Down the Road to Richland Center

Ann and I were invited to address the Richland Area Retired Educators Association in Richland Center on Thursday of this past week at the White House Ramada Restaurant. We started out with a mighty fine brunch at 9:30 AM with sausage, bacon, eggs, sliced fruits and many pastry delights.img_5272

The theme of our PowerPoint talk was Teaching in the Wisconsin One-Room Country School. Many of the teacher retirees, mostly women, attended a one-room school and later taught in a one-room school. Most got their training and teaching certificate at Normal Schools in either Viroqua or Richland Center or Reedsburg.

We discussed the hardships of the rural school teacher in the 1940s and 1950s. The low pay, the multitude of classes to teach, the janitorial duties, finding housing, the poverty, and the isolation.

But also the joys and satisfactions of being in charge, of making a difference in children’s lives, of earning a living on their own. Many of these young ladies had good teachers when they attended the one-room country schools. “I want to be like my teacher” was a common sentiment.img_5273

Another young teacher said “My teacher told me that I could be a good teacher. She encouraged me. I learned later that she talked to my folks. Dad and Mom wanted me to stay on the farm until I got married. I wanted that, but I wanted more.”

Slides in our PowerPoint depicted my own background. The Scheckel people came from Luxembourg in the 1850s and settled in the Bellevue and Springbrook area of Northeast Iowa. This, of course, led to questions of “Are you related to Monsignor Scheckel?” And the answer is yes, he is my first cousin, one generation removed. Monsignor Roger Scheckel’s grandfather, Arnold, and my father, Alvin, were brothers. Msgr Scheckel is pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Richland Center.

We talked about visits by the County Superintendent and County nurse, the goiter pills, the floor sweeping compound, the Basket Social, Christmas program, and end-of-the-year picnic, the games of softball, Annie Over, snowball fights, sledding, the Dick and Jane series, the flashcards, the Palmer method of penmanship, and running off sheets on the hectograph tablet.

We sneaked in some slides of life on the farm in the 1940 and 1950s. Farming with horses, haying season, shocking oats, threshing, shredding corn, milking cows by hand, cutting wood with a crosscut saw, gathering walnuts, drowning out gophers, firecrackers on the Fourth of July, chased by the sheep buck, and butchering hogs and beef.

Ann and I had fine conversations with the retirees, we sold and signed a few books. Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers and science books Ask A Science Teacher, and Ask Your Science Teacher.

We motored back to Tomah amid the blazing Fall colors and rich farm fields of Richland, Juneau, and Monroe County.

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New Science Book Coming Out

We have a new science book in the works and hope to publish in the coming months. Our first science book, Ask Your Science Teacher, was issued in 2011. The second science book, Ask A Science Teacher, hit the bookshelves in 2013.

Blank blackboard with chalky smudges

In 2014, we published a memoir of growing up on the Crawford County farm, Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers. All three books have sold well, especially the two science books. The Seneca Seasons book is a niche market volume. It resonates well with those who grew up in rural America and especially those attending a one-room country school.

The newest one has a tentative title of I’ve Always Wondered About That. I say tentative because publishers often will suggest or choose their own title.

The new I’ve Always Wondered About That book has over 200 questions that have been asked by school kids and adults. I provide answers to the best of my ability. I have to look up stuff and rely on a cadre of doctors, nurses, dentists, engineers, and teachers for confirmation, suggestions, omissions, and advice.

The following is a sample of the Q and A pages from the book. Why was Abraham Lincoln so ugly? Why is there a big E at the top of the eye chart? Do fish drink water? Why do dogs bury their bones? Did Thomas Jefferson every invent anything? Is there a real global warming problem? How is a rainbow formed? Why do rivers meander? If you hit a golf ball on the moon, how far will it go? Is Bigfoot real? Why doesn’t stainless steel rust? Why is mercury poisonous? If you are in an elevator that is falling, can you save yourself by jumping up just before the elevator hits the ground? Why do things have to die?

These are examples of the same kind of questions in the science columns I write for the Tomah Journal and Monroe County Herald. I will provide updates on the newest science book in future blogs.

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You Don’t Lay, You Don’t Stay

 “You don’t lay, you don’t stay” could well be the warning for a hen on the Scheckel farm in Crawford County outside of Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s. That normal stay was about 18 months.chicken

Baby chicks arrived by mail in March. The new chickens stayed in the brooding chicken coop all summer. After about five or six months, a few eggs appeared as young pullets were starting to become layers. We Scheckel boys always looked for those first small white eggs.

In October, the pullets were transferred from the white brooding house to the permanent red chicken coop. The chicken house or chicken coop was about 200 feet east of the house and slightly downhill.

First, who stays and who is sold? The hens lay eggs all winter, spring and summer, and then sold off as stewing hens in October. A few lucky hens won a reprieve from the cooking oil.  If the bird become tough and refuses to lay its normal one egg per day, it’s off to the stewing pot.

You feel the chicken’s behind. If it is soft and spongy, that hen is a producer and continues to lay eggs. If hard and tough feeling, that bird is not carrying it weight. To track the reprieved birds, we resorted to banding. A round, wooden or plastic colored band was put on one leg of the laying hen. The banded hen stays for another six months.

Secondly, the red hen house needed to be readied. Haul off any manure, scrape the roosting 2 X 4’s clean with a paint scraper, disinfect the walls and roosts with a dark brown smelly liquid, clean the metal feed troughs, put fresh straw in the laying bins, wash out the earthenware crock that held water, and wash the windows.

Transfer day meant catching all the pullets from the brooding house and carrying them by hand to the red hen house. This kidnapping took place after dark, when the chickens supposedly were to “bed” for the night. Mom and Dad would catch the birds quietly as possible. No need to arouse the colony and spread the alarm. Each of us kids would take 2 or 3 chickens by the legs and carry them from the white brooding house to the red chicken coop. I would guess we made about 10 trips each to haul the 500 birds to their new digs.





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The Evelyn Hartley Case 

 We’re coming up on the 63rd anniversary of the Evelyn Hartley kidnapping. It was big, big news for the whole state, nation, and even worldwide. La Crosse had no television station at the time. There was no CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, or the 24 hour news cycle that we have today. But reporters from Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis descended upon LaCrosse.evelyn-hartley

            It was also big news for the Scheckel family growing up on the 238 acre farm a few miles northwest of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County.

Evelyn Hartley, a 15 year old Central High School sophomore, was babysitting a 20 month old baby, Janice, at the home of La Crosse State College professor Viggo Rasmusen on the evening of October 24, 1953.

The Rasmussen home was located in the 2400 block of Hoeschler Drive. The Rasmussen family, father Viggo, wife Madeline and older daughter, Rozalyn, were off to see the La Crosse State College Homecoming football game.

Evelyn was expected to call home at 8:30 PM to check in, but she never did. Her father, Richard, also a La Crosse State College professor, tried telephoning the Rasmussen home several times, but there was no answer.

He went to the Rasmussen house to check on his daughter. All the doors were locked, the lights and radio were on, and the baby Janice was asleep in her bed. There was no sign of Evelyn.

The furniture was thrown around, her schoolbooks were scattered, her broken eyeglasses and one of her shoes were on the living room floor. Her other shoe was found in the basement. All the house windows were locked except a basement window on the back side of the house. A stepladder was positioned at that window in the basement. A screen for that window was leaning against the outside of the house. Pry marks were found on several windows but not on the unlocked basement window.

Blood, later found to match Evelyn’s type A, was found inside the house near the basement window. Blood was discovered in several pools outside in the yard. Police indicated that the abductor(s) carried and dragged the young girl through the yard about two blocks to a waiting car on Coulee Drive. That is where police bloodhounds lost the trail.

Thousands of people joined in the search parties. Boy Scout groups fanned out across hills and valleys looking for anything suspicious. Cars were searched and given a “clearance” sticker. All students were given lie detector tests. No parents objected.

Dad brought home a few newspapers that had stories about the Hartley abduction. I read those with interest. We heard Dad and Mom talking about the case. How terrible the parents must feel was the sentiment of my folks. The police had asked the public to check under haystacks, around barns, wooded areas, and any newly dug up areas.

Dad, Phillip, Bob, and I got in the pickup and drove down to the Lynxville area. We searched under the railroad bridges around Cold Springs. We walked up a good part of Kettle Creek, ending only when nightfall was coming on.

My brother Phillip was 13 years old at the time, I was 12, and brother Bob was almost 11. We boys thought it was something we had to do, something we should do. Acting in the public interest, doing important work, even felt like we were doing police work. As we walked along, we discussed what we would do if we encountered this bad man holding a young girl.  We had weapons, short pieces of wood to use as a club. We were prepared!

Over the years, dozens of people confessed to the crime. There were many stories, theories, and sightings. She was an ordinary girl in an ordinary home and someone came in and kidnapped her. She was never seen again.



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Shocking Corn

Shocking corn was high on the list of least liked job on the farm for the Scheckel boys on the Oak Grove Ridge farm outside of Seneca in the heart of Crawford County. Dad bought a new McCormick Deering corn binder and kept it in the west wing of the granary.

That McCormick Deering corn binder was a marvelous machine. Ground driven by a big “bull” wheel, it had two of those large prongs that guide the corn stalk into the cutter. When a sufficient number of corn stalks were cut and gathered in the mechanism, the knotter was activated, the sisal twine cut, and the corn bundle would fall over onto a horizontal elevator. When Dad saw that 3 or 4 bundles were lying on the attachment sled, he activated the chain driven device that moved the bundles onto the ground.

            We had a wooden tripod device, called a shocking horse, made of 2 X 4 lumber. It looked like half a sawhorse, where the top 2 X 4 of the saw horse is about 12 feet long and setting on the ground.  To start each shock, the 12 inch diameter bundles were set upright on both sides of the long tailed 2 X 4 in teepee fashion. The shock was built up with bundles placed around the perimeter in a balanced fashion so as to not push other bundles over. Not too much on one side or the other and not too many on the other. About 15 or 20 bundles made up a shock.

Dad used a Kelly tier’s head mechanism for tying the shock. Dad would hold a rope, with that Kelly metal movable dog mechanism on the end, in his right hand, draped the other end of the rope in his left hand, swung it around and around over his head in lasso fashion, releasing it at just the right time, so that the weighted end of the rope went all the way around the corn shock.

The loose end of the rope was passed through the dog mechanism and the rope pulled tight. The dog mechanism held the rope taut, while binder twine was placed around the shock and tied. After we tied twine around the shock the rope was released.

Shocking corn was no fun, let me tell you. The bundles were heavy for a little kid. Shocking corn early in the morning was best. Corn leaves, or blades were sharp, and would tend to cut our arms and neck and face. The dew seemed take the edge off the sharp blades.

Shocking corn was hard work. But I must admit, seeing a field of row after row of corn shocks is a neat experience.


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The Fall Colors

Fall is here. Some say Fall officially starts on September 21, the autumnal equinox. But we all know Fall starts “right after Labor Day.”  Cooler mornings with frost warnings and dark about 7 0’clock.

Remembering back to the farm outside of Seneca in Crawford County in the late 1940s and thru the 1950s. We could see changes coming on as the Scheckel kids walked to the one-room Oak Grove School, about a mile to the north and a tad west. milkweeds

The huge maple tree by our driveway maintained some John Deere green leaves, but you could notice some faded Oliver green. The photosynthesis process was being shut down by the shorter days and cooler temps, and the chlorophyll was being overwhelmed by hidden pigments of anthocyanins and carotene.

The leaves on the big oak tree near our North Field was turning all shades of colors. There was your basic Minneapolis Moline prairie gold, some Farmall reds, Case yellows, and Allis Chalmers Persian golds. We Scheckel boys, Phillip, Bob, and I simply called it Allis Chalmers orange.

The sumac right before the Bernier farm was turning Massey Harris red, sort of a milder, lighter shade of red compared to your darker Farmall red.

The Queen Anne’s Lace along the side of the road maintained its David Brown white, perhaps shading a bit to the 9N Ford gray. We saw that same gray on the lichens growing on the north side of some trees around the farm house. The milkweed pods turned Ford gray, or perhaps Ferguson gray, after splitting open and releasing that fluffy stuff to which the seeds were attached.

We learned about milkweeds in the Ranger Mac Wisconsin School of the Air program on the radio at Oak Grove school. The seeds are carried on the wind, settle in new places, and send up new milkweed plants. A miniature forest of milkweeds grew along the fence row just pass the Bob and Tom Ingham farm. The New Holland blue chicory that grew along the side of the road was diminishing. Yes, Fall is here.




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Softball at Oak Grove School

Softball was big at Oak Grove, the one-room country school 2 miles northwest of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. I started first grade on September 6, 1948. Two 8th grade boys chose sides. Who got to make the first selection was determined by the bat toss. One boy tossed the bat vertically to the other boy. The bat was caught with one hand by the second boy. Hand over hand on the bat until the boy whose hand was at the top end of the bat got first

The “better” athletes and usually older boys and girls got picked first down to about third grade. One team took the field, the other team batting. No umpire. “Safe” or “out” calls might be argued, but settled quickly.

The wood shed was the backstop. The playing play was not level, rather tilted. Ran down hill to first base and uphill from second to third. If you overran first base, you went over the bank and tumbled into the gravel road going down into Kettle Hollow.

If some kids had not arrived at school, with only seven or eight kids available, we played workup. Two or three batters kept batting until an out was made. That person moved out to play left field. Every player moved up one space. Left field to center field, center field to right field, right fielder to third base, pitcher became the new hitter, etc.

What about only 4 or 5 players? Well, that’s called 500. A batter at home plate tosses the softball into the air and hits the ball to fielders who try to catch it. A caught fly ball is worth 100 points, a one-bouncer is 75 points, a 2 bounce ball is worth 50 points, and anything else is a grounder with a value of 25 points. Whoever gets to 500 points is now the batter.

We played softball in the rain, with snow on the ground, and when the field was muddy. If conditions were really bad, we played Annie Over. Half the school kids on one side of the school, the other half on the opposite side.

Someone threw the ball over the school roof, caught on the other side, a designated person hiding the ball behind his/her back, someone yells “Annie Over”. Kids run around the school to the opposite side, some going one way, some the other. The person with the ball tries to tag a member of the opposite team. If successful, they become part of your team. Play continues until all the kids are on one team.

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