Haying season in Crawford County Part 2

We’re continuing our story of haying in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. On an early June morning, with dew still on the grass, my brother Bob goes out to the fields where the cows grazed overnight. That’s the same field that Dolly, the bigger black horse, and the reddish Prince, will be grazing. Slowly approaching with a sugar cube or a small apple in his outstretched hand, Bob has the halter slung over his shoulder.

The halter has a nose band and a head strap that buckles around the horse’s head. A six foot long quarter inch rope attaches to the halter. The halter allows the horse to be tied or led.

Dolly and Prince advance slowly or stand their ground. They know the routine. You can imagine what they’re thinking, “I get my sugar cube, but I got to work all day”. The halter slides over the horse’s head, buckled, and with attached rope, the horses are headed to the barn for harnessing.

Harnessing horses is an art form, and Dad was good at it. Horse harnesses were stored on pegs behind the horses and against the wall of the horse barn. The horse barn was an alcove inside the Big Barn.

First the collar was placed over the horse’s neck. Two horns, or hames, stuck out the top of the collar. Coiled up reins could be hung on these hames. I didn’t know that when I was a little tyke. For me, those hames were places to hang onto when Dad lifted us kids up and sat us down on the horse to ride out to the field or to ride home from field to house for noon dinner or the end of the work day.

The bridle would go on next. The halter has no bit and bridles used a bit in the horse’s mouth. The sides of a horse’s mouth is very sensitive, so pulling on the reins pulls on the bit, which pulls the horse’s head from side to side. This is how the horse is controlled. The reins connected to either side of the bit. This is how the horse is “steered”. The farmer drove the horses with the reins.

The reins were black leather straps that extended from the bridle back to the driver. There were supporting rings to carry the reins over the horse’s back, so they won’t get tangled. When two horses were used as a team to do farm work, which was most often the case, the outside rein from each horse went back to the driver, and a short bridging strap or rope connected to the inside of the bits. In this way, the farmer drove two horses with only two reins.

The collar was everything. Made of leather and stuffed with straw, the collar fit over the horse’s head. All the weight that is pulled is applied to the collar. A good fitting collar was important. If the fit is bad, the horse developed sores.







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Haying season in Crawford County part 1


Genesis 3:19 “by sweat of thy brow, thou shalt eat thy bread”

Haying season on the Scheckel farm outside of Seneca in Crawford County in the 1940s and 1950s started in early June and just seemed to last all summer and going into early September. In between first crop and second crop, we cut and shocked oats. After second crop, threshing was done. After threshing, we often put up a third crop of hay.

The Scheckels put up hay loose, as the expression goes. No baler on the Scheckel farm. Cut the hay down, let it cure for a few days, and bring in the side-rake to windrow the hay, then the hay loader and wagon moved in. It was hard, dirty, back breaking work, in often hot and or humid weather. Today, only the Amish put up hay this old-fashioned way. As kids we simply didn’t know any better. We went with the flow.

Dad had a No. 9 McCormick-Deering Enclosed Steel Gear Mower. The No. 9 was advertised to “take less power to pull and last a lifetime”. The sickle ran faster than the older type mowers. These mowers were made from 1939 to 1951. They had a 5-foot sickle bar.

Farm machinery is very utilitarian, especially early farm machinery. There are no frills and everything and every part has a purpose. At the end of sickle bar was a board, set at an angle, with a stick attached. The angled board and attached stick had the sole purpose of throwing the end hay back onto the swath. This technique created a distinct separation between the standing uncut hay and the newly mowed hay.

This method prevented the sickle bar from getting clogged with the hay cut in the previous round. Also, this distinct separation helped when raking the hay into windows.

Timing was everything in haying season. Ideally, cut the hay close to full maturity, the clover, alfalfa, timothy, and grass. Having clear, cloudless, sunny, dry days, with a breeze, provided the best conditions for drying and curing of hay. Curing would take two or three days. Then the side rake comes through and puts the hay into windrows, followed by the hay loader and wagon.

Continued next week.


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 End of the year Picnic-part 2

We continue our account of the end-of-the-school year picnic at the one-room Oak Grove School in Crawford County in the 1940s and 1950s. After the pot luck lunch, the younger kids are involved in sack races or three-legged race. A young mother, older sister, or high school student was in charge. Camelia Rosenbaum performed that duty for several years.

Competitors in the sack race hop into a gunny sack. Gunny sacks were burlap sacks made from jute or hemp plants, Oats and wheat for planting came in gunny sacks.  Potatoes were sold in gunny sacks. Strong, durable, breathable, as the fabric was not close woven.  Every farmer had a plentiful supply.

All the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade kids get on the designed line, the finish line about 60 feet away. Most were girls. The boys played softball. The sack race is held on the north side of the school, opposite the softball diamond where the older boys and men are battling. Sixty feet is about all there is between Sutton’s corn field and the road.

Camelia: “Get ready, set, go”, and off they went. Parents and kids cheering. One kid took one step, fell down, got up, two more steps, fell down again. One kid made it halfway. RuthAnn Mahan and Mary Lou Rosenbaum are in a dead heat. Each gets a small cheering section. “Come on, Mary Ann”.  “Go, Mary Lou”, Mary Lou is ahead but looks around, then trips and falls. RuthAnn wins and gets a candy bar prize.

Next, the smaller kids sack race. Each kid climbs into a gunny sack. The sack goes over the head of small of the wee ones. The little kids sack race is the best show in town. They’re all falling down, getting up, struggling on. The youngest Kozelka kids starts crying. She’s out of the race. One of the Lucy twins win. All get a sucker to lip as a prize.

Next, the three-legged race. Great fun and lots of excitement. Two team members pair up based on height. Stand next to each other, and the left leg on one kid is bound to the right leg of their partner with a short piece of binder twine.

Cooperation was key to winning, not speed. Winners in this short 40-foot sprint were those that did not fall over. We loved this game. Usually had about 6 pairs running a race.

Time for the mid-afternoon picnic break. That meant ice cream and cake. It was up to the teacher to buy the ice cream. We didn’t get ice cream at Oak Grove School except at picnic time. No refrigerator or freezer. Teacher brought the ice cream to school the Sunday morning of the picnic packed in dry ice. We kids loved playing with the dry ice as much as eating the ice cream. Put it dry ice down the back of another kid and watch ‘em scream.

Along about 4 o’clock it was pack up time. Mothers tried to get rid of food that had not been eaten.  Women gather up the dishes, silverware, and cups. Families piled into their cars. All the Scheckel kids and Dad and Mom got into the black Chevy and headed southeast on Oak Grove Ridge road. I took one backward look at the receding school house, knowing that this lone structure would be a very quiet place for 3 months. The grass and weeds would grow 2 to 3 feet high. But we knew we would be back. What a wonderful place, that lone building on Oak Grove Ridge in Seneca township in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin.



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End of the Year Picnic at Oak Grove School

School ended in mid May, and the way the school year should end, with a picnic. The school picnic was the last of the Big Three of social life at Oak Grove School; the Basket Social in October, the Christmas Program, and the May End-of-Year Picnic.

            Cars pulled in about eleven o’clock in the morning. Late enough for everyone to have gone to church and early enough that the pot luck lunch (we called it dinner) would be ready by noon. Cars parked out on the side of the road. Cars couldn’t park on school ground as much of the school grounds taken up by softball field that was sure to be used.

            The women did all the work, as they usually do. They set up some long tables inside the school. Hot food dishes, some in electric cookers,        potato salad, beans, hot dogs, homemade bread, crackers, and pickles.

There was a grand assortment of desserts, pies, cakes, tarts, brownies. The call was made, “dinner is ready” and the men start through the line, both sides of the table, then the kids, then the women. Women hang back, helping, making last minute adjustments, providing items forgotten.

A short program that honors the eighth grade graduates. They will be going on to Seneca High School. Most will complete high school, a few will drop out at age 16. Compulsory education in Wisconsin was age 16 at the time. Some are needed on the farm.

The games begin. Boys and men will play softball. No choosing of sides, like we kids going to school. Somebody says, “Me, Junior, Phillip, Bill, will be on one team, and Lawrence, Virgil, Bob, Donald you be on the other team. Some of the younger men, single or married, some in high school, some drop-outs go with one team of the other, glancing around, silently counting to see which team doesn’t have enough players or too many players. They would try to keep the teams somewhat even in numbers.

Players move to whatever position on the field is not covered. This is very informal softball, no hard rivalry here. Don’t even keep score. A long fly ball home run over into Mickelson cow pasture is oohed and aahed and cheered by both sides. Some of those young farmers have built up powerful muscles over the years.

The older men sit and talk farming, perhaps a smattering of national or international politics. “I hear the Mezera farm on Dixon Ridge is for sale, how much they’re asking?” Two or three opinions or prices via gossip.

“Andy Petersen raised his gas price to 19 cents a gallon, can you believe that, pretty soon a man can’t make a living on the farm, I’m keeping my horses.” There are nods of agreement. Andy Petersen delivered tractor gas to farmers all over Crawford County.

“Those damn Russians aren’t getting out of Europe like they said they would. There’s trouble ahead with those Commies.” A few amens follow.

The talk continues; a new tractor, fences need fixing, how do the crops look, anyone put up hay yet, a neighbor turned 95 last week a result of a couple shots of whiskey every night, it is generally agreed, the Lutheran Church is getting a new pastor and the hope is that his sermons will tighten up a bit, less than the 20 minutes they have been having.



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The Science Lab on LYNXX24

Source: The Science Lab on LYNXX24

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The Science Lab on LYNXX24

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Our Robin

We’ve been keeping a close eye on a robin building a nest atop the outdoor light fixture on the southwest corner of our house here in Tomah. She perked our interest about three weeks ago when we spotted her on the lawn with a big bite of dead grass in her beak.

The light fixture is right outside the picture window where I have my desk, computer, and chair. I can look out on Lake Tomah, Butts Park, Tomah Hospital, St. Mary’s Church, the big oak tree in the front yard, and people in cars scurrying off to work. We’re retired!!!!

Up flew Mrs. Robin with a beak full of nest-building material. Day after day that nest grew taller and wider. She is one smart robin, as her nest is protected under the roof overhang from the driving rain and raw winds that have frequented Tomah in the past few weeks.

She’s been sitting on that nest for about twelve days now. I’m a curious sort of guy, so  on Thursday, I taped the iPhone to a long pole and set it on “camera” for a 10 second delay. I waited until she was gone from her nest. Then I pushed the “picture taking button” and moved the pole so the camera would look right down into the nest.

Alas, we find that Mrs. Robin has 3 eggs waiting to be hatched. We’ll put the pole and camera up to that nest in couple of days and check on the progress. Mr. Robin has not been spotted. We surmise that he is down in one of the many taverns in Tomah boasting about his family to be. Perhaps prematurely pasting out robin cigars. He certainly is not away helping with any of the domestic chores.


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