10-year anniversary of the Rushford flood

Saturday, August 18, started as a typical weekend day in Rushford, but it wouldn’t end like a typical day. In fact, it’s a day that lives on in infamy and will for a long time to come. The Rushford, Minnesota, 2007 flood had begun.

Rain began to fall that evening. It started out as a torrential downpour and it just never let up. It wouldn’t let up for approximately 24 hours. By the early hours of Sunday morning, Rushford had filled up with water and authorities were ordering residents to evacuate. 17 inches of rainfall in a short space of time triggered a flood that saw over five feet of water filling up the Rushford area. The road to recovery would be a long and hard one.

Rushford flood 2007

17 inches of rain in a 24-hour period left behind a once-a-generation flood in Rushford, Minnesota. August of this year marked the ten-year anniversary of the Rushford flood of 2007. (Photo courtesy of Fillmore County Emergency Management)

August marked the ten-year anniversary of the flood. While the recovery stories were incredibly challenging, they were also heartwarming as the community rallied together. Ten different people would give ten different answers to the question, “Can you believe it’s been ten years since the flood?” Looking back, all would agree it was a difficult time.

“It almost seems like it’s been longer than that,” said Pam Brand, owner of Pam’s Corner in Rushford. “Sometimes it feels like it hasn’t been that long, but then I look at everything the community’s been through since then and it feels even longer than that.”

Jim Hoiness, co-owner of Rushford Foods, said it feels like ten years have gone by very quickly, calling it ‘amazing.’ It’s especially amazing when he looks back at where the community came from to where it is today. “We’ve been very blessed,” he said.

Saturday, August 18th, was just another weekend day to the Brands, who’d made plans that day for a grill out with friends, but the torrential rains made that impossible. They didn’t hear about the flooding in Rushford until the next morning, partly because they live ten miles outside of town. A phone call from one of their employees was the first clue they had.

“The employee that opened up on Sunday morning called me and said, ‘Rushford is flooding,’” she said. “We thought that meant the streets might be full of water, so we said we’d be there soon. The employee called back and said, ‘you really need to come now,’ telling us that Rushford was flooding and there was water everywhere.”

Coming in from the south side of Rushford, the Brands made it to the bridge before they were stopped by water. A lot of water. They needed to get to the store, so they took off in their car, which almost made it to the store before stalling. They would wade in water the rest of the way to the store.

The Hoiness family was at a family reunion when it started raining. Even when Jim got home, it was still raining, so he decided to head down to Rushford Foods and take a look at the building. When he got to the store, the loading dock was completely full of water. That water was about one foot from getting into the main store. At that point, Jim said there was nothing he could do about it and went home to hunker down. He wouldn’t see the extent of the damage until the next morning.

The Brands were also seeing water getting closer to their business. The family began moving items in their store to the second floor, getting help from customers who happened to be in the store at the time and were virtually trapped there. They also made what would turn out to be a good decision to shut down all the electrical equipment, a decision that would help them get back on their feet a little quicker than they would have. However, they were still left with a mess.

“A muddy, muddy mess,” Brand said. “It took an awful lot of work to clean up a mess like that but we have an awful lot of good people in this community and the surrounding areas. Folks came from all over to help everybody clean up. It was amazing. I never dreamed that anything like that could happen.”

Jim Hoiness faced a similarly monumental task to get the Rushford Foods building cleaned up. He used the word ‘miracle’ to describe the process as 400 volunteers came to his store to help with cleanup.

Rushford MN Flood 2007

When flood waters recede, they don’t leave behind a suddenly washed-clean environment. That’s when the real cleanup work begins and it’s not pretty at all, as Rushford, MN, found out in 2007. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

“I don’t believe we ever asked anyone to come and help,” Hoiness said. “They just showed up. It was the nastiest job you could ever have, to try and clean up through that muck and mud. It’s a tedious job.”

Hoiness said several of the volunteers were community residents, but there were a lot of people that came in from out of town. In fact, a group of confirmation students from an area Catholic church/school called Hoiness to ask if they could come down and help.

“I talked to the teacher when they first came over,” Hoiness remembered, “and she said the students were a little reluctant to come over, at first. The students worked in the Mill Street Mall (which Hoiness also owns) and helped clean it up. After that, the teacher called back and said the students wanted to return over a couple of Saturdays and finish the job.”

Hoiness said that’s what sticks in his mind the most when he remembers the flood. It’s the people that came to help. It’s not fun to clean up something like that. It’s smelly and dirty. Without that volunteer help, it’s hard to even get a start on a job like that.

“It would be virtually impossible to pay someone for a job that big,” he added. “It would be incredibly expensive.”

Brand said it took a few months before she felt Pam’s Corner was fully back on its feet again. Hoiness said Rushford Foods took a lot of work to get going again as well. Hoiness said they had to remove several feet of interior and exterior walls from the ground up because of water damage. As they got back on their feet, Pam said it was heartwarming to see everyone working together to get Rushford moving again.

“You could see everyone helping each other,” she remembered. “We saw a lot of former community members that had moved away and were coming back to help with cleanup, including former residents that we hadn’t seen in years. Everyone really stuck together to help each other get back on their feet again. It was really quite amazing.”

Hoiness said it was ‘miraculous’ that Rushford Foods could be back in business in only 71 days. They couldn’t have done it without all the help that showed up. He feels Rushford has come a long way since the epic flood in 2007.

“I think so,” he said. “I think things look very good. A lot of homes and businesses were redone. We’re very fortunate.”

Brand said the year after the flood saw Rushford beginning to take shape again, saying everything looked stronger and new. She said it looked like Rushford had done the right things to get going in the right direction again. Does she still believe that ten years later?

“I believe it is, yes,” she said firmly.

Here’s a YouTube video of the flood and some of the damage that it left behind:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheep and goats getting more popular on southeast MN farms

The sounds of sheep and goats on southeast Minnesota farms are becoming a little more common than most residents realize. The last couple of years have seen increasing interest in raising the smaller breeds of livestock for a variety of reasons.

sheep and goats

Sheep and goat numbers are picking up on farms across southeast Minnesota, due in part to the smaller size of the animal, especially when it comes to 4H competition.

As sheep interest continues growing in both Houston and Fillmore counties, the Extension Service will host a couple of sheep-related workshops this summer. A sheep producer workshop is set for Rushford on June 16th, with a sheep workshop for area 4H members on the 17th in Preston. Extension Educator Michael Cruse said many area residents might not know that sheep and goat numbers are on the rise.

“Sheep and goats are on the increase in Houston and Fillmore counties,” Cruse said, “especially for 4H projects. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary reason is they’re smaller animals and easier to handle for 4H kids.”

He said the sheep producer meeting in Rushford is a unique opportunity for area livestock farmers. The University of Minnesota Extension Service recently hired a Sheep Specialist named Travis Hoffman, who the U of M is sharing with North Dakota. After talking with Hoffman over the winter, Cruse wanted to put together a couple of events to maximize his time if he made the trip to southeast Minnesota.

sheep and goats

Houston and Fillmore County Extension Agent Michael Cruse is putting on Extension programs for sheep farmers and 4H kids that want to exhibit sheep and goats at local competitions. (photo from bluffcountrynews.com)

“That’s why we put together a two-day event, starting on June 16th from 2-5 pm,” Cruse said, “Hoffman will be here to do a producer meeting in Rushford and talk about everything from lamb marketing to production management to economics, with a pizza supper at the end.

“A lot of the raising and marketing of sheep is similar to other types of livestock,” Cruse added. “But with sheep, there are a lot of products you can get from them. You can market the wool, the meat, or market them as show animals. There’s a whole range of avenues you could take, and that doesn’t even take into account the organic and grass fed categories that beef is also subject to.”

He said producers would have a chance to visit with both Hoffman and Cruse after the meeting. Then, the attention turns from sheep producers to 4H kids the next day from 8 till noon at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds.

“It’ll be a rotational type of educational event with three or four sessions for the youth,” Cruse said. “Showmanship will be one of the educational sessions as Travis (Hoffman) was also a state judge for sheep. The kids will be allowed to bring one of their own 4H-registered sheep to this event in order to practice showing their sheep, learning to get their feet in the right spot, and how to answer a judge’s questions professionally.”

He said this is a great opportunity for area 4H kids to learn, providing they can get enough people signed up.

Cruse said there are a number of reasons for the growing interest in sheep and goats across the area. First and foremost, there are marketing opportunities for sheep and sheep products, especially in Iowa. There’s also an immigrant population in Rochester and the Twin Cities that prefers both sheep and goat meat.

The other side of it is the animals themselves. They’re much smaller and don’t require as much land to raise, especially for 4H families. Sheep and goats don’t need as much space as a beef cow or larger hog.

“It’s a lot easier to get three or four ewes onto a piece of property than a full-grown dairy steer, for example,” Cruse said. “It’s also easier for the younger children in a farm family to handle the animals too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Oggun farm tractor

Oggun Farm Tractor

Southeast Minnesota residents got their first peek at the Oggun farm tractor at a viewing at Featherstone Farms of Rushford earlier this month. (Photo by Chad Smith)

It’s called the Oggun (Oh-goon), and it’s a different take on the farm tractor than many folks in agriculture may be used to. Southeast Minnesota residents got their first look at the new tractor during a showcase event at Featherstone Farms of Rushford on Wednesday, April 5.

 

The tractor was specifically designed for smaller farms, but that’s not what makes it unique. It’s unique in its design, it’s price, and the way it’s adaptable to newer technologies. The tractor has many unique characteristics, especially because it’s built with an open-source manufacturing design and parts you could find at a local tractor supply company. The idea for the tractor first began a short time ago.

The idea

Former IBM engineers and long-time business partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal (a Cuban-American) came together to form Alabama-based Cleber LLC. One day, Berenthal told Clemmons he wanted to do business back in his native country. The two talked over a lot of options, including software, but decided to go in a different direction.

“They started looking at things going on in the country,” said Locky Catron, a partner in Cleber, during opening remarks to the people in attendance, “and saw that the government had given land back to about 300,000 farmers, but there were only 60,000 tractors on the island.”

The tractors were all roughly 30 years old and of Russian design. Horace decided in June of 2015 that he and Saul were going to build tractors for Cuba. They needed to build something simple and easily fixed, because Cuban farmers were used to fixing everything themselves. They also needed to build something that was affordable. Mass production of tractors began in November of 2016.

The model

“That’s why they went to the open-source manufacturing model,” Catron said, “using all off-the-shelf parts. They designed the tractor based on the design of the Allis-Chalmers G. After doing all the work to put it together, the company realized business probably wasn’t going to happen in Cuba until the embargo is lifted.”

Once American farmers got wind of what Cleber was doing, they showed a lot of interest in the product as well. The business then set up shop in Paint Rock, Alabama, and began showing it to interested American farmers.

“I learned a valuable lesson from the Cuban farmers,” Clemmons said, “because they helped us understand how we can better serve farmers across the globe. $10,000 is still a lot of money to small farmers across the globe, so we have to create a business model where the price goes down every year.”

Cleber, LLC., told customers around the globe, including in Ethiopia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Australia, that they would give them the design of the tractor, which most companies don’t do. They agreed to ship parts that their customers couldn’t make in their countries with the idea that eventually the countries would take over the entire manufacturing process.

“We have offered a business proposition to our customers that says, ‘put me out of business,’” Clemmons said. “That’s about the only way we’re going to get 40-50 percent of the world’s smallest farmers equipped to do their work.”

People ask him how they expect to make money. His answer was a simple one.

“It’s called trust,” he said. “It’s called value-added. How hard would it be to use this technology and turn it into a skid steer? It’s got the engine, it’s got the hydraulics, so I’d take the tires off and put tracks on, and put a bucket on the front.”

He said they designed components to put together and they want to let people be creative in how they use those components.

The advantages

“Equipment (like tractors) is built using proprietary systems,” Catron said. “It’s unique components for a unique piece of equipment. We’re building the Oggun tractor that’s open-source, we’re building it using architectures, and we’re building it in the same way that technology is currently built today.”

Clemmons said the Oggun technology is simple, unique, practical, and it’s what small farmers need. Using off-the-shelf parts to build their tractors improves the local economies of their customers as well. The replacement parts can be found at local businesses like ag supply stores or auto parts stores.

“The parts don’t come painted certain colors, with patents on them, but instead they come out of the local economy,” Clemmons said. “All of that lowers the price over time because of the larger volume we get by using readily available components. Those components lower the price for everyone over time.”

Some of the specific tractor specs include a 19-horsepower Honda gas engine. The tractor length is just over 10 feet long and the weight is 1700 pounds. The brakes and the steering are hydraulic, with independent hydraulic drive. There’s also a unique zero-turn capability that comes with this tractor. It also has a 3-point hitch for implements. There’s also an optional PTO capability as well.

“It’s more than a tractor, the Oggun is a different way of thinking,” Clemmons added. More information is available at www.thinkoggun.com.

Rushford family still feels void after Vietnam

Jerry Johnson, Rushford, Minnesota, Vietnam War

Jerry Johnson of Rushford, Minnesota, was one of the first soldiers from southeast Minnesota to be killed in the Vietnam War. The family left behind still feels the scars over a half century later. (Contributed photo)

It’s been over half a century since the end of the Vietnam War, but the scars for some are still as fresh as the day it ended. For those families whose relatives didn’t make it home from the war, they feel the void that is left as big as it was all those years ago.

Rushford native Jerry A. Johnson was one of the many men who didn’t make it home from his deployment to Vietnam.

He grew up in a military family, and some of his earliest pictures as a child showed him wearing miniature Navy sailor suits. Johnson’s story is a true picture of sacrifice. Medical reasons should have kept him out of the military but he went anyway.

Family history of service

“He came from a family of soldiers,” said Rosemarie Morken, Jerry’s sister. “His father, Harvey, served in World War II in France, Germany and Austria. He had two uncles – Clarence, who served in the Army, and Wallace, who served in the United States Air Force.”

On his mother’s (Bernice) side of the family, she had three brothers who served. Two of them served with one dying in service to his country. Her brother, Kenneth, was in the Army, and her brother, George, was a pilot in the Army, serving in Africa during World War II, where he was killed. In addition, Johnson’s brother, Harold, served in the Navy from 1956-1962.

“When his father was in the Army,” Morken said, “even then, Jerry was a little soldier. He and his brother, Harold, often wore little sailor suits or Army uniforms while growing up in Rushford.’

Johnson’s love of country and family

“He loved to play baseball, go fishing and hunting, and would often spend time with his sister and brother-in-law to help take care of their eight kids,” Morken reminisced about her brother.

Johnson was born on Oct. 15, 1941, to Harvey and Bernice Johnson. His siblings included sisters Yvonne, Marilyn and Rosemarie, along with his brother Harold.

Johnson died when he was only 23. Morken described him as a quiet man. When he first went to enlist in the service, they wouldn’t take him.

“He had a heart murmur,” Morken said. “But, then they turned around and drafted him when ‘Nam broke out. He was a quiet man, so he did what he was told. Jerry entered the Army in 1964 and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he was in the First Infantry Division.”

Johnson had only been in Vietnam around two months when that knock came at their front door. It was the knock no family wants to hear.

“He was one of the first soldiers from southeast Minnesota to die (in Vietnam),” she said. “Then came a letter from one of the soldiers with Jerry in Vietnam. He said Jerry had been sick and that they took him to a hospital for an X-ray of his lungs, which came back clear.”

The letter said Johnson had recently been sent out on detail to someplace near Saigon shortly before his death.

“Another soldier called Jerry’s mother and said he was with Jerry when he died,” Morken explained. “He said that he (Jerry) died from shrapnel on Aug. 9, 1965.” A year later, the family received a document from the military saying Johnson had been killed in action.

Johnson posthumously earned the Medal of Honor, second class, from the Republic of Vietnam.

In 1986, the family received Johnson’s Purple Heart and certificate. He also earned the Gold Star lapel pin, Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze and two silver stars, an expert badge with ribbon bar, the National Defense ribbon, and the Republic of Vietnam campaign ribbon.

In 1965, Johnson’s mother inquired about becoming a Gold Star Mother through the Veterans Administration. Women are eligible to become Gold Star Mothers if their sons are killed in the line of battle. She became a Gold Star Mother in the Winona Chapter, where the names of her son and brother are in a book that Rosemarie has.

Johnson’s service to country is honored in several locations.

The First Division was also called the Big Red One. The museum in Wheaton, Ill., has his name up on its memorial wall. He’s also listed on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

There’s also a Big Red One Memorial at the Executive Building across the street from the White House where his name is listed. He’s mentioned in other locations like the Fort Snelling Book of Remembrance.

“He could have fought the draft,” Morken said. “He didn’t. Jerry did what his country wanted him to do.”

It’s time to “Fetch” the groceries

When shoppers walk in the door of the Rushford Foods grocery store, things will look the same on the surface, but there’s a small change in the environment that means a big change for grocery shopping.

Groceries and Fetch are now together in the technology age

Rushford Foods is one of the newest stores trying to bring grocery shopping into the technology age with an application called “Fetch,” that seeks to make grocery shopping more efficient for shoppers of all ages. (photo from rushfordfoods.com)

The pop culture saying “there’s an app for that” now applies to grocery shopping.  Rushford Foods is now gone online with an application called Fetch, which is designed to make patrons into more efficient shoppers.  The options on the app are many, but they’re surprisingly easy to learn.

“Fetch is two years old and based in Madison, Wisconsin,” said Tristan Bednarek of Fetch Rewards.   “Chief Executive Officer Wes Schroll is the company’s founder.  As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he grew frustrated with some aspects of grocery shopping, especially with the length of time it took and the difficulty in finding coupons.  He found a way to fix those problems.”

It’s time to “Fetch” the groceries

The Fetch Rewards company’s “Fetch” grocery shopping application is online at IGA food stores in Rushford, Preston, and Harmony, Minnesota food stores to help make grocery shopping easier for shoppers of all ages. (Photo from superbcrew.org)

Fetch is a free mobile application that shoppers can download onto their smartphones or tablets.  However, if customers don’t own their own device, Rushford Foods will provide tablets for them to use.  All they have to do is check out one at the service counter.

Using an application to help their customers shop isn’t something that Rushford Foods jumped into.  It’s been a process that first began 18 months ago thanks to an article in a college newsletter.

“The founder of Fetch is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate,” said Rushford Foods co-owner Brad Hoiness, “but I went to school at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and the story appeared the La Crosse newsletter. It peaked my interest, so I drove to Madison and met with his team over there and watched how it’s been developing since then.”The first step in using the app is a simple one:  open up the app on your smart device.

“The Deals page is the first one you see when the application opens up,” said Emma Malone of Rushford Foods. “You grab the coupon you want by hitting the Fetch button.  Coupons can even be divided into categories like Dairy or Frozen foods.”

“The Deals page is the first one you see when the app is running,” said Emma Malone of Rushford Foods. “You grab the coupon you want by hitting the Fetch button.  Coupons can even be divided into categories like Dairy or Frozen foods.”

As shoppers go through the aisles and scan items, they are awarded a certain number of points for each item, and those points are redeemable for free items.

Get the groceries with the new “Fetch” application

Photographs from the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Mayville WI. where they are using a software app that allows to people to scan products in the store with their phones or the store has 6 loaner tablet devices, receive coupons instantly and have expedited check-out. You also get points and then can get free products. Fetch Rewards is the name of the Madison-based company that sets this up. Here Mike Hansen of Horicon scans in a bar code from the mushrooms he was buying with one of the store’s loaner tablets. (Photo from MICHAEL SEARS/MSEARS@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM)

“As shoppers walk up and down the aisles, they’re scanning everything they’re buying,” Bednarek said.  “The camera on your device will scan the barcodes for you and total up the prices of what you’re buying.  The app uses your camera and you don’t even have to press any buttons to scan something.  It takes the picture all by itself.  The item then gets thrown in your digital cart while you put it in your actual shopping cart.”

The app keeps a running total of what you’ve bought as you scan each item.  It doesn’t add sales tax so the checkout line final total will be a little different.  The application will show you different coupon options available for the items you want to purchase.

“Those coupons you select in the app come off automatically as you shop,” he said.  “When a coupon is available for something you scan and you haven’t selected it previously, you’ll see a pop-up that asks if you want to save money on the item.  All you do is hit the Fetch button.”

Buying produce will be a little different than most of the other items.  You begin by scanning the barcodes on each produce table which will contain several different options.

“Once you scan the barcode,” said Malone, “a list of everything on the table pops up and shoppers will select the one they want.  A blue button on the screen will remind shoppers to take the produce to scales to weigh the product.  Once it’s on the scale, a barcode pops up in the top right corner with the weight and price.  You scan that barcode with your smart device and it goes right into your virtual shopping cart.”

The Fetch Rewards company loads coupons into the application, and their manufacturer partners do too. Each store that signs up with Fetch will offer their own coupons too.

“You’ll get the same store savings using the app,” Bednarik said, “as we’re not replacing anything.  We’re just an addition on top of what the stores are doing.  Customers still have the opportunity to use manufacturer coupons that they clip out of newspapers.”

When the time comes to redeem the bonus points, shoppers should first hit the checkout button.  A list of everything you have will pop up and show how much you saved on each item.  The total number of points available determines how many of the shopping items will be free.  Each item will cost a certain number of redeemable points and the more of those shoppers have, the more they save.

Fetch Rewards just partnered with a company called Shop Well and the application can now flag nutritional information as well.  This is especially important for shoppers who suffer from food allergies or simply want to live healthier.

“They provide us with nutritional information,” Bednarek said.  “If you scan an item, you have the option to look at its ingredients list and it gives information like sodium content or cholesterol amounts.  Shoppers can even update their profiles to include food allergies and gluten intolerance.  All those things can be flagged so that when you scan an item, it will let you know.”

Southeast Minnesota grocery stores where Fetch is now available include Rushford Foods, as well as Harmony Foods and Preston Foods.  All three IGA food stores just went live with the application for the first time last Wednesday.

“We’ve trained the employees first, getting them comfortable and familiar with the app,” Bednarek said.  “They can answer any questions customers ask.

“We’ve also had several people use it to check out their groceries and they’ve said it’s very easy to learn,” Bednarek added.  “I’ve even had people tell me it turned grocery shopping a little more fun, which is not something you hear on a regular basis.”

Here’s a demonstration video I put together when I was doing the story for Bluff Country News.  I didn’t actually intend to put it up for public viewing, but I thought it would give a decent enough idea of how Fetch works.  If you put your playback on the HD setting, I think the picture is good enough to understand.  Of course, you can also go to Rushford Foods or any of the other stores that have it for more  information.

Chad

 

 

 

 

 

 

Checking out the Friendship Wagon Train in Rushford

Talk about getting some sun this weekend.

Friendship Wagon Train

One of the many wagon trains parked in Rushford on Sunday night during a stopover for the 28th annual Friendship Wagon Train which is touring southeast Minnesota to raise funds for Camp Winnebago. (photo by Chad Smith

After spending some time with the wife and one of my many sons at the Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm on Friday night, I hit the road for Fountain to take a few pictures of their Trail Days Festival for the Bluff Country Newspaper Group.  I’m really not sure which paper these pics go in, but that’s okay.  The company has six papers and their corresponding websites and plans to add more so that’s just more to keep track of.

I drove down to Rushford on Sunday night to check out the Friendship Wagon Train that was camping out in Rushford.  What a beautiful night it was!  In case you don’t know what it is, this Train and the folks that participate have a simple goal:  They want to raise money for a place called Camp Winnebago, which is just outside of Caledonia.

Friendship Wagon Train Rides again

After covering 15-20 miles a day on the Friendship Wagon Train, it was time to cool off the horses during a Sunday night stop in Rushford. The Wagon Train continues through the rest of this week

The camp does really great work with adults and children that have developmental disabilities.  They bring the folks down for a week at a time, so it’s a series of one-week camps for the adults and children to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, which may be something that the rest of us take a little for granted.

This wagon train has been raising around $30,000 a year for the last several years, and the money goes straight to the camp for what Wagon Master John Davis calls ‘camperships.’  They help to pay the way for someone who can’t afford it to come to camp.

Friendship Wagon Train

It takes a lot of people, vehicles, and livestock to put on a successful Friendship Wagon Train, seen here during a stop Sunday night in Rushford. They’re touring southeast Minnesota to raise funds for developmentally disabled adults and children. (photo by Chad Smith

Got to see John and the folks on a beautiful day in Rushford as they work to support a great cause.  I asked John what it’s like to travel for a week straight in a covered wagon?  He said, and I quote, “I can’t believe the divorce rate wasn’t higher!”  He was laughing as he said it.  You do spend a lot of time together with your spouse and the rest of the group, and the weather conditions may not always cooperate.  After all, “We don’t have any dang air conditioning in the wagon,” is how John described it.

Here’s a few of the pics I took Sunday night.  I’ll have the complete coverage of the event this week in bluffcountrynews.com and the Tri-County Record.

 

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Friendship Wagon Train

It’s time to get some shade and rest during an overnight stop in Rushford for the Friendship Wagon Train, which is on tour around southeast Minnesota to raise funds for scholarships to Camp Winnebago. (photo by Chad Smith)

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Friendship Wagon Train

The livestock gets a break on Sunday night from the Friendship Wagon Train during a layover in Rushford. (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Tractor Safety Class brings back farm memories

I had some serious flashbacks to the teen years when I got an assignment to take some pictures at a Tractor Safety Class in Rushford the other day. Watching some wide-eyed 12-15-year-old kids drive a tractor through an obstacle course and have to hook up the hydraulics of a commercial mower to the back of a different tractor looked like fun and a challenge all at the same time.

As a middle-aged man, the first thing you’re tempted to do is compare what the equipment of today is like to what you grew up on years ago.  Of course, the biggest difference is electronics and buttons to push instead of hydraulic levers to yank every time you wanted to do something.

The other big difference is an enclosed cab versus an open air seat.  I remember a lot of 90-100 degree days where air conditioning would have been nice, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I also didn’t know that the hydraulic hoses are now color-coded to make it easier to hook up to a tractor, which is a nice change from the old days.

The kids that took the course had to sit in a classroom for a couple of days before they got to go outside on one of the most beautiful days of the year to take the practical tests.  Did you ever have to back up farm equipment before and the implements appeared to do the exact opposite of what you wanted it to?  You turn it the OPPOSITE way of the direction you wanted it to go?  How aggravating could that be when you first were learning the business?

Tractor Safety Class is a good thing.

The Bobcat skid steer loader was always my favorite equipment to operate, but it wasn’t always an easy gig when you’re first learning how to operate it! (photo from bobcatrental.ca)

One of the more embarrassing flashbacks was learning to drive a skid steer.  That was always my favorite thing to operate, but the first time I tried to load it up onto the trailer, I forgot you need to take it up backward.  You can imagine what came next, right?  It winds up on its backside, but all I needed to do was push the levers forward and it was back on all four wheels.  It’s probably not hard to believe that it took awhile for me to stop hearing about that one!

I didn’t know this course was federally mandated.  You obviously will need the certification to work on farms, but it’s also necessary to work on the big commercial-scale lawnmowers as well, so keep that in mind.