How can you stand all that caterwauling?

The screeching chalk-on-blackboard noise that prompted Mother to yell from the bottom of the stairs came from a third-hand record player. It was, in moments of rebellion that were rare, what caused her to worry that her son might not amount to a hill of beans.

Her rules were few — help without complaint when called on, gather eggs even from the meanest hens, and a haircut when its length reached the collar. An unkempt room prompted her to say that she felt sorry for the poor woman who would marry me.

A happy wife leads to a happy wife.

The adage came into play when Kathy proposed a second honeymoon to mark our 35th wedding anniversary. Her husband is nothing more than a creature of habit, which sparked resistance to it.

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“If we don’t do it now, when will we ever,’’ Kathy said.

We were bound for Vermont’s scenery, maple syrup, and cheddar cheese. Being farm raised, beef cow-calf pairs grazing on hillsides stood out against the backdrop of changing leaves. Many farms were chopping silage and combining corn. A small soybean field — the only one seen on our journey — remained unharvested.

A visit to Shelburne Farm — a 1,400-acre working farm focused on sustainable issues — was a must. Sheep and cattle grazed on rolling hills, cheese-making demonstrations, and a store were alluring.

“You have got to see the barn,’’ said a guide. “It’s no ordinary barn.’’

With the sun’s rays bouncing off its metal roof, the huge building looked more like a castle than a barn. The farmhouse and outbuildings were the brainchild of William Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, who used a good share of her $10 million estate to build their dream in the second half of the 19th century.

My thoughts — for reasons of history — turned to the Bonanza farms that dominated North Dakota agriculture for part of the same century. The farms raised wheat, which was a hot commodity on the East Coast. New farm equipment technologies, railroads thirsty for shipping tonnage, and readily available land and labor helped Bonanza farms get their footing

The farms were mostly owned by East Coast bankers and investors who were anxious to reap impressive financial returns. The first Bonanza farm was owned by George Cass and Benjamin Cheney. Oliver Darymple, who started out managing farms, eventually built a 100,000-acre empire that stretched from North Dakota to Minnesota.

The era did not last long — it was done in by falling profits, pests, and the erosion of yields caused by monocropping and lack of fertilization. Settlers rushed in to purchase parcels and the East Coast investors pursued more profitable business options.

Decades later, the Soviet Union’s communist leaders attempted to recreate their own bonanza farms through governmental edict. The brainchild of Joseph Stalin, the collectivization of farms and the removal of independent farmers met stiff resistance.

The communist government arrested farmers, took their land, and caused starvation in rural areas that may have cost 3 million lives. The collectivization of Soviet agriculture was a model of inefficiency made worse by weather problems.

The monopoly power that railroads had worked to the disadvantage of farmers, and the desire to improve everyday life on farms inspired a cooperative movement that swept through the Dakotas and Minnesota. Under the leadership of Minnesotan Oliver Kelley, who with others created the National Grange, organized farmers across the country.

Grain elevators and other businesses were purchased and organized as cooperatives and lower shipping rates were negotiated.

Twenty-first century agriculture is marked by bigness and efficiency. Thousands of acres of mostly rented land in these parts are operated by a few. The successes of the family farm era from the early 1900s to now are made more impressive as the world grapples with food shortages in much of the world.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.