Back when I used to get a daily newspaper—remember those? large unwieldy sheets of low-quality paper with ink that rubbed off on all your fingers, out of date by the time it arrived—there was a comic strip in it called “Pluggers.” It’s about the “hardworking people the world depends on,” the people who keep “plugging along.” I hadn’t read it in a while and it looks like recent strips are as much about getting older as they are about being middle-class, but what I remember was the kludges, things like using a riding mower as a ladder or a cinder block as an emergency brake.
While “Pluggers” is still plugging away, nowadays I find funny examples of DIY repair at There, I Fixed It. While the attitude of the site is usually making fun of the supposed fixes, occasionally you come across something that’s pretty brilliant, or at least fairly clever.
Although I don’t often think there’s a big overlap between farmers and geeks (believe me: I’ve been trying to get some regulars for game nights since I moved to western Kansas three years ago and it’s still hard to get people to come), I recently came across an example of farmers who would might feel at home at a Maker Faire — well, if they didn’t mind all the crazy people. Being a farmer (as I’ve learned from my father-in-law and the many fine folks here in my small town) often means making do with what you’ve got, repairing things yourself and finding creative solutions to problems.
Farm Show is a newsprint magazine that I’m guessing many readers of GeekDad don’t subscribe to, with features like their 168-page Buyers Guide to Best & Worst Tractors. My wife found one that was sent to their clinic for the waiting room and brought it home so I could flip through it. The cover has a bunch of photos under the heading “Made It Myself: Ideas Born in Farm Shops” and includes a trampoline-like rain catcher, a lawn mower drawn by a miniature horse, and wine-fed beef. It’s a showcase of money-saving repairs and some pretty resourceful ideas, but more ag tech than high-tech.
This particular issue had a few head-scratchers (the most disturbing is the $4,000 piggy bank … made from a real pig*) but a few things that even a non-farmer like myself could appreciate. For example, a kit that converts a wheelbarrow to three wheels makes it easier to push and maneuver and allows it to be towed. Or there’s a couple who started selling yarn made of corn fiber. And I haven’t even started on all the heavy machinery hacks. (If you really want a nice collection of all these do-it-yourself stories, they’ve got a “Made It Myself” Encyclopedia for sale.)
So, next time you’re on a road trip, take a moment to think about those farms and fields that you drive past—there may be more to it than meets the eye. (Oh, and if you find yourself talking to a farmer, you may want to be careful how you use the word “geek.” They might not understand you mean it as a compliment.)
*I should note that I’m not absolutely sure the piggy bank is a real product — it appears to be something they found online, and the other offerings at that website are mostly gag gifts of varying degrees of poor taste.