'Ninety years. Look at all the things that have happened. My motto is to keep on going.'
Wendell Tutt has called Iowa home for 90 years. In fact, he has only spent two days out of the state in all those years. He has happily lived on the family farm near Marathon all his life as a bachelor.
He describes himself with a laugh simply as "an old man" but those who know him realize the importance of his existence. He recently observed a milestone birthday, celebrating with many good friends and family members. Staying busy, he said, is what has kept him spry. And he doesn't intend to quit.
Wendell attended school in Marathon until the age of 14, when he quit to take over the family farm, following the death of his father.
The boy was quite inventive and at the age of 15 rigged up a portable wood saw and traveled to people's homes to cut wood for them to burn. He carted the saw behind an old Model T and earned $1.50 an hour. (Quite good pay for those days.)
When he wasn't traveling with his saw, he was serving as an apprentice for a corn-sheller down the road, learning the ins and outs of the business. In 1939 he purchased, for a little bit of money, his own rig and traveled to farms to shell corn for other farmers. He continued this job until 1990 and has 146 notebooks chronicling the paths he took and the people he did business with. He thumbed through one of the notebooks, recited the names and states, "They're all gone now."
The young Tutt later added a custom hay baling service which he did for many years and added a mobile welding service as well. It was a lot of traveling, he said, but the extra income added to that which he made from farming his own 50 acres of land.
Wendell's fascination with tractors has been with him all his life. He has been collecting old tractors for a number of years and restoring them to their prime. He has enjoyed the process, and the conversations that come up when he displays the machines. He has been a regular exhibitor at the Albert City Thresherman's Days and has been a part of many parades.
The oldest tractor he has in his collection is a 1918 and the newest is a 1954. The '54 is the first tractor he ever farmed with. He purchased the piece of equipment for $2,250.
He drove a tractor to Cumberland one February to pick up a tractor he purchased to restore. He pulled the old tractor home behind his drivable tractor, plowing through drifted roads in some areas, and made it home in less than 24 hours. Sounds like a topic for a movie.
In addition to displaying the tractors at the Threshermen's event, Wendell has constructed park benches and picnic tables, and painted them a magnificent Minneaoplis-Moline (tractor) yellow, that he hauls to Albert City each year in a special-made trailer made, of course, by him.
Wendell has always enjoyed working in his shop, constructing things from the materials he has collected. He recalled the first set of tools he ever he had. They belonged to a long-time Marathon carpenter that he looked up to as a boy. This carpenter also had the job of mowing the cemetery, with a non-motorized machine.
When the carpenter died, his wife told the young Wendell that if he mowed the cemetery lawn for the rest of the season, that she would give him the tools. It was a great deal of work, but well worth it. He took care of those tools, remembering all of the sweat it took to earn them.
When he was farming, spending time in the machine shop was part of his everyday life. There were many repairs made from things he just had "lying around."
Wendell still works in his shop. His specialty now is bird houses. He began by making "Marathon's Martin Motel," a large structure that he used to set atop some old telephone poles he erected in his yard.
"There used to be so many purple martins here," he said. He added a second motel for the birds.
Each fall he would remove the martin houses and clean them out. It wasn't unusual to find 40 nests inside.
He then saw that wrens were plentiful in his yard. So he began experimenting with the structures, coming to the conclusion that the hole in the house could be no bigger than 1 1/8" or sparrows would move in. "I don't like sparrows." He currently has 16 wren houses up in his yard and a whole lot of colorfully-painted wren houses waiting for his friends to take home and hang up in their yards.
He also manages 20 minutes during the day to exercise on his stationary bike.
All of the activities Wendell is involved in is enough to make some people tired.
"When you're 90, you gotta do something. And at the age of 90, I can't help but wonder, 'maybe one more year.' But then I look the other direction and think, 'Ninety years. Look at all the things that have happened.' My motto is to keep on going."