Making something new out of old in a world gone mad

"Hope springs eternal, which makes it possible yet to fashion weapons of war into plowshares. The Biblical hope seems wishful thinking now that nations have enough nuclear weapons to poison the world."

Two goats stand in a pen.
Goats did not use to be a common part of Minnesota farms, but 4-H and FFA members, along with new ethnic groups, have made them more common.
Emily Beal / Agweek file photo

The snow covering is giving way to blackness, a long-awaited sign that spring is at hand. The birds — cardinals, blue jays, and mourning doves — accompany the rising sun as it gathers strength.

Winter wheat fields and pastures will green, and planting will commence in a world that seems to have gone mad. A dangerous European War has begun with the only certainties people will die and there will be unintended consequences.

Hope springs eternal, which makes it possible yet to fashion weapons of war into plowshares. The Biblical hope seems wishful thinking now that nations have enough nuclear weapons to poison the world.

It is obvious that taking in too much news causes my head to spin. Turn it off, put down the newspaper, and track things closer to home. The local FFA chapter had its annual steak fry fundraiser that drew more than 400 people, and smiling students waited on tables and shared news about projects.

After learning that I was involved in agriculture journalism, a sophomore wanted to learn more about the profession. I first asked about what project she was involved in. She has a small goat herd, which will grow larger when kids are born soon. It wasn’t that long ago — as I measure time — that goats and Minnesota farms had little or no connection.


mychal wilmes.jpg
Mychal Wilmes

4-H’ers and FFAers have changed that, and growth in ethnic populations have been a boon to goat raisers and livestock markets. 4-H and FFA have always adapted to changing times without losing their vibrancy in rural communities; urbanized areas have come to realize the importance of getting youngsters involved in positive ventures.

We talked a bit about my professional experience that started in the late 1970s and continued through the economic depression of the 1980s and farming’s rebirth.

The sophomore might eventually become a teacher and FFA adviser, an agricultural-related firm’s representative, or a dairy producer. Many doors are open because few are slammed shut.

A silk purse can even be made from a sow’s ear.

My former neighbor Joe tried doing just that with a 1960s-era sedan. He always wanted to own an El Camino, which was a half-truck and half-car. Chevrolet introduced the model in 1958 to counter Ford’s Ranchero and production continued until 1987.

Next-place-down-the-gravel road neighbor couldn’t afford even a junk El Camino, so he made his own. To accomplish the sedan’s makeover, he borrowed from us a blowtorch, and more than one hacksaw. The effort proceeded with complications before Joe and his new El Camino showed up in our yard.

He was proud of his handiwork and quickly responded when asked what he would do with the newly minted vehicle. He would haul glass bottles and recycled metal for money. He had already calculated how much money he’d make from the enterprise.

The El Camino enjoyed a long, if not profitable life. It was not his last silk purse from a sow’s ear project. His long driveway, which included a narrow bridge, made snow clearing difficult and too expensive for him to afford.


Thus, he transformed another junk sedan into a snowplow. He was discouraged from the effort, because the rig would lack hydraulics, a sedan wasn’t built to push snow, and even a strong 2-by-12 board mounted on the front would be no match for hard snowbanks. He was proud of the snowplow-sedan, even when its transmission quickly expired.

It was agreed that Joe was the hardest (if not the smartest) working man any of us knew. I eventually lost touch with him but learned that he had one more goal in life, and that was to see Florida.

His son took him on the road trip, but he never got to see the Sunshine state because he died on route. No doubt angels heard about his El Camino and the sedan that for a little while became a snowplow.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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