COVER STORY: These farm hands get to do all the fun stuff without any of the headaches
Working the land. Working cattle. Building equipment. All of these skills come part and parcel with farm life, and with many who are living the farm life, they become a labor of love no matter whether they own the land or the cattle or the iron t...
Working the land. Working cattle. Building equipment. All of these skills come part and parcel with farm life, and with many who are living the farm life, they become a labor of love no matter whether they own the land or the cattle or the iron they're working. This has been the tradition of farm and ranch hands -- a devotion to the outdoors and little, if any, interest in all the stresses and strains that go with owning your own spread.
"I guess that's the biggest thing," says Orville Ingvalson, farm and ranch hand for Frank Matejcek's Red River Angus farm near Grand Forks, N.D. "I can come to work every day and I get to enjoy what I do, but I don't have all the headaches to go with it. Frank is the one that gets stuck with that."
On a warm June morning, Ingvalson is out planting sunflowers. The equipment is older and simpler, but sturdy and well-kept, and the engine chugs smoothly at idle while he surveys the land.
"I guess spring is the greatest time because you got to get everything in the ground and watch it grow," he says. "You see the calves born, get the cattle out on pasture."
His grandparents on both sides of his family owned farms near Badger, Minn. Ingvalson was born on a farm in Roseau, Minn. When he was 6 months old, his family moved to Crookston, Minn. They moved again a few years later to nearby Euclid, Minn., for a short time before moving back to Crookston, where his father worked for 28 years.
"Dad worked for farmers around the area, and then as soon as I was old enough, I started working on farms, too," he says. "Wherever Dad was working, I was."
He has an older brother and a younger brother, who started out at 2 years old on his mother's lap in the tractor. Ingvalson says he now is a mechanic at a Bobcat dealership in Grand Forks and can "repair anything he wants to."
His father was working on a farm that fed steers, and it wasn't long before Ingvalson discovered that he really liked working with cattle. He showed a steer each year in 4-H.
"That got me to really enjoy being with cattle, I guess, when I started doing that," he says. He has been riding horses since before he can remember. His father worked for a farmer near Euclid, who had Angus cattle, and when Ingvalson was about 6 years old, he would tag along and try to help.
"I couldn't wait to get home from school to help Dad with the chores," he says.
When he was 12, he began working for money, taking on more of the heavy work.
"I started with raking hay and stuff like that, and then, as I got older, I went into doing regular field work," Ingvalson says. "I was running a TD-14 (Caterpillar Crawler) when I was 14, cultivating."
He learned all he could from his father and eventually began to strike out on his own. Not every job was a farm job, but they were all in agriculture. His older brother was working in Kansas and talked him into moving there. While in Kansas, Ingvalson managed a feed mill and worked at an elevator in the fertilizer department. He also worked at a plant in Hutchinson, Kan., that made dog food and vegetable soy protein foods. He stayed in Kansas for nine years.
In his blood
He later spent three years as a forklift mechanic in Minot, N.D., but this and other indoor jobs he's had never really provided the open-air work he loves.
"I always end up back at farming," he says. "I've tried other things, but I guess farming's in my blood."
Ingvalson was visiting his brother in Grand Forks in 1995, when he learned that a local rancher, Frank Matejcek, was looking for a man with experience in working cattle.
"So I went out and talked to him and got the job," he says.
He's worked there, except for a couple short periods of time, ever since.
"It's kind of like they say, 'It looks greener on the other side.' Well, it's not," Ingvalson says with a laugh. "Frank has been really nice at hiring me back when I realized that this is the place that I want to be. I told him this time that I'll retire from here. I'm not leaving again."
At Red River Angus, Ingvalson's pretty much got it all. He runs the equipment and does repairs when needed.
"Frank asks my opinion on a lot of things and of course, that makes me feel good, too, you know," Ingvalson says.
They get out about once a week to the pastures to check the cattle and fences, which is one of Ingvalson's greatest pleasures.
Across the Red River, about eight miles into Minnesota, farm hand Bob Jerik is in his 44th year with the Krueger farm near Fisher.
"I like to be outside and not be where I have to sit inside all the time," he says. "I don't do no paperwork. When I leave, everything is done. What's here is here, and then that's it and then I'm home and I'm doing something else. It's not on my mind or nothing."
He is known in the Krueger family as the guy who can build anything.
He grew up in the Fisher area, where his father worked for the railroads. Jerik says he picked up his interest in mechanics from watching his father, who often worked on cars.
"But I had to learn it myself, because when I got my first car, my dad said, 'Robert, if you're going to have a car, whatever's got to be fixed, you fix,'" he says.
Jerik attended high school in Fisher, where he began to get noticed for his knack of being able to fix what others could not.
"In my freshman year, there was this one group of kids. They had taken this H-International tractor. The farmer donated it if they would put rings and stuff in it," he says.
The class couldn't get it back together, though, so the teacher approached Jerik and asked if he'd help.
"I got it all together, but it had a magneto, and I've never worked on a tractor with a magneto. I couldn't get it to start," he says.
There was a mechanic two blocks away from the school, so they towed the tractor there and asked him to look at it.
"He looked at it and he laughed," Jerik says. "He says, 'If you've never touched one of these, then don't worry about it.' He pulled the magneto off and he turned it a couple notches and put it back in and started it right up."
Jerik has worked at a gas station and as a trailer furnace repairman for a few years.
On the farm
In 1965, Jerik took a job on the Krueger farm.
"I worked here when (they) were raising potatoes," he says. "That was a lot of work because they had the warehouse out in the country. It was all table stock, too, so we had to grade it up, bag it up and then we had to haul it into town and put it in railroad cars to ship it."
Back then, he used to plant all the Krueger farms' sugar beets. He also did all of the spraying. Then, when the Krueger boys were old enough to take that over, Jerik took over the shop.
Now, "I'm just strictly in the shop working on stuff," says Jerik, who makes sure the equipment is in good shape and ready to roll.
"The combine's got to be checked for bearings and everything's got to be ready for beet harvest," he says. "Usually, I'll take a combine out back and start it up and run the whole machine, sit out there for a half-hour and just walk around, looking at the machine."
If he spots a problem, he drives it into the shop and fixes it.
"That's strictly what I do," he says. "I enjoy it. I'm in and out, and then if something comes up and they need me someplace, I can fill in. But I don't do any more spraying."
During beet harvest, Jerik, 71, usually takes one of the truck driving shifts.
But Jerik's real bailiwick is working in the shop.
From conveyors an 12-row windrowers to a sawmill the Kruegers wanted, "I've built so much stuff over the years," he says.
Jerik says the saw mill was one of the biggest projects he's ever done.
"It's a job you got to have patience because you can't just go to work and put the metal together and weld it," he says. "You can only weld so much here, and then you got to go weld somewhere else, because if you weld too much here, then she get's bowed. That iron will go in all directions."
When it comes to teaching what he knows to the Krueger kids -- the third generation is now learning from Jerik -- they're welcome to come watch and ask questions, as long as they let him work, too.
"If I'm working on something and they come to watch, I tell them what to do," says Jerik, who says he has no idea when he'll retire. "But to me, if you teach somebody, you don't get anything done."