Thursday, May 28, 2015

Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out—Hog Style

I’ll admit—when I was a kid growing up on a Midwest farm, I never once said, “I wanna grow up to be a hog herder.” Cowboys were cool--TV shows like Bonanza kept us tuned in, and when we kids played in the pasture, we could imagine huge cattle drives where we fought against bandits, raging rivers, and coiled rattlesnakes.

Ironically, by the time I was ten or twelve I did perform hog herding. We shifted our pigs occasionally from hog lot to pasture or from our barn to my uncle’s hog house down the road. I learned several lessons: pigs are clever, they don’t fear farm dogs, and the sows can be aggressively protective of their young. One more thing—they move at their own speed (slow) unless they are escaping (fast) or until they reach a bridge (full stop). Sometimes we spread straw across the bridge on our lane—apparently Granny called it the “Hail Mary Bridge” because she said a prayer when our herd approached it. Prayers or not, I recall learning a few swear words on that bridge.

The pigs are gone, but my folks still live on that farm, and Dad recently reminded me of those times. He is a walking wiki-history of farm days past. Here are some of his observations:

-My grandfather and some of his neighbors once trailed 150 Hampshires 28 miles across open prairie and the frozen Iowa River. They covered the river ice with straw to provide a skid-free surface for the puzzled pigs.

-Gramps hated driving hogs to the town market or train depot. The pigs would get spooked by city sounds and kids with slingshots. Women terrified the pigs by waving their aprons to keep them away from their flower beds.

-Epic hog drives took days and required wagons loaded with food for drovers and livestock. Apparently a few drives were more than 100 miles long—especially when they took herds to Chicago’s Union Stockyards. Some drovers moved the pigs at night when it was cooler and there were fewer distractions.

-Uncle Berry had what it took to be a successful hog drover: patience. He’d talk in a soothing way or whistle to the pigs. “It’s better to outsmart a hog than to outrun him,” Berry said. “Too much cussin’ and pokin’ will get his head on the wrong end every time.”

-One spring day, a stubborn sow snorted past our scoop shovels and escaped to a forty-acre cornfield where she hid out and eventually farrowed eight pigs. That fall after the corn was harvested, neighbors helped us with a roundup and wild-hog hunt. That was some of the best roast pork I’ve ever tasted.

Dad speaks fondly of the old farming days, but I remember some tense times for us all when we tried to relocate stubborn hogs. They didn’t act much like pigs with personality—Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web or Babe from the movies. I think ours were influenced more by Orwell’s Animal Farm: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.”

 dan gogerty--guest comments from Rex Gogerty; (top pic from; bottom pic from

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Busy as a Beaver--More Busy as a Farm Kid

The beavers that dammed up our creek in the lower pasture must be desperate. It’s a small stream, lined with few trees, and--during the planting season--void of the bountiful crops that will fill out the fields in later months. Maybe this dam was built by outcasts from the colony downstream that produces more substantial structures.

To be honest, this dam looks like something my siblings, cousins, and I built back in our 1960s pasture roving days. We used mud, sticks, rocks, and preteen attitude to slow the creek enough to make a pond we could brag about. It was a bit murky--the cattle grazing upstream ignored us and swatted flies with their tails. Our dog Smoky watched us from the shade of a cottonwood tree as our attempts to dog paddle in the shallows turned into water fights and head dunking.

Shoddy dam or not, beavers are cool, so I took my grandsons to see the structure a few weeks ago. James is nearly six years old, and he ran around like Jim Bridger casing out the scene. Before long, he realized the beavers were either in their dens or they’d packed up and moved. The boys live in town, but the farm has been with the family for more than 165 years, and they visit on occasion. I showed them a faded beaver trail, some claw marks, and a gnawed-off sapling. James climbed a small tree and his two-year-old brother, Callan, kept running toward the bank as he if might attempt a six-foot dive into the shallow water.

After leaving the pasture, we explored the haymow of the classic red pole barn built in the 1890s. The few layers of small square bales left in it are rare nowadays, and I explained to them that my brothers and I might have stacked the ones on the bottom and played hide-and-seek there when we were kids. James and Callan were more interested in jumping recklessly from bale to bale, and they only listened closely to me when I warned them to stay away from the raccoon droppings. “Poop—Grandpa said ‘poop.’” I imagine that was the key word repeated that night when they told their parents what we’d been up to.

James ended up in the cab of my brother’s tractor as they planted corn. Kevin let him do enough duties to convince him that the year’s crop would not have been put in right if a five-year-old hadn’t helped. By this time, another grandchild—three-year-old Madison— had arrived, so she joined me in the garden where her hands were just the right size for dropping lettuce and spinach seeds into the rows. She stayed focused for several minutes—much longer than I ever did at that age.

During the rest of the afternoon, Madison took her grandma to the bridge on the lane where throwing rocks into the creek has been a ritual since the days when I fell in while launching a big rock that got the better of me. Callan matched wits with the cats in the yard and eventually moved inside to play with the toy tractors. All three of them ended up snacking on the farm’s classic health food--Great-grandma's chocolate chip cookies.
Like the beaver dam in our pasture, the activities were a bit scattered and haphazard, but the kids had fun. Little did they know that every fall in the hay, every stone thrown in the creek, and every scratch from climbing a tree brought back memories for their grandpa. I could see us kids doing the same things 50 years ago—and yes, I admit: I also think the word “poop” is funny.

by dan gogerty        

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Real Fantasy Baseball Down on the Farm

Sticks, Rocks, Hog Houses, and Freshly Mown Carpet...  

Mom's Cookies Were the Performance-enhancing Drugs      

My fantasy baseball existed well before cable TV and the Internet bought the rights to our imaginations. A team I called the Sparrows led my baseball league in the summer of ’59, but a broken pane of glass in the hog house window slowed their potent hitting attack. My league focused on stick-and-rock games played in the gravel lane that separated our house from the feedlots, and the hog house made a perfect right field wall. 

It wasn’t a classic green monster, and the only vines may have been a few stray weeds at ground level, but any rock I hit against the wall was a single, onto the sloping shingles a double, and over the roof into the lot a homerun. Triples only occurred when I clinked a rock off the aluminum cupola. Unlike Fenway or Wrigley, this outfield section had a few small glass windows, and anytime I cracked one of those, my teams would take a road trip until the incident simmered down. Dad had enough to do without having to clean bits of glass out of the farrowing stalls.

My other venue was the north side of the house. With only one window set low, the white board siding offered an easy target for a nine-year-old with a tennis ball and well-used glove. If the ball bounced back and I caught it in the air or I fielded a grounder cleanly and threw to a designated spot on the wall, the batter was out. If my pitch resulted in a return that went over my head or I made an error, the runner was on. An occasional ricochet between the eaves and the wall resulted in a bunt. The imaginary runners regularly beat the throw, especially if I subconsciously pulled for the team at bat. The umpires seemed to favor certain squads.
Dad’s office was on the other side of the wall. Like the Cubs of old, I didn’t have night games, so he seldom did paperwork during game time, but the constant thump of the ball in late afternoons must have been maddening. His desk was near the lone window, and even though I never broke the plastic-like double-pane, I imagine my errant throws caused him to mistype a few keystrokes on his Smith-Corona.

During the off-season or on rainy nights, I drafted my younger brothers to play in the indoor league. Our fantasy games consisted of baseball cards and marbles or rolled-up aluminum foil balls. Poker chips made sturdy bases, and a good surface was crucial. Linoleum and wooden floors were useless, and shag carpet was like playing in an overgrown pasture. A thick, short-cropped carpet made the best field, and the dimensions were up to the participants. I imagine we had brush-back pitches, questionable calls, and a few collisions at home plate, but mom’s chocolate chip cookies were our only performance-enhancing drugs, and all-in-all, we got along fine.

Being the oldest brother, I probably pulled rank and made the final umpiring decisions more often than not. But, as Tom Hanks once said, there’s no crying in baseball, and the carpet league kept us happy; even the electric baseball game that came one Christmas didn’t win us over. The low electric hum and the slow-moving players couldn’t match the intensity of the game playing out in our heads.

I’m not sure how many years the fantasy leagues survived. We had Rocky Colavito, Nellie Fox, and Hank Aaron on contract for at least a few years or until their bubble gum cards wore out. My brother Tom says that we occasionally fell into “Dizzy Dean lingo” during that era because we watched the Game of the Week on our black and white TV. “He slud into third” was acceptable around the house, but I don’t think we would have been allowed to say Dizzyisms like, “I ain’t what I used to be, but who the hell is?”

After a few years, the baseball cards faded and the rock pitchers gave up too many homeruns over the hog house. By the time I was eleven, my brothers and our cousins down the road formed a league that had a bit more reality to it including a tree for first base, heated arguments, and a few games called on account of chores. Decades later, my childhood fantasy league was rejuvenated for a time when my son spent hours tossing a ball against a concrete wall, and he even played a few carpet league games with me. I knew things were changing though. During one close contest, I flipped the tinfoil ball to first just before his runner touched the chip. But my son not only disputed the call, he replayed the whole scene in “slow motion video,” and in his version the runner touched just before my ball arrived. I couldn’t argue with technology.

I wonder what type of fantasy baseball experiences kids encounter nowadays. I hope they include a chipped wooden bat, a beat-up rubber ball, and a freshly mown carpet.

by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom one from