Bartels Farm and the Doodlebug mystery
A Doodlebug! What? Not to panic, it’s not a new, invasive insect species. Read on to learn its ingenious significance since just after WWI, through the Great Depression and beyond. These ‘critters’ have even been credited for helping America conquer battles here on the home front during World War II.
Clue #1: Doodlebugs and Bartels Farm
Doodlebugs are known by quite a few other names; and they helped save many a farmer or rancher from financial ruin. Like that of Doodlebugs, Colorado’s Centennial Farms’ versatility is time-tested and proven.
Family-owned and operated Bartels Farm has been an ag enterprise since 1905, said current owner Doug Bartels. He recalled that his Larimer County land was originally homesteaded in the 1880s by a different family.
Then in 1902 or ’03, great-granddad Clyde Bartels bought the property. But due to taxes, being then what they are now, he sadly relinquished it almost immediately. The next buyer also let go of what appeared to be somewhat of a hot potato acreage. But persistent Clyde, with errant tax money in-hand, re-purchased the land in 1905… and made quite a go of it!
Initially a sheep farming enterprise run by Clyde and his son Frank, the northern Colorado acreage adapted as needed throughout the 20th century’s decades. Frank’s only child, Duane, went on to grow crops, including sugar beets. He added hay and corn to feed his animals and harvested barley for Coors Brewing plus cucumbers for the Dreher Pickle Factory.
Clue #2: Scrambolas — A Harvest Focus
Eventually, Duane and son Doug replaced the sheep with a hog farm. They also rented out feed lots to cattle ranchers. Today, corn, wheat and barley are still mainstays. However, the Bartels Farm, now owned by Doug and Nancy Bartels, has become especially known for its beautiful pumpkin patch and extensive vegetable garden.
In 2000, Doug Bartels ended up with a surplus of pumpkins intended for a local flower shop. To avoid waste, he opened the field to the public for pumpkin purchases. Every subsequent year, the Bartels Pumpkin Patch has grown in size and added seasonal decorations for sale as well (Indian corn, gourds, squash, straw bales and more). Additional crops, some from the big veggie garden, are annually offered to the public during U-Pick months of mid-July to Nov. 1.
However, it’s the pumpkin patch that draws delighted kiddos from near and far. Youngsters excitedly scramble around the field in search of that one perfect orange orb they’re each certain grew just for them!
Parents appreciate the FREE Admission; FREE parking; FREE punkin chunkin, farm animals meet n’ greet, and kids mini straw maze. All FREE.
For older kids and adults, it’s on to the corn maze.
Clue #3: Steampunk T. —It’s A-Maz-ing!
There are corn mazes; and then there are A-MAZ-ING corn mazes! Bartels’ offers a 16-acre, unique hand-carved one with narrow passages that zigzag through the cornfield each mid-September through October. Children ages 10 and older, and accompanied by a buddy, merrily encounter circles, dead ends and multiple paths as they seek the elusive exit. It usually takes about 30 minutes to successfully locate the way out.
Bartels advised that he’s always kept his friendly maze just plain fun, without theme or design, not-for-profit, and definitely not scary; just challenging. However, by customer request, he is contemplating perhaps adding some ghostly goosebumps for Halloween 2022. Boo! Stay tuned.
Clue #4: Jitterbug — Special Events
Farm aficionados flock like Bartels’ original sheep to events open to groups of all sizes. Original owner Clyde Bartels would likely be wide-eyed with wonder to watch yellow school buses drive up loaded with students on field trips; joyful wedding parties strolling around lush green grounds; birthday boys, girls and their guests celebrating big days.
Nowadays, it takes real ingenuity and innovative financing to keep agricultural land productive enough to beat early 21st century economic challenges. Clyde’s descendant Doug, while earning a profit from his land, enjoys sharing its bounty and beauty with others as well. That takes a big heart and lots of patience, too.
Clue #5: Field Crawler — Centennial Designation
Bartels Farm received designation as a Colorado Centennial Farm in 2005. During a ceremony held at the state fair in Pueblo, the family accepted the honor along with documentation and a large steel plaque.
Ag acreages qualify for the exceptional designation once they’ve been owned by the same family for 100 or more years. Such properties are becoming scarcer as more folks sell off/subdivide their land or heirs choose urban over rural lifestyles. As time goes on, Centennial farms and ranches will likely become, as the saying goes, as rare as hens’ teeth.
Now going on its sixth generation of farming, Bartels Farm has a chance of lasting well into, or beyond, its second century.
Mystery Solution — and a Doodlebug is…
Okay, so just what’s a Doodlebug and its purpose in life?
About three years ago, Doug Bartels acquired a peculiar looking, bare-bones sort of farm vehicle. All that seller Mike Johnson of Ault, Colo., recalled about the antique was that he’d bought it at an estate or farm sale.
It was basically just a frame with a motor, seat, steering wheel and big steel wheels rather than rubber tires. The piece was supposed to be in running order, although Bartels never tried it. But now he has become interested, as have a couple friends who want to see if they can get the rather naked tractor going.
That’s right, tractor. Just as Bartels Farm found it necessary to adapt over time, in the past there was need of a devolved tractor. Brand new “showroom” models were hard to come by during the post WWI and Great Depression eras due to metal shortages.
Catalog and implement companies recognized the need for aftermarket conversion kits. Prices depended on the year and source but ranged from an affordable $20 up to a Depression eye-popper of $300.
From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, ubiquitous but obsolete Ford autos provided innovative farmers and ranchers a way to create their own distinctive rides. Then, from paved roads into farm fields they went! Quite a feat, thanks to kits sold by such well-known catalogs as Sears & Roebuck Co.; Montgomery Ward, New Deal, Peru Plow Co., Thrifty Farmer, Pull Ford and Johnson Mfg. Co.
Further history of these unique tractors is a fascinating read.
“Doodlebug tractor is the colloquial American English name for a homemade tractor made in the United States during World War II when production tractors were in short supply,” states Wikipedia, adding, “The doodlebug of the 1940s was usually based on a 1920s or 1930s era Ford automobile which was then modified either by the complete removal or alteration of some of the vehicle body.”
The internet page advises that several collector clubs hold summer competitions to test their contraptions’ functionality and strength by tugging heavy stone boats in a tractor pull.
Wikipedia lists names for these clever creations: Doodlebugs, Friday Tractors, Scrambolas, Jitterbugs, Field Crawlers, Ruxells. DoodleBug (aka: “The old DB”) was a nickname for the aftermarket kit made by David Bradley.
Doodlebugs were heralded as champions of the tough days from post-WWI through WWII. They plowed, made hay, hauled logs, plucked up stumps, towed all manner of farm loads and implements. This required adequate ground clearance for all conditions and manner of terrain. And definitely durability.
Not just U.S. farmers appreciated “the old DBs.” Wikipedia noted that, until 1950s’ availability of mass production tractors, homemade doodlebugs were popular among Sweden’s small-acreage farmers starting in the 1930s. Ordinances regulated rules for modifications and enforcement of the speed limit (20 mph). Teenagers age 15 and up in rural areas continue to enjoy the peculiar little tractors as a popular hobby.
Doodlebugs and Bartels Farm: Both endure as adaptations for changing situations.
For additional information about Bartels Farm, its schedule of events, to reserve time for group tours or special occasions, call Doug Bartels at (970) 493-3853. Stop by to purchase in-season fresh produce, pick your own… or to see if Doug has his Doodlebug going yet! Bartels Farm is located at 3424 E. Douglas Road, Fort Collins, Colo. Or, visit the farm’s website at http://www.bartelsfarm.com.
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