This is a guest post from my good friend, James Miller. James grew up on a hog and dairy farm near Wiota, Wisconsin.
James authors the blog Quantum Devices Inc.
Comment and let James know what you think of his Dad’s ingenuity.
“How much do you want for the radiator out of the old Chevelle?”
This was my Dad, so I’d like to be able to say that I told him he could just have it. After all, he was the man who milked cows twice a day, every day, to feed and raise us. He was also the man who paid the $326 for the speeding ticket when I was pulled over for doing 96 miles and hour in the family Bonneville.
I’d like to tell you that I just gave it to him, but I was a kid and went more like:
“How’s twenty bucks sound?”
I never even bothered to ask why he wanted it.
The next day I noticed that there was a section of garden hose strung from the old well to somewhere down in the basement of the house. Another long section of hose ran back out of the basement into a dry dusty field.
I walked out into the field and saw the hose had been punctured so that, instead of water gushing out the threaded brass end of the hose, it trickled out evenly all along it’s length.
Dad was using the water from the old well to irrigate the field.
I walked back to where the hoses entered the basement and flipped on the cobweb covered ceramic light switch. I followed the two hoses down the steep and narrow concrete steps. They led to the furnace where they both connected to the old radiator. The radiator was temporarily fastened to the air intake of the furnace. The furnace’s blower was running, drawing air in past the fins of the radiator and distributing the cold air though the house.
Dad had made a poor man’s version of air conditioning.
Here were the problems Dad had faced:
It was a particularly hot, dry summer, and it was difficult for mom to cook large “meat and potatoes” meals for the field help in the sweltering kitchen.
There was the even larger problem of no rain, which besides making it difficult to grow the crops, could also lead to wind erosion of the top soil.
Some people may have spent some money on a window air conditioner, or even converted the furnace over to central air. Some may have even paid someone to come in and irrigate the field.
But Dad, like most good farmers, was both thrifty and clever. I think that all those who tend to land and cattle have to have a certain level of farmer ingenuity that, in its higher moments, borders on genius.
So what is Farmer Genius?
Farmer Genius doesn’t check out a library book, know how to play an instrument, or the difference between Shakespeare and Voltaire. Since animals can’t read, Farmer Genius doesn’t really concern itself with spelling. I remember mom pointing out an ice cream bucket in the machine shed, saying “Look at that bucket of ‘NIALS’” over there.
Farmer Genius doesn’t know what happens when two vowels go walking.
Instead, Farmer Genius tends to be one of physicality and inherent understanding of math and physics, where one can mentally work out the right answer but not be able to prove with paper and pencil. Farmer Genius understands how a discarded shopping bag blowing across a field can frighten cattle into running through fences. Farmer genius knows whether an engine is running rich or lean by the smell of the exhaust. Farmer Genius doesn’t pay too much attention to the labels given to “screwdriver” and “hammer”; but instead sees everything and anything can be part of his toolbox.
During calving, Farmer Genius knows the moment when you need to tie the twine to the calf’s front legs to assist in pulling it from the mother; and do it in a manner that causes no harm to the calf or the cow.
The Farmer has a strict sense of right and wrong, but Genius is the part that always chooses to do right.
Dad’s Farmer Genius solved the problems a hot summer presented by using only what was on hand; an old well, some garden hoses, and a kid who would give up a radiator for twenty bucks.
This article is wonderful. Jim, your father would be more than proud of you. Thanks.