Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

June 17, 1998, Page 32

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days

By Dee Zimmerman


Father’s Day


Father’s Day – a day to say: “Thanks, Dad” for his role in our lives.  For those of us whose dads are no longer with us, it’s a time to remember them.


Fortunately, I was able to be with my dad much of the time in pre-school years and during summer vacation.  I appreciate the memories of the days I spent with Dad.


Born in Iowa, Dad lived on a farm with his parents, older brother and younger sister.  When Dad was 16 years old, his father passed away.  Upset over his dad’s death and not wanting to be under his brother’s command, he quit high school and left home.


Joining up with a couple vagrants, Dad rode the railways, crawling into empty boxcars or riding the rails on the under-carriage, hoping the train conductor wouldn’t see him stealing a ride.  He made his way to southern Kansas where he hired onto a grain threshing crew that followed the harvest northward to the Canadian border.  The threshing company’s boss took Dad under his care, giving him the responsibility of supplying the steam engine with water.


Once, I asked my mother, “How come Dad likes all foods?”  I noticed some other men wouldn’t eat vegetables or try a new recipe dish.  Mom said, “Your dad worked on a threshing crew, eating at a different farm house every day or so.  Working hard, he got hungry and learned to eat whatever food was put on the table.”


After Dad left the threshing company, he worked for an uncle in South Dakota until he was able to start farming for himself.


Being of Scotch – Irish and Danish heritage, both were represented in Dad’s character and personality.  He enjoyed the camaraderie of family and friends, sharing stories of life’s experiences.  He was mild-mannered, always concerned about the well-being of others.


As a pre-schooler, I tagged along wherever Dad went, except when he was doing fieldwork. Starting the first of March, Dad would start repairing farm equipment in readiness for the new growing season.  The granary drive-through served as work shop.  Dad would open up the big rusty tool box which held all of his small tools in various sizes.  He would crawl under a tractor or machine, proceeding to loosen nuts and bolts to remove a worn part.  As he worked, he would need a different size open-end wrench or socket.  Asking me to find the right wrench, he would say such as, “I think I need a seven-sixteenth socket-that will be the one with a seven above the line and a one and six below the line.”  Finding the right numbered tool, I would crawl under the machine to hand him the wrench or socket, making an exchange and putting the other back in the tool box.  In the process, I was learning the numbers and fractions.  As Dad worked he would be explaining what he was doing and why.  Eventually, I knew what pistons, rings, spark plugs, etc. were on the tractors, as well as machinery parts.


While Dad worked in the field, occasionally machinery would break.  If I saw him driving in from the field in the mid-forenoon or afternoon, I knew he had to quit due to a machine break-down.


Running to meet him by the shed, where he parked the tractor, he would say, “Well, Shorty, run to the house and tell Mom to clean you up, because we have to go looking for parts.”  Hurriedly, Mom washed my face and hands, made sure my clothing was clean, combed my hair and off I went, out the back door.  Dad would be waiting sitting in the old Buick with its motor running.


Driving down the road, Dad would start singing one of his songs, a favorite ditty was, “There was a man named Sam who lived in Yucatan…..”  Then he would say, “First, we will go to Greasy Joe’s junk yard.  If he can’t weld this part to hold, he might have that part on a piece of old machinery.”  Greasy Joe was as the name implied; - covered with grease and oil from head to toe.  If Greasy Joe didn’t have the right part, the next stop was Sly Pete’s junk yard down by the river.  Dad often said, “When we get to Sly Pete’s, you listen to how I will have to deal with Sly Pete if he has the part I want to buy.  When he knows I really want to buy the part, the price will go up.”


There were other junk yards and I knew the roads that led to each one.  Some days, the search for a part took a while until it could be found.


The livestock on our farm were always well cared for and never abused.  The horses and other livestock responded with cooperation, as Dad trained them with gentleness.


Somehow, Dad was a good judge of animals as he usually bought quality stock.  For a short time, he worked for a man who owned a small ranch.  He and a co-worker made a few trips out to western South Dakota, looking for wild range horses to capture and ship them back to the ranch.  On one of those trips, he saw a medium-size gray horse that moved with such grace and smoothness, as he hadn’t seen before.  My mother liked horseback riding so Dad wanted to catch that gray to train as a gift for Mom. Concentrating on the gray, the fellows were able to chase her into a boxed-in canyon.  Backing the truck into the only exit, they lassoed the wild horse and loaded her into the truck rack, securing the rope to keep her there.  Naming the horse Midge, Dad tamed and trained her for my mother.


In recent years, I have read articles about the “Peruvian Paso Fino” horses, a breed of horses brought in from South America through Mexico, and some were let loose to become wild in the western United States range country.  The description of those horses matched our gray, Midge, whose smooth gait enabled her rider to have a most pleasurable ride.  The Paso Fino has hip structures that differ from other breeds of horses.


Another special animal on our farm was a dog named “Bowser,” who would live out his lifetime on our farm.


Hearing about a team of mules that were for sale, Dad drove to the farm where they were kept.  He drove the team and liked their performance.  Talking over a deal with their owner, Dad agreed upon a price, but the fellow had one stipulation.  If Dad purchased the team of mules, he would have to take the half-grown dog who was sitting by the mules.  There were three puppies that had been born in the same barn stall the mules were kept in.  The one remaining pup had always been with the mules going wherever they went.  Of course, Dad’s soft heart and concern for this pup’s welfare convinced him to say, “Yes,” he would take the dog in the deal.  He named his newly acquired dog, “Bowser.”


Bowser had a grayish brown and black color with wiry bristled hair around his muzzle and ears.  If there had been a contest for the ugliest dog, Bowser would have won first place.  Eventually, the ugly dog captured our hearts.  He was protective of me when strangers drove into our yard.  As he grew older, Dad discovered Bowser was an excellent hunter; no pheasant escaped his nose and pursuit.


One of Dad’s highlight experiences happened one fall during the hunting season.  Gene, a neighboring farmer, drove into our farmyard one day.  He asked Dad if he could borrow Bowser as he had two guests who wanted to do some pheasant hunting.  They had a supposed “hunting dog” that hadn’t done well for them.  Gene said, “Earl, I know there are pheasants in my cornfield but that dog sure didn’t find them.”  Dad told Gene that he and his guests could hunt in our cornfield and Dad would go with them, taking Bowser. Then, Gene introduced his guests; one of the fellows was Mickey Cochrane, the professional baseball player from Detroit.  After walking up and down the cornfield, the bag limits of pheasants were filled, Bowser had lived up to his reputation.


Years later, seeing a dog exactly like Bowser, we were told that type of dog was a wire haired pointer or a German Drathar.  Dad definitely had had a bonifide hunting dog.


More than once, I got in trouble for bringing home a kitten or puppy.  Whether it was a stray animal or a pet – if someone offered to give me, I just couldn’t say, “No.”  As I walked home, I would think of what my mother would say, such as “It’s hard times.  We barely have enough food for ourselves and you bring home another mouth to feed.”  After Mom got through venting her feelings, Dad would say, “Cats hunt for their food most of the time,” of “Our old cow is providing us with more milk than we can use, so we can feed milk to the new pet.”  Dad always baled me out of the new pet problem.


We had raised two colts on our farm.  My brothers and I spent a lot of time with them so they would follow us around the pasture.  When the colts were three years old and full grown, Dad had an offer to sell the sorrel we had named Nellie.  Of all times to make the announcement to the rest of the family, he chose dinner time.  As we sat around the table, he said, “I can sell Nellie for $350.  The buyer has a matching horse so wants to her to make up a team.”  I knew that was a large amount of money and could understand why Dad was considering a sale.  But a lump that felt the size of an egg came up into my throat, sticking there.  As much as I tried not to cry, tears ran down my face and I couldn’t eat my dinner.  Dad watched my reaction and said, “Oh, well, I might want to keep Nellie as a replacement horse for one of my teams, I won’t sell her.”  After dinner and when Dad left the house, Mother said, “You sure messed up that horse sale, didn’t you?  What we could have done with that $350!  You started sniveling, and of course your dad changed his mind.”


Even though times were difficult in the 30s and money was scarce, my parents managed to save enough funds to subscribe to a daily newspaper, and had money to attend special events.


We attended the South Dakota State Fair in the fall.  On one summer day, as Dad read the daily newspaper, he read about the Barnum & Bailey Ringley (Ringling) Bros. Circus which was stopping at Mitchell.  He told my mom, “I think we should go to see it.  It may never come so close to our area again.”


On the day of the circus, we were in town early, standing on a sidewalk along Main Street.  The circus came into town on the train, unloading near the depot located on the south side near Main Street.  Soon, we heard music in the distance as a band marched, leading the parade.  Beautiful horses pulled colorful wagons carrying caged wild animals.  Big elephants were escorted by their trainers, marching as though to the music.  The calliope with its steam whistles played its own tune.  The parade ended in an empty field on the north side of town where workers directed elephants to pull up the three-ring tent.  Each of the rings held performances at the same time.  We were busy turning our attention from one ring to the other, afraid of missing something.  For an eight-year-old, it was so exciting, I would never forget it.


We either went visiting, picnicking or stayed home to entertain guests on Sunday afternoons.  As Dad said, “I never work on Sundays.  Twice, I tried doing field work on a Sunday and the machinery broke down.”  He figured the Lord was re-minding him that Sunday was to be a day of rest.


It was important to our parents that my brothers and I established good work ethics.  We were assigned jobs around the farm and in the house, things we were capable of doing.  Remembering a time that I didn’t follow through on completing a task, Dad told me, “Learn to finish a project when you start it.  Don’t be a shirker.  The world doesn’t owe you a living when you are capable of working.  Have some pride and satisfaction in whatever you are doing.”  I would like to think my brothers and I have lived up to his expectations of us.  If we have, it is out of respect for his love and direction when we were young.


It is better to be a person of value rather than a person of success.  A successful person takes more out of life than he or she puts into it; a person of value gives more to life than he or she takes out of it. – Albert Einstein


An early 1900s threshing scene on a family farm; Although the thresher was equipped with wind-stacker, the sheaves of grain were being fed loose, not bundled, by hand feeders.



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