The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Farm Days

by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner

21 March 2007

It doesn't seem that long ago my father-in-law (the late Wayne Rodeffer of La Harpe) and my husband Michael had a farm auction so my father-in-law could retire. It was March of 1996. I am reprinting my editorial about the day to show how much farming means to those who do it.

Closing Down The Farm

I never gave it much thought when we printed the family farm auction sales in our newspapers. My grandmother was so excited when they sold their farm and she and grandpa were able to move to town. She told me that she never did miss the work there, and she loved being close to so many neighbors and the stores in town.

As farmers decide to call it quits, auction bills are published in the newspaper and hung at the local restaurants, and it just seemed to me it was an easy decision. To stop the day-to-day chores and put away the undependable market reports for an easier life of grandchildren, vacationing, and doing things you always talked about doing seemed like it would be an exciting time. This past week I realized it was not quite that easy.

We were all tired, but none of the family slept well Wednesday night. You see, I was noticing the restless nights and very early morning risings of my husband and of my father-in-law, and Thursday morning was the day of my in-laws' farm auction.

My father-in-law pointed out to me it was a life-time of work and gathering things to run the farm which were all being sold. He and my husband were third and fourth generation farmers on the 331 acres on some of Hancock County's richest farmland between Dallas City and La Harpe.

My husband arose at 3:00 a.m. and within an hour had left for the farm. I was leaving mid-morning to take some pictures. Since my son was fifth generation, I felt he should go to see this historic event in the Rodeffer family.

As we headed down the Disco blacktop, we took a more detailed look at the sights along the familiar drive to the farm. How often you take for granted the fun of the hills that been flattened on more modern roads, the big farm yards of the friends and neighbors who live along the way and their friendly wave of "hello" as you passed by their homesteads.

I knew it was going to be an especially hard day for "Grandpa" who had sorted through farm tools, machinery, odds and ends he had gathered and used throughout his life, and possibly some of his father's and grandfather's life as well. Some may have seemed of little value in dollars, but they were memories of a farm era he held most dear.

As we approached the farm it was nearing 10:00, auction time. Soon we gained sight of our favorite gathering place for the Rodeffer clan. It was overwhelming to see the long 900-foot farm lane lined with trucks and cars spilling out into the roadway and beginning to line up by rows in the fields. The day everything would be sold was here.

As we got out of our car, the auction began and the many items on hayracks were quickly being sold by the efficient crew of Sullivan Auctioneers.

My son and I stepped into the old farmhouse kitchen which had produced so many mouth-watering meals to hungry farmers, family members, and drop-ins who knew where the best meals were made.

Grandma and Grandpa, overwhelmed with the beginning sounds of the auctioneer's cries for bids and shouts of "sold", remained inside the farmhouse. Grandpa watched teary-eyed through the windows, but within the hour put on his coat and slowly forced himself to the hayracks. Mike Sullivan stopped auctioning to introduce him as owner and one to ask questions of if anyone needed information.

The Sullivans, known for their efficient sales, quickly moved one thing after another. Bidders had to be quick if they wanted to buy. Top-bidders claimed their items and went to the cashier to pay their fees.

Sullivan stopped to inquire of "Bud", "How does this chain saw work?" "It starts hard," he shouted back. Then the bidding continued. "Sold for fifty dollars" was the final cry.

As they moved through the hayracks and the tools, they were ready to sell cattle at noon. Early afternoon, the final items were the two long rows of machinery, wagons, and tires.

As my father-in-law stood staring at the huge grouping of equipment, I told him, I didn't know he had so much equipment. "It took a life-time to get," was his somber reply.

I realized farm sales are probably never easy for dedicated farmers. That dirt under their fingernails, those rough hands, tough darkened skin from daily working outdoors makes each item worth more than anyone could afford to pay. Letting it go at ANY price is no easy matter.

As the crowd disperses, the final few buyers load their wares, and the cornpicker chugs down the lane for its final farewell. There's an emptiness deep in the gut of each one's stomach. And as the paper work is done and dusk sets in, there's a tear in our eyes as we look around the farm and see most everything gone but the familiar and beautiful sunset.

I'm sure Grandpa must remember how wonderful it is at dusk to be riding the tractor with plow behind, turning over the rich black soil, and as the evening cools, the colorful sunset dances in the sky ahead to show God's spectacular backdrop across the flat rows of plowed field.

I'm sure the weather-beaten shed and old pump, the windmill and outline of the barns against the darkening sky is a memory that etched in each one's minds. We share with them memories of the large garden spot that held so many strawberry beds, the yard where we sat together and shucked sweet corn, enough to give away..the back yard where whiffle ball was played, and many hamburgers were cooked as the cousins played and the dog sat on top his doghouse longing to join us.

All these memories come back as we look across the sigh of the soon-to-be demolished farmstead. By this time next year, it most likely all will be grown up in corn or soybeans as the new owners clear buildings to plant more crops.

The future of having easier days and a better home in town can not be of any comfort now, until you fully say good-bye to the hard but good life on the farm.

Farming was good for these generations because of working independently yet alongside family and good neighbors. It was good because there was always food on the tables, and it was good because farmers share a concern for each other's plight in life.

It's valued as an honest living and one's values are its sign of success. Values like..working hard, supporting the family, paying the bills, serving the school board, paying taxes, and voting at elections. Most farmers would rather stay hone and have the family over for a cook-out than be wined and dined at the fanciest restaurant.

But, there's a time when its' time to end.. time to close down the farm. It may mean a move to town where the baseball diamonds are busy, traffic is constant, neighbors are closer, but I've learned it can never be easy to retire from a lifelong love of farming.