a “historic” interview. Really!? The Gettysburg Address and D-Day were historic events; “the Bruce Jenner interview we’ve all been waiting for” has zero historic importance. Our national news treats us like mushrooms; they feed is bull and keep us in the dark. After the most recent revelation from Kanye West or the latest picture of the Kardashians, it is very easy to hide real news. Our national media should be a political watchdog however their selective reporting makes the national media a shaper of politics. Even the worst blunders by select lawmakers and the executive branch rarely make more than a 24 hour news cycle. Our media is there to keep our politicians honest, not to report the words of contemporary court jesters. They are not there to be our politicians’ cheerleaders, either. I am tired of being shown shiny things.

Well that got a little intense for a letter to you, Dave. Tell the wife and kinder hello.

Your little bro’

Rural Reflections Radio

barnHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Matt Bruggeman has left the building

Matt Bruggeman has left the building

barnI feel like something is missing at work. It isn’t so much a presence but rather a storage place of good characteristics which I admire. This week I want to talk about my friend, Matt Bruggeman.

Matt recently left the employment which we share. Matt had his reasons and they are his own, I just want to tell you about him because he is a person worthy of a little newspaper space.

I remember a quote about a baseball player, it went something like “when he was out there on the field, you just had the feeling like we could always win.” That’s what it was like to work with Matt, you just felt like no matter how ugly things got, his presence made you confident that things would just work out.

I know Matt and his family pretty well. I’ve always told Matt that while he may not be the “Chief” of his family, he is no doubt its “medicine man.” Matt doesn’t talk big or make proclamations, he finds solutions and uses his own hard work to make things right. He moves quietly and puts out fires in their infancy before they lose control.

Matt likes the music of “Enya.” I don’t know why he does or what it matters, but he likes it enough that I thought I should include the fact. I forgive you, Matt.

I think I will miss Matt at work mostly for the great conversations. Matt is a thoughtful person and his conversations show it. One of his greatest interests is sports and Matt helped re-spark my interest in the Vikings a few years back. Again I forgive you, Matt.

This is starting to sound too much like a eulogy. Matt left our workplace to go to Digi-Key. He will do well there as his positive attitude and friendly manner are infectious. He will also have a brand new audience for his stories. I like Matt’s stories, although they take a little time to build. When I tell a story, I hammer it out quick just in case the world ends in the next minute. Matt carefully fleshes out each story and will “digress” often as he remembers untold details. I have great memories of good times spent talking with Matt; all the while making full ones into empty ones. Matt was also good to help on our little farm and broke concrete with a hammer with the sort of conviction that eluded him when the cattle got a little too close.

I am always happy when a friend gets what he/she wants, even if that means I won’t see them as much. Matt has told me he will now have week-ends off so I will see him more often. Matt, I hope we see you and Angie during the summer, but even if we don’t, I still plan to trash that “Enya” cd.

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Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Project Cupola