Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back To My Roots

The sun has been shining for the last six days in a row and I've been enjoying every minute of it.  This morning I hung out my wash again--how blissful!  I love the smell of fresh laundry and it dried in a matter of hours.  I try to keep up with the housework during the growing season, but it's tough to do, and when the sun shines, well, I'm outside.  The dust in the house will be there when I get back to it, right?
Did I mention we had a lot of rain in June?  We took a little side trip this past Saturday to the Eau Claire Dells County Park.  The Eau Claire River was running at an unheard of rate, over 3000 cfm when this time of year it normally runs about 300 cfm, so of course, we had to drop everything and head up there.
In our defense, it was really hot last Saturday.  Ann had stopped in and we were working on the stone wall in the Formal Garden and sweating profusely until Carl went in for a drink of water.  While he was in the house he checked the radar to see if any more rain was expected.   Then he took a detour online and checked the river levels and one thing led to another and before we knew it, Joel, Ann and Carl and I were on the road again. Ok, the rocks (and weeds) will still be there when we get back to them, right?
The river was running high, the internet database wasn't kidding.  This park is in Marathon County which is about an hour and a half away from home. 
The noise of thundering water was almost deafening.
Hard to see us, but left to right there's me, Carl and Ann overlooking the raging water.
There were a lot of kids there, too (with beer) and several of them were thinking about jumping in.  This river is nasty even in low water; there are signs everywhere warning about dangerous undertows.  No one went swimming or fell in while we were there, which is good.  Much better safe than sorry. 
Be still my heart, but every time I see the rock formations in this park, I am so humbled.  Mother Nature sure knows how to do rock work.
I'm glad we took the time to make this trip even though we should be working.  It isn't every day the river is like this.
With all the rain we've had, I have a lot of catching up to do around here, especially when it comes to mowing lawn.  In addition to the 2.5 acres we live and garden on,  I have to keep the Back Eight mowed, too. 

The Back Eight is where our little 'White Forest' of pine trees lives, the same trees my late father, Carl and I planted over twenty years ago.  The whole saga of the Back Eight is here: Full Circle in the White Pines

I try to keep the eight acres mowed (probably only five, actually, since a lot of the area is in trees) every year to keep down the tall grass and weeds.  Mowing that much land with grass over 4' tall is asking too much of our lawn mower, so that's when we hook up to the 'bush hog' (an attachment that goes on my tractor) and I go out to cut hay.
There's my tractor,  parked after I got done cutting tonight just before sunset.  Joel was home on Monday night and together we fished the 'hog' out and hooked it up.  I was out cutting the field for about three and a half hours on Tuesday and another five hours on Wednesday.  Not too bad considering the hay was over 4' tall in most places and very thick.  I have to run the tractor in first gear, which is as slow as she goes, and run the engine wide open to keep up the PTO (power take off) speed so the mower doesn't bog down.  Carl sharpened the blades for me Tuesday night but I know they're dull again.  Amazing how much power it takes to cut a 5' swath even with a 50 hp tractor.

 I love my tractor.  Did I ever mention that?  (Yeah, I know I have, lol., just wanted to see if you're paying attention!)  I love all of our tractors, right now we have four total; but the 574 is my pet.  My father bought this tractor brand spanking-new in 1972 when I was fourteen years old.  It took the place of a 1940's Farmall M that Dad sold to upgrade to the new one.  ( Ironically, Joel bought a restored 'M' two years ago, so we have one just like it back on the farm again). 
Here I go after supper last night, on my way to meet Carl out in the Back Eight.
I grew up on this farm driving tractors from the age of seven.  Dad had only my mother and me to help him with the farm work after my brother joined the Army in 1963, so I had to learn fast.  If tractor driving skills were marketable, I would be really rich....though I'm usually not so immodest about stuff, handling a tractor is just second nature to me--it's one of the few things I do really, really well.

I remember the day the International 574 arrived in our driveway from the local implement dealer in town like it was yesterday.   It was a hot morning in June and Mom and I were just finishing up the breakfast dishes when the truck pulled in.  I stood there with my damp towel drying a coffee cup and just stared out the window. It was love at first sight.  I set the towel down and fairly flew out of the house, not even remembering to be shy around the truck driver.  (I was a shy kid back in the day.)  The tractor was and New, it was just amazing to me. 

We hadn't had anything new on the farm before in my lifetime; everything was old and rusty and then this shiny red tractor arrived and my whole world changed.  This tractor had Power Steering (cue the Heavenly Music!) and a live PTO (I won't bore you with the details on power takeoffs in this post, but I will write about them at a later date since it's a funny story) and you could shift on the go!  I have never ooohed and ahhed over any new car (make that anything!)  as I have over this tractor when it came here to live.

The implement dealer delivery guy tilted the bed of his truck and then climbed up and started the engine on the tractor.  The sound of the engine gave me goosebumps, I kid you not.  Dad and I stood on the gravel driveway and watched as he carefully backed the tractor off the truck and we both breathed a sigh of relief when it was safely on the ground.  The guy had some paperwork Dad needed to sign so I just went and stood next to the idling tractor, carefully approaching it as if it were a prize thoroughbred race horse I might spook if I moved too fast.  After all, there were 52 horses under that shiny hood. 

The truck driver left and there we were, Dad, me and the still-running 574.  Mom had stayed in the house to finish the dishes; she's not as nuts about machinery as I was.  She knew soon enough she'd have to deal with yet another cantankerous piece of equipment and though she was happy we had something dependable, she wasn't looking forward to learning how to drive it.  My father was a hard-working man, as all farmers are, and he was also a hard man at times.  He had a tough childhood and a very stern demeanor and never suffered fools lightly.  There would be no exuberant hugs and excited babble coming from him, but I could tell he was a bit overwhelmed, too, though he did his best not to show it.

Dad climbed up onto the tractor and stepped in the clutch, put it in gear and drove down the driveway slowly, putting the tractor through its paces for his admiring audience.  Me.  Then he bid me to help him hook up to the new green chopper he had had delivered the day before and we were off to see what these new-fangled pieces of equipment could do for us.

Before the new tractor and chopper, we had pastured our cows on our farm.  Every field was sectioned off with barbed wire fences with a lane running through the middle of the acreage.  The cows would be milked and then left out to go to pasture and graze for their feed.  As they grazed down one pasture, we would simply move them to a new one later on in the season.  Times were changing on farms back in the 1970's and our neighbors were all much more progressive than we were and had given up on pasturing their cattle long before. To this day, though the equipment was a wise move, I miss seeing cows heading out to pasture at the end of the day.  Cows form a single line when they walk and the cowpaths they leave behind are about two feet wide and devoid of any grass after a few weeks.  To see a herd walking sedately but purposefully out to the field, especially in the evening, with their tails swishing the flies away as they walked past the old cedar fenceposts and the bluebirds nesting in them is a scene indelibly planted in my mind's eye.  Those days are gone, and it is a shame. 

We had the smallest farm of anyone around and the oldest and smallest equipment, too, so this was a giant step for us.  Never mind that Dad's new tractor was less than half the horsepower than our neighbor's tractors and tiny in comparison; it was still an advancement the likes of which I'd never seen.  Though our tractor stood about half as tall as any of our neighbors big machines, I was proud of it and I think Dad was too, though he would never admit it.  Bragging wasn't his style and pride always goes before a fall.

Now we could be modern like the rest of the neighborhood, and we put the cows on a much smaller pasture closer to the barn, about five acres, and with our new equipment, went out twice a day, morning and night,  to chop feed (green chop) and haul it back home to them.   Though it was an improvement, since less feed gets wasted due to the cows trampling the field and also from them ah, well, er, pooping all over the place (no, they won't eat where they relieve themselves) it was still a rather labor-intensive job because after milking in the morning and before milking at night, someone had to go out and chop a wagon full of hay for the cows to eat.  Before we could just leave them out to graze on their own, but now we were the delivery people.

We took all the fences that separated the individual fields down and for the first time, the farm was fence-free except for the line fence that separated our property from our neighbor's.  That fence is still standing in places around the farm, but the posts are nearly rotten now.  Between the neighbor's woods and our field up in the Back Eight, there's still remnants of the barbed wire that marks the line in the trees. 

Before the week was out, I was driving the 574 by myself and before the summer was out, I was going out to chop feed alone, too.  We used that tractor for everything on the farm, baling hay, green chopping, corn harvesting, plowing everything.  We still had a pair of Farmall H's to pull wagons with, but the 574 did all the heavy, hard work.

Who is that old woman on the tractor?  Me. 

Here's the view from my lofty perch in the driver's seat.  (Yes, we need a new muffler, it's getting rusty, just like me.)
 Here's a portion of the hay I cut the last two days
and here's some more.  

You'd think I'd get bored out of my gourd cutting all that hay at about a mile an hour, wouldn't you?  But the weird part is the time just flew by.  I always did love field work; just me and Dad's tractor, farming away.  The tractor is hot, I'm sweating, the bugs are annoying, there's trees to duck around and rocks to pick up, but I love it.

We have a lot of 'junk' trees coming up here and there in the Back Eight, and they like to plant themselves right up tight to the white pines.  Carl and I go out every so often and pull the trees out by the roots so the pines can grow without a parasite tree stuck in the middle.  It's best to wait until the interloper has a fairly good-sized trunk so it comes out by the roots, sort of like weeding in a flower bed, if you get my drift.  Easier sometimes to pull a humongous weed than a teeny, tiny one.  Sometimes.
Carl has hooked up the chain to the tree and I'm backing up to pull it out.
Hmmmmm, that's a tall tree, and a very short chain.....I have a feeling this isn't going to be good...
Ok, not so bad, hey, it even missed the muffler.
Unhook me, kind Sir.

Another tree....the mosquitoes were really having a high old time last night, too.  We started working faster.
It was getting dark out, time to quit.
I drove the tractor back to our home with Carl perched on the back of the mower and left him off by the windmill.  Then I took the tractor back to it's home at Mom's and put it in the shed like we do every night.  I know this sounds corny, but every time I put the 574 away for the night, I give it a pat, and say "Good Girl" just like it's a horse.  I have a sneaking suspicion my father did the same, though I never actually caught him talking to it.  (Well, he did do some swearing at times, lol, but he really did love it.)

To the day he died, in 2001, my father was quietly proud and fiercely protective of that tractor.  Dad was putting his wind protection 'cab' on the tractor that fateful day in October, getting ready for our Wisconsin winter and the snowplowing to come.  He was 88 years old and was getting a tad forgetful; had voluntarily given up driving a car years before, but he would never give up his tractor.  He had misplaced some bolts for the cab attachment and had gone to the house to ask for Mom's help in finding them when he lost his balance on the stairs in their house and fell, causing a fatal blow to the head.  In less than eight hours, he was gone.  When the nurse at the hospital brought Dad's clothes to me after he passed away that night, I found the bolts he was looking for in his pocket.  Along with the key to the 574.  Still brings tears to my eyes, even now, ten years later.  He loved that tractor.

And so do I.


Alison said...

Oh Karen! What a shock it was to come to the end of your post and read about how your dad passed. I literally gasped, and then tears came to my eyes.

This was such a good post. I love reading about you growing up and working (and playing) on the farm. It reminds me of the summers we used to spend in New Brunswick, Canada, vacationing on a farm that my grandmother grew up on. My three great-aunts still lived and farmed there, and we would visit them every summer for a couple of weeks. I have first-hand experience of the cows walking single file to get in and out of the pasture for milking.

Big Hugs, Karen! It must have been awful for your dad to go so sudden. I can feel your affection for his tractor through your post. It's a connection to your dad too.

Peonies & Magnolias said...

I love your post. I remember when I was a young girl visiting my grandparents and my grandfather would call the cows at night. It always amazed me that they would come when he called being as we were city kids.

The end brought tears as I read about your father although you can feel the love while reading your post.

I hope you have a great weekend.


Lona said...

I love your stories about your life on the farm. So similar to my own only it was on my grandpas farm. His gem was a new Ford tractor I remember him getting. When he died my Dad got it and overhauled it and now my son has it. I remember taking that tractor out in the fields and into the woods so many times.
I remember when Grandpa bought his first car too. He use to stick money into a slot onto the top of an old cigar box. He used the money he had saved in the cigar box to purchase the car.Just before the dealer delivered the car to him he had Grandma taking the money out of the cigar box and ironing it because it was all wrinkled up from being stuffed into the cigar box. LOL! We laughed over that for years afterward about Grandma ironing the money. LOL!
Have a wonderful weekend.

Missy said...

Karen. You really do have a gift for bringing a story to life. I found myself falling in love with your tractor as well, and with the connection it holds for you with your Dad.

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

I loved your story. Brought tears to my eyes. Your comments about the cow paths took me back to my childhood on the farm in central WI. We used to walk them barefoot, watching out for the surprises left behind by the cows. I don't have such fond memories of the tractors, though, I have to say. In fact, I was scared of them. My sister was the one who had to drive the tractor for making hay. I only had to do it once -- and it was not pretty. I was shaking like a leaf, I accidentally popped the clutch, the tractor jerked ahead and dumped a hay bale on my dad's head. Needless to say, he was NOT happy. I think that was the last time I had to drive. After that we got a pop-up baler, so we didn't need a driver and a loader. The baler did all of the work. Sure made those hay bales hard to unload, though, when they were just tossed on the wagon instead of neatly stacked. I swear that's where I got my upper body strength from is tossing hay bales around every summer. Hard work! You can take the girl off the farm, but you can't take the farmer out of the girl :-) Hopefully you'll have many more good years with your tractor.

Beth said...

Karen, Your river photos are stunning! Glad you made the trip and shared it with us. Karen, you are such a hard worker, driving the tractor and all that gardening. You are amazing. What you wrote about your father including his passing touched my heart.
Hugs, Beth

Rosemary said...

Karen Loved this post , every word and every picture.... You made your love of tractors come alive.. My husband was born and raised on a farm and has a deep love for tractors and your description of the joy of haying rings so true for him as well... As
quick as your Dad went sometimes a blessing rather than suffer.

Rosemary said...

Karen you won my blog candy so do email me at with your address so I can send them off. Rosemary

Gatsbys Gardens said...


That river and the rocks look beautiful and scary, but that's how nature is.

That 574 needs vintage status especially for how closely it is connected to your family.


Darla said...

That river does look fierce! Beautiful rock formation all around it. You look so cute on your tractor....and the memories you have are great! Is this the way you are journaling them for your kids?

Kelsie From Our Country Home said...

Wow Karen, I can see why that tractor means so much to you...Like many of your readers I am typing this with tears in my eyes at the passing of your dad...I am so glad you are taking such good care of the heritage he left you and I am sure though he probably wouldn't say it out loud, he is very proud of you.

Thank you for this amazing journey down memory lane, from pasturing the cows to shiny red paint...

Blessings Kelsie

Tufa Girl said...

Loved the photos of the raging river. We had the spillway break at Canyon Lake here a few years ago and the lazy river became something like your photos. The power of the water is awesome.

Your stories remind me of the time when I was young and we lived on a small farm in Missouri. So many of the same type memories.

You work harder than any woman I know. I am certain the wonderful scenery and memories make it all worth while.