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CHAPTER 5 Timelines RON SCHERBRING The blufflands just north and west of Winona, Minnesota, rise above the Mississippi in steep hills. A few miles inland, the country is barely beginning to ease up a bit, has not yet relaxed into the rolling hills that appear just a few miles farther west. Rollingstone is nestled in these steep, July-green hills so typical of karst topography. This town of about seven hundred has an impressive museum, a handsome high-spired church with carefully trimmed lawns, and a very neatly kept public park, complete with an immaculately groomed baseball diamond. The morning I was there, though they had built it, no one had yet come. The housing off Main Street is equally well kept and nicely painted. About half the buildings on Main Street, a block long, are brick, and they add an air of permanence, a dimension of character to the town, as if to say it was built to last despite the precarious terrain around it. I'm early for my meeting with Ron Scherbring, so I go into Bonnie Rae's, the town's only cafe, and have some coffee. The menu sports an array of hamburgers (one-quarter to one-half pound), cheeseburgers, and diverse other sandwiches. Dinners range from $6.25 to $6.95, depending on whether you get three pieces of fish, hamburger steak, chicken strips, an eight-ounce New York strip, a six-ounce rib eye, or batter-fried shrimp. You can also get a side of "cheese bombs" for $2.95. A sign posted near the icebox announces, "Desserts are Homemade." Today's desserts are cookies, "fresh homemade pie"—apple and banana Timelines cream—and Snickers cheesecake. I'm happy to settle in here; it's my kind of place, and I'm comfortable here. Though everyone who comes in takes a second, quizzicallook at the stranger, no one pays any further attention. They don't seem to mind my just waiting, reading, making notes, drinking coffee. I am a chain drinker, and the waitress is attentive. I recognize Ron when he comes in, though I've never seen him before . He has an air of authority about him, one I expected from our phone conversations and because it fits his role aspresident of the Southeast Minnesota AgAlliance. He's also the only guy who's come in looking as if he's looking for someone. Ron is a regular here in Bonnie Rae's. Everyone in Rollingstone is a regular at Bonnie Rae's. Ron introduces me to DaveWardwell, the owner and the man behind the cash register. Bonnie Wardwell works the tables and is the one being generous with the coffee. Both serve as "chief cook and bottle washer," depending on the traffic, each doing whatever is necessary to keep things moving. Ron asks Dave if we can sit someplace quiet, and he seats us in another room, one we have all to ourselves. We settle in over coffee, and I tell Ron what I'm up to—trying to tell the farm story of southeast Minnesota and beyond, not writing yet, but interviewing a variety of farmers,faculty, and extension agents, trying to educate myself. He listens carefully, then begins. One of the things I've been doing lately is really looking back. I love timelines. When I look back at a timeline, I have a better sense of what's happeningtoday. I was taught,but also believe, that historyis the bestlesson. In one regard, Ron's historical view echoes H. C. Hinrichs's: the importance of the shift that took place in the early fifties. He offers a brief synopsis of our agricultural history. We all talk about the thirtiesera,when we had the Depression,and we talk about the forties, when the war was taking place.And then we lose track of it and we jump over to the seventies. The fifties were really the transformation age,wherewe really lost the horses in agricultural power. We did have some tractors before that, but we really separated ourselves then. Bythe end of the fifties and early sixties,we pretty much went from horsepowerto tractorpower. That midcentury point marked a kind of watershed in Hinrichis view, and it does in Ron's as well. 65 Farmers Talking about Farming There was a group of people that really began to know what they could do when they moved from one setting to the other setting in tractor power. Sowe started out with...


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