Today, I get the privilege of traveling to the Iowa State Fair to be a part of a very special event. Triple JJJ Farms, one of the two farms I grew up on is being honored at the fair for being owned by the same family for over 150 years. That is a really big deal. In this day and age when things seem to come and go so fast, it is really cool to know I have been a part of a very special place that has been held so dear inside my own flesh and blood for so many years.
In addition to my wonderful years of growing up at Triple JJJ Farms, I was also able to grow up on a second farm, Marsau Farms LTD. Growing up on a farm is so awesome. It teaches you to work hard and that nothing is just handed to you. You learn values that will stay with you your whole life. I was lucky enough to be able to call two farms my home.
The farm is truly a very special place. It is the backbone of our state and our entire country. It provides food for the whole world and it raises the kind of “down home”, good people who this country was founded on.
On this very special day, I would like to remember back to some of my very favorite memories of growing up on these two farms.
I remember having to clean out the calving pens in the early summer each year following the calving season. We had 3 large calving pens inside the barn and obviously, if cows give birth in the cold Iowa late winter/early springs, the calves could freeze to death. My dad always kept track of when the cattle were supposed to calf. When they would show signs that they were going to calve soon, dad would bring them into the barn into one of the calving sheds, so that mom cow could have her calf in the warmth of the barn in fresh dry straw. It was such a grand experience on the rare occasion that I actually got to see a calf being born. That was all great for the mom and baby, but over the course of the calving season, fresh straw was added, but not taken away. Between the manure and the weight of the animals, that made for a very thick layer of compacted manure and straw that needed to be removed. My only tool was a very large pitchfork. If I filled up the fork, it was almost more than I could lift. It would usually take 2-3 days to clean the calving pens entirely and it was really hard work.
I remember raising pigs for my 4-H project in the very small hog house. The hog house was over 100 years old and apparently, my ancestors were not very tall when they built it because I was taller than the ceiling. I had to be bent over then entire time I was in there. We had put 8 farrowing stalls into the one side and used straw to bed them since there were no slats or a pit. That meant a lot of scooping manure and straw combo out the little windows on the side of the shed with, what else, my usual weapon of choice, the pitch fork. They always say manual labor is good for you and it builds character. I agree whole-heartedly, but it really sucks when you are actually doing it. That hog house is no longer there, but I am still as tall. If we ever build another one, I will make sure the ceilings are really tall in case my children end up being taller than me.
I remember the long days baling hay and straw. I am talking square bales here. Each one weighing 80-100 lbs. Putting these bales onto hay racks with anywhere from 80 – 120 bales per rack depending on how big the rack was. Sometimes we even got a rack with an old truck beg on it and that was good for nearly 200 of these large bales. Once the racks were loaded, we were only half done. We then had to drive them from the field in to where the barn was. The elevator would be set up and the hay was loaded onto the elevator which took the bales up to the hay loft. Here the hay had to be stacked into giant intertwining stack of forage. We had to look for bales that were too wet and they had to be set aside so that they did not mold or cause the stack to get too hot which could lead to a fire and the end of the barn. We had to stack the hay just right or the pile would not be stable as you got towards the top. It really was an art form and I actually got pretty good at it over many years. I actually got to the point where I could lift one bale in each hand and do two at a time. It was always so very hot up there. At least 20-30 degrees hotter than outside and we always seemed to do it on the hottest days of the summer so you can imagine how hot it really was up there. You always had to wear heavy leather gloves to protect your hands against the twine. You always wore a short-sleeve shirt which meant a million scratches up and down your arms from the bales. You looked like you had gotten attacked on your arms by a hay bale. Of course your hands were fine because you were wearing gloves and your legs were fine because you were wearing jeans. By the end of the day, your body was covered with a mixture of dirt, sweat, and hay leaves, but you were proud because you knew you had put in a real day’s work and that the animals would have plenty to eat and keep them warm in the winter. I remember one day in particular. It was July 23, 1986. It was so hot and we baled hay all day long, 20-30 loads of hay. We were all so sunburned. As soon as it was early evening, my dad and my brother Rob went up to the hospital to see my mom, Sandy. She had just given birth to my new little sister, Sara Marie Marsau. I was so happy. It was so amazing. In all we got about a two-hour break and then we had to go stack more hay. Are you kidding me?
One of my favorite times of the year is fall. Part of the reason for this is college football games. An even bigger reason why is the combining season. In the fall, it was time to combine all the corn and soybeans. I remember dad would get out the giant International Axial-Flow combine and we would get it ready. It was so big to me then. Then we would go out and start combining. I got to ride in the bench seat beside my dad and I was so proud to be in there. I felt like I was on top of the world. My job was to hop out of the cab when the bin inside the combine was getting really full and make sure we got as much grain as possible in there before we had to stop and unload into the wagons or truck. My job was very important because we couldn’t have any of the precious grain spilled onto the ground. It was so amazing. I also remember a couple of times when we contract hired a corn sheller. It would take the corn that was picked on the cob and remove the corn and leave the cobs. My job was to run the cob wagon. I had a fork again, common theme, and a little elevator attached to the sheller would carry the cobs up and dump them into the dump wagon I was in. Once the wagon was completely full, I would drive it down into the cow pasture and use the hydraulics to dump the wagon and make giant beds made of cobs out into the fields. The cows would use these beds to lie on when they were out in the pastures. We had all the neighbors involved and when we would finish at one farm, we would move on to the next farm. It was a glimpse back into the old days, of how it was done in the early 1900’s. The sense of teamwork and community can’t be described. It was a snapshot of what America was all about then. It is a memory I will cherish and hold near to my heart always.
I remembers the hours and hours of riding horses. We started with little ponies. The neighbor kids, cousins Chad, Matt and Chris Lichty and I would ride out ponies everywhere. We would have races, running the horses full speed down the lanes of the fields. Speed never scared us and when we would fall off, we just got back on. Eventually we outgrew our ponies and had to move up to horses. We showed at the 4-H county fair, at state fair, and the BHCSC (Black Hawk Creek Saddle Club) shows. We had a great time. My favorite was running the games. Barrels, Poles, Flags, and Speed races. We were so fast. I even got to the point where I trained several horses. I would ride for several hours each day during the summer. I loved it. In my Jr. High and High School years, I rode Pearl in games and Doc in the pleasure classes. If you drive by Triple JJJ Farms today, you will still see them out in the pasture. We are all getting older. Lol.
I remember my Grandma Rose’s giant garden. It was huge and had every kind of vegetable in it you could imagine. In the early spring, I would get out the rodotiller and work the soil. Usually, we had spread manure over the dirt prior to this for added nutrients to the soil so you always wanted to make sure you had on rubber boots while doing this job. Then we would get out the two metal rods that had a long piece of twine tied between them. We would stretch the twine out till it was tight and then we would make furrow along the length of the twine to plant the seeds in. The twine was our guide so the rows would be straight. We would then carefully plant the seeds and cover them with dirt. Then we would move over a foot or two and repeat the process. I learned exactly how deep to plant the different varieties of seed, whether they needed full sun or part-sun, and how much water they needed throughout the growing season. Then we spent the summer watering with the hose and endless hours pulling and hoeing weeds out of the garden. It seemed like it never stopped. Then slowly, but surely, the crops grew. Then we got to harvest all the different kinds of vegetables by hand. We ate what we could, gave some to the neighbors, and then canned the rest. Canning was a lot of work, but that way, we could have vegetables from the garden year round. As I got older, I had a garden of my own. I raised my own crops. I even entered baskets of vegetables and flowers at the county fair and a judge would come each year to look at my garden plot. It is really amazing. Through all this, I received an entire lifetime’s education on horticulture. My parents still have a garden and there will be one on both farms all the days our family is there. Gardens are something very special. Something that brings families together and they will always hold a very special place in my heart.
I remember well the tractors. It was always red in my family. Farmall or International Harvester. My dad loved antique tractors. I learned to drive at a very young age on a Farmall Super C. That is just the way it was on the farm. Let’s just say that by the time I took drivers ed, I had been driving for over a decade. I just loved tractors because my dad love tractors and I idolized him and I wanted to be just like him. I played toy tractors when I was a little kid. When we went to the implement store, I would get the product catalogs and look at the tractors. Dad had a big book that had all the Farmall IH tractors ever made and I just loved looking at the old pictures. Sometimes dad would take me to tractor shows and I just loved that. I felt as natural on a tractor as most kids do with their stuffed animal. That is something my dad and I will always share.
I remember when I was about 5 years old, my grandma Rose got me some bottle calves to keep me busy. She knew I had a lot of extra energy and I needed something to keep me busy. Several time a day, we would go to the barn and mix up formula milk for the calves. Then we would put the milk in big plastic bottles and then I would go through and feed each one of the calves by hand. I loved to let them suck on my fingers. They had no teeth and their tongues felt so weird to me. I just loved feeding those calves.
I remember feeding all the sows shelled corn by hand. I would go with my dad. First we would go up to the corn crib and fill all the buckets with the right amount of feed and then put the buckets in the bed of the truck. We had sows all over the place, including several of the neighbor’s farms. We would go to a barn and the first order of business was to scrape down the cement floors then I would go in with the shelled corn and pour it in a long line so that all the sows could get at the corn and not have the bully sows get all the corn. I had to be quick because the sows were much bigger than me and they were very hungry. I would then follow and sprinkle pellets on the shelled corn. This was difficult because the sows were already eating the corn. Usually we always took the time to talk to the people who lived at the farm we were at. I loved that my dad did that. I loved hearing the stories and the jokes. I just loved going with dad to feed the sows.
I remember mowing lawn. I remember mowing lawn a lot. Between the two farms there was a lot of grass. It would take 2-3 hours for each farm. I did not always mow both farms, but I did each many many times. I remember that I was always big for my age and by the time I was 6 years old, I was running the John Deere lawn mower all by myself. Along with mowing came raking hay. I raked so many acres of hay I just can’t remember. I remember dad would go out and get me started and then he would leave me by myself. Just me, the tractor, the hay and the field. It was an amazing feeling. I did not get to come back to the farm until it was done, but I loved every minute of it.
There are so many stories that I could tell. I could go on for days. In fact, some of the best memories of my life came from the farm and those are the very best of them. I will always be proud to say that I was from the farm. I know I would like to get back on a farm as soon as possible. I would like my children to have the opportunity to be raised on the farm just like I was. Who knows, maybe it will even be one of the farms I was raised on.
Thinking back, the farm was such a huge part of my life, I don’t even know what kind of person I would be if I had not grown up on one or in this case, two of them. I do know this though. I have spent 22 of my 34 years of life on this earth engaged in some sort of organized education. From that I have 3 degrees. I have met countless wonderful people along the way and have learned a lot of things about a lot of different subjects. I have even forgot a whole bunch of things. When I look at all the things that you learn about being a good, decent, caring person. About caring for the environment and loving God’s animals. About trying your hardest to leave this world a better place. About caring for your neighbors and loving them and forgiving them no matter what they do. All those things that count more than anything else you could ever hope to learn in this life, I learned them on the farm and I wouldn’t have it any other way!