Written by Devin Helming
When I was in my early teen years, my brother and I received an unexpected surprise that allowed us to learn a little, have some fun, and give back to the community – loosely speaking. That surprise was a 1979 Ford Courier. It started with a humble beginning for our family. Dad drove it home – sputtering and backfiring – from the liquidation auction at the local popcorn plant. It had plenty of rust on the outside, and plenty of dust on the inside but my brother Stuart and I keyed in on one… HUGE… BONUS… It had a Pioneer stereo with cassette player in the dash and two aftermarket Jensen speakers behind the seat. Did we die and go to Heaven?! Sure, we had seen and played with the aftermarket stereos and speakers at the display wall in Walmart, but we never dreamed we’d get to have one in a vehicle. That alone had us believing Dad made the right decision.
My dad had studied mechanics right out of high school so he was not intimidated with the work required to make this truck run good again. Amazingly, some new spark plugs and wires went a long way toward getting the truck running smooth again. My dad also took on some hobby jobs of painting vehicles and tractors, so he felt comfortable tackling body work too. At the end of the day we had a nice farm truck that Stuart and I were able to practice our manual transmission skills with.
First of all, let me tell you about our classroom: It was a series of waterways and grass buffers around fence lines nestled in and around the 160 acre parcel of land that we lived on. Now, let me tell you about the teacher: His name was Experience and he relied heavy on the trial and error method. The material we studied was called: Driving and Caring for a Vehicle 101. We really became quite good at the driving part -upshifting, downshifting, how to apply the right amount of acceleration around a corner to slide the rear end, but not so much that you spin out. We also learned how fast you must go over a bump before you really don’t feel it. I could go on, but as I mentioned previously, we became pretty good at the driving part. The caring part left a little to be desired, but that’s not really what this post is about anyway.
A typical day for us would consist of getting off the school bus in the afternoon, grabbing a quick snack and heading out to the Courier. As mentioned previously… the corn, soybean and alfalfa fields that surrounded our house were bordered with small grass buffers that worked prefect for serving as a one-lane road to hone in on our skills. We had two cassette tapes to play in the Pioneer stereo – Alabama: Song of the South, and a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cassette that contained Fishin’ in the Dark. I still am amazed at how I know all the songs from those tapes. We listened to every song – not just the ones that played on the radio. We wouldn’t fast forward or rewind – we just listened. The windows were down and our arms were comfortably resting on the door. There may not have been any neighbor kids or other vehicles to share to the experience with, but we were crusin’. These were great childhood experiences that I got to share with my brother.
We came to realize that what we did in our classroom, bordered by highway 110 coming north out of Schaller, was not a private class – in fact – I’d call it more of a community presentation. The common perception was not that we were learning to drive, but rather… chasing birds. While there may have been a time or two when we were in hot pursuit of a bird of some sort, it was purely coincidence and not the primary objective. Regardless, the Ford Courier became known as the “Bird Chasing Truck”, and Stuart and I became known as the “Bird Chasers”.
I loved that truck. Not in the way that it’s the coolest truck in town, but in fact, I remember demanding my mom drop me off over a block away from baseball practice because it was backfiring so loudly. I was simply too embarrassed to be associated with the truck – especially with my mom driving. Nothing against my mom either, but there was a certain age where being in embarrassing situations with my parents put me in a bad mood. And I didn’t want to be in a bad mood at the start of baseball practice. I was looking out for my teammates.
When I turned 15, I had my own truck to use with my school permit. Following driver’s ed, I was able to use the Courier to teach the girls in my class how to drive a stick shift – I did not realize how popular this would make me. I continued to drive the Courier when I got my license, but unfortunately I began to realize that my truck in its old age and various states of disrepair would not be reliable enough for the freedom that a full license affords. Ultimately, in my 16th year, I graduated to a more reliable vehicle to accommodate the demands of late practices and cold weather. Right or wrong, at this stage of my life I was not as interested in cruisin’ the waterways with my brother so the Courier spent more and more time in the shed. I don’t remember the ultimate fate of that vehicle, but I will forever be grateful for our ‘Bird Chasing truck!’
Devin joined AFS in January of 2009. He is a Certified Crop Advisor, and his role includes managing the Pioneer Pro Rep Agency, and also represents Pioneer Crop Insurance. Devin attended Iowa State University, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy. Prior to AFS, Devin worked 6 years at an Agribusiness company that included experience both in retail, and at the corporate headquarters. Also he spent 5 years working in the financial services industry in the Twin Cities. Devin is married to Sarah, and together they have 3 boys. One of his favorite things to do is cheer on his boys in their many activities, both as a fan, and a coach.