Five generations of farming comes to an end

Farm Forum

BATAVIA, Iowa — Farmers from around southeast Iowa gathered in Batavia, Iowa, recently for a large farm equipment auction. They braved cold winds for more than two hours for the chance to bid on good, used tractors and other farm implements.

It was a good day for an auction, but for Steve and Diane Dallner, it was a retirement party. Steve comes from a long line of farmers.

Beginning with Phillip, the first son of the first son continued the farming tradition — until this recently. And all of those first sons, since Simon Frederick, have had the middle name of Roy. Steve is the fifth generation in his family to follow this tradition.

Family records show that Steve can trace his Iowa farming heritage back to 1846 and the family farm by Germanville. He has a photograph of his great-grandfather’s farm, complete with horse-drawn wagons and the original barns.

“My brother went there and bought the barn,” Steve said, identifying the middle of the photo’s three barns. “My great-grandfather built that barn, and when my brother built his home in west Yellowstone, he used the timbers as part of his house.”

Near that family farm by Germanville is the Dallner Methodist Cemetery and ther was a Dallner School before the names were changed to numbers.

“I’ve been there several times — the house is almost gone, my brother took the barn,” Steve said. “The gate is still there, and you can see the path they used. It’s all worn down because it’s been there so long.”

Steve’s grandfather was a World War I veteran. He left the farm to go to war. Steve’s parents actually met at one of those World War I reunions.

Then Steve’s father, Vern, farmed until he passed away at the age of 56. This was the turning point for Steve Dallner as that first son.

“I was teaching school, had been for nine years,” he explained. “But now I had the opportunity to step in and take over the family farm. And I decided I’d rather farm than teach.”

So in December 1981, walked away from a career in education and became a full-time farmer.

Steve’s son is career Navy, and Steve knows he won’t be coming back to farm. So when the time to retire came, Steve knew he was ready.

In 2010, he survived Hotchkins Lymphoma. Before that, he had an electrical problem in his heart, and that was when they sold the cattle.

“That was pretty nice,” Steve remembered. “There was no more responsibility to get them fed before getting ready for church, picking babies out of the mud. It’s a tremendous responsibility to take care of livestock.”

There’s also a little peer pressure involved, it seems. Many of Steve’s friends have already retired, and the guys he hunts and fishes with have almost all retired, too.

And then there are the family plans. Steve and Diane are ready to go south, take a cruise, maybe even visit Las Vegas.

“For the last 30 years, in spring and fall, the nicest parts of Iowa, we couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Diane retired last January, so now there’s no reason not to go.”

So the auction closed the final chapter of the Dallner family farming story. In an event his ancestors probably would have been amazed at, there were 200 bid numbers on site, plus 130 registered bidders online and more on the phone. That meant the Dallners’ farm equipment will now be used in Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Missouri.

“I answered the phone 29 times just on Tuesday,” Steve said, “just to answer questions about the equipment we were selling on Wednesday.”

While some of the earlier generations of Dallners would have been surprised by all this, Steve didn’t think his dad would have thought too much about it.

“My dad remembered when they changed from horses to the tractor,” he said. “When I was 10 years old, we had a D17 Allis Chalmers the size of the one we sold. So the equipment is entirely different, but that’s about it.”

Just looking at the tractors through the generations of Dallners makes for interesting comparisons. Steve’s largest tractor was about 270 horsepower. His dad’s was 130 horsepower. And his dad’s was 50 horsepower. And before that, there were actual horses.

A few pieces of equipment, the sentimental family ones, didn’t go to the auction site.

“I can’t get out of it completely,” he said with a grin.

The future looks bright for the Dallners, but Steve admitted the same can’t be said for all family farmers.

“There’s a cost investment with a farm, and some people just don’t want to take that risk,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to do, decide who’s going to take over a farm. You have to decide if you’re just interested in the money or who is the best to take over the care of the farm. Each family has to decide.”

For Steve and Diane, it wasn’t that hard to make their decision. It was time. And there are many lessons learned from farming that will stay with them forever.

“Every day, we’ve depended on the Lord, that He’ll take care of everything,” Diane said.

And that will happen whether they’re out in the field or not.