For those reading this, my first column in Agri-View, a little bit about me might be in order. The photo is similar to the farmstead where I grew up. I was born at home in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when lots of folks had little and many had less than that.
I spent many hours in a barn similar to that one. For many years we milked our herd of about 15 Holsteins by hand; we had no electricity until 1947. I remember fondly, and sometimes not so fondly, rising on a morning when the temperature was less than zero and the snow was piled deep. I would grab my barn lantern and trudge out to the barn for the morning milking.
During those cold winter mornings the warmest place on the farm was in the barn. The drafty old farmhouse was heated with two woodstoves; they had gone out about midnight. My mother cooked on a wood-burning stove and a second woodstove stood in the dining room. The rest of the downstairs in the house was closed off for the winter.
We had no indoor plumbing as long as I lived at home. In the early years we depended on a windmill to pump water for our livestock and for our personal use. Those were the days of Saturday-night baths. No one had heard of a shower unless it was rain shower.
I grew up during a time when horsepower meant horses and not the size of the tractor. All the heavy work on our farm was done with Frank and Charlie, our team of trusty Percherons. They pulled the one-bottom plow, the hay mower, the grain binder and the corn binder. They hauled loose hay to our barn, hauled oat bundles to the threshing machine, hauled corn stalks to the silo filler and toted corn bundles to the corn shredder. They also made the rounds to the neighbors when the threshing machine came into the community, as well as the corn shredder and the silo filler.
My mother was in charge of a flock of about 150 or so White Leghorn chickens. The egg money was her money for groceries, for clothes for my two brothers and me, and for anything else needed around the house. I remember our weekly Saturday-night trips to Wild Rose, my mother with eggs that she would trade for groceries at the Wild Rose Mercantile. Sometimes she would have a little money left over, but often not.
My mother was also in charge of the garden. We grew just about everything we ate, fresh in the summer and canned for winter enjoyment. She also managed the strawberry patch that we had for many years, about an acre or so. Town people – those living in such places as Wild Rose, Wautoma, Plainfield, Waupaca, Pine River and even from the Fox Cities – were invited to come to pick strawberries. The strawberry money was hers as well.
My growing-up years were a time when everybody in our community had a pickle patch, as they were called. We picked cucumbers usually from mid-July to Labor Day, about every third day depending on the weather. Wild Rose had as many as four cucumber-receiving stations at the time. One of them was a “pickle factory” – the cucumbers received there were salted away in huge silo-like tanks.
With these columns I will share a bit of Wisconsin’s agricultural history as well as my own. I firmly believe that when we forget our histories we forget who we are.