My Famous Little Farmer's Photo

My Famous Little Farmers


You Been Farming Long?

Have you seen this picture before?

I took this picture of my twin sons in September, 1978.

Did you know that it is one of the most recognized posters in history? Believe it or not, over one million copies have been sold all over the world. If you are connected with farming or live in a farming community, you most likely have seen it many times.

Whenever someone I know sees the poster somewhere, they usually report back to us. Reports range from Europe to most of the mid-Western U.S. to Canada.

I've also heard some versions of where it was taken, when it was taken, and how it was taken that were totally false!

So, as Paul Harvey always says…"Now you know the rest of the story"…or you will, if you read all of this!

I have to admit, it's a pretty cool story for just starting out as one of many, many proud mom's photo opportunities!!

When I took this picture of my twin sons, Matt and Chris, in September, 1978, they were only 1-1/2 years old. At that time, we lived on "the mesa", just across from a little town called San Miguel, CA (northern San Luis Obispo County). An overnight visitor was on her way home that morning and wanted a couple pictures of the boys before she left. So, I got my camara out and took a few also. After all, they had their brand new Osh Kosh overalls on!

When the photos came back, there was that one extra-special shot--the lighting was just right, the focus just right, and the expression was priceless. I enjoyed showing it off to people, and decided to enter it in the San Luis Obispo County Fair (now known at the Mid-State Fair). Well, there were 2 other photos in the same class as mine-and mine came in 3rd place! But, it drew a crowd. So many people liked it that they were looking up my name in the phone book in order to ask if they could buy a reprint.

Over the next couple of years the photo was used on a Guernsey cow breeders magazine, a Babson Bros. dairy equipment company calendar and then a Saturday newspaper supplement cover that was syndicated across the U.S. I sold a number of 8 x 10's to many people over this time period. I also mailed a copy to the Osh Kosh company. They sent back a very nice letter and a couple of Osh Kosh bandannas for the boys with this explanation: "Thank you for sending your photo; however, we have no plans at this time to use children in any of our advertising." I can only speculate that they thought the boys looked so cute in those overalls that they decided to start a children's line of clothing. They certainly do well with their children's line!

Anyway, one day in 1982, I got a telephone call. By this time, we had just moved to Hanford, CA in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley--BIG farming area! The call was from a man named Roy Reiman, a publisher of magazines mainly geared to "country" type people. His company is based in Wisconsin.

His daughter took him to somewhere on her college campus where the photo of Matt & Chris was hanging on a bulletin board. From that he somehow tracked me down and called. He said he had an idea for using the picture on the first issue of a new magazine he was about to publish--Country Kids. He got my address so that he could make an offer in writing on the use of the photo. I remember him acting like a contract was only a formality for him because he was so honest and believes in that good ol' "country handshake" being as good as a legal contract.

When I received the offer, he had decided he wanted to do a poster instead of the cover and then he would offer one poster free for each new subscription to Country Kids. He offered me $250 for that use or else ˝ cent for every poster that they sold. Since my clothes dryer had just died, the prudent thing really seemed to be to take the enclosed check for $250. (Yeah, yeah, don't say it!) The agreement was made for posters only, though.

The poster came out with the caption "You been farming long?" on it and that seemed to be exactly what it took for people to love it. A few months later, I found out that the Reiman Company had started making notecards that were just like the poster. I contacted an attorney. That was the smart thing I did! He negotiated with Reiman and came to an agreement that 6% of the gross sales was to be paid to me on a monthy basis for the use of the photo on anything other than the posters. From that point on, I received a monthly royalty check from Reiman. They sent a statement of amounts sold along with each check. They were selling anything and everything they came up with in the line now known as "Little Farmers"-playing cards, figurines, salt & pepper shakers, porcelein dolls-and they sold like hotcakes! The company grew and grew over this time, and the royalty checks were pretty nice--especially around Christmas time.

When Matt and Chris were about 8 years old, Reiman called and asked me to take an "update" photo. He wanted the boys to dress the same as they did in the original photo for submission in an article "Where are they now?" kind of thing. Well, we did it-and it didn't translate to a great photo. I didn't think it worked at all. They also had our local paper come out and take a photo of the 3 of us for the same article. They asked again when they were about 13--same thing. The last time they asked for an update photo, I told them no way--don't ask again. Here's why:

About 5 years later, I noticed that the checks had kind of dwindled but they were still coming out with new "Little Farmer" items in their catalog, especially a lot of figurines where they would have Matt (red hat) alone or Chris (blue hat) alone. When I checked my printouts, I realized that they were not paying royalties for any of these--and hadn't been for quite awhile. By my calculations, they owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid royalties. I contacted Reiman--and then my attorney. It seems somewhere along the line they had gotten "too big for their britches"! They told me that the single figurines were not necessarily a likeness of Matt & Chris' photo--only the double figurines were! Somewhere the company had decided that honoring their agreement, whether of the legal or "country handshake" variety was no longer important. Actually, it probably never was if they could find a way around it. And they did. They told me that if I pushed the issue-they would just stop selling Little Farmer items altogether. They made a settlement for about 1/6 of what they owed-and told me to "like it or lump it" (my words)! They have not ever come out with new "Little Farmer" items since that time anyway.

In their letter, Reiman Publications actually suggested I was being greedy because I had already earned a good amount of money in royalties. Gee, that's kind of funny-THEY were still making money from my photo, but I was just being greedy! Since that time, I have never bought another thing from their company, and I when people ask me if I receive royalties--you bet, I tell all! I've always believed that the best form of advertising is word of mouth!

Now, don't think I'm overly obsessed with their unethical business practices. It's really just a lesson learned the hard way (the way I learn best!!!) And the lesson learned here is don't trust that "I'm just a Good Ol' Country Boy who wouldn't think of cheating you" attitude. Unfortunately, there are scam-artists in every segment of our society. Sorry if I burst anybody's bubble about that!

The good side of the story is that I know my picture has brought many people pleasure, and for some it's nostalgic of their early childhood, etc. So, royalties isn't everything! Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the letters people wrote to me:

"You'll never really know how much your picture has meant to so many people. So many of us who grew up in the country can look at your picture and remember how great our childhood home was." --Betty Day, MO

I have it hanging in our milk house and am very amused and captivated every time I glance at it. It is a masterful job of catching an ideal pose and the boys certainly are having a pretty deep discussion, an attitude I have seen identical in every way to a couple of old farmers hashing something over." --Kenraid Shields, NY

"I admire, with nostalgic remembrances, the striking picture of your twins, Chris and Matt. I am a twin myself and grew up with my twin brother, as blonde towheaded youngsters, in rural Tomahawk, Wisconsin, during the 1930's. Ernie and I wore bib overalls just like your boys are wearing-always with the large extra cuff to allow for growth. While my twin passed away fourteen years ago, having this picture framed and hanging in my office will bring back many fond memories." --Robert M. Bauer,WI

To be able t bring such feeling that someone would write to me to express it is worth more than money can buy! Yes, my due royalties would have been nice; and yes, I don't have a lot of good things to say of the people who broke their agreement to me. But, don't think I expend a lot of energy in remorse or anger. You know how that one goes: "Vengence is mine says the Lord". We all have to answer some day! From this experience, it just confirms more how I want to live my own life. I'll just try to do right myself and hopefully never dishonestly deal with others.

Yes....and now if you have actually read this far, you probably know more about the "rest of the story" than you ever wanted to!! Hope you enjoyed at least SOME of it!

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