May 21, 2024

Farmer planning for his 71st year of growing crops

Bob Friestad (from left), his granddaughter, Marissa, and son, Scott, farm together near Morris, in northeastern Illinois, growing corn and soybeans. Bob purchased this grain truck that the family calls “Baby Blue” in the drought year of 1988 to haul his grain from the field to the local elevator.

MORRIS, Ill. — The only career Bob Friestad ever considered was farming and more than seven decades later he continues to grow crops on his farm near Morris in northeastern Illinois.

“All I ever wanted to do was farm and I thank God for letting me be his caretaker for all these years,” said Friestad, who farms together with his son, Scott Friestad, and his granddaughter, Marissa Scott.

Both of Bob’s grandfathers farmed after immigrating to the United States from Norway.

“That had to be an undertaking to come here without knowing anybody, unable to speak the language and no job,” he said. “I never knew either of my grandpas, but there was a lot of Norwegians in this area.”

Bob’s dad farmed until the fall of 1948 when he had a farm sale and moved his family to town.

“He didn’t tell us anything, but he knew he was not going to be able to continue farming,” Bob said. “He was diagnosed with TB, but after multiple surgeries, he overcame that.”

When he was an Ottawa High School senior, Bob started farming with a few acres on the west edge of town.

“My dad bought this farm in 1956,” Bob recalled. “He bought a full line of equipment at a sale during the winter along with eight cows and that cost a little under $5,000.”

Bob and his wife, Sharon moved to the farm in 1957.

“It was pretty slim pickings when we started,” Bob said. “My wife was raised in town with all the modern conveniences and on the farm we didn’t have an indoor bathroom for the first year.”

“The first time her folks came out, they didn’t say anything to her, but they said to each other going back that she’ll never stay there,” he said. “But she did and we’ve been married 68 years.”

All five of Bob and Sharon’s children are farming and 10 of the 21 grandkids are also involved with farming.

“We’ve got 52 great grandkids. I know some of them would like to farm,” Bob said. “I don’t know what else I would have done if I wasn’t farming, and if my dad didn’t buy this farm, I probably would not have been a farmer.”

The first year, Bob grew 70-bushel corn.

“The corn price would get up to $1.03 to $1.05 per bushel and then when the cribs were full, we’d shell the remainder of the corn,” he said. “I’d take the corn to town and it would go down to 90 cents per bushel just about every year in the fall.”

Sharon worked together with Bob on the farm cultivating, running the disk in the fall, plowing and hauling corn from the fields.

“When we sold our 4640 tractor I think it had 6,000 hours on it and she put well over half the hours on it,” Bob said.

“I think all of the kids learned how to drive a tractor from grandma, right out here,” Marissa added.

The Friestads milked about 20 cows for many years and during the fall, they would put the cows on cornstalks to clean up the corn after harvest.

“We use to run the cows across Route 47 morning and night,” Bob said. “It was a two-lane road then and my wife and I would get the cows all together and when you couldn’t see traffic, we’d open the gate and let them cross the road to go be milked.”

“When we came out here, almost everybody on this road was milking cows with cans,” he said. “In 1979, my oldest son, Kirk, took over the cows and now he’s the only dairy farmer in Kendall County. I milked 20 cows and he has 250 cows.”

Bob’s first combine was a John Deere 45.

“It didn’t have a cab, I’d have goggles and a mask on and by the end of the day, I could hardly see,” he said. “I traded that for a John Deere 6600 and I didn’t think combines could get any better.”

The new combine had a cab, but no air conditioning because Bob thought that was a luxury until he harvested wheat.

“I combined the wheat in July for my eldest son and there was a creek at the end of the field,” he said. “Every time I got to the end of the field, I’d go out and splash water on me to cool down so I could make if for another round.”

The header control was also a big improvement on the 6600 combine.

“It was a treat running it because the old combine was manual, and if you got off a row, it would dig in the dirt and you had to stop and push all that dirt out,” Bob said. “I bought the 6600 for around $33,000 and the last combine I bought was 20 times that amount.”

Scott studied at Joliet Junior College and began farming with his dad in 1982.

“This will be 42 crops together with dad,” he said.

Both Bob and Scott worked at the quarry that is located just across the road from the Friestad farm.

“I worked at the quarry for six years during the off season,” Bob said. “After I milked cows in the morning, I walked over there and at noon, I had half an hour to come home, eat lunch and feed the cows.”

Bob remembers the year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

“My wife would pick me up after work and we’d go get the cows,” he said. “I worked in the pits, so you didn’t hear anything so when she asked if I’d heard that John Kennedy was killed, that was the first I heard it.”

In 1988, Bob purchased a grain truck for hauling his grain to the local elevator.

“That was the year of the drought and I thought that was about the last thing I needed was to put money into a grain truck, but I still have it today,” he said.

“It’s blue, so everybody that meets it knows who it is,” said Scott about the truck that family calls “Baby Blue.”

“I worked at the elevator where we’ve hauled grain to forever and one day everybody started yelling on the radios to look out the window,” Marissa said. “I look out and there’s grandpa, we could see him coming down Route 47 and we were excited.”

Marissa helped on the farm while in high school and attended JJC for her degree in ag business.

“I started full time in 2021, so this is my fourth year of farming,” she said.

That was a memorable year for the farmers.

“We had tar spot so bad that the crop died within a week and then we had a wind storm on Sept. 7,” Scott said. “We actually had bin damage — it was that bad of a wind storm.”

“That night on the news, the highest wind speed of 73 mph was at Lisbon and everything we farm is within three miles of Lisbon,” Bob said. “That’s nice because we don’t have to travel far, but when you get a wind storm, every bit of our crops gets it.”

In addition to family members, the Friestads have had good help over the years, including Bob’s friend, Jim, who is 88 years old.

“He is the same age as me and he helped me when I started farming and he’s still in the operation,” Bob said.

“Those two work ground one right behind the other,” Marissa said. “Grandpa heads up the tillage team.”

In the fall, Bob operates the combine during the day and Marissa is the grain cart operator.

“We like to play games a little bit,” Bob said. “I keep going a little faster and I get about full with corn and there she comes behind me with the cart, but that’s what I like the best of all — not too many farmers get to work with their granddaughter.”

Bob enjoys preparing the ground for planting in the spring and this year will mark the 71st time he will complete that job.

“I also look forward to combining,” Bob said.

“But through the growing season, I like driving down the road after a nice rain when things are looking good,” he said, “especially when the corn is pollinating and there are long silks, because when we had corn borers, you didn’t see the long silks because they were all chewed off.”

“Dad keeps everything mowed and hand sprays around the edge of the fields to make it look nice,” Scott said.

“In 2021, when grandpa was teaching me how to work ground, it took us quite a while,” Marissa said. “Because we get so much garbage from Route 47, grandpa stops the tractor to get a piece of plastic.”

“Plastic never disintegrates,” Bob said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor