Paul Scheckel’s Gifts

Our son, Paul Scheckel, passed away on Tuesday, January 24, due to pneumonia. He was 50 years old. Paul was in the hospital for 10 days, the last 4 on life support. Ann and I were with him at the end. He received the Last Rites. paul-scheckel

A transplant team from UW-Madison flew to La Crosse that same morning. When the ventilator tubes were removed, a doctor recited the 23rd Psalm.

Yesterday we received in the mail a beautiful package from the UW Organ Donation organization. The certificate read in part “Although he will be missed greatly by his family, friends, and neighbors, they can take comfort in knowing that through his compassion and concern he will hold forever a special place in the hearts of other individuals and their families and friends.”

“His liver was transplanted into a patient from Wisconsin who had been on the transplant waiting list since May 2016. His left kidney was transplanted into a patient from Wisconsin who had been on the transplant waiting list since March 2015. His right kidney was transplanted into a patient from Illinois who had been on the transplant waiting list since January 2012.”

It gives us a great measure of consolation knowing that Paul has helped 3 people live a better life, perhaps even saving a life.

Ann and Larry Scheckel



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Books on the Farm

A traveling library stopped in Seneca, in the heart of Crawford County, once a week in the 1940s and 1950s. It came out of Prairie du Chien, the County seat, and made regular stops for several hours at a time,  in many small towns. The traveling library was a small van. You could walk up the steps in the back,  and the insides would be lined with books that you could check out.  Your limit was 4 books per person, good for 2 weeks. We checked out Zane Grey books, Red Ryder, adventure stories, history books on the Civil War, the Hardy Boys series. I tended to pick out a book that had an interesting cover. I figured if the cover was good, the book inside had to be good.

We owned very few books on the farm. Dad and Mom did not buy books, unless there were a few available at farm auctions that cost a few cents. One such book was from the Hardy Boys series, “The Sign of the Crooked Arrow”. I must have read that book 4 or 5 times. Joe and Frank Hardy fly down to New Mexico to help their cousin on the Crowhead Ranch. The ranch hands are disappearing one by one and the Hardy Boys help the police apprehend a vicious gang of outlaws.

We had one Roy Rogers book, forgot the name, but the bad guy is not known until the end of the book, and it turns out he was a blind man who was not really blind.

Quite often Saturday night would find us over to Boscobel to buy groceries. My sister Rita remembers that you could go into a used book store and buy a book for 10 cents, read it, and bring it back and sell it for 5 cents. She read many of the Nancy Drew books. I believe we boys did that also, but my memory is not clear on it.

We owned one encyclopedia, not a set, just one book, I believe it was the “N” volume. It was published in 1937, and refers to World War I as the “Great War”.

The mailman delivered the Sears, Roebuck catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog. These were big, thick catalogs and seems to weigh a ton. But they were a window to the world for us kids. A farmer could order just about anything that was manufactured, including complete houses, cars, machinery, tools, household appliances, chickens, bees, clothes, and best of all- toys.

There was a section of female undergarments that became more intriguing as we boys got older. The Montgomery Ward catalog had “good”, “better”, and “best” categories of merchandise. Prices increases as you went from good to best. The catalogs were around the house all the time, and many a spare minute was spent just browsing through the thick books.

Jung’s and Burpee seed catalogs arrived in the dead of winter. The bright vibrant colors of the pictures of vegetables and fruits contrasted sharply with the barren fields and snow covered hills surrounding the Scheckel farm.



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Radio Programs on the Seneca Farm

There was no television on the Scheckel farm out on Oak Grove Ridge in the middle of Crawford County in the 1940s and 1950s. Our Silvertone radio had an aerial, a wire that ran from the house to the windmill, insulators on both ends.

Westerns were our favorites. Other radio programs were Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Edgar Bergen was the ventriloquist and Charlie McCarthy was his wooden dummy. He would interview famous guests such as Jimmy Steward and Mae West. Edgar Bergen had another wooden dummy named Mortimer Snerd. Whereas, Charlie McCarty was intelligent and sophisticated, Moritmer Snerd was a rube, a country bumpkin. Phillip, Bob, and I could identify with Snerd, let me tell you. We awaited to the end of every program for “Snerd’s Words for the Birds”, some pithy witticism such as “Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it” or “To write with a broken pencil is pointless.”

We listened to Gangbusters and Dragnet. Many of the radio programs were aimed at adults, but we kids listened along with Dad and Mom to: Amos ‘n’ Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle and the Green Hornet.

I loved Jack Benny. I remember one of his skits. Jack was confronted by two street thugs. “Your money, or your life?”  they threatened.  There was a long, silent radio pause.  “Well, what’s it going to be, Mister?”, they asked.   Benny, the consummate miser, yelled back, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”

Jack Benny’s program featured an Irish tenor, Dennis Day, who had a beautiful voice.  Mom loved to hear Day sing, and would hush us kids up when he came on.  Dennis Day served in the Navy in WWII and stayed married to the same women his entire life. They had 10 children.

Rochester was Jack’s black valet. He had a deep gravelly voice.  “Oh, Mr. Benny, Mr. Benny,” he’d call.  “Yes, what is it Rochester?” Benny would ask. I later learned that Rochester made good wages, saved his money and became one of the wealthiest men in America.  He was the first black person to receive a regular radio job.

“The Shadow” sent tingling up and down my spine. An ominous sounding voice opened the radio drama with “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” The words were followed by an ominous laugh and hair-raising music.

The Shadow was never seen, only heard. But he possessed incredible powers of strength and could speak any language, defy gravity and read men’s minds.  Each program ended with “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay….The Shadow knows!”

We loved the Green Hornet. He was a newspaperman during the day, but went out fighting crime at night as a vigilante. His partner, Kato, drove a car named Black Beauty that was 20 years ahead of its time. The Green Hornet, that sly fox, infiltrated the underworld, and left incriminating evidence that the police would find later.

Our family radio was turned on in the evening but Dad would listen to the Farm Report from WMT out of Cedar Rapids at noon.  While ironing clothes my older sister Rosemary, and later Teresa, would listen to Our Miss Brooks, Arthur Godfrey, Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club and Father Knows Best.

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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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