Iowa Farmer Today: Farming Provides Inspiration (for alumnus Joe Musil)

Monday, November 21, 2011

By Tim Hoskins

A heavy-equipment engineer draws inspiration for his job from part-time farming.

Joe Musil works full time as a senior engineering fellow at Terex. The company in Cedar Rapids makes heavy equipment, such as road-construction equipment and rock crushers.

Musil can trace his attraction to mechanics and farming back to when his family lived in St. Paul when he would go to the Minnesota State Fair and draw pictures of tractors.

When Musil was 6 years old, his dad, who was an electrical engineer, moved the family to Central Iowa to work at Iowa State University.

He did some farm work while in high school.

Musil says a local farmer, Holger Jensen, would drive school bus and had a custom hay-baling business in the summer. Jensen hired Musil to bale hay for him.

All summer, Musil said he would either be baling hay or shoveling hog manure.

About noon, Jensen’s wife would fix a big meal for all the workers or they would go out for big meal if they were away from home.

“I loved that lifestyle,” he says.

Musil studied mechanical engineering at ISU after graduating high school. After graduating from college in the mid-1970s, he got a job at his current company and moved to Cedar Rapids.

He lived in an apartment in town.

“I felt like I was living in a chicken coop,” he says.

Musil was bored and didn’t know anyone in Cedar Rapids. So, he enrolled in the University of Iowa master’s degree program for engineering.

“I was mostly looking for something to do,” he says of the graduate program.

At the same time, he was saving money to purchase his first piece of farm ground.

“After graduating in 1976, I was saving every nickel and dime. I didn’t have a telephone or television,” he says.

After saving enough, he was able to purchase his first 40 acres, just south of Cedar Rapids.

“I paid $71,500 at 8.25 percent on a contract.”

Musil started farming with an old tractor he had fixed up in Ames. 

He got help from his neighbor, Adolf Nezerka.

“He (Nezerka) helped me so much. He would loan me equipment and help me fix it. He was a total help when I started,” says Musil.

Musil married Lori, who grew up on a dairy farm near Decorah, and raised their children on the farm outside of town.

He crop farms 240 acres and has some beef cattle. He uses older equipment, such as his combine which is more than 30 years old.

Musil noted he regularly purchases the manuals for his farm equipment and does most of his repairs and rebuilds machinery.

“I have only taken one piece of farm equipment in to get fixed in 36 years. That was my big John Deere that they need to split the tractor to work on the transmission.”

After the crops are harvested, he makes a list of projects on the equipment he will do over the winter to keep busy.

Musil says doing farm work allows him time to think and come up with ideas for his full-time job. 

He will see or think of an idea and draw a picture in his head. Later, he is able to recall the picture and put it down on paper.

Musil, who has more than 75 patents, says while the applications are for heavy equipment, the core of the ideas come from the farm.

After a day in the office dealing with people and issues, he says the quietness of the farm helps relive some stress.

“Overall, I can’t image a better life. I enjoy farming.”

Editor’s note: Iowa’s farming ranks are filled with people who spend their days behind a desk or in the classroom. Yet, each evening they return home to pull a double shift working the land. These part-time farmers are the subject of a special series of profiles.