Learning

I once got a phone call from a student in a sustainable agriculture program at some college.  She said her class had been given the assignment of calling farmers and asking them what skill they would recommend students learn in the program. Without hesitation I answered, “Small engine repair.”  She was clearly taken aback.  “Well that’s not an answer I was expecting,” she said.  I’m sure she expected to hear crop rotation, covercropping, composting or something like that.  But as I told her, a farmer just can’t afford to take things to the shop every time they break down.  Farmers have to know how to fix things on their own.

My father was an excellent mechanic, as was my grandfather.  They would have been happy to teach me their skills. But I had no interest in mechanical things (nor any aptitude for them).  I just did what I was told then hurried back to my books.  Decades later, when I set the books aside and returned to the farm, I had nearly no mechanical skills. Even the things I’d learned growing up had been long since forgotten.  Every time something broke down (a regular occurrence on a farm) things would grind to a halt.  Even basic equipment maintenance was something I had to learn through trial and error, with an emphasis on error.

But I’ve been learning and, while still inept, I’m getting better.

I once had a client who was a heart surgeon and medical school professor.  He was one of the pioneers of heart transplant operations.  One day I remarked that I was amazed at his ability to remove a person’s heart and replace it with another one.  I can’t imagine any more impressive skill, I told him.  But he just shrugged it off.  Surgery comes easy to me, he said. That skill is God-given. What is really challenging to me is writing papers, he continued.  I struggle with that and I have a real sense of satisfaction when I get one done, because it doesn’t come easy to me and I have to work so hard to do it.

His comments, which were sincere and genuine, have stuck with me.  I think I understand what he was saying.

One of the hydraulic hoses on my tractor started leaking.  It needed to be replaced.  It wasn’t that long ago that if you asked me to replace an hydraulic hose on a tractor you may as well have asked me to build a spaceship and fly it to the moon.

Yesterday I removed the hose and put a new one on.  It turned out to be a simple thing to do, even for someone as unskilled as me.  Still, I felt as good about doing that I would’ve once felt about winning a hearing. It was a good feeling.

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32 comments on “Learning

  1. Joanna says:

    I know exactly what you mean. Fortunately my hubby developed the habit of taking things apart and fixing them over many years and so he brought those skills with him. The one thing we would both love for one of us to be able to do though, is to be able to design an engine to do a piece of work we need. A friend of my dad could make a piece of machinery from scratch, now that is impressive.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Our son has the ability to look at something and easily figure out how it works. Cherie is good at repairing things too. I used to rely mostly on them (and neighbors) but now I’m trying to prove that an old dog can sometimes learn new tricks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. DM says:

    Mechanical related repairs is also one of my weak suits. This Spring my torpedo space heater was acting up. I use it to heat up a wood kiln I designed. anyway, it was sputtering a lot. figured it was dirty fuel. Didn’t know who to take it to locally, and thought, what the heck, worse case, if it’s something mechanical inside, I will just need to bite the bullet and get another one. Started taking things a part just a little..and discovered a rubber hose that was cracked and leaking…ta-da…got rid of the cracked end, and it works like new. So I totally feel that sense of satisfaction and pleasure you are writing about this morning. DM

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  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I have generational farming genetics and mechanical genetics from my Dad. He was a problem solver. When a situation arose, he would build a solution for that problem. He was a most amazing truck mechanic that could basically listen to the sound of an engine and tell you what was wrong with it. He hated school and dropped out after the 8th grade. He self taught himself about mechanics and started his own truck repair business that lasted 25 years until he retired and moved to warmer climate. During my early years all that genetic power didn’t kick in and I was the master of breaking things almost faster than my Dad could fix them. I was very strong as a youth and thought the answer to every thing was just more physical power on the situation. It wasn’t until I left home and had a family of my own that all those genes became active. When a situation arose, whether it be car issues, house plumbing issues, appliance issues, or what ever, the first thought was never who can I call to fix it but where are my tools. Now in my aging process I still do what I can but even though I know how to fix a problem, many times I have some one else do it just because I don’t want to do it. It’s just as the brain surgeon said. I don’t think that it’s any thing special. It’s just the God given gifts that I’ve been blessed with. So I use them for good and help others fix their stuff.

    Have a great mechanical learning day. Celebration is indeed in order for a successful hose replacement.

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    • Bill says:

      That’s a great talent to have. Much more useful than the ones I was dealt.
      I’m learning to try fixing things myself before going to the pros. I’m finding that it’s often easier than I thought it would be. But I do still have a knack for missing the obvious and sometimes making a bad situation worse. It’s a journey.

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  4. valbjerke says:

    Now that post got me to thinking at an early hour 🙂 I would have said the most important skill you need to acquire as a farmer would be the ability to source quality information. Open a book, look online, talk to another farmer, ask a vet. I’ve lost count of how many people have purchased livestock from us to raise – then after handing over the cash – ask what they should be feeding and how should they house their purchase. Oi.
    I grew up on a farm – but we did pigs, chickens, canola. My dad, with a grade six education, read an entire veterinary manual so he could learn to recognize livestock health issues. My first purchase of a dairy cow had me reading like a fiend, and better yet – I contacted a lady who’s blog I follow and was given some invaluable information.
    Gardening, soil health, equipment repair, dairying, animal husbandry……. I think all farmers are experts at sourcing information.

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    • Bill says:

      My answer wasn’t the best one, but it’s what popped into my head. Probably because I was having problems with a chainsaw or weedeater.

      Sourcing information is a vital skill. When I noticed there seemed to be something leaking on the tractor I asked my neighbor if he could tell what the problem was. He looked at it and said, you have a leaking hydraulic hose. You need to remove it and take it to the dealer so they can make another one for you.

      Based on that I went to the internet and youtube, where I learned all about replacing hydraulic hoses (and about the dangers of having pressurized hydraulic fluid spray on you). My fix turned out to be far easier than some of the ones I read about on the internet, but having that resource was a great help.

      There are some great places on the web to get advice and info on those kinds of things. Having good neighbors is a great help too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • bobraxton says:

        This is how I like to do things. The farming community I grew up in (Graham, NC) was all family (maternal). My mother is the firstborn of nine. There were lots of sisters and brothers to my maternal grandfather. Everybody was not far away basically all in one community and family.

        Liked by 1 person

      • valbjerke says:

        Yep – the best thing about the neighbors who have ‘been there done that’ is all the mistakes we get to avoid. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. bobraxton says:

    While I watched (again) the movie Gandhi:
    ensō (円相 )
    from work and
    pride in what
    you do :come

    ‘tristich’
    homespun one
    piece wear with
    dignity

    what we can
    do we will
    try to do

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    • Bill says:

      Reading Joel Salatin’s rant this morning about the speech the CEO of Tyson chicken gave to the FFA Convention this year brought to mind a quote from Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

      Like

  6. shoreacres says:

    When I started sailing, the day of my very first lesson, my instructor asked me to take off the mainsail cover. I said, “I can’t.” He very calmly informed me that I never again was the use the phrase, “I can’t.” The first question should be, “How can I?” It was perfectly acceptable to end up asking someone else for assistance, but that came at the end of the thinking-through process, not the beginning.

    The move from “I can’t” to “how can I?” is important in every realm of life. Making that move certainly changed mine.

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    • Bill says:

      I like that. There are always going to be things best left to those who have the skills and training of course, but I agree that “how can I?” is usually a better response than “I can’t.” I’m trying to be better about that.

      I think Master Yoda once said something similar. 🙂

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  7. I’m not sure which I feel the lack of more – mechanical or carpentry skills. I do seem to have some aptitude for both, fortunately, that was just never developed, and i’m slowly learning. Thank goodness for all the amazing people who post how to videos on YouTube!

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    • Bill says:

      How I would love to have carpentry skills. I see a friend building a greenhouse and it greens me with envy. At least I can drive a nail now. 🙂

      I’m very grateful to the YouTubers too. I once was stumped trying to figure out how to load a tube of grease into a grease gun (yes, that’s how bad it is). I doubted anyone would bother making a video to show something that basic, but I was wrong about that. It’s mighty neighborly of folks to take the time to make the videos and post them for dummies like me.

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  8. Not mechanically inclined… guess I would make a bad farmer. (grin)

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    • Bill says:

      You seem to be a pretty good gardener. That’s a fine start. Some of the most creative and productive farming these days is being done by folks who aren’t relying on machinery as much as I do. If I was starting over I’d probably go in that direction, outflanking my ignorance.

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  9. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Funny, was just talking about this with a friend the other day. “Jack of all trades, and master of none” was what my Dad used to say – but, personally speaking, it drives me nuts when things don’t work right; )
    Do you make up all your own hoses ‘n everything?

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    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      After rereading your last couple of sentences, my question seems kind of dopey): Please disregard…

      Like

    • Bill says:

      I’m more of a jack of no trades master of none. I think putting the connectors on the hoses must require some kind of specialized equipment. I took the old hose to the dealer and they made me a replacement hose.

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  10. pattisj says:

    That was truly good advice you gave the student.

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  11. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Have you ever read the Alvin Maker series, by Orson Scott Card? It’s a thought-provoking story which takes place at an earlier time, in a (not so) alternate reality of our world; where everyone has their own “knack” and how they make use of it.
    Although they are books my son and I read together, I’d recommend them most highly to people of all ages.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m not familiar with those books. It’s interesting how differently our brains can be wired. Back when I was taking standardized tests to measure intelligence there was one where unfolded boxes were shown and you had to choose which of the answers correctly showed what the box would look like when put together. I could never figure those out. My scores were always lower than what would be expected if you just guessed randomly. My brain just isn’t wired for that kind of stuff.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Doing poorly on spatial relations testing (given to people trying out for the Skilled Trades) would explain why you have a hard time figuring out how things work (and how to fix them; )
        We all have our knacks and no two of us are the same… Indeed, can you imagine how BORING this world would be if we were? (Oh, and speaking of which, giving you a virtual “Gibbs’ Slap” upside the head for calling yourself a “Dummie” earlier; )

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  12. associatedluke says:

    I love this. Great advice! The unexpected usually is and it holds great wisdom. Train where you are the weakest, and if possible, use your strength to help out your weak spots. Oh paradoxes.

    I think farmers were inherently polymaths. They were just into everything! Biology, all sorts of engineering, carpentry, psychology, etc. etc. We lost something when we tried to simplify and focus. Best to be into everything and be jacks of all trades. Same goes for ministers IMHO.

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    • Bill says:

      Good point about farmers. Before industrialization most of us had more diverse skill-sets than we have now. I recall reading that when Henry Ford designed his first assembly line and started hiring workers, most of them quit shortly afterwards. They signed on because they wanted to build cars, not insert the same widget over and over all day on an assembly line. Nowadays we’re carried the “division of labor” concept so far that most of us (me included) have to hire someone else to do just about everything for us–grow our food, change our oil, fix our toilet, etc.

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  13. EllaDee says:

    The G.O. and I recently had a conversion regarding similar… and about muscle memory. Ask either of us how to do something and watch our hands/fingers undertake the moevments… He operates large machinery and is mechanically inclined plus a skilled handyman. I operate a keyboard and computer programs. He said when he has more time he’d like to become more technologically attuned and I have no doubt he will be successful and I’m looking forward to the sense of accomplishment it gives him. I get my buzz in the kitchen, I’m not a natural cook nor was taught in a family unit… but I strive to recreate food memories so my victories are hard won and celebrated 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      The world would be less interesting, I think, if we all had the same skills. It sounds like y’al have skillsets that are complementary. Luckily, we do as well.

      Like

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