St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Winter on the Farm 1955

Christmas vacation started for us boys with the Christmas program at school.  The program was the day before vacation started so we could spend the next day dismantling the school stage and carrying the chairs back down the hill, across Wolf Creek and back up to the Wolf Creek school.  We cleaned the school and spent the rest of the day getting our Christmas gifts we made at school for our parents ready.  We had cut a pig bread board out of plywood with a coping saw and decorated and oiled it.
The next day started our 2 weeks of vacation. We spent most of it outdoors with Dad.  I am going to give you a look at a single day on the farm in December 1955.
It started with Dad waking up at 5:30 am.  He already had his long johns on, so put on his heavy socks, a flannel shirt, his striped Lee Overalls and high top leather shoes.  Next he went into the basement and put a few pieces of wood in the furnace and opened it up to get the house warmed up.  By this time Mom was up and starting her morning chores.

Putting on his canvas overall coat, he turned on the yardlight, put on the 2 buckle rubbers over his shoes and headed to the barn reading the thermometer on the way.  If it was 10 or above, he would plan to start the tractor and haul the manure that day onto the field assuming the snow was not already too deep. 
He entered the barn where the Holsteins were mostly lying down in their stalls chewing their cuds.  The barn was heated by the 24 cows themselves.  Dad regulated the temperature by opening the silo door a little, the haymow door a little and maybe one of the top halves of the 4 doors at each corner of the barn.  He aimed for the 50s, comfortable for milker and cows.
The cows faced each other across the manger.  A watercup was shared by every two cows. Dad entered the barn and turned on the 8 bare lightbulbs that lit the barn up.  The farm didn’t get electricity until 1947.  Nails above the walkway behind the cows showed where the kerosene lantern had been hung.  Electricity was still in the early days so several nights a year the kerosene lamp was needed still.   When neighbor Ernest Armstrong turned on his electric lights for the first time in his barn he exclaimed “there hasn’t been this much light in here since I put the roof on!”
He took off his coat, turned on his tube radio to WCCO in time to hear the good morning song.  Sometimes he listened to his former neighbors, Hank and Thelma on the KSTP Sunrise show.   Tube radios lasted only a few years in the damp barn atmosphere.  Dad was trying to keep up with the Grade A milk regulations.  He had built a separated milk house with water, hot water heater, washing sinks, drying racks and medicine cabinet.  It was the first place on the farm we had continuous hot water.  The house hot water was heated by a coil in the furnace winters and a special wood water heater in the summer.
He had a submerged concrete water tank built in one end of the milkhouse.  He sent his milk in cans at that time.  He put them in the water tank and pumped cold water from the well into the tank to cool the milk.  Later he used a bulk tank.  The milk house was inspected regularly and had to be very clean.  It was against the rules to open the doors from the barn to the milkhouse to keep it warm in the winter.  He used an electric heater to keep the insulated building a little above freezing.
Getting the two Surge milking machines ready was next.  He filled his stainless steel pail with hot water.  He brought the milkers into the barn with the hot water and hooked up the vacuum hoses.  He turned on the vacuum pump and it began its constant chugging sound for the next 90 minutes.   He sucked up the hot water half into each milker, sloshed it around and poured it back into several smaller pails for washing the cows.
He next got the end and middle cows up on the west side of the barn and put surcingles on each and the cow next to them, looking to make sure he hadn’t marked on the rump with a big crayon X indicating cow being treated for mastitis—and thus to be milked last and saved for the calves.    Each cow’s bag had to be washed and dried then the milker attached, sucking up onto each of the teats.  With both machines hooked up the sound of the Surge pulsators added to the radio and pump “snick chunk snick chunk” The two never quite synchronized so the rhythm shifted like beats in out of tune instruments.
Cows milked out in just a few minutes.  While they were milking, Dad would wash the next cow and then adjust the surcingle to put a little more suck and strip out the last of the milk.  Pinching each inflation let you feel the milk flow and pulling down on it stripped out the last milk.  You unhooked each quarter and lifted the milker with a smooth motion that let you unhook the surcingle and grasp it and carry both out where you made a smooth gentle toss that laid the surcingle over the next cow in line.  The milk was dumped into the milk pail, lid put on to keep the cats and flies out, and milker put on the next cow.  The milk pail was carried to the milk house where it was dumped into a strainer with milk strainer pad and into the milk can.  When the can was full the next one brought from the rack and the filled one lifted into the water tank.