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Niagara, N.D., brothers retire after decades on the farm

NIAGARA, N.D.--Ask anyone who knows the Wolfgram brothers and they would tell you they are old school, or rather old farm. Their farmyards are home to antiques and machinery most farmers would have traded in years ago. A 1949 Allis Chalmers tract...

Wesley and Leonard Wolfgram take a look at the hog barn on their Niagara, ND, farm from the years that the brothers raised pigs.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Wesley and Leonard Wolfgram take a look at their hog barn from the years that the brothers raised pigs. They raised 60 head for about 35 years. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

NIAGARA, N.D.-Ask anyone who knows the Wolfgram brothers and they would tell you they are old school, or rather old farm.

Their farmyards are home to antiques and machinery most farmers would have traded in years ago. A 1949 Allis Chalmers tractor, a 1982 John Deere 8820 combine, a vintage John Deere chain and cup portable elevator, pickups and trucks from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and many more.

The newest piece of equipment on their yard is a 1993 John Deere 8960 four-wheel-drive tractor. One of the oldest is a 1946 Chevy truck that usually starts on the first go and hums almost perfectly.

And there is no fancy technology on the farm, like GPS or guided steering. They made do with what they had, and if something broke, they did everything they could to fix it.

"We never had to buy a $200,000 tractor," Wesley Wolfgram said. "We don't mess around with the new technology."


The three brothers-Wesley is 82, Harold, 84, and Leonard, 85,-have been farming together about 5 miles north of Niagara, or about 40 miles west of Grand Forks, since they took over the family business in 1961, and the business has been in the family since their grandfather bought it in 1887. They grew up with four other siblings.

But this year the brothers didn't plant their 1,400 acres. After nearly six decades of doing what they loved, they are turning the tractors and trucks off for the last time as they prepare to sell off their machinery this Saturday.

"We never really anticipated any of our kids or cousins coming into the farm," Wesley said, adding it's time. "We're getting tired too. ... You have to do it sometime."

'A farmer at heart'

The Wolfgram brothers formed their partnership in the 1960s, but they had been farming most of their lives. The three recalled their father's and uncles' threshing operations being one of the largest in the area. They built their own hay wagon from scratch, and horses would pull their loads and farm equipment.

Leonard and Harold left the farm briefly to serve in the military. Leonard also attended UND.

"I've enjoyed farming, I didn't know what I was going to do when I got out of high school," Leonard said. "I'm a farmer at heart."

They also raised 60 head of hogs for 35 years before selling them in 2000.


The brothers were never too far apart-they live on the same street. Vik Voelker, 65, who lives just north of the brothers, said they have always been frugal in fixing things themselves, but they were always willing to lend a hand to neighbors, were supportive of their church and local organizations.

He remembers as a young child the community getting together for events, such as barn raisings. The Wolfgram brothers seemed to always be there, Voelker said.

"They were the instigators to get things done around here," he said, adding they are well-respected around the farming community. "They were just really good people."

The Wolfgrams were a bit reluctant to say why they were so well-respected in the community, but they said being honest is a good start. They also said others supported them.

"If we need help, we asked for it," Wesley said.

'Wild ride'

The brothers had some sticky situations when something would break down and they thought they couldn't fix it, despite all of their efforts. Luckily, they usually had a second piece of equipment so they could keep going.

Probably the most notable event in their time farming was not farm-related. Harold was kidnapped when he was 37 year old. He said he was going to cultivate land with his tractor when he noticed a barn door was open. There he found an escaped prisoner holding a gun to the head of a South Dakota sheriff's deputy. The gunman was ordering the officer to scrape decals off the stolen sheriff's car.


When the man saw Harold, the kidnapper pointed the gun at the farmer and said, "Don't try anything," Harold said this week.

Harold was put in the trunk, and the kidnapper drove him and the deputy in and out of Canada before they stopped at a house, where the kidnapper tied up a family and kept them hostage, one news article stated. The deputy and Harold were handcuffed in the basement to a sink before the kidnapper left. He was eventually caught by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with a hostage.

At the house, Harold managed to wiggle loose, freeing himself and the deputy. After driving the deputy's car, they found the RCMP. He was flown back home after two days of being a hostage.

"It was a wild ride," Harold told the Herald this week.

Community celebration

The brothers have seen a lot of changes over the last eight decades. Farm operations are getting bigger, the equipment is getting larger and the technology is more advanced.

"It was such a gradual thing," Leonard said. "I was really glad when we upgraded from horses."

They didn't get their first tractor until 1943, Harold said.


"We were one of the last ones to move out of threshing," Wesley added.

They said they didn't want to mess with the newer technology and now was a good time to retire. Between the three of them, they have 11 children, but they will rent the land to grandchildren and other relatives.

The brothers have received calls from interested buyers from across the region. One man called from Bottineau, N.D.

Wesley's son, Jon, said about 40 relatives will come out for the sale Saturday, as well as neighbors and friends.

Voelker, their neighbor, said he doesn't plan to buy any Wolfgram machinery, but he still wants to go to support the brothers.

"It's going to be a community celebration for their many years of farming," he said.

The brothers said Saturday will be emotional as they look back at all the memories. They've had some rough but happy times, they said with a backdrop of machinery neatly lined up behind them.

When asked what they'll miss most, they all smiled and agreed as Leonard said, "watching the crops grow."


"We'll still be able to watch them grow, but they won't be our own," he said.

Wolfgram auction

What: Wolfgram brothers farm equipment sale

Where: Wolfgram farm at 2564 49th St. N.E.

When: 10 a.m. Saturday

More info: Call Dakota Auctioneers at (701) 968-4224 or go to www.dakotaauctioneers.com to see sale lineup


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