With over a century of life experience behind him, Charlie Thor can teach you or two about longevity.
During our recent lunch together, Charlie salted on his food until tiny drifts of it started forming on his plate. Then he added a little more for good measure.
“If you want to make it to 100”, his daughter Connie Dallmann informed me, “You’ll have to add a lot of salt to your food, skip eating vegetables, and drink a lot of black coffee”
Charile’s wife Harriet (a chipper 96) sat across from him, smiling and nodding in agreement, as she blew some steam off her coffee mug and took a good sip.
“They’ve always been that way,” their son Vernon added. “It seems to work for them.”
While salt, hamburgers and coffee may keep Charlie and Harriet going, it’s also their interest in life around them that keeps them young at heart.
When Charlie heard that Geringhoff was opening a manufacturing plant in St. Cloud, MN, he jumped at the chance to write us a letter.
In his letter, he talked about some of the inventions he’d fashioned as a custom equipment builder, a welder and a farmer.
Charlie welded in his own welding shop near Hutchinson, Minnesota for so many years that he actually wore the knobs on his welding torch down to smooth, shiny metal buttons. You can see in this picture (inset) what I’m talking about.
It’s Charlie’s love for welding, inventing, farming and life that brought him to our factory, with his family, for a tour.
Picking Up Steam
That investment paid off. Soon Charlie was working out of his neigbors welding shop and shortly thereafter, had a portable welding service that could go to farmers that had broken down in the field.
Because Charlie’s welding unit was portable, he could get farm equipment up and running in a day, or less, rather than in a week or more. Something that local farmers noticed and appreciated.
Charlie and his brother went into a partnership for several years, farming over 1,000 acres near Cosmos, MN. Low prices and a flat economy led them to get out of farming, at which point Charlie started up his Custom Made Equipment business.
During his years as a custom equipment builder and welder, Charlie had the chance to tour the facilities of some major equipment manufacturers—something he always enjoyed.
When we responded to his letter, and offered to have him and his family come for a tour, he jumped at the chance.
“How many 100 year olds get to have a day like this?” he asked, when we first met. “Honestly, this is something I’ve been looking forward to doing ever since I read in the paper that you were coming to this area.”
#Still Going Strong
With over a century of life experience behind him, Charlie Thor can teach you a thing or two about living a long, full life.
During our lunch together, I asked him if he had any secrets to making it past 100. As Charlie listened to my question, he shook salt onto his hamburger and french fries until tiny drifts started forming on his plate. Then he added another shake or two on top, for good measure.
“If you want to make it past 100,” his daughter Connie Dallmann chimed in, “You’ll have to add a lot of salt to your food, skip eating vegetables, and drink a lot of black coffee.”
Unfazed, Charlie’s wife Harriet (a chipper 96) sat across from him, smiling and nodding in agreement. She blew some steam off her coffee, took a sip, and gave a knowing chuckle.
“They’ve always been like that,” their son Vernon nodded. “They have a routine that seems to work for them.”
While salt, hamburgers and coffee may keep Charlie and Harriet going, that’s just part of their secret. It’s also their interest in engaging with life, that keeps them both young at heart.
For example, when Charlie heard that Geringhoff was opening a factory in St. Cloud, MN, he wrote us a letter introducing himself.
He told us of his lifelong fascination with manufacturing, and spoke of his experience as a welder, farmer, inventor and innovator.
After reading his letter, we set up a time for Charlie and his family (wife Harriet, daughter Connie Dallmann and son Vernon Thor) to come and tour our factory—something he was looking forward to doing since the day we first opened our doors. After all, farming and manufacturing are near and dear to Charlie’s heart.
Charlie grew up on his family’s farm near Stillwater, MN.
“I should have grown to become a much taller man,” he jokes, “because since I was a little boy, I’ve had my boots buried in the manure.”
Growing up, the Thors farmed a little over 900 acres of mostly tillable land, and kept livestock as well. They were busy days, and the years flew by.
Charlie enjoyed helping on the farm, and fixing things, so he decided that he wanted to learn how to weld.
“I bought a used Montgomery Ward 32 volt electric welder from the Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis”, Charlie explained. “They were getting rid of them, and I figured it was cheaper to buy a welder than it was to take welding classes from the college. So instead of going to Dunwoody to learn to weld, I went to Dunwoody to buy a welder.”
That welder was one of the best investments Charlie ever made.
Charlie kept his family’s farm equipment in working order with his welder, and also kept the neighbors in business whenever they had a mid-harvest breakdown.
Charlie powered his welder off of his tractor, and was able to bring it with him into the field. He soon had a portable welding business that kept him in demand, and little did he know, was laying a foundation that would become more significant for him, later in life.
After a few more years on the family farm, Charlie and his brother wanted to farm on their own.
“My brother and I wanted to get into better soil,” Charlie continued,” and that type of farm didn’t exist near us. We found a farm about 100 miles west of us, near Cosmos, Minnesota that was what we were looking for, so we went ahead and bought a farm there.”
Buying a farm meant taking out a mortgage and diving in headfirst to their new location.
Things on the new farm were off to a good start.
“We farmed 1,048 acres and kept a heard of 100 dairy cows.” Charlie explained. Harriet and the kids helped out at every step of their operation, wearing many hats and working long hours.
“It was a big farm. There was lots of livestock, very diversified,” Connie explained,”There was always something going on, so that was a lot of fun.”
Then things took an unexpected turn.
Grade A milk dropped to record low prices of $2.83 per 100 pounds, livestock prices plummeted, and crop prices stumbled.
Charlie and his brother started to feel the squeeze of having a mortgage hanging over their heads, day and night, “like a big black cloud”, to quote Charlie.
The dark cloud continued to grow until it finally burst.
“Short money and short tempers go together,” Charlie says, looking back on those stressful days. “It was our undoing.”
The Thor brothers were forced to make a difficult, but necessary decision. In 1965, the brothers sold the farm and the two families went their separate ways.
Charlie and Harriet dusted off his welder, moved their family to a 19 acre homestead, and started a new business near Hutchinson, MN.
The first things that Charlie and Harriet noticed about their move off the farm is that they suddenly had extra free time.
“The best thing that happened to us,” Charlie said,”is that we had Sundays off.”
That meant time for family, time for church, and time to think.
With extra time on his hands, Charlie began tinkering. He designed and built front-, and rear-mounted snowblowers for tractors. He built one for a local farmer, and then another. Soon farmers from around the country were asking for Charlie’s snowblowers.
“People started coming to me,” Charlie recalls, “and we sold snowblowers as far east as New York, and as far wast as Montana. We sold them all over the country.”
“Custom Made Equipment” was born, and Charlie and Harriet were off to the races in their new business.
Charlie earned the nickname of “Charlie Torch” for his welding and design experience, and even won awards for his inventions and innovative farm equipment.
Charlie sold his business a few years ago, even though he worked there until he was in his mid-90’s
“Now I’m a consultant,” he jokes,”but I never seem to get paid.” Nonetheless, welding and manufacturing are still in his blood.
As we toured the Geringhoff factory, Charlie took time to notice details that a person with a less experienced eye may not appreciate.
“Would you look at that? “ he said, pointing to the welds on a 12 row 30” RotaDisc cornhead, “I just can’t imagine how much engineering must go into making something like that. Getting this much precision in a machine this size is remarkable.”
“I remember when we used to pick corn by hand.” Charlie recalled,” Then along came a two row corn picker which we thought was really something. But this? It’s just amazing to see how far things have come. Imagine how much corn you can pick with this kind of machine!”
Making our way through the final assembly line, Charlie noted that this wasn’t the first factory tour he’d been on, but it was certainly the most modern facility he’d seen.
“I’ve been able to tour some of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturing plants around,” he said, “And they’ve all been impressive. But I have to say, if those companies hope to keep up with you— from what I’ve seen here today—they’re going to have to step their game up a little bit.”
With a wink he added, “Your shop is just a little bit bigger than the one we had.”
After a busy morning and a lunch together, Charlie, Harriet, Connie and Vernon were ready to head home.
Before leaving, Charlie motioned us over.
“Take a look at this,” he said,”It’s my original welding torch. I’ve used this torch over all these years and pretty much wore the knobs right off it, with just my gloves.” He held up the welding torch to illustrate his point.
“Well, this has been fantastic.” Charlie beamed as he prepared to go, “How many 100 year olds get to spend a day like this?”
With that, Vernon wheeled Charlie out to the car, with a smile on his face, and his worn welding torch by his side.
Charlie and Harriet now live in the Harmony River Living Center near Hutchinson. It is a quiet community with a view of a pond and neighboring fields. There’s plenty of room to watch the birds visit the feeder they’ve set up by their window.
Even so, life sometimes gets a little too quiet for them.
Shortly after their visit, Connie wrote us an email:
Mom and Dad’s days in the nursing home get kind of long, but this event provided anticipation and happiness beyond measure for them. If we were still farming, we’d be buying a Geringhoff! Dad hasn’t come down to earth yet—he loved spending the day at your factory.”
In the short time that they were here, Charlie and Harriet left us with five lessons in living a full life (and maybe one of them holds the key to longevity?):
Stay interested in life around you
Have a good sense of humor
Slow down and notice the little things
Put a little extra salt on your french fries from time to time!