John Deere Brigade

It’s fair week in Umatilla County. Shelby and Konnie were home over the weekend and we headed downtown on Saturday to take in the parade activities. I don’t know if the girls think it’s as much fun as it used to be, back when they could chase after the candy for their own selves and not for the kids sitting next to them. But even I got a tootsie roll tossed my way. I kept it, rather than sharing it with the girls. That’s the kind of mother I am — selfish with the tootsie rolls.

Joining us at the parade was a classmate of Konnie’s who has spent the last 8 years living in New York City. They have different kinds of parades in NYC. Instead of elaborate floats crafted from flowers, we have big rigs. Our rigs come in every size, shape and color. There are rigs from Wal-Mart, rigs from the Volunteer Fire Department with signs the read: In case of fire, write or call. We have Walchli rigs that haul their famous watermelons around the nation and rigs that haul musicians around the Inland Empire.

But, of course, everyone’s favorite rigs are the John Deere rigs. Brigades of John Deere are a common site around these parts. They come up over the horizon in billowy clouds of sand, flattening stalks of golden grain in their wake. If you ever get a chance to ride in the cab of a John Deere combine during harvest you better not pass it up.

Several years ago the Oregon Wheat League hired me to write a book in tribute to their 75th anniversary. I traveled around Oregon interviewing as many of the former presidents of the OWL as I could track down. I enjoyed hearing their stories in much the same fashion as I enjoy the stories of the veterans I know.

These farmers are veterans of hard times. They are survivors. They know how to live with and without, and to complain about it either way. Okay. That was meant to be a joke.  They are some of the hardest workingest people you’ll ever meet.

I was thinking about all that and all those farmers I’ve interviewed over the years as those John Deere rigs came motoring up the street. Kids and adults alike stood, ooohhhing and aaaahhhhing.

Then I had this thought  …

What if, instead of soldiers and humvees, we had a sent brigades of farmers and their John Deeres into Iraq? How differently would Iraq and its people look today had we contracted with the nation’s farm leagues, instead of with Blackwater and Haliburton?

There are plenty of different kinds of weapons we can use, if only we’d think of warring as something we do on behalf of others and not against them.

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