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The Farmer and the Gadget
Radiosonde in 1943. Library of Congress photo.

The Farmer and the Gadget

By NWS Heritage Projects Staff

The following article was in the October 1948 issue of Weather Bureau Topics:


Government correspondence is not always stodgy; sometimes even official business has a note of humor. Not long ago one of our Canadian neighbors found occasion to write across the border: 


Between Mexico & Canada,
North America.

DEAR UNCLE SAM: I found a gadget that looked like a lunch box in one of my fields at 8:00 o’clock this morning. Recognizing it was not a container of sandwiches and pop, I cautiously approached the thing for fear it was a Roosian Atom Bomb. Then I read a notice on it saying it belonged to you and knowing you are a pretty good Uncle of ours, I picked it up very carefully and carried it home. My wife had a good look at it, so did the hired man and my daughter, who was frying doughnuts, giving me a chance to snitch a couple that were cool enough. My sons will have a good look at it when they come in at noon.

Weather balloon launch, 1936
Weather balloon launch, 1936

This property of yours will be respected by us all and will not be tampered with, except to take a peep inside. That is, all the family respect it, except the farm dog. He just walked up to the thing ahead of me, took a sniff at it and then made disrespectful preparations which were interrupted just in time by a hunk of dirt I heaved at him. I excused the canine because he can’t read.

On one side of this contraption it says, quote: “This instrument belongs to the United States Government. A balloon sent up by a United States Weather Bureau Station carried it to a height of about 12 miles. The balloon burst and the instrument came down slowly on a parachute."

That is not true. It is true the balloon burst because part of it is still attached to the string. But it did not come down slowly, for it hit the ground with a wallop and the ding-busted contraption is pretty well busted. What is more, there is no sign of any parachute anywhere. But that is not all. It says on the box, quote: "Please remove tag from under the flap and write the information required," unquote. So we all gathered around, turned the thing over and there in plain English you said, quote: "The mailing tag is under the flap," unquote.

I, myself, using my own fingers and with extreme care, in the presence of my good wife who stood beside me leaning on a mop, my daughter with a platter of hot doughnuts, and the hired man who smelt of the hog barn, unwound the string that held the flap down firmly, lifted the flap and there was nothing there. Not a thing; absoblinkinlootly nothing. “Of all the %$%&’#&" I said aloud. “Shhhush,’ said my wife. "Daddy!" said my daughter. "You should hear 'im when a 'orse treads on 'is foot," said the hired man. 

Now, how in the heck can I return this property to YOU, if I don’t where you are living? So you had bettor write to me and let me know what to do with it. In case it might be of value to you, I submit the following information:

Date found: August 18, 1948.
Where found: On a field of summerfallow on the Northeast quarter, section twenty-two (22), Township fifty-one (51), Range twenty-five (25), west of the fourth meridian. 
This is about 6 miles south of the city of Edmonton, Alberta, and 8 little west, as the crow flies.
What is it? Radiosonde.  U. S. W. B. Serial Number 832341.

The weather is fine here today and we are having corn on the cob for dinner with plenty of butter too.

So long, Uncle Sam. Come up and see us sometime.

Weather Bureau chief Francis Reichelderfer responds in kind:

DEAR SIR:  I see that I am going to have some difficulty in answering your letter of August 18, first because I am not Uncle Sam to whom you addressed your remarks, but only one of his humble servants, and second because my office is not equipped with many modern conveniences such as hot doughnuts to stimulate a sense of humor, but anyway I got a big laugh out of your remarks. The delay in answering is due to the fact that I was out of town when your letter arrived and it was passed around among the staff so that when I returned I thought the high morale was due to my absence and was relieved to find that it was just your good letter which stimulated the office force.

Now about the gadget: I am enclosing some literature describing the thing -- it really is a miniature weather station and miniature radio station combined in a small box like the one that fell on your field -- and you will see that it has practical uses and is not just something to frighten people. When we put another little gadget on this thing, it gives us the winds above the clouds by radar methods as described in one of the publications herewith. This gadget actually was one we shipped to your Canadian Weather Service for use at Edmonton, and I think that explains why it was not filled out with the U.S. mailing tag, etc. 

You have heard the old story about the farmer who shot a goose flying high. It fell and hit the ground with a great wallop making a big mess out of the goose. The farmer’s boy said, “Well, Pa, you could have saved the bullet. The fall alone would have killed him." So I judge from your letter that the fall ruined the radiosonde and I doubt if it would be worth returning. Probably it would cost more to repair it than to buy a new one. So I suggest that the Canadian Weather Office will let you keep it as a souvenir and I’ll keep your pleasant letter read again when I need another good laugh.

Just to make sure, I am sending a copy of your letter to Dr. Andrew Thomson, Controller of the Canadian Meteorological Division, for his information and any request he might want to make. As I said above, it was a Canadian gadget at the time it fell on your property.

Sincerely yours,
Chief of Bureau.