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Two close encounters with snakes this spring will make great stories to tell around the campfire. I doubt I’ll ever have a better snake story to tell than one that happened when I was in college.

There I was cracking the books at the University of Missouri, but not cracking hard enough. Journalism was my major, but mostly I was majoring in having a good time. My grades showed it.

Trouble was, I lived in town close to campus and way too close to the entertainment temptations in Columbia, Mo., a great college town then as it is now. I had to get out of Dodge to save my academic hide.

Luckily, I met a guy in one of my classes who lived out in the boons, out on a big farm in the Missouri River bottoms about 12 miles from the Mizzou campus. Far enough away, but not too far.

He was looking to move to town and I wanted out. Basically, we just swapped places.

The move was salvation for my college education. My grades improved, living on that big farm outside of Easley, Mo., population 11 back then. A railroad track carried rumbling freight trains close to the farm and the little mobile home that was my shackri-la.

That railroad track is now the Katy Trail, the landmark biking and hiking route that runs between the Kansas City area and St. Louis.

Anyway, the vast farm was flat, open ground with the blackest dirt to ever be seen. My new home sat in a little grove of shade trees across the gravel lane from the farm’s gigantic barn the size of a high school gym.

Instead of paying rent, I worked on the place with Bob, the farmer who planted crops in that rich, black earth. This was going to be a sweet gig, I figured. My brain envisioned living the high life, driving the big air-conditioned tractor with no rent worries.

Well, the first Saturday Bob drove the tractor around a plowed field. I walked behind, picking up any rocks and throwing them into a wagon. During January and February, we built an irrigation system in the freezing cold and howling 25 mph north wind. It was mostly putting it together nuts and bolts, something you couldn’t do with gloves on.

In two years with Bob, I learned so much about farming, mainly that a farmer has to be an ace mechanic, welder, financial guru, sort of a gambler, in addition to ag expert.

I’m living proof that a human being can travel faster than the speed of light.

Farm headquarters was in the big steel barn that held the gargantuan four-wheel-drive enclosed-cab tractor and implements that attach to it. There was a little office with windows all around where Bob did paperwork. Not far from his office door was a shower where I’d occasionally rinse off the day’s sweat and grime. Bob cobbled the head-high stall together with some 2-by-4s and scrap metal siding.

One warm day I was soaped down under the cool refreshing spray. I reached up to adjust the shower head only to see the longest black rat snake on the planet stretched out on top of that shower stall. It had to be 4 feet long.

I’m living proof that a human being can travel faster than the speed of light. That’s how fast I bolted out of that shower.

Bob glanced out his window wondering why his hired hand was standing there dripping wet and naked a fair distance away from the shower. They say a snake is more scared seeing you than you are seeing the snake. Since then I have doubted that theory.

Two years on that farm and I never did get to drive the tractor. But I owed a world of thanks to Bob when I graduated and got my degree.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at or on Twitter @NWAFlip.


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