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Dreams keep historic farm in the family

Staff writer

As he approached his 65th birthday in 1990, Lincolnville-area farmer Don Buethe believed an era was about to end for the farm that had been in his family since 1885.

A son, Dennis, and a daughter, Donita, had followed different pursuits. Another son, Eddie, died when he was 10. His youngest daughter, Kim, was living in Kansas City, working in the personnel department at Farmland Industries, and was building a business in leadership development.

With no heir-apparent to take over the farm, and with Buethe’s health making it increasingly difficult to continue, thoughts of selling entered his mind.

Little did he know dreams would soon bring a buyer that would keep the farm in the family.

Henry and Minnie Buethe were married in Crete, Ill. in 1884, and came to Marion County in 1885, where they had relatives in Youngtown.

“My grandfather, Henry, and his wife, Minnie, came here in the spring and bought that quarter of land,” Buethe said. “The state of Kansas had given that quarter to the Santa Fe railroad, and it just so happened the Santa Fe land agent was to sell it, so he sold it to my grandfather.”

That quarter was just over four miles southeast of Lincolnville, and seven miles northeast of Marion.

In 1924, Henry and Minnie moved to Lincolnville, and Buethe’s father Herman and mother Emelia took over the farm, which became known as Plainview Stock Farm. Don was born in 1925.

“We lived in that house until I was about a freshman in high school, and then my dad rebuilt it,” Buethe said. “It’s still a part of the house now.”

The primary business of the Buethe family was raising cattle, but there were all of the other activities associated with life on a farm as well. Buethe was involved with chores from a young age.

“It was just something you did,” Buethe said. “I was just a kid. We had an old Model T, and I remember driving it from the barn up to the house when I could just barely see over the wheel, and I drove a tractor when I was 8 or 10 years old.”

When he wasn’t doing chores and working on the farm, Buethe attended school.

“I went all my eight years of grade school to East Creek Grade School,” Buethe said. “I wasn’t going to high school. None of my relations ever went to high school, and I didn’t see any reason to go.”

As an eighth-grader, Buethe stood out — he was over six feet tall. He caught the attention of the principal at Lincolnville High School, who gave him a free ticket to a basketball game.

“I’d never seen a basketball game,” Buethe said. “Boy, I fell in love with basketball right then.”

Buethe recalled his high school basketball career with a smile.

“Can you imagine somebody that tall that had never played anything like that? I was so awkward, it was funny,” Buethe said.

Buethe moved from Plainview Stock Farm when he married his wife Peggy in 1949, but they didn’t move far, just a half-mile east to a farm owned by his uncle. Eventually, the Buethes found their way back to Plainview Stock Farm.

“We lived on my uncle’s claim 17 years until my dad said ‘We’re going to move to town, now you move down here.’ So I moved back,” Buethe said.

Plainview Stock Farm had been a cattle operation for most of its history, but that started to change in 1968, as a result of hay and chickens.

“I was about 15 years old when they invented the Case baler and everybody started baling,” Buethe said. “During all that time I was kind of hard on my back.”

Buethe built a 5,000-hen chicken house in 1968, and when he needed operations on his back in 1970 and 1975, he sold the cattle and expanded the chicken operation to 22,000 laying hens.

“We had all kinds of people come to look at the building,” Buethe said.

By 1990, the chicken operation was getting to be too much for Buethe to handle. He started thinking about retirement, and the likelihood Plainview Stock Farm would pass out of the Buethe family after 105 years.

That same year his daughter Kim married Mark Harms, who had just graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in animal science. The couple met when they were both undergraduates.

Kim returned to Kansas State to pursue a graduate degree in counseling, and Mark entered graduate school there as well.

“He was going to be a professor and be in a more urban setting,” Harms said.

Their career plans would not lead them to Plainview Stock Farm, but their dreams would.

“When I imagined having children, I always imagined raising them where I was born and raised,” Harms said. “Mark’s heart was telling him he wanted to be a seed stock supplier.”

It was after a solo trip to the farm that Mark returned with news, and a question for Kim.

“He told me they were going to sell it,” Harms said. “He asked me ‘What do you think about us taking out a loan and buying it?’”

“I had no idea of their desire to come out there,” Buethe said.

It was an easy decision for Mark and Kim, and when they approached Buethe he responded enthusiastically.

“The minute you come out here, we’ll move into grandma’s house, and I’ll help you any way I can,” Buethe recalled.

They worked out a long-term purchase agreement, and Mark moved to the farm in the fall of 1992. When Kim finished graduate school in 1993, she joined him.

Mark’s dream of shifting the farm back to a cattle operation, with a primary focus on breeding seed stock, got a little boost from Kansas winds in 1994.

“The chicken part was never a part of our dream,” Harms said. “The wind took care of the chicken house — it collapsed after a big storm. The timing worked out perfectly.”

The Harms’ genetic breeding program started with black Angus, and has grown to include red Angus and Charolais. As part of their expansion, the couple purchased the farm outright from Buethe, and changed its name.

“Mark wanted to put our name on it, but keep the heritage, and that’s why it’s Harms Plainview Ranch,” Harms said.

Keeping the heritage has gone beyond the name. The original house has a new foundation and has been expanded, and inspired by old pictures a wrap-around porch has been added.

“The original plaster-and-lathe walls are still in it today,” Harms said.

Buethe estimated the barn was built in 1915, and when it became clear it needed major structural work, the Harms’ ignored recommendations to tear it down and build a new one.

“They don’t make barns like that anymore — I wasn’t going to do that,” Harms said.

The barn now has a new roof, an office, and has been expanded.

The farm has also proved to be a treasure trove of antiques.

“When you think about it, since the railroad owned it, my family has owned the land, and they’ve never had as much as a garage sale,” Harms said. “All of the things we’ve found in the barns, the sheds, or the basement.

“We have several bottles, an original embosser, old sickles, and the old barn had some neat mangers,” Harms said.

Harms is happy to preserve the legacy started 127 years ago, and to be raising a fifth generation — children Taylor, Cade, and Payton — on the family farm.

“I probably always knew inside I was going to come back home,” Harms said.

Last modified Jan. 5, 2012

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