Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Middle Years of a 90-Year-Old's Life

Dad has always seemed old to me since he was 41-years-old by the time I came along.

So when we celebrated his Christmas Eve birthday a couple weeks ago, his white hair and 90 candles made me realize that now he really is old.

A family picture before me. Standing man: a German foreign exchange student.

What follows catalogs Dad's mid-life years as a 40-50-60-year-old when he raised his last child (me) and began his role as a father-in-law and a grandpa. These are some of the advancements and changes a middle-aged farmer from east central South Dakota experienced from 1954 to 1984.

For Dad's younger years, read the earlier post, First 30 years of My Dad's 90-Year-Old Life

Part II: The Next 30 Years

Developments on the Farm: 1954-1964, Decade #4
TV Enters the Home 

After Mom and Dad poured the cement foundation for a granary all by themselves, they weren’t quite sure what to do next until neighbor Josh Hofer came along and offered to help. They paid him a dollar an hour in 1954. When the job was done, Josh earned a $500 bonus.

the granary: the building with a smile, according to my nieces who lived nearby
In 1957, a telephone company installed phone lines, quite different from the farmer's lines I wrote about last time. A party line consisted of ten homes per line. Each home had a different ring, so if you wanted to eavesdrop, quietly lift the receiver.

Also in that year, Dad purchased the family's first TV, a Silvertone. Before that, Uncle Jr. was the first one with a television. "The picture was just white fuzz up at Jr.'s," Dad said. "By the time we got ours, the reception was better."

Is that a Silvertone TV behind me one Christmas? (I have stitches by my eye, long story)

In this decade, Dad also bought two 560 International tractors, two cultivators, and two five bottom plows. The landscape of the farm changed in 1963 when two white concrete silos were constructed.

Not long after my Grandma Elizabeth's death in '55 (I wrote about her in Namesake), neighbor Dave T. Decker sold his farm to Dad in 1958. This farm, with one white silo, was a little over a mile away from the main place and would eventually be my brother's home with his wife and five children, the nieces and nephews with whom I grew up.

Elliott's farm in 2011 ~ currently only a sheep barn, not pictured above, remains

Growing Family: 1964-1974, Decade #5
Lots of Lambs and Hogs ~ in other words, a ton of work

A highlight of this decade was witnessing the 1969 moon landing. The folks saw it on TV with Warren and Mary G Wipf while stopping to eat at a truck stop in Mitchell. Mary G was Mom's cousin whom I wrote about here.

The Marken family moved onto the other farm as Dad's hired help, and Dad began raising sheep. Before I was born, the Marken's left, so Dad hired Roy Horsley. Roy raised sheep too, so this was a big help. Dad recalled driving with him all the way to Hutchinson, Kansas, to purchase more sheep. The barn on the second farm was full of them. So full, that they took turns pulling all-nighters to keep an eye on them. 

Sheep, when born, need to be in a small pen with the mother. They can't mingle like calves do, Dad said. They must be given time to adjust. Out of room in the main barn, the men had to shuffle pens around inside and out. It was such a struggle that Roy said he wouldn't go through another lambing season like that. So, not wanting to lose an expert sheep farmer, my progressive father built another barn.

the sheep barn on Elliott's yard in 2011

A problem arose one time when it was time to sheer the sheep. Cold weather arrived, and the heat of the sheep rose to the frosty roof consisting of only plywood with no shingles. The dripping from the roof made the sheep too wet to sheer. Dad rounded up all the Nipco heaters he could find from the neighbors. He hung them from the rafters to dry off the critters, so the scheduled sheep sheering day could proceed.

I barely remember those sheep days. I'd fall asleep on an old couch in the barn after I had been told to get off the bus at Horsley's because everyone was over there tending to the lambs. Ironically, as I was working on this post, Roy passed away. Click here for his obituary. 

here I am bottle-feeding some lambs

In July of 1970, a few days after I turned 4-years-old, the family took their first commercial airplane trip. It was to Detroit for my brother Elliott's wedding. Read Curlers, a Bra, and an Airplane Ride for details about that wedding and others. Elliott eventually moved back to farm with Dad about the time the Horsleys moved back to Wessington Springs, Roy's hometown.

But before Roy left, Dad got into hogs, since Roy was a hog man too. A hog farrowing barn was built, and they'd planned to furrow four times a year. "The first time we weened 400 pigs," Dad said. I wrote about this building here in my Why I Hate Birds series last summer. But by the time Elliott returned to South Dakota to farm with Dad, the building had been sanitized and locked up. He was done with hogs—for now.

In 1973 and 1974, a slick salesman talked Dad into putting up two blue Harvestores with an automated feeding system. I enjoyed the smell of silage and would pretend I was an assembly line worker at McDonald'sonly I'd be serving cattle. These blue tubes forever changed the landscape of the farm. Dad now says, "I would have fared very well without that purchase."

the silos and the Harvestores

Trying Times: 1974-1984, Decade #6
Drought & Debt

Had the worst crop in 1976.
Dad suffered from migraine headaches.

Pastures were bare. One time he closed off the township road and put a up a "disaster area" sign so the cattle could graze the ditches. By the end of the day, those were bare too.

These are the years in which I grew up.

Dad ended up selling all the cattle. Mom stood at the screen door and cried as the semi trucks drove off with the livestock. But like all farmers, Dad still had hope. Hope for rain, for a crop, for an income.

In retrospect, Dad said he wished he would have kept and cows and sold the feeder cattle, but he followed the predictions that the following year was going to be dry too. It wasn't. The grass grew three feet tall. 

Elliott kept asking Dad, "When you gonna get back into hogs?" Dad said a few days would go by and his son would again ask, "Ever gonna get back to raising hogs?"

And boy did they. Eventually, a larger hog confinement operation was constructed. It included a cage room, a nursery, and a finishing house. My cousin Wilmer Kleinsasser (whom I wrote about here and here), was hired on as a farmhand, and he hauled the pork to Huron for slaughter. I always thought it was rather sad that some hogs never saw the light of day until that fateful ride. Those hogs help pay for my college education.

hog barns in 2011, dormant again

Another building came about after my brother-in-law Rick helped Dad and Elliott clear the spot where the Butler Building, a machine shed, was to be located. I loved that building, even though birds sometimes got in, for it was my indoor basketball court—when Dad finally followed through on a promise to get me one. He hired Gene McMillian in the early 80's to create the movable goal
—and not the kind that just changed the height of the hoop. The entire thing could be moved, inside or out. It cost $300.

My dad, always the elaborate one. He never does things small-scale.

Despite the stress of the farm, Dad's always been a man of progress and dreams. Farming is a gamble. And the entire family was a part of the risk. A family, that by now, included quite a few grandchildren.

60-years-old ~ behind him is the room of his birth

Do you have relatives like my dad? Any risk takers among your ancestors? Any big dreamers? Maybe you possess those traits and would like to share.

Writer's Note: In the next post, Old Age Creeps In: Decades 7, 8, and 9.

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