A hard row to hoe: Dickinson man still farming at 92
At nearly a century of life under the brim of his old cap, John Jaeger continues to live out his passion for agriculture by farming with equipment from the 1940s and 1950s.
DICKINSON — John Jaeger, a 92-year old Dickinson man, is still using vintage equipment to farm wheat and oats on approximately 50 acres north of town. While he used to farm a larger area with more modern equipment, he likes to keep it simple now.
“When I retired from my farming operation, I sold all my big equipment and I retained all the antique stuff that I originally started out with in 1953,” Jaeger said. “It's a hobby. I just can't totally hang it up, because what else is there to do?”
Some of what he uses to farm include a Gleaner combine and a Chevrolet truck from the 1950s, along with a tractor from 1944.
“That was my first tractor when I got out of the military,” Jaeger said. “I completely took it apart, cleaned it up and painted it.”
Jaeger finds joy in repairing equipment and fixing things. He continues to work on and improve his original farm equipment, like he always has.
“When I started farming with my dad, that was back in the 40s,” Jaeger said. “If we didn't have a piece of equipment or a trailer, or swather, or all that sort of thing, we made them. Our first pickup was made out of an old car. That's what we had for a truck. And everything was done physically. We had scoop shovels to unload the truck or the grain. But of course now everything is all modernized.”
Al Heiser grew up neighboring Jaeger’s farm and now lives just over a mile away from where he farms.
“We run cows over there on the pasture and it’s always fun to go over there,” Heiser said. “He's pretty knowledgeable about mechanics. You can go over there any time in the summer when it’s nice out and you never know what he’s going to have on the hoist or what he is going to be tearing into, whether it's a lawnmower or an old car or a tractor. He’s a really interesting individual.”
Jaeger was in the Army from 1950 to 1953 during the Korean War. He acquired much of his mechanic and welding skills during that time.
“My dad was a good farmer, but he was not a mechanic,” Jaeger said. “So I was the one that would fix things because I learned a lot of my traits while I was in the military – how to weld and repair things. So we did that and I still do that.”
He met his wife, Emma, while stationed in El Paso, TX.
“When we first got married, we lived in a little adobe house,” Jaeger said. “Water was outside, toilet was outside ... I mean, it was small, but when you're young and married, you're in love. You don't care about it. It was quite interesting.”
They moved to the farm, three miles from New Hradec, in 1953. Emma Jaeger, who passed away six years ago, had never seen snow until then, John Jaeger said.
“She didn't know what 20 below zero was,” he said with a laugh. “And she said ‘John when is the next bus back to El Paso?'”
Once she got used to the change she settled in, he added.
“She turned out to be quite a farmer gal,” John Jaeger said. “She really fit right in.”
They had six sons and six daughters. His brother, Frank Jaeger, who passed away in September, and son Mark Jaeger also helped at the farm.
“Dad did the mechanical part, the building part, and Uncle Frank, his brother, did the electrical part of everything,” Mark Jaeger said. “We farmed together for many years.”
John Jaeger said his father started farming with horses before he was able to buy tractors and other equipment.
“I still had the harness and everything in the old barn out there,” he said. “Back then, where I lived the farms were not very big. Maybe 420 acres would be considered an average farm back then because you didn't have the help or the machinery to do it. We had horses and everything. Then my dad finally bought a John Deere tractor on steel wheels.”
He began farming with his dad when he was about 14. He recalled how farming differed from today, saying they didn’t use chemicals or fertilizers. He didn’t have a television at the farm when he was young, either.
“We had a radio that would come in sometimes,” John Jaeger said. “They had their phone system you know where they strung wires all over. You know, but if it snowed or something or a wire broke, there ain’t no phone system.”
It was a party line system, where multiple people had access to phone calls, he added.
“But everybody else was listening and they knew where we were going on Saturday night,” John Jaeger said.
He has slowed down on farming and fixing but plans to continue on his small plot with his trusty equipment for a few more years.
“You might know that I'm a young 92,” John Jaeger said. “I'm thinking I might go another five years on it.”