Down on the Farm · The Last Half Century

Electrifying Times on the Farm

To an unsuspecting kid, the electric fence looked innocent enough. It consisted of a thin strand of wire that circled the outer circumference of the pasture, held up by a series of thin poles about three feet high. As a young kid growing up on the farm, I always thought the cows in our pasture were just dumb for not stepping over that tiny wire, but I soon learned to respect the electric fence.

It was my older siblings who taught me the secrets of the electric fence. They had hard-won knowledge of the ways of the farm and they took it upon themselves to initiate me to an awareness of the power of the electric fence. It was sort of an initiation to make me a full member of the family.

“Hold that wire up while I go under it,” my older brother said to me one day as we were about to go into the pasture where the cows were grazing.

Being respectful to my elder brother, I obediently grabbed the thin wire of the electric fence to hold it up for him. I immediately screamed as the low voltage current surged through my hand and into my body which prompted me to drop the wire like a hot potato. My brother responded with laughter.

“You big meanie!” I snapped, reciting the nastiest word I could throw back at him. He just continued to laugh. I felt humiliated, but deep down I knew I was now officially a member of the family. I had touched the electric fence and I knew then that I could have the pleasure of initiating the next unsuspecting member of the family. However, I’m the youngest and there was no one left to initiate.

When you’re the youngest member of the family, you must be resourceful if you want to extract revenge on older siblings. You can’t merely pass down tricks played on you, but must think of new tricks to pass up. Of course, it didn’t take long for my older brothers and sisters to realize there were no longer any unsuspecting younger siblings to play old tricks on. Thus, the electric fence was elevated to a more sophisticated state of play.

My older brother must have just completed a science class on conductors of electricity when he pulled an “elevated” electric fence gag on me.

“Did you know if you use a pail you won’t get a shock from the electric fence?” he told me with a straight face.

“You’re lying,” I replied seeing through his efforts to maintain a sincere look on his face.

“Honest,” he insisted.

“Prove it,” I challenged him.

To my surprise, he promptly touched the side of the plastic pail to the electric fence while he gripped the handle. I waited for him to scream, but nothing happened. He continued to maintain a straight face. His body didn’t twitch and he didn’t show any signs of discomfort. My curiosity was peaked.

“Told you,” my brother smugly replied as he held the pail toward me. “You try it.”

I stared at the pail, then my brother with a skeptical eye.

“Chicken!” he said, calling me the worse name an eight-year-old, going on 18, could be called.

“I’m not chicken!” I replied, taking his bait. I grabbed the pail from him and took a step toward the electric fence.

“Be sure the handle touches the wire or you’ll get a shock,” my brother instructed.

I nodded and carefully moved the side of pail closer to the wire, making sure the metal handle contacted the fence. I promptly screamed as I felt an electric shock. I threw the pail at my brother who was now bent over in laughter.

“I’m telling mom!” I shouted at him, invoking a higher power who held the keys to the car.

My brother stopped laughing and looked at me. “No, don’t do that,” he pleaded. “I’ll show you why I didn’t’ get a shock if you don’t tell mom.”

“Okay,” I reluctantly agreed.

He then proceeded to show me how touching the electric fence wire with the plastic part of the pail would not deliver a shock. I hesitantly tried it and to my surprise I did not get a shock. “Told you,” he replied and left for the barn. Now I was anxious to play this new trick on some other unsuspecting member of my family. That moment came a few minutes later when I spotted my other brother walking toward the barn.

“Hey!” I shouted at him as I held the pail toward him. “Did you know you won’t get a shock if you touch the electric fence with a pail?”

“Are you lying to me?” he said as he approached, his tall teenage frame towering over me.

“No,” I insisted, trying to look serious. “I’ll show you,” I said as I touched the wire with the plastic part of the pail.

“Well, I’ll be,” he replied.

“Here, you try it,” I offered as I held the pail toward him.

“You better not be lying to me,” my brother snarled as he took the pail from me.

“Just make sure you touch the handle to the pail so you don’t get a shock,” I instructed as I prepared to run away while I nervously watched him inch the metal handle closer to the wire. To my dismay, he didn’t get a shock when the metal handle touched the wire.

“Hmm,” he replied as he looked at me. “You’re right, I didn’t get a shock.”

“I, uh, told you,” I sheepishly replied.

“Hey, did you turn off the electric fence?” my brother accused as he stared at me.

“No!” I shouted back, denying the accusation.

“I bet you did,” he replied as he reached to grab the wire with his bare hand.

“No!” I shouted as he grabbed the wire. “Don’t do that!”

“You’re in trouble,” my brother said as he released his grip on the wire. “You shut off the electric fence. Dad’s going to be mad if the cows get out.”

Curious, I looked at the electric fence, then my brother. I reached for the wire with my hand, knowing I just saw him touch the wire. Suddenly I felt a tingle of electricity flow through my hand and up my arm. I screamed, confused about what just happened. I turned to see my brother doubled over with laughter. Then I spotted my other brother standing near the silo where the electric fence control was plugged in. In that instant, I knew my brothers had set me up for an “elevated” electric fence joke. One brother unplugged the electric fence while the other touched the wire, then plugged it back in when I touched it.

While I felt humiliated, I looked forward to using this trick on someone else. Yet it seemed my attempts to play new jokes on my older siblings were never successful. I guess that goes with being the youngest in the family.

My father’s cows are long gone and the barnyard is now deserted. The pasture once encircled by the electric fence was plowed under years ago and is now an open field of alfalfa. The last time I was on the farm, I spotted the old electric fence control box still mounted near the silo. The rusted, green metal box sat silent with two terminals that once connected to the electric fence. So many fond memories from a rusty green box — a box I’m certain would appear to be just a piece of junk to anyone else.

© 2021 CGThelen

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