This is our second day of being snowed in. At approximately 1:00 PM today a Benton County Secondary Road Maintainer went by our East-West road; he then preceded South opening up the roadway to Highway 218, our normal pathway to Vinton. We are grateful for his service to our community. We now have to open up our driveway to our frontage road, but I am not as capable as I once was, so we wait for our Tenant Farmer, friend and good neighbor to arrive with his giant John Deere Tractor and homemade blade to scrape our driveway.

Yesterday because of the South Easterly wind we had two-plus inches of snow in our garage. We have it open to allow our Golden Retrievers, Daisy and Maggie, access to the out yard to do their exploring, hunting and toiletry business. I should have realized the wind direction would cause problems, but just didn’t think it through. I shoveled what I could; boy the snow was really wet and heavy. We realize once again that Nature is King and we have no real method to modify our weather. By the way: It is cold, but this is normally the time when we have our coldest Winter Temperature – February tends to always be our coldest and snowiest month. After all, it is Iowa (beautiful land between two rivers).

We have the means to live wherever we wish, but since 1977 we have chosen this place – the place where I grew up and under Father’s direction attempted to learn the skills necessary to be a successful farmer. I was a member of the local FFA and studied Vocational Agriculture at our almost new High School (Washington High). By raising hogs and cattle in this program I was able to earn enough to pay for a majority of ISU tuition.

One Summer I was able to get a job at McDowell Lumber at the wage of $1.25 per hour. By the end of the summer, I earned enough to pay for fully one-half of that year’s tuition. As I recall one year with room and board, books, plus dating expenditures - and beer money - was a princely sum of $1,400. In my junior and senior year, I was accepted into the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Program in which we were paid a private (E 1) wage of $75 per month; a welcome stipend. A big difference in what tuition is today. After Graduation and Commissioning I started active service in November at Webb AFB, Big Spring, Texas enrolled in Undergraduate Pilot Training. After completing my active duty commitment I was eventually hired by Trans World Airlines, I started training as a Flight Engineer on Valentine’s Day which after my marriage to Sharon I figured was one of the luckiest days of my life.

The economy was not very stable at that time and within 18 months I was furloughed. No job, a mortgage, a loving wife, and three small children. Things could not have looked darker, but we soldiered on. As mentioned before in 1977 we ended up where I started as an apprentice farmer. This was an 18-year absence and technology had changed immensely. Fortunately, I found a mentor of sorts to help me get started in tillage, seed selection, and chemical selection. The seventies was “the golden age” of agriculture, nothing one did was a mistake – it always worked out.

All good things must come to an end and the farm depression of the ’80’s’ took a severe toll on many good farmers who ended up overextended. We had always worked with our banker with ‘equity’ financing, now with this disaster, we had to learn ‘cash flow’ financing. A very difficult process to manage as most of us sold our produce only a few times a year. Even with livestock, sales were as few as twice a year, and the market proved fickle. Farming was the best job I ever had, and also (besides Command of an Airliner) the most stressful and uncertain of endeavors.

Somehow we carried on and in ’78 was rehired by TWA. That was a Godsend, but as the finger of fate would have it furloughed again in ’80. We were able to start an arts and crafts business. I had been an amateur cabinet maker, and Sharon had a real art skill. Her creations were excellent and many who purchased her wares have them to this day. We did not realize it at the time, but we were doomed to fail from the very start of our effort. In ’83 our operating loan became what the Bank would call ‘nonperforming’ meaning we did not have the cash to pay it off.

Our banker was in trouble as well and was not willing to renegotiate the terms. Our only card was that we had equity in our land, but to pay the note would mean selling part of our crown jewel – not acceptable. We went to our other bank in town and he took a chance on us and worked out a plan that we could make work. And to make all things better TWA needed pilots again. With Reagan in the White House and the economy improving we enjoyed steady employment until my retirement as Captain in 2001. We were able to keep the farm we had so worked hard to save. We had made it. Now we were on our own, debt-free – free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we’re free at last.

Blessings. This plague will soon end. Hang in there.

John Stiegelmeyer

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Comments (2)

John, I truly enjoyed your article. I know you as a smart, good hard working guy who loves his country but really nothing of your story. It says a lot about who you are and what you and Sharon have accomplished in your life. God Bless You both.
By: Don Eells on February 8th 4:18pm
Great Story! Thank you for sharing.
By: Gerald Bates on February 9th 9:09pm

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