Radio Programs on the Seneca Farm

We did not have television or newspapers on our farm out on Oak Grove Ridge in the middle of Crawford County in the 1940s and 1950s. Our news came from our school Weekly Reader, the Movietone News which seared in my memory the Lowell Thomas authoritative voice describing the battles occurring in the Korean War.philco-radio

Our Silvertone radio was our window to the outside world. It sat on a low wooden stand in the corner of the living room.  Dad’s rocking chair was placed in front of the radio.  The heat register was nearby, bringing warm dry air from the basement furnace.

The all time favorite of Phillip, Bob, and me had to be the Lone Ranger program. It was broadcast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights at 6 PM.  In the winter, we tried to get our chores done, supper eaten, rosary said, and cows milked by 6.  We usually made it just in time.

One of us would turn on the radio. We’d lie on the floor of the living room, or sit in a chair by the table, reading or doing homework and listen to the soft soothing voice of the Masked Man “Bringing law and order to the Old West”. The Lone Ranger’s trademark was the Silver Bullet and he rode on a big white stallion by the name of Silver.

His faithful companion was the Indian Tonto. Tonto’s broken English would be totally politically incorrect today. He would say “Me thinks you right, Kemo Sabe”.  An outlaw would be referred to as “Him heap big bad man”.  Tonto’s mount was the sorrel paint named Scout.  At the end of the program The Long Ranger would be heard to yell, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”.  A voice would ask “Who was that masked man?”  Another knowing character would response with “Well, that’s the Lone Ranger!” and then a portion of the William Tell Overture would be heard.

Another favorite was Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Sergeant Preston was a Canadian Mountie. Preston rode his horse, Rex and a canine companion, Yukon King, was always by his side. I can’t recall what breed of horse Rex was.  Remember, this was radio, not television. But the Scheckel boys knew that Yukon King was a Huskie, the strongest and swiftest lead dog breaking the trail. Every Thursday night at 6 o’clock, Sergeant Preston was in a relentless pursuit of lawbreakers in the 1890’s desolate western Canadian frontier. He went after gold crazed miners, murderers, claim jumpers and cutthroats.  There seemed to be a winter snow storm or blizzard in every episode.

We also loved the Cisco Kid radio series. We knew Cisco and Pancho were Mexican or at minimum, half Mexican. It seemed this pair of happy-go-lucky gun-toting caballeros was part outlaw. But they always seemed to help citizens in distress. At the end of each half hour program, one of them would tell a corny joke about the adventure they had just gone through.  They would both laugh, drawing out a long  ”Oooooooh Pancho! “Oooooooh Ceeesco!” and ride off into an imaginary sunset.


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Ice Storm on the Farm

Winter, in the 1940s and 1950s, was not always an easy time for the Scheckel family our 238 acre farm outside of Seneca in Crawford County. Walk one mile to home from Oak Grove School, change into farm clothes, and out to do the

Gather eggs, carry water and slop to the hogs, feed and water for the chickens, 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 (dinner to you city people) it was out again to milk the cows.

One winter we got a real good piece of luck. I wrote about this beneficial treasure in the book Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers. It snowed about six inches in early January, 1952.  A few days later, an ice storm moved in from the West. The sleet formed a hard crust atop the snow.  The hard crust was slick and fast.  Our feet would not break through the ice crust.  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. I was 12 years old. We never had such great sledding conditions, and we never had them again in all the years I lived on the farm. That winter was unique with several inches of snow, followed by sleet, and very little snowfall for several months.

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.

Back up on top 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. Phillip is a year older than me. Bob was a year younger.  It would be so grand to relive those times sledding across the gleaming white frozen fields on Oak Grove Ridge.





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Cutting Trees in the Woods on the Farm in Winter

Every winter, in the 1940s and 1950s,  the 3 Scheckel boys and Dad  were in the woods cutting down trees. Our 238 acre farm out on Oak Grove Ridge had about 60 acres of woods and Kettle Hollow

A big tree would yield a log or two, fence posts, and firewood. That’s a two-man crosscut saw I’m talking about. We didn’t purchase a chainsaw until I was a junior in high school. Dad bought one from Frank Fradette, the Homelite dealer back on the Ridge.

It was very hard work, but there was pride and joy and some memorable moments. We would hitch Dolly and Prince to the wagon and load axes, cant hook, crosscut saw, onto the hay wagon.

After morning chores, down to the woods we’d go. We also had a sleigh, 2 runner blades in the front and 2 in the back, and we would hitch the horses to the sleigh and away we go. Much depended on the snowfall.

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 pick out a direction we want 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 as we could make it.

When the tree started to fall, Phillip. Bob, and I 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 “hung up” in another tree. That could be dangerous. We did not have hardhats or any protective steel toed shoes. 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. 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 tractor-driven “buzz” saw.

I sometimes felt we were like Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack figure from American folklore. I read stories in our reading and language books at Oak Grove School. Paul Bunyan was of enormous size. 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 going right through a tree. It was one of those big Redwoods out in California. I told Dad about this picture, and he said “they just should have gone around it.” Seems 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.

Dad would tell stories about his Uncle Pete Scheckel. How he worked for him down in Iowa. Told stories about his Springbrook, Iowa, farm where he grew up, a place we had never been. Talked about the importance of paying one’s debts. Being honest and frugal. Railed against big and intrusive government. Looking back, I guess you could call them “teachable moments.”

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Winter on the Farm

The countryside is still and lifeless. Winter on Scheckel farm outside of Seneca, Wisconsin, in middle of Crawford County was not always easy in the 1940s and 1950s.

But in the middle of the chores, there were snowball fights, and corncob “cops and robbers” fights, building snow forts, making tunnels through high drifts, tons of sleigh riding, riding the work horses, Dolly, Prince, and Lightning, bareback.rosenthal-corn-shredder

In cold weather and heavy snow flurries, the horses were usually keep in their stalls in the, yes, the horse barn, and periodically brought out to drink at the water tank, and stand in the nearby pasture with their big butts to the wind, mane blowing around.

The Scheckels cut corn with a corn binder along about mid September, and we built those corn shocks you can yet see in Amish country. We owned a Rosenthal 4 roller corn shedder. We did not always get that shredding down before winter came on. So out to the field we would go with Prince and Dolly pulling a wagon, load up the shocks, and bring them in for shredding.

Some of those corn shocks may have been standing tall for a month or two. And field mice and voles believe they have the perfect roof over their head for the duration. Not so. Phillip, Bob, and I kept an eye on the ground as we toss those corn bundles into the wagon.

Seems like nearly every corn shock, or at least half of them, have a nest of mice making a home underneath. We Scheckel boys did not think mice had a right to exist and we did our best to stomp them out of existence. It was great fun. My dog, Browser, really got a good workout chasing those furry little creatures.

To the farmstead the wagon load of corn shocks would go. The Massey Harris ’44 was belted to the corn shedder. The shedder’s long pipe went into Big Barn, the shreddings being used as fodder, then bedding for the cattle. Our job was to lay each bundle on the platform of the shredder and cut the binder twine holding it together.

We had a single sickle blade attached to the wooden handle. Our hand went through a strap on the end of the handle. That was the tool to cut the twine. Dad fed the corn bundle into the shredder. The shedder separated the ear of corn from the stalk, and a small elevator transported the ear to a waiting wagon.

Shredding corn could be hard work, but usually done in colder weather.


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Winter in Seneca Township

The magazine Our Wisconsin has several pictures of rural churches. As does the magazines Reminisce and Country-The Land and Life We Love. There are few scenes more elegant and heart-warming than a country church set against a snowy countryside. We have many in our southwestern part of Wisconsin.

Utica Lutheran Church along Highway 27 about half way between Rising Sun and Mt. Sterling in Crawford County is one such graceful setting. The church was dedicated on May 19, 1881, making it 135 years old. It is at typical Norwegian Lutheran Church.

Another such idcountryyllic country church locale is the Lutheran Church my mother, Martha Lewig, attended as a girl-up to about age 16. St. John’s Lutheran Church is not in Wisconsin, but over near Alpha, in northeastern Iowa in Fayette County.

My grandparents, Ernest and Clare Lewig are buried in the nearby Stapleton Cemetery. Interred next to them is their baby that died at age 9 days. It would hard to find a more serene and peaceful spot on Earth, and now in the dead of winter, completely blanketed with snow.lewiggravesstapleton

All the crops are in now, the election is over, and the countryside is dormant. It’s a good time to take stock of things, how life is so dear and precious.  We’ve had five funerals in two weeks at our Church, St. Mary’s, here in Tomah, and another in a Lutheran Church up in Kirby, 8 miles to the north. Range in age from 43 to 96. Life is exquisite but uncertain. Reminds us that we are all one heartbeat away from eternity.

We are approaching the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, right around December 21. I saw the sun go down at 4:19 three nights pass. Beautiful full moon rising in the east. Sun didn’t come up until past 7 AM this morning. About 15 hours of night, and 9 hours of daylight. Lake Tomah froze on December 8. It is the quiet time of the year. A good time for reflection.




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The Christmas Tree

The Scheckel family out of Oak Grove Ridge, 2 miles northwest of Seneca, in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin, prepared for Christmas by searching for a Christmas tree. In the 1940s and 1950s, we were not about to pay good money for a fir or balsam, or pine tree from a dealer or store in town.

We had to find a tree on our farmland. That should not be too difficult, seeing that we had 238 acres. Now, if it just happened to be over the fence on the neighbor’s property, well that was in gray area. The seeds that started that tree, the one on the neighbor’s land, just might have come from our side of the fence line. So wouldn’t that make it our tree?

Most of the time we found a fir tree down in the Kettle Hollow grazing acres. One year we really could not find a good tree. But we did finally find a short-needle scrawny one clinging to the hillside, a poor rendition of a “Charlie Brown”. This was a bad looking tree.

But we trimmed it up, put it in the stand and gave it water and it perked up really good, we thought. Took on a nice green color. Turned out to be a pretty decent tree.

But one year we simply could not find a single 5 or 6 foot pine tree on our property. So back to the fence line. I do believe we owe the Watson farm a nice 6 foot long needle pine tree!

All of us kids helped decorate the tree. Putting the star on top was the most difficult, so that was assigned to one of the older kids. We have a long red rope, made of a plastic like material, that went around and around the tree. We put on the usual round red and silver balls attached to the tree with hooks. We tossed on way too much tinsel.

The tree lights were standard, but we had a string of those lights that had a stem filled with a liquid. After heating up, the liquid would start to bubble. We took bets, without money, (we had no money) on which light would be the first to start bubbling.

After a few days, we three boys pretty much knew which would bubble first, because the same one always did. Those bubbling bulbs were screwed into a base so that they could, if needed, be replaced. Which meant, of course, that they could be unscrewed.

Which is what we did when no one was looking. I believe Bob was the first to devise this trickery, but Phillip and I soon caught on. So it wasn’t long before the kid that predicted the “first bubbler” was the one that did the switching. It was a game we played year after year.



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Softball at Oak Grove Ridge School 

We played softball until snow fell at Oak Grove Ridge School, near Seneca, in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. My, how that ball would bounce on frozen ground!sk-5-who-bats-first

Whoever laid out Oak Grove School, even before 1900, did not have softball in mind. And now, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it wasn’t any better. The softball field was a terrible place to play. We didn’t know it at the time. We thought it was fine, we just didn’t know any better and you just accepted what you had.

Noon lunch gave us time to get a game in, as much as 3 to 5 innings. Gulp down the food in 5 minutes. Two upperclassmen, which meant 2 boys in seventh or eighth grade were appointed or self-appointed to “choose up” sides.

The only level of flat spot on the whole field was the batter’s box area. The back stop was the wood shed. The bases were pieces of firewood that kept moving around. The batter ran downhill to get to first base, a few feet beyond first base was the gravel road that took you down into Kettle Hollow. Second base was close to the road that would take one back onto Oak Grove Ridge. A runner ran uphill to get from second base to third base, which was right next to the hand operated water

The softball diamond was not square. It was, well, diamond shaped, like on playing cards. The distance from home plate to second plate was almost twice the distance as from first base to third base. That shape fit the real estate we had.

Oak Grove School owned 2 bats, one for the big kids, and a shorter smaller one for the little kids. That was twice the number of bats we Scheckels had at home. The bats were stored in the cloakroom. Some kids had a softball glove, or mitten, most did not and caught the ball bare handed.

Teams were chosen at noontime and we kept the same team for about a week. The battle raged. Yelling, cheering, booing, “you’re out”, “no, I wasn’t”, constant arguing, which was always short lived, name-calling, and castigations. What wondrous times those were!

Sometimes, Teacher would play. Mrs. Ray, well she was a girl, and she threw the ball like a girl, and swung the bat like a girl, which didn’t seem an efficient way of playing ball. So Betty Ray would take a few swings of the bat, and usually would not run to first base, but designated another kid to run for her. We decided that was fair. It was OK for the teacher to have a designated runner.

Willard Ray was the best teacher-player. He was a man, of course, and the only male teacher I had at Oak Grove Ridge School. He was fairly big and strong and could hit the ball a mile, or at least it seems like he could.

Left field was the road that ran past the school, center field was that triangular patch of grass and weeds where the road divides between Oak Grove Ridge road and Kettle Hollow road, and right field?? Well, there was no right field. There was that road and then the woods. Left hand batters, like Jimmy Kozelka, enjoyed a short right field fence that was only 40 feet from home plate. A pop-up down the right field line put the ball over the fence.

If a right handed batter took a stance that had the feet aligned toward first base and swung late, they could put it over that short fence. We made our own rules. We decided that a ball over the right field fence was a ground-rule double. Any ball hit in the road, or gutter, or the 4 or 5 feet of tall grass and weeds before reaching the fence, well, that was playable. If the ball got lost in the high grass, well that’s too bad. Next time keep your eye on the ball. The batter could run forever.


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