Tuesday, May 18, 2004


You can go home again.

And you will be embraced. A few years ago I wrote my memoir of growing up on a farm in Palo Alto County, Iowa, Curlew: Home and residents welcomed me. The book spoke to them, and for them.

I've been invited to speak Wednesday at the Senior Wellness Fair in Emmetsburg, to make two presentations actually: "The Story of Curlew: Home", where I'll talk about the process of writing the book, and read from it; and my Vagabond in the Middle presentation, where I'll speak about my current work, and read selections from the Vagabond Journals.

I don't suppose I'll sell a lot of books, though selling a few would be nice; what's important is being able to explain what I do, what I love doing, and share some of it with people in the seat of the county where I grew up. These are the people among whom I was raised, and they shaped me indeliably, just as that place in Iowa that has marked me forever. One receives, one also gives back.



I was shocked yesterday when I looked at the mail and saw a big, colored photograph of Harry Eisele on the front of the Redfield Press, Redfield, SD. It's not Harry's photograph that was shocking, but the fact that it accompanied an article entitled "A Success Story for EMS Week." Any time the Emergency Medical Technicians show up, you know it's not good.

I had interviewd Harry when I was in Redfield a year ago. Harry is 92. He had farmed all his working life outside Redfield, near Frankfort, SD; farmed, and led a dance band. Harry plays saxophone. He gave up an opportunity to audition for Lawrence Welk in 1933 when his father took sick. Middle western duty: Harry stayed on the farm instead of becoming a big-time musician. Still, he had his dance band for sixty years! When I asked him how he could play music much of the night several nights a week and still get up in the morning to farm, he said that sometimes when he got tired, he had to stop the tractor and rest his head for a bit on the steering wheel; and sometimes he had to stop the tractor and take a nap on the ground in the shade of it, out in the middle of his field.

According to the Redfield Press, "Harry Eisele survived a series of heart attacks thanks to a quick thinking barber, a pair of prompt and prepared paramedics, two dedicated deputy sheriffs, and an incomparable local medical staff."

As Harry tells the story, he'd stopped to get a haircut; "Art Solheim was ahead of me, and we always have a few remarks of wisdom when we meet. I remember getting in the chair, and when Art walked out the door I said to Dick [the barber], 'There's a good guy,' but Dick said he had a hard head of hair to cut."

That is the last thing Harry remembers, until he woke up in the Sioux Falls Hospital.

Thanks to all those local heroes, Harry was still around to wake up in the hospital. And that pleases me greatly. See, I still owe Harry a dinner. He tricked me into letting him buy me dinner, when it had been my intention to buy dinner for him after our interview was done. So I owe him one. I hope to repay the debt when I am back in Redfield this July.

Dawn Oakley, one of the EMTs who provided emergency treatment to Harry, thinks he survived his ordeal because "he definitely had things left to do. Given his age, it's really something. He gives so much to the community, and plans to get back to doing that."

See you in July, Harry.



It started innocently enough. In the May 13, 1998 "Morning Drive Journal" entry I posted here the other day I said: “The old horse is out to the far end of his pasture this morning. This is not usual. What is it a portent of?” Peter at slow reads left a comment that he's glad he is "not the only one who wonders what the position of large animals in a field portends." I suggested maybe Peter could write a blog-entry outlining his thoughts about portents in the movment and location of large animals. Well, seems this fellow Nash wrote a letter touching on this very subject, and Peter posted it yesterday. The letter concludes with an idea for a research project:"I’m starting small," Nash writes. "I’m hoping to get a grant from The Old Farmer’s Almanac to study the connection between cow arrangements and long-term weather forecasting. I hope to continue with this farmer [with whom he'd already talked about Bovine Positioning] because he was very nice. My working plan is to outfit the cows with battery-powered Rudolph noses in order to study their movements at night. It would be in December and I don’t think anything would look out of place."

I just had to leave this comment at Peter's site: "If Nash gets a big enough grant, maybe I could sign on as a 'technical advisor' and belly up to the trough too. You know I'm interested in the outcome."

What d'ya think? Check out Nash's letter and let us know.



Mosey over to Switched at Birth and read Delores' List, Beth's post from Sunday, May 16th. This is some of the punch-line: "No," she laughed. "Once you've sky-dived, if there's anything else you want to do, you just go do it."



I'm not very political, but... who would you believe? (A) The people who may have reason to cover their butts by denying the report OR (B) The fellow who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the My Lai massacre? Yeah, they said, let's accuse the guy who won the Pulitzer of "journalistic malpractice." I've got a collection of rocks smart enough to know that "A" is the wrong answer to the question.

I'm not very political, but... I think W could use Time Management training, to say the least. Why does he spend time talking about Banning Gay Marriage (which hurts no one) instead of doing something about the Record High Oil Prices In the Face of Record Oil Company Profits (which hurts us all and is going to wreck economic recovery). Oh, yeah, that's right, I know why... W is a Righteous Christian Oilman, that's why.


APRIL 20, cont'd

Fritz Eggel looks like a Plant Manager should look. Solid and serious, a twinkling of fore-knowledge in his eyes, lithe and obviously used to moving. He met me at Sky Jack's front desk and led me on a tour through the Emmetsburg facility.

Sky Jack makes high lifts. At peak production, the Emmetsburg plant employed more than three hundred. When times turned bad over the past few years, the work force in Emmetsburg was reduced to almost a skeleton crew. Things have been picking back up and now there are about eighty people working, turning out twenty-two or twenty-three lifts per day.

The receiving area where materials arrive is near the offices at the front of the building on Emmetsburg's south edge, but in the manufacturing portion of the facility. Several work lines flow from receiving towards the paint booth, where finished pieces get a coat of the company's colors before they go to the assembly side of the plant. On the assembly side, several lines flow towards the loading dock at the back of the building where finished lifts are shipped out. All through the plant, everything moves towards that shipping dock.

Steel comes into the receiving area, some of which Sky Jack cuts for use, some of which has been pre-cut to specified lengths. Some of the steel goes into the machine shop for working before it goes out on the floor. Kooima provides the steel for the arms of the scissors lift, laser-cut to exact specifications.

Fritz and I stepped through a big doorway into the manufacturing area, the "dirty" side of the factory. I was wearing safety glasses as required, but they don't protect you from a welder's brightness. "Don't look directly at the welding," Fritz said by way of caution. I knew that as a child, but had forgotten.

The first work station, right inside the doorway, was a robot welder made by Motoman. A fellow would set up pieces on one side of the welding booth, he took finished pieces out the other side. Doors to the welding booth closed so that you could not see the welding being done, you couldn't see the robot move from position to position. Once the welding was completed, the doors opened, the operator set in the next batch of pieces to be welded, he took out the finished part, the doors closed again.

Kenin Miller, Sky Jack's manufacturing engineer, programs the machine to make the welds as required. The welder will run the same part for long periods, so it doesn't have to be re-programmed often. The automated welder is twice as fast as welding by hand "and the welds are consistent," Fritz said.

The pieces being welded together up front become part of the scissor arms later on as they move towards the paint line. Another line is fashioning motor housings, another is making the platforms. Finished pieces stack up, waiting to be hung on the conveyor that will inch them towards the paint booths. Sky Jack's colors are orange and grey. In one booth, a grey primer gets sprayed onto each piece as it passes through. In the second booth a top coat of orange or grey is applied, as appropriate.

In each paint booth, there's a fellow in there dressed in a protective suit, looking like a spaceman. He pulls a hose that uses compressed air to force paint out and onto the piece; he spray-paints each item as it moves through at five and a half feet per minute. Paint fumes are constantly being removed from the booth by an air filtering system.

Work in the spray booth is hot and dirty and I imagine you can't be claustrophobic. Employees switch off working in the spray booth so no one has to be in there too long at a time. Still, one fellow probably paints a thousand parts each day, Fritz said.

Once the top coat has been applied, the line pulls the piece forward into the drying oven. The painted piece comes out the far end of the oven and feeds into a line on the assembly side of the shop, the "clean" side.

This work station is intended for assembly of particular pieces. At another station, assembled pieces get bolted to assembled pieces for other lines. Typically the work needing to be done at any of the stations here should take twenty-three minutes. In other words, every twenty-three minutes each station should send its finished work one click towards the shipping dock. That means a finished Sky Jack lift should come off the line every twenty-three minutes.

The lifts are battery-powered. A 24-volt system is created by linking four 6-volt batteries in series. The completed lift will be expected to hoist about five hundred pounds or so. I saw the batteries being put together in four-packs. Components were feeding in from the side and being bolted onto the basic chassis. The scissors component was added, the platform was bolted on. Every twenty-three minutes a machine was one station closer to the finish line. Railings get put on the platform. Striping and decals are added. The machine looks finished at that point.

Yet it is not finished. It is not ready to roll out the door until it has been tested. Can the lift safely elevate 150% of the load it is rated for? If the answer is yes, the limit mechanism is re-set to the rated capacity so the lift will not operate when there is more weight on the platform than there's supposed to be.

At the design stage, a prototype of a Sky Jack lift will be cycled continuously for twenty-four hours a day with 150% of load for what is considered to be the lifetime of the machine, to ensure that it holds up and there are no weak components.

To be continued....



This continues our discussion about "the construction of place," started in our post of April 28, and continued on April 29, April 30, May 10, May 11, May 13, May 14, May 16, and May 17, in response to the article "A Case Study in the Construction of Place: Boundary Management as Theme and Strategy in Canadian Art and Life" by Gaile McGregor. I have been highlighting points of interest from that article and considering them from the perspective of my Vagabond in the Middle project.

There is a propensity among Canadians, McGregor suggests, "for political solutions that will accommodate both or all possibilities raised by a situation rather than forcing a choice between them." Supporting this analysis, McGregor says, "is the Canadian Supreme Court's 1998 decision in the Reference on Quebec Separation, which not only declines to find for or against either party, but also makes a legal duty out of negotiation."

If I'm to be honest, I suppose I have to admit there is a propensity among middle westerners to believe there's one right way to do things, and if you don't know what it is perhaps you're a damn fool. It's true that we are neither so pluralistic nor so accommodating as McGregor's Canadians. This may have something to do with the higher percentage of Irish, Scottish, and French in Canada's population, and a higher percentage of Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians here in the middle west. In any case, we do tend to see things as black and white, on and off, cold and hot. Partly that's because the struggle here is life and death on a grand scale; and partly it's because we've got enough to do without having to grade shades of grey all day and split hairs. Yes, I'm being a little facetious, but not much.

We don't consider all possibilities. If something looks like it'll work, well, by God, that's what we'll go with. You can't be a-yammering all day whether it's this or that or t'other, there's work to be done.

Further, sometimes we think of the tire iron as a negotiating tool. It doesn't very precisely discriminate the nuances, but it does help the other guy to see things your way.



(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)

"One thing you can't be if you live in Smith Center is thin-skinned," Ivan writes. "Has nothing to do with the weather - it just means that if you spend your time in cafes in Smith Center your alleged faults and idiosyncracies will be discussed not after you have left but while you are still present. Of course you are expected to reply in kind."

"Hey! Listen up, pilgrim," Ivan says. "If you are needin' a talent for a program, I know one. Last Sunday I heard Casey Johnson play a cello solo at church. She was good. Casey is a teacher in the local grade school. Not very often you hear a cello player in Smith Center, Kansas."

"Dick Weltmer is closing in on having his last sale at the Sale Barn," Ivan says. "I don't know what he is going to do after that. He don't play golf and he don't fish. About all that is left is going to car races or singing in the choir."

"Things have sure changed over the years," Ivan observes. "You see a lot of grills out in the yard or patio. Years ago we used to go to the bathroom outdoors and cooked indoors. Now we have seen a reversal in this. Cooking outdoors and going to the bathroom indoors."

"When I was young, I mean really young, like 6 or 7 years old," Ivan says, "I used to listen to a radio station that I can't even remember. One of the songs a country singer sang was 'The Bald Headed End of the Broom." All I remember was the words "Boys, stay away from the girls, I say, and give them lots of room, because when you're wed they hit you on the head with the bald-headed end of the broom.' And the same guy used to sing 'who broke the lock on the hen house door.' We didn't listen to much opera at our house."

"Well," he says, "it was one of them Ask and You Shall Receive kind of things. Last Thursday morning the local boys were moanin' and groanin' about the lack of moisture. At about 1:30 a gentle rain started falling. It was one of the most beautiful rains I had seen in a long time. And by a quarter to three in the afternoon the local boys had become their old arrogant selves."


MAY 18, 1998

A hot day yesterday. The night air has cooled us. More heat expected today; Mary says they are predicting hot and muggy. We have blue sky and bright sun now, so summer-like weather is certainly possible.

We are expecting a friend to visit tonight or tomorrow. He's leaving Boston, heading for San Francisco. He's a younger man, so the extreme wrenching that change of address requires will not affect him so much as it might someone of my age and my middle western temperament. He is adventuresome to a greater degree than a settled man like myself.

A quiet morning in the village. Long shadows. North on Highway E, a dead cat; farther on, a raccoon, dead. Two blackbirds harass a crow.

There are only a few fields that are not showing signs of one crop or another. The fields south of Five Corners are still chief among those that haven't been worked.

It is Monday. It is the start of the work week. You might also say it is the start of summer.

Ripon is a city with trees. They arch over Watson Street like a cathedral's ceiling. Let us pray. Let us thank God, as Cummings would say, for most this amazing day.

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