My first actual job as a chemical applicator sticks out in my head. Learning a new task requiring any specialized skill is always a handful. The field I got sent out to was relatively flat and square, which was great, but the electronics in the machine I was driving had been deemed unreliable, which wasn’t so great at all.
The whole job of a chemical applicator is to get a very specific amount of product uniformly broadcast across a specific amount of ground. When it’s running right, the machine senses the ground speed and either increases or decreases the pump pressure accordingly to keep the application uniform.
Speed versus pressure – it really is what it’s all about.
With the electronics offline, my task was to regulate everything manually. It wouldn’t have been such a bad task for someone experienced, but I hadn’t figured out what half of the buttons did yet, to say nothing of watching the speedometer, pressure gauges, marking foam to delineate my path, and keep an eye out for washes, rocks, or other obstructions in the field.
On the upside, it was just fertilizer work, which made things a little more okay if I happened to miss.
Obviously, the ten-dollar question is – did I miss?
I’m not 100% sure either way, honestly. I got all of the acres I was told to cover sprayed, and even to this day, I feel like I did a reasonable job of keeping the speed and pressure correct. At the end of the day, there were right around a thousand gallons of fertilizer left, and that was. . . unfavorable.
At least, I thought it was, until several months later when I found out the boss had miscalculated the acreage, and hence the amount of product necessary.
I guess we’ll let history be the judge of that one.
I didn’t get along with my first boss rather well. Okay, I’ve had several supervisors that I haven’t seen eye-to-eye with, but that’s not what this is about. *Grin* Well, maybe it is.
That first Rogator had a lot of problems with the application system electronics, and it liked to blow pressure gauges up so they wouldn’t read correctly. The electronics also acted as a speedometer, so if the controller gave up completely, you were out of luck.
Which mine did one day.
It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but ‘my rig won’t run’ are four words the boss doesn’t want to hear in-season. I was grounded until the traveling repair guy showed up to diagnose the machine. As I recall, it didn’t take him long to find the electrical harness that was loose, tighten it, and then replace the pressure gauge.
Those were the benefits of hiring a professional that knew the machine.
Anyway, the next time I saw my boss after that, he took me to task, saying I should have just had the pressure gauge replaced and then gone back to work instead of wasting time getting the electronics going.
It wouldn’t have worked – I wouldn’t have had a speedometer. Like I’ve said before – it’s all about speed and pressure.
I listened to the boss for quite a while, and eventually, I got mad when he wouldn’t let up. The only choice I could see to make was to answer honestly.
“You’re the boss and I’m the employee. There’s only one thing I can do, and that’s snap a salute, click my heals together, and say you’re right. Here’s the deal though – my personal freedoms allow me to think you’re a complete idiot as I walk away.”
I followed through.
And I kept my job, too.
When you’re right, you’re right, I suppose.
It was around the same time as my heated interface with my boss that I learned how to cut my own hair. Looking back, maybe that’s why I didn’t get time off even though my rig wasn’t running. This seems like an odd thing to talk about, I’m sure, but it works to illustrate how the agricultural season works. Sayings varied a little, but generalized, it was ‘the weeds don’t stop, so neither do we’.
While I understood what he was saying about needing me on the clock Monday morning, I really needed a haircut – it was long enough that it was starting to interfere with my ability to do my job. So, since Sunday was my only day off, I went to Walmart and bought a set of clippers.
I literally didn’t know what else to do.
My appearance isn’t really that important to me, but I still worked in a place where I had to interact with people. Farmers are actually a pretty conservative lot – there were limits to how out of hand you could let your appearance get without losing their respect.
So, it was a little intimidating standing in front of the mirror with a buzzing clipper in my right hand. I have to admit, after the first pass or two, I got pretty scared. But once you’re into something, you’re into it.
Sometimes you have to just keep going. . .
It actually worked out well enough to get the job done, anyway.
People ask sometimes, so I always tell them the same thing. Put the guard on the hedge clippers so you don’t draw any blood, fire them up, and see what happens.
One of the earlier calls I went out on was to help pluck a truck out of a ditch very close to Kanona, Kansas. It wasn’t a big of a deal as it sounds like. There were two main roads in all of Decatur County that were asphalt, as far as I can remember. The rest were gravel, with more than a few being less than that.
It was, and to my knowledge, still is a place of extremes. Kansas doesn’t do anything halfway. When the wind blew, it wasn’t uncommon to see a couple of tornadoes across the plain. A normal day started and ended with a jacket, while early afternoon saw you wondering when you’d ever stop sweating. Snow came in feet.
And when it rained, it rained.
The work didn’t stop for any of those extremes. Like the weather, it changed, started, and ended, but it never quit coming. In this particular case, rain, cold, a dirt road and grain hauling meant the semi had slid into the ditch not far from an intersection.
It’s not as exciting as it sounds.
Not that I’d tell you if I did, but I don’t remember the driver’s name. He was a good hand, though – easy on equipment and smart enough to stop before he made a bad situation any worse than it needed to be.
As I recall, we took 47 – a mid 80’s one ton dually pickup. It had a heavy steel flatbed on it, a winch, and gin poles. We’ll see what happens, but there’s room for other stories around the old girl, but it proved one other thing about Kansas.
Physics operate there, too. Torque, horsepower, pounds per square inch of ground pressure all combined with a Caterpillar 3406 diesel engine that needed just a little extra from the pickup chained to the front to literally get the show on the road.
All considered, it was a fun first introduction to Kansas.
Horsepower, displacement, and torque are three words that have, from time to time, been very important in my life. There are a lot of different sayings to describe them, but my favorites are, ‘Horsepower is how fast you hit the wall, and torque is how far you drag it with you’ and ‘There is no replacement for displacement.’ For non-engine folks, horsepower is in general, a measure of the energy an engine has to do work. Torque is the force that energy can actually exert on something. Displacement is a very rough measure of the size of the engine.
Really, displacement was an early lesson for me, because it taught me that a 5.9 liter 275 horsepower engine couldn’t stand up to an 8.4 liter 200 horsepower engine doing the same work, because increased displacement generally leads to higher torque.
One of my earliest assignments was to take another employee, Freddy, out to the field to pick up a semi that had been left for the customer’s use. The semi had a 3406 A-Model Caterpillar Diesel putting out about 425 horsepower. It probably had pistons the size of a small coffee can – those pistons had large cylinders or relatively high displacement. The mid 80’s Chevrolet pickup might have had similar horsepower (probably not), but it certainly had pistons closer to the size of a pop can, or much smaller displacement.
What does this mean?
Flat out, with both vehicles ‘empty’, the pickup didn’t stand much of a chance of keeping up with the semi, particularly once the semi (a.k.a. ‘bend in the middle truck’) got wound up and pointed down a straight stretch of road.
It was quite the awakening for me to have my foot literally on the floor of the pickup and still watch the semi leave me in a cloud of dust.
While it was amazing, and honestly a little scary, it was also my first real education in why different vehicles do the things they do. Don’t give up on me, by the way. I don’t talk about stuff like this very often, but it really is important background in my world.
It was later in my career when I made my way into agricultural sales. I had a lot of interesting experiences, which is reasonable given the amount you need to learn about a customer’s farm to properly take care of them.
We’re going to call the gentleman I’d gone to visit Mr. Meyers. We’ll just say that his real name is unimportant and leave it at that. At any rate, he was on the younger side of the spectrum, and as he had a dairy operation, it was never in my best interest to try to catch him early in the morning.
I remember being slightly excited to see him outside of his house when I pulled in the yard – it meant the game of hide-and-seek to find him would fall my way. With things going my direction, I was shocked when he turned, went back in the house, and closed the door behind himself.
As a salesperson, one gets used to proverbial doors being slammed – that was my first experience with the real deal.
I was just in the midst of working through my circumstances when the door opened again, and Mr. Meyers re-emerged. . . With a double-barreled shotgun in the crook of an arm. I’ll admit, I had more than a few hesitancies when he pulled a single shotgun shell out of his pocket and started the loading process.
There was only one thing for me to do at that point – get down on the ground and shout, “I don’t know what I did, but I’m suddenly very sorry about it!”
Well, that and hope that he got whatever was flapping around overhead hunting his chickens…