“I do things slightly different than most other farmers in the country,” reads the introduction to Andy Detwiler’s YouTube channel. It’s a typically low-key, matter-of-fact statement from a regular Ohio farmer who did what regular farmers do—work hard, solve problems, adapt to whatever you can’t solve, and hold it all together with steady effort and the right amount of stubbornness.
The thing that made Detwiler “slightly different” was bilateral limb loss. He lost both arms high above the elbow at the age of two in a mishap involving a grain auger. To our great regret, we didn’t become aware of Detwiler until we read his obituary—he died last month at age 52 of an aneurysm. But we’ve been getting to know him via the hundreds of hours of video he posted at Harmless Farmer, which Detwiler launched six years ago with his family. There’s lots to enjoy there, and lots to learn.
The lessons aren’t about limb difference, per se, because Detwiler typically didn’t dwell on that. He focused on themes anyone can relate to: the joys and woes of technology, the importance of family, land stewardship, relationships with animals, working, playing, the past, the future, the weather . . . . . you name it. Limb difference comes up in most of the videos because, well, duh. But the core subject here is 21st-century farm life. And with 134,000 subscribers and an aggregate 29 million-plus views, Harmless Farmer ranks among the most heavily watched agricultural channels on YouTube.
You can find the whole body of work right here, but it’s a lot to take in. For a quick introduction to Detwiler’s persona and common-sense philosophy, we recommend these starter segments. (You can learn more and buy gear at harmlessfarmer.com.)
Poop Scootin’ Boogie
With a title like that, how can you not click? More than 1.3 million viewers have done so, and they’ve been rewarded with a brief tutorial on how to install a notoriously ornery tractor accessory called a PTO shaft. “Anyone who has ever changed out a PTO knows what it’s like,” the Farm & Livestock Directory wrote not long ago. “It takes too long to hook up, it always means banged up knuckles, pinched fingers or worse, and it almost invariably produces language that is unfit for polite society . . . . Frustrated tractor owners have tried cleaning it, greasing it and slamming it with a sledgehammer, and still have had no luck in getting the PTO shaft on.” Detwiler does it here with two feet, no hands, and nary a curse word, hitching his Oliver Super 88 to a manure spreader in just a few minutes. “We’re rarin’ go to,” he says, then jumps into the driver’s seat and throws the tractor into gear. Watch here.
I Bought a Red Tractor
For the last three years of his life, Detwiler poured considerable blood, sweat, and tears into a rusting 1970 International Harvester 856 that he rescued from a nearby dairy farm. He documented the restoration process over multiple videos, beginning with this one from 2019, in which he consummated the purchase. “This tractor has some issues on it, and I don’t know what all the issues are,” he explains. “I know it won’t move.” Back at his shop, Detwiler conducts a detailed inspection of the vehicle’s hydraulics, drive train, fuel system, and gearing, exhibiting encyclopedic knowledge of an antique machine that was built when he was one year old. In the end, he concludes that the clutch will likely need to be replaced, which will require separating the tractor’s front and back halves—an operation Detwiler has never performed on a rig of this size. “When you buy an old tractor like this, you just never know what you’re gonna get, or what you’re gonna be getting into,” he concludes. Assess, adjust, adapt. The full series of videos is well worth watching. View the first one here. (In another good segment featuring the 856, Detwiler spiffs up the tractor’s wheels with a new coat of bright red paint.)
Sad Day on the Farm
If the raucous day shown here counts as “sad,” then life must be pretty good. What’s got Detwiler down is the obligation to relinquish a Can Am Defender that he’s been test-driving for a local dealer. He goes for a rollicking last joy ride in the land rover before hauling it back, speeding across open fields with his toes wrapped around the steering wheel while his daughter, Kylie, whoops it up riding shotgun. At some distant outpost of the farm they come across a couple of newborn goats, no more than a half-hour old. The Detwilers pause to coo at the cuties, then hop back into the Can Am to stir up more dust. At the end of the segment, Detwiler dolefully backs an older utility vehicle out of its shed. “Well, it’s back to reality with the John Deere Gator,” he sighs. “The Can Am Defender was a really nice machine, and I really liked it, but you know what? This thing’s paid for.” Watch here.
That New Bumper About Smashed Me
This title applies both literally and figuratively. As the segment opens, Detwiler explains how he’s already three hours deep into attaching a heavy-duty bumper to his pickup truck. He had to abandon his initial attempts (off camera) when he discovered the bracket’s holes weren’t sized and aligned properly, requiring him to detach the bracket, take careful measurements down to fractions of inches, punch in new holes on the drill press, and remount the bracket. Now ready to finish the @#$&!@# job at last, Detwiler maneuvers the bumper (precariously balanced on a rolling jack) into place, slides over to get the first bolt screwed on . . . . . and wham! it topples over. “Are you hurt?” his daughter asks when he calls for assistance. “Didn’t hurt me at all,” he answers. “Hurt my pride.” In the end he gets the better of the obstinate machinery, bolting it into place and hitching up a trailer. Final score: Farmer 1, Truck 0. Here’s where to watch.