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Celebrating a century in ‘Middaghville’

Phyllis and Charles Middagh are the present owners of the Middagh family century farm west of Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — When Charles Middagh’s grandfather Fred bought the 40 acres for his farm in 1913, he worked it with a Farmall B tractor and a team of horses. That method kept the farm going — though perhaps the horses changed once or twice — through the 1940s.

“Dad farmed a half section with that little thing,” remembered Charles. “And he still used the horses until after the war.”

It’s hard to imagine farming with horses in this day and age, but back then, of course, it was the only option. When your family has owned a farm for 100 years, the changes over time become part of the family lore. Modern conveniences make the family timeline.

Charles was born before the family had the modern convenience of electricity on the farm.

“We just had wood heat, and I was born in the winter,” he said. “The minister didn’t think it was right to bring a small baby home with nothing but wood heat in the house. But I was fine. I was born at Kilbride’s clinic.”

“We got electricity in ’49,” Charles remembered. “That was the greatest thing that happened to us on the farm. There were three things that made farming work — rural electric, the production of alcohol and the combine.”

While combines and electricity may be taken for granted today, the Middaghs look back at the big ice storm of 2013 — and the loss of electricity for eight days — as a big marker on the farm’s timeline.

“That was the worst storm I’ve ever seen and I’m 80.” Charles said, shaking his head at the memory. “So many trees down, and the power lines. Tim fixed me up a rake on the front loader to get the debris raked up.”

Tim, Charles and Phyllis’s middle son, still lives on the farm. Fred, his younger brother, lives in Sioux Falls, S.D. Nephew Mark and grandson Ryan live across the road. Tom, the oldest son, lives about a mile and a half away.

“We call it Middaghville,” laughed Charles. “We have five houses out here in all.”

The original corn crib on the farm still stands, as does the original house.

“Charles’ folks were married in the house,” Phyllis recounted.

The house, complete with its original vinyl flooring, is not without its issues, however, as granddaughter Katelyn can attest.

“I was lying in bed and heard a scratching sound in the chimney,” Katelyn reminisced. “There was a family of raccoons living inside it.”

Getting those coons out was a bit of a job, but it’s all par for the course when living on a farm.

Another story that brought smiles all around the table was the tale of tearing down the original tile silo.

“We tried to make it so that the silo would fall away from the hog shed … but it fell crooked and brushed against the shed. One of the pigs had a heart attack and died,” recounted Charles. “It was just a little thing.”

When the time came to stop having pigs on the farm, Charles wasn’t heartbroken.

“I was never very good at farrowing,” Charles admitted. “We had hogs forever, but it wasn’t hard getting rid of them. I missed the cattle, though. We got rid of them around the same time. The little calves were fun.”

Now the animals on the farm — the tame ones, at least — are limited to four dogs and 12 chickens.

“We have all the eggs we can use,” Phyllis smiled.

While the animals are mostly gone, the farming of soybeans and corn continues on the 160 Middagh-owned acres. When Charles is ready to give up ownership, son Tim will take over. But Charles isn’t ready to let go quite yet.

“Things went pretty darn good for us,” Charles admitted. “We’ve had a wonderful life. Good kids. Good grandkids. In 100 years, a tornado never took anything down. A couple hog houses have been flattened and blown around, but that’s it.”

There is one thing Charles doesn’t miss, however, and that’s walking beans. Even long, cold winters are OK with him.

“We look at winter as a challenge,” Charles confided. “People ask us why we don’t go to Texas or Arizona in the winter, but I say there’s no good ice fishing there.”

Charles did spend some time away from home, logging 21 months with the army based at Fort Lewis, Wash. He and Phyllis met during this time and were married in 1958 after Charles’ aunt suggested to him that Phyllis wasn’t seeing anyone.

Phyllis wasn’t a stranger to rural life, having grown up on a farm in Bigelow. Married over Christmas, Charles then had to return to Fort Lewis, but was released from the army early because he was needed on the farm. His father, serving at Fort Snelling in WWI, experienced a similar early release due to the flu epidemic and the need for workers back home on the farm.

All things considered, farm life has controlled every part of the Middaghs’ lives since Charles’ grandfather started farming a century ago. And they wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“We’ve really enjoyed farming. The life is great,” said Phyllis. “We wouldn’t change a thing.”