As a rule, Guy No. 1 runs the combine about 98% of the time. That has been the case since about 1990 when we traded combines and got just enough technology in it to keep The Chairman Emeritus from feeling comfortable behind the controls. Ever since then, he has hauled wagons. The combine is the perfect machine for Guy No. 1. Previous models used to have a throttle with a lever on it that you'd push forward to crank up the engine. When Deere & Co. introduced the 9000 series machines around 1990, it was as though they tailored them to a Guy No. 1 mind-set. The throttle is now a rocker switch. You are either idled or floored — nothing in between. Coincidentally, the same can be said of Guy No. 1. Although, he's not idled very much. Anything with an engine on it will be operated wide open if he's at the controls.

I don't recall if I was put in the combine for a lunch rotation or for tax visit reasons, but this time GN1 had me run the combine and unload it to wagons parked in the field, while he retrieved full wagons we had left parked in a driveway. Then his A-D-D kicked in and he decided we should move the wagons from the driveway to a different position. Speed hitches make that way too easy for him, so it wouldn't take long.

Sure enough, as I pulled up to a wagon in the center of the field to unload some corn, I saw GN1 and a set of wagons flying down the grass strip border on the way to my unloading point. There was corn in the way to block a clear view of the scene, but I could see that the pair of wagons behind the tractor suddenly changed their usual separation distance. This I had to check out!

I pulled up to the field border to see one wagon hooked onto the tractor and the other wagon parked pretty much in the middle of the fence. It appeared that more-than-adequate road speed had not only caused the safety clip to get popped out of the wagon's hitch pin by cornstalks at high speed, but then the hitch pin popped out between the two wagons. Inertia being what it is, and momentum being one of GN1's most successful ongoing construction projects, there was enough force to propel the wagon through the fence. Fortunately, the fence stopped the wagon partway through its breakout performance.

We gathered some materials to do a little extraction work and then got everything hooked up again like it should be. There was no debate about cause or responsibility, because, really, how long would that court case take with the evidence at hand? While I resisted the temptation to pile on, I did not resist the temptation to document the event. I also made sure to do it in plain sight of the perp.

A few days later, a friend stopped by. Walt had just gotten a couple hundred cornstalk bales made and he needed to get them moved home before the next week's blizzard.

It was all I could do not to volunteer to help Walt move his bales. How would things not go better with me and a Ranch Hand involved? The thing that kept me from being Mr. Volunteer is that I've helped him with other stuff in the past, and his geography is even more challenging than my own is sometimes. With bare ground (and bare gravel), it wouldn't be a problem, but the recent snow was going to add a bit more fun to it than even I prefer. That whole "Alps of Cardinal Marsh" effort a couple years ago pretty well changed my views on forage transportation in hills with slick conditions.

I wished Walt well in his efforts and decided to keep to myself the next day.

When I talked to Walt a few days later, he said the bale migration hadn't gone so great for him and his crew. He was hauling two loads of bales behind his tractor on an icy road.

Here's a tip. If you're pulling a load on a glass-like surface, make sure the surface is level. If it's sloped downward, you're going to have problems stopping. If it slopes upwards, you're going to have problems making consistent forward progress. Trust me.

Walt was headed up the glass hill. Just as he began his shift and headed north up the hill, the running gear under his wagon suddenly qualified for Medicare and decided to retire and move south to Florida right there on the spot!

The front part of his running gear said its farewells to the back part of his wagon. Seeing as how he had two wagons hooked together, I will let you do the Murphy's Law math on this one and see if you can figure out if it was the front wagon or the rear one whose infrastructure experienced problems. Here are a couple of background hints: This happened on a long slope, near the top. Losing the back half of the front load AND the ENTIRE second load vs. losing only the back half of the rear load more or less takes your trouble and multiplies it exponentially.

Time's up. Which one do you think it was that busted?

Both loads of bales slid down the hill and then off the roadway before tumbling down the steep ditch on the other side of the road. The ditch where the bales landed was so steep and deep that it would have taken a crane to get them out. Converting them into an abundance of compost seemed to be the best option for them in their new final resting spot. Had this been a more standard ditch, Walt could have gotten them out with a loader tractor with front-wheel-assist. I mean, that's what I've HEARD some unfortunate souls have done in similar situations.

Wouldn't know myself. Nope, not a clue.

That brings up yet another issue from last winter. My phone rang one Wednesday around noon. The caller was at McDonald's in Decorah and said there was a large round bale of hay parked in the street near the McDonald's exit.

"By chance, would it be YOURS?" the caller inquired. Okay, it was about an hour before the weekly Fort Atkinson Hay Auction in nearby Fort Atkinson. I've hauled hay down there in the past myself. I've not a 100% perfection rate in the transport and sale of said forage. I've maybe even documented those shortcomings from time to time. STILL, that doesn't mean EVERY bale mishap in northeast Iowa is MINE!

No, I told the caller, it was NOT MINE! But thank you for your default assumption.

The caller eventually regained his/her composure and went on his/her way.

A minute or two later, my phone rang again.

"I'm at McDonald's in Decorah. Did you lose a bale on the street?"

Once again, I explained it WASN'T ME and this wasn't the FIRST call I'd received on the subject, but I certainly appreciated the benefit of the doubt no one was giving me!

That caller also broke into hysterics. "Well, I just figured . . . "

Yeah, I know, I know.

The first caller at least cut me some slack and said that the bale didn't look to be of good enough quality to be mine. That was nice to hear, even without seeing the bale to know how much or how little benefit of the doubt that statement generated for me.

My next step was to quickly send an e-mail to a friend who works in radio in Decorah so that she would know it wasn't my bale. She'd more than likely be getting calls about it, so I figured it might be worthwhile to have some confirmed deniability for her from the one who appeared to be, based on a small focus group, the leading suspect. <

Guy No. 2