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An Army of One

An Army of One

There was a major at Iowa State University when I was there about 25 years ago called “Transportation & Logistics.” It has more than likely changed to a more marketing-friendly name by now, but it dealt with a lot of things related to getting stuff where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. One of the past descriptions of the major went something like this:

Transportation and logistics management is a discipline concerned with the efficient flow of materials through our industrial and economic system. Transportation management deals with the management of the domestic and international modes of transportation in today's rapidly changing economic environment. Logistics management assumes the systems approach to the management of a wide variety of activities such as inventory control, warehousing, traffic management, location analysis, packaging, materials handling, and customer service.

That may have been a minor I should have considered. It seems like a lot of my time involves getting stuff where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, without tying up a lot of resources. 

Thanks to a couple of my tools, I found a solution a couple years ago in a roundabout way. I am now an army of one. 


Yes, it looks like pure recreation at all times to some people, but the GuyNo2Mobile, a 1961 Volkswagen dune buggy, has a tow bar on it. I can attach it to the front bumper and pull the buggy behind whatever has a decent hitching point on it. That means I can take a tractor into the dealership for service and pull the buggy behind me. There’s no need for me to have someone meet me there and then take me back again when the service work is done. I’m essentially self-contained. No need for a shuttle driver to wait around for me or to rush to get to where I will be when I will need a ride. No need for me to do the same.

To better fit my schedule a couple years ago, I took a load of round bales to the weekly hay auction in nearby Fort Atkinson in the morning pulled behind the Ranch Hand. Not looking to tie up staff with shuttle work, I hooked the GuyNo2Mobile behind my flatbed trailer and hit the road. Once there, I’d unhook the buggy, hop in and go back home for a couple more hours’ worth of work before returning for the 1:00 auction. 

Failed to consider pavement

Yeah, well, the one thing I failed to consider was pavement. There wasn’t much on my route. It was mostly gravel roads. They were bone dry. Bone dry means major dust production. The GuyNo2Mobile looked like a powdered sugar doughnut by the time I got to Fort! 

An army travels on its stomach, though, you say. True, but I wasn’t about to drive back home and dine on a dust storm sandwich most of the way. Anything over 3 mph and I’d look like Charlie Brown’s friend, Pigpen, as I made my way home. I got the 50-foot air compressor hose out and took the top couple coats of dust off the buggy and hit the road. It wasn’t sterile by any means, but it wasn’t a Pigpen promenade either. 

That got me to thinking. If I could use the GuyNo2Mobile like that, there had to be a way to use a four-wheeler, too. Adding a tow bar to it wouldn’t be easy, though, because there’s no place to store it where it wouldn’t come into play as I herded cattle with it, or rode through the timber and brush doing fence work. Nothing worse than having the tow bar mounted to the front of your machine come loose and instantly covert your ride to a pole vault event as you hit a badger hole somewhere and launch yourself into an arc of Olympic proportions. Or you could skewer yourself on it and be the ultimate shish kabob for the buzzards.

Looked to me like a chain might be a better idea than a tow bar. It would be easier and it would be less risky for personal injury to the driver / drover. Besides, the risk in losing the machine would be fairly minimal. Let’s be honest. My ATV has some age on it. It’s 14 years old and not loaded with options. For instance, it’s a two-wheel-drive. If it came unhooked and crashed, I really wouldn’t be out much. In fact, it may generate just the event I need to motivate myself to trade up to a better model. If those chains can hold a gate shut with a bunch of steers on the other side who would really, really like to get out and see some country, why wouldn’t it hold my ATV to a piece of equipment?

I started small and did a quick trip across a field with the four-wheeler on behind. Turned a couple corners to make sure it would track decently and not instantly flip upside down when it got sideways in the turn. Everything worked slick. 

Now where did I put that phone number for the patent office?

Options opened up

Options opened up. It was no longer like I was 15 and needed a ride everywhere I needed to go. I could become more efficient. Need to leave an extra vehicle somewhere so there would be a way to get home for repairs? Hook up the four-wheeler and go. Need to load some bales at the other farm, but you’re not sure when the semi will get there? Hook up the ATV and leave the skid loader parked at the hay shed until the truck arrives. Go be productive in the meantime. Idle hands and idle time are fiercely frowned upon here.  

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you take your ATV out in the spring to check on field conditions. Remember how it’s a 2-wd? Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve now buried your four-wheeler in the field. Not in a distant field where you’ll never be found, either. No, you’re stuck not all that far from the buildings, but still close enough to the road that the list of witnesses is going to be lengthy. They will ride you about your incident for years to come. 

Solution? Do the fairly short Walk of Shame back to the buildings, get the tractor and loader and a log chain and go remove yourself from the hole you’ve dug for yourself. Then chain your ATV to the tractor and return home before anyone sees what happened. 

Sometimes idiocy is contagious. It needs to be strongly quarantined. There’s no need to post everything to Facebook immediately. That’s what this column is for. 

When we finished up getting bales loaded at a distant farm, we still had a bale trailer and the four-wheeler over there. Woody and I took a pickup over and were going to bring the two units back separately. It wasn’t overly warm or early, so we decided it would be best to hook the ATV onto the back of the bale trailer. Both of us could ride in the truck that way. 

We got home and unhooked the wagon. Then we went back to unhook the ATV and made a troubling discovery. 

Troubling discovery

It was gone. 

No dangling chain with a busted snap. No scratches from a violent swerve that separated it from the wagon. No sign of an incident whatsoever. There was just a bale trailer with a lot of empty space behind it. 

Interesting. To keep our travel as easy as possible, we’d taken a slightly different route than usual. It was the same one we took during A Steel Disaster Parade two years ago.  That eliminated hills and sharp corners. That should have also eliminated accidental un-couplings of ATVs and trucks! 

We hopped in the truck again to retrace our tracks. Woody was pretty sure my ATV would be junk. I was thinking that wouldn’t be a big change in condition from when I drove it over earlier in the day. Woody was thinking of what a disaster we were about to find. I was kind of thinking about which model I’d trade up to now that the opportunity may be at hand. 

We both looked out the windows toward the ditches as we slowly made our way down the road. 

No tracks were seen. 

We made our way into the field and drove through the waterway, looking for new trails blazed through the corn by a free-range four-wheeler.


We made our way up to the test plot along the highway, fully figuring we’d see seed signs mowed down and a path of destruction left by a rogue ATV that wouldn’t look good in seed company literature. 


So, clearly, this thing had to be sitting over at the field gate where we started, because what kind of an idiot loses a machine on a straight, level road? 

That’s when we pulled up to the highway and made a discovery. Both of us were in disbelief. Sitting there at the intersection of the gravel road and the highway, like it had been abandoned by a driver waiting to cross the road, was my ATV. The chain was still fully attached and locked together like it should be. 

I did a little mental rewind work in my head. Maybe, just maybe, I had looped that chain around the SMV sign welded to the back of the trailer in such a way that it looked secure, but it was attached more by gravity than engineering. Forces being what they are, I came to a stop at the stop sign, the ATV rolled ahead and the chain moved at just the right time that the machine was stopped as it came loose. 

We lost it while parked. Pure genius. There wasn’t a (new) scratch on it.

Woodrow thought I should probably drive straight to town and buy a Powerball ticket. 

I thought I should probably clear some space on my schedule for a trip to Ames. They’re probably going to need some time for a guest lecturer in Transportation & Logistics. 

I’ll start with the 100-level stuff at no charge. For the graduate-level material, Hickory Park needs to be involved somehow.  


Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.

Read more blogs from Jeff.

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