Farming has always been a way of life for Danny McCreless. Like most folks his age, his parents farmed. Sometimes that’s all they did. Sometimes they kept at it to supplement their mainstream jobs. Or was it the other way around?
Either way, farming is a habit McCreless, 58, can’t seem to shake.
After graduating from Hamilton High School in 1968, McCreless left Northwest Alabama for college. He went to Marietta, Georgia, and enrolled in Southern Technical Institute.
McCreless participated in the school’s co-op program which meant he went to school for one quarter and then worked in his field of study for one quarter.
Since he was pursuing a degree in industrial engineering he worked at the Munsingwear plant in Hamilton. He kept that job until the plant closed its doors in 1990.
Next he went to work at the Wrangler plant in Hackleburg. He worked as an engineer and in management. That plant closed in 2001. Since then, McCreless has farmed full-time.
What makes McCreless’ operation unique is that he does it all by himself.
When he goes to the field he goes alone. Right now he’s in the middle of harvest.
He operates the combine in his nearby fields until he gathers a load then empties the grain onto a waiting truck. He drives the truck to his grain bins and unloads. Then he drives back to the field and picks another load.
"It’s not bad," said McCreless. "At least everything’s close here."
McCreless farms mostly rented land down the hill from his house. Most of the 230 acres can be seen from his shed at the foot of the hill.
He likes the independence that comes with a do-it-yourself farming operation.
"There’s nobody telling you what to do," said McCreless. "Of course, if there’s a mistake—you made it."
McCreless raises corn and soybeans, all no-till of course. He has about 130 acres in pasture and hay and about 100 acres in timber.
Asked what keeps him going McCreless replied that he enjoys it.
"I like to do it," he said. "Though sometimes it’s hard to remember why."
Like most farmers McCreless has been hit hard by three years of draught, though admits this year wasn’t as bad as he first thought.
He has averaged 70 bushels per acres on corn and 45 bushels for soybeans.
"Not bad for a draught," he said.
Famous or Infamous?
Ask most folks around Marion County if they know Danny McCreless and you’re likely to get this response: "Ain’t he that fellow who had all those cows struck by lightning?"
McCreless said he doesn’t remember many dates other than his children’s birthdays, but August 3, 1983 is a day that lives in infamy.
A freak lightning storm happened and killed almost his entire herd.
"I couldn’t believe it," recalled McCreless. "I came home from work and they were gone."
The cattle had gathered under a tree in the pasture during the quick afternoon storm. Lightning hit the tree and traveled its roots. It killed 53 head of cattle, including a newly purchased bull.
McCreless said as he and neighbors were surveying the damage they noticed that one cow was still alive. They tied a rope to her and pulled her from the herd.
"I kept that cow for 10 more years and she did well," recalled McCreless.
When John Ed Butler of New Hope heard about what happened to the bull McCreless had bought from him, Butler gave him a replacement bull free of charge.
Local members of the Marion County Cattlemen’s Association each gave McCreless a heifer that fall. He still maintains about 50 head of mixed cows.
Not long after the lightning strike, another freak occurrence had McCreless locally in the spotlight.
A small plane crashed into one of his fields. McCreless recalled the plane broke up in the air and parts of it landed in the field and surrounding area.
Fortunately, the last several years have been relatively quiet around the McCreless farm.
The one area McCreless accepts a little help in is equipment upkeep. His neighbor Lawson Cook helps him maintain his farming equipment.
"Lawson is a big help," said McCreless. "And he has lots of helpful advice."
Some of that advice includes sayings like "poor people have got poor ways" and "if you want to find an easy way to do a hard job, put a lazy man on it."
McCreless said since his father died, neighbor Gary Weatherly has also been a source of farming information.
Like most farmers he doesn’t have many hobbies.
"I hunt or fish," said McCreless. "But I do like sports."
His one indulgence is a 52-inch plasma screen TV he bought last year. He watches college football and basketball from his recliner. McCreless even admits to watching the Braves from time to time.
He said he has tried other hobbies but nothing kept his interest. Asked if he liked to golf, McCreless had strong words for the sport.
"Golf is a waste of good pasture land," he said. "I’ll stick to watching Alabama football."
Even though he protests most hobbies, any one who knows McCreless knows he gets most of his joy from his children and grandchildren.
He has three grown daughters: Amy, Natalie and Leisha. McCreless also has three grandchildren.
He is an active member of the Barn Creek Church of Christ.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.