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To an Absent Friend

Most of the freelancers who write for Farm Collector have some connection to agriculture and Jerry Schleicher was no exception. Raised in western Nebraska, Jerry grew up riding horses, branding cattle, milking cows and stacking hay. After college, he built a career as a writer for a variety of farm, livestock and dairy technology magazines. In retirement he contributed the occasional article to Farm Collector.

When Jerry died this winter after a long illness, he was working on an article for us about a traditional sugar beet harvest at the Farm And Ranch Museum, Gering, Nebraska. One of the things I always enjoyed about his work was the context he contributed from personal experience. As we emailed back and forth two weeks before his death, he was unusually expansive in recalling a time largely forgotten.

“I was born in 1946, one of the early baby boomers,” he wrote. “I remember my dad using a 1-row International Harvester beet harvester. Also, going with Dad to the railroad depot in the little town of Lyman, Nebraska, early each summer to claim the four or five Mexican nationals who’d signed up to block and thin our sugar beets with short-handled hoes. We housed them in an old railroad car that had been converted to a labor house, with a hand pump out front and a privy out back. Once a week he’d take them into town to buy groceries. They’d stay two months or so, then Dad would take them back to Lyman to catch the train home to Mexico. They were hard workers given a hard job, but I never heard any of them complain.”

He went on to elaborate on the unusual confluence of events that breathed life into western Nebraska’s sugar beet industry in the early decades of the last century, and I was thrilled as I pictured what would be an uncommonly well-rounded article. The deadline for that piece was probably the only one Jerry ever missed.

Jerry was a cowboy poet (read his work at Cowboy Poetry). In “The Old Walking Plow,” he considered an old plow recycled as yard art. “The calloused hands that tilled these lands live on in our memories. Recalled, somehow, by the walking plow that rests beneath the trees.” An old plow, as it turns out, makes a fine monument – especially for a Nebraska farm boy. FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.