The Last Windrow: Such a simple device, but oh, so helpful

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It has no moving parts. No internet service. No instruction manual. No insurance is required to use it. It was a part of our farm and still a part of my later life.

A few weeks ago, a waterline split at my folks' former home. We rent out the cabin during the summer and this waterline was a key component to keep the renter from calling me at midnight letting me know that he and his wife had no water. The line needed to be fixed.

I arrived at the place with no tools in hand. I'd forgotten to bring anything resembling a shovel, so I ventured into my dad's fully filled but unsorted garage. There on the walls were the cinders of his life, sitting alongside the walls of the building. I spied what I needed hiding behind an old refrigerator. It would be the key to my success on that day.

The item I'm referring to is a long-nosed metal spade.

This tool that we had trucked up to Minnesota from Iowa many years ago has a family history. It was probably purchased somewhere in the 1930s and shows signs of use. The spade's metal is heavy like everything used to be before our toss away society was born. This tool was made to last.


The wooden handle was polished from the use of a hundred thousand or more gloved and calloused hands. I noticed that there was even a foot plate atop the spade to enable better foot control. That little addition was no doubt an innovation much sought after.

As I grabbed the spade from its hiding place, I remembered all the tasks that were its history. That spade had dug waterlines to our livestock. It had dug a channel that we used to bury electrical cable to our electric pump-jack that resided in the cow pasture. I had used the spade uncountable times as I dug to find a pocket gopher's cross-holes where I laid a trap in hopes of eliminating this pest of the alfalfa field. And, the tool had probably been used to start the digging of a grave in the pioneer cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried.

I remember my granddad grabbing the spade and calling to me as he headed for the potato patch in the spring, dragging the spade behind him.

"Time to put the spuds in!" he would call. "C'mon, you can help me dig the holes!"

Once in awhile the old spade was used to dig up angle worms for a fishing trip. I thought it earned its wages for that task. We dug the footings for our fallout shelter in the mid-'50s with that spade, keeping a wary eye to the sky to see if the Russians were sending us anything looking like a missile.

I don't remember the spade ever wearing a coat of paint. By the time I got totally acquainted with it, the blade shined like a new nickel from use. When we headed for the field to install a new fence line, the call was always made: "Grab the spade on your way out!" Post holes were started before the auger hit the ground.

I thought about all those things a few weeks ago when my fingers grasped the smooth wood handle. The spade cut through the sandy soil like a sharp knife and soon my trench revealed water spouting from the leaking pipe. A fix was made and no phone call was received from our renter that night.

With all the modern contraptions we have today, I see construction workers still using a common spade. There is no internet needed and no service manual is required. There are no grease Zerks to be found and you won't be paying an insurance premium on the tool.


Funny how such a simple device can mean so much. I like to think that old spade is a little like me. A bit of rust on the surface and the edge a bit dulled from wear, but still useful when needed. It's as simple as that.

See you next time. Okay? Stay safe!

John Wetrosky - Last Windrow.jpg

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