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How grandpa farmed

By Staff | Oct 28, 2011

Ed Courter, right, leads his band of antique tractor/plowing enthusiasts Sunday afternoon. In two hours, the seven machines turned over seven acres of CRP ground on his farm.

JOLLEY – It took seven antique tractors, driven by a dozen operators, pulling 20 plowshares, two hours to turned over seven acres of ground coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program.

With their own harvesting chores well ahead of schedule, a handful of antique tractor enthusiasts gathered Sunday afternoon for an impromptu plowing bee on the Jolley-area farm of Ed Courter.

“We just decided to do this the other day,” Courter said. His ground, coming out of the CRP program this year, lies along both edges of an east-west running county drainage ditch.

Those participating brought vintage John Deere and Massey-Ferguson tractors, all but one pulling a three-bottom plow.

A hay wagon transported family members and others interested in watching how field work was accomplished in an era when a big farmer operated a half-section at a time.

Landon, DeMoss, 5, of Jolley, got in on the fun with his toy John Deere tractor and a four-bottom plow, as the big boys and the big machines have turned soil over in the background.

“I grew up on a farm,” said the 52-year-old farmer, “and we always used plows when we were younger. Nobody does that anymore.”

As he was planning on cropping his CRP acres, Courter said, “I decided to have a little fun.” He called a few of his neighbors and pieced together the small plow exhibition.

In two hours, the targeted acres were turned over, with operators taking a short break for refreshments midway in the process.

Bill Courter, 57, of Jolley, Ed Courter’s older brother, noted the seven machines made relatively short work of the project.

Back in the day, he said, “you would plow three weeks on a 10-acre field.” Courter said he and his brother farmed for 32 years with their father, Donald Courter, who died earlier this year.

He remembers that handling plowing chores, one would work “for four to five hours and just have a small strip finished.”

When he was 8, Courter said he recalls the day he accompanied his mother to take lunch to his father planting in the same field that Sunday’s plowing was being done.

Watching as Ed Courter’s John Deere 730 passed by, followed by Randy Nehman, of Fonda, on a John Deere 70, and by Noel Nehman, of Jolley, on a Farmall M, Bill Courter continued his story of taking lunch to his father.

“He told me, ‘there it is go.’ And that’s how I learned to plant. Of course he was right there” keeping a close eye on his son’s maiden planting venture.

“It was a privilege farming with my dad. Of course, I loved the farming because I didn’t have to do the maintenance and I didn’t have to pay the bills – just run the equipment and do chores.

Tractor operators take their machines across a harvested soybean field Sunday where they will commence to plowing mellow grass acres that will be coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program soon. The plowing bee was a last-minute project of Ed Courter, of rural Jolley.

“Farming is a wonderful way of life, even though it’s a big business now. I mean, it was a business then, too, but now “

Rolling up behind an idled tractor, Noel Nehman, 72, hopped down from his seat and popped open a can of cold beer. He said his early plowing experiences were with hydraulic plows.

“It just gets into your blood,” Nehman said. “I’ve bought and restored many old plows. At one point, I had 60. I have about 30 now.

“Every plow has a story.” On this day, he was using a two-bottom Cockshutt he bought in Albert Lea, Minn.

Making short work of the grassy land along the south edge of the drainage ditch, the operators rumbled across a bridge as old as any tractor out there and proceeded to turn the soil on the north edge.

Across the field, in the next section, a modern New Holland tractor was pulling tillage equipment getting as much done in a single as the seven tractors did in the two-hour span.

It was a telling moment. In just two generations of farming, how the technology and size of equipment matches the growing size of 21st century farms.

Watching the operators laboring under the autumn sun, and comparing the modern tractor off in the distance with its air conditioned cab and array of computerized gizmos agriculture has come a long way.

“It’s good though that guys can be in the cab now,” Bill Courter noted. “So many of the old guys are battling skin cancer now” because they were exposed to the sun for long periods.

“Dad never let us take our shirts off out here,” he said. “And now I’m glad he did.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453 or kersh@farm-news.com.

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Tractor operators take their machines across a harvested soybean field Sunday where they will commence to plowing mellow grass acres that will be coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program soon. The plowing bee was a last-minute project of Ed Courter, of rural Jolley.

How grandpa farmed

By Staff | Oct 28, 2011

Paul Schaeffer, of Colo, said he enjoyed running a mounted, two-row corn picker on Saturday, at a unique harvest event at Don Struthers’ farm, north of Collins.



Farm News staff writer

COLLINS – In the 1950s and 1960s, every good Iowa farmer had a few basic implements to get the work done, including a plow and a mounted corn picker.

By the 1970s, however, the rise of self-propelled, modern combines left countless corn pickers stranded in groves, behind the barn or in junk piles at the salvage yard.

These two mounted pickers worked Don Struthers’ 15 acres of corn planted specificlly for an oldtime picking bee with his friends.

For the operational rigs that are left, however, Don Struthers, of Collins, wanted to give these workhorses one more chance to bring in the harvest.

“I think it’s important to preserve our history,”?Struthers said, “but what do you do with this equipment?

“You can’t take a mounted picker on a tractor ride, so I decided to harvest some corn with mine.”

Struthers, who remembers his family using an International 2MH picker on an Farmall M, as well as a John Deere 234 mounted on a John Deere 720 tractor, had plenty of pickers in his personal collection to choose from.

He has at least 13 mounted corn pickers that are operational, along with four or five others that he keeps for spare parts.

Freshly picked ears of corn were hauled to this sheller set up in the field of Loren Book, a Minneapolis-Moline collector, from Nevada.

He planted 15 acres of corn this spring in 38-inch rows, anticipating a day this fall when he could gather his friends and neighbors for a corn picking get-together, complete with John Deere 227 and 237 pickers, two New Idea 319s, an Oliver Model 4 picker and International 2MH and 234 pickers.

That day came on Oct. 22, when friends and neighbors helped run the pickers at Struthers’ farm and brought small wagons to haul freshly picked ears of corn to a sheller set up in the field by Loren Book, a Minneapolis-Moline farm equipment collector from Nevada.

The shelled corn could then be delivered to the elevator or fed to livestock, said Struthers, who noted that he and his wife, Sharon, planned to serve lunch for 50 people.

“I applaud Don and anyone else who holds an event like this,” said Mike Kalsem, who farms near Huxley, and ran an Oliver corn picker during the harvest party.

“Looking at vintage farm equipment on display is one thing, but to see it in action is so much better, because that’s what this equipment was built for.”

Freshly picked ears of corn were hauled to this sheller set up in the field of Loren Book, a Minneapolis-Moline collector, from Nevada.

Youthful dreams

While Struthers doesn’t recall exactly when he started collecting mounted corn pickers, he joked that his family is ready for him to find a stopping point.

Still, he said, it’s hard for him to turn down the opportunity to acquire unique pieces, like a rare Massey Ferguson picker in Kansas that he purchased for $400. “My brother Chuck is an auction junkie, so I come across pickers that way, too,” said Struthers, who has farmed full time since 1962. “I collect the stuff I was thinking about as a kid when I was sitting in English class.”

Most of the time, Struthers gets his corn pickers for one bid over the junk price, and sometimes he acquires a picker for free from someone who’d rather give it away than haul it away. The biggest challenge is finding parts for the old equipment, said Struthers, who added that it was no small task to get all the tractors and pickers ready for his harvest event this fall.

“I used 10 gallons of oil just to lubricate the chains on the pickers,” said Struthers, who can recall how it would take all day for a farmer to get a tractor ready when it was time to put on a mounted corn picker. Any engine work on the tractor, including an oil change, would have to be done before the picker was mounted. Also, the tires had to be set as wide as possible to accommodate the picker. In addition, screens had to be installed along the sides of the tractor to keep corn husks and trash out of the engine.

If the picker didn’t include its own mounting frame, a separate mounting frame would have to be installed on the tractor before the picker could be positioned. “It’s a lot easier to do all this today than it was years ago, because we’ve got hydraulic jacks and impact wrenches now,” said Struthers, who can recall what a dirty job corn picking could be, since trash and dust would often blow around the tractor driver.

Traces of the past are reflected in the present

While the technology in the corn pickers from the 1950s and 1960s may seem primitive by today’s standards, traces of harvest innovations from this era have been incorporated into modern combines. “Some of the old pickers, like the Allis Chalmers, had stripper plates like we see on combines today,” Struthers said.

While Struthers and his friends have no desire to go back to farming with corn pickers, it’s fun to reminisce for a day. “Farming was a lot of hard work in the old days, but I was smiling all the up and down the row as I picked corn today,” said Paul Schaeffer of Colo.

The corn picking event also offered a unique learning experience for the younger generation, including Struthers’ grandchildren, who sparked his interest in preserving a piece of Iowa’s ag heritage. “I always wanted to give my family the opportunity to farm,” said Struthers, whose sons, Dave and Dan, and daughter, Deb, all farm in central Iowa. “I also want to leave a legacy for my grandchildren, and the corn pickers are part of this.”

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