So that’s what ‘moving pipe’ is all about


Award-winning columnist Richard Larsen of Pocatello is president of the brokerage firm Larsen Financial. He graduated from Idaho State University with degrees in history and political science.

Agrarian interests have always driven the Blackfoot area economy. While it’s diversified somewhat in recent years, everything financial revolved around agriculture in one way or another. The farmers, the service providers, the retailers, the banks, the local manufacturers, everything was dependent on the prices and the yields the crops would bring each year.

And as arid as the farmland around Blackfoot is, almost all of it’s under irrigation, mostly of the sprinkler variety. It may come as a surprise to many in the area who are transplants from elsewhere, or those who are too young to remember, but the current irrigation system of choice, the omnipresent pivot, or circle, was not even around not that long ago.

Before the pivots and even before the side-rolls, there were pipes moved by hand. Whenever someone refers to “moving pipe,” this is what they’re talking about. Typically a hand line would be 31 aluminum pipes, 40 feet long, usually 4 inches in diameter, connected together forming a “line” a quarter of a mile long. There might be eight or ten such “lines” servicing 160 acres, which is ¼ of a mile square. A large valve would be decoupled from the summer months until the crops are ready for harvest.

To this day, I still remember as a youngster about 10, moving pipe with my older sister. It is not a pleasant memory, as a riser on the mainline, moved 60 feet to the next riser, and then every one of the 31 pipes would be moved to that next set.

As teenagers, our summer months were gov-I still picture her running away from the line, and me, as fast as she could. She was caked in mud, had tears streaming down her face, and was swatting at the “demonic” mosquitoes, screaming, “They’re eating me alive!” I’m convinced that experience haunts Jeanie to this very day!

Moving pipe was hard work. It was satisfying when completed each day, built character and turned a lot of farm kids into great men and women. This is a significant component of the legacy of the Blackfoot agricultural industry, and is woven deeply into the moral fabric and work ethic of the people of the area. erned by our pipe-moving schedules. Potatoes and beets would move in the morning at 4:30 or 5, and then again 12 hours later, while hay and grain lines would move just once a day.

Now envision this process. Farm kids from 10-20 years old, donned in knee-high rubber boots and a canvas apron, disconnecting, picking up and then carrying each of those 31 pipes while trudging through 4-8 inches of mud, forming a new line 60 feet away.

All the while you’re being feasted on by swarms of mosquitoes wanting nothing more than to suck your blood, which provides more than ample motivation for moving each line as quickly as possible!

After moving one line, you’re tired. After eight or 10 lines, you’re exhausted. But you know you’ve got to do it again in 12 hours, and every day throughout.