John's World: Finally, Some Recognition

March 11, 2011 09:39 PM

It happened at my college’s 40th class reunion. While the most frequent conversation openers between long-time-no-see friends were "Have you retired?" and "Dude, what happened to your hair?" the most likely follow-up was "What do you do now?" It was a social courtesy that allowed your friend to trot out an impressive title.

But when one old pal looked down at his shoes and mumbled, "Uh, Vice President of Special Projects for XXX Inc.," the conversations around us sputtered to an awkward pause and looks of pity shot his way. He had been "promoted" to the Pasture of Honorable Indolence.

I slung my arm around him in teary comradeship, spilling both our fruity cocktails. Whispering low, I admitted, "I know where you’re coming from, Odie [real college nickname]. I’ve been promoted to The Grain Cart."

Should have seen it coming. My promotion was handled with great compassion and delicacy. Looking back, I should have seen it coming. Jan and Aaron would truncate their conversation when I walked within my hearing range (now down to about 27"). For no reason, Aaron would compliment my work: "Way to grease the auger, Dad!" Then there were the slightly too cheerful smiles and more frequent gentle pats on my shoulder from Jan.

As the deep summer turned into an urgent autumn, I found my son deftly interposing himself between the combine ladder and me. I was the target of an operator intervention.

"I’ve been reading," he began, "how the combine is not the most important job during harvest anymore."

I began to speculate about which nincompoop in the ag media might have written that. "Recent research at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople—U of SND at H, you know—has determined we should be putting our best operator on the grain cart," Aaron said.

Although I had heard of that august institution, I was puzzled over how this study was accomplished. But science must be served, so I took up the burden with my notorious graciousness. And as I bellyached, Aaron walked along, extolling the efficiency gains this personnel move would almost certainly produce.

"With your low animal cunning and many decades of experience, Dad, you can anticipate the optimal patterns to catch the combine and keep the trucks on the road. Since all the fields won’t be logged sequentially over each other, we’ll have good maps for every field this year, instead of just the last one. And by starting the data when we actually begin the field instead of when you remember to, the maps should cover the whole field for once," he said.

Yes, I thought—that would indeed be a leap forward. He went on to point out that all those misloaded trucks and piles of "roadspill" that I had occasionally ranted about would surely be a thing of the past with my steady hands on the wheel and my firm foot on the clutch. And the addition of wireless cameras behind and on the unloading auger spout should eliminate the two-month neck ache that is the bane of cart operators. Not to mention surprises on the road during left turns.

Glancing off to the side as if he was talking to someone else, Aaron added, "Another thing, Dad. The combine won’t have to stop so often so you can, uh…check the grain loss, if you get my drift."

Non–coffee drinkers are sanctimonious twits, I suddenly decided, but I think he meant well. "Dehydration is no laughing matter, you pup, but I’ll grant you the point."

As he spoke, the logic of his plan began to grow into full-blown advantages in my mind. I mean, the random punching on that counterintuitive touch screen and the subsequent over-riding of warning messages and alarms had become a drag—not to mention a 20-minute time loss every day.

It would be nice not to hear sobbing in the office as Aaron tried to upload the day’s data. And being able to check the radar on my phone when I’m actually stationary can’t be a bad thing for nearby crops, machinery and seed corn salesmen, who seem to flush from the corn rows like pheasants these days.

So I realized I am still the Hub of our Ingathering Universe. The more I thought about it, it was clear that the grain cart is the grenade pin of the entire harvest operation. I think it was President Dewey who said, "You can’t put just anybody on the grain cart."

Better yet, Aaron thinks that this spring I’ll be ready to move up to Vice President of Seed Tending. How cool is that!

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