Retired after 40 years with Farmers Coop Elevator in Cottonwood, Minn., Gary Morken, age 62, now has even more time to enjoy his favorite hobby: flying. On Aug 31 he flew his 1957 Cessna 170 the 30 air-miles from Cottonwood to enjoy coffee and breakfast with his two grandkids at the ChatterBox Café, next door to Olivia airport.

Yep, I was at the café with the usual ‘self appointed’ opinion experts which often includes Doug Toreen, Bird Island area corn/soybean farmer and predictably well-versed on local gossip. Toreen knows Morken, so I scooted over from our Round Table intelligence center to meet this new ‘fly-in’ arrival. Morken agreed to a quick interview. “Sure, but we’re out of here in just a few minutes.”  

I dashed back into town to get my cell phone and tape recorder. But when I got back to the Chatterbox, visiting pilot and kids were gone. So quickly back to my car I sped to our adjacent airport. That Cessna was cranked up and ready to lift off. I waved my arms — hoping to get the attention of the pilot. He recognized me and shut down his Cessna … and now you get the rest of the story. 

Merken said he is a frequent visitor to Olivia. “I get here often,” he admitted. “Your airport is next door. I park my plane and it’s just a five-minute walk to this café. Sometimes, when I bring my wife, we’ll saunter a few more minutes to Max’s Bar & Grill. That’s a great restaurant too!”

Merken said his Cessna 170 is a “very dependable rig. Cost about $270,000 then; now about $400K.  Besides myself, two retired farmers and a retired Delta Airlines pilot own this airplane. It cruises at about 115 miles per hour;  but can also fly at only about 58 mph.  A four-passenger and great air plane.”

The long-time elevator ag guy was scanning farm fields today with his two grandkids: Evra, age 7, and Abram, age 9. “This drought is showing everywhere between here and Cottonwood,” Merken reported. “Sandy spots in farm fields stick out like a sore thumb this year. Low spots needing some drainage are also very evident. Sure, some good looking areas too.”

“My son-in-law, Andy Frank, works at the Agronomy Center in Cottonwood,” Merken continued. “He also farms our land and figures around 120-bushel on the corn. And about 40-45 bushels on the soybeans. These showers the past few days might bump up beans just a bit.”

I told Merken I heard on Lynn Ketelsen’s farm radio reports that corn silage harvest is already underway. “I’ve got a dairy farm right next to me,” Merken agreed. “They started yesterday (Aug. 30)  on corn silage.”

Merken said he’s been flying for a little over 40 years. “I went through a divorce. My daughter was 300 miles away and I wanted to stay in touch. That’s what got me started.”

He confessed he didn’t make the Olivia Lion’s July 25 fly-In breakfast which drew 41 pilots. “I’ve done a lot of flying this yea — except when forest-fire smoke was cascading around the atmosphere. You’ve got a great airfield here at Olivia. I’ve flown much of southern Minnesota;  a few trips over northern Iowa and on into South Dakota. Yes, the drought damage is everywhere.”

With that, Merken said it was time to go. “Got to get these two tykes back home,” he chuckled, “and then crank up my lawn sprayer and tackle a few weeds now sprouting in the yard. Those buggers never take a break until frost finally puts them down.”

“Overall, so much to be thankful for this year … and every year!” he said as he boarded his plane. “Even in this dry season, our Minnesota farm belt looks pretty darn good from my airplane!”

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