PHOTO ABOVE: Castleman’s farm sits behind this gate. The gate, built by Castleman a number of years ago, is tall enough for a tractor to drive under.
The doors of the Appeal office swing open and Mr. Larry Castleman, 78, strides in at 1:00 p.m. on the dot – exactly the time he said he’d be in. As I grab my camera equipment and get ready to go, he gives me a puzzled look as he looks me up and down.
“Haven’t been on a farm much, have you?” he asked.
I then realize the reasoning behind his confusion; that day I had chosen to wear a green cotton dress and some strappy leather sandals. As far as I had been concerned, I was never going to leave the truck – I thought I was just going to get a quick tour, receive some answers to my interview questions, and take some photos out the rolled-down window. But Larry had other plans.
He walks me out to his old 2000 Chevy pickup truck. The outside of it had seen better days, but he quickly elaborated on all the new parts under the hood. He was quite proud of the new air conditioning unit that he recently installed. He opened the passenger-side door for me, held out his hand, I took it and clambered in. This was going to be an adventure.
On the roughly 25-minute ride out to his farm we talked about a lot of things. At one point, I grabbed the wheel so he could reach into his back pocket for a black-and-white photograph of his wife, Rumiko, who unfortunately passed away four years ago. Larry beamed as he told me their 52-year love story – he met her in Japan while serving in the United States Air Force. He enlisted willing to avoid being drafted into the army.
“It took me a month just to get a date with her,” laughed Larry.
PHOTO ABOVE: Mr. Larry Castleman on this tractor after picking up a bale of hay. This hay had been baled a few days prior, but most of his crop was baled the afternoon of Tuesday, June 27.
Together they had one daughter, Patricia. Isaac, her son and his grandson, is now an 18-year old graduate of Fort Zumwalt High School and getting ready to attend university in Kansas. When I told Larry I study in Springfield, he spoke of fond memories traveling to that area and taking his grandson to Silver Dollar City. It is an activity that they do together almost every year.
Larry informed me that he has been farming all his life. He got his first real job on the family farm when he was only eight years old, but his earliest memory of farm life was taking a horse and wagon into Benton City as a three-year-old.
“I still remember the smell of timothy hay – that’s the hay that horses eat,” reminisced Larry as he spoke of playing in the barn with his sister.
Now retired, Larry just farms his 120-acre farm, more or less, as a hobby. He doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon either.
We turned left onto State Highway KK from Highway 15, and soon we arrived at a large gate, marking the entrance to his farm. To the left of the gravel driveway was oats, to the right grew clover. This was an exciting day for Larry because this was the day all his hard work was being baled to be sold.
At times it was a bumpy ride, but we made our way to one of the biggest sections of his farm, where the majority of his hay grew. We watched as Craig White, an important helper of Larry’s, baled the hay with his large John Deere tractor. Larry took the time to explain the automated process to me – the hay, already raked and dried, is picked up in the front of the baler, and rolled up into a large tube. When the bale is ready, it is then released from the baler. Each mass is typically around 6-feet in diameter and weighs hundreds of pounds.
PHOTO ABOVE: Castleman stands next to some newly baled hay. He is quite happy with this year’s final product.
We then ventured further into the farm to see more fields of hay – some crop needing to be raked, some crop ready to be bailed. We mudded through a creek lined with large, flat rocks that Larry said some people ask to pick up. In fact, one couple was coming the same afternoon to find some “skipper rocks” for a family reunion. We also stopped to check on some pumpkin and tomato plants that had evaded death by tractor wheels.
Just before our afternoon adventure ended, a young man showed up to rake the hay. I was fortunate enough to see the process needed before baling. I was informed that the rake is used to turn over the hay so that it can dry appropriately and eventually be baled. Larry said that this year’s hay was in great condition.
PHOTO ABOVE: A bale of hay rolls out of the baler. Inside the tractor is Mr. Craig White who helps Castleman with his farm.
As we rode back into town from the nearly two-hour tour, I realized how fortunate I was for this experience. Even though I had grown up in farming country, I had never seen the actual process of baling hay live and in-action. Next time you see a hay bale in a field, stop and think about all the hard work, dedication, and attention that goes into the final product. I know I will.
Disclosure: Article and pictures were produced by Danielle Wheelan while working for the Monroe County Appeal.