Agricultural census work | Essex Column

It’s been quite a winter for the town road crew, with endless cold and occasional rain storms that keep the highways coated with ice. With the sun still low in the sky, ice doesn’t melt as readily as it will a month from now, especially on east-west roads that are shaded by trees. With the very low temperatures, salt has little effect on ice and there’s not much to be done except spread sand and slow down. Given this year’s tough conditions, our road crew has done an excellent job with the equipment they have. In situations where absolutely no ice can be tolerated, like airport runways and railroad switching yards, small jet engines are used to blast heat, but jets are impractical because of the huge amounts of fuel used and the thunderous noise.

I was recently in northern Michigan, where they know a thing or two about winter, and I was looking for some warm gloves for skiing and outdoor work. An astute salesman suggested mittens, an item I hadn’t worn since childhood, in particular “chopper” mittens. It’s a two layer item, with a warm woolen inner mitten and a leather outer mitten, with deer hide being the preferred material. Although they are not good for driving modern cars with all of their little buttons, choppers are much warmer than gloves. I couldn’t find out where the chopper name comes from, but would guess it’s from splitting fire wood. Another suggestion for coping with cold and ice are grippers for your shoes. The UPS truck stopped by the other day, and I went sliding across the driveway to fetch our package. The driver hopped out of her truck and with great aplomb walked over and handed it to me, laughing at my contortions. She was wearing grippers and said it’s well worth buying the good ones because they fit better and last longer.

After a year or two of no steady employment, goofing off really, I’ve taken a job doing agricultural census work. Starting next month, I’ll be visiting farmers and interviewing them about income, expenses, production, planting intentions, machinery costs and the like. I hope we’ll be working with the smaller scale vegetable and crop operations that have significantly changed the face of farming in this part of the world.

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