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Where the wagons and the buffalo roam, Part II

My story from two weeks ago set a trend for what I hope is only a trilogy. (Yeah, there’s gonna be more.) Hard to believe that so much fun can keep happening to me on such a regular basis.

We finished chopping corn silage at the feedlot; then it was on to other tasks with the chopper. One of them involved a quick job to do a couple of loads for a neighbor. The field we were going to chop wasn't what you'd call a perfect stand. It was the aftermath of a perfect storm. The Great White Combine had already been through it in July. Hailstones the size of canned hams sort of took the edge off of the top-end yield, that's for sure. But chop it we must, so I went at it.

During my time in the field, a truck pulled in and drove around a bit. No one got out of the truck to talk, so I figured they weren't looking to line up more custom work with me. When I stopped at one point, the truck pulled up next to me and stopped. The driver was someone I didn't know, but he chatted like he knew me. Not only did I not recognize him, I didn't recognize his license plate number or his truck, even though it had Winneshiek County plates on it. He hadn't called me by name at that point, so I wasn't as troubled as when some stranger knows you and you don't know him.

After some general discussion about weather and corn, he and his passenger fired up the truck and continued on through the field. It was odd, to say the least. They weren't pheasant hunters; it wasn't mushroom season; they weren't neighbors. They appeared to just be moseyers.

Once they left and I started on another wagon, I got to the end of the end rows I was chopping and saw a startling sight on my AgCam screen. There was no wagon behind me!!! I'd have sworn there was one there moments before!

I looked back to see how my always-trusty Agri-Speed hitch could possibly have gotten divorced from my wagon. The cable wasn't caught on anything, so I knew it hadn't been pulled to release the wagon. I was on reasonably flat ground, so I knew we hadn't crossed any ditches or other obstructions to separate my chopper from the wagon. Still, as a rule, that kind of stuff just doesn't happen spontaneously.

I climbed out of the cab to see what the problem was, now that I was a good 50 or 75 yards away from my wagon. It was easy to track, what with the trail of silage running across the field from the chopper to the wagon Hansel and Gretel style. Sure enough, I was still connected to my wagon like I should be. At least, I was hooked onto the part that hooks onto the chopper. It’s just that that part wasn't hooked onto the wagon anymore. The balance of the wagon was way behind me where gravity brought it to rest. The wagon tongue had come loose from the running gear. I figured this would be a matter of a bolt falling out. I'd just put a bolt back into the slot, slap a nut on it, crank the wrench on it a bit to tighten it up again, and then get back to chopping.

Then I got down on my hands and knees to get a better look. It wasn’t a bolt problem. No missing washers, nuts or even lock nuts. Nope, this was going to take a steel oncology mechanic. We were looking at MAJOR rust problems. All of those loads we had chopped at home, not to mention the hundreds or thousands that had been chopped in the wagon's life up to that point, had evidently been done with little wisps of steel holding the wagon together like the filaments of a comb-over from pompadours past. The infrastructure had begun to crumble and finally gave way completely. Take a look at the attached photos to see how much bright shiny steel was involved and how much dingy rust was connecting the wagon tongue to the running gear. See if you don't gasp like I did.

That view pretty much made me instantly replay every load I had chopped so far that fall, recalling how much slope was involved in each one, and how much road time with steep ditches was involved. And yet, the crumbling infrastructure managed to hold together juuuuuuust long enough to finally snap on halfway level ground and then roll to a stop a few yards away. No runaway freight trains, no slamming headlong into traffic, no mighty, mighty leaps into cavernous ditches. Just a quiet little whimper that couldn’t be heard from inside the cab.

Now the big question. Do I call the guys at the Parts counter at John Deere to order a new wagon tongue? My triage work told me not to bother calling the rehabilitation specialists to see about getting some prosthetics. This was a situation for the Steel Oncology Mechanic. Namely, my cousin Merlin, who runs The Steel Shop east of Cresco. Merlin the Metal Magician could come out with his portable welder and perform some surgery to get me going again. It’s not that he does it routinely, but, uh, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve gotten in touch about a “house call.”

Merlin’s welding partner, Ron, showed up in the field a little while later. He got everything checked out, hooked up and then went about some surgical reattachment work right there at the crime scene. Oh sure, we had to take a break now and then to put out the occasional cornstalk fire when sparks from the welder lit the field ablaze, but it was more of a “stomp-it-with-your-boots” kind of a thing than a “Call-911-right-after-Irwin-Allen!” kind of a thing. Besides, Ron is a volunteer firefighter in nearby Lime Springs. I was curious to see just how big he’d let the flames get before HE decided to break down and call for the tankers and big hoses. Fortunately, this was corn silage and not dry corn harvest. Toss in all of the dry stuff coming out of a combine and THEN you’d have yourself a fire!

It didn’t take long for Ron to form a bond between the rogue wagon tongue and the running gear once again that would make a marriage counselor envious. That's the way a good steel oncologist works, though. They hold stuff together better than Super Glue. In the big speed-dial of life on the farm, they belong way up toward the top of the list . . . probably behind the number for the Parts counter, but maybe even ahead of the BBQ joint's takeout number.

Oh, the moseying truck? That was a hail adjuster crew. How cool would it have been for me to lose a wagon and have it come to a crunching stop against the door of an insurance guy’s truck?

Try not to choke on that irony.

Guy No. 2

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