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Rueber retiring after 36 years at Kanawha research farm

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 11/14/2013 8:12 AM

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KANAWHA, Iowa — It was a day that makes retirement look mighty fine. The combine broke down early in the afternoon and the parts wouldn't be available until the next morning when an inch of snow was forecast.

Two days later, the combine was back in action, the snow had melted and the weather looked like David Rueber would be able to combine through the weekend.

It's Rueber's final harvest as superintendent of Iowa State University's Northern Research Farm at Kanawha. His last day, Nov. 1, is marked on the calendar.

When asked if he's excited about retirement, Rueber grins as he unscrews broken combine parts.

"Yes, especially when I break down," he said. "One day, when I was combining corn, I counted all the bearings and moving parts, and I thought, 'I'm sitting on 2,000 moving parts, and they're all wearing out.' This combine, a John Deere 4400, is obsolete. The only thing that saves us is that some parts are universal."

Rueber considers himself lucky that Kanawha Equipment is just across the road. He heads over with the broken parts.

Rueber, 66, started working as a technician at the Kanawha farm in 1977.

"We had a two-row mounted corn picker that was set up for 40-inch rows," he said. "Some of the farm was 30-inch rows, and we had a corn crib. We'd pick one row at a time. We had an old lawn mower-type straw chopper, and it wasn't very good. I remember it was maybe the second year I was here. It was a wet fall, and I was out plowing and that thing would plug up. It was miserable."

Rueber grew up in Ventura. His father died when he was 14. Rueber earned a forestry degree from ISU. He did a stint in the Peace Corps in Liberia. After his service, he returned to ISU for a master's degree in horticulture.

The soybeans are harvested except for a small plot a researcher didn't hand harvest until after the corn head was on the combine.

"We're making progress on the corn," Rueber said as he hauled the bushels he'd combined to North Central Coop, just down the road from the farm.

Bean yields were better than expected — the better ones in the 50s, Rueber said.

"Some fields yielded as expected, in the 30s," Rueber said. "Some of these soils are so full of clay they just don't drain and there was water standing. This year was a challenge. It just never quit raining this spring. The summer was dry and now the fall has been wet."

Corn has been surprisingly good, he said.

"When I first came, we hand picked all the yield plots," Rueber said. "We'd wear a belt that had two hooks to hold a gunny sack. Earlier in fall, we'd measure off the harvest area, two rows, 16 feet long in the middle of the plot. We'd count the number of ears, barren plants and double plants. Each plot had a tag that we put in the sack with corn."

The corn was stored on a flat rack in the shed and on rainy days they shelled corn.

"We had a one-hole corn sheller that ran on an electric motor," Rueber said. "One guy would feed ears into sheller, and the other guy would weigh it. To get moisture, we'd weigh out 300 grams and put it in little sacks. We took those to Ames where they dried them. Then we'd reweigh them and figure the moisture. In 1981, we got a John Deere 3300 combine. I was in back with a bucket and the scale and the little sacks for moisture samples. I'd catch the grain in a bucket and weigh it. We had a hand held moisture meter. We'd take the samples into the shop and run them for moisture. In 1990, Nashua built a hopper on their combine, and I had a guy at Sheffield copy what they did. Since then I can use that with the moisture meter."

Rueber was superintendent for 26 years.

"It's time to move on," he said.

Micah Smidt, an ag specialist with ISU's Farmer Assisted Research and Management at Kanawha, will be interim superintendent.

Rueber and his wife, Carol, have purchased an acreage near Traer where he'll plant a vegetable garden and strawberry bed. There are several acres of grass so he might get sheep.

In early November, he and Carol will travel to Dallas to see their daughter, Alitza. Carol has three children from a previous marriage who they also plan to visit.

Rueber will miss the board members and researchers he worked with.

"The late Dr. John Webb was pretty hands on," Rueber said. "He'd hand pick corn and pick soybeans on his hands and knees. He'd take his own stand counts and soil samples. He was picky but very nice."

Rueber also enjoyed working with Randy Killorn and Antonio Mallarino, both soil fertility researchers.

The herbicide studies and soil fertility work at the farm probably have benefited farmers most, Rueber said.

"A lot of the phosphorus and potassium recommendations are based on results from here," he said. "BSR101 soybeans were tested here."

Rueber also did demonstrations on raising fish, chickens and hops.