Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

I've never met Doug Tomlinson.  But I want to.  I want to sit out in a hay field on the tailgate of a pickup, or on a hay rack and have a conversation with him.  Actually, I just want to listen.  I want to hear all the stories he has to offer from his many years of farming and life.  I would bet that he has A LOT of great stories to share.

95-Year Old Kelso Farmer Still Making Hay

Doug Tomlinson's family teases him that he spends so much time on his tractor, they're going to bury him with it.

"He's always on it, always doing something with it, whether it's moving something or even if it's just going to get the mail," said granddaughter Lisa Barber, 30.

Tomlinson, 95, was putting his 1949 Massey-Ferguson to good use Tuesday afternoon as he baled hay on Pleasant Hill Road north of Kelso for a good friend, Mike Patterson. In a little more than three hours, he and his baler had cleared about five acres of the sun-dried hay.

"I did 497 bales today at Mike's, then I baled 91 at another farm before I got home," Tomlinson said Tuesday evening. "Sunday I baled 700."

"When you get him haying, it's all business," Barber said.

Tomlinson, who has lived on Pleasant Hill Road for more than five decades, said he's been baling hay "ever since the 1940s." In addition to putting up his own hay, he's done "a lot of custom work," he said. In earlier years, he used a team of horses. He also helped build the Kelso dike with his Percheron workhorses, he said.

Tomlinson was born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1915. His family moved here in 1929, spent a brief time in British Columbia, then returned to the Longview area in 1932.

"My dad and uncle built a garage where the Woodshed Restaurant (now the Regent) is, and we stored cars for the loggers when they took the train to camps," he said.

He was a charter member of Carpenters/Millwrights Local Union No. 1707 in 1933 and helped build the Methodist church in Kelso and worked on several housing projects.

"I built all the fences around Hanford (in Eastern Washington) and all the lookout towers" in 1942-43, he said. "I had 11 construction crews working for me."

He also worked in the shipyards constructing kitchens on aircraft carriers. His last job before he retired at 62 was maintenance supervisor at a now-defunct chemical plant in Deer Island.

In his later years, he raised prize-winning Arabian horses.

"I've done just about everything in the book," he said.

In addition to all those full-time jobs, "he farmed the whole time," his daughter Alessa Beringer said, including growing cucumbers for Nalley's.

Beringer, who also lives on Pleasant Hill Road, recalled when she was a young girl and her father was working in the field.

"He would be baling hay, and it would be threatening to rain, so he knew he had to get the hay in," said Beringer, 59. "The tractor was broke down, and he was underneath it trying get it running. I came out with my doll bed and asked him if he could fix it, and he stopped right away to do it. At the time, I didn't realize (hay and farming) was how he paid for the farm."

To this day, Tomlinson gets antsy to make hay while the sun shines, she said.

"He likes to wait until the afternoon, so there's no moisture in the hay," Beringer said. "Back a few weeks ago when we had those 90-degree days, I told him he shouldn't be out in the heat of the day. He said, No, I've got to get that hay in.' So, he went out and did 400 bales."

Her father still grows a big garden every year and putters in his large shop making birdhouses and whirligigs, Beringer said.

"He's never idle," she said. "He gets up every day and he has a purpose."

Tomlinson said Tuesday's work was the last job of the season, but he's already thinking of tractor time in the hay fields next summer.

"The good Lord has been good to me. I enjoy that kind of work, it keeps me going," he said. "I'm looking forward to next year's baling."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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