Rural Allendorf, Iowa, family honored for 150 years of farming
Gary and Jessa Wolter are the fifth-generation farm owners. They celebrated Heritage Farm status with a family reunion in July.
ALLENDORF — Christian Krueger was 20 years old, the oldest of 12 children, when he set out for a better life in America. He left his home of Wurttemberg, Germany, behind, ending up initially in Reedsville, Wisconsin.
His occupation was listed as farmer and gardener when he came to the United States, and it was his dream to have a farm of his own.
While in Reedsville, Christian met Wilhelmina Beyersdorff; they married in 1852. Twenty years later, they made their way west, staking a claim on a quarter section in Osceola County, east of Sibley, Iowa. It wasn’t until several years later that the small town of Allendorf formed about a mile south of their farm.
“They homesteaded the quarter right here, and a few years later they homesteaded the 80 acres right next to it,” said Gary Wolter, great-great-grandson of Christian and Wilhelmina.
Christian and Wilhelmina lived in a dugout they constructed just below a hill on the property, offering protection from a north wind, until they were able to build a home. An indentation marking their first home was visible to future generations.
Gary had wanted to dig up the site years ago, but his dad said he wouldn’t find anything because Christian and Wilhelmina didn’t have anything.
The settlers worked hard to grow crops, harvest, build a proper home and shelter for their livestock.
In order to claim the land as theirs, they had to plant 10 acres of trees on the quarter and live on the land for five years.
“I don’t know how they survived,” Gary said. “I don’t know if they got in their buggy and just started going west and they got this far and figured that’s far enough.
“Most of eastern Iowa was already homesteaded,” he added.
Christian and Wilhelmina had 10 children, the youngest of which was born on the Osceola County homestead on July 9, 1872. Of their 10 children, just six survived to adulthood. They lost one at age 7, one at age 4, one at age 1.5 and one at age 9 months.
The oldest son of the family, Fred, purchased the original 160-acre homestead from Christian in 1895, and added the adjacent 80-acre parcel that Christian had also homesteaded, in 1909. Christian, meanwhile, went on to settle or purchase numerous parcels across the country, owning land in South Dakota, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
House becomes a home
By the time Fred purchased the homestead, he and wife Louisa (Schossow) Krueger had already been married for 21 years. They were the parents of eight girls and five boys.
Fred had farmed the land alongside his dad Christian, but the family had other pursuits as well.
“Christian and his boys built the Klondike dam and flour mill in Klondike, Iowa,” shared Gary. “People from all over the country would bring their wheat there.”
The dam was built on the Big Sioux River, right along the state line near Canton, South Dakota.
The Kruegers hauled rocks onto the ice during the winter, and when the ice melted, the rocks fell to the river bed and that’s how they established the dam.
At the homestead, Fred and Louisa are believed to have built the home that still stands today, through two major additions and renovations in the last 120 years.
“Christian and his wife built a little white building for their first house,” said Gary. “It was farther west. There was a flat rock there that was the foundation for the first house.
“When they built this house, they moved (that one) up … and used the lumber to build a new chicken house.”
The new house was built in 1900, consisting of a rock cellar, main floor and upstairs. They built an addition in 1918.
“I always thought if I lived here, I’d jack the house up and take out the cellar and build a new basement, but that never happened and it ain’t gonna now,” Gary said.
The house underwent a second addition and renovation in 2005, when Gary and Jessa added a sitting room, as well as a combination laundry and main-floor bathroom.
“Before that, I was doing laundry in the cellar,” said Jessa, noting her use of a Maytag wringer washer until 2005 and carrying water up and down the cellar stairs. With the main floor addition, she finally got an automatic washing machine.
From Krueger to Wolter
Of Fred and Louisa’s 13 children, oldest daughter Alice — married to Frank Wolter — became the third generation owner of the farm. A preacher from Allendorf is credited with their introduction — he took Alice to Fonda, Iowa, to meet Frank.
“At the time, Frank was raising a niece and nephew because their parents died,” Gary said.
Alice and Frank initially stayed in Fonda, and a couple of years after they were married, they moved to the rural Allendorf homestead and purchased the 240-acre farm from Fred and Louisa.
In addition to raising Frank’s niece and nephew, the couple had eight children together (one died at age 2), and raised another orphaned child. They also raised Belgian horses on the farm.
“Grandpa Wolter always had a car, but he never had a tractor and he wouldn’t drive a tractor,” Gary said. “He said you’ll always need horses.”
When Frank and Alice retired, their oldest son, Floyd, became the farm’s fourth owner.
“Frank gave each of his kids 80 acres,” said Gary. One of the kids went to farm the land by Fonda, Floyd and Ralph split the quarter that was the original homestead, and Bob received the 80-acre parcel west of the homestead. Daughters Clara and Eleanor split a quarter section and, of that, 80 acres remains in the family as it’s owned by Eleanor’s daughter-in-law.
When Ralph decided not to farm, Floyd purchased his 80-acre parcel, and when Bob decided to quit farming, Gary bought his 80-acre parcel for a mere $1,000 an acre.
Gary and Jessa later bought the original 160-acre parcel with the homestead from his parents.
“Dad had milk cows, beef cattle, chickens, sheep, hogs — just about everything,” recalled Gary, the second-born of Floyd and Nadine’s four children. He has one older brother and two younger sisters.
Of the boys, it was Gary who wanted to be a farmer.
“That’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “In fact, I quit high school because it was interfering with my education.
“My folks made me go, but junior year, half the time I wouldn’t even go to school,” he added. “Dad said if I wasn’t going to go to school, I had to stay home and work. That’s what I wanted to do.”
A couple of years later, with a potential war looming on the horizon, Gary succumbed to his older brother’s requests to enlist in the Army — it was his brother’s wish to serve. When they both went for their physicals, Gary was accepted and his brother, who had epilepsy, was not.
“We were both unhappy,” Gary recalled. He went off to serve — to get it over with — before starting his own life’s dream of farming.
Gary meets Jessa
After Gary served his stint in the U.S. Army from 1956-58 — which included one and a half years in Berlin, Germany — he moved to a farm near Harris and operated a farm across the road from his parents north of Allendorf.
“I’d milk cows there and I’d get done doing chores at night and run to Allendorf to get a nice, thick chocolate malt,” he said.
“And I still make them,” Jessa said with a laugh. She was working behind the counter at Oldenkamp’s Cafe when he’d come in. “I’m six years younger (than Gary),” she said. “There were no girls left around his age when he got back from the service.”
After the couple married, they rented a farm two miles east of Allendorf.
“It was all hills and pasture and rock,” Gary said.
“Not a good farm, but that’s where we lived until we moved here 44 years ago,” Jessa added.
The son of their landlord decided to farm, which forced them to move. That’s when Gary’s dad suggested they move to the home farm.
“Dad said I should farm this. He was old enough to quit, but he wasn’t moving to town,” Gary said, adding that his parents built a home for themselves on the southeast corner of the parcel.
When Gary and Jessa moved to the Wolter family farm, they brought their herd of Jersey cattle with them. Gary’s dad had only some Shetland ponies by that time, so there was room for the milk cows.
Gary was in high school FFA when he purchased his first Jersey heifer from a guy who’d shown it at the Osceola, and then Clay County, fairs in northwest Iowa. That was in about 1955.
“Dennis Truckenmiller went with me and he bought a heifer too,” Gary said, adding that it was Dennis who took care of his cattle while he served in the Army.
Dennis married while Gary was overseas, though, and the half-dozen cows with calves were taken to the Wolter farm and cared for by Gary’s brother until Gary returned.
Gary and Jessa worked side by side on their purebred, registered Jersey dairy farm, from milking cows to raising calves and exhibiting them in the show ring.
“Gary showed at the Clay County Fair in Spencer for 57 years,” Jessa said.
“Plus a lot of other shows,” added Gary. Among them, the World Dairy Expo, Minnesota State Fair, South Dakota State Fair and Sioux Falls Fair, and open class shows in Nobles and Jackson counties in Minnesota.
Their herd of milk cows was kept to about 30 to 32 head, which proved to be plenty of work for the couple. They sold Jersey show stock as part of their business.
The Wolters continued to milk until about 2005.
“It got to a point where we had to redo the barn and we didn’t want to do that,” Jessa said.
Aside from the dairy, the couple kept a few chickens off and on, raised some guineas and had a flock of sheep for a while.
They also raised two children on the farm — son, Delane, who lives in Puyallup, Washington, and daughter Renae, who lives in what had been her grandparents’ home on the southeast corner of the farm. Delane and his wife have three daughters, one of whom just got married in June.
“We flew out there for six days,” Jessa said.
And on July 23, the entire family was together again — with the extended Wolter clan — for a family reunion on the farm in celebration of its 150th anniversary.
“About 80 people from 10 different states were here,” she added.
Then, in August, Delane returned home to join his parents and sister at the Iowa State Fair to accept their Heritage Farm certificate.
That the farm has remained in the family for 150 consecutive years is something that any farmer would be proud of, especially when one thinks of everything their ancestors went through in settling the land, breaking the sod and making it through grasshopper plagues, storms, the Great Depression and the 1980s farm crisis.
“We’re kind of proud that we still hung on,” said Jessa. “We kind of know the feeling (ancestors had), because we had it in the ’80s and know how tough that was.”
In 1993, they had to plow their corn crop under because it never matured, and that was hard too.
“Yeah, we had tough times, but our ancestors did too — and the blizzards,” she added.
Today, the Wolters rent out their tillable land to a trio of young men — brothers Patrick, Brian and Brad Alexander — who farm together in the neighborhood. They share equipment with their dad, Paul.
While the Alexanders will continue to farm the land, the 240-acre Wolter farm will stay in the family.
A special place
The rural Allendorf farm has been making memories for descendants of Christian and Wilhelmina Krueger for 150 years and counting. For years, it has played host to family reunions.
“Uncle Bob had a baseball field here in the yard,” said Gary. “In the old days, the kids from Allendorf would come out and play ball.”
As a kid who loved to farm more than follow a baseball, Gary enjoyed that work that didn’t always seem like work. As a kid, he recalled the times the county would come through and mow the shoulder of the road. He would get his coaster wagon out, grab a pitch fork and walk to the end of their long driveway to pitch the grass into the wagon.
Little load by little load, he’d haul the grass up to the yard and store it in the loft of the garage. When the space was full, his friend’s dad would come over with the baler.
“We had a whole load of hay bales,” Gary recalled.
Speaking of hay, the family farm experienced a tragedy in 1935 when the barn was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. They had just put up hay that day.
“Grandpa seen it and hollered at the kids upstairs, but there was nothing they could save,” Gary said. “Grandpa had a brand new set of harnesses that got burned.”
Also lost was one calf and the farm machinery, which was stored in lean-tos built onto either side of the barn.
“After the fire, they pushed the machinery into the hole and buried it,” Gary added. A new barn was constructed that same year.
The first tractor on the farm was an F-20 Farmall Gary’s dad bought new in 1939, and while Gary learned to drive the red tractor, it was the green variety he preferred.
A collector of John Deere tractors and memorabilia since 1963, Gary and Jessa had more than 100 antique tractors at one time — of all different makes and models. Then there were the pedal John Deere tractors, 24 of which were sold at one of their three retirement auctions, and hundreds of small-scale toy tractors.
“The toys I collected forever,” said Gary, noting that he even made a 1/16th scale tractor 70-plus years ago.
The oldest full-size tractor in his collection was a 1923 Model D John Deere, which was sold at auction and fully restored by the buyer.
The only brand new tractor Gary ever purchased was a John Deere 4440, which was Jessa’s tractor.
“We always worked together on the farm,” said Jessa. “I always helped with field work and chores, milking and the calves.”
At one time, both Gary and Jessa had John Deere 730 diesel tractors that they farmed with.
Their collection — a John Deere tractor museum — was stored in a former cattle shed on the farm, and they opened it up to visitors for years.
“We had all kinds of John Deere collectibles and memorabilia — toy tractors, hats, signs — all in the museum,” Jessa said. “We had a guest book that people would sign, and there were people from all over — foreign countries and all.”