I started Tuesday morning like every morning; a scoop of Metamucil in
water, stir vigorously then swallow. This morning was like few
however in that it was two-trip Tuesday.
I was up about two-thirty in the morning. I had planned a trip to
Princeton, Minnesota to pick-up a small fertilizer spreader for my
Brutus. A Brutus is a UTV-very similar to a Polaris Ranger. I had
packed a few small meals and snacks for the trip and programmed the
coffee maker so I would have “acrid-black-liquid-to-go” at my
I am always suspicious of other drivers who share the road with me in
the early morning hours. I drive through many small towns and no one
is awake, not even convenience stores. I always wonder why that one
car is skulking about in the dark. I don’t skulk but I am on the road
in the early hours so perhaps they also find me suspicious.
I purchased the fertilizer spreader form a young man who had just
come back to the world after fighting cancer for about five years. He
was nice but we spoke for only a bit as I had to get on the road and
I got home about twelve hours after I started the trip and prepared
for the second half of two-trip Tuesday. I also took a fifteen minute
nap with Magoo.
An eclectic group of tourists met at Oakland Park for the Pennington
Soil and Water Conservation District Project Tour. I am a supervisor
for the SWCD and got an invite for that reason only and not the fact
the tour’s organizer and I share a last name.
We made thirteen stops that night at projects whose purpose is to
keep your water clean. These are all projects that reduce sediment
and fertilizer in water. Sometimes we use strips of grass around the
outer edge of farm fields to grab sediment or fertilizer run-off as
it attempts to enter waterways. In other cases, we pile sharp rock
into the bank of waterways so the motion of the water doesn’t erode
the sidewalls. Other times, we use culverts to control the tempo and
other destructive habits of ditch water as it enters streams or
The project included the Ralph Engelstad Arena rain garden. This is
an attempt to reduce erosion, run-off and some minor urban flooding
in a facility that sees a lot of people. It is public place and so is
an excellent chance to see a project and take the time to see exactly
what several agencies have worked together to accomplish.
Part of our trip also included a ride through the country to see some
excellent tree planting projects. Planting trees reduces erosion,
serve as natural snow fence and just look really nice. It seems
lately that trees have been replaced with piles of dead trees. I
guess it looked like progress when we had eight dollar corn but now
they just look like dead trees. I really enjoyed the rows of Red
Derosier and Poplars.
Two trip Tuesday ended about eighteen hours after it started. It was
a good day but ended like it began; a scoop of Metamucil, stir
vigorously and swallow.
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Letter to Dave
Here is a special night-time edition of Rural Reflections Radio. It is titled Wilson’s Traveling Sprinkler
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Full Circle
My last month has been spent ascending and descending a ladder, Dave.
I have assigned myself the task of removing all wooden siding from my
shop, replacing it with oriented strand board (OSB) and then covering
it will steel. It seems to me that if I could just stay on the
ladder and work, the task would be soon complete. As it is, I have to
descend to cut boards or retrieve a fallen hammer then face a fear of
heights that creates great tension when I return to the ladder for my
ascent. After about three weeks, I have now removed all siding,
covered the structure in OSB and finally wrapped the structure in
Tyvek. I think my greatest satisfaction came when the truck arrived
yesterday to remove the demolition dumpster. We are now ready for
I mentioned my fear of heights, Dave. I also fear water and the
drowning that is always only six feet away whenever water is present.
Now if you fear water, you can learn to swim and that should
alleviate the fear. So if I fear heights, should I learn how to fly?
I would suggest that both fear of heights and water are distant
cousins however they both have more to do with human frailty than the
human ability to exist in either medium. It is a comfort that
although I fear the sky and fear the water, I do not fear what lies
Dave, I read that people have a 1 in 11.5 million chance of being
attacked by a shark. They also have a 1 in 24 million chance of being
killed in an amusement park ride. I’m not great at math percentages
however if you crunch these numbers it either means SeaWorld is
incredibly safe or incredibly dangerous. When it comes to worthless
bits of contemplation, Elmer Crump ain’t got nuthin’ on me.
On the agriculture front, harvest seems to me much like football
practice. You prepare both combines and young men over several days
in August for just a few days of performance. In any event, both will
soon take the field. I’ve get some of Steve’s cattle at my place this
year and they’ve done well. The only problem has been a few incidents
of foot rot although I understand it is pretty common this year.
Steve just brought a nice-looking little bull over last week so love
is definitely in the air. The cows still have little calves with
them which should spell r-e-s-p-o-n-s-i-b-i-l-i-t-y, however the bull
doesn’t seem to connect the dots. I suspect every cow will settle
although to say any more of the matter would cause me to blush.
A note for those reading over your shoulder this morning, Dave; Good
Old Days is on this week-end in Viking. (vikingmn.com) It’s always a good show and
the parade starts Saturday morning at eleven. Tell everyone I know
in Carrington hello.
I believe we are changing here on the farm. I am boarding some of my brother Steve’s cattle this year as the price of steers was so high this spring and remains high. I suspect the low corn prices will keep cattle prices where they are for the near future but where this is much to gain there is also much to lose. The last decade of agriculture has gained a lot, things might be ripe for an unfortunate change.
I have said for the last few years that we were prime for a farm crisis. We are not there now but I can see it from where I sit. The current conditions remind me so much of the late seventies. High commodity prices, followed by skyrocketing land prices, followed by falling commodity prices were the course of the day back then. As people ran out of money, they needed operating loans which by then came with very high interest rates. Many sources of credit made people refinance everything to receive an operating loan and so farmers ended up with all of their debt at very high interest rates.
The final blow came with the USSR’s 1979 attempt to overtake Afghanistan which resulted in the United States refusing to sell the USSR food. Commodity prices really took a tumble which, coupled with highly-leveraged farmers at high interest, began the farm crisis. Today farmers have more collateral and enjoy much lower interest rates however there is the whiff of higher interest rates in the near future and trouble in the Ukraine.
This morning I heard that Russia has decided not to import commodities from the United States as reply to the economic restraints we’ve placed on them. I heard one person say that this will have little effect on current prices although he was the same person who said land prices wouldn’t fall even if commodities took a downturn. It seems like one more piece of a scary agricultural puzzle. On most of the agriculture shows I watch, the meteorologist has become a cheerleader to constantly remind people that dry conditions could limit harvest and raise prices. Any cheer is soon replaced by the eerie quiet of sobering news from the guest commodity broker who talks about tactical retreat more than anything else
I noticed tons of new equipment over the last few years. It is good to invest in your business in the good times and enjoy the tax benefits of such investment. It is a human problem that when we have money we feel the need to spend it. It is a farmers problem that when he spends money on equipment he doesn’t need, he then follows this poor investment of money by poorly investing time to create a reason for the equipment instead of just admitting the mistake and selling the excess property. Good or bad, it’s all overhead which is tough to carry when prices go south.
I bet you came to read my column for a little cheer this morning. I probably disappointed you, of that I am sorry. The truth is a bitter pill but the sooner swallowed the sooner it can be of some help. If you doubt my opinion, and that is all it is, then go talk to a farmer who in the prime of his life, lived through the last farm crisis. I am 48 and remember much of the crisis; however such a person would have lived it. They would want nothing of it again. Also, if your first thought is to say, “well, everything is cyclical” then I would be the first to agree. The crisis isn’t in knowing agriculture is cyclical, the crisis is found in knowing when it has come full circle.
I collect old stuff; mostly because it reminds me of my youth.
Sometimes, my collections begin because the focus of the collection
is just so darn cool. I recently began a collection because of the
I like mechanical things. I like to understand what I use in my daily
life and so many things are now computerized and beyond my
comprehension. Mechanical things can be taken apart and understood
one system at a time which is comforting to me.
The “Automatic Traveling Sprinkler” was born in 1930 from the mind of
John Wilson. Wilson was the engineer, and custodian, who invented a
small tractor that was driven by water as it sprinkled the lawn.
Wilson used the invention to water the lawn at the high school where
he worked as a janitor. The tractor was made with a large convex
front tire which straddled a garden hose and would follow any path
laid out by the placement of the hose. The “Wilson Automotive
Sprinkler Company” planned a production start in North Platte,
Nebraska sometime in the forties but World War Two needed most of the
nation’s metal so production could not begin in earnest. John Wilson
died in 1946. A company named National Manufacturing picked up
Wilson’s patent after it expired in 1960 and has since made a
sprinkler similar to Wilson’s creation.
I got my traveling sprinkler from an internet auction site. I have
wanted one of these traveling sprinklers for years but they are often
expensive. The reason for the expense has many facets. First off,
there are collectors who want to add traveling sprinklers to their
collection. Secondly, the company is still in existence and making
the sprinklers and parts so these sprinklers are still useable.
Thirdly, the sprinklers are about 32 pounds of steel and toughness so
they are worth more than the lighter plastic versions which are sold
currently. I feel I paid about the right money for mine which made me
Now about that coolness factor; this little traveling sprinkler looks
like an old steam tractor or maybe a Rumely Oil Pull. I like the
chunkiness of the main structure and the unflinching use of steel and
heft in a time when the cost of shipping didn’t drive every decision.
This little sprinkler was made to last and give years of service. I
would guess it was built more for the urban resident than for rural
families as most people on the farm probably focused more on crop
production than their lawn. However the shape, form and design remind
me of a tractor made to be delivered to a farm with a requirement for
My particular model is the A-5 which appears to be the base model.
It is currently advertised as the perfect size for the average
homeowner however I just bought it for show. I may test it but only
for my own curiosity. I didn’t purchase Wilson’s automatic sprinkler
to increase our lawn’s rate of growth; it just makes me feel good to
look at it.
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, The Fair
I thought the county fair was probably on the way out back in the late
eighties. It seemed like most facilities were pretty worn out and
less and less people farmed which meant less exhibits. I think the
fair and the people who attend fairs have rediscovered they need each
In the early seventies, the fair was everything. One summer, I only
left the farm three times except for the fair so for me it was
socially huge. We always brought cattle to show so we had to make a
trip to the Marshall County Fair in Warren in the morning and at
night. The cattle were our 4-H project and part of the project was to
make sure the animal was properly taken care of at all times. We
would come to Warren early in the morning and that same night after
evening cow milking. Some of the animals were not as well-attended so
we would water them also. Yeah, if you were one of the idiots who
watered your cattle once a day while at the fair and were amazed that
they lived, it wasn’t magic-it was us.
At night, my mom and dad gave me a lot of money to walk the midway
with Ken Krohn and enjoy some rides. It was really a blast. Dad
always said it was the only recreation we got all summer so all of
their children enjoyed pretty free rein at the fair. The downside of
the fair was that I could see the end of summer and the confines of
school were only a few weeks away.
The fair started to look a little down as people found more mobility
and extra money. Mobility meant you could go anywhere for
entertainment and money sent more people to area lakes. Less people
were farming and therefore worked in town. This meant they had less
interest in farming and more discretionary money, and more time, to
enjoy themselves. I think maybe the fair wasn’t enough for these
folks and the fair suffered.
We are now a people bombarded with technology and options. We have
used both of these resources to complicate our lives to the point we
crave simplicity and a more simple life in which many grew up. There
is one quick way to find that life and it is at the fair. The fair
connects people to the most basic element in life-food. We can see
the animals that were used to operate farms, animals that were raised
for food and the crops that we all depend on for food an even fuel.
It is nice to go somewhere that reminds us of what we need. It also
reminds us that all of the other stuff we have is just stuff and not
needed. The fair is a place where we realize what we really need and
from where we originated. The fair and people need each other, the
fair really has a place in the summer.
If you went to the fair, I hope you had a good time. If you plan a
trip soon, please slow down through the exhibits of food, baked goods
and animals. They are examples of the simple things which you really
need. Oh yeah, if you see animals that aren’t watered regularly, go
to the fair board office and let them know. The fair can be a magical
place; however magic doesn’t water the cattle.
I’ve said my columns are sometimes well-planned meals and sometimes
hastily-prepared hotdish. I hope you like hotdish.
First off, the benefit for my brother, Steve Nelson, went great. The
benefit was held last Sunday at the Viking school. I have attended
several epic intramural basketball clashes between the Viking
Trotters and the Newfolden Dragons at this same elementary gymnasium
and attendance for these matches would not even come close to the
number who came to support Steve. Small towns may be small in size
but massive in heart. I think one incredible fact of the benefit is
that fully 1/3 of the class of 1975 came to support their one of
their own. My unofficial estimate is that we served sloppy joes to
approximately 550 people. We are so thankful to those who gave
support to this benefit-words fall short.
The second item I plan throw into the mix is a recent purchase. I
walked into Quality Farm Supply the other day and was offered a new
cattle gadget. I like gadgets but can typically resist them but when
you justify the gadget with application to cattle, my resistance is
futile. The “Vetgun” is basically a paintball gun that shoots
extra-large balls of insecticide at your cattle. The insecticide
lasts about 3-6 weeks and leaves a colored dot to show which animals
are protected. It delivers the insecticide ball at fairly slow speed
as not to hurt the animal from a distance of 15-30 feet. I think most
cattle people hate handling their animals because it is stressful for
everyone-even if you have a good corral. With the “Vetgun,” I can
just wander amongst the cattle and deliver 3-6 weeks of fly
resistance. Plus, and let’s be honest about this, it’s kind of fun.
I have spent the last several years working toward a goal of comfort
for my cattle. Comfortable cattle are more productive however I would
want them comfortable whether it makes money or not. This week my
efforts should really pay-off. A few years back, we installed a water
delivery system that provides cold water at a minimal walking
distance. Last winter, I built portable shade structures so that our
cattle could stay on pasture during the summer’s heat yet stay
comfortable. Our use of fly predators has greatly reduced horn flies
and my hope is that the use of my “Vetgun” will be a further
reduction in the insects that bother cattle. As summer returns with
heat and humidity, you might feel it is just plain hot. I hope that I
will bask in the warmth of happy cows and a plan that has truly
My words were pretty simple fare this week; I like to keep my columns
easy to digest in this heat. They’ll probably go down a little
easier than those corn dogs and jalapeno poppers from the fair.