St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wounded Knee

Well, the knee wounds from the surgery are healing. The area on the shin between the two rows of stitches is all numb, but feelings like someone running a chainsaw up and down the area indicate that the nerves may be coming back. The pain keeps lessening and I manage to do a little more each day--in crutching around the house. Hope to try some car travel on the weekend--a trip to the family Christmas Party in Cushing.

I am working on Stories of the Trade River Valley II, the latest history book from the River Road Ramblings column I host in the Inter-County Leader in Frederic WI. This will be the 4th local history book in 5 years.

With lots of time and finally having high speed Internet at home, I am also working on a book or booklet or DVD on the Paulson line of of family ancestors who came to WI in 1872 from Vikna Norway. I have lots of stuff, pictures, stories etc. I think it would be interesting to try to make it all available on a DVD where if you wanted more details you could click to drop deeper into the raw data.

Back when I was a programmer at Mayo in research, in 1994, I proposed publishing research papers where links could take you from the research publication directly down to the raw data by the use of links. I wanted to do it inside of Mayo only (this is proprietary stuff). It was too early and although my son (who was working that summer with me) prototyped it and demonstrated it, we were too early in the process for people to really understand what it meant and how useful it might become. I moved from research to working on hospital monitoring technology before I sold this to the researchers. I liked the click to go deeper into the details paradigm!

I worked at Mayo 25 years. It was always on computers doing something either beyond what could be done by humans or automating something they did. In the research and hospital areas people were quite open to change and doing things better, especially if you could show how some routine boring things could be automated. The last 6 years, I was in an administrative area. Change was harder to accomplish with administrators and their processes. Often, their goal was keeping information from people rather than making it more available. I couldn't get my mind into this mode and got into problems with my desire to let researchers see their own online budgets, paperwork etc., when it ran counter to the administrators need to control by withholding information. I should have stayed working in research or medicine. People tell me administration is the same for most big companies.

I call my newspaper column, River Road Ramblings, because of my facility with moving from telling about my knee to talking about administration at Mayo!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Newsletter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2009!
Hope your year was a good one and wishing you a great 2010!

Starting off with the bad news, Nov 12th Russ was working on the roof of the Hanson sawmill shed and fell off a ladder breaking his right leg shattering the lower knee bone and ankle. He is on the mend, but has 3 months of hobbling around with no weight bearing on the leg before being allowed to gradually use it again. Makes it look like a long inactive winter ahead for him, a Hobbly Wobbly Christmas

January of 2009, Margo and Russ took to the road with the pop-up camper and parked almost a month in Natchez, Mississippi. We escaped a very cold MN and WI winter month. We visited lots of old pre-civil war mansions, museums, and had a lot of fun being south for the month. The goal of the trip was to retrace the Civil War battles that our great great uncle, Alanson J. Beebe participated in during 1864 and 1865 in the TN, MS and AL border area. Shortly after the war was over, he got kicked by a mule while on duty and it totally wrecked he back. He came home to WI and then lived a couple of years and died at age 22 and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery on Hwy 25 south of Menomonee. We found most of the places he was at. The Natchez Trace, a national parkway goes through the area and is a wonderful slow drive. We are not sure we will go south this winter depending on Russ’ leg. He thinks we will go anyway so he can do his recuperating where it is warmer!

We were back to start maple syrup season in Wisconsin in early March. I opened up the cabin, and tapped the trees about March 15th as usual. This year’s maple syrup production for WI producers was almost double the normal. We made the most we ever got at 70 gallons of great quality syrup. We sold half of it directly to a wholesaler and bottled and sold the rest. The price last year was about $30 wholesale and $50 retail per gallon, a very good price. It has dropped some since that as the economy has deteriorated.

Margo’s mom, Myrtle, has Alzheimer’s and rarely recognizes her husband or children. She has been in a nursing home where she does reasonably well. She is a walker, walks up and down the halls continuously. Merlin visits her several times a week to help her eat lunch. Margo has spent a week or two each month all year down there staying with her dad and visiting her mom. It is a tough for the family, but visiting and trying to help out does make it feel a little better. Once in a while, Myrtle will show some signs that she recognizes Margo and that helps.

Russ spent most of the year at the Orr Lake Cabin, opening it March 1st and closing it after his fall in November. He loves the outdoors, woods, fields, farm, and family around the area. He spent a lot of time this year helping out at the new Luck, WI museum. It went from concept to reality over the past three years and this year was a real success. We managed to get a full time summer employee to keep it open every day. It was a lot of fun and I have gotten to know many new friends from the experience.

Russ is also in a group of retired men in the Luck area who meet every other Wednesday afternoon to discuss issues of the day. It is a nice break from other things and is good for stimulating the brain. Each of us take turns hosting the meeting (coffee and cookies and a place) and sets a topic. Sometimes we go for a tour too. Sort of a social break during the month. Luck, WI is about 10 miles east of the Cabin.

This fall, Russ built a brand new maple sap-cooking shed. He was using his old garage to double as a cooking room. It was getting too filled with garage type stuff, and so, using a bunch of old doors and windows given to him by a home remodeler, he put together a new shed for this coming season. If his leg gets better, and Scott and Margo are available to help, he hopes to use it this spring!

Margo and Russ got the urge to travel and decided to take September as a trip West. Cousin Sally lives in Seattle Washington and had invited us to visit if we could get out there. We decided to take our new 1991 Olds on the trip. We also decided that we would have no deadlines and could go as slowly or fast as we wanted to. We also planned to look up cousin Chrystal in Medford Oregon and some other cousins along the way.

The Olds did fine except for needing a new drive belt and idler and vacuum hose repair in ND. Just stuff getting old, said the repairman. We took a tent and decided that we would go as cheaply as possible, staying in state parks unless the weather was wet. We had a wonderful time! We took US Highway 2 out across MN, ND, MT and into Seattle. It was a nice quiet old comfortable highway with little traffic and lots of interesting stops. We wandered up and through Glacier park on the way. At age 62 or older, you can buy a US pass that lets you in free to the national parks and federal places (only costs $10). We visited Cousin Sally and stayed with her for 2 weeks (she was a wonderful host and we managed to get along fine even staying that long!). We headed south to Medford Oregon and visited a couple days with Cousin Chrystal (her husband Rey and my father Vivian were first cousins). She took us on a wild cruise up the Rogue River there on some really fast jet boats with a lovely dinner. It was great!

On the way back we decided to take another old US Hwy 12 back home. It was another interesting historic road, even quieter in places than Hwy 2. We stopped in NE Oregon to dig up thundereggs (a type of vocanic rock deposit) at a ranch. That was a lot of fun too. We brought a sack full back for our rock club to enjoy. While on the road, we mostly stayed in the tent. The biggest problem was our double sized air mattress sprung a leak. We got a replacement. The state parks are pretty nice and during the summer out west you mostly get cool enough nights to sleep OK. We normally had an electric hookup so brought both a fan and an electric blanket to cover temperature issues. Our tent is one we bought in 1973 for our very first camping trip. It still doesn’t leak! We had decided not to take the camper as towing it adds a lot to the complication of a trip where you are continually on the move.

We had a very dry spring and early summer in WI. Our sand garden was a total failure for the first time in years. Our garden at the cabin was all pumpkins and squash for sale at a fall even that we do in our neighborhood (the River Road Ramble) named after Russ’ weekly newspaper column. We had a full pickup load of pumpkins and squash and sold most of them. The deer are such a nuisance there that most gardens need big fences around them, but they seem to leave pumpkins and squash alone until very late in the season. A rabbit went in and nibbled on many of them, ruining their appearance, so next year we will fence that garden too.

Mom lives on the home farm nearby. She grows a big fenced garden with lots of tomatoes. We planted a row of raspberries and strawberries in her garden and they did quite well this year. She has a lot of apple trees. We sprayed them for her and had a pretty good yield this year. However, some of the later apples were wormy, especially near the top of the big old trees, so we have to do better with the sprayer getting the tops covered. Apples just don’t make it worm free without spraying them. We just use Sevin. Mom is doing quite well and is still very active. She will be 88 years old on Dec 18th. She did some doctoring at Mayo Clinic this year and the doctor told her she should make it to 100!

The most interesting thing happening in Wisconsin this year is that their famous old quarterback for the Green Bay Packers football team, Brett Farve, joined the team for MN. Wisconsin is wildly supportive of the Green Bay Packers team and Farve who had been their quarterback for 16 years, is now with the sworn enemy in MN. This year MN is winning everything including beating Green Bay twice. Now of course, being raised in WI we are avid Green Bay Packer fans, but having lived in MN for 30 years are finding that we are rooting for 40 year old Farve and the Vikings too. Russ thinks Green Bay is getting what it deserves from getting rid of him too quickly. Football is taken pretty seriously in Wisconsin and Minnesota! I am looking for purple #4 jerseys to give to my WI great nephews and nieces.

Living at the rustic cabin in Wisconsin from spring through fall is pretty nice. We do need to fix it up some to make it more comfortable. Hopefully we will get to that this year. Margo and I both started getting our Social Security retirement payments in 2009, making retirement finally affordable. We retired 4 years early with the idea we would live very cheaply so we could quit working early. We managed to do that and now will have it a little easier. We still pay a lot for health care and taxes etc, but are actually where we get enough to cover everything now. We are developing a little income from maple syrup, garden produce and apples and renting farmland out. Anyway we are matching income and outgo now and with careful spending will have a little money for inexpensive travel and updating the cabin a little. Of course, we will do the work ourselves.

The cabin sits on a high hillside overlooking a small lake to the west. The lake is fascinating to watch. This summer a pair of otter had two young. A pair of beaver built their house and tried to dam the road culvert that the stream draining the lake goes through. A pair of trumpeter swans had 5 young and managed to raise two of them to full size. A loon family lived there and sang their haunting song to us each night. Several does brought their fawns every morning to the spring trickling into the lake on our grassy front lawn and let them run and play together for our entertainment. The owl again nested nearby and hooted us to sleep. A bear came out of hibernation and slept under our bird feeder for a few days this spring before ambling off. He continued to let us know he was there by knocking down the bird feeders until we gave up feeding. A flock of turkeys lived across the lake and came to visit regularly sneaking through the woods past the cabin. A pair of sandhill cranes nested northeast of the lake and although we didn’t see the young ones this summer, we could hear the parents all summer. Most days one to three bald eagles came to the lake, usually one landing on the big oak right on the lake shore and catching a fish to take to their nest somewhere nearby. Very few fishermen try the lake out. There are panfish and northerns and bullheads, but they are hard to catch, so we just leave them alone.

Lots of hardware in my right knee to attach the shattered bone together again. All Mayo's men and all Mayo's nurses were able to put me together again.
Doc Sems says airport screenings will be a problem and no MRIs will work on that leg again.

Knee update

Friday, Dec 4th was cast removal and stitches removal day at Mayo. The stitches were long rows on either side of the lower knee from the surgery to repair the bone there. Now I have a brace to wear all the time that allows the knee to be straight to 30 degrees bend. Since the knee won't straighten out now, I am to work on getting it to do that gradually.

At 3 weeks since the break and 2 weeks since surgery, the Dr. says no weight on the leg for at least 3 months--meaning about the end of February before I can walk on it. In the meantime the bone is healing to make it strong again.

The pain is pretty much receding; I can sleep at nights again, and I can hobble around with walker or crutches. I have to practice more on the crutches--right now a very short distance tires me out.

We have our first inch of snow here near Rochester, MN. With the cold weather, it is likely to stay.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Broken Knee: A Fib and a Tib

Some days start innocently, their inherent meanness revealed only as they unroll. Other days we escape tragedy by sheer luck. November 13th, 2009 was a Friday the 13th with such awful luck that it spilled over to its preceding neighbor, Thursday the 12th, and unremorselessly struck down the Rambler.

The day dawned suspiciously calm, one of a triplet of warm November days. Coming after the dreary cold and wet October, nice weather created a spark of ambition to do a few late fall chores. Fall chores that ended fall with a fall.

The Hanson sawmill shed was literally falling down. Forty years after it had been built, a tin roof on stilts over the 100 year old Howell lumber mill, the tamarack posts brother Byron had set deep into the ground were rotting off, giving the building waves in the roof like those seen in abandoned barns. “I’ll bring some treated 4x6x10 posts, nails and braces, and we will jack it up and straighten it and fasten the old posts to new ones,” I told brother Everett and nephew Bryce that Sunday. Tuesday we completed half of it and were looking to finish on Thursday.

Younger brother Byron and Dad bought the mill from Dan McKenzie back in about 1970, rebuilt it and put it under the tin roof. Byron, Dad, Everett, Marvin and I had sawed thousands of board feet of local timber on the mill since, both for our personal use and for a time, as a business. Since the death of Byron and Dad, only Everett, Bryce and I occasionally ran the mill; the last time almost 3 years ago. It needed a lot of tender loving care to get back in good running condition.

Spring and fall weeks, when the weather changes, are dangerous to do-it-your-selfers. The rains quit or the temperatures rise and sure enough, in spite of your best intentions, there rises in you the urge to build, to repair, to prepare for the next season. It is highly infectious. I started updating my maple sap cooking building. Bryce began putting in a new fence and gate. Everett rebuilt his sap cooker to add grates. Soon we met and planned that fateful expedition to “Fix the Sawmill Shed.”

We were at the site at 10:00 am. I had the extra poles and bracing lumber and nails, Everett the tools, and Bryce the tractor and loader. With back-blade and front-loader tractors we cleaned out the old sawdust pile to fix the sawdust conveyor belt. Bryce moved the rotting slab pile to give us clearance to the posts holding up the shed. When Byron built it, he used tamarack poles from our tamarack swamp on the 60 along Wolf Creek south of Roger Lake. Tamaracks are somewhat naturally resistant to rot and so would make a good shed post for 30 years. However, it was 40 years later, and for the most part, the big posts had rotted out at ground level.

We used the shovel and post-hole digger to dig a deep hole adjacent to the old posts and then put in the treated 10 foot 4x6s and using threaded rods bolted the old to the new. We pulled, jacked and straightened until the shed gradually started to look proper again. Only two posts in the ground left, but the wind during the summer had taken several sheets of tin and folded them and their roof boards over. We needed to fold them back, put in new roof boards and nail it all down again.

I had my 10-foot stepladder and a 16-foot extension ladder. With some maneuvering, we flipped the roof section back in place and began to nail it in. “Need some more roof boards,” said Bryce. “I have some 2x6 pine at the cabin left from the sap shed,” I replied, “I’ll buzz over there with the truck and bring some back.”

I drove the quarter mile up Hwy 87 to the corner, then stopped in at the field across from the School and Greenhouse where Chuck Sflarsky had stopped digging the corn field and was talking to Jeff Carlson. “Did you get much yield?” I asked Chuck, about the 40 acres of cornfield he had rented from me. “Averaged just under 120 bushels per acre. Lot better than I expected considering it was so dry from April until August. Better than last year. Corn was about 21% moisture and nice kernels, “ replied Chuck.

”Need some lumber,” I told Margo as I stopped in the cabin and picked up another hammer. “It is going good, should have the posts and roof done by noon.” “Be careful,” she replied automatically. I loaded up the boards and headed back to the shed.

When I got back, Bryce was standing in the bucket of the loader, raised above the peak in the roof, nailing down tin. I tossed out two boards and placed the step ladder and carried one up and slid it along side the old rotten one. “I’ll put one more up higher,” I told Bryce. Everett was digging along a post getting ready to set another replacement.

The sky had darkened with the threat of rain coming that afternoon. Chuck’s tractor roared over the red clay loam fields a few hundred yards north of us. The Mortenson’s donkey let out a bray that floated down from the hills to the north while a flock of Canadian Geese vee’d above the lake causing the swans to trumpet their “go away” call. One of Ohnen’s beef cows bellowed, still distraught from being separated from her calf a week earlier. Bill and Barbara Hoffman had just sat down at the table for a late cup of coffee on the old Borup place kiddy-corner over 87 from the “Armstrong place” as we called this farm. Down the hill, Jean Judd was busy hand stitching on a new quilt and a few tomatoes were being picked for market at the greenhouses across the road.

I moved the step ladder and set it down quickly and rushed up it with the last board. I stuck it into the roof and gave it a shove; meanwhile the ladder and I began a slow swirling waltz downward. My right leg slipped between the ladder rungs and as we completed our twirl to the ground, my leg and knee took an extra turn and then was wrenched sharply as I slowly made a soft landing on the freshly scraped sawdust laced black earth. For a brief moment on the way down, I realized I was turning clockwise, just as Rodger Meyer had taught in HS Physics. The coriolis effect predicted my twirl direction just as it does with water swirling down the drain differently in the north and south hemispheres.

I was down and in great pain. “Oh sh_t! Oh sh_t!” I moaned but then remembering that Bryce attends church regularly and Everett certainly needed a good example as he was prone to pick up harsh words already when he was only 3 years old. “Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot…” I continued to moan as Bryce came down from the bucket and Ev came over. I was on my right side, lying on the ground, having gotten the ladder off of me, and waiting for the waves of pain to ease up.

“My knee. I think I really messed it up,” I told them, “feels like when I tore out the ligaments back in 89 on the ski hill.” I stayed perfectly still, not wanting to see what would happen if I moved my leg at all.

I laid there for 10 minutes, occasionally wiggling a little and getting another wave of pain. Ev and Bryce hovered around me waiting to see what I would do next. “It hurts too much to get myself up. Can you each grab me under an arm and lift me up and let me sit on the front tractor tire?” a comfortable looking seat of the right height next to where I was lying in the soft dirt.

They lifted me up and sat me down on the tire gently, but the pain took over. Then I was dreaming. My old friend Melvin Davidsavor was calling to me from behind a bright light. “Russ, Russ” he called from the light. I moved to him, awakening to find myself sitting on the tractor tire with Rick Davidsavor from the Cushing 1st Responders shining a light in my eyes and trying to bring me to consciousness.
“You passed out and I called 911,” said Bryce, who was still sitting next to me on the tire and holding me up with strong arms. Rick asked some questions and then more 1st responders were there (Kay Jacobson and ?) strapping me to the carrying board and delivering me to an ambulance that had also come into the farmyard, now cluttered with our own three trucks and three from the 911 call.
“It was just a short fall, and I didn’t come down fast, but it sure hurts like I wrecked my knee. I wrecked it up 20 years ago and it feels like that now. I sure feel stupid, such a dumb thing to do being in too much of a rush to set the ladder down good. It wasn’t even a long fall,” I moaned in self pity as I was gently carried out, “Margo’s over at the cabin—would you let her know to meet me at St Croix Falls.”

I fell about 10:30 in the morning and after x-rays at the emergency room in St Croix Falls, where the Doc said, “Your knee is quite damaged and will need surgery from an orthopedic specialist. We will get one to look at you.” I learned that both fibula and tibia were broken crushed, mangled, and fractured, a “fib and tib” according to the young nurse nearby. By then Margo had caught up with me. “Russ’ insurance is from Mayo Clinic and pays better if we do things at Mayo. Can we get the ambulance to take him down there?” she asked the doctor.

“Sure, I’ll call Mayo and make the arrangements and send along the x-rays. Should be down there about 6 or 7 pm,” replied the friendly auburn haired doctor.

The ambulance trips are mixed up with morphine drips and bumps and the discomfort of being strapped flat down. By 9:30 I was in surgery at Mayo were I had a temporary set of rods to stabilize all of the bones in proper alignment. After letting the swelling come down I had the knee surgery on Monday, left the hospital Thursday and am in the beginning of six months of rehab. The tibia and fibula were broken multiples places so screws, plates and cadaver pieces were used to rebuild it. If you think of the knee bone below the knee as a chunk of brittle bamboo tree that you took a hammer to it so that it was shattered, cracked, split and then screwed and splinted back together lots of metal you get some idea of the damage.
“You’ve got enough metal there they’ll make you do cavity searches at the airports from now on,” grinned Dr. Sems as he reviewed my x-rays and tried to cheer me up at my checkup last Friday. “Another week in a full leg cast and then we should be able to take out the stitches and give you a brace and start some flexing exercises.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pictures from the West

Ranch in Western OR

Grain Elevator showing construction

Video at the Richardson Ranch NE Oregon
Digging for Thunderbird Eggs

Cushing History Research -- Doc Squirt in Seattle

In Seattle, I continued my local history research by spending a few afternoons in the University of Washington microfilm library reading 1936-43 issues of the Duwamish Valley News. Roy Hennings (Doc Squirt) of Cushing, WI., moved to Seattle in the mid 1930s and continued his newspaper writing out here for the News. He wrote extensively for all of the local papers in Polk and Burnett County from 1904 until his death in 1943. I was curious what he wrote about while he was in Seattle. Out here, he began billing himself as Doc Squirt, Paul Bunyan’s Doctor after he had spent some time in a local hospital and dreamed about talking to Paul and seeing Babe the blue ox. Paul asked him to be his personal doctor in the dream.

I have been researching Doc Squirt through his writings and from people who have known him for 4 years now. I have a booklet I put out two years ago, but continue to be interested in his life and writings. He was a very outspoken Republican in the 1930s and referred to President Roosevelt as Franklin Deficit. His position on health care became increasingly clear as he had to have an operation (hernia?) at age 57 (1940) before dieing from a brain tumor in 1943. His opinion from his columns is interesting today as Health Care is on the national agenda.

From the Pen of Doc Squirt, Paul Bunyan’s Personal Doctor,
Duwamish Valley News, Seattle WA
11/29/41 Well folks, we are out of the hospital and feel pretty lucky at pulling thru a very tough situation as well as we did. One thing certain is that in Dr. Ralph Dalton and the medical staff of the Virgina Mason Hospital in Seattle, we had the best talent available in this big northwest to take care of us. Folks, that’s just what turned the trick with our operation.

“’Just got out out of the hospital,’ is a remark that we hear pretty often and that usually calls for a sympathetic comment from those around about, and just how long this bunch sticks around depends a lot on just what symptoms the ‘ex-patient’ shows of getting ready to give a longwinded account of just what happened to him in minute detail, or whether he just gives them a brief review of his experience and then gets set to discuss the issues of the day with them as he always used to do.

The hospital is the last place that most any of us want to go to, and the fact that it quite often is the ‘Last Place’ a feller goes, is often accounted for by the fact that one’s call then was put off a heap too long and when one finally showed up for a work over it was a little to late in the season for the Medico’s to do very much about it. One often goes thru a lot of misseries doping oneself up to postpone a trip to the hospital. We have all done that more or less, but one can hardly be blamed for that as a stop over at one of these places of healing and solace wrecks one’s bank roll something scandalous and a feller is very liable to figure that one might as well be “on the shelf” as broke and take a gambling chance on ones health that in the end lays up an awful accumulation of acute trouble for him or her. Hospitals are wonder­ful institutions, folks, we have never realized that as fully as we do right now as we were never in one as a patient before and had this realization forcibly brought home to us.

The service one gets there is worth a lot and that’s just what it costs. The tragic part of it is that the facilities of a great hospital like the Virginia Mason and other hospitals are not thru some humane legislation made available to every suffering member of the human race regardless of their ability or inability to pay the fee that these Institutions have to collect in order to keep on functioning. A small national hospitalization tax would take care of this super neces­sary detail and people would then be able to have their minor troubles tak­en care of at the right time which would greatly reduce the number of major troubles and getting this ser­vice wouldn’t mean that they would be turned out to convalesce plumb broke at the most helpless moment of their existence.

The present system at times brings on worries that often lead to mental troubles. National hospitalization would give the public a real break and at the same time assure the hospital of the payment of our bills for services rendered and in cases of office calls or home calls, one’s local physician would receive the compensation that they cannot always gamble on under the setup of today.

We have heard doctors and nurses in the hospital claim that National Hospitalization making this service so easily obtainable, would bring on an epidemic of ‘Hospital Addicts’, people who would abuse this fine service, but we know a way to stop that. An infallible way. There is a hospital orderly at large in this U. S. of ours who puts so much ‘zing’ into his enema work outs that we hung the name of ‘Niagara Johnson’ on him and ‘Hospital Addicts’ would become plumb migratory fast if ‘Niagara’ was called to do his stuff in their case. Personally tho, we feel pretty kindly towards ‘Niagara Johnson’ as in the cassitary period of our trouble, his skillful care was a source of a lot of comfort to us.

Our trouble was the result of years spent in hard motorcycling racing cross count runs etc., as a professional. Thousands of miles of skally hooting over the U. S. on jolting freight trains that at times seem to kind of disintegrate a feller and we kind of marvel at what they were able to do for us at Virginia Mason Hospital.”

Dec 27 1940. “The little story we ran some time back about our session in Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle has brought us quite a few comments by mail, over the phone and in street conversations. Most of these people seem to be very much interested in National Hospitalization and cannot understand why the idea is being take up so slowly by the people at the head of the government. There is another little angle in the hospital setup.

The Farmer’s Union Publication from Walla Walla, Washington, “Pacific Northwest Cooperator” is a real live wire paper devoted to the interests of cooperation—a very worthy cause, and one that meets with a lot of resistance on every front.

There is an item in this month’s paper about the students at Washington State College being favored with cooperative hospitalization. Let us hope that this idea spreads fast, as no one who has not spent some time in a regular commercial hospital can visualize the mental agony gone thru by patients driven frantic by worrying about the hospital bill that they are running up every day of their stay there; in fact, some of this mental agony overshadows the physical and retards recovery.

Some of the best ideas in the business world today have come direct from the farm. The Farmers’ Auto Insurance setup has saved the public a lot of money, not only in its own operation, but it has forced old line insurance companies to cut down on their exorbitant rates that used to make up the big dividends which were all out of proportion to the profits that they were justly entitled to and have met a lot of the officials of the Farmers Union, and we believe that this group can work out a cooperative hospitalization plan that will go over big and bring the farmers and their city cousins a to closer together than they are now. These things cannot be planned outright in the bigger cities as the grafting element is sure to get into the picture and in order to get a good “drag” out of it themselves they will run the rates up into too much money. “

1942 Folks, how does the idea of making… National Hospitalization a reality strike you? Right now a number of the people, and a very limited number, have hospitalization, but they have to be in a group to get it. The rest of the public is at the mercy of ruinous hospital bills in even of an accident of an illness. At the end of this war, which we hope comes soon, the bigger groups which can qualify for hospitalization will become smaller groups that cannot qualify and what is more these smaller groups under war conditions might be shy of all the requirements to get medical attention. The present set up is plumb coo coo and the time to correct it is now.

Doc Squirt passed away at a hospital in Seattle, two years later at age 60, on September 20, 1943 from a brain tumor. Two years later, a Lebanese born doctor, who had been forming health co-ops in Oklahoma, came to Seattle and gave speeches about forming them. Out of that came at least one co-op, Group Health of WA, that continues to this day and is mentioned as an example of what a health co-operative would be like in current efforts to figure out a health care system that solves Doc’s complaints 68 years ago, that ring just as true now as they did in 1941.

Monday, August 17, 2009

In Seattle!

Hwy 2 came to end with a whimper turning into Hwy 5 north or south. After all the traveling, it seemed that there should have been a sign telling us that we had come to the western most edge of Hwy 2 in Everett Washington.

It is mild here. The black berries are just getting ripe and absolutely loaded and wonderful to eat. Plums, pears, cherries and other fruits are in season.

I went to the U of Washington to do some history research on the columns that Cushing native Roy Hennings (Doc Squirt) wrote in the Duwamish Valley News (found he wrote them every week 1940,41) and copied a bunch.

Margo and Cousin Sally went to Pikes fish market and saw all the pretty flowers, fruits and fish.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 6

It was raining yesterday in Glacier Park. It was "open house" weekend--free entry instead of $25. However the park was very busy, raining, cold and full so we drove through and then went to Troy to stay in a motel. Today we drove across Washington on Hwy 2 through acres and acres of winter wheat -- some harvested and some to go yet.

The east edge of the mountains are filled with orchards. Apples, pears, peaches etc. They are getting ready to pick some of them now. Sunday we plan to be in Seattle and visit Cousin Sally for a few days. Everything is going fine with the car.

We stopped at an abandoned old grain elevator and examined it. I always wondered how they were built so they could hold grain in such tall structures. I looked at this one very carefully. Inside the tall building were six individual bins going to the top. Each was built of 2x6s stacked on their sides all the way up and nailed together. This makes a very strong set of bins. Three were on each side with a drive through between them with a dump chute under the drive through.
I will put the pictures on when I get a chance.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Past Havre ND we met John, a 61 year old bicycler from Groton, CT. He has been on the road about 2 months in a full circuit of the lower 48 States. He plans to be in Seattle for his 62nd birthday, then to CA and across to FL and then back to CT in about a year. He retired from work this spring, sold his house, put a few items in storage and took off. He aims for 50 miles a day. “The people I meet are the best part of the trip! I camp in cemeteries, school yards, city parks, and back yards as much as possible. I spend about $10 per day.” He has met a lot of bikers coming east headed to CT.

We are doing some rockhounding on our trip. This is the first place we saw rocks for sale. We just didn’t have room for any of these.

We went into Glacier Park in the afternoon. It rained and was foggy part of the time but beautiful. Driving was a little hectic as the road is under construction and Mon-Thurs are 4 hour delays. Friday we had only short delays. Temps in the 50s with snow expected tonight! A little video of the driving is included.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lots of Sunflowers in ND
Margo with a fistfull of winnings at an Indian Casino in Western MN (came out $4.25 ahead!)

Had some wind last night at Lewis and Clark state park on the Missouri-- Garrison dam. Margo saw two falling stars in a brief clear time between lightning and clouds

Having breakfast in Williston, 20 miles from the border of Montana. Plan to get to Glacier on Friday morning and see if we can get a camp site.

Ran into two young men biking from Star Prairie (near Osceola) to Seattle and then to San Diego. They stayed at the campgrounds last night. Their blog is

Almost ran out of gas this morning. Filled it with 15.37 gallons and the tank holds 15.7 by the manual. The mileage was 27.1 mpg. After the vacuum hose repair yesterday, it idles smoothly, but still kills at low idle when it is cold. Not serious, probably a sensor. In the old days I would have just made a turn on the idle speed control on the carb. Now-a-days I imagine I would find a cam sensor that was bad and lift the motor 1 foot up and replace it for big bucks.

North Dakota has a bumper wheat crop according to the radio. It hasn't been harvested yet, but a few farmers are starting with the winter wheat. The spring wheat is still green. Sunflowers, alfalfa, grass hay, and endless wheat fields.

Near Williston are lots of new oil wells; some pumping and some waiting for better oil prices. They still have fresh paint and freshly leveled gravel pads. Halliburton is big here. My friend George G.'s son works at the oil fields here and says they are using techniques to get lots more oil out of the old wells by pumping in sand and hot water under huge pressures.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On the Road to Seattle Days 1-3

Margo's Butter Grand Championship at the Polk Co fair
The Pumpkin/Squash Patch for this September 26 River Road Ramble Garden Market

Beaver Dam at Orr Lake

Margo packs the trunk of the 91 Olds

We are headed out to visit some cousins in Seattle on Hwy 2 across the Northern US. We are taking our time--aiming for about 300 miles per day and camping with a tent.

Day 1 August 10, 2009Miles 61,285.0 1991 Olds Cutlass Sierra Left Cabin at 8:45. Checked and 6 swans on Orr Lake. We are uncertain if they are the parents and 5 young hatched this spring who left 6 weeks ago or just a group immature adults who stop by once in a while. All were white and large--but way across the lake.
Stopped at Burnett Dairy and bought some Wisconsin cheese for gifts to take west. Then at the bank in Siren to transfer some money into checking and pick up some cash. Drove North on 35 all the way until the drop over that lets you see Superior and Duluth in the distance.
Stopped for breakfast at 10:45 at the Manitou Inn. We had the breakfast special of ham, eggs, toast and hash browns, $5.25. The coffee was weak. The ham was a huge thick delicious slice. Hash browns a little weak. A family came in with Extreme Makeover Home Edition and talked about the family nearby that was just seeing their brand new home.
Stopped at a touristcenter at Floodwood and got two cookies $1.25 each. Not too bad.
2:44 Deer River. Evergreen Industries Christmas Wreaths -- Byron Boy Scouts (I was Scoutmaster and our son Scott sold 70 each year) got wreaths for sale each winter.
3:00pm White Oak Casino. Went in to get free pop and ice. Each spent $2 at video poker in 10 minutes. Margo lost hers and I won $8.25, leaving us a profit of $4.25.
Stopped at a historic general store to buy a loaf of bread and package of hot dogs--$5.00. Started looking for camp sites. Drove into Cass Lake National Forest campground-- $21 and no water or electricity. Decided to go to Itasca State Park about 35 miles off of Hwy 2 to the south of Bemidji.
After Bemidji, started seeing more open farmland. Before it was almost all woods and spruce swamps.
Itasca state park-- nearly full where there were electrical hookups. Found one and set tent and air mattress up and unpacked in 30 minutes. Had boiled hot dogs, cookies
Day 2
Up at 7:30 and out of camp at 8:30. Stopped at the headwaters of the Mississippi and saw it come out of the Itasca lake. In the 1930s the CCC boys decided that the Mississippi deserved a better start than oozing out of a swamp, so built a rock dam to get a nice little waterfall effect for the river start. It does look nice!
Drove across a warm MN into North Dakota, through Grand Forks where the boys in our Scout Troup from Byron, MN, helped with the cleanup after the big flood some 10 years ago.
In Western MN and ND we saw some new crops; sugar beets; potatoes and sun flowers. We were watching for Monarch butterflies, but saw only each of the first two days.
We pulled into Graham Island State Park in ND, on Devils Lake about 4 pm. It was about 90 degrees. After a quick homemade supper, we took a shower. We noticed the camp grounds host sign "Loren and Caroline Hain, Byron MN." Loren and Caroline's two boys were in my Boy Scout troup from Byron and we used to know the Hains quite well. They were away from camp for the day--and had not shown up in the evening.
We left a bottle of syrup on their doorstep and a note that we were in camp site 21, as their neighbors in the campgrounds said they were out fishing until late each night. At about 10:30 pm, they came back, found our note and then found us and invited us over for a late campfire and some freshly fried walleye fillets. Very delicious. They were hosting the campgrounds for the month before heading back to Byron. John and Tom (their sons) are married and have a couple of children each. Both Hains are retired and are within a couple of months of the same age as we are.
Day 3 Out of the park at 8:45 am and headed back north to Hwy 2. The car was idling rough, and began killing this morning at low idle. We stopped at a garage in Leeds where we also had breakfast at the Farmers Cafe (not too bad). The single garage mechanic in Leeds said he didn't have time to work on it, but stop ahead 28 miles at Rugby at D and S (GM dealer) in Rugby ND. They quickly found a vacuum hose leak and replaced the hose and were going to charge me $20. I thought they were so honest that I then ask them about the rattling noise--it was a belt tensioner pulley with weak bearings. I had him replace it and the somewhat cracked original (1991) belt and got out for just under $200. It now runs smoothly and quietly--so we are ready for the mountains. We are getting about 28 -29 miles per gallon so far. We are very heavily loaded, so that it pretty good.
Was hot yesterday, but cooled down some. We saw a satellite in the night skies, but didn't have it dark enough at the campgrounds to see meteors from the Perseids Shower last night. Maybe tonight.
Hoping to get pretty much through ND today and then into Montana tomorrow. Supposed to be very hot!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Melvin Davidsavor: A Modest Hero  (2009)

Melvin was born January 17, 1947, the last and tenth child of Earl and Myrtle Davidsavor. They farmed and ran a sawmill on the banks of the St. Croix River in West Sterling a few miles from Wolf Creek and the old cemetery. When neighbors wanted lumber, they visited Earl and bought freshly cut boards or brought their logs to him to saw. All of the children, boys and girls, worked hard at the sawmill and on the farm.

I met Melvin in 1952 when we started first grade at Wolf Creek School. The first grade that year included only four of us; Joyce Fisk; Susan Rutter; Melvin and I. We were in the little room. Melvin had older brothers and sisters in the big room. We were within a month of the same age and best friends while growing up. Childhood friends are friends forever.

Every day Floyd Harris took his old 10 passenger wagon to pick up the kids for school. The last pickup on our route was out west of the River Road through the sand curves and hills to the Davidsavor place. As we drove into the farm we looked at the long flat sand fields; watched to see if the sawmill and its big old gas engine was running as we drove up to the buildings. A large silo and new barn stood near an old house. The foundation for a new house stood along the road, abandoned after Melvin’s 9 year old sister, Alice, died in 1955.

Alice was buried her in the cemetery next to the schoolyard after an illness that lasted many weeks. Melvin and I went to her grave and tried to understand how she could just die—she was a year older and a grade ahead, our active playmate. She was a tomboy, always running and playing with us. How could she just end? Why did it happen? What did it mean to die? Why do some people die young?

The Davidsavors were cheerful, rugged kids; everyone one of them, boys and girls, strong and tough from hard work. They worked at the sawmill and rolled logs, carried lumber and slabs at an early age, eager to show they could start the engine and carry the big boards. In each grade in school amongst the boys if there was a Davidsavor, he would be the one who could do the most pull-ups; climb the flag pole the quickest; out wrestle and out do anyone else on feats of strength, and at the same time be a true friend.

Melvin and I became great friends. For the five years that we went to Wolf Creek, we were the only two boys in our grade and then the only two in our grade. We did our school work together; played together and explored the world together.

“Uncle Channie gave me this agate” I said as I showed Melvin the pretty red and white striped rock one nice fall day when we were in the 4th grade, “he collects them.” “I know where there is a huge one” replied Melvin, “in the big gully behind our field going down the hill to the river. I saw it there after the rain last week.” “We should go look at it” I said. “Its just a 20 minute walk through the woods from school to my house” said Melvin “we can get there over noon hour.” Leaving word with Linda Harris that we were going for a walk in the woods and might be a little late getting back we headed off. Melvin knew the way to follow the ridges along the river. At 3 pm, just before Floyd was due to haul us home, we got back to the school, satisfied that although the huge boulder in the gully was pretty, it didn’t have agate lines. Mrs. Irving Olson, our teacher, said “You boys know you are supposed to come back from playing when you hear the bell.” “But we didn’t hear the bell” was our true, excuse, as we were probably four miles away when it rang,” Our noon recesses for the next week were printing “I will not leave school without permission” twenty five times a day on the black board.

After Christmas that year, Melvin came back to school wearing his Christmas present, a big hunting knife and sheath. He proudly showed it off to all of us. Mrs. Olson admired it “That is a very nice hunting knife. I am sure you will get lots of use out of it hunting and fishing. But, we have safety rules at school—you can’t bring it to school in the future.” Now Melvin could be pretty stubborn at times and the next day he came to school wearing it again. “Melvin, I told you not to wear your knife to school. I know you like it, but it isn’t OK to bring it to school. You leave it home tomorrow or I will have to take it away and give it to your older sister to take home.” Well, the next day Melvin brought it and he ended up with a spanking and his knife going home with his sister and staying there.

Mrs. Olson told Melvin and me to take the arithmetic book and go off to the library and work on it together for an hour each day. We did the odd numbered problems and checked our own answers with her answerbook. If we had problems (we rarely did as we both liked arithmetic) we were to come and ask her. Well, with an hour a day we managed to go through two years of arithmetic in one year. We kept this up until Wolf Creek closed when we were in the 6th grade and we went to the new Cushing school where there were 25 kids per grade. We just shutup there and did the same arithmetic books over again rather than be treated differently.

Melvin had done fine in school at Wolf Creek. At Cushing it was harder. Just having more kids meant that there were more tests of strength on the playground and more chance of getting lost with the schoolwork. He and I got separated into different classrooms. When he was 16 in St Croix Falls HS, he dropped out. In those days it was common to quit when you were 16 and go to work. I sort of lost touch with him after that –he would stop by a few times a year at our farm and visit. He bought a big old Harley Davidson motorcycle and drove that around. When he was 18, he introduced me to his girlfriend and soon to be wife, Alice Dyer from Grantsburg. About the time I started college, he got married (1965).

The Vietnam War was heating up at that time. If you were out of school you were sure to be drafted into the Army. Melvin was drafted in 1967 and after training spent a year in Vietnam. After he came back he volunteered for another term. He ended up serving 18 months there, getting several awards for bravery and excellent service. Near the end of his time he was no longer feeling healthy. Up to then he had been very healthy and prided himself on his physical condition.

He returned home to his wife, Alice, and started working, but continued to have health problems. After two stays in local hospitals, his doctor told him to go the Veterans Hospital in the Twin Cities. He resisted as long as he could, his stubbornness showing. Finally, Alice persuaded him. It was Cancer—Hodgkin’s disease. After three months of suffering and wasting away, he passed away, two months shy of his 23rd birthday. He was buried by his sister, Alice, in the Wolf Creek Cemetery. The Hodgkins disease was later attributed to exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. He died 18 months after Vietnam.

When Melvin came back from Vietnam, I heard he had gotten some awards for heroism. I asked him about Vietnam and his awards. He didn’t want to talk about it and just said “you do some crazy things when people are trying to kill your buddies.” Melvin earned 10 military awards during his two years in the Army as well as two Bronze Stars and the Air Medal and various sharpshooter rifle/machine gun bars.
One bronze star award with a “V” (for valor) reads “For heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force. Private First Class Davidsavor distinguished himself by heroism in action on 21 June 1967, while serving as a rifleman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry during a search and destroy operation near the village of Van Thien, Republic of Vietnam. On this date, his company became engaged with elements of a North Vietnamese Army regiment. PFC Davidsavor immediately began placing a heavy volume of fire on the enemy positions. With complete disregard for his own safety, Davidsavor crawled forward and destroyed a key machine gun bunker which had caused his platoon several casualties and had kept them pinned down for several hours. His display of personal bravery and devotion to duty is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself and his unit, and the United States Army”

Steven Warndahl remembers Melvin “Though Melvin was a lot older than me he always took time for me and we remained friends until his death. Folding the flag at his funeral was a sad day for me. I have not missed a Memorial Day at Wolf Creek since the day we buried Mel. I always make sure I visit his grave and pay my respects to him, his mother and father, and sister Alice.

Melvin was the toughest and strongest men I have ever known. I would watch him do one arm pull-ups on a broken beam in the Davidsavor barn then switch hands while not touching the floor. A bird had built a nest half way down the track in the haymow so Mel rode up on the fork telling Earl to stop if the rope got tight. Well it did and Earl didn't stop in time and the carriage smashed into Mel's head cutting him badly. He should have gone to the hospital and had several stitches but instead gave me a ride home on his old Harley Davidson 74, and then had someone tape his cut shut to stop the bleeding.

Mel was a good hunter and was blessed with a father that taught him. I was 13 and witnessed Mel run down a wounded deer and tackle it.”

With the help of his widow, Alice, and another Vietnam Veteran and friend of Melvin, Steven Warndahl, and the Davidsavor family, we will have some pictures of Melvin and copies of his awards on display on Memorial Day at Wolf Creek at Melvin’s grave.

The Wolf Creek cemetery has been holding Memorial Day (Decoration Day the old timers called it) ceremonies since the Civil War Veterans started organizing after that war and the first veterans were buried there in the 1870s. In the 1890s up to 600 people would attend.

The American Legion marches in at 11:00 AM and there is a 30 minute program including reading of the veterans list, music and a speaker. Then we all move next door to the historic Wolf Creek School (now the Methodist Church) where the Ladies Aide has lunch (please donate liberally) and we visit with old neighbors. After lunch, at about 1:00 pm, the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society will take you on a free stroll through the cemetery, exploring one of the oldest cemeteries in NW Wisconsin. We will stop at the Davidsavor plot and remember Melvin and his service for us and his family.

Forty years Melvin has lain at Wolf Creek, next to his school and near the old farm he loved. He has neighbors at the cemetery from his Wolf Creek School friends; Jimmy Rutsch, Linda Harris and my own brother Byron. He lies next to his sister Alice and his parents.

I visit Melvin’s grave every year. I ask the same question he and I asked about Alice so long ago. He went to Vietnam when he was asked, heroically served our country, and came back and died. Remembering him and the other veterans is the right thing to do on Memorial Day.

Grave Yard Blues

  • River Road Ramblings: The Grave Yard Blues

    We had a large crowd at Wolf Creek Cemetery on Memorial Day. I counted well over 200 people who took time from the holiday weekend to honor the 104 veterans on the role call. Half the visitors stayed for the delicious lunch served at the church by the Ladies Aid and twenty hung around for the afternoon cemetery walk by the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society. SELHS had prepared a hand-out booklet and a large picture poster about Melvin Davidsavor, the veteran singled out for special attention this year. We plan to select a different veteran each year for this honor.

    I was feeling sad, thinking about my old school friend Melvin, the Vietnam veteran we honored forty years after he died. The Davidsavor family were there in force and all of the stories about Melvin cheered me up a little. I choked up when the young woman read the list of veterans and got to Melvin and read his Bronze Star Valor award, and again when Steve Warndahl placed the wreath on his grave.

    I cheered up greatly when a pretty woman, who looked like someone I should know, came up and introduced herself as Susan and told me she was the girl who went to school with Melvin and me for grades 1 and 2 at Wolf Creek. I had not seen her since she moved away early in the third grade—more than fifty years ago. We didn’t have time to visit, but I hope to catch up on what has happened with each of us someday.

    I still remember her as the first grader who could only sing her “ABC’s” and who was my duet partner in the first grade program when she sang “I’m Sunbonnet Sue” to my lip synched “I’m Overall Jim” while Dennis Edwards stood behind the curtain doing the real singing. She was very cute, dressed in calico with a sunbonnet, while I just wore my normal farm overalls, a straw hat and had a stick with a red hanky bundle over my shoulder. We both sat in rockers, rocking on the makeshift board stage. “Russell, you rock calmly and don’t sing, just mouth the words!” were my strict instructions from Teacher. I think that was the first time I realized how satisfying it is to get fame and credit for someone else’s efforts, a circumstance that this column is built upon.

    Susan was my very first girl friend. I know this because she gave me a valentine that I had to hide from my brothers. I liked her, and showed it by being particularly bothersome. She was neat, colored in the lines, wrote beautifully and behaved well enough to be picked to wind the clock on Fridays. I scribbled and never was the best-behaved student, even for a whole day, so never wound it. However, I did buy it at the school auction and now wind it whenever I need a boost.

    While at the cemetery, I asked Duane and Donna (cemetery board members) about buying a lot. There are scattered openings in the heavily populated downtown areas and a completely new suburb to the west with prime lots being gobbled up—buy now so you can look down on your neighbors! Margo and I have been thinking about being cremated and sharing a single lot. I am not really happy with cremation as it takes lots of energy and creates air pollution as all my 15 mercury fillings go out the chimney into the air, water, fish and eventually a fisherman, unless some undertaker hammers my teeth out first. To cut down the furnace energy needed, I have been conscientiously and successfully trying to add to my own personal fuel supply—especially around the hard-to-burn middle.

    Dad lies in the cemetery amongst the large Brenizer family area. “They were my good neighbors in life and I like the idea of staying in the same neighborhood.” When Bill Ramstrom’s nosy neighbors suggested he save some of his money for his burial rather than spending it all on himself, he replied “I don’t see many people lying around above ground” and sure enough he is buried with a respectable stone.

    I do like the idea of a gravestone stating the basic facts for genealogists. In my dabbling at genealogy, I have grown fond of searching cemeteries and looking at the diversity of stones and inscriptions. I want one of those old style ones that has a large cap on the top of a rectangular stone—one that will fall and severely injure cemetery vandals. The lawyers will be hard put to sue me!

    Margo and I had a surplus of syrup this year so we sold 30 gallons to Andersons. Steve took a taste of it; swirled it in his mouth a moment and then said “cooked on a wood fire; made from 80+ year old west hillside sugar maples grown in clay soil; early to mid season runs; collected in open pails; filtered with a new filter; about 1 Brix thin ( he meant 65 instead of 66% sugar); with a very subtle hint of chocolate.” We looked, and sure enough, one of the 5-gallon pails I had poured it into boiling hot was formerly a Wal-Mart chocolate frosting pail. Steve blends syrups to come up with each grade he sells, so unless he kept that pail to sell as Choco-Maple, it will disappear in a few thousand gallons mixture. I rather liked Choco-Maple and may try it again for my own use! His storeroom is completely full of syrup he bought locally from this year’s bumper crop.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rambling in Natchez

Margo and I are spending a few weeks at a state park just out of Natchez, Mississippi. We are near the Mississippi River and have spent some time exploring the old river city of Natchez. It has ranged from 27 degrees up to 74 degrees and is a nice change from winter in Wisconsin and Minnesota!

This column starts the 5th year of stories we have put in the newspaper, mostly on local history from the Leader reader area. We are still looking to share your stories—so pass them along to us. We plan to return to MN mid February and to Wisconsin mid March.

We have been reading the electronic version of the Leader and are getting used to it. The color photos there are nice and being able to read it wherever we travel is great. My laptop computer has wireless, so we stop at a public library or in the parking lot of any motel and can connect for free and read the paper.

We have a small pop-up tent camper that we pull behind the old Buick Roadmaster. The Buick required a trip to the service shop when the autoleveling air shocks pumped up to the max and stayed there—just like the “call the doctor if it stays up more than 36 hours” advertisements with the evening news. The “doctor” found a broken wire shorting out on the frame. He charged $8.00 for the wire repairs and new fuses and $140 to find where the wire was broken. The Buick is back in a relaxed attitude again.

We have spent the last two weeks touring Civil War battle sites; old cotton plantations and mansions; the Natchez Trace—a Federal Parkway from Nashville to Natchez (like a wild river only a wild road); military and local cemeteries; museums and scenic vistas; and visiting back road towns and trying local restaurants for breakfasts of gravy, grits, country ham steak, and biscuits.

The state park is mostly filled with Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario campers. Locals think it is too cold to be camping; those from Ohio and Indiana stop on their way to the deep south, but upper Midwesterners aren’t able to handle the really warm temperatures further south without too much guilt. If we can say it frosted overnight here, then our friends and relatives back home aren’t too jealous!

We went over to Vidalia, LA for breakfast one day and stopped at a roadside stand. We bought some pecans for only $1.25 a pound. They had fresh fish, crabs, shrimp, and some garden greens as well as freshly dressed raccoons. In the grocery store you could buy a frozen full head of a pig, or any parts from hooves on up.

Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana compete for the state that is the worst off in most education categories including; school dropouts, teacher/pupil ratio, teacher salaries, standardized testing, school facilities, tax support for public schools, spending per pupil and more. The same states also compete for most crime, most poverty, most substandard housing, highest unemployment, worst salaries, highest obesity, highest deaths from tobacco, highest number of people in prison, highest teen pregnancy, infant mortality, lowest death age, poorest health care and probably the most litter along the roads. Each day we see groups of prisoners wearing bright green and white horizontally striped pants picking up garbage along the highways.

Alabama and Mississippi also surely must compete for the most churches! Every crossroads in the country has a Baptist or other fundamentalist church. Natchez likely has a church for every 25 people by the number we see. There are humble shed churches with plastic mail order steeples, massive antique ones and huge new ones. We are in the Bible Belt.

Next to us in the campgrounds is a couple from WI. We have had some interesting discussions. He blames the poor conditions here on what he calls the “Three R’s of the South”–Racism, Religion and Republicanism. He thinks the three are so intertwined down here that you can’t separate them out and they all work together to prevent change for the better.

He says “Mississippi spent the hundred years after the Civil War trying to make sure that a third of it’s population, the black people, were kept uneducated and subservient to the rest. They didn’t even let blacks into their Universities until forced to in the 1960s. The majority down here still haven’t understood that keeping some people down keeps them all down! The worst part of it all is that religious people here are still some of the most overtly racist. Did you know that the Southern Baptist Convention took until 1996 to admit that they were wrong to have supported slavery! You remember Jerry Falwell, he got his start in trying to keep blacks out of the private Christian Schools set up when blacks were allowed in the public schools”

Another neighbor says “People are poor because they are lazy and that’s all there is to it!”

I don’t know who is right, but whatever the cause, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana seem to have been left behind by the rest of the USA in just about everything except low taxes. Even a pack of cigarettes here is cheap—only 18 cents tax per pack versus a couple of bucks up north. A Michigander, who retired here to a new house, tells me her property taxes are 1/3 as much as she paid for an old smaller house in Michigan and other taxes are low here too She says that people over 65 don’t pay any taxes to support schools at all. She lives in a gated community with fences to keep away the riff-raff.

The camellias are blooming. Magnolias and live oaks are lushly green. Pansies bloom in the flower beds along with snapdragons. White and red clover provide bright green clumps in the brown Bermuda grass lawns. Paperwhites and an occasional clump of jonquils decorate the ditches. Cardinals and robins are thick in the park. We wear short sleeves on days when the Natchezans still have their winter coats on. See you in a month!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Spreading the Profits

"Don't bite off more than you can chew," yelled my brother Everett across the barn as I jabbed my flat blade shovel into the gutter, trying to break off a foot of pungent, steaming, fresh, green manure, stuck together with bright yellow straw, to push down to him at the end of the gutter where was waiting to pitch it into the manure spreader. "The bigger they are the harder they fall," was my reply. Our attempts at wit were part of the camaraderie we brothers shared whenever we worked together.
In the Fifties, we did everything by hand on our farm behind Bass Lake, including cleaning the barns. We boys estimated that if we fed the cows a ton of hay and grain, by the time it had gone through their four stomachs and had been mixed with water, it came out as 2 tons of manure. The more common name for manure was considered a four-letter word in our home—and used at the pain of a soap-washed mouth.

In the wintertime, our cows stayed in the barn, stanchioned in two rows facing each other across a 5-foot wide manger. Directly behind each row, was a 16-inch wide 8 inch deep gutter to hold the cows waste. The huge Holstein cows filled it to overflowing each day and it had to be shoveled and forked out by hand. In summer, the cows stayed in the pasture and only came in twice a day to be milked—allowing a weekly cleaning of the gutters. All winter, the daily routine was to let the cows outside for a little exercise while we cleaned the barn and then bring them back in to the warm comfortable barn. On nice days, Dad backed the tractor and manure spreader up to the barn doors and pitched the manure into the spreader and hauled it out to the field to be spread as fertilizer for the next year's crop. Deep snow and frigid weather stopped the tractor hauling and forced us to wheel it out in the barnyard to an ever increasingly large manure pile. Temperatures below 15 were too cold to get the Super C Farmall tractor started easily, and froze the manure quickly enough to risk breaking the spreader.

Dad was philosophical when it came to manure. "The Farmer Magazine says that manure is part of the profits from the farm. It saves me from having to buy fertilizer at the Co-op, and according to a guy from the University, should be treated as a valuable part of farming produce" After that he no longer hauled manure, he "spread the profits." Before the 1950s, dairy farmers rotated their crops between hay, corn and oats. The manure spread back on the fields was a necessary part of making this sustainable version of agriculture work. Dad did the barn cleaning work by himself during the week, but on weekends when we four boys were home from school, we helped as much as we could. It was not that we had to; it was because it was fun to be in the barn with Dad and helping out. We boys worked hard on the farm, but not nearly as hard as Mom and Dad did.

"I was a little to independent to work for other people," Dad told me when I asked why he chose to be a farmer. "I could be my own boss as a farmer. It was a lot of work, but I liked doing it." He milked cows, cleaned barns, and raised all of the crops on his own farm from 1941 until he retired forty years later when Parkinson's disease forced him to sell the cows.

There were two parts to the actual gutter cleaning. One of us pitched the manure from gutter to spreader or wheelbarrow. The other pushed it down the gutter to the person pitching it. The gutter was filled with a mixture of straw and manure. It was the consistency of pumpkin pie filling with a straw binder. The pusher "bit off" a section of manure/straw by breaking it loose from the rest with the flat shovel turned backward—cutting off the portion. Then you flipped the shovel right side up and shoved your bite down the cement gutter picking up speed as you came to the end. A five tined manure fork worked if the manure had lot of straw. Dad had put cement floors and gutters in the 1915 barn when he first bought it. Years of sliding manure down the gutter had worn the bottom smooth and shiny. It looked like green variegated marble—colorful rocks mixed in the cement giving it a lovely polished look, stained the color of green manure. It looked so colorful and bright, it would have made a beautiful kitchen countertop.

Dad bought a new barn shovel each fall. They were steel, with a long handle carefully selected for straight grain, the pan just narrower than the gutter. By spring, the shovel blade would have worn down nearly half from sliding on the cement. One year the shovel was the Armstrong brand. After that, when people asked Dad what kind of barn cleaner he had, "I have an Armstrong barn cleaner" he would reply, chuckling as he enjoyed the double meaning. "Watch Byron," Mom told Marvin as he helped his 4 year old "baby brother" get his barn boots on. Byron was the youngest and liked to be where the action was, even if he couldn't help yet. In the winter, he kept his trike in the barn and raced Lucky, our dog, up and down the white limed walkways behind the cows.

"I'm a hawn dog cryin o'er da bool" sang Byron that day as he raced his trike up the walk, wheeled it around and headed back while we were grunting over our manure evacuation jobs. He was a big fan of Elvis's new "Hound Dog" song. Suddenly the song was replaced by a real howl. We rushed to him on the other side of the barn. Taking a corner too fast for conditions, he had hit a cow pie slick and rolled into the gutter. The trike was on top of him; his arms and legs were waving wildly while he yowled.
"Be quiet—the cows will kick you," yelled Marvin as we pulled off the trike.

"Yuk, he's all covered with manure," said Everett.

"You pull him out! I'm not gonna touch him," Marvin commanded me.

"You do it, you're the oldest" I replied.

By then, Dad came over and pulled Byron, still sounding like a siren, out of the gutter. "Byron, hush up, you're OK. You just need to get cleaned up. A little manure never hurt anyone," said Dad who remained remarkably calm through most situations. "Marvin, you take him to the house, but first take him out in the snow bank and rub off the manure with snow and hay so Mom won't have such a mess." Marvin was soon back but Byron was out of action for the rest of the morning.

In the winter, we let the cows out while we cleaned the barn. They got thirty minutes to walk around and visit with each other before spending the rest of the day in their stalls. As soon as the cows left their stalls, they stopped to poop on the walkway that we had to keep white with lime. We tried to fool them by rattling their stanchions, or rushing them, but they always waited to go until it they could make the worst mess.

We spread the stalls thick with fresh yellow straw each day, laboriously forked from the huge strawstack in the barnyard and brought into the barn each day. The old straw from the stalls went into the freshly cleaned gutter to soak up the urine and minimize splashing. With stalls bedded and gutters clean, the cows came back into the barn. Each cow knew which order to come into the barn, with the boss cow first, and each knew which stall was home. On the rare occasion that Dad wanted to move a cow from one stall to a new one, it took a lot of chasing and several weeks for the cow to learn its new home. The cows with big appetites walked along the stalls ducking their head in to grab a mouthful of hay from the manger where a picky eater might have left a wisp or two. We checked the manger to make sure the water drinking cups were working and clean; pitched the manger full of hay from the huge haymow above, and then swept and limed the floors behind the cows and adjusted the different doors in the barn to provide enough ventilation for the temperature outside. Cows produce a lot of body heat, so even at 20 below, a little ventilation was needed in Dad's barn, insulated with 30 feet of hay above and foot thick cinder blocks for walls.

With the main barn done, Dad moved to the calf barn where we shoveled and forked out the pens each week. With the manure spreader heaped high, Dad headed towards the field he planned to plant a second year of corn and needed extra fertility. With aggressive field tractor chains, the Super C could haul the spreader through snow up to a foot deep or more, but most winters the time came when it was too deep.

Then we built the manure pile. The manure froze solid from one day to the next, so Dad built smooth trails to the top that let him pile it higher and higher. After a few dives into the wheelbarrow, we boys learned how to push it ourselves and held competitions to reach Pike's Peak with a full load. In the spring after it melted, it all had to be pitched onto the spreader and hauled to the fields. We bought a Jubilee Ford with a loader to help us out in later years.

Grandpa had cows and a barn and the same problems. His barn was equipped with a manure carrier. A long metal track ran from one end of the barn to the other and out the door to a tall post down the hillside. Instead of pitching the manure into the wheelbarrow or spreader, Grandpa pitched it into a metal carrier that lowered to the floor. When it was full, you pulled a chain that raised it to the track; pushed it off and by gravity it went out the door and down the track and automatically tripped at the end, dumping on the spreader or pile. You pulled it back in and refilled it again. It was exciting to help Grandpa and zoom the carrier down the track. We never quite got courage enough to ride the rails ourselves.

By the 1960s, even small farmers were getting automatic barn cleaners. You turned on an electric motor and chains with paddles moved the manure along the gutters and out the door, up a chute and into the manure spreader. The romance of cleaning the barn by hand had disappeared; it is but a fond memory of a few of us old timers