Century Farm: Generations of Wagners connected to Larkin Township farm
ADRIAN -- Four generations of the Wagner family gathered around the kitchen table recently to share the story of a farm that has remained in their family for 103 years. The farm is being recognized this year for reaching a century of continuous f...
ADRIAN - Four generations of the Wagner family gathered around the kitchen table recently to share the story of a farm that has remained in their family for 103 years. The farm is being recognized this year for reaching a century of continuous family ownership.
For the Wagners, keeping the farm in their family for more than 100 years has taken grit, determination and the faith that God will see them through the ups and downs of production agriculture. At age 94 - he celebrates his 95th birthday Monday - Andy Wagner has called this farm in the southwest quarter of Section 34, Larkin Township, Nobles County, home for all but the first year of his life.
His grandparents, Dreese and Katie Hieronimus, purchased the 160-acre parcel in 1913, along with a second quarter-section in the northeast quarter. The latter property had already been homesteaded, so the couple resided on that site with their seven children.
Originally from Rockford, Ill., Dreese and Katie moved to southwest Minnesota - midway between Rushmore and Adrian - after living on a farm near Little Rock, Iowa.
“The land was originally purchased from the Dunning estate,” said Andy.
One year after he purchased the kitty-corner connected quarters, Dreese decided to sell the southwest quarter.
“Grandpa bit off a little more than he could handle with the half section and ran into financial problems,” Andy said.
Dreese didn’t have to look far to find a willing buyer. The couple’s oldest daughter, Lena, had married in 1914. She and her husband, John Wagner, had already settled on neighboring land in Olney Township, but they decided to help out Lena’s parents and buy the southwest quarter.
“They moved to this farm in 1922 - it was still bare ground,” said Wendell Wagner, grandson of John and Lena.
“They moved a house on here and built everything (else),” added Andy, the youngest of John and Lena’s three children. “(John) borrowed $6,900 to buy the quarter section.”
The house was moved in from a farm site six miles away, near Wilmont, with the steam engine tractor.
“It took a while,” Andy said. He was a year old when they moved to Section 23.
“It was your typical two-room house,” added Wendell. “The family built a kitchen and a porch on it. It had two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.”
“My dad put the buildings on here. They were all on the small order,” Andy shared. “It was tough times and then the Depression came in - we never really had a lot of money.”
John raised corn, oats and other small grains on the farm, later planting alfalfa. While growing up there, Andy said his chores included helping with the livestock and picking rock.
“They milked a few cows, had chickens and farrowed a few pigs,” added Wendell. “Back in those days they had spring pigs and fall pigs.”
“Everybody had a dozen cows to milk and we milked by hand,” added Andy.
The first tractor for the Wagner family was a Fordson model with a hand-crank start and steel wheels.
“They were hard starting - they didn’t have the regular magneto the new tractors had,” Andy shared. “It was real hot to run because you sat right on top of the transmission.”
“That’s why so many guys stood up on those old tractors,” Wendell added.
Andy was about 13 years old when he learned to drive the tractor. Before that, his family used horses.
“The first corn I planted, I planted with horses,” Andy said. Horses were also used to operate the dump rake while putting up hay.
Threshing was done as a neighborhood chore. There was one farmer with a threshing machine and he did the threshing for all of the neighbors, Andy said. Each family was responsible for cutting the oats and putting it in bundles, and then on threshing day, everyone carried the bundles to the threshing machine.
Andy said he was recruited to help with threshing when he was about 15.
“All the years that I grew up, until the start of World War II, everyone was poor,” Andy said. “Nobody had any money. They sold oats for a nickel a bushel.
“In the 1940s, the prosperity started where we could buy a few things,” he added. “We had a milk check and an egg check and on Friday nights you went to town and sold the cream. At that time you could buy overalls and the necessary things at the grocery store. The egg money went to the women and that was the grocery money.”
“All the crops raised went for the pigs and the cattle,” Wendell shared. “They’d all do their own butchering, the women did a lot of gardening - everything was pretty self-sustaining.”
John and Lena owned the farm for 37 years, selling the quarter to Andy and his bride, Geraldine. The two were married in 1944.
“My story always was that my folks and her folks were friends so we laid in the crib together and I liked what I saw,” joked Andy.
In fact, his dad and Geraldine’s father started the East Friesland Church in rural Rushmore.
When Andy and Geraldine were married, Geraldine moved to the Wagner farm, where they shared the home for the first year with Andy’s parents. After a year, John and Lena moved into Rushmore.
Several changes were made to the farm by Andy and Geraldine. In 1963, they tore the old barn down to make room for a larger, more modern barn. In 1969, they built a new home on the farm and tore the old one down.
“The buildings … were all so small and had to be bigger,” Andy said. “First we built on to them, and then later we tore them down.”
“They built a chicken house and a machine shed,” detailed Wendell. “The chicken house was a nice building in those days - for about 500 chickens. The machine shed was small with tin and poles and a dirt floor.”
Some of the buildings were eventually torn down or moved to another site. Today, the only original buildings remaining are the hog house and chicken house. The hog house serves as a storage shed, and the chicken house was turned into a three-stall garage.
As improvements were made to the homestead over the years, they were also made to the farmland.
“There was a lot of wasteland here,” Wendell said, adding that tile was installed and waterways were straightened to improve the farmland.
Andy still recalls the first year soybeans were planted on the Wagner farm. They started with 15 acres.
“The first year we raised beans for hay,” he said, adding that the crop was cut with a binder.
“Nobody knew what they were,” said Andy’s grandson, Michael Wagner.
“(The beans) were too short; nobody had combines,” added Wendell.
Andy said after that first year, a neighbor with an Allis Chalmers combine came and combined the beans for them.
“Of course, beans became real successful,” said Andy. “Our farm is about half beans now.”
In addition to the introduction of soybean seed, Andy said another big improvement on the farm came with hybrid seed.
“It was quite an exciting time when the hybrid seed corn came out,” he said. “When we bought the corn, we got a full bushel. Now you get 80,000 kernels.”
Back then, Andy said they paid about $12 to $16 for a bag of seed corn. Today, Michael said it costs about $335 per bag.
When Andy and Geraldine took over the farming operation, they also took over the chores. They kept the 12 milk cows and continued to raise about 300 hogs and 500 chickens.
All of the animals became chores for the couple’s children. They had five in all, losing one daughter, Connie, in infancy. Wendell is the oldest, followed by Bryan, Pam and Marilyn.
“I helped feed cattle,” said Wendell of his years growing up on the Wagner farm. “I’d always help with vaccinating little pigs and taking care of the sows.”
By age 13 or 14, Wendell learned to drive his first tractor, an M Farmall. With it, he helped cultivate and cut and rake hay before graduating to more difficult farming tasks.
Wendell said technology has made farming today much different than it was when he was growing up. With the introduction of hydraulics, electronics and GPS, “Your time is so much more productive now,” he said. “You can do so much more than when you had to do it all by hand.”
“Probably one of the greatest things about modern farming is Round-Up,” added Andy. “We’re all pretty good farmers with Round-Up.”
To see this family through more than 100 years, and the next generation wanting to continue in the family’s farming tradition, Andy said, is an honor.
“I always had confidence in the future,” he said.
“I’ve got two boys and they’re both talking about farming,” added Andy’s grandson, Michael. Those sons, Mitchell and Marshall, along with their sisters, Mackenzie and Madeline, represent the sixth generation to work the land in Larkin Township.
“Mackenzie is wild about livestock,” said Wendell. “She’s going to SDSU to help us out here - she might be our in-house veterinarian someday.”
When it comes to farming, everyone in the family has a job to do. Even Andy doesn’t admit to being retired.
“Yeah, I still drive a tractor,” Andy beamed. He operates a 4020 John Deere with a disk mower and a 3010 John Deere with a loader when he’s needed.
Otherwise, he said, “I look over the fence.”
“I’m happy with them (the next generations). They do a good job,” he added. “One thing they’ve learned is to take care of the land.”
Through the years, the Wagner farm has been built on hard work and faith.
“The one thing our parents have always had is a big faith in God,” shared Wendell. “They’ve always been good about giving, and the Good Lord has always provided back.”
The Wagners will soon have a sign recognizing their family’s Century Farm. On it, they’ve chosen to put the words, “In God We Trust.”