By Peter Salter, Lincoln Journal Star
The tractor coughed but didn't catch, so the old farmer on the ground yelled up to the old farmer behind the wheel.
"The black button," Don Magee said. "You push it in."
And then it roared to life, an old John Deere pulling an even older corn-picker, creeping toward the final eight rows of corn in a 120-acre field along Yankee Hill Road. It had an audience: a handful of other former farmers and members of the Hy-Vee breakfast bunch, standing in stubble and shielding their eyes from a bright November sun.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports Magee invited some of them into the back of his pickup, so he could give them a close-up view of when farming moved at a slower pace.
He and his wife, Kathy, host their friends here at the end of every harvest.
"This is just a bunch of old farmers who get together every year and pick corn with an old picker, a single-row picker," he said. "It's just something that brings back memories."
This is his tractor, a 1957 John Deere 720 diesel he bought decades ago. It wasn't new when he picked it up at Hamilton Equipment on the road out to Waverly, but it wasn't very old yet, either.
"Haven't had to do a thing to it," he said. "But I didn't use it that hard."
This is his property, a dry land cornfield that used to be his grandmother's farm. And this is his corn-picker, a rust-colored contraption of belts and chains and gears and conveyors that revolutionized farming when Magee was a boy.
He grew up picking corn by hand. Then his father bought a new picker, which could devour a single row of corn -- tearing ears from stalks and husks from ears and tossing the yield into an attached trailer.
"Think of how much faster this was than picking by hand," Magee said. "This was quite an advancement."
A decade or so ago, he told one of his truck drivers to keep an eye out for an old picker like his father's. They found it beneath a tree near Ashland. It was built decades ago but it didn't need much beyond new belts and fresh grease to get harvesting again.
Magee rents this field to other farmers, but they leave him a little for his annual picking party. This year, he had eight rows to work with, and he invited friends who used to farm and some of the men he meets every morning at Hy-Vee.
He let Ron TeKolste take the first few rows, the tractor moving at the pace of a fast walk, the picker throwing ears into a trailer, Magee following alongside in his pickup.
TeKolste pulled a picker like this decades ago. Now the Firth-area farmer owns a combine that can swallow 16 rows of corn at once.
"It runs and it works," the 81-year-old said after climbing down from the cab. "But go back to the old ways? Not a chance."
With three rows left, 80-year-old Magee climbed up onto the John Deere. Some of his friends had started picking by hand, tossing the ears into the trailer as he crept along.
But the row was long and the sun was hot.
"Just go on," one of them yelled to Magee. "We're not going to do this whole thing."
They were all done in less than an hour, Magee's 19-year-old grandson, Jacob Larsen, finishing the final row.
The corn was going to feed horses, squirrels and birds, Magee said.
And the crowd in the cornfield was going to a post-harvest party, with lemonade, cookies and coffee.
What vintage equipment do you have on your farm? How do you use it? Why do you keep it? Tell us the story in the comments.