90 Years of Embracing Life

Spring 2020 Issue by Cyd Hoefle photography by Michele Pedersen

Bill Brinkel's Days are Still Full

Bill Brinkel might not live in the country anymore, but country still most definitely defines him. The 90-year-old retired wheat farmer was born and raised near Broadview where he farmed until he was in his late 70s. He farmed the same soil as his father, devoting his life to the land before he passed it down to his daughters. One daughter and a son-in-law are still farming the property. 

“I’ll always consider myself a farmer,” Bill said.”That hasn’t changed!”

Bill now lives in Billings and spends his time working in his woodshop west of town. His shop is filled with stacks of wood, saws, lathes and every tool imaginable for turning wood into beautiful works of art.

“No two creations are ever the same,” Bill said as he closely examined a small block of wood as much with his hands as with his eyes. “The wood is always different in character, color and design.”

“I started working with wood at the farm,” he explained. “I had to have something to do when I wasn’t farming.” Bill started with cedar fence posts found throughout his property. His first attempts were retractable ballpoint pens, which entailed breaking down a piece of wood into a 1-by3-inch inch block, drilling out the inside for the ink cartridge and then painstakingly lathing it down to the desired dimension to make a two-piece pen with six different parts.

“Those first ones took a while,” he said with a laugh. 

Today, in addition to pens, he makes beautifully inlaid cutting boards, pepper mill grinders, tooth-pick holders and jewelry cases. His hands, rough and calloused from a lifetime of farming are still remarkably strong.

“Ah, they don’t work like they used to,” he said, “but at least I have them. I’ve come close to losing a couple of fingers a time or two!”

During his time as a farmer, Bill was also a county commissioner for Stillwater County, served on Montana’s wheat board and spent time promoting Montana wheat to foreign countries, including China and the Philippines. It seems his active lifestyle followed him through to retirement.

“I just can’t sit at home and watch TV,” he said. “If I don’t stay busy, I’ll get old!”

Bill said his philosophy of life is, “Work hard, be honest, treat your fellow man right and be kind to your neighbors, as there’s nothing like good ones!”

This is especially true for a man who once relied on the kindness of neighbors to finish his harvesting as he recovered from an accident. Bill was injured as he was hooking up a tractor’s hydraulics to auger wheat from a truck into a grain bin. Instead of climbing on the tractor and using his foot to push the clutch down to start it, he thought he would just push it down with his hand to save some time. When he lifted his hand off to engage the auger the tractor jumped, knocked him down and rolled over him. He was airlifted to Billings for broken ribs and collarbone and had a punctured lung. His injuries required hospital time to recuperate. The inconvenience of the accident was further exasperating because Bill had not yet finished harvesting his wheat. His neighbors stepped in.

“That’s the one thing I wish I could have seen,” Bill said. “My neighbors. So many of them. Seven or eight combines, a half dozen grain trucks. They showed up and harvested my fields in a day. It would have taken me weeks. They stopped their harvesting and showed up at my place to do it for me. I’ll never forget that.” As he retells the story, he’s still emotionally touched by it.

Bill continues to embrace life to the fullest and enjoys his days at his workshop and time with his family.

“I live by four rules to keep myself busy and to keep from getting Alzheimer’s,” he said with a smile as he counted them off on his fingers, “1. Play bridge, it’ll keep your mind working. 2. Do some woodworking, it keeps your hands busy. 3. Dance, especially country western, foxtrot and waltz and 4. Hmmm,” he continued with a laugh and a twinkle in his eyes, “I can’t remember that one…”

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