The hired hand offers insights into how the neighbors across the fence made it through the wet spring
By T. H. Hand
Editor's Note: Given the enormous response to his first account of how the neighbors really farm, T.H. Hand was moved to take pen in hand again, this time offering highlights of the Biggses' battle with the weather of 1993. As with the first account, this report is entirely fictitious.
It was a wet spring in our part of the country, and we were planting corn well into June.
The last acres to be planted were a farm Junior, Daddy Biggs's oldest son, rented late last winter—320 acres that straddled a small, wooded stream, 11 miles from the home place. At $95 an acre cash rent, Junior called it "The Bargain.” We later discovered that the neighbors called it "The Swamp.”
By the time we got around to it, "The Swamp” was knee-deep in weeds, making finding and avoiding the wet spots a real challenge.
Bubba, Daddy's other son, and I, their hired hand, operating our two field cultivators, had taken turns pulling each other out of mudholes all spring. Junior had become proficient at threading the 16-row planter between ponds of standing water, and Daddy had quickly learned how not to run the new no-till drill. We had even hauled Grandpa Biggs out of retirement to tend the herbicide nurse tank, haul seed corn to the planter, and offer advice to anyone who stopped long enough to listen.
We figured we could plant Junior's new farm in two days if everything went smoothly. In the end it took us three days, and the neighbors were impressed. It may have looked impressive from across the fence, but from where I sat, it was a circus where the clowns drove John Deeres.
Our troubles started when Bubba buried his rig in a long, narrow wet spot. We had to unhook the cultivator to get the tractor out. We didn't have enough cable and chain to pull the cultivator out frontwards or backwards, but we finally found some dry ground to the side of the buried rig. Bubba impatiently chained onto it with his four-wheeler.
I'll never forget the sight of that 56' field cultivator slowly pivoting until one set of walking tandem axles was completely out of sight in the mud, while the other floated 8' off the ground. Once Bubba got it moving, he never stopped until the rig was back on dry ground. A nasty-looking trench behind the rig hinted that he should have stopped sooner.
Closer examination revealed that the walking axle that had been buried in the mud was still buried back in the mudhole. Bubba is a big man, and when he's mad he can get a lot of work done in a short time. It took him just 17 minutes to dig out the axle assembly.
While we were assessing the damage to the field cultivator, Daddy Biggs was on the other side of the creek drilling beans. We could hear his tractor as it wound around the contours, straining up the hills and whining down the backsides. They had told Daddy you could drill beans at 8 miles per hour, so he was cruising at 10.
We heard the sound of ducks quacking about the same time we heard the tractor pull down and die. A small flock of mallards flew over our heads just as Daddy started hollering over the radio that he was stuck. Bubba headed to town for parts for the cultivator while I went to rescue Daddy.
I was headed across the field to cross the creek on the road bridge when I noticed Grandpa and Junior putting the lids back on the planter boxes. Junior was trying to plant what Bubba had cultivated before he got stuck. Grandpa was to go back and load more pallets of seed corn onto his flat bed truck.
I'll never understand why we keep having Grandpa drive trucks. I watched as he swung the truck in a wide circle and drove directly into a mudhole. He clambered out of the cab, glared and spat tobacco at the mired vehicle for a moment, then made a beeline toward the planter to ask for a tow.
Junior was in the cab of the idling tractor, writing in the notebook where he keeps all his cropping notes. As always, once he finished the bookwork he tossed the notebook on top of the planter monitor, shoved the transmission to gear and took off across the field without looking back.
Grandpa was just behind the planter when it started to move. He waved his arms frantically, trying to get Junior's attention. But Junior prides himself on planting straight rows and rarely takes his eyes off the planter mark. Why Grandpa didn't go back to the truck and call Junior on the radio is unclear.
Instead, he tried to catch the planter. He moves pretty darned good for being overweight and in his 70s. He managed to grab an insecticide box before Junior throttled the tractor up to his normal planting speed of 6.5 miles an hour.
Grandpa bounced along behind the planter for five to 10 monstrous bounding steps before he managed to lunge and flop himself on top of two insecticide boxes. He was sort of laying across the two outside boxes, and I could tell by the way he was flailing his free arm at the back of Junior's head that he wasn't having fun.
I grabbed my radio and hollered for Junior to stop. As soon as he saw Grandpa floundering on top of the planter, Junior jumped on the clutch and brakes. That sent Grandpa rolling across the top of the boxes to disappear over the front of the planter.
For a moment nothing moved. Then I saw a battered seed corn cap appear above the seed boxes. The hat was a little cockeyed and Grandpa wasn't walking real straight. But he had fire in his eyes and was digging out a fresh chew as he headed for the tractor.
As much as I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on that lecture, I knew Daddy was probably getting impatient. So I pulled onto the highway to cross the bridge. I guess I was in too big a hurry, for just as I shoved the throttle open I remembered the mud packed between the rear duals of my tractor.
Normally, I get really peeved at car drivers who tailgate me when I'm driving a tractor down the road. But I felt sorry for the guy following me that day. I had unhooked my field cultivator to pull out Bubba; that meant this guy could get real close to my backside, which was a mistake.
As soon as I hit the throttle I felt the back end of the tractor lurch. A thick slab of black mud that had been wedged between the duals spun free, traveling in a high arc over the car behind me. That 300-lb. slab of mud sailed over the top of the car, right over the head of the bug-eyed driver. It cleared the back of the car by nearly 10', which put it right through the windshield of the ski-boat the guy was towing behind his car.
I don't think the slab of mud ever really touched the boat's motor. Like I told the insurance adjuster, I think the motor came off when the driver swerved into the ditch trying to dodge the next two slabs of mud flying his way.
It took nearly 2 ½ hours for the Highway Patrol to get things straightened out and me to get back to where Daddy was stuck. It was only after I topped a hill and found him on the edge of a drainage ditch that I understood why the ducks had panicked.
The heavy overgrowth of weeds prevented Daddy from seeing the narrow, but deep, little gully leading away from the drainage ditch. He missed it with the tractor, but not the right end of the drill. Daddy decided to power out of it and backed up to get a run at spinning his way out.
Near as we can tell, that little gully was the result of heavy rains eating out the end of a tile outlet. When Daddy tried to ram the drill backward he collapsed the layer of dirt that was bridged across the damaged tile, dropping the right end of the drill into the drainage ditch and 6' of water.
It didn't do the seed beans in the drill a lot of good to be immersed in water for the two hours it took to get him pulled out. They swelled up and packed into the seed cups pretty darn tight. Daddy cleaned out five of the seed cups in the time it took me to clean two. Like Bubba, Daddy works fast when he is upset.
We eventually got Daddy pulled out, the drill cleaned out, Bubba's cultivator repaired, Grandpa calmed down and the crop in and out as well.
After all, we're the Biggses. We farm bigger, faster and better than anybody else. At least that's the way it looks from your side of the fence. I know better. I'm their hired hand!
Farm Journal, January 1994