Family rolls dice on centennial farm

Monday, November 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Ponca City News

BLACKWELL, Okla. (AP) -- "As my momma put it, 'farmers are the biggest gamblers around,"' said Earla Alley, whose family has been rolling those dice on a farm east of Blackwell for over 100 years.

In fact, she indicated gambling and farming were in her family's blood, a legacy and heritage they inherited from her great-grandfather, Charles Abraham Guyer.

Great-grandpa Guyer made his claim to fame when, at the crack of a pistol shot at noon on Sept. 16, 1893, he joined hundreds of other dreamers and risk-takers, chancing life and limb, in a mad dash through the Cherokee Strip astride a horse named Doll, in search of land to stake and a place to call home.

Even though the old farmhouse is gone, some of the original buildings still stand on the centennial farm, depicting those early days of risk-taking in a gamble Alley and her husband, Rick Dean Alley, fondly call farming.

"It's hard work, but it's something I was raised with and love to do," Alley related. "Rick and I lived in town for four years when we first got married. I wouldn't move back to town now unless I had to," she said.

"I don't want to jump out and farm 2,000 acres, but I do enjoy farming," agreed her husband. "It's like any other business -- you have to enjoy it."

The couple farm 320 acres, including the 160-acre centennial homestead, with Alley's parents, Earl Hugh Byler and LaVerne Sue (Guyer) Byler.

The Alley's three sons -- Daniel, 19; Shawn, 16; and Jesse, 9 -- also help out with the chores. This totals five generations who have shared Alley's great-grandfather's dream.

In addition to land and equipment -- which includes two tractors and two combines -- the Alleys manage 20 head of cattle, 28 goats, five chickens, two ducks, one horse and several cats and dogs.

The couple said that while most of the risks were the same, today's farmers were having a harder time making "ends meet" than farmers 30 or 40 years ago.

"Nowadays, if you work a farm, you either have to have an oil well or work in town to make ends meet," said Rick Alley.

He works five days a week at a pipefitting company in Ponca City to help "pay the bills."

"Like any other business, you have to try to keep a cash flow going and kinda work from there," he said.

Alley, who also keeps her eye on the family's cash flow as bookkeeper, noted everything wasn't coming out in the wash for today's farmers when it came to the bottom line.

"To put the wheat in the ground, it is costing us about $1.20 per gallon for diesel and around $4.50 per bushel for our seed wheat," she said.

"For a return, we are looking at selling our wheat at harvest in late June, for around $2.70 per bushel, with an average yield somewhere around 40 bushels per acre (in an average year)," she added. "This is high expenses with low return."

"My grandpa, Vern B. Guyer, on the other hand, was paying 37 cents per gallon for that same diesel back in 1963, and wheat was selling for as high as $2 per bushel," she continued. "It didn't cost him as much to put his crop in the ground," which shows low cost with a higher return.

This offers a picture of the type of problems farmers are facing today.

Rick Alley indicated his family was lucky compared to some farm families.

"We don't have a lot of the overhead that big farmers have,"

he said. "They have a lot more risk -- the bigger the farm, the bigger the risk."

What are the benefits to farming in this century? More options, he said. "(In the past) you took your goods to town, and that was your only options for a market. There are other options available for people today."

Like many farmers, this was a hard year for the Alleys.

"The drought took a toll on things," he said. "It cost farmers a lot in their pastures, causing some not to get as much hay as they needed for winter."

Alley predicted the family would make it through. "The full years kinda cover for the lean years. They don't totally cover the loss, but they help," she said.

She recalled it wasn't as bad as the hailstorm in the spring of 1993, when the crops were knocked out just before harvest.

"That was the only year it took everything," she said.

During difficult years, farm families like the Alleys pull together and "recoup and hope the cattle or whatever other commodities you have cover the loss," Alley said.

Is the gamble worth it for the Alleys? "You betcha!" she said. "We wouldn't have it any other way."