Ron Urfer, back middle, is joined by his son and two daughters, their spouses, his wife, Nancy, and grandchildren at a 50-year celebration of Urfer Tiling on Saturday, Sept. 9 at the English Valleys Bed and Breakfast. Ron got into the tiling business in April 1973, after a three-year stint in the U.S. Army. Ron spent the evening telling stories and jokes and reminiscing about his long-time Montezuma business with current and past customers.
By J.O. Parker
It was an evening spent telling stories and reminiscing with friends and past and current customers as Ron Urfer, owner of Urfer Tiling in Montezuma, celebrated 50-years in business.
The event, which drew about 150 people, was hosted by his family at the English Valleys Bed and Breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 9. Guests were treated to barbecue pork sandwiches, cheesy potatoes, baked beans, drinks, cake and sweet treats.
Ron, who grew up in nearby rural Malcom, is a 1968 graduate of Montezuma High School.
After high school, he attend Marshalltown Community College for one year and spent the next year working at Grinnell Implement before entering the U.S. Army in the Spring of 1970. He spent three years in the service, including a stint stateside and 18-months in Okinawa, Japan, where he served as mechanic.
“I repaired trucks and Jeeps,” Ron said of his job. “I fixed them up and sent them out so they could get blowed up again.”
Ron was discharged from the Army on April 7, 1973.
“I had just got home and my dad, Elmer, asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” recalled Ron. “I told him I didn’t know.”
Elmer suggested that Ron might consider getting into the tiling business, and that he’d help him get started.
“I didn’t know anything about tiling, but I willing to give it a try,” said Ron.
It just happened that Elmer was good friends with Harold VerSteeg, who was known around Montezuma as “Fats.”
“Fats was good friends with my dad and he did a lot of bulldozing,” said Ron. “He told my dad where we could get a tiler, in Atlantic, Iowa.”
The trio drove to Atlantic, checked out the tiling machine and bought it.
“They delivered it in two days,” said Ron. “Two weeks after I got out of the Army, I was digging ditches.”
Back in the day, Ron and crew tiled using clay tiles.
“I had to put them in the tiler by hand,” recalled Ron. “Dad would sit on the back of the tiler and make sure they were straight and butted up to each other.”
It would be another 10-years before plastic tiling would come into play.
Ron said when he first got started, he was tiling in a field of cattails south of Montezuma for Mike Phillips’ dad, Ralph Phillips.
Ralph’s hired hand, Bob Hobbs, hooked the winch onto the nearby railroad tracks and helped pull him out.
“Bob said I moved the railroad tracks,” recalled Ron. “When it is really terrible muddy, it is terrible.”
“I have fond memories of that time,” said Mike, Ralph’s son. “Ron did a lot of work for us and did a good job.”
Ron recalled Frank Helm, who came to Montezuma in 1973 and started farming.
“He’s the only one I have tiled for every year,” said Ron. “He’s one of my best friends and best customers.”
When Frank came to Ron with a field that banked on both sides and had drainage issues, Ron knew what to do by laying tile along the waterways and on the side hills and it took care of the problem.
“He has improved my land a lot over 50-years,” said Frank.
Ron bought a new tiler in 1977 and is still using it to this day.
“Everything is fixable on it,” he said.
And he’s since added a tile plow, a machine that plows the tile into the ground instead of laying a trench. There is no trench.
“It really speeds up the job,” he said.
The only problem, Ron said, if I hit another tile in the field, the water will boil up and create a hole.
“I have to come back later and dig it up and fix,” he said.
Ron said he lays an averages about 100,000-foot of tiling a year.
“More than 5-million foot of tiling in 50-years,” he said.
And he’s had a lot of help through the years. His first helper was Neal Purdum in the early 1970s. His brother, Don Urfer, helped and Randy Latcham also pitched in for a time. Boyd DeJong also helped part-time back in the day. And his son, Nate, worked for him when he was in town.
Today, his son-in-law, Curtis, helps him part-time.
Ron met his wife, Nancy, on a bear hunting trip to Minnesota. Nancy’s family owned a motel and towing business in Minnesota and it happened that Ron stayed there on the bear-hunting trip.
The couple was married on March 31, 1979 and they live north of Montezuma. They have two daughters, Amanda Latcham and Krista Mostek, both Montezuma, and son, Nate, of Minnesota, and six grandchildren – five granddaughters and one grandson.
“Lots of hard work done in 50 years,” recalled Nancy. “Used to take the kids out and even put them in the shade in the comfort of a playpen. Family togetherness.”
When asked when he might retire from the tiling business, Ron, who will be 73 in November, said with a chuckle, “When they find me laying out in the field.”
“I hope they find me before the buzzards do,” he said, adding with a smile, “Well, the buzzards have to eat, too.
“It’s been good,” he said of his career in the tiling business. “I hope everyone enjoyed the day.”