(Photo by Nancy Nelson)
Imagine it is 1937 with no paved roads, fancy combines, or other large equipment to make farming easier. You are a young man working on the farm your father purchased and relocated his family from Hartley. Every day you load up a small truckload of five to ten hogs in a 1936 Chevy pickup and drive them to the Cherokee sale barn on the gravel roads. You might plant corn with a tractor but you harvest it by hand, saving the best ears of corn for drying and use as next year's seed corn.
That is the sort of history and culture that Wayne Stellish of Aurelia is working to preserve. On his family farm, which his father purchased in 1937, stands a barn built in 1900. Around 1918 it was used as a sale barn with hogs raised in the lower level of the structure. He restored the building after his wife, Ann, passed away. He started the process for sentimental reasons but has realized that it is also part of the area's history.
When Stellish served four years in the Air Force during World War II he was attached to the Royal Air Force. While there he met and married Anne Bradfield from County Cork, South Ireland. When he returned home from the war she followed, with many other war brides, to join her husband in Aurelia.
Stellish continued to farm after returning home and raised as many as 2,000 purebred Duroc hogs per year. He and his wife worked all year round and were one of the highest producers in the area at the time. They also raised a family during all the hard work.
The real story is in all the fond memories Stellish has of working the farm with his father when he was young. The barn now holds items that he and his father used through the years. Now those items are considered antiques but to Stellish each and every item has a story behind it.
For example, the old 1936 Chevy truck is parked in the barn. They used it to move to the farm from Hartley which was an interesting process on 60 miles of gravel roads. They also used it to haul feed and hogs.
Next to the truck you find an old two cylinder John Deere Tractor that Stellish bought brand new when he returned home from the service in 1946 to start farming. He remembers his wife driving that tractor the first year. She came from a country that didn't have tractors at the time so it was a new experience for her.
You will also find many other farm tools and implements that are not recognizable to younger generations, but Stellish can tell you what each and every item is, how it was used, and a family story to go along with it. For example, the straw hat his dad wore every day hangs on the metal whirligig his dad made for him, much to the protest of his mother. She didn't understand why he was making such a thing, but for Stellish it is a part of his memories.
The area around the barn isn't what it used to be. Stellish explains, there were building and feeding floors with wooden fences in the barn yard. He also built dozens of little buildings that were used to bunch the newly farrowed pigs together with their litters and put on new alfalfa fields each year, which allowed him to triple the use of the barn. He has kept one of the small buildings to go with his historic barn.
He has maintained and cared for all of his buildings over the years because he doesn't want to see them fall apart like so many others. He has plans to continue preserving the items in the barn and to register his 105 year old barn with the National Register of Historic Places. It might be his own personal museum now, but he looking forward to sharing the story with others.