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Farm life brings fond memories of family

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GINA R. HEINE
December 18, 2010
— The giant pile of corn that has filled an Evansville parking lot since fall illustrates how agriculture has changed in 50 years.

Years ago, many veteran farmers said, Evansville farmers wouldn't have brought anywhere near the millions of bushels of corn now processed annually at the local co-op.


Back then, farmers were more diversified, raising cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys.


More than a dozen Evansville area farmers gathered Wednesday at the Bank of Evansville to tell stories about being farmers since birth. Nearly 1,000 years of farming experience was represented in the men, who wore nearly every color of flannel.


The event was organized by a committee of farmers and historians, including John Ehle, who has done similar roundtable recordings with military veterans. The recordings are transcribed and available on local historian Ruth Ann Montgomery's website.


"This is all about storytelling," Ehle told the group. "If you don't tell them, they don't get down. If they don't get down, they don't get repeated."


A family

Among the great traditions in farming is the families, said Dave Rhoda, a veterinarian, who noted he worked for the families of almost everyone in the room.


Norm Patterson had wondered what it would be like with a bunch of independent, different-thinking farmers in one room talking shop.


"But in the end, we're all farmers," he said. "We deal with nature everyday, whether it be the weather, cattle, so we have a common bond that way."


Much of the discussion turned to tornadoes and other bad weather, which through the years brought neighbors out to lend a hand.


Some recalled the occasions when the "city cousins" would visit the farm. "Special" chores were saved for them. Think: Mike Rowe on "Dirty Jobs."


Mel Janes recalled how his family farm stretched across the area the group was sitting in. He and his brother had to deal with their mom being able to look out the window at the schoolyard, which was where Piggly Wiggly now stands.


As you get older, you seem to remember past years better than last week, he said.


Stories and names surfaced Wednesday that all the farmers could relate to or remember—such as the milk truck driver who had tire chains on only one side and couldn't make it up the hill 60 winters ago.


Disease

"I don't know where a lot of us would be if it weren't for them," Dave Fellows said of the area veterinarians, including participants Howard Krueger and Dave Rhoda.


In the 1930s, his dad raised pigs, Fellows recalled. A vet call in 1938 determined the pigs had contracted cholera.


"(The vet) said, ‘Earl, you're just going to have to give up hog raising at least for 20 years,'" he said.


That's how long it would take the soil to rid itself of the disease, he said.


"Well, Dad was pretty crushed by it because swine was one of his favorite enterprises."


Others told of disease and destruction that wiped out their animals in a matter of days.


Farm life

Many recalled learning to drive a tractor before they could even reach the clutch.


"I think my oldest son learned to drive tractor when he was 6 or 7," said Robin Patterson, whose sons Robin and Norm also attended.


Others mentioned buying dynamite and fuses at the hardware store to blow up rocks in the field.


Most silos in the area were built from the 1960s to the 1980s, and when someone asked what future uses could be for them, two responded:


"Bulldoze (them.)"


"Landfill."


Most are structurally unsound, someone noted, though Al Francis said he still uses his for silage.


Mel Shotliff recalled how his family ate breakfast, dinner and supper together every day. Tractors had lights on them, but they never worked at night. And every Sunday families went to church.


Today, it seems like everyone's grabbing a snack and working into the night.


The humor

Standup comedy was common on farms—"that's how you survive it."


One side of town was more Norwegian, while the other side more Swiss. When Rhoda visited farms, he'd hear the same jokes—"one side it was a Norwegian story, and the other side it was a Swiss story," he said to laughter.


Norm Patterson summed up many of the fond memories.


"It was great growing up on a farm. I can't think of a better way to grow up."



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