The Next Generation
Chapter 17

Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd

Spring, 1986

When Ken went back to Wrightsville to pick up the corn head a couple days later, he took Judy with him, so they could visit Sylvia in the Wrightsville Hospital. They couldn't believe the change that had come over their friend in the few months it had been since they had seen her last. She was now almost completely immobilized, and could only speak with difficulty, but here spirit was still as strong as ever. "I saw where you got on TV," she smiled.

"It wasn't anything," Judy blushed. "I mean, I drive that tractor all the time. It just took thinking of using it."

"They sure made a big issue out of you being paralyzed," Sylvia said.

"Too big an issue," Judy agreed. "I came out of the delivery room with Lori and Amanda, and there was a guy standing there with a video camera. I mean, I wanted to be nice, so I talked with him for a minute before Lydia and I drove the tractor back home. When I saw the news the next evening, I almost fell out of my chair."

Sylvia blinked away a tear. "Maybe you did some good," she said. "Ever since I came down with this thing, I've tried to tell people that just because you're handicapped doesn't mean you're some kind of freak. You listened. Maybe someone else did, too."

They sat and talked with Sylvia for more than an hour before they left. On the way to Sylvia's house to pick up the corn heat, Judy commented, "I'm afraid we're going to have to go to another funeral pretty soon."

"Yeah," Ken replied quietly. "I'm going to miss her. We've been so busy the last year, we've gotten out of touch, and we shouldn't have."

"I'll miss her, too," Judy said. "She's right, you know. When we started going together, I guess I did think of myself as some kind of freak. I used to wonder all the time what it would be like to be normal. You never treated me like I was anything but normal, and I've come to believe I really am."

"You're not just normal," Ken said as he backed the pickup up to the snowed-in wagon. "You're very special to me."

Ken reached for the hitch pin he'd laid on the seat, but found himself holding his wife, instead.

As they pulled the corn head through Willow Lake, Judy spoke up. "Lori and Amanda are coming home today, and if Bob is the same kind of housekeeper you are, I'd bet she'd like to see the dishes washed when she gets home. She gave me a key, so why don't you drop me off at her house, and pick me up later?"

"All right with me," Ken said. "I wanted to go over to the feed mill and talk fertilizer today, anyway. After I get done there, I'll come by and help out."

There was a dart board on the wall of Herb Anderson's office. Herb, Bob Watson's boss, ran the fertilizer part of the Willow Lake Farm Center operation, and he was even bored with tossing darts.

A little fertilizer had been moving all winter, and Herb had been out contracting what he could, but everything had come to a halt with all the snow on the ground. He thought about going out to the shop, where Bob had been repainting an anhydrous ammonia tank, but with Bob gone to pick up his new child, even that seemed a little boring. He was a little surprised to see Ken Sorensen walk into his office and sit down. He didn't know the Sorensen kid well, since he'd always dealt with his father or brother. But, he had heard stories from Bob about the old Oliver 70 and the combine he was rebuilding. He also knew who had driven Bob's wife to the hospital. "How's that combine of yours coming?" he asked.

"Better than I hoped," Ken said, and got down to business. "Bob says you cut fertilizer prices in the winter, to keep some activity going."

"Yeah," Anderson nodded. "In another month, prices will go up ten to fifteen percent."

"All right," Ken smiled. "Can I get an empty cart from you this spring for a week or so?"

"Shouldn't be any problem."

Ken pulled a computer printout from his shirt pocket. "Well, let's order some fertilizer, then," he said. "You still have a cash discount?"

"Eight percent."

"Well, that's not what I'm paying in interest, but the early order will more than make up the difference. You don't have to be in any rush to deliver this stuff. Any time in the next month or so will be fine."

"Where are you going to put all that stuff?"

"Have Bob bring the auger truck," Ken said. "I've got some small grain bins we'll dump it in till we need it." He proceeded to read off a list of the fertilizer he needed.

Halfway through the list, Anderson stopped him. "6-20-22 is kind of an oddball blend," he said. "I'll have to charge you extra for it. I can let you have 6-24-24 for about nine dollars a ton less."

"Fine," Ken said. "I need that in bags for the corn planter."

"You sure you need it in bags?" the dealer asked. "That's an extra seven bucks a ton. If you've got some empty gravity boxes, we can put it in there. Lay a tarp on the ground under the spout, and scoop it into the planter."

It was almost a hundred dollar savings, Ken knew, at the expense of not much more work. "Good idea," he said. "I can park the gravity boxes inside until I need them, and run them down here and save the delivery costs."

"Don't bother," Anderson told him. "Free delivery within fifteen miles this month."

"Hey, great," Ken said, and began to run down through the rest of the list.

Anderson consulted a price book, and then started running the adding machine. The machine whirred a few times, and the total made the dealer frown. "Is this just to get you started?" he asked.

"Well, I'll need a little anhydrous after the corn gets up," Ken said, "But no point in getting that now."

Herb shook his head. "This isn't a third of what your dad ordered last year."

Ken smiled. "I went through a heavy soil testing program a couple months ago," he said.

"Not our lab," Anderson frowned again.

Ken grinned. Back when he was taking soil chemistry, his professor had warned him that commercial labs, under contract to fertilizer dealers, had a tendency to be more than a bit liberal with the amount of fertilizer a sample required. "I got my soil chemistry professor up at Western to run it through their lab," Ken explained. "I will be needing more next year, though, if we don't lease the place out."

"Oh, I get it," the dealer said. "If you lease it out, then the leasee has to pay the extra expense. Smart move. Got your checkbook?"

"Sure do," Ken smiled. The total came to less than he'd hoped, but even if they did have to farm another year, he wasn't about to tell Anderson yet about how little more he intended to order. He'd developed another idea.

"Sludge?" Judy said.

"Yeah," Ken responded, spearing another slice of roast beef from his plate. "Sewage sludge. They give it away in liquid form at the Geneva sewage plant. It's supposed to be high in nitrogen, but Roger says it must be in a form that plant's can't use. Still, it should have plenty of potassium, potash, and micronutrients like iron, sulfur, manganese and zinc."

"But how are we going to handle liquids?" Judy asked.

"I beat Roger out of one of Avery's old wagon frames for twenty bucks, and there's a six hundred gallon take out in the old milkhouse that we haven't used for years. I'll rig up some kind of pump to spray the stuff. As soon as the weather breaks, every time someone goes to town with the pickup, we'll take the tank and bring back a load."

Judy grimaced. "I can just hear my mother now."

"Hey, Hick!" Judy called from the shop door. "You need anything from town?"

Ken put down the wrench. He almost had the combine ready to work, which was good, since the ground was starting to thaw, and other work was calling. "Yeah," he replied. "I need six three-quarter by two and a half inch bolts, common thread, and five hundred feet of barbed wire."

"I'll get it," Judy called back. "Your mother and I are taking the pickup."

Ken picked the wrench up again and slid back under the machine. It was too bad he wouldn't be able to finish up with the painting, but that could wait for another winter. He heard the pickup roar in the driveway, and began to wonder why the women needed to take it, before he remembered seeing the sludge tank hooked to it. He'd managed to find some alfalfa where the 4630 didn't sink in too bad.

A moment later, he heard the roaring of a heavy truck motor outside, followed by the blat of an air horn. Once again, he slid out from under the combine, to see Bob walking in the door. "T-thought I'd f-f-find you h-here," Bob said. "Got your c-corn s-s-starter."

"That's about it, isn't it?" Ken asked.

Bob told Ken that there was one more small load to come; he'd been coming out to the farm with fertilizer at one time or another for a month. "I'll get the H and roll a gravity box out," Ken told his friend as he reached for his coat; it was still chilly outside. Starting the Farmall was no easy task on a cold day, but once it was running, Ken rolled an orange gravity box out into the sunlight and under the delivery boom of the auger truck. Bob set the fertilizer moving, and the two got up into the truck cab to get out of the wind.

"How's Amanda doing?" Ken asked, warming to the heat from the truck's heater.

"Just fine," Bob smiled, and mentioned the combine. "S-sure looks f-funny. Is it an Ol-Oliver or a M-M-Moline?"

Ken smiled. "I keep thinking I need to call it a Moliver. A 2420."

"Wh-where d-d-did you c-come up w-w-with t-t-that m-model n-number?"

"I worked it out," Ken said. "It's the average of 544 and 4296," Ken told him. "That machine sure is."

The women returned with the pickup truck full of crates. "What are you going to do with all those chickens?" Ken asked.

"While you've been working on the combine, Judy and I cleaned out the henhouse," Lydia said. "We still have everything we need for them, but we're going to have to haul water."

Ken looked at the crates filled with full-grown white chickens. He soon learned that Lydia had found a chicken farmer who was willing to part with a small part of his flock that was getting past their prime laying age. "We're still going to have a couple dozen eggs a day," Ken said. "We can't eat that many."

"We'll spread them around for a while, but we're going to eat some of these birds, too," Judy said. "They're not really what you'd call fryers, but the price is right."

Judy knew the right approach to calm Ken down; visions of fried chicken danced in his head. "Have you figured out the mix we'll have to grind for chicken feed?" he asked.

"I mixed some this morning," Judy said. "Without that feed grinder, this wouldn't work out nearly as well."

Ken shook his head. "I had to open my mouth. Did you get my bolts and my wire?"

"We did," Judy said. "We stopped off at Mr. Needham's office, too."

"Any progress on the will?"

"No," Lydia shook her head. "In fact, it's worse. Carolyn filed for a continuance."

"She must have figured that she needed a better case," Ken said.

"I guess," Lydia agreed. "She also asked the judge for a trustee to manage the farm. She claims you aren't competent to do it."

"So, am I farming, or not?" Ken asked angrily.

"The judge threw it out, and wouldn't even set a date to hear it," Lydia told him. "He said if Henry Daly thought you could handle it, he was willing to go along."

The field was still muddy, almost too muddy for the Ford loader, but the fence had to be gotten in. The contract beef calves were due in any day, and then they came, the cattle they'd been keeping would have to be turned out to pasture.

Much fencing had been ripped out around the farm over the years, but still there were plenty of fence posts to be found, and Ken had managed to come up with enough used barbed wire that only a little new wire was needed. The problem was that around a hundred fence posts needed to be driven, and Ken knew that his arms would ache by the time he finished.

Fortunately, the ground was soft, and it didn't take many blows with a sledge hammer to get a post in the ground. Judy followed along, driving the loader, its bucket full of posts. After a few posts, Ken took a breather. "This is going to take a while," he said.

"I've been sitting here watching you," Judy said. "I keep thinking, what would happen if you set a post upright, and I pushed it in with the loader bucket?"

Ken thought about it. "Might work," he agreed.

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