When I was a young boy growing up near Jackson, Miss., my family religiously drove several times a week to church. The only times we arrived late for Sunday school was when a passing train literally stopped us in front of the tracks just two miles from the church steeple.

I always marveled at the clickety-clackety sound of each passing rail car — trying to denote the cargo inside each moving box or tanker. My fear was one car followed by the rest would jump the tracks and crush us. Yet I always eagerly awaited the last car, the red caboose, which often had a conductor standing on the outside platform. My heart pounded as he waved to me. I dreamed about his perfect job.

Other trips across the same track had a different destination — the Blake Christmas Tree Farm and Arboretum. Founded by grandfather in 1904, the tree farm was yearlong work — hard work — and I'm thankful for my experiences there, and to my Mom and Dad who allowed me to grow up outside and develop my strong, hands-on work ethic.

Before the annual fall tree harvest, I sometimes climbed carefully between the strands of barbed wire into the cotton fields where I would grasp a canvas bag and begin plucking the soft, creamy cotton along side the regular workers. I was slow but what a perfect job.

I would convince my uncle to realize another personal dream — riding in the tractor — pulled cotton wagon to the gin in Pocahontas, Miss. Jumping around in the downy-filled wagon was a heavenly experience, especially when I would lie down on my dreamy cotton bed and stare at the crystal blue fall sky.

Dreams have a way of coming true and now we are nearing year-end 2006. It's been three months since I chose to jump my own track to tackle yet another dream. After 28 years with the Farm Bureau organization in three states — Michigan, Indiana and most recently in Arizona as the public relations director — I accepted the Western Farm Press' offer to report on agricultural issues in California and Arizona, with occasional reporting in New Mexico and Texas. My Arizona resume was heavy in statewide agricultural print reporting and the thought of adding California and the Southwest states to my repertoire was a dream come true.

I owe a lot of gratitude to Farm Bureau, its leaders, staff and many members who allowed me on their farms and ranches over the years to tell their stories on the radio, television and newspaper — sometimes on a national basis. But Farm Press offered me a remaining lifelong dream. I've simply jumped from one rail car to the next aboard the agricultural train.

While WFP Editor Harry Cline confessed in an August issue that he stole me from Arizona, may the record also reflect that I said yes to the job offer. First, I want to thank Harry publicly for simply who he is — a seasoned, well-respected journalist with the passion for agriculture running through his veins. Second, thank you Harry, for believing in me and eyeballing my potential contributions as a WFP associate editor. My sincere thanks to Farm Press' Editorial Director Hembree Brandon and publisher Greg Frey who ultimately gave me the nod.

My passion too is agricultural reporting. The smell of freshly turned soil and the scent of citrus ready for plucking create mental purpose and physical drooling. Reporting on those who seldom tire of dirty hands and long days is a lucky opportunity.

Agriculture is who I am — it's my lifelong passion. My realized dream is agricultural reporting, and getting to the bottom line of farm and ranch issues. I've also been known to break a major story, so stay tuned. Like Harry, I am not afraid to say it like it is.

I look forward to providing farmers and ranchers in the West and Southwest with solid, accurate reporting. Hold on tight for a great train ride.