At 87, Britton farmer loves helping son by driving 12-wheeled tractor

Sitting in cab is like watching a movie, only better

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum

Farming is and always will be what Gerald Schneider does each and every day. It’s been his driving force for the past 70 some years as he’s farmed in the Britton area. When he’s in the tractor, for him it’s like watching the best movie ever unfold before him --- and what’s playing is “The Life of Farming.”

Gerald and Dorthy Schneider in the farmyard.

That’s what Kay Daly wrote in her nomination for her dad for this year’s Farming Father’s honor. Farm Forum concurs and congratulates Gerald for caring for his family and sharing with them his desire to work hard to improve the farm. He’s turned it over to the fourth generation but continues to support his son Lee in the operation in many ways.

In a normal year, the Farm Forum staff would take dinner to the family and friends in the field. Photos would be taken and a story would detail why Gerald was chosen. With the COVID-19 precautions, this year the family received a gift certificate and provided the Farm Forum with photos and interviews.

In 1967, the Schneider family worked to put up hay with this equipment. 

Kay said her dad told her, “I didn’t know at 87 I would eat out of a dinner pail!” Her dad gets up in the morning and heads out to the farm to work in the field. “Taking the dinner pail is necessary because getting up in the tractor is part of the hard day’s work. He has two artificial knees, an artificial shoulder, and had neck surgery years ago. A heart attack two years ago slowed him down but 10 days later he was back out in the field! Now he has ankles that are worn out and may not be on the fix-it list so this makes climbing the ladder to the tractor cab hard work. But once up there, the view is spectacular! There is nothing he enjoys more than caring for the ground and making crops grow.”

“Farming for my dad started way back when horses and threshing machines were involved, now that love is still there to this day with a 12-wheel tractor,” Kay wrote. “The changes over the past 70 years are my dad’s real-life movie as he looks out over his land every day. Receiving the Farm Century Award in 2000 at the SD State Fair was an honor as well. The pride to have raised a family of three children on this land can be seen each and every day.”

Dorthy and Gerald Schneider receiving Century Farm Award in 2000.

Gerald and his wife Dorthy celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on July 2. Dorthy has been by his side as they farmed through good time and bad ones. Some years have been good; others bad. A bumper crop of wheat in 1958 was pretty exciting. “It was the first 50-bushel-an-acre crop I ever raised. My dad told me I’d never see that again but I have.” In 1956, Gerald harvested nothing but creek bottoms. That was his worst year of farming. 2020 is the wettest year he’s seen.”

The couple raised three children. Lee lives and farms with his wife Darda on the home place and two daughters. Joy Powers and her husband Steve live in Edgeley, ND and Kay Daly and her husband Doug live in Groton.

Dorthy’s baking skills for her family led to a business baking cakes for the community as she crafted cakes for weddings, anniversaries and graduations.

The culmination of all the hard work comes down to the family he and his wife raised. As Gerald reflects on his life, he said, “I sure miss those grandkids. They would ride with me and want to steer the combine when they were little. That was pretty fun.”

Schneiders combining a bumper crop of wheat in 1958.

Early yearsGerald’s grandfather bought the farm southwest of Britton from a homesteader in 1900. Gerald ties the desire to improve the farm to a visit from his grandfather when he was 10 or 12. “He talked to my dad. Us five kids all lined up and grandpa put his hand on me. I felt like he’d chosen me to look after the farm. After dad inherited the farm and I took over, I really felt I had to work hard to care for the farm to live up to his expectations.”

He remembers, “In the early days, I started milking cows when I was 6 years old. I really grew up when I was 12. I got the mumps and got over them. Then everyone in the family came down with them. I had to milk the cows, do the chores, take care of them and walk 1 ½ miles to school.”

This is the farmhouse that was totally remodeled on the Scheider farmsite. That was Gerald's last big building project. 

Gerald made many improvements through the years. Only one granary and two steel bins remain from the original buildings on the site. He extensively remodeled the farmhouse for his son and wife which was his last big project.

He wanted to leave things better than when he found them. When dealing with gumbo soil, Gerald tried an experiment. He put a foot of manure on those places and now his son is growing good corn on that ground. “Now I’m trying another experiment with some of this white (alkali) soil. We’ll see how it works in a couple of years.”

This is an aerial view of the Schneider farmsite southwest of Britton.

In recent years, Gerald graduated to driving the International 375 tractor with triple sets of wheels.

“When Lee showed me the tractor, I told him he’d better take one set of wheels off. He told me to try it for one day. I did and it is wonderful.” Gerald’s ankles are swollen but he gamely climbs into the cab to help with tillage. His ankles don’t bother him when he’s sitting down. So, “I’m glad I can do what I can.”

Lee remembers riding in a John Deere A tractor when he was 6 or 7, raking hay with his dad.

The A John Deere tractor drove across many acres on the Schneider farm southwest of Britton.

As he grew up, it was natural to follow in his dad’s footsteps. “It became a way of life. I went to SDSU to get a degree in animal science, knowing I wanted to raise cattle. On the farm, it’s me and my wife so I appreciate dad’s help. He loves doing tillage before the planter in the spring. In the fall, he likes to pick corn with the combine. I appreciate the help he gives me.”

Lee related that his dad’s love of registered Angus cattle started when Lee was 14. “He bought two registered Angus heifers, which is how our herd began. Now we are 100 percent registered Angus. My dad taught me how to buy cattle and pick out good breeding stock.”

With the improvements made to the farmsite, Lee said one person can pretty much work cattle by themselves.

With admiration, Lee said, “My dad can do just about anything he put his mind to, whether it is growing crops, raising cattle or building up the place.”

After a heart attack a few years back, Lee wondered if his dad should be back in the tractor. Gerald assured his son that there was no stress for him to be in the tractor. “He just goes at his own pace. He’ll crawl in the tractor at 9 in the morning and go till it’s time to quit at night. ”

When Gerald drives out to the farm in the morning, they’ll sit in his pickup and discuss plans for the day. “I’m the one farming, renting the land from him. Dad will make comments and provide suggestions about ways to get things done. Then we’ll do it.”

Some years there are struggles. Lee came back to farm in 1980. In the early 1990s, he had 450 acres of wheat that flooded. “I combined 50 acres and burned the rest.”

His dad taught him that when tough times are coming, tighten things up and don’t spend more than you have to. “We buckled down and planned for what we had to do.”

Lee said his dad supplied a lot of the machinery when he started; otherwise, he could never have afforded it on his own.

“Dad was always sharp and would take opportunities when they came up. If he was sitting at the sale barn and he could get a good deal on a bunch of cattle, he’d get them, feed them and sell them in a few months.

“Small farms are what they build this area on and lots of hard work from men like my father,” Kay wrote. The challenges are many but people like Gerald take the work to be done in stride.

Kay knows being on the farm each day soothes her father’s his soul. “He (Gerald) sits up in the tractor as comfortable and happy as sitting in his easy chair at home watching a movie; eating out of a dinner pail!”

Gerald and his son Lee Schneider.