Archive for Wednesday, July 31, 2002

History Alive: Farmers turn back the clock

July 31, 2002

Howard Northern appreciates history and its significance.

For a glimpse into the past, all the retired farmer has to do is peer into the back yard of his home at 20770 147th Street in Basehor.

Northern's land encompasses approximately 80 acres and has been used for everything from a Native American reservation to a post-Civil War homestead.

Northern and his family have traced the ownership of their family property over the years and the land has had a variety of owners and uses during the course of its history.

In the 1860s, it was a reservation for the Delaware Indian Tribe. It was then sold to the United States government. The government later sold it to Northwestern Railroad.

Later in the 1870s, the land found a permanent tenant when Union soldier William Lewis and his wife, Carey, settled there as homesteaders.

With that history in his backyard, it came as no surprise that Northern and other Leavenworth County farmers turned back the clock during an Agricultural Appreciation Day Saturday, July 27, and farmed like their predecessors.

On the hot and sunny Saturday afternoon, the farmers spurned modern farming machinery and instead used an antique binder and thresher that dates back to the 1930s.

"It was sort of an experimental thing with the binder and the thresher," Northern said. "We used the binder to cut the wheat and the thresher to separate (the grain from the straw)."

The wheat from Saturday afternoon was shipped to the Wolcott grain elevator earlier this week.

"It was a good crop of wheat this year," Northern said.

The binder and thresher were restored earlier this year. Seeing the thresher in use brought back memories for Leavenworth County farmer Gary Wohlforth. Wohlforth's late father, Carl, owned the thresher before Northern purchased it 20 years ago.

"I remember that machine in the shed," Gary said. "I remember climbing on it in the barn.

Wohlforth helped with Saturday's farm work. He said using the old-time equipment would have made his father proud.

"I think my dad would be very pleased that someone is still using it and trying to keep the past alive," he added.

Although he owns the thresher, Northern said he still considers the machine Gary's birthright.

"To me, it's their machine," he said.

Although the focus of the day was appreciating what old-time farmers went through, Northern and Wohlforth also addressed the plight of the modern farmer.

With ever-decreasing crop prices and farmers everywhere becoming more in debt, the role of the farmer is becoming tougher and tougher, they said.

"Farmers everywhere are still struggling to make it," Wohlforth said. "They work for probably $3 to $4 an hour when you look at it. It's not all for the money.

"(They do it) because of the heritage and because it's in their blood. It's the feeling you get doing something with the land."

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