The Farm Chronicles: How was I to know?

Dad not only ran the family cattle and horse farm, he also worked several entrepreneurial jobs on the side. Or maybe the farm job, though full time, was on the side. For example, Dad did custom combining in the summer months for farmers all over Portage County, Ohio. He also baled hay. Me and my trusty pony Tricker (renamed Trigger during my Roy Rogers days) followed along Dad’s tractor and combine, and if I was lucky, the farmer would let me tie up Tricker and help with the bags of wheat or oats. I would help fill those bags when the auger was dropped, then tie them shut and drag them to the farthest point on the wagon. Loved helping and riding. Anything I could do to do a man’s work.

The mainstay business of my Dad’s many enterprises was the Wayland Gas and Oil Company. He had three 50,000 gallon tanks above ground, a bulk plant to pump the fuel into a delivery truck, three pumps to fill cars/trucks/tractors with 1,200 gallon underground tanks. The business model was to deliver fuel oil in the winter time to heat homes and gasoline or diesel fuel in the spring, summer and fall to the farmers. He worked long hours in the heat, cold, mud, rain, sleet, whatever. And when the day was done, it was not done because there were still chores with the animals that needed to be done. To this day, I don’t know how Dad kept up with all of it. And he still had time to show horses on the weekends.

One of the jobs Dad gave me was salesman. I used to ride in the fuel truck with him when I wasn’t in grade school, probably beginning when I was about four years old. It was quite the privilege to climb up into that big truck and ride with my Dad on his daily rounds. Being the talkative overachiever that I was, Dad put me to selling Shelltox—a pesticide used by farmers to rid their barns and houses of mosquitos, roaches, wasps, anything insect. Dad would buy Shelltox from his fuel vender Shell Oil Company by the case of 24. Each spray can cost a dollar retail. Dad gave me fifty cents commission on every can I sold. I would enthusiastically load up a couple of cases of Shelltox every time I got to go with him.

It just wasn’t fair. Hardly a farmer or farmer’s wife (many of whom baked cookies for me hoping I was riding with Dad) could resist my sales pitch. My goal was to sell a can to every farmer, and if I didn’t, try to sell two cans to the next farmer. I made money to add to my matchbox car collection, buy GI Joe accessories, saddlebags, what have you. We didn’t know at the time that DDT was harmful and Shelltox had a lot of it. I think it was banned in 1967. I remember cleaning out the farm after Mom passed and running into a partial case of Shelltox, thinking, “My, how things have changed.” It’s kind of like Acts 17:30, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” I don’t sell DDT anymore, but how was I to know? They say ignorance is bliss, except when it’s not.

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Bill Wilson

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