(Next in a series looking at ways farmers relax and forget about the daily grind.)
Ken Schoenfelder doesn't saddle up when it's time to herd cattle. He just fires up his helicopter.
“I can accomplish with the helicopter what it takes three or four guys to do,” he says. “If there aren't too many trees, it makes sense to use it whenever I can.”
He's flown for parts and to Houston and Milwaukee, but most of his time aloft is spent enjoying the local countryside.
The southern Minnesota farmer bought his first helicopter 18 years ago and has accumulated 1,300 hours using it for both farm and fun.
“Once you fly a helicopter you never go back to fixed wing,” he says.
He had always been interested in flying and logged about 500 hours flying fixed wing just out of college. “I thought that helicopters were just too expensive to get into until I heard about the Robinson,” he says. “I have it inspected every year or 100 hours, whichever comes first, and change the oil every 25-50 hours.”
It is true what they say about helicopters being more dangerous to fly. “If your engine quits, you have two seconds to drop the collective, which is the handle that puts the pitch in the blades,” he says. “It's imperative that you drop it immediately. You can't wonder for very long.”
Most of the time Schoenfelder flies at about 1,000 feet. “You're always going up and coming back down so there's not much point to getting too high up. Most of your work is lower to the ground.”
“We have the nicest views around southern Minnesota when the crops are growing and farmers are in the field. It's great to get up there and see what's going on. The different colors are like a patchwork quilt; the greens and yellows of the fields are always changing.
“When you're up there flying, you can't think about anything else, it's a total escape from the stress of farming. In general I think farmers today have so much responsibility, and it never quits. It's seven days a week, especially with livestock.”
Schoenfelder operates a diversified grain, hog and cattle operation near Rochester, MN, with his brother, nephews, daughter and son-in-law.
“I'm very good at getting away from it now. I used to be pretty uptight, but selling the farm to the next generation got rid of the stress: Let them have those headaches. Now I just work for them.”