By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net
This picture is one of the most iconic pictures in the history of agriculture. Back in the early 80s you couldn’t go to a farm house, implement dealer or sale barn without seeing this poster somewhere on the wall. Seeing it recently for the first time in a long time piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know what ever happened to these two boys (who are in there 40s now)? So I Googled it. Here is what I found.
One of the first links that popped up was a Pinterest posting from 2009. The mother of the two bib-donning photo stars, Deni Overton, wrote about how the picture came to be and the interest it garnered for years to come. She wrote:
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 camera out and took a few also. After all, they had their brand new OshKosh 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 breeder’s 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 OshKosh company. They sent back a very nice letter and a couple of OshKosh 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 ½ 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 note cards 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 monthly 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, porcelain 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.
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 aren’t everything!
To be able to bring such feeling that someone would write to me to express it is worth more than money can buy!
Then I came across a post on a message board that I frequent, New Ag Talk, but I missed this particular conversation when it originally happen last year.
A person with the screen name “Big Ben” had the same curiosity I had when he saw the picture show up again on social media. He wrote:
I saw a post on Facebook with a picture of this famous poster, and couldn’t help but wonder if anyone on here knows more about it. Where was it taken? What are the boys doing now?
A few months later, after many memories were shared on the message board about the picture, someone with the screen name Blue Cap chimed in:
It is nice to see so many people with good memories of our picture. I like to look up the phrase “You been farming long” to see what turns up, and it always brings a smile to my face.
My name is Chris, and I am the one on the right in the blue cap. My brother and I live in Fresno, CA and are now 38 years old. We both have children now who are much more photogenic than us. My brother has a two year old boy and I have two girls, ages four and six.
My Mom, who took the photo, now lives in the little town of Lompoc, CA. She has looked into the copyright, which is now owned by Reader’s Digest. The problem is that they are a huge organization and this contract that would give them exclusive rights is just an old piece of paper buried in an old file cabinet somewhere. It isn’t really worth their interest and I suspect they may not even know where to look to find it (if they even still have it). Aside from the unpleasant business with Reiman, we have a lot of good memories of this old picture and don’t feel like it is worth more unpleasantness to try to get the contract out of Reader’s Digest. We are all doing fine, and so we need not make ourselves miserable over a little money.
Thank you again for all the kind words and for sharing your memories.
No, thank you Chris! That one split second with your brother, captured by the quick snap of your Mom’s camera has been a staple of American agriculture from the moment it was printed. And it’s nice to hear that you’re all are doing well.
I had Home Parties called “Country Store” and took orders for the figurines & other farm items. Still have the figurine in my home. Nice to hear about the family and where they are today. Thanks for your dedication to the farming community here in OHIO!!
Thank you Janet!
I didn’t realize they did the home party circuit! Thanks for sharing.
Great story, Ty!
Thank you so much for this wonderful “rest of the story” on this poster. Our family has enjoyed it for 3 generations. After all these years, it hangs in our farm office and brings a smile each time we look at it.
I didn’t feel THAT old until the 3 generations part…haha! Thank you so much for sharing how much it has meant to your family.
Mom aka “the photographer”….Thanks for the update article Ty. Chris said it all well. It’s always fun to hear how much others have enjoyed the photo. What could be better than to bring a smile or spark a fond memory of by-gone days. Our family has had so many great experiences because of it.
Can we still get a copy of the poster.
My mom died two years ago at nearly 102, and a picture of these little farm boys was framed and hung on her wall for years…her absolute favorite. Some time ago, I purchased blank notecards with this photo on them from “General Store” in Greendale, WI but can no longer find them. Are they available for purchase? I would love to buy many more! Thank you! Betty Osborne, Hood River, OR
My name is Lynda Dixon and I live in OK. My husband has had a framed picture of your boys, Deni, hanging in his office for many years. We have subscribed to several of the Reiman magazines over the years (and enjoyed them, mostly because they are not full of advertisements). I had never heard your story. I am very disappointed to know that the Reimans cheated you of royalties. Thank you for sharing your story. In reading the message from Blue Cap, it is obvious that you raised your sons with good values. I know you must be very proud of them. My husband was a Minister who grew up on a dairy farm and continued to enjoy living close to the soil as best he could (mostly just by raising a garden and cows). The same year we went on Medicare, we finally built a house on a small acreage, and Joe was “in his element.” He died last year, but I was happy that I had shared 62 years of this “country boy’s” life. Thanks again for sharing your story.
Thanks for sharing YOURS, Lynda! Yes, my sons are some of the finest people I know–very proud of them. Both Blue Cap AND Red Cap….haha. I’m so sorry about the loss of your husband. I hope your are doing well and Happy New Year.
As a kid growing up we spent a few weeks a year during the summer on my grandparents’ cattle ranch in eastern Washington State. this poster lived on the wall of their kitchen my entire life. When my grandma passed and we had to move grandpa to a home, my one ask of my mom was to grab that poster. I don’t know why, I’m not a farmer (though I garden like a pro, LOL), but this poster is my memories of my grandparents. I work from home as an event organizer and writer and this poster is on the wall. I see it every day and remember my childhood and happy times with my awesome grandparents.
Thanks, Deni, Chris, and Matt!
I love this! Thank YOU, John!
I would like to find a crystal as stitch pattern on you been farming long boys stitched it 15 years ago and can’t find another pattern thanks
This is awesome. I’m the son, grandson, great-grandson, etc of a farmer from California. Growing up, I remember going into my dad’s office and seeing this photo there. Decorating my new apartment, I wanted to see if I could find a print and then began wondering where it came from and where they were now. This was a super interesting read.
these two boys are my cousins picture was taken in the 40s .a army traing plane from davis field crashed an the were looking it over .they did not know who took the picture an he did not know them. they are Ray & Glen Casey both still alive.
Sorry to bust your story, Cruce, but no…this picture was taken by me in 1978 of my twin sons. Not the first time I’ve heard another version though.
sorry deni i can take you to the place the picture was taken an i have a picture of the boys grown up. they still look a lot alike . i am 92 yrs old an world war 2 vet an i know these boys. i know this
Hi! My now 38 year old husband (a farmer of course 😉 ) still has a poster of your boys in his childhood bedroom. I guess it had been there since he was barley able to walk. He and his brother plan to dress up as your boys for our Halloween party next year. I’m curious, what was on their hats? My husband wants to be as accurate at possible when he puts on his costume.
that is impossible. The hats the boys are wearing are circa late 70’s, not from the 40’s, 50’s, nor the 60’s.
In May 2018 my husband and I stayed with friends in North Platte Nb. We were at a thrift store hunting for treasure and I spotted your boys and knew about the picture as we are from Hanford, Ca. I am sending it to the Hanford Antique Auction this week, hope it sells and someone will appreciate it.
I am sorry to see the problems you had with royalties. we do have a copy and enjoy it.
I am one that would like to see an updated photo also, but understand.
I enjoyed reading about the history and back ground of the picture and where you are now.
Crude, they look 1980s , not 1940s, so I believe Deni. A 40s photo would likely be black and white. You may have a similar picture that goes to your own story, but I don’t think this is it.
This photo hung for as long as I could remember in the grandkids bedroom at the farm. When my grandparents moved from.the farm, I got it. It now hangs in my office in my little apartment where I sit and dream of my own farm someday!
I remember our Aunt had a pig farm in Michigan. Every morning the family of the pig farm and many neighbors would meet before the work day began and have coffee, donuts and chat. The picture of the little twin boys hung on the wall in their pig barn where we met. I now am 85 and wanted a picture to complete my wall hanging. I searched many places til I ran across this story and found a place where I could buy the photo on line. I expect it will arrive in a couple days. Thanks for the many fond memories of your picture of your twin boys. Beverly in Oklahoma.
We have 2 of the prints and I have 3 statues. 2 individuals and one of the “pair” My sons are 23 months apart and about the same age as your boys. Being a farm wife I always loved these. I had never heard the story until now. Thanks so much for sharing.
I grew up with this poster in several lo-cals on our So. Ilinois farm. I was born in 79, and i have always adored this poster. Thank you for this story! God bless! 🙂
I’m 53 years old and just yesterday I walked up to my younger neighbor (about 2) and put my arm around him and said “you been farming long “ half my age but both of us knew what it referred too. Thank you for taking the time to take that picture! You came out the winner ,two honest boys who respect their parents are worth way more than royalties. Money flies through our hands, you have a legacy!
Neighbor was 26
Deni, thank you for taking this photo, and the time to publish the story about it. I have admired this for a long time, and this morning the Mother of my Daughter-in-Law posted a photo of her husband and his brother on a farm setting that looked so much like the grown up and retired version of your iconic photo, that I Binged it and needlessly to say, several people tried to claim they took it, etc. Your write up is the most plausible version, and I believe they are your sons. They would be around 42 and a half now’ and I can just imagine the family stories that occur about this photo. I’m in my 70’s now with 3 sons and 2 daughters and lots of grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, so I can imagine the conversations about this photo will go on in your family for a long, long time.
So sorry you had the problems with the copyright. I have just scanned a lot of photos I took of my children and a former wife who died of MS at age 47 back in 1993, and am sharing them with my children, and their children. These photos date back to 1962. The things we can do with photos now is both amazing, and scary. I am continually telly my grandchildren not to post any photo that you don’t want the world to see. Thank you again for ‘The rest of the story’. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving coming up next week, and then have a Very Merry Christmas!
I have a collection of the “Country Kids” figurines, including the “You been farming long?” one. Now I understand why production stopped! Occasionally , I come across one in an antique store. The Country Woman magazine used to have a Country Catalog. That’s where I got most of mine. Then suddenly, they were no longer in the catalog. It all makes sense, now! I love the ones I own!
Can you still purchase these copies???
Where can I purchase this poster and how much is it?
So did the boys ever do a picture of them now like a throwback the full article doesn’t show any picture of them now
IIhave that very same picture hanging in my basement den. It was a p framed picture gift from my Mom wand Dad many years ago.
I bought this picture for my mom and dad, it was appliqued on a wooden board and being sold by a guy traveling from bar to bar. It hung in my parents home until their death and now hangs in my brothers home. I love hearing the story of how it came to be!
My husband is a farmer, so I’ve seen this poster often. What I really want to know is what do the boys do for a living? Are they now, or were they ever, farmers?
Years ago, at the time my husbands parents were preparing for a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, their farmhouse burned down. The three most treasured items to Ma that were lost were family pictures, her vast doll collection, and numerous quilts she had made. For Christmas that year I asked each of her ten adult children to gift her with dolls that would remind her of their families. When I saw the figurine of your boys I knew it would remind her of my boys. They spent a lot of time with her, playing and doing farm chores. She passed away and now the figurine is in my china cabinet. My problem is to which boy should it go to when my time comes. It has brought to us smiles, good thoughts, and memories. Thank you for sharing.
Years ago, I cut the picture out of a country magazine. Framed it. I am now married to a farmer and ask him “You been farming long?” Of course, it brings a smile as it has for many folks over the years. Those smiles are priceless. Thank you for sharing. Our rewards are not always given on earth. May God Bless you and your families.
Thirty seven years ago we babysit for 2 twin boys every day and found this pic as a puzzle and made it to hang in our bedroom for all these years. They are still our special boys and love the pic.
I just hung a first edition Christmas ornament of your boys on the Christmas tree tonight and looked up the story. Very interesting. Thank you. Merry Christmas!
My dad bought so many of these & made barnside frames for them. We all (siblings) have a copy of pic or a framed copy. One hung in my patents Home until they passed away.
The story is wonderful . Thank you so much for sharing. My son, Chris, and his best friend, Matt, will be the reminder of your fabulous story.
My dad was a farmer in Iowa and he brought our family to Oklahoma in 1959. I purchased this framed photo for him and he has cherished it for many years.
I have a grandson who is the spitting image of your boys. Rhys loves the fact that he has pockets and dad can’t wait to buy him overalls. Thank you for sharing your boys with us.
How do I check on an order placed 2/1/20 for a poster for $31.05?
Status, ETA? etc? Please advise
2964 S. Wheeling Way
Aurora, CO 80014
I have always wanted one of these pictures. Gives me a warm feeling. I’m born and raised on a farm in Minnesota. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you. I remember the photo from the ’80’s era. My mother in law had a poster and she just loved those two little boys. It was very popular up our way, in West Central Saskatchewan in Canada. I am really glad you shared this story.
You are wrong sir. I knew these boys when they lived in Hanford. You are mistaken.
I have this poster, it was my Gramps. I treasure it.