Thursday, November 12, 2009


During the late 1990's, while living at my in-law's farm, I had many occasions to observe my father-in-law, Marvin Richter, toil for hours, even in his advancing years. He would arrive from town (he and the family had moved to O'Neill in the 1960's, but they kept the farm) early in the morning to disc, plant, combine, work cattle, fix machinery, cut musk thistle, fix fence, bale hay, or any other chore that was necessary to keep the farm running and producing. After sliding out of his Ford Bronco, he'd step into the house to say a "Howdy-do" and briefly discuss what he had planned for the day. I would top off his coffee (he had a McDonald's breakfast McMuffin on the front seat of his car), and after a bit of mild arguing with my husband (the really loud stuff came later), he'd be out the door and off to the task at hand.

Marvin purchased a secondhand combine, which had been manufactured in the 1940's, from a farmer in Ewing, Nebraska. I'll never forget the day I saw it come lumbering up the drive...going full bore at around 3 miles an hour...he claimed he had put the pedal to the metal and it had topped out at a breezy 13 MPH on the highway from Ewing to the farm. I was positive that it wouldn't make it half way through the next harvest. I was wrong.

This particular morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see him driving up the lane in his light blue, Chevy 'LUV' pick-up, the bed loaded with plastic trash cans and lids, stacked within each other. (Husband and I always enjoyed shouting, "Don't take your LUV to town!") Now, Marvin is a spontaneous sort of fellow...he'll come up with an idea and be ready to jump right on it, so I just settled back and thought I'd see what he was up to this day. I think, amongst others, one of his slogans should be, 'Where there's a will, there's a way...' and this morning, despite his storage and equipment limitations, Marvin was going to fan some alfalfa seed---130 acres of it--give or take an acre or two.

That fall, he had let his alfalfa crop go to seed, wind rowed it, and then combined the seed. He purchased an old fanning mill---from an even older friend---and was determined to separate the 'seed from the chaff'. Various weed seeds needed to be removed; sand drop seed, foxtail, sunflower, and a bit of brome grass. This fanning mill had originated from between the 1920's to the 1930's, and Marvin had to craft and replace a few pieces so the mill would operate. This would not be a difficult task, as he has not only been a farmer in his life, but also an excellent carpenter.

He set up shop in the 'garage', which had been built in the early 1900's by his father as the original home. It was "the first house on the place". The 'place' had been homesteaded during the Kincaid Act when Marvin's forebears had arrived from Germany in search of 'greener pastures'. Marvin's older half-sister, Thelma, who died in 2004 at the age of 100, had lived in this house with Ernest her father, and her mother Addie, Ernest's first wife. Addie later died after childbirth, and Ernest then married Barbara, Marvin's mother. After building the present house on the property, this building was converted into a two-car garage for the family's Ford Model T car.

Now, I don't pretend to understand how machinery works, and especially this particular expertise was in taking the photos and visiting with Marvin at the same time... However, it appeared to me that he would dump the alfalfa 'horns' (and other weed seed) in the top of the mill, a belt would turn a wheel which in turn, moved or shook a tray, which I believe had a screen on the bottom, that somehow separated the alfalfa seed from the chaff. Please excuse my use of technical jargon.

The chaff would fly out of the chute and onto the ground, leaving the finished product---the minute alfalfa seed--ready to go back into the plastic trash cans for storage. This clean seed, of course, was sold for an enormous profit...

"And then the cow says to the farmer..." (some light bantering while working...)

Marvin labored for two days until his project was completed, only stopping for a bite of lunch on our screened-in porch and a bit of a snooze (while sitting in a chair) afterwards. Then, as the afternoon turned to evening, and as Marvin's strength and energy played out, I would see him slowly walk to his pick-up and drive away into the sunset.
Marvin turned 86 years old this past October. He is the father of 6 children, 13 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and 3 more on the way---if my figures are correct. He's a West Nile Virus survivor, 'Energizer Bunny', wonderful Father-in-law, and his current hobby is wine making. He still does some occasional farming and within the past couple of days, he assisted in moving cattle out of his pastures. With deer hunting season upon us, he'll most likely be out to get a deer also.
Photo credit, top photo of combine: Maria Rath 2007

1 comment:

  1. My Dad's name, Marvin, meand Seaman's Friend. He truly is. Dad makes friend's easily. Dad is guileless and honest. He keeps very short accounts. He wnats to pay people before they are done.

    Mom and Dad always had an open door and a warm greeting and an invitation to eat a meal or whatever else was on hand to whoever stopped by.

    To us kids, they were always a sounding-board, listening carefully to whaterver we were excited or concerned about or going to do next. They were great encouragers.

    Dad loves to fish and goes whenever he can find a 'first mate'. Remember, he is a seaman's friend, he likes water, and the tug of a walleye with 'shoulders' on the line. He's hoisted in many a catfish out of the Niobrara and imparted the love of outdoors to all his children and grand children and now great grandchildren.

    God has blessed him with 86 years and all of us with him. Thank you Jesus for - - - Dad!


Let us know what you think...