The energizer bunny that kept farming until the end
It became a ritual for me every year during the fall harvest season. I hopped into the bright green John Deere combine with a Dodge County farmer.
When I first started this tradition back in 2014, it basically was to get a personal perspective on the harvest season and what the crops looked like. But once I connected with Lowell Trom, I found out it was so much more. He had a story that I found compelling.
I quickly found that Trom wasn’t just any ordinary farmer. For almost 80 years, Trom devoted his life to his native land in Westfield Township and grew crops, corn and soybeans. Trom, who lived on the same farm place where he was born in the kitchen in 1929, operated 760 acres with his sons Brad and Jimmy.
It’s not often to find a man who’s lived on the same farm for nearly a century and worked the land for most of those years. I’m not aware of any official records, but I have to believe Trom was one of the state’s oldest of active farmers.
Trom always loved farming ever since starting out picking corn by hand and then moving up to a team of two or three horses to get much of the work done back in the early 1940s. From there, he wondered what he accomplished when he got a 2-row combine in the late 1950s. It was remarkable in seeing the progress made over those years, ending up most recently with the addition of a brand new John Deere in 2014.
Brad always referred to his father as “the energizer bunny,” who wouldn’t stop going. The eyes and face on Trom may have looked a little tired in recent years, but who wouldn’t for a man in his late 80s. “I get tired, but I don’t get tired of farming,” he said a few years ago.
Neither age nor health concerns kept Trom from doing what he loved to do. He survived quadruple bypass, open-heart surgery, knee replacement and issues with his shoulder. The last count I heard from him was 17 surgeries of various types over the years.
It always surprised me every fall when I would venture out to his farm to see him climb the stairs to reach the cab of his combine and set in for another harvest season behind the controls.
A true farmer at heart, Trom really never entertained the idea of retirement. “I should have quit 20 years ago, but it’s too late now,” he once told me as he maneuvered his way through a corn field. He quickly added, “If I slowed down, I’d probably die sitting in the chair.”
He once admitted to me that it would be nice to retire, but quickly followed it with, “What would I do—chase girls?” He pondered on that thought for a second longer before saying, “I’ve got more to do than sit in that damn nursing home. That’s for old people.”
When I asked him about his key to longevity, Trom didn’t hesitate in saying it boils down to hard work. “If you have something to live for, you’ll be around for a while,” he said.
Trom never lost his sense of humor. Last year, when I was out with him, he had a little trouble lining up the auger with the wagon to unload the freshly harvested corn. Some accidentally spilled out with his son yelling at him over the 2-way radio. “There’s the profits,” he said. “I’ll have to get a job this winter.”
Trom was always content with sticking to what he knows best—farming. It certainly wasn’t heading to the casinos. “You don’t have to go to the casino with farming,” he said. “Farming is one big gamble by itself.”
Sadly, this year’s harvest will not be the same. Trom, who was encroaching on the 91-year mark, died last week at a Rochester hospital. He had been fighting some health complications in recent months.
With corn and soybeans waiting to be harvested after a less than desirable growing season this year, Trom did not get the chance to hop aboard his combine for one last harvest. But you can bet he’s watching from above and making sure his sons are taking over right where he left off.
One thing became obvious to me over recent years. There is no taking an old-timer like Trom out of the farm. He’s been woven into the fabric of the agricultural landscape of southern Minnesota for decades.
A harvest without Trom is like having an ice cream cone without ice cream. I feel privileged to have spent time with a man so passionate about farming and in hot pursuit of tending to God’s creation.