IOWA — Just east of Manson, the sounds of spring are back as the next generation on the Bleam family farm prepares for another season. 

“My dad and my uncle Brad, they’ve been farming together since 1980,” Alex Bleam said.

As Alex and his cousin Cannon prepare to plant this year’s crop, the pair rely on life lessons learned from their fathers.

“We could sit here all day and I would never run out of stuff to talk about that I learned from them,” Alex said.

Alex Bleam checks the seed depth for corn recently planted.

But this year, the man who taught Alex everything he knows is missing. 

“He was always there so that will be a little different to get used to.”

On March 15th Alex’s dad, Clay Bleam was planning to fix a planter inside a machine shed before the season kicked off.

“I said, ‘do you need any help with it?’ And he said, ‘Nope, I’ll just handle it myself.” I was working on a manure spreader at the time and he said, ‘When you get done with that, maybe you can come check on me and see how I’m coming along and let you know if I need an extra hand,” Alex said.

During the repair, something went wrong and Clay was pinned against the wall of the building. He passed away before anyone knew he was in trouble.

“Went to go see how he was coming and that’s what I came across,” Alex said.

Clay Bleam’s death sent shockwaves through the community. To most people around town, he was better known as “Buck” – a lifelong resident, farmer, and volunteer firefighter. Few people knew him better than Todd Partlow.

Clay ‘Buck’ Bleam portrait that hangs in the family dining room.

“Once in a lifetime best friend,” Partlow said. “Did not judge people, did not talk bad about people, didn’t know if he knew you one day or twenty years, he treated you the same.”

Partlow understands what Alex is going through because Buck was thrust into the same situation on the farm over 40 years ago when his father was killed in a car accident.

“He was my conscience and my mother. I lost my mother in ‘79, he lost his father a year later so it really brought us close together and we became such good friends it was a daily ritual to call him and he’d call me and he’d tell me his problems and I didn’t even have to talk, I’d just listen and that’s what you need sometimes is someone to listen to you. I’m having trouble now because I’ve got problems and he ain’t there,” Partlow said.

Inside the Bleam farmhouse, Buck’s wife Shelly, and daughter Kylia Doyle find comfort in combing through decades of memories that bring smiles instead of tears.

Kylia Doyle and Shelly Bleam take a moment to laugh at the kitchen table while telling stories of Clay ‘Buck’ Bleam.

“He loved helping people, that was kind of his passion,” Shelly said. “Whether it was a neighbor, or a family member, or a friend.”

Kylia misses her dad’s wisdom.

“I feel like I’m kind of missing a piece of me. You know we have Google nowadays, sounds silly, but Dad was kind of like my Google,” Kylia said.

Now, with a changing season comes a chance to reflect on lessons learned from a man through the way he lived.

“He loved to have fun and truly believed in work hard, but play hard,” Shelly said.

“I need to be more like him, and I will. It’s a lesson learned,” Partlow said.

Though Buck is gone, Alex thinks of his dad often during the long hours of planting.

“You gotta get up every day. You gotta go to work and nobody is going to give you anything for nothing and to always treat your wife with respect and do what you can to take care of your family,” Alex said.