Farmer Vacation–an Oxymoron?

June 2015:

This link accesses an article that ties in with an incident in the story below–in our case, it was a bear attack at Yellowstone. Officials nowadays are more concerned about buffaloes. Bison may look passive, but they can run up to 40 mph, and they have “locomotive” power. Yellowstone urges tourist common sense amid bison attacks.

Updates:  The Peterson Brothers video, “Life of a Farmer,” shows that the end of school doesn’t guarantee vacation time—it means hard work. But summertime also includes activities, fairs, and maybe even the classic family trip. The entry below takes a retro-look at how hard it is for some farmers to pull themselves away from the fields, feedlots, and their self-imposed obsession with all things agriculture.

Never Go on Vacation with a Farmer

You can take a farmer off the land, but you can’t take the land—or the farmer’s smartphone—off the farmer during vacation. As the travel season rolls in, I think of how vacations have changed since I was a kid on a Midwest farm.

Like most farmers, Dad would drive off with his eyes looking in the rearview mirror to see if the cattle had yet got out, if the hydrant at the hog water tank had been shut off, or if a sudden hailstorm was sweeping across the cornfield. He was already planning his first long-distance phone call from a motel in Ft. Collins to ask his brother about the weather in Iowa. Now farmers can check forecasts, markets, and maybe even the social life of their milk cows with the apps, bells, and whistles the digital world provides.

On the open road, farmers are a risky bunch. Dad gawked out the window—checking on crops, watching machinery in the fields, and seeing what the cattle looked like in Colorado. This was before mandatory seat belts, so we kids in the back were bouncing around like bacon bits thrown in a hot frying pan, while Mom kept her hands ready to grab the wheel if Dad saw an elaborate grain bin system on a farm we passed.

Today’s farmers are dangerous not because they look aside, but because they look down—they can bury their heads in their smartphones or iPads while checking on the commodity prices in Chicago, the best GPS route to Deadwood, or the hot items on ag Twitter accounts. 

As an ag writer, Dad turned most of our trips into tours of farms and food production companies. Even our 1964 odyssey to the mountains had visits to ranches and rodeos, but we included some of the classic tourist stops too. 

Dad bought a wooden camper-top, attached it to the bed of our pickup (hay and feed sacks removed), and with Mom and my baby sister in front, he left Iowa aiming west to Yellowstone with the three stooges in back. We boys were thirteen, eleven, and ten, perfect ages for highway games, amateur wrestling, and road warrior survival.  

When nature called, we tried sign language to communicate. The truck had no slide window between the cab and camper, and it’s a long haul from Omaha to Ogallala. Maybe the cab was soundproof, but Dad often seemed occupied with a fold-out travel map, and Mom was busy tending to sis. We learned how to expand our bladders and fight without leaving marks.

Along the way, we stopped to see which president on Mt. Rushmore had the biggest nostrils, what hill Custer used for his last muster, and who was the family camping expert. Mom was. She produced iron skillet meals on the fire while we scattered into the woods. I can’t remember the sleeping arrangements. Truck bed or lumpy air mattress in the tent, I’m sure we kids considered it an adventure, and the adults figured it was Dante’s level of hell that involves arthritis and sinus lobotomies.

At Yellowstone, Dad did an Old Faithful drive-by (look boys, thar she blows), and he stopped with other tourists for the bear and cub alongside the road. In the era before the animals were moved up mountain, the bears’ roadside pandering was only outdone by tourist stupidity. When my brother edged too close to the cub, the mother bear swiped her paw, miraculously leaving only claw rips in his blue jeans. Mom screamed; cameras clicked; Dad hustled us back into the truck. No humans were hurt in the filming of this scene, and the pants became a regular feature of our family storytelling. If only we could have made a YouTube viral video of it—we’d have had our 15 minutes of junior high fame.

We returned with a new appreciation of the Wild West, pickup truck suspensions, and mosquito repellant. Mom is the only one who abstains when we vote it as our favorite vacation. She hasn’t gone camping since. 

Even after I left the farm, the aura of agriculture still crept into my vacations. My wife and I were driving west one summer, and Dad asked us to stop at a successful Nebraska farm venture to ask a few questions for an article he was writing. So we spent an afternoon at an artificial insemination farm. Fascinating, in a weird way. And how many folks come back from vacation with a souvenir hat that says “Bull Semen Inc.”? 

by dan gogerty (poster pic from; photo from

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