Father's Day Tribute To My Dad

Father's Day Tribute To My Dad

I’ve mentioned my dad in many posts and interviews in small attempts to describe him and his influence on me and HPP. Here’s another attempt at the same and a quick note of gratitude for my old man.

Brief intro to my father

Dad farmed the Home Place for a living his entire adult life. He will be 82 in October. He still works, bakes biscuits every week, and fixes most of the plumbing and electric issues in his home (which he built himself). He is more active than most folks half his age. 

For those of you who have been to the farm- most of what you see was built by him. He planted countless trees and designed the ponds and lakes around our home and headquarters for recreation and to catch water for irrigating the row crops downhill to the south. He built the corral across from the Farm Store. When he was 20 years old, he built the house we renovated/ rehabbed into the present-day Farm Store. When I founded HPP and shared my far-fetched vision with him, he helped me design and build the first iteration of our USDA meat plant, including the rail system, lairage/ handling system, knock box, floor drains, wiring, and all concrete work (we’ve added to it several times since). He built the equipment shed where we host the bands for the Boucherie (and store equipment the other 364 days of the year). He built the grain bins and elevator leg at our headquarters, and the farm shop.

He farmed his entire life and remained in debt his entire life, mostly because of his generosity to his children. He insulated us from his financial stresses, put us through private school and college and never pressured us to farm. He ran the cotton gin in town in addition to farming full time, and contracted out his design and construction skills when he could to make ends meet.

At home, he prizes witty language and can recite endless stanzas of poetry. He loves to tell stories and talk politics and history over bourbon. Despite never finishing college, he is the most well-read person I know. The details of names, dates, and circumstances he can recall from all parts of the world and periods of history is almost unbelievable. His vocabulary is vast, but at work he uses profanity with an artist’s vigor (but never in front of women or children). He is up to date on global, national, and local events, and is reading a magazine, newspaper, or a book for most of his waking hours when he is not working or cooking.

A couple of recent stories

A few weeks ago I received a new piece of equipment for our USDA inspected harvest floor that scalds and dehairs our pigs in one efficient step. It’s a big upgrade for us and saves time and valuable floor space (its on wheels and rolls out of the way when not in use), allowing us to improve our cattle harvesting process as well.

Typical of our luck, the machine broke down at the end of our first day using it. After some back and forth with the manufacturer, we discovered that bolts holding chain tension on the drive sprocket had not been tightened in the factory in Germany, creating increasing slack in the drive chain. Eventually this invisible problem caused the chain to double over, break, and tear up the flange that mounts the motor and gear box to the frame of the machine.

So, we were down and unable to resume harvesting pigs until the replacement arrived from Germany. After a week and a lot of back and forth, I realized we’d have to figure this out ourselves before this part arrived. If we didn’t, we’d be stuck helplessly waiting on a part, unable to resume production, losing customers and money all the while. Compounding the issue was the fact that if we cannot harvest, we have nothing to butcher, process, package and label, so basically 3 crews would be down and we’d have no product. We also had Hogs for the Cause coming up, meaning we had to scald and de-hair several whole hogs for teams counting on us to provide a top-quality skin on hogs for the contest (one of which ended up winning!). 

I studied the shattered cast aluminum flange that had to be repaired and did not think there was any way I could fix or duplicate it. For one, it had precise bolt hole patterns and a very tight tolerance around the drive shaft. Secondly, I cannot weld or fabricate cast aluminum, only steel, so repairing the broken one wasn’t possible. In despair I called dad for advice. 

He took a look at the flange and said, “Hell, I can make that son of bitch!”  Within 6 hours dad had made a perfect replica from a thick plate of steel using a compass, chalk, plasma torch, Dremel grinder, and a drill press. Early the next morning we installed it and only had to hand drill one hole to make it fit. I called the equipment dealer and told him we had machined our own flange and he could not believe it. Dad added disdainfully that I should tell this “top-notch” German manufacturing company to “tighten up.”

It turns out it took over 4 weeks to get the actual part from Germany, and we are still using dad’s flange on the new machine. Everyone who has eaten our pork in the last couple of months has dad to thank! 

Another quick one

A couple of weeks ago dad completed fabricating a new cattle landing rail and chain hoist beam for our harvest floor. With the new floor space I mentioned above, we can make the process more efficient and less physically demanding, but we need this new landing rail to do so. I drew it out and asked dad for advice, which of course meant he just took on the project instead of offering his opinion. He had the whole thing fabricated within a few days, and he wanted me to check it out after work one day.

As I was standing in his shop looking at what he had made, I was thinking about how many hundreds (thousands?) of projects, fixes, designs, and structures dad had built in that shop in his lifetime. The smell of the grease, smoke, and sweat reminds me of being 13 desperate to learn how to weld and work metal to impress him. 20 plus years later here was Dad, still selflessly churning out work that would cost thousands to contract out, with simple tools and a lifetime of skill, just to help his son’s business.

Generational Farming

I’ve written about my father a couple of times- maybe because I have a child myself now, or maybe because dad is getting old. I have always felt unconscious gratitude and admiration for him, but I think about it more now. I have also come to realize that I returned to the farm not only because of my love for the land, but also because of how my father shaped who I am and what I value.

Dad has a stripped-down self-assurance and an endearing lack of self-awareness. He is totally without pretense and is simply smart and competent. He has an unwavering confidence in his abilities without any pomp or ego- just a solid self-reliance and pleasure in doing things right. He was never a drill sergeant or a disciplinarian to his children. The way he carried himself, his kindness toward others, his disappointment if you acted lazy, selfish, or entitled, and the way he approached his work was formative to his kids without any reprimanding or moralizing needed.

Despite his abilities and intellect, dad never did anything that would land him in committees, boardrooms, lists, or publications. He also never had a chip on his shoulder or a bitter outlook. He reveled in his interests and hobbies and sustained a childlike sense of curiosity, mischief, and energy.  He was not much of one for church or golf or rotary club, but he never expected anyone to share those opinions. He never gets lost in self-reflection (nor does he even really understand what this term means) and I cannot think of a single time he felt sorry himself, despite experiencing many tragedies.  Some of these tragedies include losing his first wife to cancer and their only child at 3 months old to health complications within a year of each other, all just a few months after his house had burned down. He just kept rolling, married my mom, and started over.

Despite him have many things to cry about, I’ve only seen him get choked up three times. Once at my grandmother’s funeral, once when telling me about losing his first child, and once singing a song at Christmas that reminded him of his two older sisters who were killed in a tragic train accident in downtown Como on Christmas Eve when he was 4 years old (in 1946).

Through a life of challenges, tragedies, and set backs, he’s remained upbeat and ready for the next project.

I think the world of my dad. I aspire to weather life’s storms with his fortitude and be as good of a father as he continues to be to me. He will be embarrassed to read this, and we won’t talk about it much, but I felt the need to write it down all the same. 

Happy Father’s Day!

Marshall


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