Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Grandpa's Geometry

My grandpa was a farmer by the time I came along.  In his younger days he was a cowboy. A real life cowboy.

He was not a gunslinger like you see on TV or in the movies. He was a man who spent days and days out with the herd of cattle.

The cowboys kept the herd fairly contained as they grazed. They protected them from predators like wolves. They lived with the cattle out on the range.

The cowboys slept out there. They cooked their meals there and ate there. Grandpa played several instruments but as far as I know he only had a guitar and maybe a harmonica with him. That was entertainment for them until they went to sleep.

Grandpa was my mother's father. He was a quiet man. He worked hard as all farmers do. His first son died in infancy. He had no more sons for many years but he had several daughters to care for. The eldest of my 4 uncles was only 12 years older than me so it was a lot of years that Grandpa worked his farm alone.

By the time I was old enough to remember Grandpa had a couple of tractors ( a very old Allis-Chalmers and a slightly newer John Deere) with all of the assorted implements to pull behind them for plowing, planting, and harvesting crops. All were fun for us to climb on when they weren't being used.

Of course there were cows, pigs, occasionally sheep, and all sorts of fowl. Most of what a family would need to live was grown on the farm. Very little was bought in town.

Grandpa's pets were the horses. Of course they were not luxuries. His children rode them into town to school for instance. But Grandpa loved his horses.

He trained them all himself. No bronco busting for him. They were lovingly trained to accept a saddle and finally a rider. Most were horses you would feel comfortable letting your children ride.

He did get the occasional horse with a little bit of temperament. Those were reserved for seasoned riders.

Like most farmers Grandpa and his sons kept the equipment in working order. It as a rare thing to have to call someone to help repair the motor on a tractor for instance.

They cut their own wood using the wheel on the side of the tractor to give them power for the saw. Grandpa had a huge wheel in the tool shed that he used to sharpen axes and knives. It had a seat and was pedal operated. He could sharpen a lot of tools in short order. And the wheel was another fun toy for us.

Grandpa had little education. He could read and write. One of his few wishes in life was that all his children would graduate high school. When he died not only had his children graduated but he had a couple of grandchildren who had also graduated and a few more of us very close.

My mother used to watch in amazement when Grandpa was measuring things. Without a measuring tool like a yardstick or tape measure he could come within a couple of inches of large objects.

For instance the height of a tree was an important fact to know if you were going to cut it down. It might make a difference on the direction you wanted it to fall.

One of my uncles was about 6 feet tall. Grandpa would have my uncle stand near the tree. Then Grandpa would use his thumb to measure my uncle. Then he would measure the number of times his thumb (the height of my uncle) would go up the tree. Then he knew how tall the tree was.

Years later Mom asked Grandpa where he learned geometry. He had no idea what geometry was. He was just using common sense.

For anyone who has forgotten, in geometry you are taught to use comparisons to find sizes. An object of known size is compared to an object of unknown size. Using a simple mathematical equation you can learn the size of the unknown object. Grandpa just used common sense.


  1. Hello Emma, greeting s and good wishes.

    I am thrilled to read that your grandfather was a real cow boy although he didn't carry a gun. I love cow boy movies. They are real macho men. Very courageous, very bold, very daring, very hardworking in rough conditions. Now as you said they are also very practical and and used plenty of common sense.

    I also admire your fabulous memory of childhood life and I am very poor recollecting my own childhood days. Perhaps my childhood was not as interesting as yours. As far as I know when i was young I played and played and played and went home only when i was hungry.

    It is wonderful to know that farmers were self sufficient and they hardly went to the stores to buy things for the house. This is very important because many of the items sold in the stores are adulterated these days.

    I enjnoyed reading this excellent post.

    Best wishes

    1. I am glad you enjoyed learning a bit about Grandpa. He was a wonderful loving man. If you wish to know more about his cowboy days you can search for the post in which I introduced him. He had some interesting adventures. The reason I remember so much of my childhood is that it was a good one and I have a good memory. It is one of my few talents.

  2. Very impressive. You had a very interesting grandfather. You know, there were times when I've been amused by some fishermen in my hometown telling how the weather would be like and how the sea would behave the following day just by staring at the sky or the sea or looking at the color of the sunset. Human mind is as powerful as science, after all it is human who uncovered such.

    I do admire people like your grandfather who, with little let say formal education is able to figure things out right by their minds without the help of being formally educated. I wonder if we, who went to formal schools can still learn it the practical way.

    1. Geometry still bores me but Grandpa found it fascinating. Science is simply the rules that verify the common sense that people have used for centuries.