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Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Twins work together through long hours, bad seasons on farm

October 31, 2004

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— Pieces of rust-red cornhusk float down around the truck like a ticker tape parade for the harvest. The flakes gather along the windshield and the door that reads in hand-painted letters, "SHROUT BROS. INDEP, MO."

Charlie stands in the bed of the truck, knee deep in mounds of bright yellow, as corn pours from the combine. DeWitt pulls around is his gray pick up.

"Sure looks pretty coming off that load," Charlie says. "I've never seen corn any better."

What they've worked for all summer, for their entire lives, piles up in overflowing mounds.

For Charlie and DeWitt, being a twin comes as naturally as the seasons. The brothers are now 82 years old, and have been farming for as long as they can remember.

"I always said I never knew how I got along without a twin," DeWitt said. "We've always been working together."

Charlie climbs down off the truck. The brothers meet around the back to drape a dusty cover over the full load of corn.

They work like a left and right hand effortlessly tying a shoelace. The movement is automatic.

"I guess you take for granted someone always being there," Charlie said.

A broken part on DeWitt Shrout's combine keeps him and his twin
brother, Charlie Shrout, right, working to get back into the field
in Independence, Mo. After more than 60 years of farming together,
the twins work in effortless tandem.

A broken part on DeWitt Shrout's combine keeps him and his twin brother, Charlie Shrout, right, working to get back into the field in Independence, Mo. After more than 60 years of farming together, the twins work in effortless tandem.

'You always pray'

When Charlie and DeWitt started farming they used horses and plows. They milked their entire dairy by hand.

Charlie said the technology and machinery have changed farming the most. With the money it takes to make a good living in modern farming, small farmers are all but a thing of the past.

"Everything's got so high. That's an old man talking," Charlie joked. "I remember when things were cheap."

"The amount of money you invest is no guarantee of what you're going to get," DeWitt said.

Farming still relies on what man can't control.

So, the brothers pray for rain. Or pray for it to stop if the fields get too wet.

Charlie Shrout, right, heads back out to the field to work on his
combine in Independence, Mo. as his wife, Harriett, asks when he
might be home.

Charlie Shrout, right, heads back out to the field to work on his combine in Independence, Mo. as his wife, Harriett, asks when he might be home.

"You always pray," Charlie said.

The twins said back in the old days, no country girl would have them, but no city girl would marry a farm boy.

Despite the odds, Harriett married Charles in 1948. They met in church. DeWitt had married Betty, another town girl, three years earlier.

The town girls turned into farm wives in a hurry.

When she married, Harriett didn't know how to drive; Betty didn't know how to cook. They learned by experience and necessity; driving trucks to the silos and working in a kitchen that doubled as a nursery for calves in the winter.

The two girls soon became sisters; the only two people in the world who knew what it was like to be married to the Shrout twins.

"She and I both have the same thing," Harriett said, "the same situation with the twins."

Enduring love

That meant dealing with long hours, bad seasons and hogs getting loose when it was the last thing they needed.

Betty stood at the door ready to go out when DeWitt flew by her. The hogs were out. They must not have known it was the couple's first anniversary.

"I was standing there all dressed up thinking, 'Welcome to the farming world,"' Betty said. "We were running the hogs -- me and my high heels."

Yet with everything that went wrong, they made their families work. Harriett and Charlie had four sons; Betty and DeWitt had a son and a daughter. They gave in to the demands of the farm and relied on each other to make it through.

"You kind of forget the bad times," DeWitt said.

Betty looked over at him smiling.

"If it hadn't been for love, it probably wouldn't have endured," Betty said.

Betty remembered when DeWitt caught his thumb in a combine belt. In the emergency room he told the doctor not to put him out, just deaden it.

"He had to get back out there," Betty said. "He went back down and got on the combine."

He worked until dark.

No stopping

There's never been a time when they stopped farming, even last year when doctors diagnosed DeWitt with cancer. He never missed a day of work.

"I didn't do much," DeWitt said. "I did run the combine a little bit, but I'd get so weak."

He took 25 radiation treatments and chemotherapy by the pill.

"I called them 'dynamite,'" DeWitt said. "I thought they'd kill me, but if I ever got a little down, Betty would get on me pretty heavy."

She tried to keep his mind off himself. She made him eat even when he didn't feel like it. She urged him to keep farming.

After head scans, all the doctors claim to see is scar tissue.

"I'm still pretty weak," DeWitt said.

Charlie gets up on his combine and looked into the engine. It needs some work before they could finish bringing in the soybeans.

"I may have to bless it a bit," Charlie said.

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