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What people put in their front yards

By Ken Root

When I drive across the country, down roads both paved and dirt, I find humor and confusion in the items I see in people’s front yards. I wonder how they relate to the person, or persons, who live in the house or the image they wish to portray. I don’t know what some folks are advertising but it is sure fun to try to figure out.

Pure farmers often see their entire farmstead as a “machinery lot” that can be used as they will it. Parking a tractor in front of the house may indicate it is beloved or for sale. It may have just stopped there the last time it was drug in or ran out of gas and the owner never moved it.

I assume putting things in the side or back yard means you like them and putting them in the front yard means you want to get rid of them, but that’s not always so. Stopping and asking if something in the yard is for sale is not impolite, but the inquiry is often met with a stare of disbelief that someone else would want what’s out there or that you don’t understand they are just “resting it” until this valuable asset can be repaired and worked back into the operation.

I have a friend who makes “Yard Art” that he sells at farmers markets. Randy Schnebbe, from Iowa, is a good welder and very creative to the point that I have dubbed him “Grant Wood of Yard Art” for his creations of rock and steel insects, bottle hanger trees, tipping birds, and other frivolous and fun stuff. He sells a lot of it and it all winds up in folks yards. The bad part about putting one item in your yard is that it gets lonesome. Whether you realize it or not, it is the beginning of a collection. Some folks plant climbing flowers to soften the edges and others just add something that looks even stranger than their first purchase. Randy has been asked to make giant-sized insects for those who want to make a real statement. He has a truck and fork lift to help these folks, who are creating their own Jurassic Park, to get things just right. It works for both parties as everyone is smiling as he drives away.

Collecting is problematic enough but I have to address “hoarders” as I really am concerned about the mental state of people when I see a fencerow that is totally filled with tractors or a yard that has so much junk that you can’t walk through it. How does this addiction get started and how do you live with a growing heap of rust? The person responsible surely lives alone because two people in marital status or cohabitation of any sort cannot have similar tastes in this area. I have watched “American Pickers” and gotten to know a bit more about some of the folks who have barns and yards full of junk. Some of them have knowledge of every piece and can explain what it is, where they got it, how much they paid and what they would take for it. Some items are so dear that they have no sale price high enough for the owner to part with them.

I don’t watch the “Hoarders” show because I can’t stand to see that much junk and the people associated with it. It just seems like a psychological problem that has manifested itself upon the countryside.

Maybe this obsession is unusual but you hear about auctions where the owner has died (usually) and the family is selling off 160 of tractors. How much money was invested in that machinery? Was there ever an enterprise envisioned so that it didn’t become a boneyard?

Coming from Oklahoma, we had a lot of junk but we had a means of dealing with it on our farm. We pulled it “over the hill.” This terminology was accurate on two fronts. The farm machinery, cars and trucks were no longer running and they were also out of sight. My father sold scrap iron in the 1930s to get a little cash but said the Japanese shot it back at us during WWII, so he never sold anything from that point to his death in 2000. As a result, the back part of the farm was like a trip through time. The first horse-drawn planters, hay rakes, plows, trucks and cars were pulled into ditches so stop erosion. Stoves, refrigerators, washing machines and all forms of home appliances were dropped into the eroded earth and soon covered by the mobile red dirt. Someday, there will be an excavation that will allow paleontologists to confirm the existence of “Okie Junk Man” and theorize about his lifestyle.

The cure to most of this junk problem is to recycle. I toured a landfill that had a chipper running at 2,500 horsepower. It could eat a pickup (minus the engine) in 22 seconds. The pieces came off about the size of a cell phone and a magnet picked up all that were steel. A force field machine that I did not understand was able to make aluminum jump out of the stream of steel and dirt and into a hopper a few inches away. There were also bins of copper and other types of metal that were being prepared to resell. However, my mood changed a few days later as I was talking to the USDA’s ag statistician, who showed me the list of exports to China. Soybeans led the value list, closely followed by scrap copper and steel. Let’s hope my father’s fears are unfounded in the 21st century.

Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at kenroot@gmail.com.

Date: 10/7/2013



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