I was sitting at a table next to a retired farmer after church on a recent Sunday and a comment he made took me back to another time in the early 1980s when I was sitting at a table with three farmers.
I don’t remember the reason why we were meeting, but I remember that conversation as their comments surprised me.
The three farmers lived in the northeast part of my county and since I lived in the southwest, I only knew them from the organizations we had in common where we crossed paths.
As I got to know them, my admiration for them grew because, besides being good farmers, they were solid citizens having interests both on and off the farm.
At that time they were older than me by around 25 years and they represented all that was good about farmers and farming.
To me, they were the two-cylinder John Deere and Farmall 450 generation.
Over the years they had gone from two-row equipment, then four-row, to now using six- and eight-row planters.
Harvesting had changed from a mounted corn picker, harvesting two rows, to combines with four and six row heads.
Tractors with cabs were common and part of the conversation was about the time before cabs.
They recalled fitting their tractors with a Heat Houser, a canvas that draped over the engine compartment that extended back around the tractor seat to protect the driver.
Since it had no roof, only sides, it was more of a windbreak than anything else.
Some of the heat from the engine would work its way back to the operator for slight warmth. Working in the fall, exposed to the cold, they would lean farther down towards the steering wheel to get out of the wind.
But there was a problem that if there was a small exhaust leak, they would be breathing in the exhaust fumes and every now and then, they would stick their head above the Heat Houser for fresh air.
They told me this with big smiles on their faces as cabs were becoming more comfortable all the time and Heat Housers were a distant memory.
These three farmers were nearing retirement age and they all agreed that when they reached 65, they were done farming.
One of them said, “I can’t wait to get out.”
The retired farmer sitting by me at the coffee table after church a week ago, whose son was in charge now, said, “I am glad to be out of it.”
These comments, almost 35 years apart, were from men who had grown up on farms, enjoyed farming, and had the next generation ready to take over.
Why would they be grateful to walk away from such a big part of their lives?
On our farm my son has largely taken over our farm, but I cannot say, “I am glad to be out of it.”
I still have an interest in farming, but my implement is the computer screen.
I watch the grain markets and try to sell when prices are good or more importantly, not sell when they are low.
It’s been more than two years since I last drove a tractor, and my planting and harvesting is limited to our potato garden.
As they were the two-cylinder John Deere generation, I consider myself the John Deere 4020 and 4430 or Farmall 856 and 1066 generation.
We have three 4020s parked in the shed on our farm that are seldom used. They were bought new by my dad and uncles and remain original tractors with faded paint, a few dents and scratches, but ready for work with a boost from a battery charger.
I can see myself in them because while their day is past, they could be put to work with some assistance. Their tires are worn, but not completely bald, just like me.
They don’t have the horsepower of the tractors now in use, but would be dependable for many smaller jobs (just like me).
Perhaps those farmers were ready to leave farming because they, like the Heat Houser, recognized their day had come and gone and there were new faces waiting for their chance – more than ready to assume the day-to-day duties.
The old hands were being replaced with new hands and we all knew the farm was going to be in good hands.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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