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La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm) from Lena, WI
La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

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Farm Name: La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

Year Farm Established: 1946

Location: Stiles, WI

Years I’ve been farming: 68 years

Animals I raise: None, except wildlife.

Crops I grow: Vegetable gardens, flowers, rye, and pastorage.

Hobbies I enjoy: Feeding and providing habitat for wildlife.

The proudest moment on my farm: For the first time in over 60 years, bobwhite quail was sited on our land.

Pets: Just all sorts of wildlife who visit us daily.

Farm Motto: "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." -- Blessed Julian of Norwich

Farm Blog
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  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part III
Sometime around 1980, Pa got the idea that it would be easier to hall the saw rig to where the logs were rather than the other way around. It was a lot easier to transport blocks of wood to the shed and cellar with the tractor trailer than it was to wrap a chain around a pile of logs and drag them to the Wooden Shed. So Pa peeled the bark from two oak trunks and used the ax and adze to shape one end of each log to where it resembled the upturned prow of a boat. That's what he was making, in effect, a stone boat; two logs with heavy planks nailed across them in order to drag a heavy load, usually field stone. This was also called a dray, according to Wikipedia: "A low and side-less" wagon. Instead of stones, this dray had the saw rig bolted onto the 2 x 6 cross pieces. (I've posted a photo of the rig in the photo section.)

Wherever we hauled the rig, Pa and Eldest would anchor it with thick iron rods driven deep into the earth and back one of the tractors up to fit the belt. Even in the early 80s, as I mentioned last time, Pa did the cutting. I can still see him in my memory; when the sawing was finished, he would disengage the pto and as the power belt slowed, he would pull the belt off the tractor's fan wheel, running along with the belt as he provided the gentle pressure necessary to ease it off the wheel. It was the only time I would see him actually run, quite a feat for a man in his 70s. After Pa had passed, David did the cutting, with Belle Soeur Susie at his side taking away the cut blocks. I was still assigned as the loader, only now I was assisted by one of David's sons. I remember one time, either in the late 80s or early 90s, we had the rig set up on Eldest's property and we were cutting logs for his Winter supply of firewood. I remember the day as being hot. As we were taking a break late in the day, David brought up the possibility of knocking off and finishing the next day. I knew that as inviting as that suggestion sounded, I couldn't face another day of misery. I opined that as we were already miserable, we might as well finish it up today regardless of our fatigue and get the beastly business over and done with. David then told Susie, "That Gary is strong!" I wasn't, of course, but still it was nice to get a positive acknowledgement from the patriarch of the family. More on Cutting Firewood next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/11/2015 06:09.31 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part II
To properly run a saw rig operation, you need at least three people. One to bring the log to the rig, one to operate the saw rig by pushing the hinged table forward and back again, bringing the log to the circular saw and then re-positioning the log for the next cut; and one to grab the cut blocks of wood and fling them onto the growing woodpile. The person at the saw rig doing the actual cutting had to work the hardest and had to be the most experienced. He needed to be able to automatically gauge the proper length of each and every cut while pulling the log perpendicular to the saw. The "loader" (for lack of a better term) often stayed to hold the log for the cutter until it was short enough for one person to handle, then went to get the next log. Often a fourth person was necessary if the logs were large enough that two people were needed to load it onto the cutting table. It took a lot of coordination between the loader and the cutter to keep the two from pushing and pulling against each other as they pulled the log along for the next cut.

When Pa was alive, he always did the cutting. Even into his seventies, that tough, stocky, old Frenchman could operate that table with a swift, efficient rhythm. Eldest Brother David usually was at Pa's right, throwing away the cut blocks of wood. Big Brother Tommy and I, being the youngest, were tasked in bringing up the next log. I can tell you that when I was a boy, that pile of logs never seemed to get smaller. It was a challenge to find and extract a log from the tangle of timber before Pa yelled at us for being too slow. Perhaps this is why I began to dislike cutting firewood, the yelling of a short-tempered father and the pressure to keep up to the older family members. During my growing years, the saw rig was permanently set up in front of the Wooden Shed, anchored into place by iron pipes and bars wedged in amongst the legs of the rig and driven deep into the ground. Branches, limbs, and logs from harvested poplars, birches, and oaks would be dragged to the left the the saw rig and left to wait for the appointed day when enough manpower was available to cut them all up (usually a Saturday in the late Autumn).

When all the logs had been cut up, there was still much to do. The larger blocks of wood had to be split and then were stacked in the Wooden Shed for use in the Old House and in the basement of the "new house" for the stove in its basement. More on the saw rig next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/08/2015 08:55.01 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part I
This week at La Ferme Sabloneuse, we had a couple days of Spring. On Wednesday I was able to putz around the Home Property. I repaired the door of the Wooden Shed and also spaded over all the raised garden beds for this year's plantings. Malheureusement (unhappily), the forecaster predicts at least two weeks of cold weather starting tomorrow. This precludes any discussion of any new developments regarding this year's growing season. In the meantime, I shall avail myself of the opportunity to talk at length about a topic near and dear to any Countryman and woman, cutting firewood.

I love firewood, but I hate cutting firewood. Well, to be specific, I only hate certain aspects of cutting it. Mostly I disliked the motorized saws, whether the chainsaw or the tractor pto-powered saw rig, each of which could maim or kill you in an instant. Being the maladroit that I am, I was always afraid of falling into the circular saw of the rig or severing my femoral artery as I fell holding a chainsaw.
In the days before the advent of chainsaws, owning a saw rig meant that you were a man of substance. My Pa once told me that as a property-less and unemployed young man in the late 1930s, he envied Tom Burdick because he owned a house with a few acres, a tractor, and his own saw rig. Pa thought that Tom had it made. I don't know how Pa acquired his own saw rig. So many times I'd seen Pa back up his old 1938 Farmall the proscribed distance from the the saw rig, place blocks of wood behind the tractor's rear wheels, and then run the wide conveyor belt from the pto wheel of the tractor to the accompanying wheel of the rig.

Next time, I shall talk about the various working positions of saw rig operation. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/04/2015 09:53.00 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring and the Annual Fish Run (Part V)
I don't think that I've ever went smelt fishing. Many years ago, the smelt run was what everyone waited for along the West shores of Green Bay. Time was, a couple of nights at the bridges of the cities of Oconto or Marinette would net you (pun intended) enough smelt to freeze for an entire year. Nowadays, not so much. For those of you not from around these here parts, the adult smelt run up the rivers and streams around the Great Lakes each spring in order to spawn. The adult run from about 6 to 9 inches but are a slender fish. All you have to do is cut off the head and strip the guts out and you can flour and fry the fish and eat it whole. The bones are not big enough to do anything but make it crunchy and add to the flavor.

According to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute: "The rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) is not native to the Great Lakes. The smelt is a saltwater species, though a freshwater population exists in Green Lake, Maine. Fish from this population were stocked into Crystal Lake, Michigan in 1912. Some of the fish escaped from Crystal Lake and smelt were first caught in Lake Michigan in 1926. Once established, the smelt population expanded rapidly in Lake Michigan becoming very abundant in the 1930s. The smelt was nearly eliminated from the lake in 1941 to 1942 by an unknown pathogen. However, by the mid 1950s and into the 1960s the fish were once again highly abundant."

As I've alluded above, the smelt population of the Great Lakes have sharply fallen in the last decade. One of the reasons may be the infestation of zebra mussels, which drive adult smelt away from their usual spawning locations inshore. Another is that a healthy lake trout population has lowered the smelt population through predation. I can only hope that like all types of fish populations in the Great Lakes, this is only a temporary ebb and that the smelt will bounce back like they have in decades past. Well, that's it about the Spring fish runs. Time to head into the growing season. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/01/2015 07:18.52 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Spring, 2015
I've interrupted my series on the Spring Fish Run in order to write about what's been happening this week at La Ferme Sabloneuse. It is early Spring here. Except for a few temporary inches of wet snow the other morning, the ground has been bare and the frost has come out, at least up on the Home Property. I was finally able to catch up on the late Autumn chores that I'd been prevented from doing by last November's early arrival of Winter. First I raked up the oak leaves around the Bear Garden which threatened to interfere with this year's growth of grass. Then I dug up the roots of last year's corn stalks and hauled them off the Home Garden. After that, Andrew helped me haul up the blocks of wood from a poplar that my cousin Raymond cut down for me last December and we stacked them next to the wooden shed. Sometime this Summer I will split them and haul them over to the Homestead for Big Brother Tommy to use as firewood next Winter. To be preparing for next Winter while this Winter is just ending is something that only a Countryman or woman can understand.

My next task was to use up the remaining gas and chain bar oil of the chain saw I'd borrowed from Tommy to cut up a couple of giant, dead Sumac which were leaning against Bill's Shack down in the apple orchard. After I had added the dead branches and trunks to the row of brush piles bordering the mowed lawn of the orchard, the final task of the day was to clean up the chainsaw and return it to its place in the Barn at the Homestead. I learned the love of brush piles from my Pa. Most white men would just burn off the unsightly heaps of branches and trunks, but Pa taught me that brush piles were prime habitat for rabbits and Pa, as you all know by now, was the consummate rabbit hunter.

I am now caught up on last year's work. (Sounds funny, as I reread it, but any Countryperson knows what I mean.) Almost immediately, as the weather allows, I must now get a start on the things I need to do in order to prepare for Spring, 2015. The first decent day that comes along, I will trim up yet another Sumac which I know will cause me trouble as I mow the orchard grass come this May. I know that I should also see if our two Farmalls made it through the cold months okay and if they'll start up right away like they did last Spring.
Spring 2015; it has arrived, (more or less) and as I do every year here at La Ferme Sabloneuse, I will keep you informed as to its progress. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/28/2015 07:36.31 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring and the Annual Fish Run (Part IV)
Pa used to net suckers by using a square-shaped net suspended from four bent iron rods at the corners. This was connected to a light rope. Pa would drop the net assembly over the side of a bridge (usually the Hwy 141 bridge over the Pensaukee River at Abrams). When Pa would see the silhouettes of a few suckers over the netting, he would pull it up and then dump the fish onto the concrete. Big Brother Tommy and I would scramble to grab the suckers and put them in pails, all the while trying not to get hit by passing vehicles. Pa would yell at us boys to watch out for cars. I have to laugh. The ten year old me would instantly acknowledge the warning. The 56 year old me would've responded, "Dude! You're bringing your kids onto a heavily-traveled state highway in order to net uneatable fish!" Years later, when I was a young adult, I would just bring a simple landing net to the narrows of Devereaux' Crick and net them one at a time and throw them onto the bank. My childhood friend Mike LeFebre had a grandfather who would then pickle them, perhaps the last person to do so in my life experience.
Besides netting, we also used to use the bow and arrow on rough fish in the Spring. Mike and I would take our bows and target arrows and try our luck at skewering these fish. It took awhile to compensate for the refraction of light in the water but we were able to take a number of suckers. We didn't have any string attached to the arrows. One of us would takea shot and the other would grab the arrowed sucker, (or wade into the stream to retrieve the arrow). After an hour or so of bouncing the practice arrows off stones they got pretty dull. The last sucker we shot at, the arrow just bounced off its head, knocking it senseless. The poor thing just started rolling downstream with the current. As I went looking for the arrrow Mike went splashing down the crick to chase down the sucker.

Speaking of "hunting" fish with bow and arrows, one time in the late Spring the Oconto River had overflowed its banks at Couillardville, a hamlet four miles downriver from Stiles. Pa and Wild Bill Beaudin heard that there were tons of carp rooting among the alfalfa plants in two feet of water where the river had flooded a hay field. Now this was in 1975 or so. There weren't those specially made bows with a reel attached to it and arrows and filament and such. Pa and Bill merely lashed a Folger's coffee can to their bow and wrapped a length of yellow plumb-line around it and tied one end to a practice arrow. Lord the fun those two had! They said that they were almost knocked over by the giant carp colliding against their waders as they splashed through the field, shooting and missing throughout a warm April afternoon. My part in the affair? Well that was to go out into the garden and bury the dozen or so big carp they those two kindred spirits had brought home. More about this next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/25/2015 09:03.51 PM Report This Comment  
  Great Post!
As usual, Spring and the Annual Fish Run was great. Randy and I still put all his fish heads and guts in our garden - especially in the fall! Keep up the great work.

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

03/23/2015 06:42.52 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring and the Annual Fish Run (Part III)
Now before you judge me for burying a perfectly viable game fish in our garden, let me explain that burying fish in the land was a First Nations' practice. You may remember from the history books that Squanto taught the Pilgrims to put a dead fish into each and every hill of corn. Actually, in accordance with the agricultural methods of the Algonquin-speaking peoples of the northern tier of the North American continent, fertilizing the Spring gardens with fish was imperative to ensure a fertile growing season. This racial memory must have passed itself along to my father's time as he netted suckers each April and then had us boys bury them into our gardens.

Back in the 1960s and 70s it was legal to net suckers off the bridges from roads and highways. I don't see it any more these days. Who has the time or desire to net "rough" fish of no practical use except as fertilizer? Looking back, I find it amazing that we Truckeys did. We were the only ones, as I reflect. I do remember that some 40 years ago, a few old-timers would pickle suckers, but that was ending as well, as the survivors of the Great Depression and its corresponding sense of frugality passed.

In the early settlement days of the state of Wisconsin, in the lead mining regions of the state's southwest corner, immigrant miners from Cornwall would work the mines during the warm months and then spend the Winters in dugouts excavated into the hillsides. Miners who came up from more densely settled Illinois would go back home during Winter and return in the Spring. (Illinois was admitted as a state in 1818, Wisconsin was admitted some 30 years later.) The settlers who burrowed in for the Winter came to known as "badgers". Those who came up from Illinois came to be known as "suckers", as their return coincided with the annual Spring run. So this is why Wisconsin is known as "The Badger State" and Illinois is known as "The Sucker State". This must be the reason why we Wisconsinites say of the Chicago Bears that: "The Bears still suck!" More on the fish run next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/21/2015 08:09.49 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring and the Annual Fish Run (Part II)
Now the Northern Pike gets its name in English from its long thin shape, resembling the medieval weapon. The younger fish resemble snakes and have the nickname of 'hammer handles". It is a ferocious predator and puts up one heck of a fight when hooked. Considered too bony for easy processing, it takes an experienced fisherman to fillet one. The Northern Pike is almost synonymous with the American Pickerel, the latter is a subspecies of the former and the two closely resemble one another. Up here, the two terms are intermixed. Never mind, they look alike, act alike and I'm only guessing that both species make their spawning runs up the streams, creeks, and any flooded ditches that allow them passage.

Because they are fewer in number than suckers and smelt, Northern Pike seem to invite predating by humans by means of spearing. It's illegal in Wisconsin to do this, of course. And yes, of course, in my youth it was the thing to do in very early Spring when the creeks had just been clear of ice. I've only went "pike spearing" once, when I was about 17. We had a trident spear that ol' Wild Bill had left with us and I just had to go and try it just once. Spearing pike is risky business. One of our neighbors along Devereaux' crick got pinched while she was doing it. Bad luck, as it turned out. The local warden happened to drive by and see her with a spear in her backyard. That's the problem about early Spring, no cover. You can see into the woods for a hundred yards. In my case, I was lucky. I went out on a Sunday afternoon and almost immediately got one. I made my way home through the back fields, well away from the road and showed the fish to my Pa. I half expected him to carp at me about the pike (pun intended) but he just said to try and fillet it.

Needless to say, in accordance with what I'd mentioned before, there was no way I was able to fillet that pike. Lord knows I tried, but I ended up burying the pike in our garden. More next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/18/2015 08:19.50 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring and the Annual Fish Run (Part I)
The weather broke last week at La Ferme Sabloneuse. We've seen the snow pack melt away in a week's time and the creeks have opened up. Temps have been in the 50s and 60s most of the week. Tomorrow and Monday will top out at 60. I am made to think that by Monday night I may be able to hear the first Spring peepers. Hal Borland, that doyen of nature writers, wrote that three days of 55 degree temperatures were enough to bring out the peepers. We shall see. My Ruthie saw robins here yesterday and today I heard them in Green Bay. As I've mentioned before, robins may stay all year during a mild Winter, or come and go northwards and southwards with the snow pack during others. This Winter I have not seen them since that season came early the first part of last December. Again, "comme d'habitude", it is the Sandhill cranes which are the first harbengers of early Spring for me and it is the Red-winged blackbirds which are the guarantars that Spring is here to stay (more or less).

Now with the opening of the streams and creeks come the various runs of a variety of fish. Up here they are (in this order) the Northern pickerel, suckers, and smelt. If I should have the time to drive around tomorrow (which is highly unlikely, since I will have to take down the Christmas lights on the Home Property) I am sure that I would see folks already standing at the small bridges and culverts over the Devereaux' Crick and other unnamed rivulets and ditches in order to see if the pickerel are "running". Next time I will discuss each specie of the "Spring Fish Run". --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/14/2015 09:42.09 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring and the Annual Fish Run (Part I)
The weather broke last week at La Ferme Sabloneuse. We've seen the snow pack melt away in a week's time and the creeks have opened up. Temps have been in the 50s and 60s most of the week. Tomorrow and Monday will top out at 60. I am made to think that by Monday night I may be able to hear the first Spring peepers. Hal Borland, that doyen of nature writers, wrote that three days of 55 degree temperatures were enough to bring out the peepers. We shall see. My Ruthie saw robins here yesterday and today I heard them in Green Bay. As I've mentioned before, robins may stay all year during a mild Winter, or come and go northwards and southwards with the snow pack during others. This Winter I have not seen them since that season came early the first part of last December. Again, "comme d'habitude", it is the Sandhill cranes which are the first harbengers of early Spring for me and it is the Red-winged blackbirds which are the guarantars that Spring is here to stay (more or less).

Now with the opening of the streams and creeks come the various runs of a variety of fish. Up here they are (in this order) the Northern pickerel, suckers, and smelt. If I should have the time to drive around tomorrow (which is highly unlikely, since I will have to take down the Christmas lights on the Home Property) I am sure that I would see folks already standing at the small bridges and culverts over the Devereaux' Crick and other unnamed rivulets and ditches in order to see if the pickerel are "running". Next time I will discuss each specie of the "Spring Fish Run". --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/14/2015 09:42.08 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like About Living in the North, Part IV
In my last post, I talked about the seasons, starting off in Winter and then moving backwards into Autumn. So now I continue my retrograde to Summer. Now folks in the South enjoy Summer-like temperatures for some six months. While the heat of High Summer must be almost unendurable for them, I'm sure that they pride themselves on their hardiness in enduring it just as we Northerners do the same with our bitter cold temps. Neamoins, they have a growing season that is twice ours and they make full use of it. I am actually ashamed of myself when I read about all the gardening The Farmwife does during her extended growing season. I get sick of my garden after only three months. How she can continuously tend her garden from late March into October is beyond the ken of this French Canuck!

Regardless of when Summer actually begins, it's the first harvests of the garden that I love, as do gardeners of all latitudes. Here at La Ferme Sabloneuse it's first cucumbers, tomatoes and maybe some early lettuce. Or just as tasty, "new potatoes", small red Norlands baked, then sliced open and covered sinfully in butter, salt, pepper, sour cream and chives. It as if your body is craving the home-grown nutrients from your own land. Washed down with cold milk, it's Summer at it's best. Now up here many men like ice fishing, but for me, Summer is when I think about casting a line for my supper, whether it's fresh trout or panfish caught that very afternoon. My Pa always said that it wasn't worth fishing until after the mosquitos and mayflies have hatched out, because it was only after the fish began eating bugs that their flesh tasted good. Believe what you will, but Pa, especially during his retirement, spent countless hours on some piece of shoreline or other working his fly rod and then bringing his catch home for Ma to fry up. A speckled trout or two, rolled in flour and fried in butter is supper and dessert all at once.
So now I've covered Summer. Are you expecting Spring? Well, so am I. To tell you the truth, there's no such thing as Spring in NE Wisconsin. Some years we go from deep Winter into a few weeks of back-and-forth weather and then into full Summer. In other years, there's no transition whatsoever; there's snow in the deep woods into May and then it's 85 degrees and the Spring peepers are finally out, some four weeks late.
The magnificent expanse of the seasons is what I like about living in the North. We go from 15 below to 50 degrees above zero in two days up here. Once, in August, 1983, I was trimming Christmas trees in Wausaukee, WI. in 90 degrees heat and I thought: "How can one place be so hot and so cold in one year?" Every year up here I think the same thing. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/12/2015 08:17.03 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like About Living in the North, Part III
Now what I like about living up North is the changing of the seasons. In fact, that's what most northern Countryfolk would tell you. Right now, it's hard at the tail end of long cold spell, it's hard for me to conjure up any beautiful images of Winter, but I'll try. There are even a few folks up here, like my dear friend Suzanne Snyder, who say that they prefer Winter over Summer! (We just smile and nod at her, and then roll our eyes when she isn't looking.) What I love about Winter is blue snow. (No, not when you spill windshield wash on it.) It is when you have a sunny January day after a fresh snow and the snow is so dazzling that it hurts you eyes. The shaded side of a new snowdrift looks blue in comparison to the rest of the landscape sparkling like so many minuscule diamonds. I love a Winter's sunset; the pale orange sun's weak gleamings on the sides of our barn and corn-crib and on the bare tops of the poplars. And the Winter constellations! These past few months I would brave the sub zero temps and step out onto the front steps to see Orion, Pegasus, and Gemini. It was just last January that an hour past sundown I could see all the visible planets in one night; Venus, Mercury, and Mars in the West, rising Jupiter in the East, and in the cold clear morning, Saturn preceding the sunrise.

Tired of Winter? Then how about Autumn? From late August to November is my very favorite time of the year. My friend Chip Codella, a Renaissance Man if there ever was one, clued me in to a wonderful quote by Albert Camus: "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." I love the harvest, the Harvest Moon, and the ripe smells of a year's growth which has come to its own fulfillment. I also love the paler blue of the Autumn skies and the dark, scudding clouds of an Autumn cold front descending from the North to finally end the growing season on a chilly October evening. I end this post with what I consider the penultimate description of Autumn by Kenneth Grahame in "The Wind in the Willows": "... the Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons and their straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves. He talked of the reddening apples around, of the browning nuts, of jams and preserves and the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he reached midwinter, its hearty joys and its snug home life, and then he became simply lyrical." More next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/11/2015 08:58.24 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like About Living in the North, Part II
I was writing about how much I loved reading about living in the South. As for Ms. Kat, I love her ability to appeal to the reader's sense of smell: "I love the odd flowering trumpet vine that’s grown into the Holly in the front garden and the Bridal Wreath that flowers pink, the Azaleas, the Irises, the Honeysuckle and Jasmine. I walk through my yard and the smells almost knock me down." It has been said that the memories of smells possess the strongest power to bring us back to the past. I agree. I can only imagine what it must be like for a southern Countryman or Countrywoman to breathe in the scent of dogwood or jasmine and think back on a stolen moment with one's first love among the blooms in a southern Spring. I am made to think of Glen Campbell's songs "Bonaparte's Retreat" and "Southern Nights"; both of which were published during my teenage years and still to this day can evoke a painful and powerful longing in this ol' boy's heart for "Des jours anciens, et je pleure". (... Days past, and I weep)

Also, as with Julie Murphree's post, I also must pay homage to Ms. Kate's ability to turn me into Pavlov's dog as I read about the southern foods she makes: ". . . simple food--pinto beans and cornbread, lentils, lasagna, baked (anonymous) chicken, and my homemade bread! Biscuits with the jam and jelly I put up." The reader begins to realize that while this hayseed is an incurable Romantic, he is also of the age where his love of food has replaced his libido as the primary corporal urge of his carnal desires. (It's amazing what age does to a man!) More on this tomorrow. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/10/2015 07:05.45 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like About Living in the North, Part I
So what do you like about living where you live? Up here in NE Wisconsin, only now has the temperature peaked above freezing. In spite of this, this past Winter has been much easier than the last, which I believe was the worst in my lifetime. Neamoins, I know that I'd prefer living hear to living down South. Still, in the interests of being fair, I've invited "The Farmwife", (Julie Murphree), and Ms. Kat of "Casa Smith-Coushatta" (Kathleen Tiberius Smith) to send their posts to "La Ferme Sabloneuse". They both live in the great state of Louisiana, one that is near and dear to this ol' French Canuck's heart because it's the most French of all the states in the Union (or the Confederacy). It's a win-win for me because I get to have work from two wonderful writers on my blogsite.

I've already posted the writings of Julie and Ms. Kate. Ah, what good reading it was too! Reading Julie's posts, I was craving the "fluffy buttermilk biscuits" and "fried chicken and corn fritters".

I must admit, there are aspects of Southern Living (there's actually a magazine by that name) that do not appeal to me. As Julie wrote, ". . . the very idea of sitting in a rocker on a porch, a paper fan in one hand and a glass of ice cold sweet tea in the other, all the while listening to the bass of the bull frogs and the chirping of the cicadas, (and occasionally shooing a snake or gator off that very same porch), is like a glimpse of Heaven." Well, this ol' northern hay-seed is glad that there are no gators or cotton mouths around his neck of the woods! More on this tomorrow. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

03/09/2015 08:16.36 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like About Living in the South, Part III
I love the old man who used to live next door to me, who moved before we could become well acquainted. Mr. Ducot redrew the property line before he sold his house and enlarged my property, including two Mayhaw trees in the bargain, and saved me from having to remove or reduce my dining room, which was about a foot over the property line before adjustment (I have no idea how that happened). I remember, right before he moved, he saw me standing in my pie-shaped backyard, staring at the Mayhaws. He came over and said, “Those are your trees now. You need to learn to make Mayhaw jelly.” And I did!

I think that’s what I like best about the south. I can meet someone and, often enough, we become first-name friends—my favorite checker at the grocery store, Carol, and my favorite bagger, Cook. I don’t know many people in this town well, but I know quite a few well-enough. I have first-name or no-name relationships with many people here. The feed store owner, whose last name is Smith, will bring pallets to my house when he has an abundance of them. People in this small southern town will do those kinds of things.

As far as food goes, I like eating what I can harvest from the garden, when things grow! But I like simple food--pinto beans and cornbread, lentils, lasagna, baked (anonymous) chicken, and my homemade bread! Biscuits with the jam and jelly I put up. Really, just about anything I can cook from scratch. I'm trying to avoid fast food.
Life is cheaper here, in some respects. I couldn’t have this house and this .87 acre of land in Shreveport for what I paid for it, much less in any other state, north or south! The drawback there is that, if I wanted to sell, I might have trouble finding a buyer. Not many people are clamoring to move here—but that could be a blessing, too.

One thing I know about myself, though. I tend to adapt to wherever I happen to be. I can be happy in Durango, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Chicago, anywhere in England! I’ve decided the place doesn’t matter as much as my sense of adventure. If I bring my amazement and curiosity with me, I can be comfortable nearly anywhere.

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03/08/2015 07:53.39 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like About Living in the South, Part II
I like living in this town, even with unsupportive public officials and the annoying neighbor whose dogs harass and kill my chickens. I especially like that, when I give plumbers and electricians my address, then describe where my house is in the town’s layout, those guys always say, “Oh, you live at the old Cooper place!” I like that people refer to my house with a name. It reminds me of England, where all of the houses have names. One day, I’m going to have a “Casa Smith” sign made and hang it on my porch!

We have four seasons, but I like spring and fall the best. Right before spring shows up in all its green-ness, the Jonquils and Paperwhites bloom at the edge of the ditch. I didn’t plant them, but they show up every year. I’m eternally grateful to whoever put them there. I’m grateful for the birds that drop undigested seeds that sprout into mega-sunflowers at the end of the driveway. I love the odd flowering trumpet vine that’s grown into the Holly in the front garden and the Bridal Wreath that flowers pink, the Azaleas, the Irises, the Honeysuckle and Jasmine. I walk through my yard and the smells almost knock me down. I’m thinking someone’s grandmother has been sprucing up the place with color and fragrance.

Summer can be problematic (that means “hot!”), but I’m used to it. And we have air conditioning, so I only sweat when I want to. We have horrid winters once in a while, or maybe one week out of a blessedly short season! (Please scroll up to see Part III)

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03/08/2015 07:50.55 PM Report This Comment  
  What I Like about Living in the South, Part I
(Note: This posting is from Ms. Kate of Casa Smith-Coushatta)

I was born in New Orleans. According to a revered professor, Dr. Wilfred Guerin, New Orleans is NOT “the south.” I tend to agree with him on that. I’ve been to Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, London…and New Orleans has the flavor of those cities—eclectic, expansive, surprising.

But I don’t live there anymore, though I miss it every day of my life. I live in a little town in North Louisiana—Coushatta, population approximately 2200, depending on how intensive the oil and gas drilling and logging are at any point. I came to Coushatta via Shreveport, which is considerable larger. While I’m comfortable where I am, I’ve never been completely comfortable in this part of the state. Even Louisiana has its north and south, and I like the southern part of the state most—Lafayette, Grand Isle, New Orleans.

Why do I like living in the south, even if I am a Louisiana Yankee (I live north of Alexandria)?

Some of my reasons may sound slightly silly. For example, I like being able to wear the same clothes almost all year long. With the simple addition of tights and a shawl, I can wear a summer dress in the fall and early winter, sometimes into deep winter when the temperatures go into the 70s in December, which they do occasionally. I like having a longer growing season. Sometimes my tomatoes last until November if I cover them at the first sign of frost. The south is good for my chickens. I only worry in the winter when we have weeks such as this one, where the temperatures, day and night, hover around freezing. But that doesn’t happen often. Some years, Christmas Day resembles the Fourth of July, temperature-wise. (Please scroll up for Part II

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03/08/2015 07:45.17 PM Report This Comment  
  Living in the South
Ah, Gary. I feel a bit sorry for you - you have been ganged up on, 2 to 1. I can't wait to hear your reasons for loving your Northern life!

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03/07/2015 05:13.58 PM Report This Comment  
  Another North vs The South, Part III
Southern manners and respect are so closely intertwined that they are considered one and the same. This may be part of the reason our speech is slow enough to be considered a ‘drawl’, because we are always thinking about what we want to say, long before the words come out of our mouths. Our children are taught to say ‘Yes Ma’am’ and ‘No Ma’am’, ‘Yes, Sir’ and ‘No, Sir’ immediately after they learn to say Mama and DaDa. We raise our boys to be gentlemen, and as soon as they are able to reach a door handle, they learn to open it for a lady. Our girls are brought up to be ladies, and all children are required to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Mamas and daddies alike will admonish their children to ‘mind
your manners’ the second before the kids walk out the door. To not mind your manners, or any display of lack of respect towards an elder constitutes 10 years imprisonment, or being grounded until they are 31 years of age, which ever will be the longer sentence. I even heard it said once, when an unsuspecting ‘Yankee’ made the mistake of telling a Southern judge in a courtroom that making children say ‘Yes
Ma’am’ and ‘No Ma’am’ was a backwoods, redneck, Southern tradition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person turn as red as that judge’s face was. Even his black robe was moldering. By the time he got finished with the witness, even she was saying ‘Yes, Sir’. We all thought she would be spending thirty days in the lock up for that foul offense. Needless to say, even the southern lawyers and everyone else in the courtroom sat up straighter and made good and sure they ‘minded their manners’ after that one.

Regardless of the hot, humid days of the summers for which the South is known, the lack of any true season, and the idea that the weather can change every fifteen minutes or so, to me, there is no other place to call home but the South. As any of us down here can attest, snow is fun for a day or two, as it’s such a novelty. But the very idea of sitting in a rocker on a porch, a paper fan in one hand and a glass of ice cold sweet tea in the other, all the while listening to the bass of the bull frogs and the chirping of the cicadas, (and occasionally shooing a snake or gator off that very same porch), is like a glimpse of Heaven. And as with most folks, that’s the very place they want to spend eternity.

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03/07/2015 04:50.15 PM Report This Comment  
  Another North vs The South, Part II
I love how people here celebrate the opportunity to restore a bit of history every chance they get. Jacquelyn and her children are diligently working to restore an old Dog Trot, and from what I can tell, give her the chance and she’ll restore every single one remaining in the state, if not the entire South. Her preservation of the old home isn’t just trying to keep history alive, it’s the very essence of who she is. She is putting her entire heart and soul into restoring a piece of history that most people would consider a landmark. In turn, she restores not only a building, but the very life and character of one of the ‘genteel ladies’.

The food is a large part of my love for the South. Any Southern girl worth her salt was learning to make fried chicken and corn fritters at a very early age. And you just aren’t southern if you can’t make a big ol’ batch of fluffy buttermilk biscuits. Got company coming? No problem. A chocolate cake just came out of the oven, and please, help yourself to the pitcher of lemonade in the ice box while I ice the cake. We proudly wear our history like armor, and don’t even think about keeping skeletons in our closet.
More than likely those skeletons are probably a crazy relative, and we have no qualms about discussing them – as a matter of fact, we display them like badges of honor. And if you can tout ‘Bobby’ Lee as one of your ancestors, so much the better. God, Family and Country are our priorities (and in that order), and we parade them all every chance we get. Even in death we abide by the cultural rules, even if most
of them are unspoken. (Please scroll up for Part III)

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03/07/2015 04:46.19 PM Report This Comment  
  Another North vs The South, Part I
Ah, the South. Just two little words can invoke a whirlwind of images in ones’ mind. The hoop skirts,plantation houses, the verandas and a rocking chair or two sitting at the ready for a lively conversation or just a comfortable silence; a debutante ball, with young girls all dressed in white, young gentlemen dressed in tuxedos and the matrons dressed in their finest, including the family jewels which have been taken out of the hidden safe and donned for the special occasion.

We've come a long way from the hoop skirts, but it was a slow moving process. It’s that slow pace that mostly attracts me to the South, where people don’t gripe about the long wait in a grocery store line, and instead strike up a conversation with the person in front or behind them. By the time you have checked out, you pretty much know their whole history, and even take the time to let them know you’ll be praying for their Aunt Betty’s upcoming bunion surgery, while they in turn thank you for sharing a recipe handed down from your great-grandmother. And you can bet they’ll be trying that very recipe within the week, and Aunt Betty will have been prayed for multiple times.

With that slower pace you will find that a bit of our history clings to each step. You don’t have to go far in any direction either, to see how that very history is preserved, not only in the plantation homes themselves, but in the 100 year-old trees that spread their limbs protectively over the grounds. The Live Oak, draped in the delicate lace of Spanish moss, and Pecan limbs may be tired, but they continue to proudly watch sentinel over the homes that housed ‘their’ families. The fullness of their leaves in summer offer a bit of cool shade for the porches, as the people rock gently while sipping a frosty glass of
sweet tea. In the winter, they dream of the generations of children who have climbed them, tucked safely in the crook of two sturdy limbs, or they stand solid as the children of today build forts among their branches. (Please scroll up for Part II)

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03/07/2015 04:42.24 PM Report This Comment  
  About Owls, Part IV.
There was a story that Pa used to tell about the time when he was a child, he heard a knock on the kitchen door and his Pa, Tuffel, opened it to see a friend of his stagger in, in a state of shock and bleeding profusely from his scalp. As ol' Tuffel put whiskey and bandages on his lacerated head, the man told him that he had been out in the woods hunting. He had been lying on the ground with his head against a fallen log. Unfortunately, he had been wearing a hat made of rabbit fur. It took my grandfather but a minute to surmise that as dusk approached, an owl out on an early hunt saw what it recognized to be prey and had tore the hat off the poor man's head in mid-flight. The next day, Pa would recount, Tuffel and his friend went out into those woods and quickly found the man's cap, none the worse for wear, except for a few perforations made by the owls talons.

Once, when my Punky was just a toddler, I would see a big rabbit feeding along the driveway in the early morning. If Amanda was awake, my Ruthie and I would show her Mister Bunny out in the yard. One morning, as I stepped out of the house to go to work, I was startled to see an Great Horned Owl fly off, with that large rabbit in its talons. Later, when Amanda inquired if I'd seen Mr. Bunny lately, I didn't have the heart to say anything, although I thought of telling her that Mr. Owl had brought him home for dinner. Another couple of times, setting out on my way to work in the early dawn, I've spied an Great Horned flying over our road and onto a nearby tree with a field mouse dangling from its beak.

Owls, their unnerving stare, their haunting calls, their ability to visit a sudden, silent death upon their prey, all this serves to make them an unforgettable and fascinating part of life out in the country -- Gary

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03/05/2015 06:09.08 PM Report This Comment  
  About Owls, Part III
I think that owls have always been a source of fascination for Countryfolks. Lord knows that the people of the First Nations have ascribed special powers to them and their calls. They were believed to be the harbingers of death. A famous rendering of this belief was in "I Heard the Owl Call My Name", the best-selling book by Margaret Craven in which the protagonist, an Anglican vicar who unknowingly has a terminal illness, spends the last year of his life among the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia. Near the end of his sojourn, he does hear his name called by an owl and soon afterwards is killed in a landslide.

I think all Countryfolks know of the enmity between crows and owls. Whenever I hear a raucous gathering (murder) of crows, whether at La Ferme Sabloneuse or on my mail route in Green Bay, I immediately search for the recipient of their attention. Sometimes it's a red tailed hawk, but usually it's a Great Horned Owl. The owls prey upon crow fledglings and even crow eggs. "In fact, the great horned owl has the most diverse prey profile of any raptor in the Americas." (Wikipedia) There have been a number of times when out and about in the woods around home, I've seen the brown-gray flash of a Great Horned vaulting from its hiding place among the pines and the sudden eruption of caws and the crows following it. It's not for nothing that painted plastic decoys in the form of Great Horned Owls are used by hunters in order to attract crows for target practice and "crow crowd control". More on Owls next time. --Gary

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02/28/2015 07:44.20 PM Report This Comment  
  About Owls, Part II.
While I've seen the Barred Owl just once, I've never, ever seen a Snowy Owl, although it seems that every Winter here in N.E. Wisconsin, there's a photo in the newspaper of one that someone's seen in the area. The southern extent of their Winter range ends right about our latitude.

Now the Eastern Screech Owl is one that few people have actually seen, but many have heard it. Pa often told me of the one time he heard as he was a young man walking home in the pitch dark. He said that it scared him to death. To quote Wikipedia again: "The lugubrious nature of the eastern screech owl's call has warranted description such as "A most solemn graveyard ditty, the mutual consolation of suicide lovers remembering the pangs and delights of the supernal love in the infernal groves, Oh-o-o-o, had I never been bor-r-r-n. (James Hubbard Langille, 1884)." (Wikipedia)

Upon doing research on this topic, I've watched (and listened) to a number of recordings of Screech Owl calls. I must admit, I don't find them the least bit frightening. As a matter of fact, I find them soothing. After listening to several of these calls, I am certain that I've heard them many times throughout my life. I simply didn't know that these nighttime warbling belonged to the Screech Owl. Live and learn, they say, and as for me, I cannot wait till Spring to sit out at dusk and listen for the Screech Owl. More "On Owls" next time. -- Gary

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02/25/2015 08:07.02 PM Report This Comment  
  About Owls, Part I.
As you PFRs already know, one evening, over a week ago, My Ruthie spied a large owl perched atop the chain link fence of the Home Garden. A little later, the big bird glided down the hill and lit on a tall stake halfway down our hill to the Valley Garden. It stayed there until it got too dark to see. I had told Ruthie that it was a Great Horned Owl, but much to my disgust, once we'd posted pics of the bird, a Facebook friend posted that it was a Barred Owl. I should've recognized this immediately, but I didn't, and it riled me some. Anyways, it was the first time in my life that I'd seen any owl other than the Great Horned Owl.

Now the calls of the two types are similar. As for the Barred Owl, Wikipedia states: "The usual call is a series of eight accented hoots ending in oo-aw, with a downward pitch at the end. The most common mnemonic device for remembering the call is "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all." I am amused at the last, because my muse Al Borland had mentioned that mnemonic call some 60 years ago in his writing. The call of the Great Horned Owl is usually a series of five hoots. In my experience, it's ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo. My Ruthie, being a light sleeper, has been tormented by the dead-of-night calls of these owls ever since she joined me here at La Ferme Sabloneuse. Their mating season is in late December and January and so in the still, cold nights she will hear one hooting from one of the Norway pines of the Home Property and then the answering call from a prospective mate usually in one of the ancient White pines in the County land to the South. Wikipedia states that it is the males that do the majority of the courtship calls: "While males often hoot emphatically for about a month or six weeks towards the end of the year, the period where females also hoot is usually only a week to ten days." (Wikipedia) So perhaps when Ruthie wakes me up to listen to the two sets of calls, they are actually the competing calls of two males.

The range of the Great Horned Owl extends throughout nearly all of North America, right down into Mexico. The range of the Barred Owl runs throughout most of the southern half of Canada and the eastern half of the USA. The mating season of the Barred Owl varies with the latitude. It lays its eggs earlier in the South and later in the North. More on owls next time. --Gary

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02/21/2015 07:59.21 PM Report This Comment  
  Tracks in the Snow
During this time of year, the depths of Winter, we can only hunt cottontail rabbits. While I only hunt bunnies when they are too plentiful at La Ferme Sabloneuse, my PFRs (Precious Few Readers) know how much I love my rabbits. Every night I put out some birdfeed so that they have some "flayrah" to eat. During this snowy time we can, if we are willing, follow the tracks of the wildlife that graces our property in the nocturnal hours. Patrick McManus wrote an article about following wildlife tracks in the snow. He relates how he had spent an afternoon following a rabbit's tracks all throughout his backyard and went on and on about the peripatetic wanderings of this particular cottontail. McManus came to the conclusion that this was one befuddled bunny.

Here at La Ferme Sabloneuse the cottontails have established paths from their homes in the brushpiles and their staging areas under our cedars to their feeding areas under the young shrub and tree growth at the edges of our open areas. I also put out some birdseed each morning and evening on the floor of the Garage Porch for the chickadees, sparrows, and rabbits. Almost every morning when I turn on the Garage Porch light I'll see a big whitetail munching away at the stuff. It won't move off until I'm halfway across the driveway. Each Winter I get a kick out of watching the bunny paths take form along the usual routes.

In addition to rabbit tracks, I like to check and see if there are any coyote or wolf tracks on our land. Just a few years ago, after a fresh snowfall, Eldest Brother David telephoned me in great excitement to tell me that he'd found a two sets of wolf tracks crossing the Valley Garden. I got my Ruthie to accompany us with her camera and we trailed the long-gone wolves, took photographs, and then I compared them to images on Google. Sure enough, a rather large wolf and its mate had crossed La Ferme Sabloneuse. Sad to say, we haven't seen any such tracks since then, but I keep looking.
It was last Tuesday when Ruthie glanced out the dining room window at dusk and was shocked to see what she thought at first glance was a big cat perched atop the chain link fence at the Home Garden. After a closer look, Ruthie realized that it was an enormous owl. (I've added two photos of it above.) Turns out, it was a barred owl, something that I'd never seen before during all my time living here. After awhile it took flight and glided to one of the 2x2 sticks we have posted near the fruit trees down the hill facing the Valley Garden. That barred owl stayed there until dark, its head with its opaque eyes swiveling back and forth in search of a rabbit or squirrel coming out to search for food. I am made to think that this owl, just like me, could identify the paths and trails of the furry wildlife at La Ferme Sabloneuse and was taking full advantage of that knowledge. If so, good luck to you "ma chouette", I hope to see you again. --Gary

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02/14/2015 06:33.10 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains n' Truckey, Final Part.
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" --Hank Williams)

Our dear friend 'berta wrote to me, "I have no idea why but the sound of a train whistle always gives me a lonesome feeling." This must be universal among us. Barren is the soul that does not feel a deep and painful yearning when hearing a train whistle or horn deep in the night. So many times while I was growing up I would be awake at night and hear the train working its way North or South on the tracks which bordered our land to the East. I would hear the four short horn blasts as the engines approached each country road in the dark. The Machikanee Road, the Old Stiles Road, Duame Road, and then the crossing on Highway 22. As the train would continue northward or southward, I would hear the horn continue to sound, diminishing gradually as it receded into the distance.
I remember those long-ago Summer nights, the air thick with the rich, verdant smells of plant growth wafting in through the open windows as the crickets re-asserted themselves after the train had passed. Just like ol' Hank says, the whippoorwill would also start up its haunting song. I felt as alone as that lonely train; but I also felt a sense of reassurance that I wasn't the only one awake at this time of night. Somewhere there were others like me who were alive and active during this darkest time of the night.

But I want to end this series with a heartfelt memory. I therefore must beg your forgiveness for repeating a part of a post that I'd done years ago. When my Punky, Amanda, was about three years old, we took a walk down the "right-of-way" on Caldie's land. As I'd posted: "We held each other by the hand as we crossed the road and walked along an old raised railroad grade that had been laid down a century before. I pointed out anything that would be of interest to her and answered all of her questions. Then, a rain shower passed over. I went down on one knee and drew Punky close to me. I set her on my knee and covered her with my denim chore coat. We huddled together under my cloak and hood until the shower passed. Then, we resumed our walk and then returned home to lunch and then a nap. I know I'm a sentimental ol' cuss who is stuck in the past, but when I think of Punky, I think of us huddled and cuddled together, me sheltering her from the elements. It is a father's memory of a walk that will last my lifetime, if not hers. -- Gary

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02/07/2015 08:32.36 PM Report This Comment  
This is a great series, Gary. I loved reading all of them, and am looking forward to the next!

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02/06/2015 05:53.04 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part IX)
Another aspect of the remaining railroads in my own time was the fires they caused. During my childhood there were three instances where trains of the North-South railroad have started grass fires at what I now call "La Ferme Sabloneuse". The first that I remembered was when I was a preschooler. Ma was the one who noticed the fires at the East end of the property. She and I were the only ones at home. Pa was at work at the mill in Oconto Falls. Ma had the good sense to call Fritz Belleau, the local fire ranger. Ol' Fritz arrived with his heavy-duty tractor and plow and made a fire-break between the Home Property and the fires along the tracks to the East. Those massive furrows remained for years and years before the enusing rains and erosion wore them down.

The second occurred in 1968. This time the flames threatened to consume the entire property. The local volunteer fire department, along with Fritz, labored long and hard to contain the fire. I remember, as a nine-year-old, that scores of curious onlookers gathered on our property to watch events unfold. Again, for years afterwards, I would see the blackened trunks of trees that had survived the flames.

The next time that the locomotives caused a fire was just a few years later. I, and my cousin Ralph, who was visiting from Southern Michigan, noticed the smoke almost immediately after the train had passed. I told my Ma about it, and the both of us boys grabbed shovels from the tractor shed and headed out to the tracks. Between the both of us we were able to beat down the flames before the fire could really get started. It was a surprise to us later that a representative from the railroad gave us each a check for about nine dollars for putting out the fire. Such an amount was a windfall for a young boy in those days. You can imagine how I must have felt as a boy to have been so rewarded for saving our property. The final post on trains next time. --Gary

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02/04/2015 09:00.31 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part VIII)
Sad to say, as "City of New Orleans" expresses so well, the railways in our area have declined as well. The line from Oconto Falls to Oconto now ends at Stiles Junction. Nowadays, the single engine pulls only five or six cars once or twice a week to be joined up with the North-South main railway. The spur that had run from the sawmills at Stiles in the first two decades of the 1900s has been just a raised grassy berm running from the Machikanee Flowage Northwards through the woods West of us for almost a century. Pa always referred to it as the "old right-of-way". Even as late as the 1970s one could find the old wooden ties rotting alongside it. The sandy rail bed proved to be a perfect location for fox to make their dens. Many a fur trapper have used the right-of-way as the route of their trap lines. It was also a key deer hunting spot for the Truckeys. Each year we would either do a deer drive along it or still-hunt while working the length of it down to Caldie's land across the road from us. Some of the greatest of Truckey hunting fiascos occurred on that right-of-way, but the hunting memory I cherish most was the time that Pa, during one of the last years deer hunting, went out by himself on Caldie's land. It was a nice, sunny afternoon, so Pa lied down in the sun with his back against the berm and took a snooze. He was awakened by a thunder of tiny hooves. He opened his eyes and saw a small herd of does standing in front of him. They had been running West and had leaped over the railroad grade and the 72 year old man reclining on the lee side of it. Pa sat up, picked up his rifle, and shot the first deer that came into his scope. A half-hour later he was dragging the deer into our yard. (Please scroll up for Part IX)

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02/04/2015 08:56.45 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part VII)
For his job at Oconto Junction, Pa had to show up three or four times a day to be ready to pump water from the storage tank into the steam locomotives that came by. Once the engine's reservoir was replenished, Pa was free to go; he just had to make sure he was there in time for the next train. It didn't pay much, but as there was a recession at the war's end, it was, as I said, steady work and with him and Ma living at Grandma Truckey's house, he didn't need much in order to support his young wife and baby son. There were chickens in the coop, a small vegetable garden, and farm work to do for ol' John Duame for extra income. As for meat, besides the chickens, Pa loved to hunt and there were plenty of rabbit, squirrel and partridge on Grandma's table. I like to think that it was a pleasant time for Pa and my Ma. They had enough to live on and they lived close to the land. Like all good times, it didn't last. The railroads switched to diesel engines, which eliminated Pa's job as Oconto Junction was shut down and the spur to Oconto torn up. Pa eventually found a job at a paper mill and he and Ma bought 34 acres of land that became what I now call La Ferme Sabloneuse. More on trains next time. --Gary

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01/31/2015 08:41.07 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part VI)
"Good night, America, how are you?
Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.
I'm the train they call the City Of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done"
(Final refrain, ("City of New Orleans," --Steve Goodman)

One of the things that Carl Devereaux taught Pa was Morse Code. Carl of course, operated the telegraph at the depot. One night Pa was lying in his bed at his home, Grandma Truckey's house. He had a flashlight which had a push button on it in order to send code. Pa, on a lark, decided to send a Morse message via flashlight in the direction of Carl's bedroom at his farm house a quarter-mile away. (Needless to say, there was nothing but pasture between the two houses.) Pa messaged "Carl is a big BS'er". The next day, when Pa saw him, Carl said, "You're getting pretty good at Morse." When I told this story to my Big Brother Tommy the other day he noted that this must have been the first instance of "cyber bullying".

Just after WWII Pa got a job tending the water tower at Oconto Junction. It was probably the first steady job of his life, being as how all his previous ones were seasonal or temporary. At some points during the Depression Pa worked for just his room and board. He told me that at one time he had just the clothes on his back and he kept a piece of string in his trousers pocket; just to have something in it. He often told of the time he slept in the upstairs bedroom of a farmer's house one Winter. Like most farmhouses back then, the only heat came from the stovepipe running up from the kitchen stove below. Pa said that in this particular house, the window of his room had a broken glass pane. There was, of course, no money to replace it so Pa had to put up with a drafty room as cold as the outdoors. He slept with his coat on. (Please scroll up for Part VII)

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01/31/2015 08:34.54 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part V)
"Night time on the City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis Tennessee.
Halfway home - we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea.

But, all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream,
And the steel rail still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his songs again - the passengers will please refrain.
This train got the disappearing railroad blues." ("City of New Orleans," --Steve Goodman)

During Pa's teens and twenties he was good friends with Carl Devereaux, who ran the depot at Stiles Junction. During these years Pa had plenty of free time as the only work available in the late 20's and early 30's were moonshining and some work up in the lumber camps during the Winter months. After Prohibition was repealed and the Great Depression slowed lumbering, there was even less work. Pa would hang around the depot and learn from Mr. Devereaux. Carl would give pennies to the children that he would see. (A penny for candy was something a child hardly ever saw during those days). Carl would tell Pa that these kids were future friends and neighbors and that an act of kindness toward them would be remembered by them for the rest of their lives. I suppose that Carl, being one of the only men around who had a decent, steady job, felt a need to extend some sort of kindness to at least the children he encountered.
Ma, even in her last months, would tell me how Carl would let the hobos stay in the depot until when he had to lock up for the night. Big Brother Tommy told me that Mr. Van Boven also worked at the depot and that the railroad officials would complain to him about the amount of firewood he would use. Ol' Van Boven didn't listen to them. He knew that keeping a fire going at night so that the hobos could sleep in the vacated waiting area until midnight or so probably kept them alive. After they were turned out, they probably had to walk a quarter-mile South to the hobo jungle in the woods where Devereaux' Crick ran under the North-South railroad. Pa would tell me that the trains that pulled out of the Junction going South had to climb an uphill grade to the Machikanee Forest. This meant that the train moved slow enough for the hobos to easily hop on. Even when I was a kid, there were still piles of old tin cans and refuse in the crick bed near the trestle. Grandma Truckey told us that in those days two young women, sisters, would like to visit her in the evenings after supper chores were done. Unfortunately, they had to take the road that ran past the jungle. Grandma said that the girls would take along a big pistol. Fortunately, they were never bothered. My Ma said that the hobos had their own code and if there were a number of them together, they wouldn't let one or two do anything really bad. As a kid, I'd always thought that the girls had been afraid of bears or wolves. I didn't understand the whole story till I got older. More on trains next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/28/2015 08:03.41 PM Report This Comment  
  What lovely photos! And I just love reading your posts. Looking forward to more

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01/28/2015 07:09.05 AM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part IV)
"Good morning, America, how are you? Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son. I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans, I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done." ." (Refrain from "City of New Orleans")

Another time my Pa was walking along the same stretch of track during the heat of another Summer's day. When he had made his way a third across the trestle over Devereaux's Crick, which ran through Younger's land, he suddenly heard the drone of the train engine and clacking of the rails. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw the train looming up on him; the engineer dozing in his seat and the engine blotting out all else in Pa's sight as it lurched its way onto the trestle.

Pa's brain must have been racing at a furious speed. He told me that he instantly calculated that if he ran away from the train, he would either be run down or would have to jump from the bridge and probably break his legs in the rocky stream bed below. So Pa ran toward the train, which was shorter in distance, and at the last second he jumped to the sloping sand at the end of the trestle. The train rumbled past; and Pa said that with the engineer asleep, no one would have ever known that he'd been killed for days. More on trains next time. --Gary

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01/24/2015 08:45.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part III)
"Dealing card games with the old man in the club car, penny a point - ain't no one keeping score.
Won't you pass the paper bag that holds the bottle, and feel the wheels rumbling 'neath the floor.
And the sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers, ride their father's magic carpets made of steel,
And mothers with their babes asleep, are rocking to the gentle beat, and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel." ("City of New Orleans," --Steve Goodman)

I was talking about the railroad that ran from Oconto out West to Oconto Falls and beyond. For years and years a train ran daily in the early afternoon from the Falls to Stiles Junction and left off cars on a siding at the Junction to be picked up by the trains that ran North-South. I can only wish that I remembered the names of the railroad lines. This particular feeder line was, and is to this day, in disrepair. Since I was a small boy, it was pulled by a single small green and yellow diesel locomotive. In the youth of my father, it was a smaller steam engine. In both eras it was and is a slow train, clacking monotonously over the rippling, uneven rails, sounding a tired whistle at the few road crossings along the way. When I think of this train I think of it being the hottest part of the Summer, some airless day in August, with the cicadas whirring in the 90 degree heat and the train itself wavering in the thermals from a forty away as I watched it from Caldie road in front of my cousin Vincent Younger's farm.

With this description, you can imagine how it was if someone should be out and about anywhere near this line. My great-aunt Emma Younger, who was sister to my Grandpa Brabant, told me that back in the '40s she had a corn patch near the railroad and when the train would go past in the early afternoon the engineer would see her out working in her garden. He was moved finally to stop the train and scold her for working out in the heat and told her that if he ever saw her out there again when he went by in hot weather he would stop the train, get out of the engine, and carry her bodily back to her house! Grandma Younger was tickled by the story. (Please scroll up for Part IV--Gary)

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01/24/2015 08:40.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part II)
In the present day and age we forget that more people walked along the railways than they did the roads. Most roads in dry weather were incredibly dusty. If an automobile passed, you were likely to be covered in the stuff. In wet weather the roads were under a thick layer of mud. In either type of weather, one had to be step around or over the plentiful droppings from the teams of horses that every farmer still used. The railroad grade provided a clean and straight road from one village to the next. The evenly-spaced railroad ties on the bed of small rocks meant that with a little practice, a man or boy could march at a measured pace, covering long distances with less effort and what's more, usually removed from the prying eyes of perpetually nosy rural neighbors. This last was especially important as anyone who walked past down the road was an immediate topic of discussion in those days before radio and television. No one likes being talked about, and in the days of Prohibition, certain young men (like my father) simply didn't want to be noticed at all as they traveled from one place to another.

The track that ran from Oconto to Oconto Falls and on out West was especially pertinent to my father. As a teenager he helped run a moonshine still during the Prohibition Era. As I'd written in my earlier blogs about Pa's moon-shining years, the still and shack was just a short ways from this railway. When enough corn whiskey had been distilled, Tom Burdick, who owned the still, would load the jugs on a handcar that he had appropriated and transport them in the dead of night the fourteen miles or so to Oconto. There, one can only surmise, were railroad employees who augmented their income by accepting bribes to load and hide the bootleg whiskey for shipment down to Chicago. Word was that the moonshine produced in this area went to Al Capone's syndicate there.

A popular story told in my youth was the time ol' Tom was on a loaded handcar when a train unexpectedly appeared. They say Tom had to pump his handcar like a demon in order to stay ahead of the train. It made for a good story, but I suspect that like many tales from that period, it was all too good to be true. One can be assured that a smart operator like Mr. Burdick would've been apprised of any and all trains scheduling. Still, it could've occurred that an unscheduled train or at least an engine had been directed to make a run to Oconto for repairs and such the like. More about trains next time. -- Gary

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01/21/2015 08:03.20 PM Report This Comment  
Uncle Glen and Uncle Earl were both conductors on passenger and freight trains. Wouldn't it be interesting to know if they and your Pa ever crossed paths? The C&NW was only one of the railroads they worked for - it's just the only uniform that we found. Hmmm..... next thing you know, we'll probably find out we're cousins somewhere along the way! :)

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01/18/2015 07:33.25 AM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part I)
"Riding on the City Of New Orleans, Illinois Central, Monday morning rail. Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders, three conductors; twenty-five sacks of mail.

All along the southbound odyssey - the train pulls out of Kankakee, and rolls along past houses, farms, and fields, passing trains that have no name, and freight yards full of old black men, and the graveyards of the rusted automobiles." ("City of New Orleans, --Steve Goodman)

"City of New Orleans" is my favorite song. It was written by Steve Goodman and released by Arlo Guthrie in 1972. One of the reasons that the song is so important to me is that it strikes a nostalgic chord by describing the passing of the passenger train as an integral part of American life. Another reason is that my Pa's early life was closely intertwined with the railroad and this connection was carried on down to my own time.

You don't need me to tell you the importance of the railroad 100 years ago. Roads were secondary, seldom graveled, even more rarely paved. If you wanted to travel more than a few miles, you used the railroad. In the youth of my father, Dave Truckey, there was a depot in Stiles, and another in Stiles Junction. The Junction was the link-up between the railroad that ran North-South from Green Bay to points Northwards up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the one that ran East-West between Oconto and points Westward into central Wisconsin. There was a third railroad switch located a mile South of Stiles with a water tower called Oconto Junction. This junction connected with yet another railway to Oconto which ran along the South side of the Oconto River.

Now this extensive rail system around Stiles was to serve the lumber industry. Stiles at one time was one of the largest towns North of Green Bay. A mill of over 100 saws once straddled the dam over the Oconto river there. Of course, there were also mills at Oconto Falls, five miles upriver and in Oconto, some eight miles downriver near the bay of Green Bay. In addition to all the previously mentioned lines, there was one more "secondary" railway which ran from the mill at Stiles along the dike that created a head of water for the mill and North and then West to join up with the line that ran between Oconto Falls and Oconto.

It was in this "railroad-rich" environment that my Pa spent his younger years. He told me once that he'd traveled these rails in the Prohibition years with a pistol strapped in a shoulder-harness. (This was the same time that he ran a moonshiner's still near the East-West railway.) Pa said that if he had been caught carrying a gun on a passenger train at that time, he could've been put away for quite awhile. My father had a lot to do with these rails in his early years, and I will elaborate on this for a number of ensuing blogs. --Gary

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01/17/2015 07:50.32 PM Report This Comment  


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