January 4th…“WHO WAS A SWEET MAN THAT YOU REMEMBER AS A CHILD ON YOUR FARM? WHAT DID HE DO FOR A LIVING?”
Barn Swallows came by the droves and fluttered down to roost on the high-tension electric power lines that ran from pole to pole in front of our farm. There, along that gravel road, these regal little birds were like a richly colored honor guard; all festooned in their rich, orange neck and breast with a “topcoat” of navy blue feathers. The greatest majority of these dainty “soldiers” were facing eastward in order to get a glimpse of what was about to transpire down below on that gravel road.
In the farming culture of south central Minnesota (and likely across the majority of our nation), agricultural roadways that crisscrossed our “checkerboard” land sections were made of crushed rock called, gravel. These types of travel-ways were ideal for bearing up under the immense weight of farmer’s heavy tractors, machinery, trucks, etc.. In order to provide material for those gravel roads, our local Kiester, Minnesota area was blessed by the contracting firm of “Kinkade and Godfrey” that crushed rock from nearby quarries and sent gravel out via their fleet of large dump trucks to evenly disperse their loads of gravel to keep our farming commerce on the move.
Anyone who ever grew up in the rural countryside of southern Minnesota can readily attest to what the wild Winter and soggy Spring could do to those graveled country roads. The freeze/thaw, freeze/thaw of Winter resulted in what my father called “ice boils” (humps). And, come the warm weather and Springtime thawing, roads could become miles of grueling mud bogs. Us youngsters, of those days, can all recall the “bucking bronco” effect of riding in the backseat of the family car, or becoming “airborne” from our school bus seats when our bus driver hit those muddy ruts and pot holes.
Cognizant, or not, those earlier mentioned Barn Swallows were about to take in the performance of a local hero. His name was William Lester Otterstein. Born into the wilds of South Dakota in 1892, Mr. Otterstein eventually settled in the northern Iowa area and married his dear wife, Minnie Marie Jensen Otterstein. Before Mr. Otterstein was ever a hero to this little farmer boy, he was truly one of our American heroes, in that he served our nation as a Private in the United States Army during World War I. I have always been so thankful for each and every veteran who signs away their own personal sovereignty for the duration of their enlistment in order to serve a cause far greater than themselves. Home again from the “Great War”, Mr. Otterstein moved on with his life and that brings us to my happy memory.
In the quietness of our rural life, even before he came into view, I could often hear that massive Caterpillar engine on his motor grader machine. He’d be just over the hill, to our north, and coming our way. Sometimes, though, if I were busy with something else, I’d hear our mother, Clarice, holler out, “Elliott!!! Candi!!! Here comes BILLY ROADGRADER!!!”. We’d make a beeline run for the large expanse of our front lawn so that we could be safely near and sit on the sloping embankment to watch this spectacle of power roll by our farm home. Like some people comb their hair from side to side, our hero, “Billy RoadGrader”, in a sense…..combed the gravel on the road with that gigantic metal blade of his!! Where, a moment ago, there had been a nasty pothole or shallow trench, now, thanks to Billy’s adeptness with his Grader blade, there was now a smooth, fresh new roadway again. Our dear farm had the honor of being one of Billy Roadgrader’s stops along his way. He relished the very tasty water that came up from the ground to our well-house and would oft-times fill his large water jug with its chilled delight to tide him over on the rest of his dusty journey. After he’d passed, I can recall rushing out to inspect the fresh gravel and be in awe of the monstrous chevron tread marks left by his rear tires. Hero worship (or adoration, for another word), in my humble opinion, is partly comprised of being in awe of someone’s talents, but foremost, in my little farm boy’s heart was kindness exhibited to me. Without a word spoken between us kids and “Billy”, we could see him there inside that dusty Motor Grader cab, like a king on this throne. Without fail, each and every time he drove past our farm, he’d lift that gloved hand of his and twiggle his fingers at us little ones with a smile as big as the metal blade beneath him. No words needed to be spoken when love was shown by “Billy RoadGrader” to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.