Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Breaker, Breaker! Come In, Songbird!

This is a summer shot of the windmill tower. Right now, it's wearing its winter drab look. 
We have the world's tallest plant stand in our backyard. It didn't start out as a way to hold up our overgrown trumpet vine. In its former industrious life, the tower held a windmill, which pumped out water for the farmstead. But that was long before we moved here nearly 30 years ago.

For years, we used the tower to boost our television antenna above our tree-lined farmyard. But, with a satellite dish, it no longer serves that purpose, though the hardware still hangs there.  It also held up the antenna for the business band radio that we used to communicate on the farm. 

A couple of weeks ago, Randy took the business band radio out of his pickup. He hadn't used it for a couple of years, and it was just taking up space on the pickup's floor board. The move was likely prompted by a nice, warm afternoon and a fresh memory of trying to work around it as he used the pickup for a "spa" for a cold baby calf. (It was also not the best footrest for the middle rider in the pickup cab. Yes, I speak from personal experience.)
For years, the business band radio was the way we communicated during the day. Cell phones weren't in everyone's pocket. (I know it's hard to believe!) Instead, we had base radios in our house and in Melvin & Marie's house. The tractors, pickups and other farm vehicles had mobile radio units, and we could talk back and forth.

I always take credit for moving the Fritzemeier men from hand signals to radios. It was a survival tactic for a newlywed farm wife. Though hand signals likely predated smoke signals, they are not the ideal communication tool for conveying a message (though men might disagree). Why not tell me what you want me to do rather than signal 100 yards away? My eyesight is just not that good to begin with!
As a child, we had CB radios on our Pratt County farm. Just like the truckers, we had our CB handles. Mine was Songbird. My Dad, who was born on April 1, was April Fool. My mom was Gadabout; Lisa was Candy Cane; and Darci was Doodle. Kent, the youngest, was Captain Kid. My grandparents also had CB handles. My Grandpa and Grandma Leonard were Tiger Lily and Handyman, respectively. Former K-State football player Grandpa Neelly was Wildcat and Grandma Neelly's name included "Rose," but nobody remembers the rest of it. (Thanks to my siblings for help in remembering all the names.)

My folks then converted to business band radios when that technology was available, and the CB handles were no more. And, yes, back then, business bands were considered new technology.

When I became a Fritzemeier back in 1981, I campaigned for adding the business band radios. We had a radio frequency assigned to us so that we didn't hear everyone else's chatter. It wasn't exclusive, however, so we did hear radio transmissions from a farm about 20 miles away. Truth be told, eavesdropping on each other's farm foibles forged a friendship that's still in place today. We were less thrilled to listen to a custom cutting crew who flooded the airwaves with constant chatter ... and the occasional cuss word. 
The radios were used for everything from figuring out meal delivery to calling a "taxi" service as we moved from field to field. If the truck died on its way back from the elevator during wheat harvest, I keyed the mike and sent out my SOS to Randy or my father-in-law. Marie and I made plenty of phone calls to parts stores, serving as middlemen to try and communicate what the guys needed from the parts counter.

But the next phase of technology - cell phones - made the radios less relevant. Randy could make his own parts calls now. (That works OK unless the cell signal is sketchy, which is sometimes a problem at some of our fields.)

Now, to remove the business band base from my kitchen. I have plenty of cookbooks I can put it its place!
It's hard to imagine what the next breakthrough in communication will be. I know this farm girl from South Central Kansas never envisioned carrying a phone around in her pocket as she drove wheat trucks during harvest.


  1. Kim,
    Buisiness Band Radios were one ofJ and I's bigger ranch investments. 10 years ago we had no cell phone let alone service. We are so spread out that having some form of communication was important. From a "call for help" stand point or "please bring parts" to the hay field the radios are priceless. We have them in all the tractors, pickups and 3 hand held radios on the 4-wheelers, in additon to both houses.

    1. I totally agree. They were a smart investment for us, and we got years of use out of them. And I still think they could be more reliable than cell phones at some of our locations. We sometimes moved mobile units as we used different equipment. For example, we didn't have a unit that stayed in the combine or grain trucks since they were used for a relatively short period of time. We shuffled them in and out of equipment as needed. We've never had the handhelds on the 4-wheelers though.

  2. We had the CB radios back in the day too....everybody had one! It saved me while on my way home from high school and it had rained all day. Our country roads were more like a river of mud than a road...and I ended up in the ditch. Called home and before my dad could arrive to pull me out of the mess I had gotten into, the neighbor who lived nearby came up with his four wheel drive and pulled my car out! The CB saved the day! LOL

    1. I'm loving the stories I'm hearing about in the comments and on Facebook. Thanks for sharing!

  3. We use to use those hand held radios until my horse took off and left me in the dirt. I got on that sucker and spoke sailor to Cameron to find my horse and catch that sob. Lol! He was grateful my battery went dead! I have no cell phone. Service out here is very spotty. When we ride, we stay within eye sight. Or check on each other periodically.

  4. Well, that's one reason to be thankful for a dead battery, I guess - ha! It sounds like I should not complain about our cell phone coverage. :-)