Grass and hay

These are the folks from the 1969 Federal Summer Employment Program for Youth. Keith Coiley is in the second row, sixth from the left. For names of everyone pictured, visit the photo database. Photo: Fermilab

When I first started out here, in 1970, I worked with the farm crew. They had us going around cleaning out a lot of the barns after the farmers who were here on the land left. Hindsight being 20/20, there was a lot of really neat stuff that we threw away: We weren’t trying to preserve history or anything like that. We just wanted the barns cleaned out. For one, we needed a place to store the hay that we were growing for the buffalo.

That was some of the hardest work I ever did. We had a barn that we had stacked to the rafters with hay. But some of the baled hay hadn’t dried enough, and it spontaneously combusted. We came in the next day, and all that was left was the barn’s foundation.

I was also one of the people who cut the grass. It was more difficult than I had realized. The lab was just starting, and the equipment they had was just awful. The grass was very tall, and we had these push mowers. You’d go two feet and they’d clog up. It was similar with raking: They gave us garden rakes instead of a grass rakes. We finally got a riding mower that summer, and we were supposed to take turns using it. There were three guys that were messing around with it — fighting over it — and at some point they all bailed while it was running, and the mower ran into a tree. It was wrecked.

That was the first time I’d seen people get fired from the lab. They asked only a few of us to come back that summer. I was asked to come back, and I guess the rest is kind of history.