homepage logo


By Staff | Jul 30, 2010

It’s good to see all the oats that are being raised this year. Our food system would be radically changed if oats were to suddenly disappear from the planet. There would be a very sharp transformation in the field of granola bars, plus it’s not like we need the Quaker Oats guy (or is that a particularly plain woman?) in the ranks of the unemployed.

For me, oat harvest is inextricably linked with the hottest time of the year. I often wished I could have a word with whoever it was that determined the timing of that dusty and dirty and chaffy and chafing chore.

When I was a kid we completed our oat harvest with an A6 Case combine. The A6 had a Wisconsin engine, a so-called “power plant” that was woefully low in power.

The Wisconsin lacked an electric starter, which meant using the Armstrong cranking system. Which wouldn’t be bad if the temperatures during oat harvest weren’t at the melting point of lead. It seemed ironic to be cranking a recalcitrant air-cooled engine at a time when the air crackled with heat.

The Wisconsin engine was so stubborn, I often fantasized about “fixing” it with a large sledge hammer or a small amount of high explosives. We tried a number of things to cure its mulish behavior.

One of these was – and I’m not kidding here – Marvel Mystery Oil. This mystifying substance was purported to loosen sticky rings and valves and make your engine purr like a cheetah.

The instructions for Marvel Mystery Oil included a process wherein an unspecified amount of the oil could be sent directly into the engine for a quick liquid tune-up. Fortunately, the Wisconsin’s manifold had a brass petcock/ priming cup. This seemed like the logical place to introduce the engine to the mysteries of Marvel Mystery Oil.

With the engine running at full throttle, I filled the small cup with the strange substance. The petcock was turned; the engine bellowed like a wounded beast and belched a cloud of smoke that blotted out the sun.

I didn’t know if the Marvel Mystery Oil did any good, but watching the engine digest it certainly helped me. I sent a whole slug of Marvel Mystery Oil through the Wisconsin just to make sure that everything was loose and lubricated.

Another strange substance we used back then was Pulmore Belt Dressing.

The A6 had a flat belt that drove the straw spreader. For some reason, this belt needed to be coated regularly with Pulmore Belt Dressing. I suppose the only other option would have been to walk behind the combine and kick the straw across the field.

Anyhow, the belt dressing had to be applied with the combine running. Let’s see. An open flat belt with a kid standing beside it, dribbling some sort of sticky liquid onto the belt as it whips by at hundreds of feet per second. Pretty much an OSHA nightmare.

I don’t know what was in Pulmore Belt Dressing. It had a very interesting, very pungent odor, although it tasted horrible. Who knows what the effects of overexposure to its ingredients might be? It might render a person a bit “off” and could even convince him that he can write a newspaper column.

Kids these days are spoiled beyond all belief. Not only do they think that having a cell phone – one that can sing and dance and whip up fruit smoothies – is a fundamental human right, they believe that they invented some of the more fun things in life such as kissing and the Internet.

Ha! Modern electronic conveniences were foreseen and even named by we farm-raised Baby Boomers decades ago.

For instance, as that old Case combine harvested oats, the grain was elevated into a small hopper – a cache – in a process we called uploading. The grain was then dumped into a waiting wagon, a procedure referred to as downloading.

The oats were put into our granary, which we dubbed a mass storage device. The oats was later sent through a feed grinder, which we called a high-speed processor. We then carried the ground oats to our dairy cows, so we considered ourselves to be the cows’ server.

The cows greedily gobbled the grain in huge mouthfuls we called megabytes. Spreading the cows’ waste on our fields was an activity referred to as an application. The manure spreader often left long brown streaks in the field, and measuring across these streaks determined our bandwidth. And if the ground was frozen and lumpy, it made for a hard drive.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I’ll leave you with this final thought: pungent liquids often don’t taste nearly as interesting as they smell.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page