Alan Guebert column agriculture agriculture view corn soybeans

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One of the jobs of my youth on the southern Illinois dairy farm was to scour fields of freshly cultivated corn or soybeans to find the cultivator’s parts – disc blades, brooms, even whole stalks – left behind. broken and invisible by my great uncle Honey, who bends iron. early in the day.

Honey was a skilled cultivator killer. The design of our Case cultivator was not the problem. The problem was, he was mounted in the back and Honey rarely looked back to see, well, anything like a cultivator, a silage chopper or even yesterday.

I never paid attention to research and after a while I got pretty good at reading the grower streaks – or, really, the lack of streaks – which hinted at which row I might find the missing pieces. Along the way, I often found other items like arrowheads, musket balls, and keys dropped by You Know Who.

Then, in the late 1970s, an acquaintance brought a metal detector to the farm to, as he explained, “see what we couldn’t see.” One afternoon in a field with the detector delivered several broken ½ inch cultivator bolts (no surprise), a handful of musket balls (whoa), and a wooden-handled adjustable wrench (missing) from a foot long.

Adjustable wrenches were Honey’s favorite tool as they allowed her to over-tighten each cultivator bolt and, if the need arose, a quick turn of the wrist transformed the tool into a hammer usable for “persuading.” any party hesitant in a certain level of submission.

A month ago, I returned to the fields of my youth with a more advanced metal detector than the one we used 40 years ago. My detector (I sold my bike and reinvested in a hobby with less risk of permanent injury) discerns between iron, aluminum, silver, nickel and copper.

My two days of detection, when purists insist on calling all searches, suggested we had grown more acres of aluminum beverage cans, T-poles, and wire than we had made of corn. , soybeans and alfalfa. The lost metal was more abundant than the clods of earth.

The most important metal parts were, unsurprisingly, broken cultivator bolts. There were so many, in fact, that when the detector said “Iron 4 inches +” deep, I quickly learned to see Uncle Honey, not a centuries-old French knife or a Native American ax head.

Then, during a slow mosey along a deep, dead furrow in a soybean field, the detector sounded “Iron” so loud and so long that I had to dig to see if, maybe, Honey. hadn’t buried the whole farmer.

Two shovelfuls of hard, dry clay uncovered a short length of round rusty steel about 1 inch in diameter. Ooh, the French flintlock maybe?

More shovelfuls of stickier, heavier okra revealed the rusty steel bar tilted so sharply downward that I couldn’t move it. Finally, several more minutes of sweaty digging told the story: The bar had an unnatural curvature – an unnatural curvature made with honey – about a foot from its steadily thickening shaft.

I knew from that turn that I had found the farm monster, a lever weighing over 20 pounds that everyone called the “railroad bar” because, with the right fulcrum, a person could move a railroad car with it.

How did he find himself plunged deep into the abyss of okra in the middle of this field?

When I asked my brothers this question, they all answered with the same two words: Uncle Honey.

Our best collective guess is that Honey probably used it to lift something – maybe a steel fence post – from the cultivator and when finished tossed it with the lever through the cultivator and took it down. forgotten for, oh, say, 38 years.

Why 38? Because the soft-spoken, machine-powered Honey joined the Heavenly Choir 38 years ago, so the lever was sent to her dark, okra purgatory before 1983.

Yet finding foolproof evidence of one’s earthly journey is now as reassuring as finding a musket ball or an arrowhead. They all talk to me but only Honey makes me smile.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly in the United States and Canada.


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