NORMAN OTTO PAHL grew up on a farm south of Ruthton, Minnesota, the farm that he eventually tilled until his move into Tyler, Minnesota when he was in his 80s. He was born in 1928, so the first decade of his life was during the Great Depression. As a child, that fact did not leave a deep impression on him. What he remembers are the dust storms.
“When a high wind started to blow, there were huge Russian thistles that grow when it’s dry,” he said holding his hand about four feet above the ground. “They would pile against the fence and the dust would pile up behind them.”
During those days he attended country school at Pipestone County District 71, Hillside School. Over the years he had two men among the teachers that came and went. He graduated from Ruthton High School and had thoughts of furthering his education, as his older brother (a county agent) and both sisters (bookkeeping and nursing) had done, but it never worked out.
Farming became his life’s occupation from his childhood to retirement. He recalled that flax was their cash crop, and barley also to a lesser degree, and they raised oats and corn for feed.
“We planted corn with horses and a wire, to check the corn,” he said. “We had a team of mules, too. Dad always told me to never stop to rest the mules at the end of the field, but stop in the middle so they didn’t know where they were.” Apparently that made it easier to get them started again. He and his brother also rode the mules to herd cattle.
The corn was shocked in the fall and the shocks hauled in to run through a silage cutter. They had one of the historic clay brick silos you see in the countryside with an ACO on the side, built by the A. C. Ochs Brick and Tile Company of Springfield, Minnesota. It was Norman’s job to climb the silos with the blow pipes. He did that using the rungs around the silo.
“Those rungs would slide in and out because they weren’t cemented in too well,” he said.
Norman was drafted into the Army in 1954 during the Cold War. He was stationed in Germany.
“They wanted to make me a tank driver, but I didn’t want to because that’s the first thing they shoot at,” Norman recalled. Instead he became a truck driver, hauling supplies and troops. But that was no relaxing job.
He vividly remembers a mountain road. It was here that his silo climbing may have helped steel his nerves. With a truck filled with troops, he had to transport them down a narrow road that clung to the side of the mountain.
“I started slow so I wouldn’t get up too much speed,” he said. “We had just enough room to go down that side of the mountain.”
The troops were aware of their dangerous situation. When they got to the bottom, every soldier came up and thanked Norman for getting them there.
“No one asked how I felt,” he said.
After his discharge from the Army, he still had thoughts of going to college, but he stayed home to help his parents on the farm. He had picked up German profanity, which he thought was safe to use. His Danish mother may have been baffled, but his German father was not. He knew what Norman was saying.
“Eventually that language fell by the wayside,” he said.
But the farming never did. Norman continued to farm until retirement, and stayed living on the farm for a time after that. It became his life, and when asked what was his favorite part of farming, he thought for a bit but couldn’t pin-point anything.
“I just went with the flow,” Norman said.
And if you know Norman, that’s how he has lived a full life, just going with the flow. Norman died on Sunday, April 11, 2021, at the Avera Tyler Hospital in Tyler at the age of 92 years, ten months, and twelve days. He will be remembered by his sister, Marilyn Rose of White Bear Lake and formerly of Fergus Falls, Minnesota and 11 nieces and nephews.
Blessed be his memory.
Memorials in honor of Norman may be directed to Skandia Evangelical Free Church or the Gideons International.
The above is an amended excerpt from Norman's 90th birthday tribute article in the Tyler Tribute Newspaper as written by Richard Siemers.