Lost in nostalgia
It’s been said that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. This is true. Thanks to modern technology, nostalgia is better than ever.
I took a deep dive into the past after new neighbors moved into the nearby Warnes farm. I spent much of my boyhood tearing around with my buddy Steve on Al and Lorraine Warnes’ farmstead. Steve summered at the couple's place, and they became like a second set parents.
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Our new neighbors, Jen and Tim, were approached last week by a guy who was selling aerial farmstead photographs. Jen and Tim weren’t interested; what they wanted was a photo of how their place looked back in the day. Their barn is the only original building that has survived.
I could pretty much recall which building sat where. But I have zero artistic abilities, so reconstructing a visual version of their farm as it was in the past seemed impossible.
Then I Googled “old aerial farm photos” and stumbled onto Vintageaerial.com.
Treasure Trove of Photos
Vintage Aerial has a treasure trove of aerial farm photos that were taken in 1969. It’s difficult to find a particular farm photo based on a street address because our erstwhile rural route and box number system was replaced some years ago by our current E911 numerical addresses.
I clicked on Vintage Aerial’s link for Brookings County and waded into an ocean of old monochrome aerial farm photographs.
It was actually kind of fun. I felt like Sherlock Holmes as I methodically sifted through the photos. “Nope, wrong silo,” I would mutter to myself, or “That barn isn’t in the right spot.”
The farmsteads began to look somewhat familiar. Then – Bingo! There was Al and Lorraine’s farmstead just as it was 53 years ago!
Studying the details of the photo, I was able to mentally reconstruct a long-gone life. There sits Al’s Farmall “M,” hitched to the ancient New Holland “Super 77” baler and a flatbed hay wagon. In the foreground is a stack of alfalfa bales I probably helped create. Al and Lorraine’s house looks exactly as I remember it.
It occurred to me that since I was in the neighborhood, photographically speaking, maybe I could find my parents’ farm. A few clicks later, I did.
Oh. My. Gosh. There’s our farmstead in all of its 1969 glory!
The photo enabled me to recall forgotten intricacies of my boyhood. In the foreground are three ancient plows, a field drag, our four-row corn planter, and our grain drill. Our 1947 John Deere “A” – which I still have – is about to be mated to its mounted corn picker. Up by the chicken coop, a trio of Leghorns scratch out a living.
The farm’s majestic old barn, which was constructed by my homesteading ancestors, commands the center of the photo. At 60’ by 60’, it was thought to be humungous when it was new.
A fire destroyed the barn in 1988. But there it is looking exactly as I remembered, crowned by its gothic wooden cupolas, their lightning rods gleaming in the afternoon sun.
My parents’ farmhouse – it’s hard to believe ten people were living in there – still has its porch on the east side. As kids, we would play on the lawn during summer evenings as our parents watched from the porch. I can almost hear the lowing of a Holstein cow from down in the barn and the grunt of a sow greeting her new litter of piglets in the hog house.
A few more clicks took me across the section to Grandpa and Grandma Nelson’s farm, the place where my wife and I have lived for nearly four decades.
Our barn and silo combo look much the same. We tore down our rickety old corncrib many years ago, but the granary is still there, although it now serves as a garden shed.
Something in the middle of our lawn caught my eye. It was Grandpa Nelson, wearing his trademark summertime straw hat!
Grandpa passed away in 1978, but here he is, strolling across our farmstead with his dog, Tippy, at his side. Seeing Grandpa again after all those years caused me to choke up a little.
Then I realized why these old photos have such strong appeal for me. In the photographs, everyone that I knew and loved – my parents, my sister, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cherished neighbors – were all still with us.
This thought is tempered by the knowledge that my wife, our two sons, our grandson, and numerous new friends were still off in a future that was unimaginable by the boyhood me.
Nostalgia is a great place to visit. And now it’s only a few mouse clicks away.
About the Author: Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which became a book of the same name. The book is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.