Box cars carry Hoeks, livestock and belongings to rural Comfrey

COMFREY -- When the price of land rent rose to $4 per acre around Chapin, Iowa, Herman Hoek went in search of a farm of his own -- a search that took him to new territory in southwest Minnesota.

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The small building standing behind Carolyn and Roger Hoek was used as the summer kitchen by Roger's grandmother on this rural Comfrey century farm. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

COMFREY - When the price of land rent rose to $4 per acre around Chapin, Iowa, Herman Hoek went in search of a farm of his own - a search that took him to new territory in southwest Minnesota.

Herman purchased a quarter section in Cottonwood County in the spring of 1917 and spent the summer working the land and growing oats while his wife and son remained near Chapin.

“He put five horses, a plow and a buggy, maybe some other farm machinery, all in a box car and took the train to Comfrey,” shared Roger Hoek, Herman’s grandson, who now owns the farm with his wife, Carolyn. “He came out here and did the summer plowing and then he had his buggy along. He put two horses on the front and three behind and drove all the way back to Chapin, Iowa.”

By the spring of 1918, Herman and his wife, Anna, and their son, Herbert, not quite 8 years old, loaded the rest of their belongings on box cars and moved to their new farm about six and a half miles southwest of Comfrey.

“There wasn’t moving vans,” Roger shared. “You put your cattle in there, your horses in there - everything went in the box cars.


“The neighbors who knew you - they took their wagons to the depots and hauled your furniture home for you. The cattle were herded. There was no semi tractor to haul them.”

There was a full set of buildings on the farm in the northwest quarter of Section 20, Selma Township, when Herman purchased the farm, although Roger said they were quite primitive by today’s standards.

Herman and Anna erected a new home on the site in 1918 - a kit purchased from the Gordon-Van Tine Co. of Davenport, Iowa.

“They furnished houses for Sears and a number of other companies,” said Carolyn.

“The story we’ve always heard is that my grandmother inherited $4,000 and she bought the house with her money,” Roger added. “It came up the railroad to Minnesota.”

The new house was added onto what had been the living room of the original house. During a kitchen renovation, Roger and Carolyn discovered square nails were used in the home’s construction. The house is the oldest building on the farm today, with the garage constructed in 1920 and the barn built in 1925.

“Lightning hit the barn and blew a big hole in the roof,” Roger noted. The hip roof was taken off and a pitched roof was constructed instead, sometime in the late 1950s.

Triumph over tragedy Herman Hoek died in 1935 - three years before his first grandson, Roger, was born and just 18 years after he purchased the Cottonwood County farm.


“When my grandfather bought this farm, he bought it at the wrong time,” Roger said. “In 1920-21, there was a mini-Depression, and then the Great Depression came in 1929. It got so bad they had to use my father’s piggy bank to pay the taxes.”

Their car was put up on blocks in the garage and they went back to using the horse and buggy to get where they needed, he added.

“They bought (the farm) in 1917 and didn’t get it paid for until 1952,” Roger said, adding that after his grandfather’s death, his grandmother had only the rent money to make the farm payments.

Roger’s parents, Herbert and Lillie, lived in a second home on the Hoek farmstead until 1950, when they moved a half-mile down the road. Roger was 12, and spent a lot of time on both farms.

Growing up, Roger said they had stock cattle and one milk cow.

“My dad was not into livestock,” Roger said.

“Give him something mechanical to do - he was probably one of the first ones around here to have a welder,” added Carolyn. The welder, along with a new stove and a chest-type freezer were the first appliances he purchased when the farm got electrified in 1945 or 1946.

“My father loved new innovations,” Roger said. “He had the first microwave in the area - he paid $800 for it. He had the first color TV in 1951 - no one else had color TV.”


“We had a color TV in 1960,” chimed in Carolyn, who grew up on the other side of Comfrey.

Though Herbert was an innovator, life had its share of struggles on the farm.

In October 1960, Herbert’s wife, Lillie, had her legs run over by a tractor after it slipped into gear when she was stepping off from it. She was taken to a hospital in Mankato, but then ended up in Rochester with a staph infection. Lillie was hospitalized until the following March. She had been home about a week when her mother-in-law, Anna, died.

Shortly thereafter, Roger and Carolyn were married and moved to the homestead. During their early years, they had horses on the farm and were members of a local saddle club. They also tended to Herbert’s cattle on the farm and raised their family.

In three generations, the Hoek family farm has grown to 400 acres.

Roger continued to farm until 1982, when retinitis pigmentosa made it too difficult to continue on. By then, the oldest of their three children, son Scott, had been out of high school for a couple of years. Still living at home were daughters Angela, now a media specialist in the New Ulm High School, and Tanya, who lives with her husband and three children in Norfolk, Va.

Scott, who lives in Comfrey, farms the Hoek land today with help from his son, Josh.

The Hoeks are proud of their newly designated century farm, saying they hoped they lived long enough to see it become a reality. As for the future, they want the farm to remain in the family.

“My son’s not going to live here, but he’ll farm it for quite some time,” Roger shared.

Their grandson, Josh, has said he’d love to farm some day.

“If I have my way and my son has room for him when we’re gone,” Roger said he’d like to see his grandson continue the farming tradition.

“I would like to see (Josh) live here, but I’m not ready to leave,” added Carolyn. “As long as we can manage, we’ll stay here.”


Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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