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 Amazon.com. 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

lscheckel@charter.net

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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  Israel Tour

Ann and I returned from Israel early this past week. Took a 9 day bus tour of the Holy Land with, a total of 13 people. We visited the major sites in Jerusalem; Mount of Olives, the Old City, Via Dolorosa which is the path of Jesus on the Stations of the Crosse, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, site of the Resurrection, King David’s tomb, Western Wall or Wailing Wall, Masada, the where Jews made a last stand against the Roman Army, swam in the Dead Sea, site of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nazareth, Bethlehem-the Church of the Nativity,  Mary’s house and Church of the Annunciation, ancient port of Tiberius, Mount of Beatitudes, Sermon on the Mount, where John baptized Jesus, the first miracle at Cana, Haifa, Caesarea, Tel Aviv, and sites of the 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War.

We walked in the path of Saul, Paul. Isaac, and Abraham. We traveled with lots of very fine people. Learned about the culture, industry, education, transportation, and political situation in Israel.

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Oak Grove School Begins

Teacher rang the school bell at 9 o’clock and everyone dutifully filed in. Seats were assigned. Teacher gave a little talk about how the school year was going to run smoothly, talked about duties, emphasizing responsibilities and how everyone was to “get along” with everybody.

We all stood next to our desks, hand over heart, faced the corner where the 48-star flag hung at an angle right below the portraits of Washington and Lincoln, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The school year began.

The grass and weeds around the school house had grown tall over the summer. Floyd Sutton mowed a few days before school started. The base paths on the softball diamond were barely discernible. The school grounds looked like a hay field, and would remain that way until 28 pairs of feet tramped over the half acre plot. Melvin Sales had filled the cistern with fresh drinking water, brought over from his farm in a cow tank on a trailer pulled by the 9N Ford tractor. He would do a refill about every 3 months during the school year.

The one-room country Oak Grove school outside of Seneca in Crawford County was now in session in 1948. When I was a kid on the farm, school started around September 4 or 5, depending on Labor Day. We got a few new clothes before school began. There were always about 3 to 5 Scheckel kids heading one mile northwest on the gravel road to the one-room Oak Grove School.

We each had a lunch paid, sometimes a new one, sometimes one left over from last year, or a hand-me-down from an older sibling heading off in the other direction to High School in Seneca.

We carried a Big Chief tablet, usually red, and new box of crayons, and a couple of pencils. We would join the Kozelka kids on the way to school.

The start of school was an indication that Fall was coming on. The haying season was finishing by this time of year. If we got a lot of rain, we would get a third crop off some fields. Threshing was done and the oats was in the granary, along with a bin of wheat for the chickens. The corn ears were fleshing out, the silk turning from a yellowish white to a brown color. The walnuts were starting to fall from the trees over on the hill pasture.

An apple tree was just off the road over in the Ingham pasture. Holstein cows grazed in that wooded pasture and so did a big Holstein bull. That didn’t stop us school kids from crawling under the fence and fetching a few apples to gnaw on or to throw at each other.

Cockleburrs grew along the roadside as did goldenrods, honey suckle, plantain, nettle, ragweed and a bunch we couldn’t identify. Loved those cockleburs. Pull a bunch, wad them up, and toss them as somebody with a wool sweater. Cockleburrs were a forerunner of Velcro, you understand. Yes, it was Fall when school had started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fall is Here

A bike ride on the back roads of Monroe County last Saturday convinced me that the Fall season is upon us. It is the most enjoyable of seasons, full of sights, sounds, and smells that delight the senses. The bicycle is an ideal conveyance; fast enough to get you to a breakfast spot in one of the surrounding villages, but sufficiently slow to take in thesplendor and beauty of the countryside.

Now, in late September, the calendar says it is Fall. The skies are pleasant as the humidity of summer is largely behind us, and the white cumulus clouds stand out against the azure blue sky. The sumac had turned bright red. Dead leaves under the bicycle tires make a pleasant scrunch sound. Pine needles emit a more swishing tone.

 

Rabbits, in abundance this year, hasten to their hiding places. Squirrels gather nuts, storing them for the long winter ahead. Butterflies are abundant. We see sandhill cranes feeding in the harvested oats and hay fields. Wooly bear caterpillars are spotted below the bike handlebars. I stop to examine a couple of them. They will tell us about the winter ahead. Narrow brown band means a bitter winter ahead. Wide brown band will indicate a mild winter. You can count on it. What’s the verdict? I find a wide band, it’s going to be a balmy winter. No need to travel south this year!

A few V shaped flocks of geese are overhead. Maybe some have headed south already. Good to get to Missouri and Arkansas before all the good feeding places are taken up!

And the smells. A bike ride delights the olfactory receptors, as Fall has a scent all its own. The cornfields emit a certain scent, as do the dried leaves. The winds carry an aroma of a large dairy farm. It’s not exactly a perfume or fragrance, but it does evoke memories of decades past on the Scheckel farm on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca. You don’t get those scents and memories riding the highways in a car. Fall is truly a time to rejoice in the goodness of the Earth.

Genesis 2:1-25 – Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

 

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Gathering Walnuts

The Scheckel farm on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca in Crawford County had 10 walnut trees in the hill pasture along ShortCut Road. We always looked forward to the annual gathering of walnuts.

As fall approached, we kept track of the walnuts falling off the trees.  We traveled past the walnut trees several times a week on our way to Seneca.  When it was time, we gathered up milk pails and gunny sacks from the granary, the burlap bags we used for corn and oats.  Off we would go to the hill pasture.

Our hill pasture was special.  We drove our milk cows on the gravel road and pastured them during the day in spring, summer and fall. The hill pasture was just a few feet less than the highest point in Crawford County.  A few years after I left the farm, several agencies, including the Wisconsin State Patrol, built a relay tower on the highest point, which was just a few hundred yards from our property line.

Looking north from our vantage point on the hill pasture, we could see the steeple of Utica Church on Highway 27 north of Mt. Sterling.  The top of the Lansing bridge could be spotted above the terrain to the northwest.   We could see all the way back onto Oak Grove Ridge, the farmlands of Bernier,  Ingham, Suttons, and Fradette. The Payne, McAreavy, and Aspenson farms were fairly close. Further to the east was the Elmer Stove farmstead with its immaculate white buildings and white board fences. They kept their bright red Massey Harris ’44 tractor in spic and span condition.

Phillip, Bob, and I would pick up a bucket full of walnuts, pour them in a gunny sack, and tie off the gunny sack with binder twine. We’d walk home and ask Dad to take the tractor and wagon or the pickup truck to load up the gunny sacks and bring them back to the farm.            When we were old enough to drive, we boys could retrieve them ourselves.  Age did not determine when we could drive a truck or car.  If your feet reached the pedals, you could drive.  Dad and Mom didn’t allow us to drive to town, but we could drive on Oak Grove Ridge Road and on the roads around our farm.  “Fearless Fred” Brockway, Crawford County deputy sheriff,  would not be patrolling on Oak Grove Ridge.

The walnut sacks were unloaded on the cement apron east of the Big Barn.  The walnuts might stay in the sacks for several days until we had time to tend to them.  Then the shucking began.  Walnuts were poured out of the sacks onto the concrete, and beaten with a board, that loosened the shell or peeling around the black/brown walnut. Walnuts were picked off of the broken casings and put in a pail or bucket.  Our hands got really badly stained, almost pitch black.  That stain would not come off in soap and water, so we wore our walnut stained hands for several days as sort of badge of honor. Even went to school with stained hands.

The shucked walnuts were stored in metal tins in the basement.  We cracked walnuts in the wintertime, and put them in fudge candy that we made on the stove. Some went into brownies and cakes.

 

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Threshing Grain Part 5

We continue our story of threshing oats in the mid-1940s on the Scheckel farm near Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. It is the era of the threshing ring, when farmers banded together to thresh grain, moving from farm to farm over a 2-week season.

Those threshing crews was an opportunity that some neighbors had to visit you and your family at your place. Other times would be the Oak Grove School basket social in the fall, the Christmas program, and the picnic at the end of the year. There would be an occasional wake or funeral.  And farmers learned from each other, gathered information on new crop varieties coming out, cost of new machinery, how to solve a problem with the binder or hay loader. That comradeship and the social aspects were important to farmers in the first half of the twentieth century. It bound them together.

The host farmer was expected to make dinner for the threshing crew. And let me tell you, those farm men could eat! It was impossible task for one woman, so it was expected that several farm women showed up to help.

All the meal preparation was done on wood burning stoves. A few farm families had kerosene ovens. There were no electric stoves or microwave ovens at that time. We’re talking wood burning stoves, indoors, with no air conditioning, and few fans.

Like the men in the field, the women worked as a team. Pies and cakes were prepared ahead of time by the host housewife. Neighbor wives brought food.  Women arrived early, just like the men. A few came by car. Some got there with their husbands, who drove the wagon pulled by horses or tractor. It was a chance for housewives to swap stories, exchange gossip, commiserate, and socialize.  Farm kitchens were a bee hive of activity.

Those threshing dinners were feasts!  There might be as many as 20 or 30 men to feed. Usually the food was laid out on tables in the front yard, close to the house. The threshing machine was shut down. The thresher men unhitched the teams from the wagons, drove them to the water tank, or secured buckets of water. The bridle was removed and replaced by a halter. A six foot rope was attached to the halter and the other end tethered to a fence post, wagon, or tree. Farmers tried to provide shade for their team. Horses were fed a pail of grain and a few bunches of hay. Men tended to the horses before joining the lunch line.

There was a table set up with a washbasin, soap, towel for the farmers to “clean up” before the meal would commence. As little kids, it was our job to set up the washbasin, carry buckets of clean water, stacks of towels, and bars of soap.

The sweat-drenched farmers came by, rolled up their sleeves, bent over the wash basin, and with both hands scooped up water and splashed across the face. The lower face being sunburned and upper face whitened as the sun seldom reached the top half of a farmer’s head.

A bar of soap, washcloth in hand, and a slathering of water and soap on each arm, and a reach for the big towel. Some of the grime is removed, just enough to be presentable for noon dinner.

As I look back at it now, I think no self-respecting housewife is going to be outdone by a neighboring housewife. It was unthinkable that your meal should be less than the feast provided the previous day from the farmhouse down the road.

And what a feast it was! Chicken was the staple meat, perhaps roast beef, maybe ham. There would be heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, along with gravy, stuffing, carrots, peas, homemade bread, and dinner rolls. Cole slaw, pickles, and beets were spread out.  Milk, coffee, lemonade and water for drinks. For dessert, pie was top dog.  Several choices on pies; apple, chocolate, peach, mincemeat. These pies were already cut when out on the table. Big pieces, too, not those dinky slices you see in restaurants today. There would be some cakes, pastries, and cookies. Ice cream was a rarity.

These feasts were beyond description. And always, housewives would be imploring, “come get more seconds”. Food was served buffet style. Farmers would grab a china or ceramic plate, utensils, go down the line, and scoop up whatever food and whatever quantity of food they desired.

Farmers would eat sitting on the grass, some chairs provided, propped up against a tree. Some farmers set out planks supported by two large pieces of firewood. Eat and talk, swap story, tell tall tales, and good ribbing jokes. What great fellowship! Some would go back for more food. No one went hungry.

Excerpt from book Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers

 

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