Farm Horizons, May 2000

Seefeldt brothers keep going in farming tradition

By Jane Otto

About 15 years ago, Paul Seefeldt went to a nearby auction where a Case three-bottom plow caught his eye.

Paul put up his $12, took the plow home, and has used it ever since.

Paul laughed and said, "It works great. The problem is that it's just getting so that it's hard to get parts for it. Sometimes you just have to make the part yourself."

It is with that ingenuity and lots of mechanical aptitude that Paul and his brother, Tim, keep the Seefeldt family farm operational along with more than a dozen tractors and a variety of farm machinery.

The farm, located on McLeod County Road 1, is on the western edge of the Lester Prairie city limits. Fifth generation farmers, the Seefeldts run 69 acres of the original 80, which their great-great-grandfather, Julius Seefeldt, homesteaded in 1871. Paul also rents again as much for oats and alfalfa.

Paul owns the farm, but Tim, who lives in Mayer, is there daily from about 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. when he goes to his job at Bongards Creamery.

Tim is a big help to Paul in maintaining the entourage of farm machinery, much of which collectors would drool over.

"We don't buy anything new," said Paul. "We're smaller, so we have to cut down on our spending."

Another cost savings is that they can repair just about everything they own.

"You don't want to send anything to the dealer," said Tim.

The equipment ranges from a 1938 Farmall F12 with steel rimmed wheels, to a 1962 John Deere 1040 diesel, and everything gets used.

"That's the most I ever spent on a tractor," Paul said about the 1040.

But, he was in need of a three-point hitch for plowing corn. The Case three-bottom plow works fine, he said, but there's not much clearance there to plow the corn field.

Tim rigged up a canopy on a 1951 John Deere A, which they now used for baling.

A 1944 John Deere B has also seen a Seefeldt modification. They welded a part of the shaft of an old feed grinder onto the tractor into which the corn drops. It serves as a support for a padded boat seat which makes for comfortable seating while hauling manure.

For spreading manure, there is a 1948 John Deere A. Tim had a cab which he engineered to fit the A that, Paul said, is real nice on those winter days in the field.

A 1949 John Deere B is used for cultivating and planting corn. Paul likes to use the F12 for cultivating, too. The two-plow attachment has a handle that can be squeezed to widen or narrow the width between the shears.

"It's a lot easier than adjusting bolts," Paul quipped. Steel wheels are also easier to maintain than rubber tires, he added.

And there's a 1950 John Deere used for seeding. The seeder itself, the Seefeldts have used for more than 40 years. The wheels once had wooden spokes until his grandfather replaced them with all-steel wheels he bought at an auction.

A 1944 hand-start John Deere A, which is used for cultivating, was once used to run the threshing machine. (See related article.) It had a big enough pulley to really get the thresher going.

And not all the tractors are green.

For mowing, there's a C McCormick and a 1951 Massey Harris 30 with a number 5 John Deere mower.

Paul uses a '50 or '51 8N Ford for light work like hauling wagons. The front bumper hitch, he said, is nice for pushing boxes.

Another great auction find for Paul was a '44 Massey Harris which went at $142.

"The fellow told me it needed to be overhauled, but I ran it for three years, before I had to overhaul it," Paul said.

Paul loves to talk about his tractors, some of which once belonged to his grandfather, and some to his dad.

When asked if he had a favorite, Paul replied, "Well, I don't know. I like them all, but I guess I would have to say the 1040. That power steering is really nice."

Paul said if he traded in all his tractors, they probably wouldn't fetch him enough for a down payment on a new tractor.

Considering the electronics involved in new equipment, they would eventually have to go back to the dealer for repairs, Paul added.

With older equipment and less use of fertilizer and herbicide, his crop yields aren't as high as most farmers. Paul spreads a dry fertilizer and then relies on cultivating and manure spreading.

The advantage of small acreage is that you can fill it up with manure, Paul said. This year, he said, he probably won't buy fertilizer and instead will spend the money to spray for weeds.

Last year, he said, his yields were about 125 bushels per acre for corn and 50 bushels for oats. Average crop yield in 1999 for the county was 162 bushels for corn and 80 bushels for oats.

His yields aren't quite up to the county average, but if you factor in his cost ratio, he's probably coming out ahead.

Cost savings are applied in the barn, too.

Paul has 25 dairy cows and 10 replacement heifers. However, rather than a use step-saver or pipe the milk to the bulk tanks, he uses buckets.

Paul said he's often asked why. His answer is usually the same ­ it's a good way to lift weights and get paid for it versus going to a gym and paying to lift weights.

The feed tanks are another example of their cost-saving savvy ways.

Two former feed grinders serve as the feed tubs. Tim torched the top off of one grinder so that it fit like a lid. A pulley was attached to the top. By using the handle that was already a part of the grinder, and the pulley, the lid opens and closes, making it easy to fill the tank with grain.

Legs were welded on the the other feed grinder, for which Tim made a sliding door at the base for the feed to come out.

The ingenuity, however, doesn't stop at farming.

Paul's father, Arnold, once worked at the Lester Prairie Cement Company. When the company folded, Arnold brought home an old, unwanted block loader.

"It's hand-made," said Paul. "It has a Chevy transmission and a Willis Jeep engine. We attached a v-plow to the forks and now it makes a great snowplow."

Though not an example of the latest in agriculture, the combination of creativity and frugality has enabled the Seefeldts to keep the family farm going in a time when it has become exceedingly difficult to do so.

"We're better off staying small," said Paul, "We're not going to get rich, but we can pay the bills."

"Bigger is not always better" could be one Seefeldt motto, but a more fitting one is "Success is what you do with what you've got."

Those were the days . . . of threshing

Up until 1992, the Seefeldts harvested bundles of shocked grain with a threshing machine. The McCormick Deering thresher still sits on the farm alongside John Deere A and B tractors.

"It probably still works. The drive belt is like new," said Paul Seefeldt.

Threshing is a Seefeldt tradition. His great-grandfather, Henry Seefeldt, was part of a threshing crew that went from farm to farm in the early 1900s. That machine was much larger than the McCormick Deering they have now, said Paul. It had a chute on either end.

Aside from the work, threshing was a lot of fun for the Seefeldts. There was plenty of food, family and friends. Paul said people would often stop by to watch, many of whom wanted to toss a bundle into the thresher.

At the last threshing party, Paul said the mayor took pictures and his sister-in-law video-taped the event.

Paul has since bought a 1955 John Deere combine.

"I didn't pay much for it. We just doctored it up a little bit," Paul said.

When asked if combining saves time, he just laughed and said, "Oh yeah."

With threshing, the grain had to sit and dry for a week. If it rained during that time, Paul said, it set you back another week.

Greasing the machine was another matter.

"There are umpteen grease cups," said Paul.

The cups had to be removed and filled with grease which took the better part of a day, he said. They adapted some of the cups so they could use a grease gun.

Two brothers, Hiram and John Pitts of Winthrop, Maine, developed the threshing machine in the 1830s. A revolving cylinder knocked the kernels off the stalks and a fan blew away the husks. Horses walking on a treadmill powered the machines and were replaced by steam engines in the late 1800s.

Farmers later used tractors to power threshers. The Seefeldts used a 1944 hand-start John Deere A to power theirs.

"When we ate lunch, we just let it run," Paul said. "It was a lot of work to get it going."

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