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Farm reflects century of technological change

October 2, 2011
By DARCY DOUGHERTY MAULSBY, For The Messenger , Messenger News

SAC CITY - From the days when farmers used horse-drawn implements to the years when crop protection products began to revolutionize row-crop production, Maurice Luke has witnessed dramatic changes that have transformed Iowa agriculture since the 1930s.

He takes it all in stride, however, as he and his wife, Phyllis, reflect on the history of the Luke family's Century Farm in Coon Valley Township southeast of Sac City.

"I always figured I'd be a farmer," said Maurice Luke, who was born in 1931. "When I started farming in the late 1940s, those were the days when 500 acres was considered a big farm."

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Maurice and Phyllis Luke live on a farm south of their family’s Century Farm, in background, which is occupied by their daughter, Chris Batz and her family.

Forty years before Luke began his ag career, the family began building its farming operation when his grandfather, Jacob Luke, bought a 114-acre Coon Valley Township farm in 1909 for $112.50 per acre.

Jacob Luke, who had come to Iowa from Indiana, moved to Sac County after first settling south of Arcadia, where he worked for his father-in-law. Shortly after, Jacob Luke and his wife, Lizzie, bought their first Sac County farm. They later purchased another just down the road to the south.

The couple reared two children, Vernon and Iva, in Sac County. When Vernon Luke left the farm in 1918 to serve with the U.S. Army during World War I, his father sold his horses and rented out the farm until Vernon returned home.

Fortunately, Vernon Luke was able to return to Sac County and farm, said Maurice Luke, who noted that Vernon became gravely ill with influenza when he was sent to France.

Vernon Luke always took good care of the horses that played such an important role on the farm in those days, Maurice said.

"Dad used them to plant corn, mow hay and pull the rack at threshing time," Luke said. He recalls standing on a bucket to help harness horses when he was a boy.

Threshing was always a busy time on the farm, Luke said. It involved six to 10 families in the neighborhood joining together to get the work done. Luke said that when he was 15 or 16 years old, he helped haul bundles.

While threshing was hot, dirty work, the meals that the farm wives prepared were a highlight of the day, he said. "We always had a good spread of food with roast beef, potatoes, vegetables and pie. I worked up quite an appetite."

There was always plenty of work to do on the farm throughout the year, Luke said, adding there were chickens to feed and cows to milk when he and his two younger brothers returned home from country school at Coon Valley No. 2 southeast of the farm.

Much of Luke's youth was dominated by the Great Depression and World War II.

"The Depression years were tough, and I remember one Christmas when we didn't get very many presents," Luke said.

He attended country school through eighth grade before completing his education at Sac City High School in 1948.

"Then came the war," he said, "when you had ration books for gasoline, tires, sugar and other things. I remember we were only allowed one candy bar and one package of gum each week."

After he began farming in the late 1940s, Maurice milked cows, raised feeder calves and worked with his father for a number of years.

During his career, Maurice Luke also had a 12-sow farrow-to-finish hog operation and eventually farmed more than 300 acres.

He and Phyllis, who married in 1959 and reared three children, vividly remember weed control for soybeans in the days before glyphosate and other crop protection products were widely used.

"Chemicals weren't readily available, so we'd pull the weeds and also used a hoe or a corn knife," recalled Phyllis Luke, who grew up in Carroll. "We'd get out in the field as soon as it was halfway dry in the morning and we'd work until 7 p.m. or later.

"We'd also hire a few extra kids to help"

Weed control became more efficient and effective when Roundup became available, recalled Chris Luke Batz, who helps run the farm with her husband, Randy Batz.

"First we had squirt bottles, and later we had bean buggies and could spray the weeds as we rode through the field."

Technology continues to reshape agriculture, said Maurice Luke, who is acquainted with an era of kerosene lamps and outhouses, can recall farming with a Farmall F20.

He cites today's large equipment outfitted with global positioning systems as one of the biggest revolutions in farming during his lifetime.

"We're glad Randy and Chris are farming the Century Farm and are raising their children on the farm," Phyllis Luke added.

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby at



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