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Thoughts of Old Friends

One of the spots where I was extremely lucky was an early career as a technician of varying varieties with the Soil Conservation Service, based out of the old bank building in Eureka.  During 6 years, beginning in the mid-seventies, I had the privilege of meeting and working with a lot of the older residents of the area.  Most had farms and ranches – one, Victoria Baney, was the landlord.

I returned from a week of snow surveys, and she confronted me at 08:00, with the statement, “Mike, I have a bone to pick with you.  Why didn’t you tell me that the girls in the apartment upstairs were running a brothel?”

Well, this was the first I had heard of it, so I actually came up with the correct response: “I didn’t know.  I guess we’ve been working different shifts.”  It was the right answer.  She was over her disappointment with me and laughing.

Laird Byers ran the county weed spray truck, and had a bad hip.  He had one of the first hip replacement surgeries, and later parked the truck in front of the building to show me a new piece of equipment.  Another resident saw the truck, and stopped to say something about weed control, but started with the comment, “What happened to the old crippled guy who used to run the truck?  Old as he was, he’s probably dead now.”  Laird couldn’t recover from his laughter – I had to explain the answer.  We never did learn the question that motivated the stop.

The state had mandated training and testing for herbicide applicators, so I offered the office for that purpose.  After the training session, Tom and Emmett Quirk caught me, explaining the last time either had taken a test was long before I had been born.  I rigged an overflow testing area in the backroom – neither had any problem with the test, didn’t need the college kid they kept in reserve, but obviously the last preceding exam was memorable.  I hadn’t realized how requiring a card to purchase specific herbicides could affect competent people over 70 – it probably had been over half a century since either had to sit for an examination.

I got a small grant and we tested an ultrasound generator to see if it would convince Columbia Ground Squirrels to relocate.  It didn’t.  I checked the device and some helpful neighbor had stacked 7 dead gophers around it – each killed by a 22.  Art Nutter asked if he could borrow the device to see if it would move a skunk out of his barn.  He had a certain level of success – it left the barn, but found a way to move under the kitchen.  On hearing this story, Victoria Baney had an idea – there were bats in the attic of the building.  We moved the machine into the attic on a Friday afternoon.  On Tuesday, Mrs. Bolen came by: “Mike, do you know anything about bats?  This weekend a whole bunch of them were getting into my attic.”  I admitted my ignorance on bats, removed the device, and this is the first time I’ve told the story.

And there is always the lesson from Chet Apeland, who chaired the conservation district board: “Mike, you really don’t want to get into an argument with an idiot.  After three exchanges, nobody can tell which one is the idiot.”

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