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Creating art on a turnrow

By Carroll Smith
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My grandfather on my dad’s side drove a motor grader, commonly called a blade, beginning in the 1930s. I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this date since he and my dad are both gone now, but I’m pretty sure it’s close. He was a conscientious operator, good at what he did and in high demand based on the quality of his work.

Grandpa put in long hours to support his wife and four children, and, when I came along and was old enough to be curious about the big machine he drove, I begged to go with him one day to experience it for myself.

With a big smile, he finally gave in and said, “OK, doll, put on some old clothes, be ready to get up early and we’ll head out to the job.” He normally did a lot of highway work, but that day he was going to an area farm to smooth all of the turnrows and put in some drainage ditches with V-shaped cross-sections.

When we arrived at our destination, I was in awe of how huge the machine looked. It was big, but from a child’s perspective, it seemed enormous! He lifted me into the cab with him, strapped me in and off we went. To me, it was more fun that a carnival ride.

As we rode along, he tried to explain what we were doing. I noticed the intense concentration on his face (He didn’t have the luxury of GPS at that time.) and his desire for perfection. To grandpa, his work was not just a job, it was an art form.

I still remember that day when I’m visiting a farm and watching the new precision land leveling machines going across a field. More and more farmers are leveling their fields to get the most efficiency out of the water they need to grow a rice crop. As with many farm practices today, precision leveling equipment is loaded with highly sophisticated technology.

And, in most cases, a precision-leveled field is a key component to successful water management, which, as Texas A&M’s Dr. Mo Way says, is the base of rice production.
A proponent of precision-leveled fields, Way says, “Providing a solid base (successful water management) will make your other management practices more effective, less laborious and conservation-friendly.”

I truly appreciate the technology strides that have been made in the precision leveling equipment arena. However, I still smile when I remember my grandpa, who took so much pride in creating perfection through sheer determination and a sharp eye for what he considered “beautiful art,” out of a turnrow and a ditch bank on a Louisiana farm.

Send your comments to: Editor, Rice Farming Magazine, 5118 Park Ave., Suite 111, Memphis, Tenn., 38117. Call (901) 767-4020 or e-mail

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