First Job Series: Alan Cobb
Hired Hand | Wolf Dairy in Wichita
Age 13 | $1.00 - $1.50/hr
I milked cows, built fences, fixed fences, bucked hay bales, hauled hay in 2-ton farm trucks, shoveled manure, scraped the cow barn and barnyard, spread manure in a manure spreader, cleaned the milk barn, fed cows, heifers, calves, pigs and steers. I chased steers, cows and heifers across the countryside, de-horned cows, castrated bulls, plowed fields, cut cattle feed for the silo, cut wheat and took truckloads of wheat to the elevator. I taught calves to drink out of a bucket and administered medicine and some vaccines as needed. Basically I did anything and everything that was needed on a working dairy farm. We also sold raw milk out the door, as it was described then. So there was a small retail business. I washed bottles, filled them up and kept the refrigerator fully-stocked. We also had raw cream and even skim milk. The skim milk was “created” by not churning the milk in the tank overnight so all of the cream rose to the top and thus we had skim milk at the bottom of the tank. There isn’t a breakfast better than corn flakes drowning in the milk from the top of the milk jug, which was mostly cream, if you remembered not to shake the bottle.
The summer after my junior year in high school, Beechcraft bought their farm and they bought a dairy near Herington and Hope. I was their live-in hired hand that summer and that’s when I really learned what hard work was, rising every morning, seven days a week, to milk the herd at 4 a.m. You do not get used to that alarm at 4 a.m.
Why this job?
What kid doesn’t want to work on a farm and play with heavy equipment and animals, and have a real reason to wear cowboy boots. The Wolfs were friends of our family. We actually lived further out in the country than their farm in rural Sedgwick County.
There are lots, many are very funny looking back. We used old tires to weigh down tarps we put on stacks of square bales when the hay barns were full. Somehow one of the 10-month old heifers got one of the tires around her neck and was just running around the pasture, as if she liked her new accessory. Also, my boss’s father- in-law was a John Deere dealer and occasionally we would get a new tractor; a used one but one that was new to us. Well, one of the new tractors had the diesel intake on the exact opposite end of where I was used to. So I started putting diesel in the radiator of a $100,000 piece of equipment. My boss’s father-in-law started yelling at me about it, saying “Son, you got to think out here! You have to think!” (I still use that term all of the time, much to the chagrin of my kids, spouse and co-workers). But all was well when he said, “aw don’t worry about it, we used to put diesel in the radiators when I was a kid because we didn’t have any anti-freeze.” That did teach me to be a bit more careful about things.
I think about how much responsibility my employers eventually gave me, especially when they were out of town on vacations, which didn’t happen very often. I tend to assume people can reach and do much more than they think they can. Just figure it out and do it. It certainly instilled a work-ethic. Those cows have to eat and be milked every day. There is absolutely no day off. The gates had to be closed, the calves and cows in the field had to have water. There were so many things that simply could not be compromised or put-off.
Work hard, listen, learn and ask questions. Every job can be a great learning experience, but certainly the first jobs.