Winter Chores on the Farm

Doing wintertime chores on the Scheckel farm in the middle of Crawford County near Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s was not always a jolly good time. Snow had to be shoveled at times and the paths were often slippery, water froze in the hog troughs and water tanks, and the bitter winds out of the north and northwest seemed to cut right through a person. 

The lee of the Big Barn provided some shelter. But when you stuck your head around the edge of the barn to get into the horse barn and hay mow, that blast of frigid wind slammed the body hard.

It always amazed me how much heat cows gave off. It could be a bitter cold morning, as much as 20 below zero, and when you opened the sliding doors of the milking area, a gust of warm air would hit your face.

I imagined that the cows were talking to each other. They knew we were there for the milking. I surmised that one cow would turn to the other and say “Here comes old icy fingers again!”
We threw hay down two chutes from the haymow to the cows and cattle pens below. It was loose hay when we harvested it in June, July and August.  But by January, it seemed to have compacted rather tightly. I recall a few times when my fingers go so cold holding the pitchfork and throwing down hay, that I went to the house crying and hiding those tears lest my siblings saw me.

We washed the cow’s teats, grabbed a milk pail from the milk house, picked up a wooden stool and started milking away.  Milking a cow took about 5 or 6 minutes. The milk pail was hand-carried to the milk house and poured it in a large funnel that had a gauze filter in the bottom.  We used a cream separator.

Our cream separator was powered by an electric motor. The centrifugal Gustaf de Laval separator bowl spun a hundred revolutions per minute.  The whole milk trickled down the 18 rotating disks. The heavier milk was pulled outward against the walls and lighter cream collected in the middle. The milk and cream came out separate spouts.

We used the non-cream part, or whey, to mix with ground oats as slop for the hogs.  The cream was put in a ten-gallon milk can and cooled in a two can milk cooler. The cream was taken to the Eastman Cheese factory every 3 or 4 days.



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Winter Sledding

It’s this time of the year when I harken back to the sleigh riding or sledding days on the Scheckel farm in the middle of Crawford County near Seneca. Home from school, do the chores of gathering eggs, feed and water for the chickens, slop the hogs, pitch hay down the chutes for the cattle, feed and water the horses, tend to the younger livestock, and bring in firewood. And that was before supper. After supper, it was out again to milk the cows.

One winter was quite memorable. It snowed about six inches in early January, 1952.  A few days later, an ice storm moved in from the West. Sleet formed such a hard crust atop the snow our feet would not break through.  We had unbelievable sleigh riding conditions the rest of the winter.

We would go out into the fields after evening chores. With the moon high overhead, the countryside glistened white. The moon was so bright off the reflecting snow, we could read a book outside at night.

Phillip, Bob, and I took long rides over the farmland that winter. We went up and down those hills for hours at a time, sledding over the hibernating fields. The friction between sled runners and the glare ice was almost non-existent. It was so smooth and glossy that we had some difficulty getting back up the hills, pulling our sleds behind us.

Atop of the hill we would fold the rope lengthwise across the sled platform, grab the sides of the sled, give a run, go belly-slamming on the sled, and yell “Geronimo” and away we would go, making big swoops across the ice surface, daring to run into each other, pulling up side by side.  Oh, we couldn’t believe our good luck!  What did we do to deserve such great sledding conditions? Memories of that 1952 winter linger with me still.








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Cutting Wood

Every winter, in the 1940s and 1950s, we were in the woods cutting down trees on that 238-acre farm outside of Seneca, Wisconsin in the middle of Crawford County. After morning chores, down to the woods we’d go. We had a sleigh, two runner blades in the front and two in the back and we would hitch Dolly, the black horse, and Prince, the roan-reddish horse, to the sleigh-wagon and away we go with axes, cant hook, and crosscut saw. Much depended on the snowfall. Sometimes the Massey-Harris ’44 and the farm wagon.

A big tree would yield a log or two, fence posts, and firewood. That’s a two-man crosscut saw I’m talking about. It’s amazing how fast a properly sharpened crosscut saw can zip through wood.

Dad showed us how to make a notch on the side of the tree that you want the tree to fall. Phillip, Bob, and I would choose a direction we wanted the tree to fall, and took great delight if the tree fell right in the direction we chose. We would pick a direction that was as clear of other trees. When the tree started to fall, we would yell “timber’ to warn anybody that was nearby. Of course, there wasn’t anyone except the four of us and Browser, the dog. We made sure the dog was out of the way.

We didn’t want a tree to be “hung up” in another tree. That could be dangerous and a real pain to get it down. As soon as the tree was felled, two of us attacked the top of the tree with axes, cutting off the ends and stacking the brush. Two others would use the crosscut saw to cut logs and fence posts.

The logs were later taken by wagon to Vedvik’s saw mill outside of Seneca. In the summer, we built a corncrib and hog house from the sawed lumber. Long limbs about 10 to 12 feet were stacked up or loaded up on the wagon. These would be taken to the farm buildings to await the “buzz” saw and make into chunks of firewood.

We felt we were like Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack figure from American folklore. We read stories in our reading books at Oak Grove School. Paul Bunyan was big. He dug the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him. He created Mt. Hood, in Oregon, when he piled up rocks to put out his campfire. Babe, the Blue Ox, was his companion. Paul Bunyan needed a place to water Babe, so he dug the Great Lakes.

I had seen a picture in one of the library books at school that had a road out in California going right through a tree. I told Dad about this picture, and he said “they just should have gone around it”. Seemed reasonable to me!

We’d take a breather now and then, deep in the woods. Sit on logs or tree stumps and drink water from a gallon jug that we brought along. Sometimes we packed a few sandwiches.

Dad would tell a few stories of his past. A man was working in the woods with him when he was a boy. They were felling trees and a dead limb hit him on the head. The man got a bad bruise, but kept right on working. At noon, they went home to eat dinner, the man laid down on the couch to rest awhile, and died. Dad thought that a blood clot had went to his brain.

Five minutes of rest and then back to cutting wood.


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New Book Out

Our latest science book had an official launch date yesterday, December 1. Available on and in Barnes and Noble, published by Tumblehome Learning. They just emailed and said they would like to publish our next two books.  Below is an excerpt from I Always Wondered About That. 


Why do runners and race cars go counterclockwise on a track?


It is a well-known phenomena and it happens in a lot of races, such horse races, Roller Derby, indoor and outdoor bicycle races in the velodrome, running events in track and field, the Indianapolis 500, other auto races, and speed skating.  Even the chariot race in the Ben-Hur movie had the gladiators going counterclockwise.

The flow of skaters at an ice skating rink, runners in baseball, carnival rides such as the merry-go-round, all go counterclockwise. Which way do revolving doors go? You guessed it-counterclockwise.

But why do they all go counterclockwise (CCW)? Pure speculation by anthropologists says that the bias toward moving our whole bodies in a counterclockwise cycle can be traced back to the right-handedness of our species, but how one led to another is unclear.

The thinking about going CCW in auto racing is that most auto racing is done on an oval track. Going CCW puts the driver on the left and if he loses control and crashes into the wall, the right side of the car will absorb most of the impact.

Auto racing in Europe is more Grand Prix and they have those serpentine courses, turning both left and right. So it really doesn’t make any difference which way they go.

Track events (foot races) are always run counterclockwise. The direction of travel is set by international agreement to insure some validity of timing.

In our Northern Hemisphere, the winds in tornadoes and hurricanes are counter clockwise.  That is a scientific phenomena based on the rotation of the Earth being counterclockwise as seen from above the North Pole. The Coriolis mechanism is involved. Objects “fired” north or south in our Northern Hemisphere veer to the right.

But there is no connection between the direction of winds in tornados and hurricanes and the direction humans move in circles.

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Excerpt from new book


If you are weightless in space, would you be able to pick up heavy objects?


Objects in space may be weightless, but they still have mass. And it requires a force to move that mass. Newton’s Second Law of Motion is the relationship between mass, force, and acceleration. F = ma. F is force, m is mass, and the letter a stands for acceleration. This law applies on Earth and in space.

Objects on the former Space Shuttle, and now on the International Space Station, may weigh hundreds of pounds. You could easily hold that mass in your hand. But if you want to move it, you must apply a force. A force is simply a push or a pull.

Once you get it moving, say from the floor to the ceiling, it will continue to move “up” until you apply a force to stop it. If you don’t apply a force to stop it, the object will hit the ceiling.

Astronauts use a foot restraint system. Canvas loops are taped to the floor and astronauts slide their feet into the loops. When the astronauts are space walking outside their craft, their boots have a lip on the back of the shoe that locks into foot restraints. Foot restraints are placed on the floor, doors, and ceilings.

The foot restraints allow the astronaut to apply some leverage to whatever they are trying to move, lift, or manipulate. The restraints anchor the astronaut in place. They substitute for the weight that you and I have, that gives us anchorage here on Earth.

The term weightlessness is somewhat misleading and implies that there is no gravity in space. In fact, the pull of gravity in Earth orbit is almost identical to the force of gravity on the surface of the Earth. The previous Shuttle and now the International Space Station and the astronauts inside are actually in a state of free fall.

Let’s say you stand on a bathroom scale and jump off a building. On the way down, you read the scale. You are weightless and in free fall, and the scale reads zero. Space is the same way. When in Earth orbit, the spacecraft and astronaut are moving forward and falling downward at the same time. The fall of the International Space Station and the astronauts inside matches the curvature of the Earth.


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New Book Just Out

Our latest science book I Always Wondered About That:101 Questions and Answers About Science and Other Stuff is now out. Our first shipment arrived a few days ago. It is available at Barnes and Noble stores and online at I know you will want to get several as Christmas presents for your loved ones. 191 pages published by Tumblehome

Learning out of Boston, MA. We can send you a sale copy for $12 ($15 if we put it in the mail) We dedicated this third science book to grandchildren Teddy and Marit Scheckel. Here are 2 questions that are answered in the book. Why do doctors and nurses wear blue-green outfits in the hospital?  If you are in a falling elevator, can you save yourself by jumping up just before it hits ground level?

Larry Scheckel

1113 Parkview Dr.

Tomah, WI 54660

Ph 608 372-3362


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Move the Hens

Early November marked the annual migration of the young laying hens (pullets) from their brooding house to their permanent hen house on the Scheckel farm near Seneca, in the heart of Crawford County, in the 1940s and 1950s. Baby chick resided in the brooder or chicken coop all summer. After five to six months, a few eggs appeared as young pullets became layers.  We always looked for those first small white eggs.

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

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

The life span for a hen on our farm was 18 months.  A baby chick in the spring became a layer at 6 months and transferred from the white brooding house to the red hen house in October or early November. The hen laid eggs during the winter, spring and through the summer. Then it was sold off as a stewing hen. The bird became tough and refused to lay its normal one egg per day. A good laying hen is expected to produce an egg a day. “You don’t lay, you don’t stay”, was the Scheckel motto.

A few lucky chickens won a reprieve from the cooking oil. We’d feel the chickens behind. If it was soft and spongy, the hen was a producer and continued to lay eggs. If the butt was hard and tough feeling, that bird was on welfare and not carrying its weight. To track the reprieved birds and differentiate them from the newly arrived in the chicken coop, we resorted to banding.  A round, wooden or plastic colored band was put on one leg of the laying hen. That hen won another six to nine months of life.


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