Butch Tinker leans back in an aging padded desk chair as buddy Leon Gray sips a cup of coffee while leaning on the parts counter. Butch says that there are busy days and then days that don’t see many customers, but he loves hanging around and talking farming with customers and helping them fix their equipment.
“Leon, Clarence Hunt, Denny Briggs came and got parts this morning. Dan Hart, he was in,” Butch says. “There’s normally a few here about everyday.”
For his lifetime of commitment to the agriculture community here, Butch Tinker is being honored tonight (Thursday) at the annual meeting of the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District as its “Silver Star” recipient.
Butch was born on the family place on Nell Lee Road — a piece of property that he still lives on. The son of Robert and Gladys Tinker, Butch grew up helping on the family farm. His dad also did mechanical work, fixing school buses and things like that, and in 1968 while Butch as serving his country in Vietnam, Bob took over the Oliver dealership here in the county and began selling farm equipment.
“He started out in Fairview, in a building there, then in ‘69 when I got back from ‘Nam, I helped lay the footer of the new garage there on 250 where Dickerson’s Body Shop is now. They started in there, and in ‘74 the tornado came through so we moved back down to Fairview and we rebuilt back there and kept a goin’.”
Butch went to Vevay High School, then served in the Army from 1967-69, including spending 1968 in Vietnam, serving in the infantry.
Returning from the war, Butch farmed while helping his dad and brother, Robert Lee, out at the shop.
“I’d rented some ground and done everything, too,” he said. “I did a lot of custom corn planting through the Conservation Office for several years. I probably farmed about 300 acres at that time myself, and then probably did 500 acres of custom planting for everybody everywhere.”
It was at that time that Butch says Nelson Burley approached him about apply for a job at the Jefferson Proving Grounds — and there he planted 100 acres of crops for the wildlife that lived on the property.
“I was all over it,” he remembers. “Over to Butlerville and places like that — planting in 2 1/2 acre plots.”
The ground that he farmed himself was both on the family farm and also ground that he rented around the area. So farming his own ground and staying on top of the ground he planted for the Conservation Service kept him busy.
“The farmers would come in and they would fill out applications and there was kind of a payment incentive to try no-till and go that way,” Butch said. “That’s when no-till was just coming on, probably in the mid-1970s. We started out with a no-till corn planter; then in 74 we had an Oliver planter then. In 1979 I bought my White corn planter, four row 38s with a soy bean splitter attachment for the back of it. I’ve still got that planter today. It’s got some years on it. It’s not in very good shape, but it gets me by.”
Tinker says that he doesn’t do much custom planting anymore, mainly because everyone that he used to plant for has gotten bigger in their farming operations and now own their own planters and equipment.
Currently, Butch only farms the 90 acres of crop ground that he has at the home place; and combines that with the mechanical work that he does at the shop.
The shop — also — has some family history.
“This is not really mine, it’s my brothers,” Butch said. “My brother bought the old shop from dad; and was there until 2000. Then he came over here and built this in 2000-2001, so he had this business here since then. The family, the nephews and others, wanted me to piddle around here and do stuff, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been thinking about building one over home, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet.”
Today he farms strictly crop ground, no livestock, and Butch quickly points out that it’s all still strictly no-till.
Along with no-till practices, Butch served on the FSA County Committee for 18 years.
Butch says one of the highlights of his life was participating in the Honor Flight that went to Washington, D.C. last year — “A thrill of a lifetime,” he says.
So how has farming changed in the past 50 years?
“It’s really changed a lot,” Butch says with a laugh. “Back then you didn’t have all of the monitors and all of the fancy stuff like they’ve got now. A lot of times, you’d paint lines on the shafts to look back and make sure that they were turning back then. Now, they’ve got monitors and things. Heck, they drive themselves, really.”
Butch said that most farming back then was much more hands on. His dad raised a wide variety of things: from corn, beans, hay, oats, barley; as well as milking cows when he first started.
The small family farms like Butch grew up on are quickly fading away.
“They’re just about a thing of the past,” he says. “Farmers now are so much bigger than before. If you’re going to make it, you’ve got to farm a lot of ground.”
Butch has a son, Chris, who works at Arvin-Sango and lives in Madison along with his girlfriend Angel, and she has a daughter, Destiny.