To Earn or Not to Earn: That is the Question

Cutting lawns,

Planting and picking cucumbers,

Driving a farm tractor,

Washing cars,


Trapping gophers,

Baling hay……………………

These were the things I did to earn money, before the age of 17.

Let me elaborate on my money-making adventures.

I drove my first farm tractor at the age of 5, with adult supervision.  By the ripe old age of 6, I was driving by myself.  This was not uncommon in a Midwestern farming community.   My job was to drive a Ford Type N tractor at a speed of about one mile per hour while pulling a hay wagon.  My uncle, who was the farmer, and my grandfather would be walking on either side of the wagon, loading the hay bales that were baled earlier that day.  I mention the Ford Type N tractor because my uncle had two of them.  One was 14 horsepower and the other was 16 horsepower.  They were small tractors but were very common in the mid 50s. (Later in life, I owned a riding lawnmower with an 18 horsepower engine!)  We did not have any of those large Farmall, John Deere, or Massey Ferguson tractors like many of the local farmers.  We stuck with the Fords.

That was it.  I started my tractor driving career pulling a hay wagon.  Many of my first grade classmates were experienced at cultivating and plowing with the much larger tractors.  I was envious.   That was life in a farm community.  Everyone in the family pulled their weight and contributed.

My first dip into an entrepreneurial enterprise was trapping pocket gophers.  My grandmother taught me how to trap these malicious little rodents.

Here is how you do it.  First, you find a newer ‘gopher pile.’ This was not very challenging as there were plenty of them on our farm.  You brushed the dirt off the pile.  Then you prodded with a stick to locate the gopher hole.  This was indicated by softer dirt.   Once found, you used your hand to dig out the dirt until you found the tunnel.  If you were really lucky, you found a tunnel that was ‘T- shaped’.  If you were unlucky, you found the gopher!  I never did get bit in the thousands of traps I set.  You then scooped out dirt big enough for your trap at the intersection of the ‘T’.   You set and staked the trap and then covered the hole with sod and dirt so that no light shined into the tunnel.  That was it!

Later in the day, I checked all the traps.  If I was unlucky, I found a trap that had been snapped without the prized gopher.  If luck prevailed, a hissing rat-sized, bucked-toothed gopher was in the trap.  My Army entrenching tool quickly dispatched the ‘scourge of the farm.’  To prove that we had caught a gopher, the county required the front feet before paying the 20 cents per gopher.  The Army entrenching tool once again came in handy in cutting off the front feet.  I would keep these paws in a jar that was loaded with salt.  Once I had 25-30 gophers, I would collect my bounty.  Now that I think about it, no county representative ever counted my gopher feet.  They always paid for the number I said was in the jar.  Hummmmmmmmm……

I would have from 12-20 traps on my trap line.  I checked them at least twice a day.  Once a gopher was caught, I would have to reset the trap in another pile.  I would capture 6 to 10 gophers a day.  It would take me about 3 to 4 hours a day to do this trapping.  The more gophers I caught, the longer it took, and the more bounty I collected.  You could say I was a ‘commissioned’ trapper!  I was an experienced trapper by the time I was 8 years old.  Because I was so good, we virtually eliminated the farm gopher population, thus effectively putting myself out of business by the time I was 10!

Big Daddy G expected me to keep our lawn cut if I were to receive my 50 cent allowance.  I got that allowance every two weeks.  We had a 22″ push lawn mower which required the old style rope pull.  This had the exposed flywheel which would not pass any safety requirement today.  The real danger was snapping yourself in the face with that damn pull rope.  It happened many times.  Our lawn was over an acre and it took 8 hours to cut.   I started cutting the lawn at age 8.  I did this until I left to go to college.  Ironically, Big Daddy G bought a large riding lawn mower the very next week.  I cut other lawns for money as well.

(Amazingly, I drove tractors at the age of 6, and cars/trucks at the age of 13.  However, I could not have a bicycle until I was in the  fourth grade!  What’s up with that?)

I washed new cars at the local car dealership for $1.00 per hour.

I baled hay for other farmers for $1.00 per hour.

Another entrepreneurial venture was planting and picking cucumbers.  My grandmother and I planted and picked one acre of cucumbers.  To do this, the seed was gotten from the local ‘pickle merchant.’  Then a contract had to be signed stating that we would plant, care for and pick these cucumbers.  I signed my first contract when I was 13 and did it for 5 summers.  Grandma and I would go picking by 6:00 AM before the sun was high and the temperatures spiked.  We would pick half the field each day, every day for the entire summer.  It took about 4 hours a day.  You had to do this because if the cucumbers got too big, the amount paid went down significantly.  Those little jars of sweet gherkins that you buy for $3.00?  We got paid $6.00 for a hundred pounds of those.  We made money.  I would make about $400-$500 per summer.  This was huge earnings in the early 60s.

Once I was done with picking cucumbers every day in the late morning, there was time for trapping, baling, washing cars, gardening or whatever.  I had over half the working day left to make more money.

What lessons can be learned from all of this reminiscing?   Firstly, never be raised on a farm!  Just kidding, of course.  I would not change one thing about my youthful upbringing.

The lesson to be gotten is that ‘I never once got paid for something I did not do.’

With this in mind, why does this country still have so many people living on and receiving welfare benefits without doing one thing in return?  Why does this country have so many people receiving extended unemployment benefits without doing one thing in return?

It gores my bull (yup, we had cattle) when our Federal Government continually talks about reducing our military or social security, but never talks about cutting welfare!  Welfare in this country at the state and federal level costs this country over $1 trillion a year!  It costs the federal government over $750 billion.  The federal government has 83 different agencies to dispense welfare to targeted groups.  Does this appear to be ludicrous?

The military costs the federal government about $540 billion a year.  Social security costs about $725 billion, and medicare costs about $480 billion.  Welfare is the largest gorilla in the room, and it has increased almost 400% in the last 30 years.   Do we really want to reduce the military in light of what is happening in the Crimea with Putin attempting to replicate the old USSR, and with our continual terrorist threats?  Common sense tells me that this is dangerous.

President Clinton passed a law called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.  It put a cap on welfare payments of 5 years.  There were programs in place to educate and make these welfare recipients desirable employees.  This law was a great step in the right direction.   This is a law that exists in our great land, but it is not being enforced!  Over 20% of the people receiving welfare have been on much longer than 5 years.

I subscribe to President Reagan’s philosophy that the ‘best cure for welfare is a job.’

Why do we not require welfare and unemployment recipients to perform tasks in return for their government support?  With the aging of the population thanks to my generation of Baby Boomers, there are many tasks that could be performed.  Shoveling sidewalks or cutting lawns for the elderly.  Daycare services for working mothers.  There is no shortage of garbage in parks or trash along roadways or beaches.  I see convicts doing some of these items, why not welfare recipients and unemployment recipients?  Don’t want to work?  No benefits!

Unfortunately, our liberal representatives in Washington have provided a host of ‘designer benefits’ for their constituents.  Obama phones, Obamacare, extended unemployment benefits, extended food stamp benefits, voter privileges for convicted felons (Haven’t heard of this yet?  It is under consideration by our Attorney General. ) are all socialistic programs ‘designed’ to expand their base, thus keeping them in power.   It does not take a rocket scientist or a pickle picker to realize these people receiving benefits are not voting Republican.

People that are capable of working should be working.  From responsibilities of my youth, I obtained a work ethic and learned independence and responsibility.  Welfare and other government entitlements were never intended to become a lifestyle.   The unemployed certainly could learn the lessons of my youth.

Or, I could teach them how to trap gophers.

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