St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

   2020 was a year of potatoes here on the Farm.  With the Covid-19 pandemic threatening the food supplies this spring, we decided to garden more seriously this year and freeze and can more of our own produce.  
   And so I took over one whole garden plot for potatoes.  Many years ago I bought some Yukon Gold (I think) potato pieces from the store to start growing them.  Probably close to 15 years ago.  And I save some each year to replant.  
  Last year I saved all of the small ones out separately to see if I could use them for seed this spring.  Unlike most folks who save seed from the best of the plants, mine were any small potatoes. 
  And so I had about 50 still OK this spring.  I planted about 30 hills and most of them grew.   From planting to digging I documented this and stuck the videos on my youtube channel.  
  This week I harvested them, digging up probably 200 lbs of potatoes, enough to far more than supply the winter's need. 
  The story of 2020 potatoes was on my Facebook page too.  
  This link is a search of my youtube channel for potato videos.  More than I remember!

Monday, September 14, 2020


Picked the popcorn yesterday and have it out to dry now.  I had planned to do this much later, but a deer got in that garden and went down the whole row biting the end of each ear off and knocking over many of the stalks.  I had let the electric fence get grounded by grass overnight and the deer took advantage of it.  
 I think there will be enough for winter as Scott and Margo are not popcorn eaters unless it is at a movie at $5 a bucket.  At home where it is free, they don't seem to care for it. But I like it!
Dad was the popcorn fan when we were kids, coming in about 9 pm after the evening milking and taking out a cob or two of popcorn, dried upstairs in an onion bag, shelling it, blowing off the chaff, then taking the steel skillet and covering the bottom with kernels.    He shook it, sliding it back and forth on the electric stove burner with no oil in it, just rolling the kernels back and forth.  The kernels swelled up, started browning, and then a few popped onto the stove before he put on the lid, turned the burner down, and shook it until every kernel popped and the skillet was filled with fresh, crispy, Japanese Hull-less white fluffs.  
Then he dumped it into the deep aluminum kettle that was used for the drop-burner on the stove and if we boys were awake, popped a second batch before melting a generous slice of butter off the whole pound block, melting it in the still-hot skillet and then pouring it over the popcorn, adding salt and stirring it all up.  
He put his own helping right in the buttery skillet and ate it while reading the local newspaper or the Reader's Digest.  You could see his fingerprints in what he read.  
Of course, we always grew our own popcorn.  It had to dry until nearly Christmas before the new year batch was ready and so some years we went without for a few months, making the first batch of the new crop exciting!
When it was dry, we shelled it, the pointed hard kernels rubbing our hands raw.  The shelled popcorn was full of chaff, and so we took it outside to let the wind winnow it. And at just the right moisture content so every kernel popped, we sealed it in fruit jars for the coming year.  We boys shelled grandpa and grandma's popcorn for them too.  I still remember the raw hands afterward -- as both families had many ears and long rows in the garden or on the field edge rows.  Grandma made popcorn balls for Halloween and Christmas and used popcorn and thread to make Christmas tree strings. 
For Halloween, we stopped at our much older neighbors, Bert and Hattie Brenizer, and they never had candy on hand for us, but said --" wait a little and we will pop some corn for you."  Bert had the old kitchen wood stove cherry red using some coal with his wood as he told us that his grandpa had a coal mine out east once upon a time and he liked that for heat.  He popped it in a popcorn shaker, a rectangular metal pan with a screen top and when done, put it in a grocery brown bag, poured in melted lard and sugar and shook it up.   
"When we were kids," he told us, "all butter was sold to the store to make money, so we used lard and added sugar to make it better."  It was good, the brown paper bag stained with lard and our hands and soon our pants greased up too.
We usually got a few stories along with the popcorn and as we only had a few stops in walking distance of our house, it was special to stay and listen to Hattie tell us about walking to school on the barrens holding on to the big dog so the wolves wouldn't come close.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

How Do You Make 1700 Apple Pies?

 How do you make 1700 Apple Pies?

The answer, according to the Cushing Lutheran Apple Pie Crew, is to make 170 pies on 10 different days in August and September.  After 25 years of making pies by the bushels, they have it down to a science as well as an art.  

The pies will be on sale, September 26th 9--5 at the Cushing Brenholt Park, a stop on the 15th Annual River Road - Hwy 87 Ramble. It is also their traditional Fall Bazaar sale with crafts, baked goods, lunch and garage sale items.  The sale is spread out widely in the park shelters with mask wearing recommended.  The park is where the church has been holding Sunday services this summer, a lovely place to worship God in His grand outdoors. 

Driving by the church last week, we saw the parking lot filled with cars on a Monday morning and in Cushing, we satisfy our curiosity by barging right in and finding out what is going on with our neighbors and making the folks feel guilty for not inviting us too. 

Walking into the church basement, the first impression was of a party -- folks laughing, visiting and enjoying themselves immensely.   The fragrance was of fresh apples.   Everyone was busy, wearing masks or staying apart with Covid-19 awareness and in a vast assembly line turning out delicious apple pies. 

One way to judge if a church is healthy is to look at what goes on in the church basement.  If it is a busy and joyous place, likely the church is thriving.  One barely noticed the basement itself with the usual big open area, supporting posts and end kitchen as it was fully occu-pied with bustling folks. 

Making 170 pies in a day starts with the apple picking crew, a half dozen folks, headed out to find apple trees enough to pick apples to fill  each pie with 5 ½ cups of peeled, diced apples.  Eight medium sized apples will do, but in 2020, the apple crop is smaller sized and so closer to 10 apples are needed per pie.  That means 1700 apples need to be picked on 10 different days.  And as the Lutherans are generous folks, their pies are piled high like Mount Ararat using at least twice the apples of a store bought pie.  

Where do the apples come from?  Folks all around Cushing who have an apple tree or two in their yard donate their extras. Of course the apples have to be worm free and at the right stage to be pie-able.  So the search for good apples is ongoing and intense. The apple crew meets at the church at 8 am, heads out with ladders, apple pickers, and enthusiasm, swarms into the orchard and soon has bushels of apples loaded.  They are ready for the next day when fresh apples become pies. 

At 7:30 am, on apple pie day, two dozen volunteers are at the Cushing Lutheran basement setting up the Stations of the Pie.  Four men man the machines that peel, core and slice an apple in 10 -20 seconds each. Half a dozen folks sit at tables with paring knives cutting them into small pieces and immediately soaking them in salt water so they don’t turn brown.  Quality control is done all along the way so any flaw in the apple is tossed in with the peelings and headed either the compost pile or maybe a hog pen or chicken yard. 

After a good soak the apples are collected in huge trays and moved to the pie filling station. 

In parallel with the apple disassembly line, we have the pie crust crew.  That starts with the unthawing and unpackaging of frozen purchased dough that is kneaded into two generous clumps of exactly the size needed for a 9 inch pie shell. 

The dough clumps are brought to the pressing station where a brand new 2020 machine takes the place of previous 24 years of pie making by hand rolling the dough.  The pie is put in an aluminum pie shell, covered with a thin wax paper sheet, placed in the press and the dough ball flattened to exactly fit the pie tin in a smooth single motion.  The press can mold them into the pie tin or flatten them for the top crust. Fast, efficient and no danger of rolling pins used in disagreements over doctrine. 

The crust filled tin is then filled as high it can be heaped with 5.5 cups of nearly white apples.  The pre-mixed sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and secret Lutheran very mild spices are added to the top of the heap and the top crust carefully draped over, like the snow on Mount Sinai where Moses came down with the original recipe carved in stone. 

To crimp the edges and make a fancy pattern on them also takes a machine.  The pie goes in a wooden ring and another wooden ring gets pressed down and seals the edges and imprints a twining pattern.  A little excess dough squeezes out and is trimmed with the trimmings going back into a future crust.  We suggested a Bible verse pressed into the design, or maybe an advertisement for Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance.  

Next the pies are sealed in a zip lock bag with the ingredients list and the cooking instructions before heading to the church garage where 10 large freezers stand.  The pies are carefully separated into layers so they don’t touch each other and frozen for 48 hours before the Lutherans will sell them to you or me.  No pies are sold fresh, as freezing is part of the process to get the right texture. 

Why do they make them?   Since the serpent tempted Eve with an apple, men and women have had to work hard for their living.  And that includes maintaining their churches, and through the churches their goals as Lutherans.  So not only has the income from pies paid for repairs to the church and improvements, but to the mission of the church itself to help do God’s work in the world.  “We believe that we are freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbors” is stated on the ELCA church website.    Can you think of a sweeter way to love your neighbor than with a homemade apple pie?

The crew this year ranged from several folks in their 80s to youngsters in their 60s.  And they all got along, no people were injured, everyone knew their job and everyone one was accepted, from the slow but perfectionist apple slicing of the former banker to the whiz bang speed of the retired farmer across the table.  Each according to his or her abilities working together for the common good.  

Want an apple pie?  $8 each pre-order through the church for pickup.  Or better yet, buy one at the 15th Annual River Road Ramble in Cushing, September 26th.    The Ramble is bigger and better than ever as not only is it Covid-19 socially distanced, being spread out from Grantsburg to St Croix Falls, but a chance to get out and see fall color, buy some garden and orchard produce, find some local crafts, or antiques, and look for bargains at a garage sale.  The map and events will be online soon on the River Road Ramble Facebook page and at our website.  Want to be a Ramble stop?  Call 715 488 2416 or email  by September 10th.  Sponsored by Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society

For a video of the pie making in action, check out the Youtube video at   

Photos and captions

We won’t identify the folks in the photos as Lutherans are self-effacing folks who would feel terrible if they were singled out for recognition above others.  

A pie of many colors suitable for Joseph himself. 


  Domed pies filled to overflowing with apples won’t stack so they have to be frozen in layers separated by frames to prevent crushing. 

How do you store 1700 pies?  A dozen freezers that run for a few months each year as well as selling them to early customers right now. If an emergency storm shuts off the electricity all of Cushing will eat pies for breakfast, dinner and supper until they are gone.  

Peeling, slicing, and coring in a 15 seconds. 

Two rings are used to press the crusts together and leave a pattern in the crimp. 

No stinting on apples here!

Pie Crusts get flattened with a new pie press that makes top and pie-pan in a single step


The pies get a final trim, are packaged and frozen.  

Monday, April 27, 2020

Cletrac AG-6 Carburetor Problems

My Farm renter, Chuck, is helping me to get the 1947 Cletrac AG-6 crawler going again.  Three years ago, he got the engine running after it had sat for 15 years or so in the shed.  To do so, he had to solder the carburetor float as it leaked.  When we started it this spring, it again leaked.

So I tried my hand at soldering it this time -- in the seam.  First I checked the internet for suggestions and found this at the The Carburetor Shop

If the float should need repair, it is important to understand how the float was originally produced. Virtually all brass float pontoons (the floating part) are composed of two pieces (a few are more) of brass soldered together. The pieces differ in the seam area, as one piece has a male seam and the other a female seam. One float piece will also have a small hole for temperature equilization. This hole will be covered by a small drop of solder, and will be as far from the seam as possible. The manufacturer would solder the two pieces together, allow the float to cool completely, AND THEN close the equilization hole. Soldering MUST be done using a soldering 'iron'. Repair should not be attempted using either a torch, or a soldering gun. If you plan on disregarding this advice, read the next paragraph first! The following procedure works for us (no, we will not repair your float unless we restore the entire carburetor): First, if liquid is present inside the float, find the hole, and remove the liquid by placing the hole down inside the hot water. The pressure will force the liquid from the float. If the float has much liquid, it may be necessary to remove the float from the hot water, allow the float to cool, and repeat the hot water dip. Once the liquid has been removed, and the leak has been marked, open the equilization hole by removing the solder. Solder the leak closed using as little solder as possible. A small piece of tape over the equilization hole will allow the hot water test to be preformed. If there are no leaks, remove the tape, and ALLOW THE FLOAT TO COOL COMPLETELY before closing the equilization hole. A final test, and you have 'saved' a valuable float.  

So after taking the carb apart, and removing the float, I tried the hot water test and found it leaked along the seam for almost 2 inches with a couple of tiny holes.  I followed with several hot water soaks until it felt like no more gas was inside then tried soldering with my pencil and eventually it appeared to quit bubbling.   I am filling the carb bowl with gasoline and then sticking the carb together with a couple of studs and leave it to sit for a few days to see if it does again leak. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

2020 Maple Syrup Season was Excellent!

I have a Facebook page that I use to post info and photos about each year's maple syrup season.  It is called Backyard Maple Syruping.    As I know some of you don't use Facebook, I downloaded the 2020 posts, loaded them on my google cloud drive and used Drivetoweb to make them look like a long web page.  The Facebook link itself is 

The bottom link is backwards in time -- the way Facebook shows us current first. 

It is rather interesting to try to do sort of automatic websites with information from other places. 

I tried another one -- a website for backyard maple syruping -- nothing much there yet, but also free.

The last step is to use and make a simple short web address that goes to the longer one.

It was a great season.  We ran about 75 taps and got nearly 30 gallons of syrup -- great tasting too.   Now we are going to setup a road-side driveway stand and see if we can sell some without customer contact in this CV-19 period. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Scouts Come to Garner State Park for the Freezerie Campout

Friday night through Sunday morning our quiet campsite loop in Garner State Park was delightfully noisy as Cub Scout Pack xxx from San Antonio, moved in for their winter Freezzery – overnight tent camping.  Eighty boys and girls (yes scouts are now co-ed) and their parents came for two nights and Saturday of activity. 
We were right in the middle of the 40 campsites taken by the Pack. Other non-scout campers had been deferred to the other camping loops (Garner has something like 500 campsites in four different areas).  But as we were already here we were left right in the middle of the group .
The head of the Pack, Randy, stopped by to make sure we were not being bothered, and when I told him my son had been in Scouts from age 6 (Tiger Cubs) to age 18  and was an Eagle Scout and had brought Margo and I into scouting too, he invited us to the Saturday evening campfire program. 
Randy, a slim, tall, mid 30s friendly fellow, was the master of ceremonies for the campfire – probably 200 folks gathered in a campsite lit up with some strings of yellow Christmas bulbs and the fire itself.
“Congratulations to those of you who came and tented overnight Friday,” he proclaimed.  “The park ranger says it got down to 29F last night ,and so you win the Polar Badge for camping, an award for sleeping in a tent overnight when it goes below freezing.”
“I want to introduce to you, a former scouter from Minnesota, Mr. Hanson.”  And so I step forward a little into the ring and wave  “Mr Hanson told me that in Minnesota they have their winter campout and earn the Zerio Hero badge, if it gets cold enough there.  Do you know how cold it has to be?  Yes, it has to go below zero overnight.  That makes our below 32F look like a mild night.  Thank you for sharing, Mr Hanson!”
The campfire had some announcements – the last campout for the Webelos 2 group, the Lions group welcomed as new scouts and future events listed.  Then each of the Tigers, Bears, Wolves, Webelos 1 and 2 gave a skit.   el
One, “The Viper is coming” was one done in scout camps probably since Baden Powell started the scouting something like 115 years ago, and done by our own boys back when Scott was in scouting in the 80s and 90s.   Each boy runs out had yells something like “danger, the Viper is coming!” until the punchiline when a boy comes out with a pail and towel saying “I’ve come to vipe your vindows and doors.” 
Cub Scouts are from something like 5-11 before they move into Boy Scouts.  Although there were more boys than girls, many girls were there.  At that age one can’t tell them apart, other than a few of the girls wore shoes that sparkled in the dark. “It makes much more sense for parents” a nearby family with tents told me, “we don’t have to do two separate events for our boy and girl.” 
The pack was absolutely noisy until 9 pm and then shut down  completely until some 7 am mumbling and bumping as they got up and headed to a home-made taco breakfast across the road from us.  The only problem was the mass move to the bathroom this morning as I too didn’t get up until 7 am. 
Scouting was something foreign to me – an activity a few of my friends from St Croix Falls did for outdoor activities.  We rural kids did 4-H and only wondered as each summer we saw groups of boys dropped off from Hwy 87 trudging by the Farm on Evergreen Av headed to the scout camp on Trade River and Cowan Creek out on the Sterling Barrens – maybe a 5 mile hike. 
That seemed a long distance to carry a pack and spend a week in the mosquito, deerfly woods along the creek.  They used land owned by Northern States Power company, the same place that was the picnic area from the 1860s on for folks living on the barrens.  It was the place where in 1939, the Old Settler’s picnic was held, and later evolved into a primitive horse camp before being sold by Northern States to a former Boy Scout friend, Jim Miller, who a few years ago sold it to the state for part of the Wild and Scenic River area. 
When Scott came home from school and said he wanted to be in Tiger Cubs at age 6 (at the time he was going to Byron elementary) we thought OK.  His friends had decided to join and so we did too.  For Tiger Cubs, a brand new program to catch younger boys, each set o parents hosted one meeting and had some activity for the boys who came with at least a parent or maybe two. 
Scott continued in Cub Scouts, but Margo and I pretty much stayed out of it until at age 11, he announced he wanted to continue into Boy Scouts. When he signed up, it came with a letter addressed to parents that with his entrance into Troop 42 of Byron, MN, we too were expected to take a part and told we must come to a meeting of parents to get our volunteer roles.
Chuck Ruemping and Roy Kruger were Scoutmaster and Assistant.  They told us in no uncertain terms that a boy in Scouting in Troop 42 came with his parents, and that for him to continue a parent must volunteer for some job with the troop.  And the listed jobs like fund raising, book keeping, camping and many more.  
Having a tent and having liked camping from the days when Mom and Dad borrowed Clarence Westlund’s tent, air mattresses and car top carrier and headed to Yellowstone Park in June of 1958 (?). and then Margo and me tenting around the south-west-north boundaries of the USA back in 1973, I enjoyed tenting.  And so I signed up for a year of monthly campouts and a week of summer camp as one of the adult drivers and campers.
After a year, learning about winter camping and realizing that sleeping bags with pictures o giraffes and bears on it, didn’t keep one warm in February, Scott and I had accumulated the basics of camping gear and had learned a great deal about outdoors camping.
Scoutmaster, Chuck Ruemping, announced that spring that with the graduation of his son from the troop to head to college, he was stepping down into assistant scoutmaster and leaving scoutmaster role open.  
Gary Egbert, Troop 42 committee chairman called me and asked me to take on the Scoutmaster position.  I had become an assistant scoutmaster during the year, a role that gives digntity, prestige yet very little responsibility other than sort of parenting in the background.  “Gary, I am brand new to scouting.  I still don’t know the basics of ranks, merit badges, rules and regulations of scouting.  All I have done is tagged along with the boys on campouts and sat in on the weekly meetings.  You can find someone much better for the job, but thank you for asking.”
A few months later as the fall active season for scouting approached (during summer the weekly meetings were discontinued and only events like canoe trips and summer camp went on), the pressure increased as no one stepped forward and finally in a weak moment, I said, “Well, I suppose I could do better than no one taking the job, but I sure don’t know much about scouting.”  Roy and Chuck assured me they would stay active for the coming year and with them as guides, I figured it would work out. 
Once I agreed to become Scoutmaster, I got signed up for three 3-day weekends at Wood Badge training – training for scout troop leaders.  That was what I needed as it actually taught me the principles of scouting.  You are there as an adult to advise boys, but troops are meant to be led by the boys who learn leadership skills while they plan and carry out their own activities.  When I realized that, it became a much more interesting and actually easier job as I was there to help them accomplish what they wanted to do, and that failure of an activity was not really a problem as it instead was a learning process. 
Anyway, I was the official Troop 42 Scoutmaster for 3 years, and then stepped back into assistant scoutmaster for many more years.  And so when I joined the campfire ring last night, it brought back memories of 1986 – 1999 when, if I remember the years right, was an active scouting leader.  During that time we canoed the St Croix River, Boundary Waters and many more rivers and lakes often; we went to the Philmont New Mexico mountain camp and backpacked up and down the mountains, did a dozen summer camps (Margo joined us sometimes there – although it was early days in women becoming scout leaders too) and earned several zero hero badges, 50 milers on foot, water and bicycle.  Scott and four of his class and age-mates from Byron all earned their Eagle Scout awards, and in general Margo and I spent countless hours in Scouting.  And when I look back, it was not only good for me, but I like to think that we helped steer some boys into being better adults. 

Adam, Scott H, Brad, Scott A, Bob – classmates in school and fellow Eagle Scouts

Friday, January 31, 2020

January in Utopia

The first week of our TX vacation has passed here in Garner State Park, TX.  We have done some sight seeing, some reading, me some work on the book and a little hiking.  With the exception of one rainy night, and a cool cloudy day, the weather has been lovely – 40s-60s.  We have another week at Garner and then registered for two weeks at Casa Blanca about 3 hours south on the Mexican border at Laredo, TX. 

Part of the idea of going to Laredo – where it is an average of 5F warmer, is to see about a Mexico cross border visit.   We remember the 1970s trip we took and the enjoyable shopping and touristing across the border and hope to try at least once.   We need to do it without much walking to accommodate Margo.  So maybe a tour setup up with a taxi.  When we get to Laredo we will see what can be arranged.

I have, as a goal, to put together the information I have collected on the Wolf Creek Cemetery and spend a few hours every other day on that.   Yesterday we went to the Leakey public library where we can get free WIFI and I did some search and retrieve of Google drive files I want for the book.  I uploaded a great deal of my research files as they are immediately searchable including the words within the typewritten/printed type documents and images as well as much of the handwritten info due to Google’s optical character recognition and handwriting recognition done automagically. 

The work yesterday was on the Town of Sterling’s role in the cemetery – which from Township records I have copied (most of them), show the first mentions of financial support in the 1880s and detail the transfer of the cemetery from Township to Wolf Creek Cemetery Association in 1938. 
Over the past 12 years or so, I have taken a soldier buried in the cemetery each year and done either a booklet or newsletter on that person.  I am finding them and adding each to the book.  I also have several family histories used in previous books prepared by the families to add.  And of course lots of old newspaper clippings, photos, obituaries, genealogy and other items that relate to folks in the cemetery. 

Yesterday, after the library visit, we drove the 16 miles east of Garner to Utopia, TX and had lunch there.  We had done this last year and enjoyed it and did it again.  Margo had the hamburger (immense) and I the BLT.   We were there about 1 pm as the local lunch crowd was finishing and visiting—a group of 6 men all seated at one of the old chrome and formica dining room sets like we have at home – from the 1950s—the modern items then that replaced the big old  oak tables.  The Lost Maples CafĂ© was featured in a movie – can’t remember the name, but about a golfer stuck in town to get his car repaired and runs into a retired golfer who gets the young guy back in playing form, solves the girlfriend problem and opines on life in general. 

Utopia is about 200 folks, isolated enough so it hasn’t died completely and maybe a couple of hours straight west of San Antonio nestled in the hill country where roads twist and turn their way up and down small mountains at 75mph and it is  polite if you are a tourist to pull over and let the folks driving 80 go by. 

As the men finished their last refill of coffee, they grudgingly talked about getting back to work or in some cases retirement. 

“1:30,” drawled a weather beaten Stetson wearing smoked out rangy man, “I better get back and see if anybody stopped in with a job to do.”
“When you worked for me, you never was in no rush to get to work. Seems I remember you all showing up bout time for coffee break,” drawled another heavy set mid 60s man with bold suspenders and a sweatstained cowboy hat.”
The folks at the table all laughed at the good natured ribbing
“Weeaaall,” drew out the first cowboy, “I recall it different wise….bout coffee time, I called you to get you out of bed so’s you’d order a new part we needed.” 

Then the appreciative laughter around the table. Some of the talk was so twanged and drawled it was hard to understand. 

“When you work for yourself, you gotta work or go broke,’ commented a younger guy, “but when you work for someone else, theys gotta worry bout bein broke, not you.”

“Yah, that’s the trouble now, the boss wants to work you to the bone, get rich, and starve you” commented another well rounded man. 

“You ain’t done much starving, looks to me,” commented another. 

Each comment was accompanied by appreciative laughter as the men gradually got up, left some money on the table and moseyed out to a row of older pickup trucks, some battered but none with the Wisconsin rust on them and scattered to find their Utopian roles.

The movie, "Seven Days in Utopia" was set in the cafe we visited. In that story, a young golfer learns from an older one how to control his golf swing and figures out how to live his life.  

Me, from my 30 minutes in Utopia, too learned the meaning of life:  a long lunch with friends and laughing at their jokes whether good or not.  

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Texas Heats Up

80F here in Garner State Park, SW Texas on Jan 26th, 2020.   Too warm to fast and we are going into heat stroke danger.

Texas Get-Away  Jan 25-26

5:30 am on a Saturday here in Garner State Park, Texas.  The park is more empty than full, although maybe a dozen folks moved in last night – mostly families with Texas license plates and a couple from Iowa, like us, escaping the cold.
Yesterday was sunny, 60Fs, a lovely day to work outside with cleaning the car out completely and using a polish kit on the headlights.  It turned out good, but I learned that with patience I could likely have done it even better.  The reviews say you should do it about every year and so I may get another chance.  In the good old days, lights had glass sealed beams that although they broke regularly from stones, were clear their whole life.  The bulb in reflector plastic lasts longer but yellows and gets a patina.  It came off fine and we should enjoy night driving now rather than dreading it.
The week ahead is supposed to be 60s and and 70s with overnight 40s and mostly sunny.  Our camper has no furnace, so we use a small electric space heater that, in spite of canvas walls, and side roofs keeps us comfortable overnight.  Margo, who feels the cold more than I do, uses the electric blanket and stays warm.   We depend on electricity for our camper.  We could camp without it but would not be very comfortable without our appliances.  We had a sink and counter two burner gas stove, but removed it, the propane tank and prefer our Coleman outdoor cooking.  We have a small refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave and toaster inside.  The camper cranks up and folds out two wings.  One we use for sleeping and the other for storage, refrigerator, etc.  We have two facing bench seats and a narrow table that goes between them. We took out the wider table and made our own of an 18 inch white shelving plank with one end on the camper end and the other a fold down leg.  Takes up less room and works OK. 
We have a 4-drawer plastic cabinet for clothes and towels. There are two inside drawers for miscellaneous, a few floor cabinets and under the seat storage bins.  Plenty of room for the gear  Outside we have a small folding plastic cooking table next to the camper and a tub of cooking pots and pans. I like cooking outside, probably a left over from Scouting days, and like to have plenty of room and the cooking smells and air free to blow away. 
We added an awning we can put over the doorway – really just a plastic tarp that connects to eyebolts on the camper with two poles and guy ropes so should it rain we can stick it up and still sit or cook outside.  I don’t mind cooking in cold weather outside either.  I probably should get a small electric oven too so I could bake too. 
Generally speaking, if we are where it is mild enough to do outdoor living (40F or above), we do that and the camper is for sleeping and morning coffee.  We don’t have a TV; do have a clock radio, and at this park, no cell phone service nor internet.  So I work on the computer on projects and Margo reads a book. 
She has “Notes from Little Lakes” by Mel Ellis from the Milwaukee area. Ellis was a newspaper reporter who wrote a column about a small wild pond area he built in the Milwaukee suburbs as a get-away from the city.  A few acres he turned screened with shrubs and trees and a place to sit and muse about natures.   I met Margo, from north of Milwaukee, back in 1970 when we were *had worked as a linotype operator on the Milwaukee Journal, knew Ellis, and as I helped him and his roommate get up he had his morning paper and on column days turned to the notes column first.  He got me reading it too, and a few years ago I stumbled on to a book of the columns and bought it.  The book reminded me of a friend I made, the patient Herb who I helped get up most days for 2.5 years. 
6:00 AM Sunday January 26, 2020
We left Wisconsin on Monday, January 20th and today is the 7th day of our vacation that is likely to last until the end of February.  The first 4 days if I include the drive from the Farm to Pine our other home in Pine Island, MN, was in almost trouble free travel to get the 1442 miles to this spot.  Tuesday we check on the camper tire spare replacement.  We signed up for 2 weeks at this park and may stay longer. Another  two weeks here would cost $360 plus $80 for the Texas Pass renewal.  That is about $31 per day, twice what we would pay in Arkansas where the parks are nicer, and we qualify for the handicap rate. Depends on the weather.  Last year we moved to LA and regretted it because of the almost continuous heavy rains that miss us in SW TX. 
With fine mist and 60s yesterday, we decided to drive to Uvalde, a town big enough to have all of the chain stores and specialty ones – probably 10-20,000 folks (here I would have did a “Hey Google, what is the population of Uvalde, Texas”).   We were looking for a Verizon cell phone signal so I could call the Mayo Clinic Credit Union and put our card on travel mode as they had emailed us a fraud alert saying our card had an attempt to use in a Walmart in Texas on Friday.  I had to call the fraud division.  When we got into Uvalde, the first bars on the phone service showed up and about 10 blocks into town it peaked, and I made the call and told them of our trip plans.  I did forget to say I might use it in Mexico, and so will take a few $20s if we cross.
From Uvalde, it is about an hour drive to the border at Del Rio or Eagle Pass.  Monday, we have decided to drive the 90 miles to whichever Google says is smaller and safer, and see about a border crossing tour.   Back in the 1990s, while in southern California, we found a tourist bus day trip, guided tour that was rather fun and simple and as a first try at anboother border crossing 25 years later are interested in first trying it an easy way. 
Forty Five years ago, we drove over at Del Rio and a few other crossings as we toured the whole US southern, western and northern borders on a Florida to California, to Washington, into Canada and then back to Wisconsin tent camping in April and May (1973).  Between then and now I think maybe less than half dozen border crossings – mostly walk across and back.  With Margo not up to walking any distance, we need to think about a bus, taxi, rowboat etc.  A few hours west at Big Bend National Park you can wade across if it hasn’t rained much or take a row boat ride, but that is mostly a walking or burro ride, and we aren’t up to that anymore. 
So did we get anything accomplished Saturday?  A few shopping items, a thorough car wash in town, some reading, a little walking, fired up the repaired Coleman and realized there is a slow leak around where we put in the tank regulator – used tape and maybe pipe threads is needed.  It doesn’t stop the stove from working, just pools a little fuel around the threaded area.  Made skillet hamburgers. 
Today is starting cloudy and mild – forgot to buy a thermometer and no hey googling, but probably 50s.  Our campsite is nestled adjacent a small mountain range to the west, and so we are free from Texas winds.  Texas is pretty flat in much of the area, but we are in “Hill country” which means there are limestone hills a few 100 feet tall, that become mountains to those used to the flatlands.  I suppose we are in the edges of the Rockies. 
Surely today I will get to working on my Wolf Creek Cemetery history book.  Did some yesterday and realized that, like all of these undertakings, it will be a lot more work than I thought.  Although I have much of the information already, putting it together and editing will be pretty tedious.   My goal is Memorial Day, 2020, to sell it at the program at the Cemetery.  I think it will cost about $10 to print and if we sell it for $20 each, can make some money to pay for cemetery maintenance.  I don’t want it to be an obituary collection, but rather chapters on early pioneers to the area, some individuals and some families that with the person or family we can explain a part of the history of our part of the St Croix Valley. 
For instance—the Lagoo family represents both Native American and Canadian voyageurs.  The Blairs, the post Civil War veterans getting free land by homesteads.  The Brenizers, the influx of Iowans about 1900 as what I could call “second growth” settlement.  The Orrs and Rogers the early loggers from Canada or out East.  The Deneens, the earliest business folks with the Wolf Creek Dam and mill.  The Englins, the Scandinavian homesteaders.  Some of the se families have already been part of my history collecting, and so putting them together for early history and then looking at farmers, peace officers (George Booth as sheriff shot a man), the odd fellows, the babies, the veterans of all the wars, and so on.  It is overwhelming but if I put little pieces I have already, add some of the new research in the 9 months I have been Sexton, and just get at it, I think it could be decent.  
Of course, what sells books is if your family is mentioned, and so we must do lots of that!!!
Spent a few hours renewing the Impala headlights.  They were yellow and quite opague, making night driving bad.  I bought a $20 NuLens kit and  the battery drill along and although didn’t do it perfectly, came out with a much brighter night driving experience. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

2020 Wisconsin to Texas

It is 6 am, January 24, 2020 and I have already been up half hour here at Garner State Park in SW Texas.   We got into the park about 7 pm, setup the camper and unloaded after dark – although with the car lights and then the camper lights once we got it rolled up, it wasn’t working in the dark.  However, the first setup after a year of it being parked is always complicated as we notice some mustiness and mildew.  This year when I put it away, it will be in the garage, well aired out and a couple of pillowcases with the silica gel dessicant kitty litter to keep it dry.
We were behind nearly 2 hours from our planned arrival at 5 pm.  Two things got in the way – a stop for grocery shopping to get the first week’s food before we arrived rather than the next day – as the local town of Leakey (pronounced Lakey) hasn’t much selection, and a tire blew on the camper about 4 pm, and that took time to change.

We left Wisconsin, Monday January 20th, and drove 120 miles south to our MN home in Pine Island where we got the snow-blower out and cleared the driveway, did a little maintenance and then Tuesday left just at light and drove 500 miles before finding a $64 overnight Motel in Kansas SE of Kansas City an hour or so.  We had driven out of the snow as we entered KS, but Wednesday morning it has slushed about an inch and at 32 could have been slippery, but the warmer pavement melted it and we cruised all day long putting in just under 400 miles to stay at a $44 motel in Oklahoma (just north of the TX border). 

Getting  up early on Thursday, with the intent of making 420 miles to the park – driving SW across much of Texas, we cruised along nicely and were on schedule to arrive at 5 pm when we heard some rumbling behind, the car started sort of surging and looking back through the mirror I saw a chunk of rubber fly up.  Now we were doing 70mph on a Farm to Market Road (like a county road) where the speed limit was 75 and folks were driving 80.  We pulled over to see the rear trailer tire shredded completely.  

I had a brand new spare on the back of the camper.  The tire that blew was the last of the 30 year old originals, and I figured just a short stop to swap tires.  Well, when I got out my wrenches, I found, like Goldilocks, one was too big and one was too small and none were just right.  And where was my 4 ended fast tire wrench? – at home on the truck seat where I left it to remind me to put it in the camper.  And where was my 13/16 socket?  Not along—I think Margo had borrowed it to repair the kitchen Mix Master and not put it back! 

So, after a thorough search, some self-condemnations, I unhooked the trailer and was about to drive 5 miles ahead to the next town and get a socket – buy, borrow, beg or steal. Just then an older pickup and a gentleman inside pulled across the lane and parked behind me and asked if I needed help.   “A 13/16 wrench is what I need!”

He had one of those 4 ended tire wrenches and helped us change the tire while visiting.  He said I could get a spare in town at the first gas station/tire shop.  I tried to give him $20 for his help, but although he wouldn’t take that, he did take a pint of maple syrup.  We have noticed in our years of traveling and tire troubles, that the folks who stop to help are those who undoubtedly have had the experience of driving on tires that are not as good as they should be; not those with nice cars or trucks and not those who can afford to call the road-side service to bail them out. 

I have had tire troubles on every trip taken for years, sometimes of my own making as in this old tire and letting Google maps gps take me through the shortest driving routes that put us on too many back roads – scenic, traffic free, fast, but probably more tire-flattening debris.   No tire in town, so drove the last hour into the park at 60 mph and got here after hours.  That way you just set up someplace empty (the park is mostly empty this time of year) and then register in the morning and hope the site is not reserved sometime in the future so you have to move everything.

Absolutely no cell phone signal and no wifi at the campsite –A36--we picked.  However, we will likely drive the 7 miles to the local town and either hit the laundromat, restaurant or library to post that we made it to our destination for the next few weeks.
The mileage counter says 1442 miles since the Farm.  The first day was 120 to Pine Island.  Then roughly 500, 400, 420.  The car mileage was about 17 mpg bucking a south wind of 10-15 the whole way—which means about 85 gallons of gas.  Gas ranged from 239 in WI and MN to 1.99 in one gas station in OK, but mostly 2.20 south of Iowa.  So with that estimate of about $190 for gas to drive here.  The motels add up to $108.  Meals on the road about $75.  We will have to buy a new tire for the camper – maybe $50.  So to get here totals about $425. We can guess that the return trip will be around $400.  So the travel cost is not too far under $1000. 

The next cost is two weeks of camping here at the Park.  Can’t remember the fee, but probably $20 per night – will find out later this morning. That would mean a 30-day stay in TX would cost about $600. And while here we will do some driving around, some shopping, etc., but that will be likely not a whole lot different than if we were back home—so won’t count that against the vacation.  My current estimate is that the whole month away will be about $2000.  There are a lot of things that the $2000 could have bought to make winter in WI and MN easy, but I just wouldn’t have spent it.  Now that we are here, I don’t have much choice!   For me, money was hard to come by the first 1/2 of my life, and so after I finally got a decent paying job, I never really felt like I should spend it on frivolities like travel.

 We also bought $75 of food for the week ahead, but that we would buy whether we were at home or not, so won’t count that against the vacation. 
Driving yesterday we had about 55F temperatures, sunny and pleasant.  Here in the Park we are supposed to see 60s to 70 with 40s overnight.  Last night and this morning the sky was absolutely clear and even with a few nearby lights from the bathroom and a handful of fellow campers, we could see the stars and constellations wonderfully. 
Today we look for a camper tire, look for a 13/16 deep socket, air out the camper, clean out the car and organize it and the camper as compactly and neatly as we can, and settle in for some day strolls, and begin vacation intently while spending frugally. 

Breakfast today is toasted bagels, coffee, and a banana, that is if I can find where the coffee maker is, where the coffee is, where the toaster is etc.  I have them packed in camper cubbyholes and the coffee in one of my clothes duffle bags.   

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2009 Tobacco growing in Wisconsin -- an interview

Did you know that Wisconsin was an important grower of tobacco for over 100 years?  WI workers stringing tobacco for drying.  Photos courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

 Some farmers used small tractors to cultivate their tobacco.  Here a 1949 Farmall Cub is used in Wisconsin.  In the 1800s you might have seen small tobacco patches in Laketown township. 

Growing Tobacco in Wisconsin  by Cliff Christianson 
January 2009

(From an interview with Cliff in Natchez State Park in Mississippi where he and his wife and Margp and I were escaping the cold weather in Wisconsin.  Around his campfire he told me about tobacco raising.   A hundred and fifty years ago you probably would have seen small patches of tobacco around Cushing and Alabama raised by the families from the state of Alabama who came north to settle in Laketown--Russ).  

Back in the 1940's when I was at home on our farm north of Colfax, WI, we raised tobacco as a cash crop.  It took a lot of time and labor, but I think it paid for Dad's farm over five to ten years.   Dad raised no more than 5 acres and at last probably only an acre and a half. 

In the late spring, we planted the tobacco seeds in a special bed.  We made several rectangle beds out of 1x6 inch boards about 2 feet by 15 feet filled with good dirt well worked up.  We carefully planted the tiny seeds in the bed, trying to space them out evenly.  Then we stretched old flour sacks, as a cover across the whole bed.  They were attached by nails driven through the boards sticking out along the outside. I suppose it helped keep the plants warm and protected them from the wind and bugs.  On nice days we opened the plants to the sunlight. 

As the seeds sprouted and started to grow, they had to be weeded, watered  and thinned to give each plant room to grow.  When they were about six inches tall or so, they were ready to transplant into the tobacco field—that had been plowed and kept weed free ahead of time.  Each plant was gently pulled up from the bed and put into pails with water in the bottom.  There were thousands of seedlings to transplant.

We used a tobacco planter.  It was pulled by horses.   On it were three seats; one in the front to drive the horses and two sticking out behind for the planters.  A barrel of water gave each plant a shot of water when it was planted.   There were two pails of seedlings, one on each side.  As the planter was pulled across the field, it marked the next row as well as dug a narrow trench.  One person picked a plant from his pail and carefully dropped it in the trench while another part of the planter in the back pushed the dirt back in around the seedling.  The plants were dropped about 18 inches apart.  One person dropped his plant and reached for another alternating with the other person trying to keep a smooth rhythm.

After the tobacco was all planted, we started the hoeing.  We didn't use a mechanical cultivator so we wouldn't break any of the leaves.  It was all hand hoeing.  As we hoed, we carefully looked at the plants to see if there were any tobacco worms. They were big caterpillars with a horn on their head.  You grabbed them by the horn and picked them off and stepped on them.  Once you found any, then you had to spend a lot of time lifting the individual leaves looking for hidden ones.

Later in the summer, a seed stalk would grow up through the middle of the plant.  We didn't want any of the plant's energy going into seed making, so we went through the field and broke off each seed stalk and dropped it to the ground between the rows.

At the base of each leaf, there would be a new shoot start, what we called a sucker.  They had to be broken off too.  All of this time we were still hoeing the rows to keep the weeds out. 

The full-grown leaves on the plant were about 6 inches wide and 12 to 18 inches long.  Well before frost, when the leaves were still green, we harvested the tobacco.  We had a sharp metal knife cutter that we went through the field and cut each plant with its many leaves and dropped it to the ground.  We only cut some of the plants each day—the amount that we could get into the barn that day.  The plants were cut, dropped to the ground and allowed to wilt, and then gathered and brought to the drying barn. 

Dad had a special sort of spear made to pick up the plants.  It was sort of a wide flat metal arrowhead shape that fit over a four-foot wooden lathe (like the kind you find in old lathe and plaster house walls).  You went to each plant and poked the spearhead through the main plant stem, back far enough so it would split to the end.  You slid the split plant stem down onto the lathe until you had maybe six or seven on a lathe.  The spearhead was removed and put on a new lathe and another bunch of plants speared. 

Then you loaded the plants and lathes onto a wagon and hauled them to a special tobacco drying barn.  We didn't have one of our own, but our neighbor up the road had a large one that we used (he didn't raise tobacco then).  It wasn't painted—maybe to keep any paint flavor entering the leaves.  The boards on the sides of the barn were vertical, with every other one hinged so it could be opened for ventilation.  Inside the drive-in barn, the whole barn was lined with a framework of poles—up into the top part.  We unloaded the lathes of tobacco and then hung them up between poles in the barn.  The tobacco leaves were wilted, but still very wet and needed to dry for a month or more.  It was a little dangerous hanging leaves up in the higher areas where the poles could roll away and let you fall down. 

On good drying days we might open the side boards wide to let the breeze through. Other days we had to close them.  We watched the leaves so they were drying evenly, spreading and turning  them as needed. 

When they were dry enough, as I remember maybe in late September or early October, they were quite brittle.  We waited until we had one of those fall days with damp fog that made the leaves pliable and then started baling them.

We had a wooden box, about two feet square, three feet long.  We put two ropes down in the box and out over the sides and over the ropes a layer of heavy brown paper in the bottom and up the two insides.  Then we took each plant and stripped each leaf off and graded it into three qualities:  was it free of any breaks or holes from handling or worms; had only a few holes or breaks; or had lots of holes and breaks.  Leaves of the same grade were packed together by laying them in one direction, then the opposite, trying to get a level square stack.  When our bale was the right size, we pulled the two ropes to tightly wrap the brown paper around the tobacco leaves and tied them and set the bale aside.

I think we had as many as 40 bales when we were done.  They weighed about 50 lbs each  They were marked as to their quality.  I can't remember if we waited for a buyer to come or if we sent them to an auction house or just took them to town to sell.  The highest quality leaves were for cigar wrappers, the lowest quality for filler.  I am not sure what the medium quality were used for—maybe cheap cigars?  I don't know how much money Dad got for a crop, probably $500 or so.  In those days a farm only cost a few thousand dollars. 

We never used our own tobacco for our own use.  Dad always had a can of Copenhagen with him from the store.  I think ours all went for cigar wrappers.  The acres of tobacco you could raise were strictly controlled by a tobacco board.  Although we raised only a few acres, it took a great deal of time and work. 

The tobacco that was raised in Wisconsin was quite different from the that raised in the south.  Ours had larger leaves and was harvested green.  In the south, they let the leaves yellow before it was harvested.  I think theirs was for cigarettes. 

Sometime in the late 1960s, I think, a US law was changed to allow cigars to be wrapped with reconstituted tobacco instead of a high quality Wisconsin whole leaf.  That meant the scraps could be ground up and made into cigar paper, and the price of WI tobacco dropped tremendously.  The crop had almost disappeared in the state a few years ago.  Lately there has been a WI resurgence when tobacco companies found that raising Burley tobacco in a northern climate changed the composition to have a lower level of carcinogens.

I mostly remember all the work it took to raise just a small field of tobacco.  You had to be very fussy with tobacco to get a good quality crop so the buyers would pay a good price.  I still have my Dad's two tobacco spear heads.  That is about all I have left from my tobacco growing days except my memories and a sore back!