Farmers never really retire

While author Mychal Wilmes was normally quite agreeable with his parents, a debate over his desire to enlist in the Army caused quite a kerfuffle.

Farm scene from the mid 1900s includes a barn, house, and livestock.
A Minnesota farm scene from the mid-1900s.
Courtesy Harry D. Ayer / Minnesota State Historical Society

Dad, well into his sixth decade, surprised us when he said he would be joining a corn-shelling crew. The hourly wage was low, but he didn’t need the money anyway.

Shelling corn was hard work under tough conditions. Some cribs were poorly ventilated and ear corn was moldy in some situations and rats and mice were ever-present. He came home dog-tired each day until corn and soybeans grew big enough to cultivate.

Farmers, he said, never really retire. He was proud that his older sons had taken over, purchased additional land, and expanded the cow herd. However, he was frustrated that they didn’t listen to his advice over matters involving when hay was dry enough to bale or when hogs reached market weight.

Dad and I got along well mostly because neither of us had much say in decisions about the farming operation. We, along with my mother, had a big bruhaha when I told them I intended to visit with the Army recruiter. They both agreed that there was no way I was enlisting.

Four sons were or had served, and in their opinion that had been enough. It was the only time we locked horns so fiercely. The argument was silly given that the Army would never accept me because my feet were and are flatter than burned pancakes.


Mother had been concerned enough that she took me to see a doctor to see what might be done about the feet. The doctor suggested special shoes and predicted that I would not be able to walk unaided by the time I reached my 30s.

The shoes with lifts hurt and besides, I liked being barefoot in summer with mud and cow yard muck between my toes. Alfalfa and grain stubble caused trouble until feet toughened up or I was able to confiscate and ill-fitting pair from my older brothers.

I also played ball without spikes until an umpire said shoes were necessary for safety. Unless a pair were found I would be thrown out of the game.

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

Dad’s advice about small and large matters was well-received, not withstanding the Army biggie.

I sure could have used more of Dad’s advice later, but by that time he was already gone. He almost certainly advised against purchasing a couple of Guernsey cows to add to the herd.

During the long-gone time when a good reputation and a handshake (without the paperwork) was enough to secure a bank loan with the exact amount yet unknown, I received the OK to purchase the cows at auction.


The dream of building a Guernsey herd that produced a higher butterfat content then Holsteins ended when both Guernsey heifer calves died, and the cows lost a battle with mastitis.

Dad’s wisdom would have come in handy when I debated buying a half-dozen gilts from a neighbor to start raising pigs. The animals sold well below the normal market price.

The animals had a form of arthritis that rendered them useless and I learned a bit about the wisdom of looking at a gift horse’s mouth.

Dad’s experience was and is a priceless gift that is often too easy to ignore. Hindsight is without blemish and can destroy if it comes with regret. Looking back is only useful if it causes someone to smile.


Dad worked on the corn shelling crew for a couple of years until he took a part-time job at a greenhouse, which led him to take more interest in our own garden. Mother pestered him for a long time to build a fence to keep chickens and geese out of the garden.

The meshed fence with a gate made from lathes was a master work. It drew Dad into helping pick strawberries and raspberries and ground cherries from the ground and drew my parents closer together. It’s not as though they ever were far apart since the day they met.

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

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