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(Farm & Ranch Guide)
Story Has Special Meaning

Every once in a while, a writer gets to do a story that he really enjoys writing, and it seems to us that the Guide's newest writer, Doug Nill, found that opportunity recently when he covered events at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. The University's excellent rehabilitation program for farmers provided a wealth of story ideas for Doug, and he captured the enthusiasm this program is generating quite well, we think. But beyond that, Doug felt a special meaning in the interviews he conducted for these stories. For his own grandfather, who recently passed away, went through much of his farming career with a disability that failed to stop him from his lifetime endeavor of tilling the soil. We offer Doug's thoughts on this in our usual space this issue.
- Dave Borlaug

By Doug J. Nill
It was more than just casual reporter's interest that induced me to attend a handicapped farmer workshop in Grand Forks recently. You see, my grandfather farmed for more than 42 years with only one good arm. The other arm did brief battle with the revolving power take-off of an old Farmall tractor on July evening in 1941, and the PTO won. Surgery removed the mangled flesh from just below the elbow, and what remained was fitted to a prosthesis, a shell of flesh-colored plastic to which was affixed a shiny steel hook at the end.

It was devastating, but Grandfather simply purchased some machines to milk cows he had milked by hand, and went about the task of farming and building a ranch operation he was justly proud of. Neighbors would say Grandfather could do more with one good hand and his hook, as we referred to it, than most men could do with two hands. He had no use of a hammer. I recall working in the shop and watching Grandfather pound nails straight and true with his hook.

There were times when the hook would need repair. Grandfather would clamp his hook in the vice, still strapped to his arm, and busily start welding.

He had more than one hook. There was a newer hook, for church of course, and there was he every day, beat up, farm hook. And one time there was a newfangled prosthesis, which did not have a hook but a contraption to hold a pencil instead. This was quickly discarded. For with his faithful hook, Grandfather could manipulate any gearshift in any tractor.

His hooks could be repaired and kept in continuous good working order, but the same wasn't true for Grandfather. He passed away one cold day last December. The fall tillage he finished before the fateful stroke was his final act for the job of farming he loved. Some of his possessions were later dispersed among the grandchildren by Grandmother, and the one item I asked for and received was Grandfather's farming hook.

To me, it was the essence of Grandfather.

The grease-and-sweat stained arm, with the twisted and welded hook on the end, an arm that planted and harvested good and poor crops and pounded nails and waved at stubborn cattle, is both memory and reminder of the man that was… My Grandpa.

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