COMMON SENSE: Money to be made during hot summers (2024)

Donnie Johnston

A country boy could always find a way to make a few bucks in the summer if he didn’t mind the heat.

I got my first paying job when I was 9 years old. A neighbor was threshing wheat and needed a bag boy. He was paying 50 cents an hour, so I volunteered. If I worked all day, I could make 4 or 5 dollars. That was big money.

These days combines cut and thresh fields of grain, but that new technology was just beginning to become a reality, at least in my part of the world, when I was a child.

My neighbor, Old Man Jim Hawkins, had contracted with a man named Thornhill to bring in an old-time thresher and set it up in corner of the field. The wheat was cut and brought to the thresher, which separated the grain from the straw. The straw flew out one spout and the grain another.

My job was to place a guano (burlap) sack over the grain spout and keep it in place until the container was full. Then I would shut off the valve, tie the sack shut with a piece of binder twine and drag it off to the side, putting the next sack over the spout.

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You talk about a dirty job. That fast-flowing grain was accompanied by enough dust to choke a mule. Meanwhile, any slight breeze would bring more dust from the straw into my face. All the while I was sweating like a fool and every bit of dust and straw clung to me like a tick on a hound dog.

I sneezed all day and when I finished that afternoon I was covered in dust. I was not a pretty sight, but I was a rich man. In addition to my regular wages, Old Man Hawkins, as I recall, gave me an extra dollar because I handled those 50-pound bags so well.

From the time I was 10 until I got my first regular job, I helped neighboring farmers get up hay in the summer. I didn’t mind picking up the square bales in the field and loading them on a wagon, but I despised stacking hay in a barn loft.

This was even dirtier than bagging grain because up there in that loft, where the temperature was often 110 degrees, there was no air stirring whatsoever. Every time you threw a bale up on the stack, dust would fly up and settle in your sweat. Coming out of that loft, even on a 95-degree day, was blessed relief. Outside there was at least some air stirring.

Then there were the wasp nests. Much of the time you were harassed by these insects that were determined to make you suffer for invading their territory.

There is the story about a man in the southern part of the county who was chased around the loft by wasps that had a huge nest up in the rafters. He finally got so perturbed that he decided to burn the nest out and went to his truck and got a gas torch.

So the story goes, he succeeded in getting the wasp nest, but during the operation he also set the barn on fire and burned it down. He taught those wasps a lesson.

One of the worst summer jobs I ever had was painting my uncle’s fence. He offered my brother and me $20 to paint his board fence that extended about 200 yards along the road.

I guess I was about 12 that summer and my brother was 10 and splitting $20 was very appealing. So, we took the job. We were soon sorry.

This fence had two boards at the top, one at the bottom and two others that crisscrossed in the middle. That’s a lot of area to paint — and on both sides. On top of that, we had to walk 2 miles each day to get to the job. And dragging a 5-gallon bucket of paint around (we did use smaller containers but the big can occasionally needed moving) was no fun.

We worked on that fence — on and off — all that summer and we were so glad when we finished. There were times when we wanted to give up, but we didn’t. We had given our word — and we wanted that $20.

There were other hot summer jobs, like picking blackberries in thickets and coming out bloody and sweaty and then toting two heavy water buckets of the fruit 2 miles home.

But I got a dollar a gallon for my berries and one summer I picked and sold 56 gallons. That was real money!

The jobs were hot, but there was always money to be made in the summer if you were willing to work — and sweat.

Donnie Johnston’s columns appear twice per week on the Opinion page. Reach him at


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Donnie Johnston

COMMON SENSE: Money to be made during hot summers (2024)
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