Railroad and family ties bolster Buresch family farm for 100 years
LAKEFIELD — Trains no longer hold the same fascination for Keith Buresch as they did when he was a kid and a line of the Milwaukee Road Railroad sliced through his family’s farmstead, approximately 100 feet from their front door.
But that rarity and minor inconvenience also had benefits; Keith and his brothers Michael and Byron were the frequent beneficiaries of candy, courtesy of a friendly engineer.
“He’d throw out a bag of candy on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Keith, noting the train passed through three or four times each week.
“We always had to look both ways when we crossed the track — lost a few farm dogs to the train — but that engineer wrote us a letter once to tell us we were the only farm he passed through between Madison, S.D., and his eastern destination.”
Keith has sweet memories of hearing the train’s approach and “hightailing it out there” with his brothers to retrieve the brown bag reliably filled with Baby Ruths, Butterfingers or Wrigley’s Doublemint gum.
“And around the Fourth of July he threw out a big pile of illegal fireworks from South Dakota,” laughed Keith.
Such experiences were possible on the Buresch family farm, located two and a half miles east of Lakefield on Jackson County 14 (also known as the Old Mill Road).
The Buresches recently applied for and received Century Farm status for the site, whose original 160 acres were purchased in 1920 by the Buresch boys’ grandfather Emil Buresch Sr. and uncle James Buresch.
Despite the wanderlust and adventurous spirit exhibited by their great-grandfather, Vaclav Buresch, Vaclav’s descendants have settled deep into the land to which he led them after a life that can only be described as remarkable.
“Vaclav must have been quite a character,” agreed Keith.
The Buresch family — largely of Czech heritage — arrived in Jackson County when Vaclav, his bride, Catherina, and their sons (Emil and James, both born in the late 1880s) answered the call for Vaclav to work as a field hand north of Lakefield in 1900.
Their journey to Lakefield was the culmination of a lifetime on the move, and no doubt a farmyard with a train track running through it was the least worrisome element Vaclav had encountered in his life.
Keith reports that Vaclav arrived in the United States in 1877 — Catherina came in 1884 — after Vaclav was conscripted into the Austrian army, where he spent 12 years.
Once in the U.S., Vaclav went to Chicago, where a large Czech community existed. He worked for a while helping rebuild the city, which was still recovering from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Vaclav met and married Catherina in Tama County, Iowa, before going to Omaha, Neb., where he labored in the packing houses as a scab.
“It must have been interesting,” said Keith dryly.
The senior Buresches were the victims of a land swindle near Duluth, where they lived for nearly seven years, before Vaclav’s reduced circumstances brought him to field hand status near Lakefield.
And at times, Vaclav and Catherina’s immigrant status was an obstacle.
“They both spoke fluent German — the Lakefield area was very German — so when my great-grandpa went into Lakefield, he was ‘German’ and when he went to Jackson, he was a Czech — and I’m not sure if anyone ever knew the difference,” said Keith.
Although the road to Lakefield was far from uneventful, the Buresch family fortunes improved thereafter, with Emil Sr. and James buying the original 160 acres in 1920 at a cost of $165 per acre.
In the early days they raised hay, flax, oats, corn, soybeans and livestock, although corn and soybeans have been the farm’s primary crops for more than 50 years now.
Emil Buresch Jr. married Martha in 1957, at which time they moved onto the farm and assumed primary responsibility for the farming operation.
Although Emil Jr. died in January 2019, Martha Buresch continues to live in Lakefield and co-owns the Buresch Century Farm with her sons Michael, Byron and Keith.
“Mike worked as an engineer for Case International Harvester until 2005 and lives with his wife Susan just a mile from the farm,” said Keith.
“Byron and his wife Keri live on the original farm site, with the barn there dating to 1905,” said Keith.
Keith and his wife, Pauline — a Mountain Lake native — currently live on Fish Lake near Windom.
Sixth generation keeping farm in business
Buresch Farms is a thriving family enterprise, with Buresch Seed Supply as an off-shoot and numerous family members working cooperatively to operate it all.
“We grew up helping on the farm and fell in love with the land,” said Amanda Jandera, daughter of Keith and Pauline and the farm’s office manager. “We watched the crops grow and be harvested, and we wanted to continue being a part of it.”
Amanda, her husband Casey, brother Luke and cousin Daron are all involved with the Buresch farming operation.
“All three of us brothers and five full-time employees are a part of this,” added Keith. “I like it here, and I don’t know anything different, other than the years I spent in Brookings for college.”
Luke, Amanda and Daron all earned ag-related degrees from South Dakota State University and are committed to continuing the family farm business as far into the future as they can see.
“We’re on our sixth generation here and have been in this community for 120 years now, and that’s meaningful to me,” said Keith.
With a keen eye, the former path of the farmyard-splitting railroad track — torn out in 1981 — can still be spotted, but for the descendants of Vaclav and Catherina Buresch, home is definitely at the end of that line.