Woster: A wandering mind can lead to a wandering tractor

Not once in my days in school did I get a compliment for following the lines, not with colors and not with scissors (the blunt-ended ones.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Here’s something my dad told me back on the farm that I’ve never forgotten: “Get a crooked start, and you’ll have nothing but problems the rest of the way.’’

Sounds like something a school counselor might tell a student. Or, maybe not today’s counselors. They’re dealing with mountains of stuff. They probably don’t have a lot of time to come up with fortune-cookie wisdom like the phrase my dad tossed off. But it sounds like something someone would say to a kid to keep that kid on a straight path to real life.

Maybe my dad did mean it as a life’s lesson. He sometimes had subtle ways of communicating what he wanted from his children. He also could be incredibly direct when the situation called for it.

The time he said that thing about a crooked start, though, he was talking about field work, you know? He was telling me to get a straight start on the field so I wouldn’t spend the rest of the job meandering all over the countryside, following wavy lines with a tractor that worked best when it charged straight ahead.

He also told me that, if I encountered an obstacle and had to forego a straight line to get around it, I should try to square things up again if I could. I guess that lesson could apply to life as easily as to a field with a pile of rocks or an electrical tower in the middle.


I can’t remember if I was about to set off on an alfalfa mowing job or just starting to break some sod with a three-bottom plow. Either way, I recognized the wisdom of my dad’s advice. I had a tendency to let my mind wander on a tractor, and a wandering mind can lead to a wandering tractor.

A lot of farming is about straight lines. Straight rows make things easier, whether a guy is mowing, plowing, windrowing or combining. Straight lines even make fencing easier, and fencing was about the worst job I could think of on the farm. If straight lines made it simpler, made it more likely the fence would stand, I was all in.

I mentioned the value of straight lines for corn and grains. I say that from observation only. At my best, I never made a straight enough line with a tractor pulling an implement to be trusted to run a planter. I’m not even sure why they let me mow or plow. Someone had to do it, I guess, and it wasn’t the kind of job my cousin or my big brother would jump at.

My dad was a wizard at straight lines. It was like he had a GPS on the tractor decades before people started using that technology on the farm. Uncle Frank was every bit as good. He and Dad knew how to color inside the lines, so to speak. I’ll bet they got glowing comments, maybe even gold stars, on their school work as kids. “My goodness, Henry, you certainly do keep your colors inside the lines. How wonderful.’’

Not once in my days in school did I get a compliment for following the lines, not with colors and not with scissors (the blunt-ended ones. No teacher would have trusted me with pointy scissors, not under any circumstances.)

One teacher used to hand out sheets of paper that had a series of sets of two lines. We were to write our capital letters to fill the entire two lines, and our small letters to fill only the bottom half of the set. I hated those sheets of paper. Maybe that’s why I did so much erasing that I tore holes in every single paper I turned in. No need to write my name at the top. Teacher knew when she reached my paper.

Many years ago, I read about a couple of guys who created a maze in their corn. I imagined them slicing back and forth through the tall corn, completely ignoring straight lines, weaving and wandering every which way.

I guess nobody told them about the long-term effects of getting a crooked start.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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