Thursday, August 26, 2004


I have been interviewing Troy Lorenzen from Smith County Implement, the John Deere dealer in Smith Center, Kansas. We've been talking about small rural communities - the challanges, the opportunities.

"There are probably people in the community who have never been out of Kansas," Troy suggests, "who are out of touch with the larger world, who have never thought outside the box."

"Everyone," he says, "should go to a Broadway show, should dig a ditch, should put shingles on a house - see some other part of life."

"I wouldn't ask an employee to do anything I wouldn't do," he says.

Everyone needs to have culture in their lives - and he means both Broadway shows and ditch-digging.

"We should see things our parents haven't seen," Troy says. "Our children should see things we haven't. I went to New York City two years ago. I didn't want to go. We went for a wedding. We were there for seven days. I was intrigued. If I had it to do again, I'd spent a year in New York City right after college. You can sit in a New York City subway and see the guy in the $1000 Armani suit, and people dressed in everything else. What they had in common was pride in what they were doing."

"You need pride in a community," he says. "Our daughter went to New York with us. It's amazing what her eyes saw. From her level she saw different things than I saw. She brought something back to Smith Center that few people in her class will have the opportunity to see."

"The community needs to be diverse," Troy says. "It needs something to offer to everyone. But you get wound up going a hundred miles an hour and you don't get to do everything you should."

How would you describe the people of this area?

They have "a high level of integrity," Troy said. "How many places can you make a $100,000 deal with the shake of a hand. There is trust here, integrity."

"People are loyal," he says, "and at the same time clannish - this is my group. We all have some of that. The difference belongs to those who can overcome it, who get new people into the inner circle."

"Phillipsburg has more industry that Smith Center," Troy says, "but they face the same issues. It just hasn't hit there as hard yet."

"My customer base here looks mainly at cropping," he says. "In Phillipsburg, they are more concerned about livestock. The difference between crops versus livestock - I can draw the line at a specific county road, the Agra to Kirwin road. You have to put a different hat on to work with the people on the other side of that road - they have different needs. Over there we have to specialize in livestock - herd management - instead of crop management."

The Agra to Kirwin road is right on the 99th Meridian, by the way, for those of you aware that I define the western edge of the middle west at the 100th Meridian.

"My wife's father was an attorney," Troy says. "Her mother taught in a community college. My wife knew nothing of agriculture. She was anxious to learn about this business. She's married to the biggest farmer in the area, and to the smallest farmer; to the most efficient farmer, and the least efficient. I deal with them all. She needs an understanding of what I do, and what I have to do."

"My business is providing solutions," Troy says. "Overhaul is one of the choices. It's not just about selling equipment. You have to be part equipment salesman, part mind-reader, part therapist."

What brings him joy in his work?

"What brings the smile to my face," he says, "is when I got out and get a guy started and he's happy with what he got, and satisfied with it."

"As an equipment dealer," Troy says, "my direction has to change to meet the customer's needs. My sense of it be different next week, it will be different next year - what are the needs?"

"It's not the sale," he says, "so much as solving the problem."

"There are wonderful opportunities here that my children will be able to enjoy," Troy says. "There are also opportunities they will miss out on growing up here. But the positives overwhelm the negatives. You can go see some of those other things, but then you can come back to what we've got here."

"The fast-pace commuting through a city, you can't get that here," he says. "But you can take your kids there and teach them to be aware of their surroundings, teach them that not everyone will be your friend. But then you can bring them back here where it's safe."

"We need to give our children the opportunity to see that there is more to life than just this spot on the map," he says. "The lack of those experiences can make them adults who are narrow-minded and have difficulty functioning in society."


AUGUST 26, 1998

What is shelter? Shelter is protection from the elements, something between me and where I am. It can be as thin as a piece of sail cloth put up for a tent; it can be as thick as the walls of a sod house. We speak of the sheltering mountains, sometimes, when they interrupt a storm headed east; we speak of the sheltering trees. But mostly shelter is house or cabin or tent - a wall between us and the other of the land around us.

Mary's mother was born into the shelter of a sod house on the cold plains of Montana, north of Malta, within walking distance of the Canadian border. I was born into a drafty farm house in the corn country of Iowa - protected each winter by a row of straw bales set two layers high. Some others were born into high and mighty mansions which have about as much relation to shelter as a Corvette convertible has to basic transportation.

We are glad for the shelter, of course. The women folk among the settlers moving to the Waupaca area in 1850 were certainly glad to have the big covered wagon to ride in by day and to curl up in for sleep at night.

House - just plain house - by itself has become more than "shelter." It is status symbol, emblem of success, a marker that separates me from thee, mine from thine, my worth from your worthlessness.

The very environment around our shelters, actually, protects us. The earth, even at its extremes, is the hospitable planet; consider staking a tent on Mars or Mercury.

Dew, this morning. Long shadows. A cool blue sky. Go away far enough and you're gone and come back.

Garbage cans have been set out for weekly pick-up. Think about Fairwater the way an anthropologist thinks about the world.

Finally - a field of sweet corn has been harvested from the west side of Highway E, just south of where the hawk should be, adjacent to the field where the canning factory keeps its harvesting equipment this year.

You can see a little haze in the light to the east - it is the kind of day you surely would put in your pocket, to exchange for next January 12th, let's say, when the sky is not anywhere near so pleasant. Now - hold yourself to that prediction!

At Five Corners, I look to the northwest. A thin smear of cloud, like a trail of smoke. It might indeed be smoke, I just couldn't prove it.

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