I would never have believed if you had told me as I was piloting that WD Allis Chalmers tractor down green rows of young Iowa corn plants that I would at this point in my life be acting as a executive director of a small-town chamber of commerce.
No way, I would have said. That thought wasn't ever close to being inside my head. But here I am - a long way from that steel tractor seat.
This time of year my office receives chamber of commerce brochures from around the state of Minnesota. They come in heavy boxes and when opened show glorious pictures of unique places in the north. Fast-flowing streams, rocky outcrops, big fish, kids playing in the sand along the shoreline are all featured.
Each of these colorful publications lists the business members of the community. The guides provide important information, such as where to go to get a hook out of your ear or what vet can pull the porcupine quills out of your wiener dog.
My years in this position have provided lots of interesting travelers as well. If you don't think there are a lot of people traveling through your small town, stop by and take a look at the guest registers on the desk. You'll find signatures from Soho to Singapore.
Just last year we had folks stop by from New Zealand, Brazil, Norway, Finland, Scotland and Greece, just to list a few. Each came with questions about how we somehow survive up here in the upper regions of the U.S., where we are evidently known to have permafrost all year long.
Not so, I tell them.
Our information center is peppered with the remnants of this part of Minnesota's history. On our walls hang bits and pieces of the collective history of this area. From one spot in the room you will see Native American headdresses, railroad signal lights, buck saws, ice skates bolted to the soles of farm work boots, cross country skis and cream cans. One can almost hear the kids squealing as they power down a steep hill on the Flexible Flyer sled that hangs on the wall.
Fish are also featured at the chamber center. We have a giant walleye and an oversized northern pike. A story goes along with the pike. It seems the man and his wife were spearing on a nearby lake when the giant pike appeared in the hole. The spear was thrown, and soon the fish was thrashing toward the surface.
The man told his wife, "Either you or this fish will have to leave the house!" The fish is proudly displayed on a wall here as a testament to who left the house.
I've also found that some of the talents I grew up with in regard to getting along with your neighbors come in handy in a place like a chamber of commerce. When you have many members, you have many ways of looking at things. Growing up on a farm like I did, you sought out advice at about every turn. Sometimes listening proved to be a real asset.
The same goes on here when I get comments and gentle guidance from my members. I've learned to listen very closely.
These days, which offer giant regional centers just about everywhere, it has become challenging for some small towns to harbor a chamber. The business community of yesterday has changed drastically. Services and products that used to be offered in almost every small town are now no longer in existence or have had to change channels.
Just like farming, most operations have had to become larger to survive. Piloting that WD Allis Chalmers with a two-row cultivator attached is a lot different from the machinery we see crossing the huge fields today.
Chambers of commerce are no different. The "hole in the wall" chambers of commerce of the past that used to sit at the back of some store have become larger and are offering more services than ever before.
But the public still likes to stop at chambers of commerce across the country to find out a little more about the territory they are visiting. And they never get tired of me telling them the story of the wife who had to leave the spearhouse to make room for the giant northern pike!
Back on that tractor seat, I would never have guessed I could tell a story like that.
See you next time. Okay?