BROOKLYN, Wis. – Earning $40 to buy an electric guitar set Dale Freidig on a future career path … a 42-year career that recently culminated in a well-earned retirement.

The career was whitewashing barns, which involves spraying interior walls, floors and other surfaces with a mixture of lime and water. In addition to brightening surfaces, whitewashing disinfects, reduces odors and helps seal surfaces from insects.

He was a boy of 10 in 1967 when he began working in his grandfather’s whitewashing business. His grandfather, Bill Freidig, had started the business in 1924. He also owned and operated a family dairy farm near Brooklyn. Dale Freidig’s father, Charles Freidig, focused on managing the dairy herd.

Young Dale and his brother, Don, helped their grandfather that summer of 1967. Their jobs were to cover milk lines and windows before the whitewash spraying began. They were paid $2 per day.

Dale’s goal was to earn $40 for an electric guitar he had spotted at a Montgomery Ward store. When he had saved that $40 his mother drove him to the store. He bought the guitar, took it home and eagerly began to strum. He was confused when it didn’t produce much sound. He soon learned he needed an amplifier.

Unbeknownst to him his mother shared the predicament with his grandfather. Grandpa Bill later presented an amplifier to his grandson.

“It cost about double the price of the guitar,” Dale Freidig said.

Ten years later he would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, owning and operating Freidig Whitewashing. Dale Freidig’s uncle, Fred Freidig, helped show him how to operate the whitewashing equipment and properly spray barn surfaces.

Bryan Voegeli owns and operates Voegeli Farm Inc., a Brown Swiss farm near Monticello, Wisconsin. He was a young boy when Bill Freidig provided whitewashing services for his family’s farm.

“I remember Dale’s grandpa and he did a great job,” Voegeli said. “And for years Bill and Dale did an outstanding job. I’m sorry Dale is retiring. He’s one of a few left who do whitewashing.”

Voegeli Farm was established in 1854; through the years the Voegelis have hosted many tours and events. Bryan Voegeli said he could rely on Freidig to make time to do special touch-up jobs in preparation of those events.

“Not as many farmers use their old dairy barns now, but we still do,” Voegeli said. “Dale has provided a great service for a lot of people through the years. He’s been important to us.”

Richard Esser owns and operates a dairy farm near Middleton, Wisconsin.

“Dale just finished a job at our farm about a month ago,” Esser said. “He always does an excellent job. His retirement came as a surprise to me.”

Jim Sigg has used Freidig Whitewashing for more than 35 years. Dale Freidig would clean his 46-cow barn in addition to Sigg’s calf barn.

“He always did a nice job,” Sigg said. “He’d blow down all the cobwebs from the walls and the ceiling, and he’d wash the windows and light bulbs. I always asked if he could add bleach when he sprayed the calf barn. That killed germs. We always liked visiting with him, especially talking about antique cars and his band. He likes music.”

Freidig said of whitewashing, “After I finished a job I felt a sense of accomplishment. It looked so clean.”

For the past four decades he has whitewashed numerous dairy and swine barns throughout south-central Wisconsin. Between the whitewashing itself, repairing pumps and maintaining equipment, it has been physically demanding work. He has enjoyed his job, he said, but at age 65 he’s ready to do something a little less physical.

“And with so many farms going out of business there isn’t enough work,” he said. “Last year I noticed a total drop-off.”

Wisconsin in 2018 lost about 700 farms. In the first four months of 2019 alone the state lost another 212 dairy farms.

In the 1980s Freidig provided whitewashing services for about 400 farms. And some days he’d whitewash as many as four barns per day. He had good employees to help, he said. Craig Campbell, also from Belleville, worked with him 19 years. Jim Eith of Brooklyn has worked with him the past nine years.

“I still have a few farms to do before winter, but then it’s on to the next chapter in my life,” Freidig said. “I’ll miss the interaction with my customers and catching up with their lives. I want to thank all of them for their support of Freidig Whitewashing through the years.”

And that guitar? Freidig has “traded up” through the years. With the help of amplifiers he now plays electric guitar in “Electric Blue,” a rock ‘n’ roll and blues band.

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.