Carpenters vs Farmers

Duane, my friend and co-conspirator on a number of interesting endeavors, aka “projects” fancies himself to be something of a carpenter. I on the other hand see myself as a farmer. Essentially we have diverse opinions on how to proceed on projects. He says my farmer approach is going to drive him crazy. I don’t think that’s possible because I’m not a very good driver when it comes to things like that. The best I can do is to suggest some shortcuts.

The subject for this blog started on Tuesday. Let’s call it ” The new door project”. First a little pre-project history. What was formally known as the old garage (which never really served as a garage but as a repository for stuff I, a farmer, might use sometime in the future, became the Welcome Center. A carpenter would have simply categorized it all as junk and ordered a dumpster. I, being a farmer, chose the sort and pile method of disposal. Granted this did slow down the process a bit and resulted in things be relocated to other localities . However I can sleep at night knowing I have it if I need it providing I don’t forget where I hid it.

Anyway, Mrs Ed and Duane, who doesn’t care for sheet rocking, suggested we hire a real carpenter. Feebly protesting that carpenters cost money, I gave in, I guess sheet rocking can get a little technical if you can’t live with a few rough spots and cracks. Farmers can, carpenters can’t. I will concede the job got done on time and looks pretty good but I think I could have saved money through a sweat equity strategy but as we farmers say, “what is done is done”!

The door project was the last piece of the puzzle. The problem needing to be addressed was a too narrow entry door to allow the comfortable passage of wheel chairs. Squeezing the chair shut with the person still in it isn’t an ADA approved method. Neither is taking a run at it. At this point the project was about to catapult into the “major” category.

Now you need to understand Mrs Ed doesn’t mind if I take on the minor projects using my farmer skills. Actually they usually get done under the radar. “Just do it ” I say. Saves me a lot of time thinking of rational answers to questions she might have like to “are you sure you know what your doing”? “how much will it cost or isn’t that a little crooked” ? I am a firm believer in trim and paint to deal with the minor imperfections. Besides custom farmer built projects have unique charm sometimes referred to on TV reality shows as rustic folk art. I believe perfection is secondary to functionality and is generally over rated.

I know a projects “gone major ” when I announce I am going to tackle it myself and a concerned looking Mrs Ed ‘s immediate response is “I think you better call Duane”. That’s fine if that’s what it takes to get her approval however the project instantly gets much more complex.

Let me explain the differences between carpenters and farmers. Carpenters spend a lot of time thinking about a project ahead of time. Time conscience farmers wait until the situation really becomes a problem before springing into action. Take for example the gate to the cow pasture is starting to sag. A carpenter would say I think you should fix that before the cows get out. A farmer would round up the cows before fixing the gate to make sure it served its total life.

A carpenter studies a project, makes a material list, goes to the lumber yard, consults with a professional lumber guy, before ordering the material and having it delivered to the job site sometimes days in advance of when the project actually starts. A farmer on the other hand sees a project and leaps into action. He makes a list of stuff he might need and heads for the lumber yard. He buys what is on the list plus a few extra pieces just in case he runs short. If he should run short he can always jump in his truck and head to town. He had to go in anyway because he needed to pick up stuff on his updated list.

A carpenter uses a pneumatically powered nail gun with specifically sized and strategically placed nails. A farmer uses a claw hammer unless he can’t remember where he used it last. In that case he uses a ball peen hammer unless the handle is still cracked from the time before last when it broke fixing some stubborn piece of machinery. In a pinch he can use the flat side of a hatchet or in an extreme emergency, the flat side of a left handed monkey wrench.
The size of the nails doesn’t matter as much as using what you have left over from the last job. Strength is measured in numbers. The bigger the penny size and the more nails you use, the stronger it will be. If you really want it to hold up you can spend the extra money on pole nails.

A carpenter relies on a blue print prepared by an architect. He claims it enables him to do things sequentially, in the right order. A farmer saves time by bypassing this cumbersome bureaucracy of experts by simply transferring ideas directly from his brain to the project.

The carpenter waits for the inspector to confirm the quality of his work. A farmers test for success is to look at the nearest person and ask “well how does she look”? Or “looks pretty good, don’t you think”?

A carpenter assume that because the inspector approved it that it will istand the test of time. A farmer waits for the next time there is a big wind storm to see if she made it.

A carpenter strives for perfection by maintaining high industry standards. A farmer always leaves the option of lowering the standards open just in case.

Back to the new door project. Farmer: We need a bigger door” Carpenter: How big does it need to be? F: At least 32 inches. C: Inside or outside dimensions? F: Big enough to get a wheel chair through. C: Must be inside dimensions. F: Ok then, let get the chain saw and cut that hole. C: Where’s the door. F: Don’t have it yet. C: Why not? F:don’t know how big it needs to be till we get the hole cut. C: Did you know doors come in standard sizes? F: Really? When did they start doing that? Do they charge by the door or how big the opening is? C: Maybe you better go to Menards to see what they have in stock. F: Those guys don’t know what a Welcome Center is. If I go there and tell them I got a hole for a door 33 by 81 and a quarter they will know what I’m looking for. C: Just go get a door and we will cut a hole to fit it. And don’t forget to get some shims. F: What do we need shims for? C: To fill in the spaces around the door. F: I thought you said we would cut the hole to fit the door? C: The shims are to level it. F: You mean it’s got to be level too? I don’t remember where I left the level. C: And tell them you need a left hand door. F: But I’m right handed. Now I know you’re pulling my leg. Next thing you will want me to do is find my sky hook so we can lower it into place. C: What’s a sky hook? F: Do I have to explain everything to you?

Carpenters, they think I’m driving them crazy ! Maybe I’m the one heading for crazyville!

Post script. I bought a door from Menards and got it installed.
Text messages between Mrs Ed and I. Ed: Got the door In. Mrs E: Did you call Duane? Ed: Yup, he’s here and brought his grandson. Mrs E: What’s he like? Ed: He has worked construction. Mrs E: Sounds good. What are you doing? Ed: They told me to go find the level.

Front view of the old garage, I mean Welcome Center

The new door as installed by Duane and Matt with a little help from me.

Math and Rabbits

Math was never one of my strengths. Neither were my construction skills. Luck with animals came in a close third. My first pet was a rooster named Charlie. I traded a jack knife for him with our neighbor Tom. Tom got my prized knife. Charlie died. In hindsight I should have noticed the two inch spurs and assorted battle scars as a sign of his advanced age. Live and learn.

My second pet was a brown rabbit named Bosco. Using some old rusted chicken wire from the scrap pile, some rough lumber and some recycled nails found in an old coffee can, I built my first rabbit cage. I proudly placed him in his new home only to discover the cage empty the next morning. I surmised the rabbit size hole in the chicken wire was the most likely escape route. Fortunately Bosco didn’t venture too far and I was able to locate and recapture him. I quickly came up with a plan B. By this time we had indoor plumbing and the old outhouse was seldom used. I figured with winter coming on, it would suffice as a rabbitree. Of course when I went to check on him the next morning he was nowhere to be seen. After checking for gaps in the door which were too small for a wily rabbit to squeeze through, I surveyed the other options. The outhouse was a three seater, two big ones and a small one. I learned the hard way, rabbits can jump. Retrieving a flashlight from the junk drawer in the kitchen, I headed back to the scene of the disappearing rabbit. Peering down the hole, I saw a pair of eyes reflecting off the dim light. The rest of the brown rabbit blended in. To make a long story short, it is true rabbits don’t lasso well and they don’t climb up
board ladders on command. Suspending head first down an outhouse hole to catch a rabbit is not a memory needing a lengthy description.

Things went better in the following days. My sister Rosanne got a white
rabbit named Ice Cream. Soon we were in the rabbit business, learning about multiplication every month or so.

Mr. Ed’s Farm is a magnet for soon to be homeless animals. Perhaps because of my early farm experiences, bunnies have a soft spot in my heart. There are six adult rabbits currently in residence. Each has its personal story that helped it find a home here. I have a pretty simple management plan based on the multiplication lesson learned years ago, first keep the boys and girls apart! Second, check out the relevant rabbit parts to make sure the donors claims of buck or doe are accurate if you plan on their sharing cages.

The last pair of rabbits to gain residence are named Peanut and Emerald. Two beautiful, gentle does who have always been together. Not wanting to break up the roommates, I assigned them to shared quarters. About two weeks ago I noticed an excess amount of fur in the corner. I wasn’t particularly concerned because sometimes does will go through the motions of making a nest. Later the next day I noticed the fur was moving. Upon closer inspection I could see there were a number of tiny pink things wiggling around. After inspecting the pair, it was obvious Peanut was the new mother. Emerald was quickly removed for the safety of the babies.
Two days ago, seven furry cute and cuddly bunnies emerged from the hutch.
The rabbit inventory instantly went from six to thirteen. That I think is an over one hundred percent increase. Now if all five does had seven babies, I’d have thirty five babies plus six adults making the total somewhere around 41. If half the babies are does that would be 17 new does plus the original 5 that would be 22. If they each had 7 babies I’d be somewhere around 154. Anyway this form of a nature math lesson gives me a splitting headache plus keeps me awake at night.

So if you are a caring parent or grandparent that is concerned about getting a child interested in nature and math, call me to reserve a sweet little bunny or two. They should be ready to go in a couple of weeks. If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll need to brush up on my cage building skills. Since I’m not great at checking out rabbit parts, I’ll have to have individual cages for each one. Without doing the numbers, that’s a lot of chicken wire and scrap lumber!

One of seven little Peanuts

Peanut with a big mouthful of hay for her nest

Great people you meet and things you get roped into.

You never know when you will meet someone exceptional. Of course exceptional is in the eye of the beholder. This is about someone I met that makes me hope I can be like that when I grow up.

I had the great fortune to work at the Iron Range Research Center for over 20 years. During that time I was able to interview many people who lived really interesting lives. They shared their stories and reflections with me, a stranger. Technology allowed us to record those stories and archive them for future generations. Many, if not most of those people, have crossed over and left us behind. I am so glad we took the time to immortalize their lives.

My recent experience goes back a few years. I was on the St. Louis County Fair Board. I met some great people who really cared about agriculture. The Fair Board and IRRRB staff navigated the difficult process of relocating the Fairgrounds to Chisholm. Many people worked to make the Children’s Barn a reality. It is a place where children and animals can connect even if it is only for the “Five best days of summer”.

The grand opening was special. We worked up to the last minute and a few minutes more to get things ready. There were speeches, ceremony, accolades. What I remember most however was meeting Willard Pearson.. He is Marvin Pearson’s father. Marvin is a dairy farmer from Cook MN. He and I were on the board together.

Willard is the son of Swedish immigrants. His father came to the Cook area at the very beginning. Willard is 91 now but it really doesn’t matter because he was as young at heart now as he was when I met him at the Fair. His retirement passion, after a colorful career and life, is making ropes. Sometime after officially retiring, someone gave him a hand crank rope making machine. If you have never seen one, the best I can say is that they are magical.

Willard grew up on a farm. Farm children usually grow up to be self sufficient and down right handy. Willard looked at the primitive rope machine and decided to make some improvements. Scrounging some pulleys, angle iron, hooks and a crank he soon fashioned a pretty sophisticated super duper rope machine. It wasn’t long before he added an electric motor. The rest is history.

I was fortunate to be there when he arrived with his van. I helped him unload his portable model and watched him set it up. The colorful balls of twine, moving gears and spinning rope is truly an attention grabber. Soon the children and adults were lining up to watch him work his magic. At the end he presented them with their very own rope. His gift is his natural ability to work and converse. Each rope has a little bit of Willard in it. His passion was inspirational. I remember Marvin telling me to make sure he takes a break once in a while. Each rope took about ten minutes. Willard never wanted to disappoint anyone. Amazing!

Last fall I went to the annual Fair Board Meeting. I asked Marvin and Peggy how Willard was doing. They said pretty good except he couldn’t get out to make ropes as much as he would like. Shortly thereafter I called him and set up a meeting in hopes he could show me how to make ropes. I told him what I was doing with Mr.Ed,s Farm and he graciously agreed to share his secrets. After a wonderful afternoon of listening to his stories and trying my hand at making a rope, he did something amazing. He asked me if I wanted to borrow his portable rope machine. He didn’t need to ask me twice! I loaded it up in my van and took it home. I set it up in the Welcome Center and after a few ugly ropes, I began to get the feel. I started making ropes for children and quickly realized why he was energized by it.

I returned his machine yesterday as promised. However, he provided me with some parts that I was able to build my own rope making machine. He asked me how old I was. Fifty nine. He smiled, “well you have a lot of time to make ropes”.

I guess life is what you make it. You never know when you will be inspired. I hope I grow old to be a Willard.

Willard Pearson in his basement workshop showing me a special trick to make a perfect two color rope.

School Field trips

Anticipating that mud season will have subsided by the end of April, we are taking reservations for spring field trips starting April 28 and running throughout May. Conditions permitting, students will be able to tour the animal barns, the Snoop House and greenhouse. We will also be preparing the fields and planting crops using the horses. Students may have the opportunity to help plant potatoes, pumpkins, corn and other vegetables. Cost is $5 per person. Allow a minimum of 2 hours. Welcome Center and MooTell available for picnics.

Horses seeding grain

Horse drawn ride to the field

Subterranean greenhouse

MooTell play area

Welcome Center

Birthday party update

We host birthday parties, family reunions, other groups. The cost is $5 per person, children 2 and under free. Includes full use of the Welcome Center for food, cake, opening presents etc. It comfortably seats 25-30. Has many outlets for crock pots. We supply tables and chairs. You furnish all the tableware, paper plates, food and party decorations. Tour the animal barns and play areas. Horse drawn hay or sleigh ride included. Groups usually book for about two hours. Portable restroom on site.

Welcome Center

Interior Welcome Center. Wood Pellet Stove

MooTell play area during snowless months

Horse drawn hay or sleigh rides

Many farm animals

Stalking the wild Christmas tree

It’s that time of year. Christmas has snuck up on us once again. The pressure to get a tree is Intense. T’was two days before Christmas Eve and time to get a tree. On the farm we go in search of wild trees partly because it is nostalgic, partly because I am cheap. The forest is full of trees, why spend big bucks just to get a perfect one?

Getting a wild tree is stressful especially if it is a hunt by committee. Committee hunting always includes at least one person who is searching for the perfect tree. A perfect tree is symmetrical, thick with branches, evenly distributed in the round. A “You know it when you see it. An HALLELUJAH tree .”

Wild trees are not perfect for a reason. They have not been pruned, pampered and groomed for ten or more years as part of a cash crop deal. They are by nature ugly. It’s probably nature’s way of protecting them from premature harvest by Christmas tree seekers.

Here is my strategy for a successful wild Christmas tree hunt. (Bear in mind I am ultimately responsible for getting the job done because it involves a team of horses and a sled). Wait until the last possible hour to set your plan in motion. That would be approximately 3:15 pm on December 23. It’s takes about twenty minutes to get the horses in the barn and harnessed. That puts you at about 3:40 for hitch to the sled time. Add an additional 5 minutes to find the saw. By this time the approaching dusk is almost noticeable. Load the committee on the sleigh and head out to the woods.

Upon approaching the harvest zone alert everyone to be watching for the perfect tree. The longer the shadows the better. To get things started, say “hey, that looks like a good one” making sure it is a really ugly one. Expect moans and groans. Continue the search, knowing full well the temperature is dropping with the setting sun. Test the mood by pointing at another. If things are on track, they will ask you to stop the horses for a closer look. No, too skinny, too crooked, too few branches. Not too worry, it needs to be a little darker, body parts number.

As the moment of truth nears, individual committee members will begin pointing out candidates. Trees will be rejected, scrutinized by the committee. Remain silent until the right moment. Sooner or later someone will exclaim “That looks like a good one!”. Without hesitation, jump in with “Wow! That is a beautiful one!” even while straining to see it in the diminishing darkness. Quickly toss the lines to the identifier(to keep them occupied while you grab the saw and cut the chosen one off at the stump). Add a little ” boy that is a nice tree” as you toss it in the back. It doesn’t hurt to remind the committee how cold it is getting as you swing the team towards home. Chuckling them into a trot increases the wind chill factor. There is nothing like a shared suffering to cement an agreement on the fact that “we” found the perfect tree.

If properly executed, the plan will carry through the setting up and decorating process. Once decorated and brightly lit, an otherwise “ugly” tree becomes a special tree.

Christmas is about shared memories and love. What’s more special than bringing a less than perfect tree into your home and making it the most special tree in the forest? Christmas is about accepting people and things for what they are. The end justifies the means right?

Merry Christmas 2013

Whisker freezing cold. Perfect

20131223-200426.jpg Lugging the wild beast into the house. Doesn’t hurt to review how cold and successful the hunt was.

All decked out and beautiful! Another wonderful memory.

Bitter bitter cold

The sound snow makes when the temperature drops into the depths of sub zeros, the fresh crispness of the air, the frost crystals on the sheep’s wool, the white vapor from the horse’s breath. Doing chores on mornings like this is special.

Nature has a way of looking after its creatures. The horses increase their hay intake, the pigs burrow into the straw and the sheep look especially comfortable in their woollies.

Being a farmer under these conditions makes one acutely aware of the fragility of life and the heightened responsibilities in making sure everyone is prepared to make it through. The best feeling of relief is seeing the waterers steaming but open and full. The worst is realizing the breaker tripped sometime in the night and everything is frozen solid. Double checking that the frost free hydrant is closed is a good idea. It will be a long time before spring comes if you have to carry water. Been there, done that.

As I pull down some square bales I remember the sweltering hot day I stacked them. Minnesota is truly the land of climate variety.

20131208-102017.jpg Mr. Ed self portrait, a few frosted whiskers.

20131208-102238.jpg Nothing, even cold, seems to damper Winston’s eagerness to help with chores.

20131208-102507.jpg Fonzie and Rosie love romping in the snow.

20131208-102706.jpg Joe and Vinnie digging into a big bale.

20131208-102835.jpg A steamy waterer is a welcome sight on a frigid morning.

20131208-103028.jpg Sheep all warm in their woollies.

20131208-103204.jpg Mick and Bud letting me know they are thinking a sleigh ride would be fun.

20131208-103506.jpg Sweetie covered in frost doesn’t seem to mind the cold as long as there is plenty to eat.

20131208-103729.jpg Sam looks good with a little “frosting” on his mane.

20131208-104023.jpg Casualty of the cold, a frozen, cracked egg. Sorry Miss Chicken, I’ll make sure to pick eggs at noon next time.

Horse drawn rides

We are offering horse drawn wagon rides on our public days included with regular admission. About 20 minutes long, a little bumpy but really fun. Today we saw four deer on the hay field.

20131018-195453.jpg Bud and Mick, shown on the grain drill, did the honors today.

Directions to the Farm

It’s pretty easy to get to Mr. Ed’s Farm. From Hibbing. Take Highway 37 east to Highway 5 South. Go South on 5 three miles and turn right (West) on Foss Road. For GPS enter 10796 Foss Road Hibbing 55746