Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

March 25, 1998, Page 12

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 

Good Old Days


By Dee Zimmerman


March – A Month of Spring & New Beginnings


The month of March has variety; it’s a time of transition from winter to spring.  There may be a blustery snowstorm one day; to be followed by a day of sunshine and melting snow with water running down the streets and hillsides.


As my grandmother often said, “March is the time of the bleaching sun.  It is the season to hang all the white laundry on the outdoor clothes line to be bleached.  The bright sun rays reflecting off the snow whiten the sheets and towels.”


The sun rises in the middle of the eastern horizon and we start to enjoy the increasing amount of daylight along with the warmer temperatures.


The earth starts to spring forth with life as the maple trees produce sap for syrup.  The crocuses, hyacinths and tulips break through the ground soon to brighten the yards with colorful blossoms, a welcome sight after the drabness of winter.


Growing up on a farm, March was the time of the year a farm family moved from one farm to another especially if they rented their land.


My parents, like many young couples, moved several times in the early years of their marriage.  Being the oldest child, I remember many of those moves, going to different schools and making new friends.


The “crash” of the Depression resulted in my parents losing their assets.  Their bank account was “wiped out” not to be retrieved and farm machinery was foreclosed upon.  The disappointment due to their loses directed them away from crop farming for a few years.


A businessman in the community needed a couple to live on his ranch.


Selling farm equipment and cars, the ranch owner took livestock in trade, transporting them to the ranch.  Dad and Mom cared for the livestock, while Dad trained many of the horses for riding or harness driving.


The “yen” for farming gradually returned to my parents’ interests.  Driving through an area near the James River, Dad saw sandy soil which he recognized as being of the right quality for raising melons.  Tilling the soil and caring for a melon crop didn’t require much machinery.


Inquiring about a plot of land, they were able to rent 30 acres in the area they wanted.  Highway 37 bordered one side of the acreage; an ideal location for a melon stand to entice the travelers into stopping to purchase freshly picked watermelons and muskmelons.


Having rented the land, they needed a place to live.  An empty building stood near the property, the remains of a former farmstead.  Locating the owner of the building, they were told it had been used for housing chickens and they were granted permission to use it.  Mom cleaned and scrubbed, transforming the building into living quarters for the summer.


Another necessity to living there was having a source of a water supply.  Sand creek ran along its route which passed through a tree-shaded area behind the living quarters.  The creek was spring-fed here and there with one lively spring emerging from one of the creek banks.  Dad dug out enough sand from the creek bed to sink a wooden barrel near the spring’s outlet to at as a reservoir.  A bucket was dipped into the barrel to fill with water and be carried back for drinking and household use.  The shade of a tree kept the spring water cool most of the day.


Planting and caring for 30 acres of melon plants became a big task, as Mom and Dad would learn.  After the plants broke through the soil, weeds also grew into view.  The weeds had to be removed by a hand hoe so as not to disturb the new seedlings.


Harvest time required speed in picking the ripened melons and transporting them to market.  Mom tended the stand along the highway, each day refilling the display with more water melons and muskmelons.  Early in the morning, Dad loaded the truck with melons and drove to supply grocery stores and fruit markets.  He would return to reload and drive off in another direction looking for markets.  As a youngster, my diet consisted of watermelon three times a day as soon as the melons ripened.


Melon season doesn’t last long and is over when the first frost strikes.  My parents came to realize 30 acres of a bumper melon crop was more than two people could handle.  A large portion of the melons remained on the field. There was not enough time for laborers to pick the melons or markets to be reached for selling the perishable product.


The year of the “melon business” was 1932 for our family.  However, other people have continued to maintain melon patches in the sandy soil.  The several smaller melon plot owners each have stands along Highway 37, continuing to provide the tasty fruit grown on the “just right soil,” for the past 60-plus years.


Our family’s next move was to a farm where once again they few small grains.  After living on three different rental farms and trying to survive through drought after drought, a longer move was to be made.


Although my parents hadn’t lived on a dairy farm, they were ready to leave the Dakota prairie for “greener pastures.”


Dad and two friends drove to central Minnesota where a friend’s family had moved to previously.  Dad was able to rent a 240-acre farm.  He then transferred an FHA loan, which he had previously obtained.


In Mid-March of 1942, arrangements were made for the long move to Minnesota.  It was wartime World War II, gas rationing and tire rationing was in effect. Extra gas coupons had to be applied for and obtained from the rationing board.  A second-hand recapped spare tire was a must for the trip just in case a tire on the car blew out.


Early on moving day, two trucks arrived which had been hired to move our belongings.  One truck was loaded with five horses as Dad wouldn’t sell them and purchase replacements in the new locale.  Machinery and furniture filled the rack of the second truck.  There had been some discussion on price with the truckers, but an agreement was reached.  The driver of the truck carrying the horses charged $75, due to more risk in the type of cargo being hauled.  Only $50 was the fee for the second truck’s load with our other belongings.


Our family car, a 1929 Dodge sedan, was packed with various articles and passengers.  Two bed mattresses were placed on the top of the car and secured with twine.  Some articles of clothing were packed and set in the back seat.  My 10-month-old brother rode with Mom and Dad in the front seat.  I wanted to take along my collie-shepherd dog and three white Peking ducks.  The ducks were put into a burlap gunny sack and set on the floor of the back seat.  The dog sat on the back seat with my six-year-old brother and me.  Now, I occasionally think about taking the pets along and how tolerant my parents were in allowing the request.  They seemed to know how important the pets were in my life.  The ducks lasted about two weeks; one by one a fox caught them.  My dog stayed with our family many years and long after I left home.


The speed limit was 35 miles per hour in war-time so the trip required a long drive with us arriving at our destination at about nine in the evening.


There was anxiety in seeing the farm we had moved to, which had to wait until the following day.  One of the biggest discoveries the next morning was to see so many trees.


After moving to Minnesota, we leaned what wood ticks were.  One noon hour when Dad came home from the field to eat lunch in the early part of May, he saw items of furniture and boxes out in the yard by the house.  Then he saw Mom leaving the house carrying another box to set on the lawn.  Curiously, Dad asked, “What are you doing?”  Mom said, “I found a bed bug in the house and no way am I or any of us living in a house with bed bugs.”  Dad asked, “How did you know what kind of bug it was?”  Mom said, “Here it is.  I put it in this fruit jar.”  After looking at it, Dad said, “That is a wood tick.  There will be a lot them here because of so many trees.”  Needless to say, Mom was relieved to learn the pesky little bug was not a bed bug. 


Our farm eventually had a herd of dairy cows, some hogs, chickens and the horses.


As soon as the weather permitted the fields were tilled and planted.  Mom planted a variety of vegetable seeds in a garden spot.  There was also a raspberry patch and we kids looked forward to eating the new berries we had never tasted before.  The fresh vegetables were greatly enjoyed as drought had destroyed all garden plants at our former farms.  Balanced meals, other than eating only eggs, potatoes, baked beans and bread, was greatly appreciated and savored. 


An ample amount of rainfall each year kept the farming operation in business.  My parents later bought the farm and continued farming the land until their retirement. 


My Dad once told me, as a youngster, and when preparing for a move, “Just remember, as long as our family is together, home is where we hang our hats.”  Moving also taught me that we can make friends where ever we go.



The pioneers cleared the forests from Massachusetts to the Mississippi with fewer tools than are stored in a typical modern garage.


The habit of getting to the bottom of things will usually land you on top.


It is better to appreciate things we do not have than have things we do not appreciate.




Often tractors worked side by side with mules and horses in harvesting farm crops.

(Photos courtesy of Ed Statz)


The Wallis was the first frameless tractor with a one-piece crankcase and transmission housing.  Silo filling was first done with the corn cut and tied into bundles.  Bundles were loaded onto racks to be transported from field to silo area where it was fed into a chopper and blown into the silo.  Tractor and belt provided the power.


A hay stacker being raised up by pulleys and rope attached to a tractor, circa 1920.  A mower sickle bar elevated on the right rear of the tractor, was disengaged when other jobs had to be done.


A Kerosene-burning, steel-wheeled Waterloo Boy was the forerunner of the John Deere tractors.  It could pull a 3 bottom plow which was considered a great advancement in farming.



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