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Tell It Like It Was - More Men, Women, Tractors

Adapted from the original email sent by Paul Ovaitt October 16, 2022

More men, women, tractors – Ain’t too proud to beg – Doris Hopen – Bob Struckhoff – Glenda – another gravedigger – Tom Kessler – Jason Kessler

Gentle readers, before I get started, I’d like to remind you that I still need your help to pay for posting the TILIW stories on the museum’s website. Currently there are 17 stories posted, lots more to go.

Many of you have told me I should put my stories in book form. The thought doesn’t appeal to a tree hugger like myself, but instead, the Friends of Historic Augusta and I, are offering you a chance to help create an online book. Each posting cost $25, and then there’s the additional cost of adding a table of contents and an index, not to mention maintenance of the site. I, myself, have coughed up $100 to help with this project. Now I’m asking you too, to send a donation to Friends of Historic Augusta, c/o Sally Heining, 296 Lower St., Augusta, MO 63332. Be sure to ask that your donation go to TILIW. And remember, I don’t receive a penny for my work. In fact, my stories become the property of FHA as soon as they are posted on the museum’s website. Also, once this town book is up and running, any one of you could step up and take my place if I got squashed like a bug tomorrow.

Sally will send you a receipt for tax deduction purposes. Please include your email address so that the museum can inform you of their events. Thank you!

Now, my invisible friends, as I was closing part 1 of my tractor story, I kind of left you hanging with a text message from Paul Hopen regarding tractors joined together, regarding the Kessler’s fleet, and with the Aholt’s caterpillar-turned-plow. But there are no rules here, so first, let’s see what Paul’s mother, Doris, had to say on September 13, 2022.

Paul Ovaitt: Have you ever driven a tractor?

Doris Hopen: No!

P: Did you ever want to drive one?

DH: NO! I had no reason to drive one because we had mules. (Laugh.)

P: Great answer. Did you ever guide the mules…pull any implements?

DH: Never, my dad would not let me. And let me tell you something, we never had a tractor.

P: Oh. Besides Bernice Kemner, can you think of any local women who drove tractors?

DH: No. It was not fashionable in those days. It was a man’s work.

Gentle readers, I wish every one of you could have the privilege of periodically calling Doris and quizzing her on any number of topics. It’s so much fun. That same day, I spoke with our fire chief, Bob Struckhoff.

P: I heard that you once connected 2 tractors to plow your bottomland.

BS: Well, it was two 656 Case IH tractors. One was a tricycle, and one was a wide front-end. We took the tires off the trike…and put a hitch…a 6X6 steel piece…from the drawbar of the first tractor to the drawbar…underneath…spindles… (Man, he lost me.) …so, we could make a turn…a couple of levers…I think we had a clutch lever and a throttle. We couldn’t shift gears, but… (still lost).

P: Who did the modifications?

BS: My brother, mainly…Cletus.

P: Did you use it in the Augusta bottoms or at Matson?

BS: Augusta; we didn’t have the Matson land yet.

P: So, one tractor wasn’t enough to plow there?

BS: Well, you get these little mudholes around…actually, Leonard Nadler put two together…they were John Deere. He did it first. And then we got the idea we’d try it too. That way we could pull 6 plows instead of 3. That was still plowed in those days.

P: I know you explained it already, but which tractor was in front?

BS: The wide front end. They’re both about 65…70 horse tractors.

P: I guess you don’t use them anymore?

BS: I use one with the elevator all the time; the other one I traded off. The wide front end sits in front of the elevator all the time.

P: Maybe you can tell me…who has the biggest, newest tractors in the area?

BS: Kessler’s farm, probably. Either them or Rehmeier. Both of them’s got 8 wheelers.

P: One more question: do you know any women that drive tractors?

BS: Glenda Drier does. Tammy (Wissmann) Brinker did when her dad farmed…before she was married. My sister, Leona, does. When she’s not on vacation she helps me quite a bit.

Paul via text: Hey neighbor. What kind of tractor do you drive?

Glenda Drier via text: …1967 John Deere 2020 and a 1969 JD 3020 diesel, both I inherited from my dad (Glennon Stelzer). Photos from 2019 Tractor Parade. My son, Geoffrey Ballmann, and I driving my dad’s tractors. He was so proud as we drove by Grandview Nursing Home (where Glennon was living).

Gentle readers, I finally reached Paul Kamphoefner, aka the gravedigger, who farms between Matson and Defiance. But first, I want to tell you that yesterday, 10/10/22, Dave Klaas and I came upon another gravedigger at the Lutheran cemetery. He was digging a resting spot for Jerry Nadler. If you guessed Mark Kamphoefner, son of Paul, you’re correct.

Anyway, I forgot to turn on voice memo to record Gravedigger, Sr. However, I recall he said that the Allis-Chalmers tractor in Glenda Drier’s hayfield was his, and it was made in 1955. It was originally his dad’s machine. For tractor repair he went to Dennis Nadler’s garage in Defiance. That garage once sold John Deere tractors, btw.

Now, my invisible friends, let’s talk with a tree farmer who lives west of town, above the Augusta Bottom Road. Franz Mayer is never at a loss for words.

Franz: …it’s really a worthy subject. It’s such an important part of our culture, and it occurred to me; I still have my father’s first tractor he bought brand-new in 1950. And I’m still using it for mowing.

P: What brand is it?

FM: It’s an Allis-Chalmers, B model…a little tractor. We did everything with it. He bought it new from the guy next door to him on the Rock Road (St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton, MO). I know it was a big deal to him. In 1950…he was really struggling…but he went to a tractor, and it was really great.

Gentle readers, Franz began to wax philosophical about tractoring. (MS Word doesn’t think tractoring is a word.) He related a story about an encounter with a photo in a café in Jackson, MO.

F: On the wall was a series of about a half dozen pictures of tractors…and farming. One of those pictures I studied closely. There were…4 tractors lined up in a staggered row, so you saw the broadside of each…at harvest-time…and 4 guys…obviously the drivers…standing next to their tractor, with this huge look of pride in their face. And these tractors…it’s the same tractor I’m still using (not his dad’s A-C B). I had to have it worked on one time, and they looked at the serial number…and it indicated it was made in 1944…which I bought from Glen Frank about 25 or 30 years ago. And he bought it from…you remember Tony Struckhoff, Ambrose’s son? (Ambrose and his son, Tony, lived in the house on Augusta Bottoms Road which is currently owned by Nate and Erin Hartung.)

P: Yes, of course.

F: So, Glen had this Farmall H…everybody knows them…it was probably like a VW bug. He got Tony to go with him to Tri-County…and Glen bought this tractor which he had for a few years, and then he sold it to me.

P: What else do you have?

F: I have several John Deere tractors, and those are the…you know…if you ain’t driving a green tractor, you ain’t quite a man around our part… And they have a well-deserved reputation for a wonderful machine. I have one that I bought brand-new in 1975 and it’s never been worked on. Made in Germany, btw.

P: I noticed in one of the photos you sent, that Johanna (his daughter, then very young) has the wheel of your Farmall, while you sit behind her.

F: We like to say we raised her on the kitchen table, which is true, but she also got raised with me in places like on the seat of the tractor. We were really close…we logged a lot of time together…and I didn’t just quit working…so I had her with me.

P: Do you have anything you want to say about your accident…I guess in the mid-1980s…when someone rear-ended you on Augusta Bottom Road while you were on a tractor?

F: Nnnnn…I still think about it more often than you might realize…and that was the tractor my dad bought new. And this is kind of interesting; you know…Bob Kemner put it back together. The insurance company wanted to total it, but I insisted I wanted it back because it was my dad’s first…it was his only tractor. He (Bob) had a hard time finding parts for it because it cracked into 3 pieces. He looked all over and finally found parts…and that’s when I found out that…around the bootheel area…it’s a tractor graveyard. The river bottomland is so huge, and there’s so much farming…they wear out tractors in a hurry.

P: I spoke with Paul Kemner the other day and he told me he was the main tractor repairman at the Augusta Garage, but in this case, it was Bob?

F: Well… I can’t say who actually did the work. It’s Bob with whom I communicated. We had a good relationship…you know, you and Dave (Klaas) and I had a good relationship with Bob. (In the mid to late 80s through the 90s, Bob accompanied us on long (5-6 day) backpacking hikes in the desert country of Utah, and shorter hikes in Missouri. But that’s a whole story in itself.)

P: What do you know about the use of Caterpillars to plow the bottomland after the flood of ’93?

F: The Aholts did that, and they pulled…in tandem…they had hooked up two D8s which were the largest Caterpillar tractors at that time…and pulled…I don’t know…a 6-foot-deep plow to bury the sand. And I remember seeing the plow, and they had beads and beads and beads…they laid beads of weld on top of the most wear prone parts of the plow because that sand would just scour and wear that steel down in no time. You talk about people who could take care of themselves and be adaptive.

P: That’s a great story.

F: Talk to some…there’s still a few Aholts around.

P: I should. I’ve never spoken to an Aholt for these written stories, and yet, their name pops up from time to time. (Btw while I was still holding live, public interviews, I did invite 2 Aholts and they declined the offer.)

F: It’s interesting. I know the farming community and you know the town community.

P: That’s pretty much true.

Gentle readers, Franz Mayer is married to Rebecca Weis Mayer, a retired schoolteacher from the Washington school district who specialized in reading. She was the president of the Washington Arts Council for many years. She also sang and played upright bass with Augusta Bottoms Consort for over 25 years.

Their daughter, Johanna, (the toddler steering the Farmall) currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her own website describes her as a “Writer, host, producer. Makes audio about words, food, and places. Once ate 52 pieces of sushi in one sitting.” Personally, I like people who eat with gusto. Here’s a link to some of her work.

Let’s see…who did I talk to next? I think it was Tom Kessler on 9/15/22.

Paul: Let’s start with basics…what’s a way to describe the size of your dairy farm?

Tom Kessler: It’s…uh…done; I’m retired. We were the largest dairy in the state…in the 90s and so forth. But with the current dairy economy…different deals like that…it’s all going to commercial 10,000 cow dairies, but in the early 90s we were running 600 cows…a family operation…we were the largest in the state at that time.

TK: The next generation ain’t interested…working that damn 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, and so forth.

P: Are you raising beef now instead?

TK: Just a few, but it’s insignificant. We’re a small farm now.

P: But you are still a dairy?

TK: Yeah, we’re still a dairy but it’s insignificant. It’s gonna be done in the next 6 months or so, they’re just riding it out to the bitter end, and so forth. To really interview we need to talk personally and take a whole damn hour, and I don’t have that much time this morning. I’ve got a humongous amount of information I’d like to definitely share with you.

P: I will. I’ll do a full interview with you sometime, but it may be later than sooner.

TK: No problem. Hopefully, I ain’t going nowhere, as long as the good Lord’s wiling. I’m 67yo and I’ve got a hell of a reputation, and so forth…I was a workaholic in the 90s.

P: I have heard that.

TK: By the time I started grade school we had a 100-cow dairy. I knew every cow by name before I ever started grade school, and I couldn’t read or write ‘til 8th grade…I was farmin’ all the time.

P: Wow! Can you tell me about your tractors?

TK: The biggest tractor is an 8335 (John Deere) …a track tractor. In another 2 months we’re supposed to be getting an updated deal that is a track tractor with tracks all the way around the different wheels, and so forth.

Gentle armchair farmers, I found an 8335 online. I couldn’t find a 2022 price, but I did find a 2014 model, 8335r eight-wheeler, no track, for a mere $209,500.

Btw I also called Gerard Kessler and left a message. The next day I got a call from his son. Jason Kessler explained that his dad thought Jason was better equipped to talk with me, whatever that means. I was out in my garden with no tractor, and no voice memo, so I made an appointment to call him back later that afternoon. He said he’d be operating the combine and would be free to talk then. What? (Is it just me who’s chuckling now?) Somehow it didn’t work out, but I did catch him the next day, 9/17/22.

Paul: How old are you? And where do you live?

Jason Kessler: I am 40yo. I live off the Augusta Bottom Road.

P: What is your occupation? Is it farming?

JK: Yes…full-time farmer.

P: I think you mentioned kids yesterday.

JK: Yep, I’ve got 4 of them.

P: The tractor Tom discussed was a track tractor 8335. When I looked it up, I saw that there were 2 kinds. One had a single track on each side, bud there was also a quad track.

JK: Correct. We’ve got one now with a single track on each side, but we’re getting one of them with the quad track…supposed to be showing up maybe next week…trading the 2 track off for a 4 track.

P: It gives you more maneuverability, I guess.

JK: For sure.

P: You’re not doing a dairy…so are you just selling…?

JK: It’s for the row crop.

P: You’re selling your crops?

JK: Yes.

P: I suppose you were harvesting corn yesterday. Do you also raise soybeans?

JK: Yes, and wheat. We’ve got, I guess, 30 acres of hay ground right now.

P: Do you still have any old tractors around the farm?

JK: We do, not necessarily ones that we used on the farm, but myself, I’ve kind of got into collecting some old John Deeres…I’ve got 3 old 2-cylinder tractors, and my brother’s got one, and now he’s got a couple Farmalls there as well. He does have one tractor that my grandpa bought new…a Farmall H that he was able to buy back a couple years ago from a guy…it was an original one from the farm.

P: Yesterday, when you texted me back to explain how we missed our connection, you said you were cooking supper for the family. What did you cook last night?

JK: Last night was porkburgers and hot dogs; I grill a lot.

P: Thanks for talking with me, Jason. I look forward to meeting you in person someday.

Gentle readers, I have included a photo of a John Deere two track and a photo of a JD quad track. I have no idea if these pics look anything like the Kesslers’ machines. Likewise, I’m sharing a photo of Olie Thilking operating a steam tractor. I

Also, I’d like to share some interesting comments on part 1 of this story. One was from Glen Frank.

GF: Hi Paul, I enjoyed your article. Did you know that Tim Kilby and I both own 1953 Ford Jubilee tractors? They must have been really popular.

P: Thanks. May I insert that tidbit in a follow up?

GF: That’s up to you. I just noticed in your article that your neighbor and Lee Newman both had one.

And another:

Walter Kamphoefner: Tractor #5 there in the shade among the flowers is an early John Deere model G or model A, probably the former. It dates back to the late 1930s or early 1940s. Later models had the steering column enclosed by the grille. We had both an AC WD and a WD-45 back in the day. (Bill Ferris, who owns the John Deere among the flowers, says it’s a JD B model.)

Thank you, Glen. Thank you, Walter. And a big thank you to all of my curious readers.

Tractor on folks, do good work, and stay curious.


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