At 90th birthday, ‘old duffer’ remembers a life of farm work and love of family
FILER — Few people have 84-year-old memories. But Duane Ramseyer does.
Ramseyer’s first memory is of herding sheep on foot down the old Clear Lakes Grade north of Buhl. He was about 6 and his father had him bringing up the rear as they made their way back to their farm at Sucker Flat north of Filer.
“I must have had a good dog with me,” he said, laughing.
Ramseyer also remembers his parents, Maye and Homer Ramseyer, paying a 25-cent toll to drive across Twin Falls’ rim-to-rim bridge in the 1930s before it became the Perrine Bridge.
“I’m an old duffer from way back,” he said. He was born in the Twin Falls Hospital in 1928; Thursday is his birthday.
“I’m just an ordinary guy who’s made it to 90,” he said humbly.
Times have changed
Ramseyer (pronounced “ram-sire”) has lived his entire life — except for his years in college and serving in the army — raising crops, cattle, sheep and hogs on his family’s 101-year-old farm.
“Everyone had a cow or two for milk,” he said. “If you had five cows, it was a dairy.”
He remembers swimming unwanted “outlaw” horses across the Snake River to his father’s Niagara Springs Trout Farm where the horses would be slaughtered, skinned and fed to the fish. Blankets were then made from the hides.
Ramseyer remembers gathering wool from sheep that had frozen to death in the winter.
“When other kids were out riding bicycles, I was driving a team of horses,” Ramseyer said. “Things are different now. I doubt kids these days want to get up at 6 a.m. to cut hay.”
Take a walk around the farm and Ramseyer’s work ethic will become evident. The place has his fingerprints all over it.
“My brother, Don, and I dug all these post holes by hand,” Ramseyer said, pointing to corrals that have stood for decades.
“We poured this concrete pad by hand too,” he said, explaining how they raked texture into the surface to give the livestock traction when the pad was wet or icy.
West of the corrals is the original farmhouse his parents moved into when they bought the property in 1917, and where Ramseyer and his wife, Mary, raised their family.
He and Mary built a new home west of the old house in the early 1970s. Ramseyer’s hired hand lives in the old house now.
The Ramseyer farm was deemed a “Century Farm” last year by the Idaho State Historical Society and the state Department of Agriculture. It’s not easy to keep a farm in the family for 100 years, he said.
Today’s high farming costs have forced small guys to sell out to the bigger guys, he said, pointing out a new bean thresher worth about $200,000 down the road from his home. “In that field alone, there’s a million dollars’ worth of machinery.
“A farmer can’t make a living off of 40 acres anymore,” he said. “Those 40-acre farms are mostly gone now.”
But Ramseyer doesn’t lament the past, he embraces the future, whatever it is.
“I’m a farmer and I appreciate a nice crop,” he said. “I’d like to come back in 500 years and see the changes.”
Ramseyer has seen farming evolve — from irrigating using dirt ditches and siphon tubes to cement ditches, to gated pipe, to wheel lines, and finally to pivots.
“Dad came from a generation that fixed everything,” said his oldest daughter Lynn Popplewell of Buhl. When something broke, they didn’t buy a new one; they fixed the old one.
He still helps his sons, David and John, on the farm.
“Dad’s a good repairman,” said David, who owns additional farm ground south of his father’s place.
Ramseyer said the success of the farm has been a family effort.
“Idle hands are the hands of the devil,” he said with a grin.
Ramseyer has collected more than 1,000 books and has written several books of his own.
The family worked hard together, and they played hard together. In 1960, the Ramseyers bought a building lot in Sun Valley for $1,500 and built a cabin so they could spend time skiing.
“It’s important that families stay close,” Ramseyer said.
“Dad’s a good man with strong values,” Popplewell said, the sound of appreciation swelling in her throat. Her sister Phyllis lives in Parma.
Mary Etta Anderson Ramseyer died less than a year ago. The two, who started dating in high school, were married for 67 years.
Since his wife’s death, Ramseyer has taken her collection of colorful windsocks out of storage and flies them in the backyard where he can see them through his living room windows.