GRAND MEADOW, Iowa | For Jerry Campbell, nothing compares to the feeling he gets while making that final pass through the field each fall on the combine.
It's a touch of satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and a bit of a depressing ache, really.
"It is a bit sad knowing you won't be out in the fields again until spring," says Campbell, a farmer from Pierson, Iowa.
Campbell, 83, helps pass the time each winter with his tractor collection. He tinkers with engines, wheels and paint on the 30 John Deere and Case IH models he owns and has restored. He occasionally scours the countryside for parts, entire units and/or upcoming sales.
This isn't the only occupation he's ever known; just the one he's known longest and best.
"I started farming in 1958," he says while standing next to his John Deere A, a unit built in 1935. "I got out of the service in 1956 and worked for two years, in Sioux City for a while and with Flewelling Earth Moving. I got a chance to rent 80 acres in 1958 and we got started. We were there a year before we moved closer to Union School (in Union Township) and we farmed there for five years."
Campbell's "we" includes his wife, Shirley. The couple, who've been married 62 years, have five children and 14 grandchildren. Four grandchildren recently accompanied them on a two-day tractor ride near La Crosse, Wisconsin, a trip that combines their love of family and love of agriculture.
"After being near Union School, we moved to a farm four miles east of Kingsley and we were there for four years," says Campbell, a 1952 graduate of Kingsley High School. "And then we bought a 160-acre farm two miles west and three-and-a-quarter miles north of Grand Meadow. We're still there, raising corn, soybeans, a dog and some cats."
Son Lee rents the ground and Dad helps trucking grain from the field at harvest. Jerry Campbell started September by getting a cortisone shot in his left shoulder that should ready him for the task of gathering in a better-than-average corn crop.
Having a shoulder in working order helps him as he embarks on other tractor restoration efforts, a labor of love. Campbell has brought his own units back to life, while working his magic on those of other area farmers. He moved several from the farm to the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival, an annual rite of early September in this neighborhood.
"Each tractor has a story behind it," he says, noting how he worked quickly to finish up one tractor in time for his 50th wedding anniversary celebration in July 2005.
The way they land in a restorer's hands is also colorful. Campbell recalls trying to purchase a manure spreader and a sprayer form his uncle, Roy Ideker, of Merrill, Iowa, years ago. Roy's son, Craig Ideker, convinced Campbell to take a Case tractor off their hands when he bought the sprayer and spreader.
"I didn't want that Case, but I knew that Roy Nafe had parts for it, so I took it," he says. "Someday, it'll go back to Roy's family."
In the meantime, Jerry Campbell can show it off and allow hundreds -- if not thousands -- of other farm enthusiasts, young and old, to inspect it and enjoy it, just as he enjoyed these mechanical marvels nearly eight decades ago.
"I remember when I was 4 years old that my grandpa, Henry Grubb, bought a G in 1938," Campbell says. "He used it while cultivating his corn and he stood up while working, he was so proud. It might have been the only John Deere G shipped to Kingsley."
Grandpa Grubb died in 1958, the year Jerry Campbell began his farming career. Having a similar G, purchased 17 years ago in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, now restored and in his possession, links generations, a living, breathing artifact that helped change the fortunes of Iowa farmers as they worked the land all the way up to each fall's final pass through a field of corn.