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By Staff | May 25, 2012

One spring, back when I was a little kid, the gear box went to heck on Dad’s John Deere corn planter.

Time was of the essence. Nothing ever breaks down until you really, really need it.

We removed the gear box and hustled it over to our local John Deere dealership where a quiet and patient mechanic tore open the offending mechanism and quickly restored it to working order.

Dad is gone now, the old corn planter sits moldering in the grove and the John Deere dealership has changed hands a couple of times. But that quiet and patient mechanic is still there, still working on corn planters and other machinery in the shop of what is now Schuneman Equipment.

In fact, Leland Reppe recently marked 50 years at that job. This is a remarkable feat, so I chatted with Leland – most folks simply call him Reppe – to learn how it all came about.

“I started working at the Eugene Beckman and Sons dealership when I was 21,” Reppe said. “I had just gotten married and needed to find a way to make a living.”

Reppe and his wife, Adelpha, have been married 51 years and live on the farm where Reppe grew up.

“I guess you could say I never got out of Bruce,” he said with a wry grin.

“I didn’t have any mechanical training other than what you would get from growing up on the farm,” he continued. “My previous work experience had been working for neighborhood farmers, throwing hay bales and such.”

I asked Reppe what things were like at the dealership back in 1962.

“The 3010s and 4010s had just come out,” he said. “So a lot of people were still driving As and Bs. If you were a big farmer, you might have a 730.

“When I first began, they had me installing hydraulic lift kits on equipment. Using a hydraulic cylinder to raise equipment was seen as quite a big advance.

“You no longer had to pull a rope or reach back and yank a lever. Nobody had a cab back then so you could still do that sort of thing.”

What sort of changes in equipment have you seen over the past half century?

“When I began, a four-row wide planter was considered state of the art and a lot of people were still using two-row planters. So I guess you could say I’ve seen planters go from two rows back then to as many as 48 rows today.

“We’ve gone from eight-foot-wide field cultivators to 60-footers now. And nobody here is called a mechanic anymore. We’re all technicians.”

I asked Reppe if any extraordinary events stood out in his long career.

“One unusual thing would be taking the truck to Sioux Falls to pick up a new 4230 tractor that was inside of a cardboard box. They were about to introduce the new Sound Guard cab and wanted to keep it a secret until the official rollout.”

But how do you drive a tractor that’s inside a cardboard box?

“Very carefully. They had cut a peephole in the cardboard so you could see out.”

Seems like everything is computerized nowadays. How has that affected your job?

“I don’t work on the computer stuff. I mostly do what I’ve always done, which is to set up new machinery.

“Our grandson, Brian, 22, works here now and he’s a real whiz with computers. It’s nice that Brian and I get to work side by side.

“I can’t lift as much as I used to, but maybe that’s because the equipment is getting bigger. Or it could be that I’m just getting older.”

Did you ever imagine you would still be working at the same job after all these years?

“Nope. But I could never have imagined that we would be pulling an entire granary through the field.”

Reppe and I had paused to contemplate a colossal 1,200-bushel grain cart, its auger the size of a drainage culvert.

Reppe shook his head.

“When I started, it was a big deal to get a power hoist installed under a grain wagon that held maybe 100 bushels. Things have really changed.”

But not all things. As we chatted, a farmer approached Reppe to discuss some issues he’d been having with his corn planter. It quickly became clear that Reppe is regarded as a deep reservoir of knowledge and a highly-valued resource.

“It’s great to be working with the third and maybe even the fourth generation of farm families,” said Reppe. “There aren’t many lines of work where you get to do that.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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