A lot has changed in rural Morrison County
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Ron and Mary Ann Rinkel, the unofficial historians of southeast Morrison County, remember a different time in the farming community.
Rinkel said the loggers from the Weyerhaeuser and Pine Tree companies came to Eastern Morrison County in the 1880s and took most of the white pine in the area, which consisted primarily of forest and swamp.
“Then the fires came through the area,” said Rinkel.
The Great Hinkley fire began Sept. 1, 1894, and burned about 200,000 acres, or more than 300 square miles, reaching the edges of Morrison County. It is estimated more than 400 people were killed.
Rinkel said many of the farmers of the area came in the early 1900s, after the area had been logged.
“The soil wasn’t the best here, but they came,” said Rinkel. “When the Depression hit, it seemed as if every 40 acres had a family.”
Locally, jobs were available then, creating ditches to draw water from the swampy, agricultural areas.
People came from the Twin Cities because of the lack of jobs. They purchased the land from the timber companies, through realtors who sold them the newly-logged land in Morrison County.
“These newcomers were not agricultural people,” he said. “They were from many ethnic groups such as Polish, Armenian, German, Scandinavian and others. They were lured here with thoughts of a better life, especially during the Depression. But what they found was rocky land.”
“It wasn’t much of a living,” he said. “But every family had a few cows and chickens to sustain the family.”
When Rinkel’s grandparents, Henry and Malena Rinkel, lost their Main Prairie farm in 1935, they moved to southeast Morrison County to live with son George (Rinkel’s father). Henry and Malena had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
George had been educated as a mechanic at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, but found there was not much call for mechanics during and after the Depression. He purchased land a few miles east of where Ron now lives, working a small dairy operation. His herd later died of Bang’s disease, also called brucellosis, a disease which causes high incidents of abortion and arthritic joints.
That, and the effects of the Depression, sent George to work on the Alaskan Highway from 1941-42, while his family, including Rinkel, stayed and worked the farm.
The 1950s saw many small farms spring up, mostly dairy, in the area, Rinkel said.
“If a farm had 35 cows, it was large,” said Rinkel. “Everything was done by hand, even the milking. One person could milk about seven cows. Any more and help was needed.”
During post World War II, the farms in the area were mostly run by the wives and the children. The men of the families were working in the Twin Cities, coming home on the weekends to work the farms.
“Families were still in survival mode,” said Rinkel. “The men of the family were weekend farmers.”
But, Rinkel stressed that no one went hungry while living on the farm.
“They had their animals which they slaughtered for meat. They had large gardens and orchards. Everything was canned for winter,” he said.
Electricity, which came to the area in the 1950s, was a boon. It brought refrigeration, helping keep food longer.
“That’s when things really began changing, in the 1950s,” said Rinkel. “Gottwalt Store got electricity, one of the first in the area. They put in rental freezer lockers for people to keep meat.”
Electricity also helped increase herd sizes because of the ease in watering animals and the addition of milking machines. And, because of the animals having a continuous supply of water, milk production increased.
“When the water froze during the winter, corn cobs and wood would be inserted into metal tubes which ran through the troughs. They would be lit on fire to thaw the water,” said Rinkel.
Also in the 1950s, Rinkel said, artificial insemination became big. It was Land-O-Lakes that started collecting semen.
“The semen was collected from genetically superior bulls in Anoka in the morning, put on the Star Route postal truck and delivered to rural Minnesota that same day,” said Rinkel. “It had to be used within a certain number of hours to be viable.”
Rinkel remembers it was Andy Carter who received the semen and then had to hurry to the farms to inseminate.
The establishment of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) also changed the dairy industry for the better.
“The University of Minnesota was mostly behind the DHIA,” said Rinkel. “The association provided for the testing of milk for production numbers, butterfat content and more.”
Rinkel said that back then, milk was sold mostly for butter and cheese. By testing for butterfat content, dairymen knew how their herds were faring and how to improve their production through better breeding.
“A dairy farm would look at the pedigree of a cow giving milk with a high butterfat content. The sire’s semen would be in more demand as his genes would have a propensity for producing high butterfat in the milk,” said Rinkel.
Road construction also played a huge part in improving the farming industry in Central Minnesota.
Rinkel said the roads were terrible until the late 1960s.
“Milk was still hauled by horse and trailers in 10-gallon cans and in the spring, the roads were nearly impassable,” said Rinkel. “When a trailer was unable to continue, those cans had to be carried by hand over the mud holes.”
The townships and the county improved the dirt roads in the 1970s when more money was being put into transportation.
“In the 1950s, when I was growing up, the closest blacktop road was Pierz to the north, Highway 23 to the south, Highway 169 to the east and Highway 25 to the west,” he said.”
Seed genetics and fertility have also improved the harvest numbers.
“It used to be that 60 bushels of corn per acre was good,” said Rinkel. “Today, 140 bushels is good.”
The mechanization of farm machinery has also helped in increasing production. Automatic corn pickers, milkers, combines and balers sped up the time it took to do the many tasks on a working farm.
And the number of dairy farmers has declined in the county. Rinkel said in 1980, there were 1,200 farms and today just 300.
“But we are producing more milk than ever before,” he said.
Rinkel married MaryAnn Zachman, from St. Michael in 1963. She was working for the phone company and he had a job with a dental lab, both in the Twin Cities.
“When the 240 acres owned by Emil Bloomdahl came up for sale in 1968, we bought. The farm was near my parents,” said Rinkel. In 1972, they purchased their first dozen dairy heifers.
“We also had about 40 sows because a person could make a living with feeder pigs back then,” he said.
Today, the Rinkels have 550 acres in partnership with their son Ralph and his wife, Nancy. They also utilize another 150 acres off the farm.