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A Classic Last Windrow from 1983

As promised, I am entering some “Classic Last Windrow” columns on this, the 30th year anniversary of writing The Last Windrow. 

I’ve dug into the fireproof files and come up with 30 years of columns. I’ve sorted through them and relived a whole lot of my history over those years. Some of the columns were winners, some were clunkers, but they all told a little bit of my journey. 

What follows is the first column I wrote in 1983. It was actually typed on a real typewriter using carbon paper for a copy. I hope you enjoy some of the “classics!”

The Last Windrow by John Wetrosky-April 1983

I’m beginning to write this column in order to document some of the small farm experiences that I and so many others experienced during the small farm era of the 1950s and 1960s. I had the luck of having been able to attend a real country school and watch my dad open a field of corn with horses. The school no longer exists and the horses are no longer pulling the wagon. 

Our countryside was dotted with farmsteads, each occupying a quarter section or more of land. A few “large” farms consisted of a half section and no one at the time even dreamed of farming more than a section of ground.

We raised hogs, fat cattle, milk cows, chickens, ducks, corn, oats, sorghum, alfalfa and red clover. Saturdays were days when we traveled to LeMars or Sioux City to deliver our 30-dozen capacity egg cases and cream cans to those businesses that wrote us a check. Afterward, my parents bought our groceries, clothing and other essentials needed for life in the country.

I want to write a column about the life that I loved so much. The day of the Model A John Deere and the WD Allis Chalmers tractor. A time when it still took a day to plow 20 acres. When hay was still baled by a crew of men and women and stacked by hand. An era when our farm animals were still allowed to roam free around the barnyard instead of being packed inside buildings where they never saw open sunlight.  

The farm scene is stressed today, 1983. The hog market is in the trough, excuse the pun. Corn prices are hovering at a level that is not conducive to paying bills. There has been an exodus of people from the country to the suburbs. When politicians now speak of the “small, family farm” they are not speaking about the type of farm I grew up on, but rather a farm that is managed to the nth degree and where the risks are enormous. A “small, family farm” today can be multiple sections of land and livestock is raised in a factory fashion. 

My column, The Last Windrow, is written with some historical perspective intended. Those who have worked on a small farm know that a windrow is a row of hay, oats, wheat or rye that is waiting to be harvested. I used to “windrow” grain and I as I was close to finishing a field, I found myself tending to drift off into a daydream mode. I thought of the day, the year, my family, fishing, hunting, cars and just about any subject that entered my head as the tractor jarred me along toward home. It was a relaxing and redefining exercise. That is what this column will be about.

The small farm that I and many others knew is a part of our collective history, but the lessons acquired there are precious to me. 

Now you know the reason this column will exist and I’ll continue to write it until I run out of material or until my readers quit reading it. I hope it lasts for a few years! (Last Windrow-April 1983)

That column was written 30 years ago. The lessons are still true, the humor is still funny (I think) and I still have readers. Life has been good to The Last Windrow!

See you next time. Okay?