PaulbunyanbabebigWhen I was 17, I worked a summer at the now extinct Don C. Power Farm in Galloway, Ohio. On a crew with two friends, our main job was painting an unending fence. Many long hours were spent painting the fence, and then accidentally spilling paint on each other, and then intentionally pouring gallons of white latex paint over each other’s heads. Think “The Three Stooges Meets Jackson Pollack.”

Toward the end of the summer, we were invited to the baling of hay and straw. That job involves stacking bales of freshly cut hay as high as humanly possible in the hay loft of a barn, the hottest place on Earth. Once the hay is stacked too high to reach, there is a quick, primative election of one member of the crew to stand atop all the stacked hay and catch bales that are thrown to him, placing them in the ever decreasing space beneath the extremely hot steel roof. The pre-election debate consisted solely of a big guy pointing to me and saying, “Hey, you’re the skinniest.”

As the runt of the crew, I was elected, or rather thrown, up onto the top of the stacked hay where I learned to catch a stream of flying 40-pound bales of very scratchy hay, breathe 150-degree air with a high fiber content, and sweat through my fingernails. In that loft, I made a solemn, silent promise to go to college.

But you’re here for the story of my first student, the calf:

Mid-summer we received a true agricultural assignment. The farm manager, a sincere, quietly colorful man named Lynn Yokum, told us that a young calf showed some promise as a potential show cow. It was my job to ready the young thing for the Clark County Fair. My assignment: put a rope on her and teach her how to be led.

There are two schools of thought on teaching a cow how to be led. PETA, I presume, prefers The School of Tender Loving Care. In this school, the farm hand, who is probably at a 35% weight disadvantage to the calf, must gently — and then increasingly less gently — tug at the lead, saying, “C’mon, Ginger. C’mon girl.”

A larger farm hand and a more ambitious calf might have excelled at The School of Tender Loving Care. We didn’t. (I tried. She didn’t.) There was much laughing by veteran farmers, standing by in no helpful way.

So, on to the second school, preferred by John Deere. In this school (The School of Walk or Be Dragged Dammit), the lead is tied to the front of a small tractor, in this case made by Kubota. Then, the farm hand (any size will do) drives the tractor in reverse while the calf (any size short of Bunyan’s Ox, Babe) follows. No muss, no fuss, and the fumes from the tractor are just an early dose of the eventual smoking that much beef eventually enjoys. The strategy: to make sure that the calf knows how to be led fully, the farm hand drives the tractor in reverse in figure eights.

This was the first time I had a student (the calf), a curriculum (the Kubota and a rope), lesson plan (figure eights) and a learning outcome (come nicely, Ginger). Ginger graduated with honors and won a ribbon in the 1977 Clark County Fair.