When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on his service calls to fix farm equipment. Walter Hoskin was a Badger dealer. In the 1970s, Badger Northland was a Wisconsin manufacturer that built silo unloaders, barn cleaners, forage boxes, bunk feeders, manure spreaders … and other “farm materials handling equipment” for farmers in the U.S. and Canada.
The Rolodex on my Dad’s service counter in the implement shed was thick with names and phone numbers of farmers across Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Those were the days when one hundred acres of clay soil could almost support a farm family. Back then, agriculture was a way of life for hundreds of families along dusty concession roads. Practically every kid at my elementary school grew up on a farm. Today, maybe six or eight cards would hang sadly from that Rolodex, given the farm amalgamations that have happened over the last two generations.
Selling the equipment meant repairing it, too. Cattle had to be fed, no matter the day of the week or the weather conditions. If the mechanical unloader inside the 100-foot silo broke down on a cold Christmas Eve, my Dad was called in to fix it, because without it, a dairy herd would go hungry.
The black rotary-dial phone on the wall at home would ring, and a farmer would ask my Dad to come out. He would push the tool box onto the back of his Ford 350 stake truck, along with a few metal parts, and we would drive to the Sowden dairy barn or the Breedyk beef feedlot. It was always cold and damp, and the wind would whip through the cracks in the buildings. Machinery broke down more in winter.
Little did I know I was learning things as I stood there in the barn, my feet freezing in my work boots.
Dad would climb up the dirty silo chute with the end of a rope, then I would attach a trouble light and a power cord to the other end and he would pull them up. Then, he sent the rope back down for the tool box, then the five-gallon pail full of parts, nuts and bolts.
Sometimes, I would climb up too. Usually, I would stay at the bottom of the chute and listen for instructions. He would fix the machine, then he would tell me to turn on the silo unloader for a few seconds to make sure it worked.
Funny how I didn’t argue with him, or question his judgement, or refuse to take direction. I trusted he knew what he was doing. I was a weird kid.
When the repairs were complete, tools went back in the 350. The electrical cord became a tangled mess at the bottom of the chute, and I had to roll it up and get it out of my Dad’s way before he climbed back down.
One of the things he taught me on those cold, dusty outings was how to roll up a cord. That may sound boring and mundane, but I am so glad I listened to him and learned.
At high school in Hagersville, I played trumpet in the band. The guys and I had to help set up equipment for concerts. Knowing how to roll a cord came in very handy.
At York University, where I studied film production, we worked in groups to produce short film projects. Lighting and sound equipment on film sets need cords and cables, so I could easily roll them up when we were done.
After my daughters were born and we were living in an old house, I needed to fix stuff around the place. You guessed it – more cords to roll up.
Years pass. I don’t play the trumpet any more. I didn’t become a film director. And we now live in a modern home that doesn’t require as much repair.
And now, in my day job as an economic developer and tourism promoter, trade shows and exhibits are part of the regular routine. That kind of work requires – that’s right – the ability to coil an extension cord properly. The last cord I rolled was at Eat & Drink Norfolk last month. It made me think of my Dad.
There are days when I wish for simpler times, when I just waited for instructions and did what I was told. When playing First Trumpet and being Band President was really cool. When I aspired to live in Hollywood and make movies.
Life moves on and becomes more complicated. Luckily, my Dad taught me the value of working hard, of enduring uncomfortable situations, of listening to instructions, of trusting people, and looking on the bright side.
And, yes, he taught me how to roll up a cord, so it would be ready for the next guy to use. Luckily, I didn’t resist taking his advice. I just learned how to do it. I didn’t try to design a better way, or criticize his old habits. I guess I had sense enough just to take his wisdom at face value, because it would make my life a lot easier.
© 2017 Clark Hoskin
Video: How to coil and extension cord (Source: YouTube This Old House)
Video: What is a silo unloader? (Source: YouTube FarmerSchneck)