For four years, I held down a seasonal job working for Briggs and Stratton in which I was a field tester. A field tester is someone who tests various equipment which happens to have a Briggs and Stratton engine somewhere on it.
In four years, I had the privilege of testing various garden tractors, zero turn radius tractors (ones that you controlled with sticks instead of a steering wheel), two man post hole diggers, weed eaters, edgers, power washers, wood chippers and of course lawn mowers. Your job, since you chose to accept it, could be to put as many hours on it as possible, or to let it run out of gas or to burn the oil, you were after all testing the machines in order to get the bugs out before they would be handed over to the consumers for purchase.
After spending way too many years inside a building all day, being outside sounds like a good change of pace, no? Well that is what I thought too but then after a day in the blazing sun, sitting on a tractor, I thought otherwise. I had not thought about the bugs, or the birds that would dive bomb you trying to catch the moths that flew all around you. Then there was the occasional hornets nest or ground beehive that you had to avoid at all costs. Did I mention the wood chucks that might approach you if you got too close to their homes?
Wildlife aside, the biggest thing to get used to was the dust and dirt, by the end of the day, it would be everywhere, covering you from head to toe and all places in between. I can remember the rides home where you’d hit your pants leg and suddenly you were pigpen from the peanuts comic strip.
And then there was the rain. Three things would happen when it rained. One, you would either show up for work and if it was an all day soaker, you would be sent home and paid for half a day of work. Two, you would come into the shop soaked and sit there until you were told to go back to work, or three, you would do what my father and I did and continue to work soaking wet as it thundered and lightened around you. Many times, the supervisor would come out to find us in full rain gear to see if we were still alive and had not either drowned or been struck by lightning.
Did I mention snow? You have not lived until you have sat on a tractor in the middle of nowhere, wearing two jackets, gloves and a hat, cutting non-existent grass covered with frost and snow. It’s definitely something that everyone should have the opportunity to do at some point in their lives.
The high point in my 4 years of doing this job, was when I stepped in a hole and broke my ankle, although at the time, we didn’t know that it was broken, so I drove a tractor for two hours pushing down on the peddle until my boss took me off the job, noticing the grapefruit size lump on my left ankle. After a trip to the hospital, I was told it was only a sprain only to be told to return to the hospital because it was indeed broken. I only missed four days of work and was back the following Monday with crutches. I had to sign a paper which said that I could come to work but if I was without crutches I would be terminated. So they gave me a zero turn radius tractor that had no pedals and was controlled by sticks, which I used the rest of the season.
Why did I finally leave this job in the great outdoors? I had been working a second job nights and weekends after putting in my time outdoors and they had offered me a promotion that required my full attention. No more dust, no more bugs, no more manning a two man post hole digger with a 98 pound daughter of a Briggs executive as your partner. It was back indoors for good for me.
Cover image courtesy of Axel Rouvin via Flickr