Archive for the ‘Farm Life’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,



A Day and Night in Dauphin, Manitoba

November 12, 2010

…followed by a Halloween in Grandview.

Home to the Country Music Festival the Canadian National Ukrainian Festival, I’ve been visiting Dauphin ever since I was born, mainly to visit my grandmother and cousins. It was only recently, however, that was able to experience the city for an extended period of time on my own.

Dauphin Beaver

Dauphin Beaver

I’ve gone to the Ukie fest a few times, but never the country fest. Country fest has played host to some of the big acts: Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Big & Rich and others. The Ukie fest primarily highlights music and dance from Canada and Ukraine: Shumka and Rusalka dance ensembles, Haydamaky and Ruslana music groups from Ukraine (and how did I miss Ruslana in SEOUL, SOUTH F’N KOREA?!?!… you can even see her name printed in Korean at the end of the video!!), and even my former groups, Taran and Zrada.

But it was one bright and sunny Saturday morning that my aunt requested that I pick up some things from the store. The task was simple: buckwheat from Nutter’s, refill two water jugs at Health Basics, get some cereal from Extra Foods, and my own goal was to find a new coffee shop named Coffee Creations, which apparently has a phenomenal reuben sandwich. Having heard most of her instructions, I headed out for an adventure thinking, “If I can navigate southeast Asia, how hard can it be to find a few places in a small town like Dauphin?”

First, I wanted to find the water store, Health Basics. I recall my aunt saying something about the store being somewhere around Extra Foods, I just couldn’t remember exactly where. I think she said it was on the way to the Co-op (where one of my cousin’s works.) But guess how many Co-ops I found in Dauphin by the end of that day?


Now for all your Dauphiners reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Steve, you saw Health Basics outside of Extra Foods, right? I mean, you walk out of Extra Foods, turn right into the parking lot to get your car, and it’s right there, you can see it behind the shopping cart holder-thingy. It’s right there!” Well, you’re right.

But I never found Health Basics that day. I did get the water, but it cost me my lunch money, a full $8.

How, Steven? How did you miss it?

Well, you see, the reason is because I’ve always driven my dad’s old cars. Y’know, a Datsun 210B, a Pontiac T1000, a Chevrolet Chevette; cars that don’t have power windows, heat, power locks or… an alarm system.

The Blue Beast

A 1978 Chevrolet Chevette

Well guess what my aunt’s SUV has? All of those features.

So, the reason I didn’t see Health Basics that day is because on my way back to the SUV, while attempting to look like I always drive this vehicle (it’s not like a fresh face in town driving a familiar vehicle would ever draw any suspicion in a small town… never) I couldn’t figure out which button was the “unlock” button so the alarm wouldn’t go off. Studying the key chain for a minute or so, I unlocked the car without incident. If there was one success I had that day, it was not setting of the car alarm. 😀

To make my heart jump even more, right as I started the car a lady approached the window. Thinking, “I’m found out and going to be reported,” I roll down the window only to have her ask for four quarters. Okay, I can do that. And guess what, she didn’t know where Health basics was either.

I did find Nutters (only after I asked inside of Extra Foods) and the infamous Co-op beside it. So far, I had the cereals and buckwheat but I was missing the water and my reuben sandwich (and coffee). The cute lady working at Nutters couldn’t tell me where Health Basics was, but she did guide me to another water store.

By this point all I really wanted to do is grab my morning coffee. Fed up with the water conundrum, I went to the other water store, refilled the jugs and then finally drove to Coffee Creations (which I had no problem finding… it’s right on Main Street.)

Coffee Creations is a very simple place, it’s drive-thru only. On the suggestion of my fellow hired farm help, Rob, I ordered a Reuben sandwich and a Coffee Creations Sludge Cup. What is a Sludge Cup? Brewed coffee with an espresso shot (yes, same same Starbucks’ Redeye). The Reuben was phenomenal (though I really thought they would’ve used cheese from around the area and not processed cheese) and the coffee had me absolutely fucking wired.

Having successfully completed my task list, I drive back to the farm to drive a tractor for eight hours.

Tractor, Beast, Cultivator, Anhydrous Ammonia Tank

The anhydrous rig I drove on the farm.

And then the night out…

Just before ending my farming duties, I got a tour of the Dauphin night life. We went to a wine tasting one Friday night and I even got a phone number! This pretty lady offered to give me a lift back to Winnipeg… but she never answered. 😦

When the wine tasting was over, we went off to prowl the streets of Dauphin: Thunders saloon, “Club Boule” (the Boulevard), and Towers. The first venue a woman got groped (not by me), the second had someone arrested for selling drugs, and the third had strippers and, as I found out the next day, a fight just after we left. Wow.

It is also this night that I met a singer/songwriter whom I neglected to write about in my country music post. Full of witticisms and nice things to say after the wine tasting, I mentioned that she doesn’t look like a singer/songwriter, especially not one who has recorded three albums on her own, travelled Canada, and is a nice, unpretentious person. With an appropriate blank stare, she smiles and says “thank you.” So, if you have the time, want to feel the pain of country music and hear an incredible voice that belies her age, check out Kayla Luky’s website or MySpace. My favourite is “Merry Go Round”, found under the first link.

Saturday had me going out to Grandview, about 30 minutes away from D-town. A Halloween party was going on at the local legion so I accompanied my cousin and her friends. I will give it to this group of folks, they went all out with their costumes. I’m not one for dressing up, but I was informed that bringing a costume would warrant a $5 entrance fee instead of $15. So, my aunt dressed me up as a pimp. How appropriate since I’d arrive in a car full of women (one of them my cousin): one a Greek goddess, another a hippie, and another as a piece of candy corn. I didn’t have a problem with this at all.

Once in Grandview we rendezvoused with some other friends, Kayla Luky and her posse as the characters from the Super Mario Cart game. Though they bought their costumes, I give them complete acknowledgment for colouring paper plates to use as turtle shells and cutting up banana peels to throw at each other. Despite the obvious health hazard their items presented to the party, I thought it was a well thought-out scheme. Not only that, to complement MY costume of being a pimp, one of the other guys I met was dressed up as a woman. Whenever he dropped something I’d scream, “Bitch, why you be dropping shit?!” And thus went the night.

So, in one day and two nights I was able to catch a glimpse of small town night life. The last time I recall such eventful weekends, I was in Korea.

My Life on the Farm

November 5, 2010

I recently returned from a five week stint as a farm hand. Located just outside of Dauphin, Manitoba, it’s one of those towns where everybody knows everybody. It’s also a farming community. The main purpose of my visit was to work on my uncle’s farm and maybe to learn about farming, which just so happens to be what my family has been doing for generations.

It was a pretty productive 5 weeks. My primary responsibilities included fixing equipment (in the industry, we call it “servicing”), driving tractors and grain trucks, spending lots of time by myself while the GPS and auto-steer drove the tractors, listening to country music, and trying not to kill myself with the ammonia. I succeeded in all of my tasks 😀 By the end of the month, however, I had also killed a chicken, driven a combine, hit two hay bales, burned a hay field and got screamed at by one of the neighbours, knocked over three fence posts (busted one), snapped a hitch on an ammonia rig, broke my glasses taking off an oxygen mask, and knocked over an augur.

The main “rig” I was in charge of was the cultivator, or deep-tiller, or fertilizin’ machine. This baby gave damn near broke my will to do farm work. It required much “servicing.” It was also with this machine that I learned what is considered “work.”

Cultivator Frame, Shanks and Openers

Cultivator Frame, Shanks and Openers

Let me explain.

“Servicing” (fixing stuff), not only requires checking the oil and filling up the tank, but requires you to check all the metal springs, shanks, and openers (the things that put the fertilizer into the ground). The openers are screwed onto the bottom tip of the shank. The openers typically didn’t give me any trouble. But those there shanks, fucking hell, did I ever develop a twitch when I heard the words, “Put on a lock washer.” Now, on a newer machine taken into a shop with two guys working with high impact drills, this would be no problem. But when you (and typically The Boss, my uncle in this case) need to crawl on the ground under the rig to check those shanks in the middle of an open field on a windy day with no power tools, those little rusted bolts become your enemy.

Now, for a bit of a digression.

For those of you who are waiting for me to answer the question, “How do farmers keep their fields so neat and their lines so straight?” Well, the farmers don’t. Unless you count buying a GPS navigation system and an auto-steer mechanism and installing it into the tractor. I’m not opposed to this idea. I’m very much for it. As a matter of fact, I kinda wonder why city buses, trains, and even cars don’t have these things attached to them. Those two items, GPS and auto-steer, are marvellous inventions.

GPS and Auto-Steer

GPS (top, behind the steering wheel) and an auto-steer (right) system.

But, to get to use them, guess what you have to do?

Check the shanks.

We figured the rig was roughly the same age as me, about 28, possibly less. We also figured that some of the nuts and bolts holding the shanks to the main frame were about that old, which means that they have never been replaced and are now rusted on. How can you tell when a nut is rusted on? Well, in addition to its rusty brown colour, it might be a little loose but you can’t tighten it or loosen it very easily. The fear being that if the shank is loose, the bolt will snap and you will lose the shank. Which, trying to find a rusty brown shank in a hay field is like… well, trying to find a rusty brown shank in a hay field.

Looking for a Shank

Let's play a game. It's called "Find the shank in the hay field".

The solution, therefore, is to put something called a “lock washer” between the nut and frame and tighten it up again. So began my wonderful experience of developing my muscles, my uncle questioning my strength (“Sure, get the old guy to loosen it,” my response, “But, dearest uncle of mine, you’re more experienced” (re: have the necessary muscle)), and devising all sorts of four-, six-, eight- and multiple-syllabic word combinations none of which my mother, or aunt, would approve.

Only when all 40 of the shanks have been checked can you then climb into your nicely heated tractor cab, turn on the radio, let the GPS and auto-steer do their job while you enjoy your coffee and amazing lunch that your wonderfully thoughtful aunt prepared. But only if there aren’t any busted springs.

While cultivating some new skills with those shanks, I also learned a few important phrases. (The first two phrases were actually told to me by a friend who works in the film industry.) The first is “It’s my first day,” a wonderful phrase that let’s the other person know that you know that you’re a complete idiot and don’t know what you’re really doing or looking for. They forgive your dumbness, help you out, and then let you on your way. You can use this two or three times before people catch on. The next is “There’s no time. We’re losing light.” This phrase, taken from the film industry, couldn’t be more suited to farming. Though GPS and auto-steer make working a field easier, especially in the dark, it’s still better to get the work done during the daylight hours. Then you can go home and drink whiskey 😀 Third, spoken by my uncle, is “Don’t make work for Ernie.” This phrase was repeated to me many many MANY times after the Great Augur Incident.

(Okay, the augur thing… basically, I was driving the tractor and needed to fuel it up. I didn’t have enough room to make the turn where I was so, thinking I was smart and a time saver, I decided I’d take the tractor (and cultivator and ammonia rig) into the field and make the turn there. Well, things didn’t go quite as planned as the cultivator didn’t clear the augur. Nope, it ran smack into it and knocked the whole thing over. Luckily the other farm hand, Rob, was there with the skid steer to help lift the augur from the cultivator and not hit the ammonia rig. If it had hit the ammonia rig, Rob tells me, there would’ve been ambulances, firetrucks, cops, and haz-mat suits all over the place, “just in case.” Oh, did I mentioned that The Boss was in Winnipeg that day and I had to call him the next day to tell him what happened? Thank you, Rob, I owe you.)

Old Tractor

Old tractor and an old farm game called "find the fallen augur."

Towards the end of October, however, the weather turned for the worse. I truly got a feeling for being a farmer when the snow came, thus ending my work for the season. (Farmers, however, get to see the entire crop get washed away by torrential downpours and frost! Suddenly getting ripped off $30 at the Cambodian border or buying tea leaves for $25 doesn’t seem so bad!) If you’d like to see some more photos from my time on the farm, check out my Flickr page.

In my next post I’ll cover the few adventures I had while around Dauphin, Manitoba.

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