Pinned Under Heavy Things. Version 1.

In the spring of 1968 I was 10 years old, and I broke my leg. My brother Dave and I were driving an Allis Chalmers C and fighting over who should control the throttle. We were so busy fighting over it that we didn’t notice the garden wall until we were going over it. I was sitting on the right, Dave on the left, and Anne was riding on the back. When the tractor went over the wall and started to roll, I jumped right and Dave jumped left and Anne stepped off the back. The tractor rolled to the right and pinned me underneath it, snapping both my fibula and tibia just above the ankle.


Anne went running into the house to get Dad. Mom was at IPFW, working on her bachelor’s degree. Dad came out and heaved the tractor off of me. I don’t remember this, but Dad told me later he’d just spread manure on the garden. So in addition to being pinned under a tractor with a broken leg, I was face down in fresh manure. “I’m ok, I’m ok. Put me down. [1]” I remember saying to Dad as he carried me into the house. Meanwhile my right foot was waving back and forth, unconnected by bone to the rest of my leg.

These were the good old days, before 911, before there were more cars than people in a household. Mom had taken the car to school that evening. Before cell phones so Dad could call Mom and tell her what happened. Dad called my Grandma who lived 3 miles away and she came up to take us to the hospital in the 1966 Rambler. Years later it occurred to me to ask who stayed with Dave and Anne when I went to the hospital. Grandma did while Dad took me in. [2]

Dr Minnick, the same Dr. Minnick who would look at me 13 years later when I pinned my stupid self under a combine (pinned again), set my leg in the emergency room at the Whitley County Hospital. When I swam up from the anesthesia my Mom was there and everything was ok. [3]


My right foot points about 15 degrees to the right, and my right leg’s somewhat shorter than my left, but other than that, it’s just an amusing anecdote; of being young and dumb, of loving parents and grandparents, of good country doctors, and of life – tragic and comic.

1. I knew I was in trouble (and didn’t realize I had a “get out of trouble free card” since my leg was broken)

2. It has somehow never occurred to me before now that my Dad drove me to the hospital again when I got pinned under a piece of farm machinery in 1968, and again in 1981. Farming is a rough gig.

I would much rather get pinned under a few tons of iron than to ever have to pry my son out from under them. It’s a horror as old as time, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 18:33. Did my father weep for me? I wish I could ask him.

3. Mom told me later she felt so horribly guilty for not being there when in it happened. All I remember is her being there when I woke up and feeling so safe because she was [4].

4. 50 years gone by now, I was sitting with Mom again in the Whitley County Hospital this weekend. I wish I could’ve been the comfort to her that she was to me.

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The Tale of Super Pinky

In 2009 I bought a Super M.

My Dad was old and sick in 2009 and about the only thing in life that interested him was farming. The first new tractor he ever bought was a Super M, back around 1953. I came across one along the road with a “For Sale” sign on it and I thought, “Dad would like that.” So I bought it and brought it home.

Dad, Me, and the Super M

Those old Farmalls have a very distinctive sound. You start one up and you know it’s an M or an H. Dad once told me he’d been the equivalent of around the world 3 times on a tractor at 3 mph [1]. Most of that on a Farmall M.

I’d fire that M up and drive it around the farmyard and Dad loved it.

Fast forward to 2012. Dad is really sick by this time and has moved to town where he can get better care. The Super M is languishing in the shed. I’m trying to keep the production machinery running and I just don’t have the time to keep the M going.

Late in 2012 I see this post on [2]

Looking for an M

And I replied:

I’ve got a M

And the rest, as they say, is history. Randy came and got the tractor. They pull all over the Midwest raising money for breast cancer research. And despite putting endless hours of labor and many, many dollars into making my old beat-up Super M into Super Pinky…

Super Pinky

… Randy still has “Zumbrun Farms” on it. If you zoom that picture you can see that on the left edge of the hood.

And to me, that’s what farming is. You take what the old fellas have done, you pour your heart and soul into making it better, taking it further than those old fellas could ever imagine, and you always honor them.

Well done, Randy, well done.

1. I come by my love of numbers and “doing the math” honestly.

2. And this is why you should never post anything on the Internet you don’t want someone to post for everyone to see years later. I didn’t save this post, I just went and searched for it today and found it in moments.

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A Good Time to Quit

I quit day to day farming at the end of harvest last year and handed my part over to my nephew Tom. The farm magazines keep coming though. I don’t generally read them, but John Phipps who writes for the Farm Journal magazines is one of my favorite commentators. So today when a Top Producer[1] magazine (a Farm Journal publication) showed up in our mailbox I flipped it open to the back page where John’s column runs.

And this was John’s column

(It’ll be available in text format in a few weeks, click the image above to read the scanned in magazine page in the meantime.)

I love you, Tom, but I’m glad I’m out.

1. I in general despise Top Producer. It’s all about glamorizing big farmers. I usually read it just to get outraged.

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Rendering Lard

As a finale to our hog butchering we rendered lard today.

If you’ve never rendered lard it’s the process of cooking pig fat until it liquefies. Then you strain it and chill it, and you end up with the very essence of piggy goodness for frying or for anything you use cooking oil [1]. Popcorn, popped in lard, is sublime.

You start by cutting all the fat from the pig into cubes. The smaller the cubes, the faster it renders. But on the other hand, the smaller you cut the cubes, the longer it takes to finish butchering. We [2] were weary on our feet by the time we cut up two hogs, so the fat cubes were about 2 inches on a side.

Once you have a bunch of pig fat you build a fire under your butchering kettle. The kettle is cast iron and about 3 feet in diameter [3]. You can move it by yourself, but once it’s over the fire and too hot to touch, it’s a two man lift.

You throw your pork fat cubes into the kettle and start stirring so they don’t burn.

Stage 1
Stage 1

See how beautifully clean that kettle is [3.5]!

You stoke the fire and keep the fat at a slow simmer, and in an hour or so the fat is browning nicely.

Stage 2
Stage 2

We had pieces that were mostly meat, and at this point we were pulling those out and salting and eating them. The most ridiculously delicious thing you can imagine [5].

Once you’ve rendered all the lard (you can tell you’re done by pressing a chunk of fat against the side of the kettle, if white fat squishes out, you’re not done) put the fat chunks in your lard press [6] and squeeze all the lard out. Then tip your fat chunks, which are now cracklin’s, into a bowl, salt them, and eat!


But that’s just a bonus. The main point is to gather lard. We strained the lard through cheesecloth and ended up with about 2 gallons of lard. Once you strain it and chill it, it’s a lovely white color.


It’s disturbing to raise your own meat. You take care of your animals, you make sure they’re well fed, have clean water, and have a dry and warm place to sleep. And then you kill and eat them. But meat doesn’t come wrapped in plastic in a grocery store. Using every last bit of pork, even to rendering the lard, respects that for us to eat, something had to die.

1. We all know animal fats are a sure route to a heart attack, and the only guarantee of a long and healthy life is to use margarine. Well, no, not margarine as we recently learned. Trans fats, from which margarine is made, are death itself. The only guarantee of a long and healthy life is to not consume trans fats. Whatever you do, don’t eat margarine, or lard. Only use Crisco which consists of a blend of soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils. Then you will live long and prosper.

2. As usual, when I say “we” I mean “me.”

3. If you think about it for a moment, you might think, “How often do you use a butchering kettle? And where do you store it between times?” The answers to that are “Almost never.” and “In the barn.” So getting the kettle ready meant that we[4] wire brushed it for half an hour and scrubbed it with fat and salt and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed.

3.5 You did read footnote 3, didn’t you?

4. In this case “we” does not mean “me.” It’s not my filthy kettle. Tom did all that.

5. If eating this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

6. You do have a lard press, don’t you?

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Keeping it Green

It’s February, months since harvest, months to go until planting. Nothing to do [1] except sit by the fire and think. I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s “Our Only Earth” and I was struck by the following passage enough to get out of my chair [2] and write it down.

The predominant agricultural science of the universities, the corporations, and the government is still almost unanimously promoting industrial agriculture despite the by now overwhelming evidence of its failure: soil erosion, salinization, aquifer depletion, nutrient depletion, dependence on on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, pollution of streams and rivers, loss of genetic and ecological diversity, destruction of rural communities and the cultures of husbandry.

In the farming community we’ve been nearly united against something called the “Waters Of The United States” (WOTUS), a plan by the EPA to define what waterways may be regulated. We’re enraged by ‘government overreach’, we assert that no one knows better than the farmer how to protect the waters of the United States.

All the time ignoring algae blooms in Lake Erie caused, at least in large part, by runoff from farm fields. Ignore that Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio was unfit even to touch, because of farm runoff.

Sign  posted on Grand Lake St. Marys
Sign posted on Grand Lake St. Marys

Ignore that there is a huge dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, caused by farm runoff. Ignore that the drinking water in Des Moines is unfit to drink almost half of the year because of nitrogen from farmer’s fields ending up in the river.

Just what I’m thinking about on a February night.

1. That’s a slight exaggeration.

2. And that takes a heap o’ motivation to get me out of my chair, I tell you what.

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There’s more than one way to peel an egg.

We’ve had laying hens for years. Eggs from your own chickens are the best thing in the world. They’re fresh and rich, the yolks are creamy yellow and the whites are thick.

But the one bad thing about fresh eggs is they’re nearly impossible to peel when you hard boil them. We’ve tried every trick under the sun, all guaranteed to produce easy to peel eggs, and every one has failed. We always ended up spending minutes per egg, prying the shells off in tiny pieces and taking chunks of white with them.

Until yesterday that is. We finally found a method that worked. We hard-boiled 3 eggs, very fresh eggs, gathered this weekend. And they peeled like a dream, large chunks of shell coming off at once leaving the whites smooth and intact behind. Amazing.

Here’s the technique, from Cooks Illustrated.

Bring 1 inch of water to a rolling boil in a pan. If you have a pan with a steamer, put the eggs in the steamer and put the steamer in the pan. Otherwise lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium-low, and set a timer for 13 minutes.

After 13 minutes put the eggs in an ice bath for 15 minutes to stop the cooking. After 15 minutes you can peel the eggs, or put them in the refrigerator to peel later.

According to Cooks Illustrated the method works because starting the eggs in hot water or steam causes the membrane separating the white from the shell to draw away from the shell, making them easy to peel.

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Chicken Excitement

I went out just before suppertime to shut the chickens in. It was getting dark and it was cold and windy. I wanted to get cleaned up and have supper and not have to go out again.

But the chickens were all still in the outside pen, clucking their stupid heads off, and one of them was throwing itself around the closed in pen, fluttering and banging off the fence. What sort of chicken drama was playing out in their tiny chicken brains?

I got closer and realized the “chicken” throwing itself about in the enclosed pen was actually a sharp-shinned hawk. It had flown in there somehow and couldn’t find a way out.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

That’s a generic picture of a sharp-shinned hawk. We’ve had one hanging around our place all fall. He hangs on the wind over Skunk Hill and captures rodents in our native planting areas.

While the hawk was bashing about in the enclosed pen, our rooster was on the other side of the fence, throwing himself at the hawk, quite willing to take on the predator to defend his hens.

Our Rooster
Our Rooster

That is a picture of our rooster. He as full of himself as any creature can be. But he went after that hawk without a thought of himself, despite the fact that the hawk would’ve surely have torn him apart if he had gotten through the fence. You can attribute that to his chicken sized brain, or to the insane belief in their own immortality and invincibility of all young males. Whatever the reason, it was impressive to watch.

I opened the door to the pen so the hawk could find his way out, and Spenser the Wonder Dog immediately dashed in. Spenser is deaf as a post, so he didn’t hear me screaming at him that the hawk would tear his eyes out. Spenser trotted over, sniffed the hawk, evidently found it not interesting and wandered into the chicken coop to look for eggs – which he finds very interesting.

In the meantime the rooster continues to throw himself at the fence to try to get to the hawk, and the hawk flies into the fence right by me and hangs onto the fence with its talons and stares at me, evidently wanting to rip my throat out.

Being only slightly smarter than the rooster, it took a while for me to realize I should move away from the open door. When I did the hawk burst through the open door and disappeared over the roof of our house like a fighter jet on afterburners.

I went into the coop to retrieve the Wonder Dog and there was one dead chicken that the hawk had killed. Spenser, being senile as well as deaf, didn’t notice it until I picked it up.

As soon as I stepped back outside the hens and the rooster bolted for the coop. I sealed the doors up, and as I did I heard the contented, interrogative “chook, chook, chook?” noise they make as they settle onto their perches for the night.

Minus one chicken, all was well again.

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November 3rd, 1981

November 3rd, 1981 [1]. A Tuesday. I was 24 years old.

We were harvesting corn. It was a wet fall and we were slopping through the mud to get the corn in.

I was taking German that year at IPFW and the class met Tuesday and Thursday evenings. About 4 PM on the 3rd I was running the combine at the Harrold Place and the combine went down in a mud hole and I stuck one of the snouts [2] in the mud and bent it up.


Well, I wasn’t going to make it to German class that night. Annoyed, mad at myself, and in a hurry I pulled the snout off. We went back up to our shop, 3 miles up the road, and hammered and welded the snout straight.

Then back to the field. I started bolting the snout back on and said to my brother Dave, “While I’m finishing this, tighten up that hydraulic line that’s been dripping.”

As soon as he put a wrench on that hydraulic line the fitting broke and, because I was in a hurry, we hadn’t engaged the lock that would hold the header up and the header dropped onto me.

By modern standards that’s a tiny combine, and a 3 row corn header is quaintly small, practically a toy. But still it weighed something over 3000 pounds, and without hydraulics to hold it up, every one of those 3000 pounds dropped on me.

I was sitting under it, bolting the snout on, when it came down. It folded me forward, driving my head into the ground beside my knee. I discovered later my right ear was cut by a cornstalk as it was driven into the ground. I screamed once and then was so compressed that I couldn’t draw another breath.

My brother Dave was strong as a bull. He ran around the combine and heaved up on the snout, bending it enough that my head and torso came free and I could breath.

My leg was still pinned under the header. My Dad was there and he said, “We’ve got to get it off him. Dave, back it away.” “Bleeping, bleeping no,” I yelled, “you’ll drag it right across my legs!” “Do it, Dave,” Dad said, “he may be bleeding out under there.” Dad was a strong man too, and understood what was important.

And Dave did it. The combine had my right ankle pinned but I wasn’t bleeding. I did have a dent in my ankle that was made by a bolt head and the dent was visible for years. It’s gone now.

Free at last I went to stand up and discovered I couldn’t straighten up. I was bent at 90 degrees.

The Harrold Place is about as remote as you can get in Whitley County. I got into Dad’s pickup, this was long before cell phones and 911 and we were miles from anywhere. Dad drove me to Dr. Minnick’s office in Churubusco. Dr. Minnick looked at me and said to Dad, “You better take him into the hospital in Ft. Wayne.” Then he turned to me where I was bent over the examining table, grabbed a sheet of paper, and started drawing, “Here’s what happened,” he said.

Dr. Minnick's Sketch
Dr. Minnick’s Sketch [3]

A compression fracture of several vertebrae. Then he got behind me, grabbed my shoulders, put his knee just above my butt and pulled me upright. “There.” he said. I was upright all right, but I couldn’t bend forward now. Dad got me into his pickup and away to the hospital we went. They took x-rays of my back and Dr. Minnick was exactly right.

3 weeks flat on my back, another 3 months in a back brace, and I was as right as rain.

And I got an ‘A’ in German, despite missing 3 weeks of classes.

I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry on November 3rd.

1.I meant to post this on November 3rd…

2. Bent the one the second from the right.

3. My recollection of Dr. Minnick’s sketch. Wish I’d grabbed the original.

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Sun Going Down

It sure is pretty to be out in the fields as the sun goes down.


But I sure hate to run at night.

Sun Down

You can just see a little bit in front you. You can’t see the edge of the field, or where the truck is parked. A lot of the time you detect problems by looking at the pass you just made to your left or right. You can’t see that previous pass at night.

I’m a dawn to dark kind of guy. I like to be home at night.

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