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Harvest of friendship: Farmers pick corn after neighbor's death

Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MILTON—Tuesday was the kind of day Tom McNally would have loved.

It was a day any farmer would love.

A red barn in the fall sun.

The ancient oak in front of a tidy farmhouse.

Grain pouring into a gravity box on its way to the blue Harvestore silo.

Tom McNally wasn't there, but his neighbors were.

McNally, 76, died Monday at home with corn still standing in his fields.

As farmers have done before, a group of them came together to get the corn out as a favor to the family.

And as farmers are farmers, they don't like to talk about it much.

“It's just neighbors help neighbors,” said Tom Reed, one of the locals who showed up to help.

And that's about all you were going to get.

Other neighbors helping included Harold Hanuska, Doug Goodger and Chris Boston. The Pioneer Seed salesman brought lunch for the guys.

“Once we get going, it won't take long,” Hanuska said. “We're harvesting high-moisture corn to go into the Harvestore.”

High-moisture corn is used to feed cattle. The longer the corn stays in the field, the drier it gets.

The corn will be used for the McNally's dairy operation. Along with the cows, the McNally's also have about 500 acres of corn and soybeans, said Tom's son Jeff.

The McNally farm has been in the family for more than 100 years. With the exception of his Army service and a stay at UW-Madison for the ag short course, Tom McNally farmed his whole life.

The earliest mentions of Tom McNally in The Gazette's archives are from the 1950s. He's listed as vice-president of the Harmony 4-H Club. He took home a blue ribbon for a heifer and was named one of the top dairy judges at the fair competition. 

He and his father, William McNally, had crops and award-winning herds.

In 1979, they were honored by the Rock County Dairy Herd Improvement Association for having the top herd. Their 61 cows averaged 17,154 pounds of milk, according to a story in The Gazette. Today, that wouldn't be considered a big deal, but at the time it put them at the top of county.

Ten years later, the Tri State Breeders Cooperative honored the father and son for herd productivity.

Sometime in the 1980s, a Gazette photographer caught Tom and his father harvesting corn.

The elder McNally is driving the combine. In another photo, his son is shown leaning against the gravity box, keeping an eye on the transfer of corn. 

In the caption, the local ag agent notes that yields have been good and the corn has been coming in at 23 percent to 24 percent moisture.

Except that farm equipment was much smaller then, the photo could have been taken Tuesday.

Farmers at work on a picture perfect October day.

The red barn in the sun, the ancient oak, the grain on the way to the silo and a community of friends ready to lend a hand.