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Posted 4/28/10 (Wed)


Garrison Keillor once described North Dakota as a “mid-sized city with very long streets.” I guess I would have to agree. We tend to think of pretty much everyone as our neighbor. When Travis Hafner gets a hit for Cleveland, we smile. He’s a neighbor kid. When the national news tells of identical twins taking identical twins to the prom at Jamestown, it catches our attention. They are neighbors. Jimmy Kleinsasser catches a pass, or blocks a defensive end, we feel good inside. He’s just a neighbor kid from Carrington.
And besides that, it makes columns easier to write, because everyone is my neighbor.
I have a neighbor that lives up the road and over the hill. Probably through the dell also. Sometimes I think of him like that “Joe” in the Lil’Abner cartoons. A rain cloud is over his head.
The other day, “Joe,” who shall remain anonymous to protect his integrity, was spraying crops. He has one of those BIG sprayers that looks like a machine from Star Wars. You’ve seen them going down the road. They are immense vehicles. Big wheels with a cab that sits high in the air. Just in case you decide to plant magic beans or something.
Now, if you grew up farming with an A John Deere, or an International M, you probably never had the experience of getting in a bind with a sprayer that can spray from 60 to 100 feet at a time. I remember our hired man tearing out a half mile of fence with a 40-foot drag one time. And there were a number of times we held up traffic on the old Four Bears Bridge because our equipment or loads of hay became stuck in the middle. But when your equipment gets so big you need binoculars to see the end, it is time to downgrade a bit.
Anyway, “Joe” was spraying this field. Making that last round. Going around that power pole to make sure that last little green weed would be obliterated from his pristine wheat field.
As he went around that power pole, he saw he was in a bind. The wings of that sprayer were just too long. And he had gotten to the point of no return. He couldn’t back out of the fix he had gotten into.
No problem. Just raise one wing up a little. From geometry class, he recalled that by raising the wing up, he would lessen the length that the wing extended. He pushed a button. Just a smidgen.
That wing shot up like an ejection seat out of a jet! A smidgen on one end is a whole bunch on the other end! Right up into the power lines! Sparks flew and the tires on the sprayer exploded and began burning!  The electrical current for southwest North Dakota was passing through that sprayer. The burning tires quickly started the field on fire.
Now our farmer was in what cowboys call “a jackpot.”
He was sitting high in the air in his sprayer that was conducting electricity to the ground. Recalling his 4-H days, he knew it was too dangerous to jump. That electricity would grab him right out of the air. Like when you rub your feet on the carpet and shock your wife. But he had another problem. The fuel tank on his sprayer is beneath the cab! He was looking like leg of lamb on a big spit over a roaring fire!
For some miraculous reason, the power surging through that sprayer had not blown up the computers and the sprayer was still running. “Joe” gritted his teeth, made the sign of the cross, and popped the clutch. That sprayer wanted out of that fire as bad as “Joe.” Since he was still entangled in the power lines, he tore them down.
A neighbor came to help control the fire.
The repairman from the rural electric showed up a bit later. He was pretty frustrated that “Joe” had torn down his power lines. During his lecture he was careful to point out that “when in a vehicle becomes entrapped in a power line, you are to wait until professionals arrive to disentangle you.”
When “Joe” pointed out that he was sitting on a hundred gallons of diesel fuel in the middle of a fire, the professional did acquiesce to “Joe’s” decision.
The sad part of the story is, when “Joe’s” wife was berating him for his poor judgment, he asked, “Aren’t you glad I’m alive?”
She didn’t answer.