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Roots that run deep

He’s a farmer, collector and radio personality with a rich family history

By Carlienne A. Frisch

Tom Graham is a farmer, collector of such diverse items as caps and vintage farm equipment, and he’s also a radio show personality. At age 71, he still crops 100 of the family farm’s original 600 acres near Henderson, and he’s proud of his family’s deep roots in the area.

Tom Graham, broadcasting his regular radio show. Tom has been part of the show for nearly a decade. Contributed photo

“My family has been here in Jessenland Township since 1852,” he explained. “It was named by a traveling bishop for the Biblical land of milk and honey and settled by my ancestors. In July 1852, Thomas Doheny got off the steamboat “Black Oak” and founded his homestead with three brothers. Legend has it that they put an axe into an oak tree and said, ‘This is our land.’”

Tom is known for his collections--400-500 farm caps (he’s not sure of the exact number), as well as vintage farm equipment, including tractors and self-propelled combines. He’s done a few other things along the way--taught vocational agriculture, sold seed and volunteered with area organizations. If his name seems familiar, though, it’s probably because of his radio show. For the past nine years, Tom has co-hosted a four-hour show that is broadcast every Thursday morning from New Prague stations KCHK 1350AM and 95.5 FM.

“It’s called the TRG Squared Show,” Tom said, “It’s named that because I’m Tom R. Graham and the co-host, the station manager, is Tom R. Goetzinger. We play folk music and classic country. We do a weekly ag report which is sponsored by a local hay farmer, and we honor people on their birthdays and anniversaries.”

Just a few of Tom’s hat collection. Contributed photo

Tom also does a six-to-nine minute bit of programming called Tom’s Tidbits, in which he discusses various humorous topics or some item of interest, such as a look back at past weather. Listeners often call or email Tom, wanting to talk about collecting or to add to his collection of caps.

Long before being invited to become a local radio personality, Tom got speaking experience as a vocational agriculture instructor in two area school districts. (He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Education from the University of Minnesota.) It may have been the years of talking to a roomful of students that honed his speech style for his being invited to co-host a radio talk show.

“I stumbled on the radio gig by accident, through volunteer work as president and board member of the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Association. We moved a country church onto the Pioneer Power grounds, set up a dedication ceremony and bought advertising time on KCHK radio. I did a live promo and was invited back to have a talk show,” he said.

As for the collecting--that seems to have come naturally, too. Tom began his cap collection around 1980, when he became a sales representative for a seed company. “I estimate the company had about 20 different kinds or styles of caps for reps to have and to give to customers. A cap was always a popular giveaway. Sometimes you’d trade with a competing rep to add to your collection.”

A couple items from Tom’s tractor collection. Contributed photo

Tom also added to his cap collection in other ways--getting caps from construction companies, shops, farm businesses and farm shows (including Farmfest), as well as caps that radio stations gave away as contest prizes. While serving 30 years as a director of the Minnesota Valley Electric Co-op in Jordan, Tom collected caps at trade shows, conventions and other events. Most of his cap collection is stored in plastic tubs. The caps that are on view are attached to the ceiling of his office. He explained, “The caps are displayed randomly on the exposed floor joists in the ceiling. It seemed like a good place, easy to put them up with a staple gun.”

Unlike the cap collection, Tom’s vintage equipment collection began with something from his childhood--a Farmall H tractor that Tom’s father bought new in 1945. Tom has added 15 or 20 more collectible tractors. They are mostly International, but he also has one John Deere, a Fordson and a Case, all from the 1940s through the late 1960s. Some of the tractors are restored, while others are in field condition.

“It’s something that grows on you,” Tom explained. “You see one you like, and you buy it. Pretty soon you have the field and the machine sheds full. I also have a collection of self-propelled combines, most of which are in my rented storage shed. They are mostly International Harvester, but I have one Massey Harris and a 1946 red Co-op, made by Cockshutt. The serial number is #003. I’m pretty proud of that.”

Tom representing the radio station at Randolph FFA Tractor parade. Contributed photo

Tom is also proud that his extended family continues to live in the area that was claimed by driving an axe into an oak tree.

“Of our three kids and seven grandchildren, five of the seven live within a 40-mile radius, and all live within driving distance, except one grandchild who’s in grad school in Colorado,” he said.

Although Tom has no plans, as yet, for the future of his collections, he said, “I have grandchildren and nephews interested in my cap collection.”

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