A Rich Man

            I’m not the storyteller tonight.  My Beautiful Wife, Treasurechest, and Thotman, have both done a wonderful job telling the story on my mind today.  I’d like to relate a few of my observations which neither one mentioned though. 

            Prior to rendezvousing at our designated meeting place, Thotman phoned me to tell me he’d be just a few minutes late.  He needed to make an unexpected rescue mission.  He had found someone stranded, out of gas.

            After meeting up with us and while we were fitting my children’s boots to skis and getting everything packed up in Thotman’s “Ski Van”, I noticed the tow rope permanently attached to his vehicle.  Other rescue items are stashed away as well.  He was equipped and ready to help anyone along side the road in need.

            I loved how comfortably Thotman engaged my young children in direct conversation.  They loved the obvious respect and attention he gave them individually.  Once we were on the slopes, for several hours, his whole attention was focused on making this new experience, a great experience.  Just one example is when he took Cory up on the ski lift and then skied down backwards while leaning forward and holding Cory’s ski’s in the right position to teach the “Snow Plow” method.

            I would have to say that Thotman’s energy level during the whole day was on a “Super Hero” level.  His energy seems to build as he interacts with others like a snow ball growing as it rolls down a hill. 

            We had enjoyed the fabulous ski lessons, and engaging in meaningful conversation all the way down the mountain (telling and listening to jokes with the children).  After our Chucky Cheese extravaganza, and while driving back to our original rendezvous point where our car waited, we were now quiet thinking about our just completed adventure. 

Thotman was now busy on his phone.  He had many more friends to check on… kind words to leave… help to offer… plans to make. 

I thought back to a comment he made to me up in the mountains while we were loading our equipment back into his ski van.  First he laughed, it was an under your breath teasing sort of laugh.  Then he jabbed at me with his words.  “A rich man’s sport huh?”  He was referring to my blog back a month ago when I had used the excuse for never trying skiing.  I had written that, “I knew that skiing was a rich man’s sport.” 

This was the second time I had gone with him.  This time I had many of my family with us.  Thotman had extra ski equipment, and he knew where and when to go so we could learn and practice without ever buying a ski pass.  The cost was gas to drive up the mountain. 

            Earlier in a comment to my first ski blog, Thotman quoted the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” … ‘he who has friends is truly rich…  so maybe it is a rich man’s sport’ he had commented.

            I’ve learned that Thotman is a rich man.  But that has nothing to do with money.  I’ve also learned that I am much richer than I ever thought I was.  And that has nothing to do with money either.  Yes, skiing is a rich man’s sport.  But that has less to do with money than I had ever thought.                     

So as the year 2006 comes to a close, and as I look back at how life went for me this past year.  I have to say, it has been a very lucrative year for me.  I feel very rich.  If I have a goal for this new year, it would be to increase my wealth.  Blogging has added immensely to my fortune in 2006.  Thank-you friends.  I am a rich man.




            In my sister’s blog, “The Greatest Gifts” at mitchowl,  she tells a family story which I have to respond to.  In her story, she tells about doing something for our father, which she describes as a wonderful gift to him.  But she probably doesn’t realize that it also became a “Greatest Gift” to me as well.

            Like everyone else in our American culture, I love the many Christmas movies which have replayed from year to year.  From “It’s a Wonderful life", with Jimmy Stewart to the more modern “Santa Clause” and “Elf”, Christmas movies are fun to watch as part of the festivities of the season.  But my all time favorite Christmas movie is a short story told in a BYU production which was made in 1978. 

The movie, “The Gift” is only 18 minutes long.  Set in the depression of the mid 1930’s.  A twelve-year-old boy who has very little money decides to get up early on Christmas morning to do the farm chores for his dad. 

I love this movie because it tells the story of my sister and I, when we lived on our family egg farm a decade earlier (than when I first saw the movie). Like my sister said in her blog, it didn’t happen at Christmas time, and we didn’t even intentionally start out thinking, “Let’s do this as a gift for Dad.”  But that’s how it turned out, and in the process, it has become a lifetime favorite memory for me.  So I am the one who really received a gift back then.  Thank-you, sister, for hating early mornings, and pulling me into what became one of my favorite night time pastimes. 

Here is my version of the story.  

Sometimes Dad had problems, so when we got home from school, we found that we were way behind on the work.  On these “bad days” the last thing to be done was the egg gathering.  Sometimes part of it wouldn’t get done at all.  Then we would have to get up by 4:00am to gather before school the next morning.  We didn’t like this very much.  In fact on one such occasion my sister told me that she’d rather do it herself the night before.

So that’s what we did.  After coming in late one evening, after one of “those bad days”, and after having supper, we told Mom and Dad good night and went downstairs to bed.  Then we went out the basement door and back to the green house.  (We called it the Green house because we originally used green flats to gather the eggs in that particular chicken coop.  We also had chicken coops named the Red house, and the Yellow house.  But the name Green house was the only name that stuck.)  The lights were off now in the coop but we had a flashlight. 

It took hours to gather that building in the dark with just the two of us, and with only a flashlight to see what we were doing, but we worked harder then ever at it, and we finished sometime in the middle of the night. 

At 3:50 AM, Dad came down to get us up to help gather the green house.  We got up and went down to the farm with Dad to get started.  As we went inside the coop, Dad looked at all the eggs on the carts in front, and at the empty gathering trays under the chickens with amazement.  We reacted just as shocked as he was, not admitting to any knowledge of how the work had been mysteriously done during the night.  After a minute of looking around, Dad shrugged his shoulders and said, “It must have been gremlins that did it.”

That was so fun to do that frequently after that, “Gremlins” worked at night unexpectedly.  One time was a major undertaking.  One of my older brothers, Keith, was married with a family of his own.  He worked part time on the farm along with his college job.  We were buying egg cartons by the railcar load out of Macon, Georgia.  But the nearest railroad siding, where we could unload was in town, about four miles away.

One Friday evening, Dad spotted our rail car load of egg cartons parked on the side rail.  There were between 1000 and 1500 bundles of cartons to unload.  On a truck we could get about 100 bundles.  Dad took my older brother, Keith, my younger brother, Warren, and me over to load up a truckload just before dark.   It was a lot of work to unstack the cartons from the rail car, carry them over to our truck and restack them in the truck.  We then drove the truck home and we were then only half done handling that load of cartons. 

Unloading was harder, because every bundle had to be lifted up into the second floor of the green house, which was now used for carton storage.  After getting back with this first load, it was getting dark and too late to unload it.  So Dad arranged for Keith to come back at 4:00 AM to help us finish unloading the rail car. 

In no time Keith, Warren and I were making plans.  Dad finally went to bed at 10:00 PM.  At 10:30 PM we felt it was safe to start.  We went to the farm and unloaded the truck that Dad had brought in.  Then we took two trucks back to town.  As we went past Dad’s open bedroom window we shut off the trucks and coasted so Dad wouldn’t wake-up.  In town we loaded both trucks by Lantern light, working like mules as fast as we could. We then went back to the farm, coasting past Dad’s bedroom window with lights and engines off. We unloaded and went back to town to load up again, and then back to our farm again. 

All night we worked like our lives depended on it.  At 3:30 AM we still had 2 trucks to unload.  Finally we finished and Keith split for home.  Warren and I slipped back in the basement door and to our rooms.  We could hear Dad moving upstairs.  I didn’t have time to get undressed as dad approached my room, so I just got under the covers to hide my dirty work clothes.  Dad came in to wake us up.  I followed Dad down to the farm and was shocked along with him that everything was already done.  Again, Dad said, “Gremlins must have done it.”  As always it made a dreaded job fun. 

            So what started out as a way for my sister, who hated early morning chores, to not have to get up at 4:00am, became a pattern of giving our dad a needed break from his “Bad days” on the farm, and of giving us children a feeling inside that can only be experienced by giving of ourselves.  Thank-you Sister, for including me while learning a wonderful lesson of life. Because I watch that Christmas movie, “The Gift” every year, I always think of those Gremlins of our youth.  And I realize that we, the givers, were really the recipients of the gift.  And It is a gift which I will cherish my whole life.

Here We Go Again

Here We Go Again


Tonight when I went into town to pickup Amelia and Brittany from work, I had a flash back to the summer of 1999.  Amelia has her driving learners permit, and this was my first chance to scoot over and let her get behind the wheel.  I enjoyed the ride home very much.  It reminded me of when I taught my first daughter, Meagan, to drive my old pick-up truck back when we lived in Colorado.

That was during the summer of 1999, over seven years ago.  But I remember that I had made a journal entry about that experience.  So when I got home (and after I quit shake from fear), I pulled out my old journal entry and reread (and relived) that first experience.  The memories brought smiles to my tired face, so I thought I’d go ahead and post that journal entry of seven years ago here.



An Important Lesson

Written Aug. 30, 1999


            This past summer, Meagan was able to come to work with me for awhile.  She had just received her drivers learners permit in time to practice driving me back and forth to work.  She seemed excited to be able to really drive, until the realities of driving my old broken down pick-up set in.  I didn’t think that me or my poor pick-up would survive her jack rabbit starts, grinding gears, miss shifted gears, and all the times we slipped out of gear while she tried to shift into my temperamental 5th gear.  For a while, these rides really took a toll on me, my pick-up, and Meagan. 

            At times she begged to not have to drive again.  She said she wanted to learn on mom’s car because it has an automatic transmission. 

            During these rides, after the traditional pop the clutch, stall out, grind the starter motor, jackrabbit start, all intermingled with my cross instructions and her cross looks back, I couldn’t help but think back on my youth. 

Then suddenly Meagan pops it out of 5th gear and races the engine, followed by our tempers racing again.  Finally we’re on I-76 with a straight 16 miles to relax before any more gear shifting.  So my thoughts drift back to when I was learning to drive back on our egg farm. 

            I started out driving farm equipment.  My earliest memory is of driving a farm truck out in our field.  I don’t remember why I was driving it, but I do remember having to stand on the seat to see over the dashboard.  Also I remember having to jump off of the seat and push on the clutch and wait for someone to get in the truck and put the transmission in neutral.  Anyway, by the time I have a clear memory, I was a pretty proficient driver.  It was all on our farm, and in everything, except the family car.  So by the time I was about 12 years old, I thought I was the best.  It was about this time that I found that I still had a lot to learn. 

            I happily got the job on our farm, early one spring, of running the Honey Wagon.  We had large manure pits at the back of our chicken coops.  Our Honey Wagon was the nickname for our liquid manure spreader.  The term was quite descriptive of the manure we had, but not very descriptive of the smell.

            Anyway, I was happy to do this job because I would get to drive the tractor, pulling the Honey Wagon all over our field and even several of our neighbor’s fields.  The only hard part of the whole job was hooking up the 8-inch wide suction hose used to fill the tank of the Honey Wagon.  This hose was very stiff, heavy, and awkward for me to handle. 

            I would have to back the trailer (the Honey Wagon) in just perfectly, or I just couldn’t hook the hose on to the tank for loading.  To further complicate things, this was in the early springtime and the dirt roads around our manure pits were muddy and slick. 

            As I would try to back the Honey Wagon in, it would slide sideways or jack knife into my tractor.  One day as I worked my job, everything seemed to be against me.  I struggled for up to an hour each time I came back for another load just to get that Honey Wagon in the right position, so I could hook up the hose.  I could feel the frustration level increase, and then my driving ability decrease.  At times I was near swearing, and then I’d be crying.  By the end of the day I hated the job.

 That spring, I had no choice but to keep doing that dreaded job.  Over a period of several weeks, my skill of backing that Honey Wagon increased until I could hit my target first time regardless of what the conditions were.  It was then, that job was fun again. 

Well, Meagan just turned on the turn signals, so in two more miles we will exit I-76 and go on in to Wiggins. 

These rides with Meagan back and forth to work every day was a summer of ’99 highlight which I’ll remember just like learning to back a trailer was a highlight the spring of ’72. 

At the end of her summer job, Meagan made a comment, which started me reminiscing again.  She was pleased at how well she could manage driving my temperamental old stick shift.  She said that none of her friends know how to drive a stick.  So in that one thing, she was smarter than any of her friends. 

Interesting how our strengths can be born out of necessity.  I thought back to the blessing it was to me to have to learn to back a trailer.  I think nothing of it anymore, but I see grown men who struggle with this like I did when I was 12 years old.  At times in my life this talent has been a real lifesaver for me.  Like when I pulled mobile homes after we closed our farm.  No one I worked with was any better at parking a mobile home on the exact right spot than me.  It makes me wonder about the other struggles I go through in life.  From this perspective, they are all blessings in disguise.  In that perspective, sometimes I feel really, really blessed.  I want my children to be blessed also.  I guess the trick to learn is to be happy and enjoy life even when we are so “Blessed” that we don’t have room enough to contain them.  Thanks Meagan, for teaching me an important lesson of life.



So now after remembering this time I spent with Meagan, teaching her to drive a stick shift, and learning a few lessons from her in the process, I wonder what profound insights I’ll gain while teaching Amelia to drive.  I love these memories of my children.  And I’m looking forward to making some new ones now with Amelia.  So watch out all you other drivers.  Here we go again.


Not Just Another Pretty Face

            Never in my 25 year career of managing processing plants have I ever been faced with such a daunting problem.  I now work with cutting edge technology.  We have the best processing equipment in the industry.  We are located strategically to deliver our perishable product to many major markets literally overnight.  Our parent corporation has us well funded as it gives us the experience and clout of the largest company in the industry.  Our suppliers run to our beck & call.  And our competitors carefully watch what we do, but otherwise stay out of our way so our wake won’t capsize their smaller boats.  So the only thing lacking in this formula for success is our local work force.  The man in the trenches, or more accurately described, the man in the plant.

Because of the nature of our business, the facility is located VERY rurally.  Even the small town of 3000 people, which we claim in our mailing address, is fifteen miles from our plant.  And the closest larger cities are about 90 miles away.   

Since moving here, four and a half years ago, I have struggled to maintain an adequate staff.  The pool of potential full time permanent workers just isn’t very large here.  Along with working closely with our government employment agency both locally and state wide, we have worked with all the temporary employment services who offer any service to our area.  Anyone, far or near who can appropriately show that they can legally work are given opportunity with us.  We found some success with an international employment company who could fill the arduous government paper work requirements allowing a workforce from Asia to come fill our man power deficit.  The problem with that government program was that it was only allowed on a temporary basis. 

So now for the last three months, we have been back to square one, and struggling to find the manpower to keep the plant running.  Corporate officers and management have spent many hours brainstorming for a solution.  Any innovative thinking “outside the box” is quickly squelched by our corporate lawyers and personnel experts. 

While all of this is going on, I have been forced to work my undersized staff to the breaking point.  An average work day has been extended to twelve plus hours.  Those who are willing are encouraged to work extra days in the week.  Some have not logged less than 70 hours a week for four months.  When I do find someone to add to the workforce, they are so quickly overwhelmed with the long days that they won’t stay.  This vicious cycle forces my core of “superhero” workers, who have stayed with me through all of this, to continue on with the long days and longer weeks.

“What else could I do?  I have tried everything that corporate will let me try.”

“No you haven’t.”

“What?”  I didn’t know my Beautiful Wife was really listening to my rant.

She continued, “Why do you have to work them soooo long?”

I knew what she meant by the question but I had no choice.  “We HAVE to run that long BECAUSE I don’t have enough help.”

“But they just quit anyway, so why don’t you break it up.   Instead of having one new hire working the whole shift, have two share one position.  One could work in the morning, and then have the other one work that same position for the afternoon.  Why do you have to hire only people who are available to work 7 days a week, or even a full 40 hours a week?  Why can’t you hire people who want or can only work a few days a week?  Hire enough part time people fill out your full time positions.”

We were driving to town as she described to me the one obvious thing I hadn’t tried.  It was something that no one from all that corporate level experience and talent could think of.  And it hit me so hard that I almost ran off the road.  I had been so buried in the forest that I couldn’t see the trees anymore.  

The next day, I took out large a newspaper ad offering my new policy of part-time flexible positions. 

I have now worked for about a month with my part time work force and I have discovered an unexpected bonus.  Not only have I added to my available man power and taken the punch out of the long days by splitting the shifts up, but I have found some wonderful workers who really do want to work but wouldn’t have considered the full time job because of family responsibility.  Like my Beautiful Wife, there are many ladies who are more than capable of handling the job, and who plan to be around for a long time.  Work performance is up.  Morale is up.  And I give credit to my Beautiful Wife, who isn’t just another pretty face.   

Where do they get it from?

            As I do occasionally, I have given my two “high school” daughters several rides to school in the last week.  They seem to like the White Bus (my pick-up truck) over the Yellow Bus.  And so any excuse gets them the preferred ride to school.  “I need to be in early to take a test.”  Or “My hair is taking too long.  I’ll miss the bus.  So can you give as ride today?”  The requested ride to school is always followed by some sugary phrase.  “I love you daddy!” is most commonly used.  They somehow think that I’ll drop everything and run to do their bidding anytime they start acting sweetsie with me.  They are right.  So I make a lot detours to the school on my way to work. 

            Well, last week as we headed out for an early school drop off, nothing I could do or say would persuade Amelia to put on a coat.  I knew she would be at school and then work from 7:00am until after 10:00pm. 

            “Aren’t you going to wear a coat today?  It’s 10 below zero out there.”

            “I am wearing a coat.”

            She showed me her thin fashionable sweater that she had on over her short sleeved shirt. 

            “That’s not a coat.  You’re going to freeze today.”

            “I don’t have a coat.”

            Not true.  Her mom told me that she just won’t wear it because she wants to look cute, and wearing a coat isn’t.  So off we go in the dark predawn artic air, to the high school where her early morning make-up test is waiting.  She IS willing to huddle in MY coat while we drive the 7 miles to the school.  As I’m driving along, I wonder if I should have forced her to take a coat anyway.  But I know that if I did, she would ditch it in her locker or worse in some hall, never to come back home again, and she would never wear it anyway.  So I wait to make sure that the empty looking school is unlocked and she can in fact get inside, so she doesn’t freeze to death, before I leave to go to work.  As I drive away, I’m wondering, “Why are they so stupid when it comes to dressing warm in winter weather.  I know that my Beautiful Wife is a perfect example of burrowing into warmth before venturing out in the cold.  So where do they get it from?” 

Then my memory takes me back to when I was first going to college.  I lived at home and went to the local college which was only 5 miles from our farm.  At the time, I worked for the school’s electronic services.  The job included everything from setting up sound systems for large classes on campus to running the lights and sound for the big performances and concerts that came to our college. 

On this particular morning, I had to go in early to do class room setups before my own classes.  I drove an old drafty delivery van, which barely put out enough heat to keep the windshield defrosted.  As I left the house at 5:00 am that morning, I remember thinking, “It feels a little cold out today.  Maybe I should go back and get a jacket.”  I looked at our yard thermometer, which read -25.  Then I thought, “But I will be inside warm buildings all day, and I don’t want to have to carry around a jacket.  Besides, I’m sure it will warm up to around zero when the sun comes up.”  So I continued on with shirt sleeves only.  

That afternoon, after my classes were finished, but before I could get back home, I was asked to stay and help run the lights for a show that night. It was the largest stage set up I had ever seen come to our college.  Along with the bus load of performers, they brought two semi tractor trailers loaded with their own equipment.  The set up before the show began took about four hours.  This was back when the eight foot long super-trooper spot lights the college had, ran on carbon rods similar to welding rods.  I loved running those big lights while following the instructions from some unseen show director as he told us what to do through the intercom system. 

The show ended about 11:00pm.  And I still hadn’t been home yet.  But now, they needed help putting all that equipment back into their two semi-tractor trailers.  It wasn’t until about 1:00am when I started to realize how foolish I had been in going to school that morning without a coat or even a jacket.   Instead of warming up some during the day like I thought it would, it had turned colder.  I worked outside loading that equipment until about 2:30am.  The campus thermometer now registered -40.  I couldn’t stop my shivers.  Hard work wasn’t enough to generate body heat anymore.  One of the fellows from the show had pity on me and gave me a pair of gloves to wear. Nothing had ever felt so good to me.  I wondered if I would ever be warm again.  Finally the job was done and I could go home.  Once at home, I stirred the hot coals in our fireplace and then piled on the wood.  While waiting for the flame to generate real heat, I found blankets and made myself a bed in front of where the fan blasted out the heat of the fire.  Then for the next three hours, I lay there and shivered uncontrollably.  By the time my shivers subsided, it was time to get up and go back to school for another day.   This time I took a coat. 

I came back from my memory as I pulled into my parking space at work.  I have to suppress a smile as I think, “I don’t have to wonder where my children get their stupidly from when it comes to under dressing for the cold.  I hope they will somehow survive like I did though.”