How I Did it All By Myself

John and Max

John W. Wright – Idaho Dairy Farmer, Wendell, ID

Generally people are nice. Even though they may not know much about the dairy business they make an effort to say nice things. They ask me how many cows I have. I tell them. They marvel at the number. Then they ask how long I’ve been in business. I tell them. Again, marvelment.
Then they say, “Wow! And you have done this all by yourself!”

I never know how to handle this because I don’t know how involved they want to get into the finer points of the business or could it be I just don’t want to disappoint them. So, I just say, “Yep, all by myself.”

That is not exactly right. In the beginning I did have help. Carl Lott worked for me so I could take a small vacation and then his brother Dana let me take another few days off. But that was it.

Oh, there was also Todd Bates, who was just a happy enthusiastic teenager when he milked a few times a week. Todd left to farm but then the irrepressible Jamie Harms came. Oh the things I learned from teenagers!

But other than that I did it all by myself. Well, there was Jesse Faulkner. She was a wonderful employee even if she did question why anyone would vote for Reagan. She gave me Hemmingway, Vonnegut, and Fitzgerald to read. She said she could help me with the big words.

Steve the commercial pilot milked for a while. I think he went back to being a pilot. Who would have thought that would pay better?

Connie Connell, Rob Connell a few days, and Toby Connell. Rest in peace Toby.

Barbara Crosby did her homework while she milked. She left to get a degree.

Rick Prins and Rob Prins boys helped out when I needed someone. They each left for West Point.

So it was all me. Except, Kent Houtsma came after football practice and worked a few hours.

There was Tom Zuiderveld and with Tom I met his manager Gleneada which was a good thing. He buried his car in the snow one Christmas and walked the last quarter mile to work.

Bill Mogensen laid hay out one arctic winter. He had to use a pick axe to break the bales out of the frozen stack. What a pain that was!

And Athena! Geez, she worked hard. She couldn’t find a babysitter one winter night so she brought her kids and they slept in the barn.

Nathan Schafe from Ashton.
Allan N. worked a week. Most talented, knowledgeable guy I ever had. He never came back after payday. But, he got me through a week.

Then there was a change in the environment.
Jesus Ayala walked into the barn at 2:00 in the morning. Scared the bejeebers out of me. He wanted a job so I gave him one.

Rigoberto Gonzalez, wonderful family.
Elio Gonzalez.
Pedro Huerta.
Ralph Borrayo.
Benjamin Zazueta, Berto Zazueta. They held things together during my surgery.

Rob Thomas. He said he only wanted nights. He got kicked in the head one night. He was knocked out for a few minutes so I took him to the hospital. The attending P.A said he was okay until she asked him if he was married. Rob said he was earlier that afternoon but what did she have to offer? That was when she wanted him to have a psych evaluation. I had to convince her that was Rob being normal.

Jose Garcia
Max Rojas.
Max and Jose drove my little pick up through the canal. I didn’t think that was possible! They said it was no big deal, just had to keep the windows rolled up.

The Camayo brothers. Benvenido, and Biviano. Max and I watched Benny’s ex-wife chase him in circles around the loader before he climbed in and locked the door. It was a funny sight to see but I would have done the same thing, she was scary.

They both died in a car accident coming home from a soccer game a few months later.

Wily Rojas.
Alberto Santamaria, Henry, Jose, Sandro, and the other Sandro.

Tomas worked a few years. He taught my son to speak Quechua.

Jose Orozco.
David Humalaya.
Amparo. I put DMSO on her arm after she got kicked to help with the pain. She said the pain was less noticeable but her arm was on fire. Maybe I put too much? She said something in Spanish about wanting El Diablo to rip out my heart or some other part of my insides. Maybe I shouldn’t have used horse medicine but it seemed like a good idea.
Melquiades. Young Don Juan. We told him it might be best to leave Amparo’s daughter alone since she knew El Diablo.

Then there was the forced labor. Kelly, Lauren, David, Allison, Michael. They fled the day after high school graduation.

I listed everyone above from memory. They made an impression. I have seen them sweat, shiver, laugh, argue, cajole, encourage, ask and give. I have gone to weddings and funerals. I met their children, I met their parents. They were people. They were people working to support themselves and their families.

The first half of the list did not need to explain their presence in this country. That was a different time. Now the dairy labor force comes from a different source for several reasons. Now we talk about I-9 and different sources of I.D.

Today there is a national discussion about immigration reform. Should we build a wall, e-verify, touch base, send everyone back, or do a few other more radical solutions? Do what needs to be done but remember these are people.

In this country it matters how we treat people because that’s what makes us different. At least we claim to be different. In fact we claim to be better. We should back up that claim otherwise it’s just empty words of piety.
These people are the reason I was able to do it “all by myself.”

1 Comment
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    Frank Dwyer

    Thank you. Your stories sound very similar to our experiences in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, all of the new regulations and continued depressed prices, resulted in our selling our cows last November. Still trying to sell the farm homestead, we were the 5th generation.

    February 24, 2019 at 3:51 pm

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