Corn Pickers and Short Tempers

I was on a short jaunt through the local countryside the other day and I happened to go by a farmstead that is still remembered in our community as “the place where the guy with the terrible temper lived.” Such things are generally not remembered to such an extent because we all know that farming, just by the nature of the machinery, tools and vehicles used, causes an extraordinary amount of enormous temper tantrums. However, in this case, the farmer’s complete and total boil-over caught the attention of the whole community and is still talked about.

It happened in this way back in the early ’60s. This farmer had just purchased a new John Deere 227 corn picker and had mounted it on his nearly new 730 tractor. The first day out with his new toy, he was picking corn north of his house when something got stuck in the snapping rollers. He stopped the tractor and bailed off and, in his impatience, did not kick the PTO out of gear, allowing the picker to keep running. In his know-it-all impatience, he had not taken the time to read the warnings about getting hands anywhere near the snapping rollers. He started to reach in to unplug them and he was VERY lucky in that the rollers only took the meat off the ends of two fingers before he jerked them back. The searing pain and the sight of all that blood triggered his terrible temper. His eyeballs rolled, his teeth gnashed and steam shot out of his ears, totally erasing any good sense he may have ever had. Hurriedly wrapping his handkerchief around his dripping fingers, he climbed back on his tractor, shoved it into gear and, still turning the air blue with the worst curses and epithets he could think of, drove it up close to a row of willow trees, about eight inches around, in his grove. He rammed the picker between two trees and pushed the throttle wide open. He took the tractor out of gear, jumped off and yelled at the smoking, squealing rollers, “Chew on that for awhile you @#$%&*! Maybe it will taste better than my fingers!”

Needless to say, the damage to both trees and picker was considerable and a legend was born. After I had passed the notorious farmstead which, incidentally, still had the famous gnawed and misshapen trees in the grove, I started remembering many other bad temper eruptions.

My grandfather-in-law was a kind, generous, loving man, but there were some things that would trigger a latent BAD temper. One occasion that the family still talks about happened in the late 1930s on his small farm in the hills. He had spent the better part of one day replacing the wood on one side of his farm wagon. Just as he was putting the finishing touches to it, he smashed his thumb with the hammer. He stopped dead still for a long minute, staring at the hammer still in his hand. His wife, who just happened to look out the kitchen window at this moment, said to herself, “Here we go again.”

He tore the big felt hat he always wore off his head, slammed it to the ground and then jumped up and down on it until it was flat. He then roared over to the side of the wagon box he had just fixed and pounded it to splinters with his hammer. With the fires of his temper still not quite quenched, he then threw his hammer over into a patch of weeds so far away that he never did find it again.

The story is still told about a man of Irish ancestry who was an early settler in this area. He had built a new frame house and was very proud of it, but he kept hearing strange noises in the night, like something was running up and down between the walls. (For very young readers, this was before houses had insulation.) No amount of yelling at the noises or pounding on the walls seemed to diminish the sounds of activity going on inside. With a wily grin, he cut a hole in the outside wall, grabbed his favorite tomcat, who was a good hunter, shoved him into the hole, and nailed the hole shut, saying, “That cat will kill them critters in there.”

A couple of days and nights went by and while some of the squeaking and scratching noises were diminished, the sounds were still ruining his sleep. The next night, the noise was greater than ever, so he jumped out of bed, grabbed his double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun and let loose with both barrels at the wall. Hunks of plaster and lath flew all over, but when the dust cleared, the only critter that fell out of the hole was his cat. The noises continued unabated for most of his life, as did his temper fits.

There was a man in the area who had proudly driven home his new 95 combine from the dealership in town. He was very pleased to have the first one in our country with a factory cab and was positively beaming as he brought it to a stop in his driveway. His family all clamored around with oohs and aahs. One kid said, “Take me for a ride” and climbed up into the cab. He started it back up but for some reason, could not get it back into a forward gear. Not being much of a reader, he had cast the operator’s manual aside without even so much as a glance. He thought of himself, and liked others to think of him, as an expert with all the new machinery, but in reality, he did not understand any of it very well and caught himself yelling “Whoa!” at his tractors every once in a while when he needed to stop it. Now, wanting badly to impress his family with his expertise, he struggled mightily to get the combine in a forward gear, but for some reason could not. While struggling with the shift lever, he had also managed to engage the separator and unloading auger. His face turned very red and he cursed, “All right, you @#$%A&*! hunk of tin, if you won’t go forward, maybe you’ll go backward!” He clashed the gear some more and somehow got it into reverse. It violently lurched backward for some distance, there was a terrible noise and then it stopped. The impediment that stopped it was his pickup and it just so happened that the level of the hood on the pickup matched the

height of the hammers in the straw chopper and the hammers had turned the hood of his pickup into confetti, adding insult to injury.

A neighbor lady was pulling her temperamentally challenged husband, who was astride their old JD “G,” along the road with the pickup. His signals to her were always rather vague and unreadable, so when he waved frantically for her to slow down, she misread it and speeded up a little. A case of bad temper quickly descended upon him and as he screamed at the top of his lungs, “Slow this @#$%A&*! down!,” he also tromped on both brakes, which made the old “G” skid dangerously. The chain snapped and he and the “G” headed for the ditch. He bailed off just as it went over the side and rolled for some distance. The cement road was unyielding, but the skin on his back was not – it all came off very quickly.

There was another neighbor who always put up an electric fence around a field of corn stalk in the fall so he could turn his cattle into it. He had worked most of the day setting posts, stringing the wire and attaching it. He had rigged up a 30-gallon barrel that the wire was wound around and which attached to the back of his pickup and it had worked very well. He had to do it by himself because this man’s temper was so nasty that no one would help him any more. When he was nearly done and only a quarter-mile from the house, he spied a car that he instantly recognized pulling in the driveway. It was the insurance salesman!

Instantly frothy-mouthed and bug-eyed with anger, he screamed, “I am gonna run that @#$% weasel off the place once and for all!” He jumped into his pickup, slammed it into gear and tromped the accelerator clear to the floor. There was a very loud WHANG! and BOINGG! The barrel that was still attached to the wire he had attached to the posts was flung violently out of the back of the pickup into a tangled mess. Of course, you knew that the wire was going to be jerked off almost all the posts before it broke, didn’t you?

There was a character that everyone in the community feared because of his Mt. St. Helen’s-like temperament – you just never knew when he was going to blow. He had spent much time, effort and money restoring an old Ford truck. After admiring his finished work of art, he got in the cab to take it on its maiden voyage, but as he slammed the door shut, he somehow shut his finger in it. His rage was so instantly terrible that he almost tore the door off getting out of the cab. He grabbed his kid’s ball bat lying nearby and beat out all the windows, the lights and the windshield. Oh well, back to square one.

I knew of a guy who was the only boy in a family of many girls. He had been pampered and petted and horribly spoiled in his youth. Not surprisingly, he had a permanently bad tempered state of mind, instead of just the occasional outburst. Though I never actually saw this myself, it was told that he would kick his dog for just lying there. Despite all of this, he married a very nice woman and had sons, all of whom except one had fled the household at the earliest opportunity, leaving him to farm with the one son who had sufficient intestinal fortitude to put up with his tantrums and rantings.

One year, as they started harvest, his wife had insisted that he get glasses so he could see. This had come about after he had nearly run a loaded truck off into a very deep ditch after missing the driveway by a wide margin. As he started out to the field on this morning, his wife told him to put on (and keep wearing!) the detested and unneeded (he thought) glasses.

“I don’t need those@#$%/\&* glasses,” he fumed.

She said, “The eye doctor told you not to go to field without them!”

That did it! “No @#$%/\&* doctor is going to tell me what to do,” he bellowed and stomped out. He got in the tractor that was hooked to the stalk cutter and rattled off to the field where they had been cutting stalks near where the combine was working. He made several rounds successfully, congratulating himself over and over again about how well he did without the glasses. On the next round, he thought he saw a fuzzy­looking something on the end of the field, but didn’t pay much attention to it. He should have. It was a loaded grain truck parked close to where he needed to turn. He only tore off the bumper and one fender, though.

Then there was the guy who was stomping and fuming about how long it was taking the technician to fix the malfunctioning electrical system on his 105 combine. As he saw the neighbors going to the field and that he wasn’t, he became ever more agitated. Finally, the technician pronounced the problem fixed. He climbed in, revved the engine, backed it up and swung it around quickly to head for the field. With his depth perception perhaps somewhat distorted by the fire in his eyes, he failed to notice that the shop building was on the unloading auger side of the combine and he hit it, tearing the auger off the combine. He did not get to the field that day.

Another local legend had his bad temper aided and abetted by demon rum. Most mornings, he was pretty hung over. On this particular day, the weather was HOT. The humidity was HIGH. The flies were BITEY. The headache/hangover was BAD. He and his hired man were attempting to put a complete new driveline in a 707 Gyramor stalk cutter. They finally got it in and screwed down the cover. To make a long story short – the tractor it was hooked to had WAY more power than a 707 could safely take and instead of feathering the PTO to test out the cutter, he had slammed it into gear with the engine running about 1900 RPM and then pulled the throttle open full bore. The hired man ducked for cover as the parts began to fly and the smoke to roll. He threw up his arms, yelled at the hired man to fix the @#$0/o”&* thing himself, seeing as how it was all his fault anyway, and roared off to the nearest haven of comfort to find some hair of the dog.

Well, I started this tale with a corn picker and so I will end it with a corn picker. While the tractor-mounted corn pickers were a marvelous invention and a boon to farmers, they were NOT easy to mount on a tractor, despite the cheery instructions in the operator’s manuals. For two or three days prior to the time to put on the corn picker, just thinking about the task put everyone in the household in a state of fear and loathing. Even outsiders could tell that something difficult lay ahead with all the snapping and snarling that went on. When corn pickers were taken off in the fall (sometimes not until spring), everyone always seriously tried to get them on a level spot to make it easier to mount them the next fall. Usually, this was done in the alleyway of the corncrib, there not being many machine sheds with cement floors in those days. However, with all the heaving in the winter and settling in the spring, they were never level. Just putting on the undercarriage was a “three men and a boy” job and uncountable vertebrae were snapped or were never the same after doing all the lifting, prying and heaving that was required. Practically every corn picker owner had to be treated at one time or another for some sort of hernia, which did nothing to improve tempers. One guy, while nursing the busted knuckles on one hand, flew into a red rage, picked up a three-pound hammer and pounded the snoots flat before a calm mental attitude returned to him.

Now, I know that none of these terrible temper tantrums have ever taken hold of any of us or our loved ones. These bad-tempered persons are always “those other guys”. Yeah right!


By Lois Hobbs