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A 'Classic' Last Windrow: Remembering a farm helper

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I was following a silage wagon full of silage one day last week on my way home from work. The swirling corn leaves covered my pickup and it brought back a memory of a guy who used to cut the silage on our small farm. 

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His first name was Dick. Ours was a symbiotic relationship in which we both survived and got the crop in. The following Last Windrow was written some years ago remembering those silo filling days in northwest Iowa.

 Dick had his troubles

Dick was the kind of farmer who just never seemed to have any good luck. He farmed about a mile from our homestead and he and my dad shared tools, tractors, wagons and manual labor (mostly me). 

Dick was a tall, lanky gent who walked with a perpetual forward lean, the result of a chronic lower back condition. I remember his high, sunburned forehead and Dick had premature wrinkles etched across that forehead. Many of those wrinkles were caused, I believe, by Dick’s uncanny ability of walking into bad luck.

This time of year we would start cutting corn silage. Dick supplied a 880 Oliver tractor and a New Holland chopper and we supplied the hauling tractors, wagons and manpower.

I don’t remember a year that went by when Dick didn’t have a problem getting the show on the road. Either the wheel bearings would seize in his Oliver or the cows would chew through the silage blower belts or he would throw his back out after crawling underneath his cutter to replace a pulley that had fallen off.

I remember one year when everything had gone abnormally well for Dick. He steered his green Oliver 880 into our farmyard, pulling a brand new red and yellow New Holland chopper and a huge, self-unloading silage wagon. 

“I can’t believe everything is working so good!” Dick shouted out over the hum of his tractor. “Let’s go cut silage!”

I hooked onto the wagon and followed him to the cornfield over the hill. I noticed the ground was soft from the previous week’s rains, but it seemed firm enough to work. Dick pulled into two rows of tall, green Funk’s G and started the chopper.

It hummed like a finely tuned Timex and when Dick dropped the clutch, fresh silage started to spew from the high spout and into my waiting wagon. We must have traveled at least 200 yards before our first problem.

I had forgotten to inform Dick to watch out for the low hanging telephone wires that draped across this 40-acre piece. I thought of them just as the top of Dick’s chopper spout hooked the lower wire and even though I yelled above the din, he didn’t hear me and he continued until the wires stretched to their limit and popped with a sound not unlike the shot from a high powered deer rifle. 

I was sitting still as Dick passed me with his outfit and covered me with green, sticky corn silage. “Dang it!” I heard him shout as he cut the motor. Before we hit the end of the row, we managed to bury the wagon in the soft turf. It was a bad omen.

Before we finished that year, Dick had managed to burn out the tractor’s clutch; the generator had fallen off his tractor’s engine; he put a steel fence post through the chopper; his brother, Larry, turned too short, ran into a ditch and sprained the running gears of two wagons; and I think half of Dick’s milk cows developed mastitis from being milked on an irregular basis. 

In return for Dick’s silage cutting help, my dad was helping him to raise his silo unloader to the top of his 60-foot silo that same year. Dick was standing down below while my Dad was clinging to the outside door about 40 feet up, watching inside as the unloader slowly rose to the top of the silo. 

The cable cracked and popped and just as my dad pulled his head out of the silo to let Dick know it sounded dangerous. The cable broke, the thousand-pound unloader plunged to the bottom of the silo, whizzing past the door through which my dad’s head had just been drawn back. The loader lay in pieces at the bottom of the silo and my dad went home and checked his life insurance. 

Dick passed some years ago and I hope he’s found more peace than he had here on earth. He finally quit farming and that had to improve his luck. He was a good friend, a good neighbor and someone you had to stay awake when in his presence.

I remembered Dick that day last week as the corn silage leaves filtered down across the road in front of my pickup. 

See you next time. Okay?

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