Ends his 63rd harvest
MILFORD – Bud Welle sat at his kitchen table and watched as October snowflakes settled around his farm on a dreary, overcast day.
He had just finished his 63rd harvest the day before, and with it, many memories of a lifetime of farming west of Milford.
“We got married on Dec. 31, 1949, and we started farming this place in 1950,” he said. “I remember that we paid $400 an acre in the mid-1950s. I wish we would have (purchased) more land, but it was risky enough sticking our necks out as far as we did.”
Welle, 83, said he started farming with his father, Lester Welle, who lived across the road.
“I’ve always enjoyed machinery,” Welle said. “I remember Dad and I putting his first corn planter together-it was a brand-new two-row horse planter.
“All we had to do was put the tongue on it.”
During fall, Welle said, his parents picked corn by hand, filling about two flare box wagons – or about 200 bushels -per day. Welle said he picked after school so his mother could prepare supper and care for other children. He was the oldest of 11 Welle children, growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.
“Dad and Mom would pick all that corn by hand,” Welle said, “and then Dad would scoop it all into the crib.
“When I went out to help pick, Dad took two rows and I took one. I soon learned to either get ahead of him or behind him because I only was hit once or twice by ears of corn (thrown and on their way into the wagon) before I learned where I had to be.”
One of his favorite jobs as a child was being water boy when his father and neighbors threshed oats. He said he was too young to do “the real work,” but enjoyed being around the activities and eating the large meals prepared by the farm women.
Welle said his childhood memories including going to horse sales, his uncles rushing to finish corn harvest with their new mechanical picker and soybeans when they came to Iowa farms.
“The first soybeans were cut with a grain binder,” Welle said, “and the whole plant was ground and fed to cattle.
“My dad and his brother got a Huber pull-type combine in the early 1940s.”
Welle and his father purchased a four-row planter in the 1950s.
Eventually, Welle and his brother, Jerry, began farming together, sharing machinery and expenses. They bought an 870 Case-the first tractor to have a factory-installed, fairly modern cab.
He recalls purchasing a two-row, rear-mount cultivator, and his father’s purchase of a tractor during World War II – a Ford Ferguson with steel wheels -that required a government permit before buying the tratctor. It cost $900.
“He had to get another permit just to get rubber tires for it a couple of years later,” Welle said.
He said during World War II, farmers were lucky to get $1 per bushel for corn.
“It was a pretty good price back then,” Welle said. “My grandfather became a DeKalb hybrid seed corn dealer, and it would have been interesting to see how much he sold a bag of seed corn for back then-probably $8 or $10 per bag, I suppose.”
When he first began farming, Welle said he was lucky to get 100 bushels of corn per acre.
“Grandpa and my dad had open-pollinated corn, and I know that when hybrid corn came out, people would burn corn stalks because the old machinery couldn’t handle them,” Welle said. “If we were raising the same seed as we did even 10 years ago, we would have had a catastrophe these last two years.”
Welle had a few hogs and some cattle, along with one milk cow. He spent $60,000 to expand his hog operation and built a new home before the 1980s hit, with record high interest rates.
“We weathered it,” he said. “We had too much invested in it to (walk away from it),” he said, remembering that his grandfather lost his farm and new house during the Great Depression. “Dad didn’t have it easy, either, and Jerry and I just stayed at it-that’s all.”
Today, Welle drives tractors in the spring and fall, but loves to run the combine. It’s becoming more difficult for him to do that, he said, since the combination of aging and a battle with prostate cancer has left him a little weaker.
“When I drive the combine, I forget how I feel,” he said.
When he thinks about farming methods today-compared to the time when he was busy with it-he said he can’t believe the difference that technology has made.
“We cultivated and put up hay the old-fashioned way and cared for our livestock (with a lot of elbow grease). Now we put the crop in and spray it, and we’re done with it until it’s time to come in with the combines. Today, you don’t even see a moldboard plow.”
He said he thinks agriculture changed the most when threshing machines went out and combines came in.
“The first change happened when tractors came in, but things really changed when combines came in,” he said. “And now we have big round balers, and we pick up bales with loaders. It’s a different ball game for sure.”
Welle-whose given name is Elvin LeRoy – said he sometimes misses the work he’s done all his life. But neighboring is something he misses the most.
“People took time for themselves and their neighbors then. When the horses would get tired they would need to rest, and farmers would go over to the fence and visit with their neighbors then. You would see that all the time,” he said.
Looking back, Welle said he was blessed to live off of the land all of his life.
“I got to do what I enjoyed doing in spite of the tough times,” he said. “I could be my own boss and if I made a mistake, there was no one to blame but myself. It’s been a good life.”
The Welles have three sons-Don, who lives in Denver, Colo., and Dick and Jack, both of Milford. They have eight grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren.
Welle said he has enjoyed watching his children and grandchildren grow up, and-even with his health issues – considers himself one of the lucky ones.
And each harvest season he can’t help but feel the excitement all over again.
“Every year I think we need to hurry up and get the crop in,” Welle said, ” but each time I go down the last pass of the last field, l still wish we had another 100 acres to combine.”
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page