It's Our Turn: A resisting, reversing cow
Since the Echo Press asked readers to share their memories of the Douglas County Fair, I thought I'd put in one of my own.
It happened in the mid-1980s. I was assigned to take some photos at a cow milking contest in the Erickson building that featured a few well-known people from the area, including the newspaper's popular columnist, Dennis Dalman.
Well, for some reason, Denny didn't make it to his time slot and the emcee of the event, not sure who it was, recognized me hanging around with my camera and asked the crowd, "Hey, since Denny Dalman isn't here, how would you guys like to see Al from the Echo Press milk a cow?"
I was mortified and tried to shrink back outside, but the crowd clapped and cheered and with more prompting from the emcee, it didn't seem I had much choice but to give it a shot.
Here's the thing: Even though I grew up in Parkers Prairie and people assumed I knew a lot about cows and farms (the newspaper even put me on the "farm" beat at first), I was a town kid. Aside from visiting the homes of a few farm buddies in high school, I'd hardly been inside a barn. I'd never touched a cow before.
That was about to change. In the seconds before they were setting up the milking area, I frantically searched out a 4-H kid, explained to him that I had no idea of how to milk a cow and asked for advice. "Start out slow," he said. "Let the cow get to know you, and go back and forth on the teats with a nice easy rhythm. Don't jerk or yank. Pretty soon, it will start to give milk. Keep alternating and stream it in the bucket."
Sounded pretty straight-forward, I thought, relaxing a bit. But then the emcee gave a big build-up to the milking contest between me and some TV guy from the Twin Cities and my anxiety kicked up a notch. I didn't want some Cities celebrity to beat me, especially a TV person.
After we got the starting countdown, I plunged ahead. It was a little weird, at first. But the cow, who was very used to this sort of thing, was calm as I went about the squeezing and pulling maneuvers. I kept at it, but nothing was happening.
I looked over at the TV guy and saw that his cow was accommodating. He was definitely getting milk in his bucket.
Me? Nothing. I thought I must be doing something wrong, or something was amiss with my cow. It was getting embarrassing. With the crowd cheering on, the TV guy was quickly filling up his bucket and I still was milk-less.
Then, out of the blue, my cow came through. A big stream of milk came out. I was elated. Success, at last! And that's when I completely forgot the wise bit of advice my 4-H confidant had given me about alternating. Because that one teat had "worked" so well, I kept pulling and yanking on it, hoping for more. Of course that didn't happen. The cow wasn't going to have any of it. She backed up quickly, nearly hitting me in the head in the process (I didn't really realize until then how big and heavy a cow is). The cow then proceeded to knock over the bucket, spilling out the tiny amount of milk I had collected.
The crowd loved it. They clapped and hooted and laughed and hooted some more. I lamely tried to reposition the bucket and start in again but the rest of the competition, if you want to call it that, was mainly me trying to avoid getting clunked in the head by the resisting, reversing cow.
The TV guy won. By a long shot.
But the crowd gave me a big hand for trying. I had to laugh and smile along with them.
Looking back on it, I guess that's what the fair is about: learning new things, creating special memories and sharing a few laughs along the way. Without getting clunked by a cow.
"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.