The Post Mortem

By Larisa Willrett

21296097A good cattle-feeder likes to get to the bottom of a problem. The need to find the underlying cause of a malfunction seems to be genetic. Walking into a pen and finding a prostrate, lifeless animal (excluding rats) can ruin any cattle feeder’s day. Finding the cause of death is vital to preventing it from happening again, repeatedly, throughout the pen – thus the need for a post-mortem. Thankfully, our local veterinarian is only two miles away and is even willing to stop at the feedyard over his lunch hour to pinpoint the cause of a steer’s untimely death.

The dogs set off the alarm bark when the vet pulls into the drive in his little red truck. He knows where to go – off behind the silo to the “dead pile” where our taken-too-early carcass rests, patiently waiting for the “dead truck” to take him off to the renderer. (Although the term pile implies numerous bodies, there is rarely more than one, with our goal of not having a “dead pile” at all.)

The vet’s canine audience expectantly waits as he performs his assessment – usually involving a thorough examination of the beast’s lungs. They know it’ll be “Beef … it’s what’s for lunch” once Doc gets done. Usually the vet can come up with a root cause for the demise without having to take samples or blood work, and we can take appropriate actions to protect the rest of the pen from said destiny.

On the day our clothes dryer died – not only died, but spontaneously combusted – we had been experiencing a dry spell of sorts, specifically a “post mortem” dry spell. Nary an animal had passed on unexpectedly, nor had a piece of equipment developed a mechanical illness in quite some time. While this, realistically, was a cause for celebration, my husband and our employees were nevertheless missing the opportunity to fine-tune their diagnostic skills.

The dryer had been in my husband’s possession long before it had begun drying my unmentionables, and was quickly approaching heirloom status. I had mentioned to said husband on several recent occasions that I thought the ancient thing was getting overly hot while performing its duties, which for a farm family of five was never ending. His response was something to the effect that dryers are supposed to be hot – that’s how they dry. Silly me.

Fortunately for our house and all of our possessions, I was near the dryer when it gasped its last and began burning from the inside. Yelling for Jamie, I quickly unplugged its lifeline and yanked our clothes out – fortunately they were damp enough not to catch fire. With my best “I told you so” expression, I informed the Great and Powerful Oz that it was time to go dryer shopping.

Not so fast. My triumphant expression turned to astonishment mixed with a hint of disgust when, once it was cool enough to touch, Jamie pulled the dryer away from the wall and began what looked suspiciously like an examination tinged with the hope of bringing our ill-fated dryer back to life. I felt a post mortem coming on.

I feel it’s necessary to state the obvious here. As we all know, post mortem means “after death.” Although results of a post mortem performed on an animal won’t result in bringing it back to life, it is possible, on occasion, to resuscitate something with mechanical innards.

As far as I was concerned, I didn’t care if he successfully performed mouth-to-mouth on the damn thing, I could no longer trust it not to burn my house down. I stood back and watched as Jamie summoned an employee to help him transport the dryer up from the basement, past the mechanical “dead pile” where it would be destined for the scrap yard, and on to the farm shop where there are numerous tools and devices designed to repair even the most stubborn tractors.

I wish I’d gotten a photo of Jamie and three on-the-clock employees carefully pulling off the dryer’s outer shell to reveal the secrets of its demise. As they scratched their … heads … and carefully poked around (like they were going to do further damage??), they began brainstorming fixes just as they would for our combine in mid-harvest.

After much eye-rolling and numerous, “You gotta be kidding me’s!” I settled on my own plan of attack. I said my goodbyes to ye auld dryer and headed off to Sears.

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