Weeds: A love story for the ages

This is a love story.

Oh, it hasn’t always been easy. There’s been stress along the way. Both sides had to give a little to make it work. But in the end, they have always been there when I needed them.

Of course, I’m talking about my relationship with my implement dealer. Pam and I have been married 37 years. Miller Sellner Implement and I go back further than that, really as long as I can remember.

Farmers know that we depend on businesses in town. In a long farming career, a long list has helped me: Westside Garage, Sleepy Eye Repair, Braun Oil, Davy Haala’s welding shop, Donny Haala’s welding shop, Hose/McCabe’s Hardware, some that are gone, and some I’ve missed.

For farmers, our focus is the soil and the plants we are growing. But it is our machines that get most of our attention. Those are the tools we use to work the soil and tend those plants. Keeping them running well is vital when timing is everything. That’s where Miller Sellner comes in.

I’m a little mechanical, able to do basic maintenance. I’ve surprised myself with what I can fix lying on my back in the dirt looking up at some machine with a flashlight, a Vice-Grip, and rain in the forecast. But a lot of my serious mechanical work has been done by the fellows at Miller Sellner.

When our kids were young, Miller Sellner was the “Red Tractor Store.” Across Highway 4 was the “Green Tractor Store,” aka Bruggeman Implement. I had friends at the Green Tractor Store and did some business there. But I grew up with International Harvester red. John Deere green was like the National League: strange and a little exotic.

My father Sylvester’s relationship with Miller Sellner went back to its ancestral roots as Evan Implement. He told me about purchasing our Farmall Super H tractor before I was born. (We still have the H!) He and Art Miller were close on a deal but had to visit the Evan tavern to finalize it over several drinks. A different era for sure.

My dad was one of the great hagglers of his time, always able to extract a final few dollars in any deal. I was not endowed with that skill. When making a purchase from a Miller Sellner salesman, I would ask near the end of bargaining, “Okay, what’s the price if I go and get my dad?” Now I conclude with, “If Sylvester was living, what would the price be then?”

Evan Implement became Miller Sellner Implement in 1963 when the business moved to Sleepy Eye. The new store was owned by Art’s son Bud Miller and Norb Sellner. We’re now a couple generations of Millers and Sellners later, and the business has been added onto a few times. Now it’s a goodly hike from the combine door to the sales offices. Unfortunately if one is in a hurry, it’s about five conversations long,

When Norb passed away in 1978, his boys, Jerry, Dave and Vince, took various roles. Jerry ran the parts department for years and still helps there. There was a time when Jerry knew instantly where every part was and its number. This was for a prodigious number of parts from a half-century’s worth of equipment. “Jerry, I need a gas cap for the H.” Even though they hadn’t sold a gas cap for an H in ten years, Jerry would say, “That’s a 647B39; it’s over on the shelf by the wall.”

Dave managed the repair shop and has the same capacity to understand decades of machines. Repairmen specialize in certain types of implements. Dave specializes in everything near as I can tell. If I had anything odd to fix, I took it to Dave. I have gone to him with a chain saw, weed whipper, battery charger, Knipco heater, and a toaster. Okay, maybe not the toaster.

Dave’s wife Kathy just retired after manning the phones for years. “Hello, Miller Sellner, this is Kathy speaking.” I would ask Kathy for a combine guy, a tractor guy, or a parts guy. She knew my voice and often the particular predicament I was in. When I called and didn’t hear that reassuring voice, I think I was silent, basically dumbfounded. Julie doesn’t know my voice, but once I’ve worked through a crisis or two with her that’ll probably change.

Miller Sellner has been a constant in my career. But like Kathy retiring, things change. This spring I came in the shop door where three of the young mechanics were talking. I said to them, “When did you all get so young? I thought all the mechanics were old when I started farming. What happened?”

You can count on Miller Sellner being open long hours in the spring and fall. Basically any time I needed something, they were open. I’m pretty sure Jerry lived there. They still have long hours. But wanting their employees to sleep, they are a little more structured now. A few years ago, on a Sunday night during harvest, close to midnight, I drove there for some part. They were closed. I came home and told Pam I’d seen something I’d never seen before.

Through the years, much good humor has flown about the parts counter. Some of the funniest lines I’ve heard have come from Jeff, Lloyd, Dan, et al. For us farmers who are all living and working in our own worlds, Miller Sellner becomes a gathering place. We’re all doing the same work at the same time, often breaking the same things. The employees at Miller Sellner are part time therapists. It comes from dealing with hundreds of panicky farmers. The parts guys haven’t had specific training in psychology, but they are skilled at talking hyperventilating farmers down from the ledge.

Miller Sellner Implement has gotten lots of my dollars through the years. In exchange, they have had parts and did repairs when I needed them. Often someone helped well past normal business hours. But then, farming is not a normal business. There have been late nights, early mornings, and weekends when a mechanic and a parts guy raced to get me going.

That service has often been exceptional. A large number of cousins, sons of cousins, and now sons of sons of cousins work there. But I’m sure the same service is available to non-relatives. (I do have one secret to staying in the good graces of the Miller Sellner gang. Every November, at the end of harvest, I deliver several cases of beer as a thank you for services rendered. Keep that quiet, though.)

I’m hopeful this love story goes on for many more harvests.

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