Ag Blogs -
Thursday, 12 May 2011 07:46
By Richard Shank
A spring trip to the old home place in Saline County near Salina confirmed that the 111-year-old farmstead has survived another winter.
Four decades after leaving home, it seemed that much had changed in the old neighborhood but a few things remained constant, including wind gusts of as much as 50 mph and a bumper crop of dandelions.
Along the 600-foot driveway leading to the farmstead, a badger had burrowed a deep and gaping hole where he had taken up residence, something not uncommon from my memories growing up here. Walnuts remained on the ground around two century-old walnut trees at the end of the driveway so the squirrels must have more than enough to get them through the winter.
Three of the five antique tractors started without hesitation, including the '49 Oliver 99, which was new on the Shank farm 61 years ago, in 1950. One of the two holdouts, a 1943 Farmall H had succumbed to problems associated with the implement's electric starter and the old '47 John Deere B just wouldn't start for unknown reasons.
Even the old '52 Ford pickup was a quick start and a drive up the road showed that it still smoked and banged much as it did when I was a young wheat hauler during the 1960s.
I still marvel at the barn on the Shank farm, now 92 years old with its hayloft still intact. Even with a couple of sags, the structure is far above average for a barn these days. As the farthest northerly building on the farmstead, it has seen its share of north winds for more than nine decades.
A drive around the neighborhood confirmed that many other barns are either flat on the ground or soon will be. I have always admired the Iowa farmers who have painstakingly preserved their barns.
The closest town to the farm is Niles, which, 50 years ago, was a bustling center of commerce with a grocery store, two churches and a pair of grain elevators. These days, little remains and the only business that I spotted was an automotive repair shop that also markets chain saws and lawn mowers. For the past 40 years, it has been a great spot to catch up on the goings on in the community.
New Cambria, a tiny berg to the south, has suffered a similar fate; although, the city has retained its post office and grain elevator.
A pair of spring showers has produced sprawling fields of green wheat that has the makings of a bumper crop but the locals know well how Mother Nature can, at the last minute, intervene to produce a different result.
Planting a garden was an annual event on the Shank farm and seemed like a laborious task but the end result of fresh vegetables was worth the effort. I remember crawling down a plow furrow sticking the potato seedlings into the ground and dropping a handful of cucumber seeds into the soil. My dad was a master gardener with a green thumb. He was hard to please, as he always felt that there was only one way to plant garden - his way.
During the late summer months, it was not uncommon to eat three meals every day as a result of food produced on the farm, including everything from fried chicken to potatoes. For dessert, one could pick from watermelons and cantaloupes.
And it should come as no surprise that coyotes liked watermelon too and raided the patches late at night. To combat the problem, Dad tied pots and pans to steel posts, and thanks to gusts of wind, the banging and clanging scared off the animal thieves.
Forty-five years later, it was almost fun to plant a trio of 100-foot rows of potatoes along with an assortment of vegetables. Stay tuned to see what all of this produces by Aug. 1.
The farmers seem to have a smile on their faces this spring as grain and livestock prices soar to near record levels.
Ten miles to the northwest of the farm in Bennington, the farmers lined up their pickups side by side at the small eatery for an early morning breakfast to plan the day and exchange information. I have long admired the camaraderie between farmers and how much they seem to enjoy each other's company. Some say the family farm is facing extinction, but in Bennington on this fine spring morning, it appeared that at least in these parts, the profession has hope.
While driving down the driveway for the return trip to Hutchinson, I couldn't help but look in the rear-view mirror and admire this farmstead that has seen so much history.
This old farm, like fine wine, seems to be getting better with age.
Richard Shank, who grew up on a farm in north-central Kansas, is the external affairs representative for Promise Regional Medical Center, Hutchinson. Email: