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Published January 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Better late than never

Retired Davenport farmer recalls January 1958 harvest
Dallas Lebus harvested a lot of wheat before he retired from farming. But the harvest he remembers best – or at least the one the former Davenport, N.D., farmer enjoys recalling the most – is combining a field of wheat in January 1958.

By: Jon Knutson, INFORUM

Dallas Lebus harvested a lot of wheat before he retired from farming.

But the harvest he remembers best – or at least the one the former Davenport, N.D., farmer enjoys recalling the most – is combining a field of wheat in January 1958.

“That was really something,” said Lebus, who now lives in Fargo with his wife, Barbara.

The event was sufficiently unusual that a photograph of Lebus harvesting the wheat field ran in the Jan. 12, 1958, edition of The Forum.

The photo, taken by a Forum photographer, showed Lebus sitting on a combine in a wheat field near Davenport on Jan. 8, 1958.

The caption on the photo noted that Lebus “cranked up his combine and finished combining 56 acres of wheat that had been on the ground for five months.”

The Forum no longer has a copy of the photo.

Wheat in this area normally is harvested in late summer or early fall.

But fall 1957 was exceptionally wet, and the harvest was repeatedly delayed.

Lebus eventually harvested all of his wheat except for the 56 acres of low, particularly wet ground.

Lebus rented the land on shares, meaning he and the landowner each received part of the crop.

The landowner gave up hope that the field would be harvested, said Lebus, 82, who retired from farming in 1989 because of back problems.

But Lebus decided in early 1958 to try harvesting the field.

“The ground was frozen and there wasn’t any snow, so I thought there was a chance we could get it,” he said.

His hopes were bolstered by unusually warm weather in early January, with temperatures regularly rising into the 30s.

Fargo reached a high of 48 degrees on Jan. 8, 1958.

Lebus phoned several area grain elevators and asked whether they’d buy the grain he hoped to harvest.

Most of the elevators had little interest because they assumed the wheat would be of very poor quality.

But he found a buyer and went to the field with his combine.

The results were unexpectedly good.

Some of the wheat was frozen to the ground and couldn’t be picked up by the combine.

Even so, the field yielded about 20 bushels per acre, down from the 30 to 35 bushels per acre that Lebus expected five months earlier.

About 8 percent of the grain was sprouted.

Barbara Lebus remembers mentioning to a Forum staff member that Dallas hoped to harvest the field, but she and her husband are hazy on some details of The Forum photo and short write-up from 51 years ago.

The couple contacted The Forum early this year because wet conditions last fall prevented some area corn fields from being harvested.

“This past fall reminded us of the fall of 1957,” Barbara said.

The difference is, fields this winter are choked with snow, she said.

“We see those corn fields that haven’t been harvested, and we just feel bad for the farmers,” she said.

Inforum searchword: Agriculture


Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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