A guy I know is about to celebrate his 95th birthday on July 7. That is impressive enough. But, this wheat farmer is still on the home place, doing what he loves as another harvest has wrapped up. I know this gentleman well. He is my father-in-law, Norman Schroeder, and he has lived on the same farmstead continuously since 1955. In 2009, his home place was recognized as a Farm Bureau Century farm, having been in the same family for more than 100 years.
In addition to raising grain, Norman dabbled in a few jobs during the early years to supplement the harvest income. At the slower times on the farm during the late 1940s and early 1950s, he worked as a truck driver and construction laborer. He helped build the Canton and Lehigh grain elevators. The family raised chickens early on and cattle and pigs later. But, grain has always been the bread and butter for the Schroeders. His first harvest, he estimates, was at least 80 years ago, when he was a mere teenager.
Just as some people can recall all the cars and trucks they have purchased throughout their lives, Norman can list all the tractors he has bought. He has always been a master at getting the most from each piece of machinery he has obtained, even if it is not the flashiest or newest model. He farmed with equipment shared with his father for a few years before purchasing a 1951 D Allis with a narrow front end. That was followed by a WD Allis with a wide front end. In 1960, he traded the WD for a 1960 D17 Allis, a tractor he was still using into the 2000s.
The first of a number of John Deere tractors was a 720 that ran on propane. This was followed by a 4010, which also burned propane, and, some years later, a 4020 diesel John Deere. A 4030 purchase followed in 1978. Norman bought a friend’s 3020 in 1973. He still uses that tractor. The latest addition to the fleet is a 4755 front assist John Deere, bought in the late 1990s. He has been a master at getting the most
Though Norman’s harvest days began with rows of shocks threshed by steam tractors, the first “modern” combine used on the family farm was a 1944 International with a six-foot header, followed a few years later by a 1947 Gleaner with a 12-foot header. They were pulled behind a tractor. The Schroeders purchased their first self-propelled combine in 1960, a Model A Allis. It had a 14-foot header. The cutting width continued to increase until the purchase of a Gleaner L2 with a 24-foot header, and his current machine, a Gleaner R62 combine with a 25-foot header.
There is no way of knowing how many more harvests are in Norman Schroeder’s future. He is well beyond the typical retirement age for most people, including a majority of farmers. For him, raising wheat is more than a job or vocation; it is a way of life. He gets excited when it is time to plant in the fall, and he frets over every stage of the plants’ growth. When June comes around, he readies the harvesting equipment. He watches the calendar like a schoolboy, and his anticipation is palpable.
I have held steady jobs that bring regular paychecks all my life. But, farming is a gamble as big as anything in Las Vegas or on Wall Street. A paycheck can grow and shrink by the day, even by the hour. I once asked Norman how he knows when it is time to sell his grain. His answer: “Whenever I need money.”
I marvel at my father-in-law’s ability to ride the ups and downs of the career he has chosen. He has persevered through many hard times, and not just swings in the economy. There have been hailstorms, droughts, floods, late-spring freezes, family tragedies. He recently said that even through the challenges, including personal health issues over the years, he feels very blessed to have been able to stay on the farm all this time.
Most people retire in their 60s so they can do the things they have always wanted to do. For Norman Schroeder, there is no reason to retire. He is already doing just that.
So, happy 95th birthday to a farmer who is truly outstanding in his field.