After 60 years, Jim Ackerson has retired
One of those things, Jim went on, was working for May Township.
Now 76, Jim was employed as the Township Grader Operator for approximately 60 years. He officially retired in 2013, and was recently honored by the township for his years of service.
“I was first hired in 1955, when I was 17 years old,” Jim recalled.
That was the same year he graduated from Motley High School and shortly after, at age 18, bought his first farm. “I paid $3,000 for that farm. There was 80 acres, a house and a barn.” Eventually, Jim purchased another 80-acres and then an additional 120 acres.
His Cass County farm was located in May Township, not far from where he grew up. “My folks (Raymond and Elijia) had a place down the road. Dad worked in custom sheep shearing and he had some milk cows, too.” His dad also raised draft horses and worked as a wood cutter.
Jim said he learned about hard work from his parents. After purchasing his own farm, he milked Jersey cattle for 10 years. Later on, he raised registered Angus cattle, Percheron draft horses and mules.
Throughout the years, he also kept busy taking care of the roads in May Township.
During the summer, his duties included grading the roads, installing culverts and mowing the brush along the ditches. The winter months found him keeping the roads plowed.
“I worked a lot of Christmas Eve’s and New Year’s Days,” Jim said, adding that he ended up missing a lot of his kids’ programs and school events. “That part was hard, but overall I had a lot of fun doing this job.”
He started out making 50 cents an hour, Jim shared. “A month after I was hired they gave me a raise...I was up to a buck an hour.”
Over the next 60 years, Jim would operate five different graders. The first was a Caterpillar and the last one he used was a John
Deere. In the early days, it usually took him 32 - 34 hours to take care of roads in May Township, an area encompassing about 43 miles. “Now, with the new graders, it takes about 14 hours,” Jim said.
In addition to tending to the roads, Jim was responsible for machinery maintenance. “I changed oil, put on the (snow) wings, things like that,” he said.
One of the things he liked best about his work as a grader operator was interacting with May
“They were all like my best friends,” Jim said. “Once in awhile you’d run into someone who was grouchy, but not very often.”
And of course, there were the fringe benefits of an occasional hot meal or snack while he was out working the roads. “Rosemary Pietz would always have dinner ready if I stopped there,” Jim recalled. “And Mrs. Harry
Horan would always make me cookies. I remember once she saw me coming down the road at midnight and she got up to make cookies. By the time I got there, at 2 a.m., those cookies were ready.”
Jim recalled the night a man called him at midnight to ask if he’d plow out his driveway. “He said he had to get to Minneapolis and he’d make it worth my while. He gave me a
$100 bill. That was back in the 60’s and I’d never seen one before.”
In his ‘free time,’ Jim also drove truck for Morey’s Fish in Motley, which he enjoyed a lot. “The Morey’s were always good to me,” Jim said. He also owned his own grader and took care of three other townships.
His family was always supportive of his work and eclectic schedule, Jim said.
He married his first wife, Neta, in 1957. “Her dad was the pastor at Casino Assembly of God Church, where my family attended,” Jim shared. Together they had two daughters, Julie and Brenda.
“We were married for 24 years,” Jim said, going on to share that Neta had died after a five year struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Jim later married Marjorie (Marji) and for 23 years they enjoyed life on the farm together. “ Before she met me, Marji had been into Simmental cattle, but I converted her to Angus,” Jim laughed. They also continued to raise draft horses and offered cutter and bobsled hayrides at their farm, as well as at Madden’s Resort in Brainerd.
In 1991, Jim and Marji joined a covered wagon train traveling from the State Capitol in St. Paul to
Itasca Park. “It took us 20 days,” Jim said of the trek. “The train was about one and a half miles long.”
Marji died in 2012 due to heart complications, Jim shared. “After she died, I sold most of our registered Angus to a guy in North
Dakota. I kept 40 heifers, though.”
He’s grateful to have family nearby, Jim said. In addition to his daughters Julie and Brenda, he keeps in touch with Marji’s children, Kevin, Kelley and
Mike. “I’ve got four grandkids and five great-grandkids,” Jim says, taking time to share some photos with this reporter.
Although he’s retired from his job with May
Township, Jim keeps plenty busy. “I just bought a six foot road grader. Someday
I’m going to hook up the mules to it and grade the road just to say I did it,” he laughs.