St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beware of Falling Silage

   Hans (his Swedish parents pronounced it “Hons”) was a strapping farm boy of 16 years old.  Like most farm boys, he was big, strong, and as dense as a dry oak board.  He began helping on the farm as early as he could remember, and gradually he stumbled his way into greater and greater responsibility, primarily by way of learning from his mistakes.  

   Each day, it was Hans’ chore to throw down silage for the 20 cows in the barn.  Hans fed them hay each morning from the big haymow above.  In the late afternoon, he pitched corn silage from the silo down the chute and carried it to each cow, topping it with grain (ground corn and oats to add extra protein).  Then, after the evening milking, more hay.  Cows spent most of their lives eating, first packing it down as fast as they could swallow it, then leisurely lying in their stalls chewing their cuds.  

   Lars’ silo was12 feet in diameter, starting with a pit 6 feet in the ground rising 14 feet above the ground for a total of 20 feet of storage space.  
A silage fork, a short-handled fork of some dozen closely spaced tines that was prone to get the corn silage cob disks stuck on the many tines requiring constant cleaning. 
 Silage was not terribly heavy and in mild weather, could be pitched down quickly.  

The 12-foot diameter, 12-foot tall silo with metal chute in byegone days. Note the tree inside!

The cows got hay 2x each day, breakfast and the late evening snack.  Winters added corn silage in the pre-evening milking period.  The cows got silage, the farmer ate supper and then milked and fed hay.  
By February throwing down silage was much more work.  The frigid weather froze the silage from the concrete wall inward nearly a foot and a half.  Further in the natural fermentation and insulation kept it loose and easy to pitch out.  Hans knew he was expected to use the grubhoe each day to keep the frozen edges even with the rest of the silage, but that was a lot of work.  “I’ll just wait, and soon there will be a thaw and it will come down easy.”

All through January he let it build and now it was 9 feet higher than the center--and tapering inward as he went down leaving him less and less room to swing the pick and pitch with the fork.  
Feeding grain after hay.    Water cups are shared every 2 cows.  Stanchions are homemade  of 2x4 wood.  The door at the end is to the silo room.  Opposite end was the haymow chute.  Early fall it appears by the fly ribbon over the cows head.   Water gravity fed down from a big tank overhead the cows, but still in the main barn where it wouldn’t freeze in winter.
Realizing that he was soon going to be squeezed in the doughnut hole, he planned Saturday to catch up.  But how to do it?  Not enough ledge of frozen silage to stand on; too high to attack with the pick from the top, he decided to begin at the bottom and hollow it out, working his way up.  

Three hours into the job, and with the south side cleared back nearly to the concrete, at the bottom, Hans took a break.  “Another 20 hours like this, and I still won’t be done,” he moaned to himself, beginning to understand why Lars told him to keep it level each day.  
It was a warm day sunny day--one of those February days that promise spring is not far off.  Although no sunlight reached into the silo, it penetrated the concrete warming the outer edge of the silage.  
 Hans sat down to rest, and leaned back in his hollowed out cave and promptly fell asleep.  He awoke briefly to complete darkness with a crushing weight on his chest--breathing was impossible.  As consciousness left, he saw Lars may have been right this time.  

Moral:    Learning from your mistakes is not always the best way.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas 2013 Newsletter

Last year at this time, Margo was in the middle of breast cancer treatment.  This year that is all over and she is done with cancer and doing very well getting back to normal.  Thank you for all of your cards, letters and support!

Last year at this time, I was trying to get Myasthenia Gravis under control.  This year that is in the past and I am also doing well and back to normal—in remission.  Although the two of us didn’t get everything we would like to have done accomplished last year, we are looking forward to a good 2014!

Spring was one of the best maple syrup seasons in many years—good quality and good yield.  We had not planned to tap the maples for health reasons, but some relatives and neighbors tapped the maples and  Russ went to the cabin to help out with Scott joining me when the ski hill closed and Margo finished treatment.  With all the help we did well making 60 gallons of excellent syrup shared with all the helpers.   

Scott worked at the ski hill nearby again last winter and flexed his work time to help out with his ailing parents.  He was very helpful in keeping things going smoothly.  He lives in the Pine Island home and keeps it up while we spend time at the lake in Wisconsin.  The last week of November he fell off a ladder and cracked some ribs and so has a month of taking it easy.  

Margo’s mother, Myrtle, passed away early in 2013 after 11 years in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  She was 86 years old.  It was sad, but we had said good bye to her many years earlier before she no longer knew who we were.  It is a hard way to end with no memory; hard on the relatives and friends too.  Merlin, her husband, helped to feed her and watched over her until the end. 

 Once in a while she would seem a little better, but mostly she was lost in the emptiness of having no memory of friends, family or even her own life. It is a hard way to go.

October 25th, Russ’ mother, Alberta Hanson, passed away 2 months short of her 92nd birthday.  She still lived at home on the farm and was still active and doing reasonably well when she just didn’t wake up in the morning.  The day before she was still active, making some grape juice from the abundant garden crop and visiting with her sons.  We were shocked, as she always claimed she would make 100, but at the same time we know that it was a good time and good way to go.  We wrote about Mom’s life and you can read it at our internet blog –  where you can follow our lives in photos and words. 

 As Margo and I own the farm, we are busy with the help of my brothers and families sorting items from the 72 years since Mom and Dad bought the farm.  We are going to try out living in the house this winter to give us an idea if we want to live there or rent or sell it.  It is a large 2-story house, built 100 years ago and somewhat in need of interior reworking—especially the bedrooms upstairs that were used for storage and never fully finished.  Lots of work if we decide to stay there.   It is hard to decide, as we like living on the lake at the cottage, but it is not really a place for winter living and too small to be a permanent residence.  Right now with 3 houses, we are house poor!  Sometimes it is harder to make a decision than not to make it.  
In October, Merlin, a very young 88 years old, remarried.  He and Kathy are both widowers and prefer the company of each other to living alone.  Love can come at any time and we are happy for the couple.  Both grew up in the small Newburg. WI community and have much in common. It is encouraging to see people still active and vital in their mature years.   

Our gardening was limited this year, and we didn’t go to the farmer’s market.  We did grow pumpkins, squash, apples and some melons that turned out OK.  Next year we will try it again with more time to take care of things.  Lots of wild and tame grapes to make jelly. 

We didn’t travel at all this year.  Although we don’t plan going south this winter, it may be too hard to resist when January rolls around.  Maybe we will put an ice fishing house out on the lake and set it up to double as a sauna!

Trade River Church Russ attended as a youngster decorated for Christmas

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Piano Blues

Mom's old Hobart M Cable Piano
Russ is using it to stack things as he works on painting, sorting and working in the house. He hasn't looked in the bench yet--probably full of music from 3 generations of Hanson's lessons.  He is thinking about removing the core and turning it into an entertainment center or else a roll-top type desk unless it is rescued by one of Grandma's grandchildren. 

Mom accumulated many things among them an upright Hobart M Cable piano taking up a lot of room in the living room that could be better used by putting a few of my old computers and printers.   She didn't play the piano, but kept it in case one of the grandchildren or great grandchildren wanted a piano for learning. She used it as a place to put the really important photos-- the 8x10 hand colored HS graduation photos of Marvin, Russell, Everett and Byron (our hair slicked back with the Brylcreem sheen), and smaller photos of the next generation, as well as many nicknacks.

My brothers and spouses are helping sort the items Mom had that need a new home.  The piano is one of those, as Margo and I don't play at all.  Marvin and Everett wouldn't take it either (Ev has Grandma's piano in the garage providing a refuge for mice).  Connie already has one too.  

In the olden days (pre-1960), having a piano or organ in the parlor was a status symbol.  In the 1890s, the assessor had a column to check off if the home had an organ as it was a sign the family had become prosperous (the pump organ is upstairs --and its disposition is still pending).  In the pre-radio and TV days, people actually did gather around the piano for entertainment and enjoyment.  

That Marv, Ev and I have no need for a piano is not altogether Mom's fault.  We each had piano lessons for varying periods of time --a year or two for Marv and me and several years for Ev.  Marv claims he stopped after a disaster at his annual piano recital, when he flubbed his complicated two-handed memorized piece in front of the St Croix Falls parent crowd, ruthless critics.  I did my two-finger piece (The Snake Dance) wonderfully well, and was well on the way to becoming a piano prodigy, but with Marv balking, it wasn't worth hauling just me to lessons each week.  

Brother Everett, started a few years later and moved along quite well.  He rather liked the piano, and at age 12, had visions of being the life of the party strolling over to the piano and breaking into catchy boogie-woogie number with the crowd all jitter-bugging around the room. 

Trouble was, that when his piano teacher offered him the choice of the boogie-woogie book or the classical music book, Mom overruled his BW choice. His interest dwindled immediately when faced with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms vs Jerry Lee Lewis.  Mom worried that boogie-woogie would lead her quiet and serious son directly to smoke-filled taverns and dens of iniquity.  Sadly, he revolted and thus another piano virtuoso in the family was thwarted.    I think by the time that Byron came along, Mom had given up.  I really can't remember if he had lessons or not, as I was too busy with my tenor sax playing on the Gambling River Boats plying the upper St Croix running on moonshine. 

When our son, Scott's arm was twisted to take piano lessons, the piano moved to Rochester, MN for a couple of years until his mother forced him into church music vs jazz.  Mothers are too often the bane of musicians.  I wonder what Mrs Zimmerman said to Bobby up there in northern MN? 

A trip back to Mom's and then the piano went to brother Marv's place where his daughter Sarah used it for lessons at Cushing.  Something must have happened with her too, as she doesn't sweep in and sit down at the piano and impress us all.   

Brother Byron and wife Connie's oldest daughter, Amanda, took many years of piano lessons--they had their own piano at Byron's home.   Amanda probably advanced the most of any of the family with lessons and playing, but has been neglecting her practice for many years now.  Connie tells me that Eddie and Libby (Amanda's kids and Connie's grandchildren) sit down and plunk away at grandma Connie's piano when they visit.   With this desperate need for a piano, I have Marv and Ev lined up in early January to push the piano (on its own casters) out the door, down the ramp onto the trailer and leave it on Amanda's deck some time when we are sure they are all at work.  Sort of a gift in memory of Grandma and to encourage her musical talents as well as to give Edward and Elizabeth their chance to see if they are prodigies too.  

I looked on E-bay and Craigslist and found upright antique pianos in decent shape going for prices ranging for $0 up to $500.  This one looks pretty good; plays fine except for a need of tuning and comes with 300 nicknacks and 35 photos and two Christmas presents. 

Back in the days when we four boys were still at home and expecting Santa to bring Christmas gifts, Mom had a real problem in hiding the presents well enough so we didn't discover them.  She didn't just put them under the Christmas tree, as then we would have known that Santa Claus hadn't come down the chimney, and out of the wood stove door to deliver our presents (of course by the time we were old enough to leave home, we realized that Santa just told our parents what we wanted, and didn't actually bring gifts himself most of the time unless we were very very good).  

I always borrowed one of grandpa's old knee high wool socks that had been stretched out hugely--the kind with the red toes and heels made of Itchy Sheep Wool  by Grandma herself and darned by great grandma with red and green yarn so heavily the sock was hard to find under the darning.  I was optimistic that my presents were going to be huge!  

Well, one year in March, our prissy neighbor girl S____ came to visit.  She was everything we boys were not--well behaved at home and away from home, a polite and orderly student, and always said please and thankyou and if she was tempted to wave just one finger at us, it was a clean one with the cuticle showing a full half-moon.  She sat down at the piano to show off her 6 years of dedicated practice and began a real Christian song, but the piano just thudded and clunked.  

Marv cleaned off the 37 photos and trinkets and tilted up the hinged top, expecting to see a cat had moved in or something worse.  He reached in and brought out 4 gaily wrapped Christmas presents, one with each of our names on it.   Mom, it turned out, had hidden some presents down in the bowels of the piano, knowing that we would never sit and play the piano and discover them, and had forgotten them at Christmas.   It was hard for her to explain why Santa had been so strange in his delivery method, but what the heck, a guy can never have too many socks and underwear. 

Although we hope to pass along the piano to someone who values it, I have been soft-pedaling the efforts so far.  However, when it comes to the fancy old pump-organ, we will pull out all the stops.   

There are times when I still dream about sitting on the bench and amazing strangers with my piano skills--maybe at the public piano in the basement of the Mayo Building.  It is a shame that things like playing the piano take so much work.  Maybe Professor Harold Hill's think system could work...  

And for those of you who want to hear The Snake Dance almost as good as I rattled it off in front of the huge audience in SCF back in 1954, check out this link:  Snake Dance  

Brother Marv had troubles with "Riding on a Mule" which you can see done successfully at Riding on a Mule  

And here is what Brother Everett would have played like if his mother had not pushed him into classical songs:  
Piano Boogie Woogie

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter in the North

Margo and I have decided to try out living at the big farmhouse for a few months this winter--a test of whether we want to move here or not, as well as a chance to do some cleaning, repairing and updating things that Mom had let slide (she lived here 71 years).  

The house is almost 100 years old--built by John Nelson as the third house on the farm.   I have included some old photos that show the house in the background (including the overhead water pipes from the old days).    Although it has been insulated and the porches built in, and many bigger windows added, at the core it is the same house that Mr. Nelson built.  One of his neighbors told Dad that it was paid for by $500 from a nearby farmer who got a Nelson daughter pregnant and because he was already married, made a settlement to the Nelsons--of course that is just a rumor, and not to be relied upon.  

   John Nelson's sister was Mrs. Thomas Hansen, early storekeeper in Cushing, WI.  Another brother, Axel, built the second house on the property--a big two story frame house that John said was not really well built.  The first house was from logs as was the first barn.  You can see the logs from those buildings as floor joists in the new barn (1915?) and this house.  

  A renter, Ole Olsen, added his mark when he charred the floor joist in the basement of the house when his moonshine still blew up.  Dad bought it in 1941 and married mom in 1942.  

  A fuel-oil furnace heats the house, but with oil quite expensive, one tries to keep the thermostat down while keeping somewhat comfortable.  Most of its life, the house has been heated by wood cut on the farm and so the fuel cost was just our labor--and throwing in a few extra chunks to keep it warm at 20 below was not a problem.  

   I tell Margo--just wear your long-johns, wool socks and take off the mittens when you do dishes and it is pretty comfortable!  She has a different view of comfort than I do, it appears. 

Ev and his Jeep  Don't recognize the Shadow

My 1967 Rambler Rogue--Typhoon V-8 with four-on-the floor could get rubber in 3 gears and the glove compartment!
Behind it is the 1962 Rambler Dad drove and the 1968 Rambler Everett had.  A family of Ramblers. 

My 1937 Chev truck -- got it when I was 14