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Life on the family farm under an open heaven: My shop foreman, a stuffed animal

Tom Heck for Progressive Dairyman Published on 12 September 2016
Tom with Beddy Bear

My wife, Joanne, is like a lot of women: She likes to go to thrift sales. As she tells me, “Sometimes you can get some really good deals there.”

Sometimes, some of the things she brings home make me raise my eyebrows, wondering if she got a really good deal – or if the seller got the best end of the deal in selling them to my wife.



Many years ago, when Joanne went into town on some errands, she happened to go by a place that was having a thrift sale. Since she had the time, she just had to stop and check it out. She got a few things there that day really cheap. At the time, I had no idea that one of those things would so change our lives.

What was that thing, you ask? A stuffed polar bear teddy bear that stood about 15 inches tall and was real white – except for the ends of his four paws and the insides of his ears. They were all bright red. When our young son, Joshua, saw him, he fell for him right away.

So we gave it to him, and he named him Beddy Bear. I’m not sure where he came up with that name, but that’s what he named him, and he’s been his favorite stuffed animal all these years.

So how did Beddy Bear so change our lives, you ask? Well, it’s kind of my fault. Shortly after we got him, I got working on a project in my shop one day with Joshua, but then I had to go and do some other farm work.

I thought Joshua could maybe finish up that part of the project without me, but I wasn’t sure. So to really motivate him, I told him if he and Beddy Bear could finish it up, I would make Beddy Bear shop foreman. Joshua’s eyes got really big and he said, “Really?” To which I replied, “Yes.”


Well, he went at it with all his heart and got it done, doing a good job. So now, all of a sudden, I had a shop foreman named Beddy Bear. Every day when I would open the shop up, Beddy Bear would get right out there; he certainly didn’t want to get fired. And every day, we would all have big smiles on our faces having Beddy Bear out there. Normally, when I would pull up to the shop with a tractor, Beddy Bear would get into the tractor’s seat to supervise us.

Many times we will get to working in the shop in the afternoon on a piece of equipment, or something else, and won’t get it done until we’re a half-hour to an hour late for supper. It’s so nice to get a job done though, and not put it off for another day. So when we come in late for supper, which is quite often, I just tell Joanne, “That highly productive shop foreman we have wouldn’t let us quit until we had the job done.” With that we all smile, and she replies that she knows.

After a little while, Beddy Bear’s super-white coat started to get a little dirty from being in the shop so much. So it was Joanne to the rescue: At another thrift sale (wouldn’t you know it), she found a child’s small red T-shirt and a small pair of bib overalls for him. With a little work, she got them to fit him just fine. So now, every once in a while, she does his laundry with ours.

It didn’t take us long to realize that the bright red on his paws and ears was a bad case of “Red Tractor Fever.” Since we run the red International tractors here, what else could it be? I would tease Joshua that I should take Beddy Bear into town to the vet so he could give him a shot to help him get over his Red Tractor Fever.

But Joshua would protest loudly, “No, he likes his Red Tractor Fever.” And we would all smile and laugh.

Beddy Bear didn’t always want to sit in the shop though, especially when there was field work to be done. Joshua would always try to get me to take Beddy Bear to the field with me. I would protest saying, “What will the neighbors think if they see me out there with a polar bear? Or what will an animal rights group do if they see a polar bear on my tractor?”


He would reply, “What difference does it make? Beddy Bear wants to go.” With that, we would all smile and laugh. It was easy to take him: All I had to do was tie him with a twine string to the slow-moving vehicle sign that was on the tractor’s fender. Then he could ride along all day long with a big smile on his face, keeping me company.

He did have a couple close calls on the tractors over the years though. One time, I went out cutting hay and, after a while, I noticed he wasn’t on the fender. I looked all around and saw him hanging by his britches from the tractor’s three-point arm just above the PTO. I quickly retrieved him and was thankful he was all in one piece.

Another time, he got a hot spark from the tractor’s muffler that burned a small black spot into his white coat. I was sure relieved that it didn’t burn him all up. I tell Joshua that it probably isn’t the best thing for Beddy Bear to go on the tractors with me, but he just smiles and says, “Beddy Bear wants to go.” And with that we laugh, and he goes for another tractor ride, helping me drive the tractor.

Since Beddy Bear is my shop foreman, he has a lot of say in my shop. Joshua tells me that he doesn’t like poor-quality tools made in China. In my early years of farming here, I bought some of them because I couldn’t afford the American-made ones. I’ve come to regret it, too.

They just don’t stand up. So when I get these tool salesmen calling me on the phone trying to sell me their cheap China-made tools, I just tell them, “No.”

They usually won’t quit there though, so then I tell them that my shop foreman won’t like it at all if I get those tools, because he wants quality tools. I go on to tell them that I have an excellent shop foreman and I can’t afford to lose him. With that we say, “goodbye” and hang up the phone. My family is all grinning and laughing as they hear our conversation. Needless to say, I’m glad that the salesmen have never asked to talk to my shop foreman.

As you can see by now, we have a lot of fun in our work here. The Bible is so correct when it says, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” We as parents have the choice as to what kind of life we will have in our homes. The choice truly is ours. I can’t urge you strongly enough to choose a godly, Bible-based life for yourself and your family; if you do, you will be blessed beyond measure. I know I am; I even have a polar bear for a shop foreman. Furthermore, I have the most wonderful family in the world.  end mark

Tom Heck, his wife, Joanne, and their two children own and operate a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Email Tom Heck. Order his book at Tom Heck Life on the Family Farm. 

PHOTO: Tom with Beddy Bear who is a stuffed animal polar bear that for years has served as “shop foreman” on the Heck family farm. Photo provided by Tom Heck.