Farm Horizons, February 2008

Cokato farm more than 100 years old

Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The Steve and Ramona Strolberg farm north of Cokato has seen many changes in the past 100 years. But there is one constant at the crop farm, and that is, keeping the stories alive.

Steve’s great-great grandfather came to Cokato in 1903 from the upper peninsula of Michigan to start a co-op, the Farmers Store. Steve was certain his ancestors originally came from Finland, although the spelling of the Strolberg name is a question, he said.

His great-great grandfather also operated a store in Michigan. The Strolberg family lived in a grand house there, but they would have starved if they had stayed. Copper mining had ended, and the miners who would have been his customers moved away, Steve said.

In 1908, the Strolbergs bought 80 acres, about a quarter of a mile east of where the Strolbergs live now at 3766 Rockwood Ave. Gustaf Strolberg, Steve’s great-grandfather came to Cokato then, and began crop farming. Over time the Strolbergs bought land around them, and some land north of Dassel. The original site is still in the Strolberg family after more than 100 years, he said.

The Tom Constenius family, the Elvira Carlson family and Harvey Barberg family came to the same area in the 19th century.

“We’re new neighbors compared to them,” Steve said.

Steve’s father, Clayton Strolberg, bought land nearby the current Strolberg home. Originally, the Strolbergs had hogs and crops. Now they grow corn and soybeans.

Steve and his wife, Ramona, and children, Linsey, Levi and Luke, live in the older house now, with an addition built on in 1989. Previously, the family lived in a new house, where Clayton Strolberg lives, a half-mile north.

“We swapped houses,” he said.

The way farmers worked the land was different in his grandfather’s time. It was more cooperative. Neighbors helped with harvesting, for example. Now, farmers work individually, Steve said.

Also, the Strolbergs years ago were surrounded by small farms and large families. The Strolbergs gradually bought several surrounding farms, so now there are fewer, but larger farms, he said.

Whenever the Strolbergs took down or moved buildings, they found interesting items from long ago. The walls were stuffed with old newspapers for insulation, for example.

The Strolbergs have a door latch that was an antique when Clayton Strolberg was a child, Steve added.

Steve also heard stories about a cousin named Levi who liked to look out the window at the men working in the fields. He spent so much time resting his elbow on the window sill, it wore a dent into the wood.

Years later, when the Strolbergs dismantled the building, Steve wondered if a particular window sill was “Levi’s sill.” It looked smooth, though. Steve looked more closely and noticed someone tried to repair the dent by filling it with putty.

Steve scraped out the putty. After the building was torn down, Steve saved “Levi’s sill” for posterity, along with other family heirlooms, such as his grandmother’s old walking stick.

After World War I, it was difficult for the Strolbergs to get tractors, so Steve’s great uncles built a tractor out of a Model A car and a Model T truck. It was bolted together and called “the bug.”

“It still runs,” Steve said.

In another family legend, the Strolbergs had a distillery during Prohibition in the woods, in what was then “the middle of nowhere.” The alcohol was marketed by a drug store as “serum,” Steve said.

The former still was where the kitchen of one of their houses is now, he added.

During the Dust Bowl, when crops in Minnesota wouldn’t grow, Steve’s grandfather and neighbor, Milton Barberg, hopped a freight train to the Dakotas to get work harvesting wheat. They also tunneled under the Mississippi River with the WPA in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Steve said.

As time passed, more and more buildings were taken down on the Strolbergs’ land. A red oak building, though, always looked the same, no matter how old it got. The wood was so hard it was difficult to hammer a nail into it. It also lasted almost 100 years.

This year, Ramona Strolberg sells license processing in downtown Cokato. Steve said the Strolbergs have gone full circle. They have a store in Cokato, just like Steve’s great-great-grandfather did.

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