How I met Mrs Ed

Valentines Day, a day to remember loves lost and love found. Remember fourth grade when boys and girls exchanged valentines and you studied each one looking for some hidden meaning? It’s probably a good thing most people don’t choose their soul mate in 4th grade. It’s like buying a horse because it is cute, beautiful or handsome. As an old timer once told me, cute doesn’t make the horse. It’s brains, attitude and personality. He also mentioned they need to have good feet, and that they don’t kick, bite or run away. I guess those things could be applied to humans too.

When it comes to love and horses I personally believe in fate and test drives. Fate is how Mrs Ed and I found each other. We were a bit younger then. Funny how we grow older but true love stays forever young. I digress. It was the fall of 72 when our worlds met. She left her home in a small west central Minnesota town and I left the farm for Morris and the University of Minnesota. My older brother was there and it seemed like a pretty good place to go.

It was late September, as Morris starts later to accommodate the farm kids like myself who needed to help with the fall harvest. We had just finished filling silo when I packed my suitcase and the quilt mom made me. She made quilts for each of us when we left home. Again I digress. Heading down the driveway that day I knew my life was changing forever. Little did I know that in less than twenty four hours, it would be tipped on it’s ear.

Morris has a freshman orientation week for new enrollees. This helps with the transition from home and high school to the rigors of college. The week was filled with activities to help us meet new people and get adjusted to life in the dorm. It helped to keep shy farm kids like myself from becoming homesick and bolting for home. The process begins with being assigned to your freshman orientation group, students from your dorm, with whom you do orientation activities.

Digressing for a moment, remember in the classic Christmas movie, Christmas Vacation , when Chevy Chase spots the perfect Christmas tree? That’s kind of what happened when I first laid eyes on the future Mrs Ed. We were assigned to the same orientation group. I didn’t know about the lifelong thing at the time but she told me later she did. I guess that’s because she is smarter than me. One time when we were having a little difference of opinion, I made the comment “I can’t be too dumb, I married you”. Again I digress.

For me it was the smile. A nice smile will get you every time. There is an old saying, smile, they will wonder what you are up to. I smiled back. That night we sat on the steps of the Music Hall and talked for hours. The future Mrs Ed turned out to be a very compassionate person and intelligent student. I on the other hand, was more helpless and naive, kind of like a puppy I suppose. Girls love puppies. Maybe it worked.

I never took typing in high school. They probably should have made it a prerequisite for college, especially for people with bad handwriting. Gayle, on the other hand, could type thousands of words a minute. And she could spell too! It took her awhile to decipher my bad hand writing. When things got tense, I reverted to printing. She and the old Smith Corolla got me through college.

Remember when I mentioned the test drive in reference to horses? I learned the hard way that when you go to buy horses take them for a test drive. You should learn in a hurry if you should write out a check or say ” thanks, but no thanks”. There came the day, actually two events in our relationship, that might qualify as the test drive. they both involve laundry.

Growing up a boy on a farm, I got clothes dirty, I didn’t wash them. It was something mom did that I suppose I just took for granted and didn’t appreciate until later in life. Again I digress. Back to the first test drive. The future Mrs Ed and I became best friends. Best friends do stuff together. Eventually I ran out of clean clothes. When you run out of clean clothes best friends tell you you stink. I had two choices, buy new clothes or do laundry. When I said I was going to buy new clothes she scoffed at me,”Don’t you know how to do laundry?”. I guess my helpless puppy look gave me away. “Get your clothes, we are going to the laundromat “. I had a car. I felt I could contribute and off we went.

Laundromats are pretty scary places for first timers. Lines of whining machines, top loaders, front loaders, coin slots, detergent chutes, ironing, folding and hanging areas. It was intimidating. Everyone there seemed like they knew what they were doing. I carried in the baskets. The future Mrs Ed took charge. “The whites, go here, don’t wash the towels with the jeans, put the socks and underwater in a separate pile”. “Wow”, I thought, “Clothes are all made of cloth, can’t we just throw them together?”

I suppressed my naive thoughts and did as I was told. Washing machines loaded, we sat quietly and read magazines. Ding! The washing machines stopped one by one. Time to transfer the clothes to the dryers. The future Mrs Ed staked out dryers, putting different clothes in different whirling machines. “Here” she said, “Take this basket of underwear (best friends can wash underwear together) and put it with the something clothes” I don’t remember exactly what, but she pointed to a dryer down the line. I did as I was told, I picked up the basket, walked up to the dryer, opened the door, flung the load of wet underwear in, closed the door and pushed the start button. The machine whirled round and round. Quite proud of myself I looked at her and smiled. I knew something was up when she didn’t smile back. “What”? I asked. “What were you doing over there?” “”Putting the underwear in the dryer” I said, probably looking a bit bewildered. “That’s not our dryer”. She scoffed.

About that time a young man walked up to the machine to check his clothes. I excused myself to go finish reading about Stalking Big Bucks in Field and Stream. The future Mrs Ed calmly walked up, and proceeded to help sort out the personals from a stranger’s clothes. If the roles had been reversed and this would have been a test drive of a new horse, I would have said “Thanks, but no thanks”. Not the future Mrs Ed. She apparently liked the animal enough to give him a second chance.

The second event took place about two weeks later and again involved laundry. This time we went to the other laundry in town. I guess people usually go to the same laundromat so the chances of running into someone you had met there before were less likely. Anyway we’re we’re loading washing machines, front loaders. You put the clothes in, plug in the quarters, push start and at a certain point, add detergent. Again it’s a busy day, lots of machines going. Clothes in, machines spinning, the future Mrs Ed decides to give me another chance. “Here’s a box of soap, go put some in the machine. Put it in the chute at the top that says Detergent. Got it” “Yup, I can do that”. So I walk over to the machine, open the chute and pour in the powdered soap. I give it a little extra because my jeans had a little grease on them. I close the chute, look up and smile.

“Now what”? I remember saying when I didn’t get the smile of approval I was expecting. “What were you doing at that machine?” “Putting soap in like you said. And I put a little extra in so the clothes would get cleaner” I figured that would show my initiative to learn to be helpful. “That’s not our machine” she whispered. “And how much did you put in?”.

By this time the suds building up in the glass door on the front loader were noticeably apparent. I watched as it crept up the glass until the clothes were no longer visible. Seconds passed, minutes seemed like hours as the machine swished and chugged. Them the little chute at the top moved. It started to open on its own. Wisps of soap bubbles began to ooze out and crept across the top of the machine.

About that time I remembered I needed to check the oil in the car. That took a while to make sure I was reading the dipstick correctly. When I observed the future “Mrs Ed removing clothes from the dryers and putting them in the basket I figured I’d go and help carry them to the car. As I walked past the errant washing machine I observed a young man inspecting the white residue on his jeans.
Sad to say, I remained silent.

Fortunately for me the future Mrs Ed was apparently so smitten by love, that she got past this second test drive. Funny thing, she had me teach her to drive a stick shift so she didn’t have to bother me the next time it came to do clothes.

Four years of college passed quickly. Our friendship endured. We met on the first day and were married the day after we graduated. We still have those test drive moments. A few years ago,on our anniversary, someone asked me how long we had been married “27 great and wonderful years” I said with an exuberant smile. I glanced at Mrs Ed for her reaction. She scoffed. “We have been married for 28 years “.

My valentine and I a few years ago.

Mr Ed’s Farm education program outline. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Mr Ed’s Farm is a work in progress that started a long time ago. When I was an elementary school student, Mrs. Johnson took us on a field trip. We had studied Minnesota History. We had studied American Indians. I was a voracious reader, consuming everything the school library had on the topic. I also had a vivid imagination.

The field trip was not a long one. Field trips for school kids don’t have to be. Our class went to Crow Wing State Park, just south of Brainerd where the Crow Wing River flows into the Mississippi. I had never been to a State Park. Being outdoors in a beautiful wooded setting gave me a wonderful first impression. Mrs. Johnson obviously knew a lot about the park and it’s historical significance. We walked to the place where the Ojibwe ambushed the Dakota in a battle that took place in 1768. I remember sitting in those depressions on the river bank, imagining canoes coming around the river bend. I remember looking at and studying the ruts left by the Red River Ox Carts in 1844. We had seen pictures of the ox carts in our social studies book. I could imagine the beasts plodding along with carts filled with wheat, their wheels squeaking under the strain.

The once thriving town of Old Crow Wing, abandoned after the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the river at Brainerd in 1871, fueled my imagination. Mrs Johnson pointed out where buildings had been. We tip-toed through the old cemetery, straining to read the names and dates. I don’t know if I was one of those kids who asked her who these people were. If I didn’t ask, I wanted to. I know this experience contributed to my lifelong interest in genealogy and a 34-year career in the profession of history. I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Johnson for bringing history to life and my life to history.

I had the good fortune to be involved in Beyond School Walls, the education program at IRONWORLD and the Forest History Center school field trip program. These programs serve tens of thousands of students and their teachers. I was able to witness students experience those learning moments. I was able to work with a cadre of skilled teachers and interpreters who responded to student’s questions and thoughts with enthusiasm and humility.

I retired in January of 2012, a mere two days after I reached my rule of 90. I retired, not to get away from a job I loved, but to undertake a new venture. I love history, but my heart goes back to my agricultural roots. As a kid, we never went on a farm field trip. Many of us didn’t have too, we lived the life. Most of the town kids in our school were only a generation removed from the land. They could still visit farms owned by their grand parents or other relatives.

America has changed greatly over the past two generations. The migration from rural to urban has continued at a rapid rate as farm raised children seek employment in non-agricultural professions. The number of working farms has greatly diminished during my life. Opportunities for youth to experience farm life up close and personal are few and far in-between — especially in northern Minnesota. Locating a working farm that can accommodate groups of students and provide meaningful learning experiences within driving distance of a school may not be possible for many teachers.

Mr. Ed’s Farm is located on 160 acres of land about 12 miles east of Hibbing in the Little Swan Area. Originally the land was deeded by the State of Minnesota to a railroad company in 1884. Such deeds were common back then, not to build a railroad on the land, but to sell the land to finance building railroads. The railroad sold the land to the Cloquet Lumber Company in 1888 presumably to be logged off. Hans Foss bought the cutover timberland in 1920. The adjacent road is named after him. Andrew Forsman bought the land in 1921. Mike and Mary Puleiz (Pulis) bought the farm in 1930. We purchased the farm from the Pulis family in 1985.

Like many northern Minnesota farms, it was carved out of cutover timber land. Most farmers raised small grains, hay, potatoes and kept a variety of livestock including a few dairy cows. Farmers had big gardens and raised most of the food they ate. In the early days these farms were powered by horses. This is evidenced by the fact that after we moved to the farm, I discovered many pieces of horse drawn equipment long abandoned and forgotten in the woods.

In 1985, a much younger Mr. Ed undertook the arduous process of reclaiming the land and rejuvenating what remained of the original farm. Numerous outbuildings that had fallen into disrepair were torn down. Barb wire fences, hidden in tall meadow grass, had to be pulled, rolled and carefully disposed of before new fences could be built. The old barn, built with tamarack logs most likely cut from the back forty, needed to be cleaned out and new siding applied. Fields overgrown with brush had to be cleared and reworked.

Within a short period of time, a flock of sheep, some chickens and a team of horses, brought new life to the farm. Over the years, a number of new buildings have been built to house livestock and store machinery. While the farm has tractors used for special tasks, most of the work today is performed by horses using many of the same machines and practices of the heyday of horse farming.

Successful school field trips have certain requirements. They need a relevant theme and purpose. They need a place that can accommodate groups of children that is intrinsically appealing and safe. They need to have a structured learning experience. They need to be aesthetically appealing to students and teachers. They require a high level of expertise and enthusiasm by the instructors. They need to be hands-on, engaging and involve all the students in meaningful ways. They need to be designed to encourage students to ask questions and solve problems. They need to make a connection between the theme and the student’s life. They need to generate empathy for the people whose lives are being interpreted.

The educational theme for Mr. Ed’s Farm is “Agriculture is important and relevant to humans.” The program’s purpose is to provide an opportunity for students to experience life firsthand on a working livestock and crop farm. The program incorporates agricultural history because it focuses on farm life in northern Minnesota during the 1930’s when horses were the major source of power and farm families grew most of their own food.

Mr Ed’s Farm has the infrastructure to support a school field trip program. The buildings and livestock enclosures are learning friendly. The croplands are being actively farmed. Children are naturally drawn to animals. The inventory includes eleven species of farm animals typically found on a diversified northern Minnesota farm during the 1930s. Percheron draft horses provide the bulk of the power for the farming operations.

A structured field trip experience is under development. While the farm will be able to accommodate children of all ages, the core structured program is initially being designed for students grade 2-6. The tour will be designed to accommodate classroom size groups. Each group will be assigned a facilitator. The hands-on activities for each learning area will be age appropriate. There will be a combination of individual, team and all group activities. The field trip experience will be initially designed to be three hours in length with a picnic lunch time.

The following is under development:
Students, upon exiting the bus, will be greeted by their facilitator. After welcoming the class to the farm, the facilitator will inform them they will be helping with the chores. They will be assigned to teams of 4-6 depending on the class size. Each team will be featured in certain parts of the tour.

Initially we have identified five major learning areas. They are: Animal Husbandry, Crops and Soil, Farm Mechanics, Horsepower and Feed and Seed. Each group will rotate through the learning stations. Upon reaching a station, the facilitator will ask the assigned team to step forward. Team members will be instructed on how they need to work together to accomplish their task.

For example:

Feed and Seed: This station will explore what a farmer needs to do to raise grain for the animals and himself. There will be different grains to identify, corn to shell, grain to clean and feed and flour to grind.

Animal husbandry: This will be a series of mini stations to learn about the care and feeding of sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, goats, llama’s, ducks, rabbits, dogs, barn cats and horses. It will also highlight the reasons they are raised and the products they provide.

Farm mechanics: This station will feature how things work, what the machines are used for and what is involved in maintaining and repairing equipment and tools. Basic principles of physics will be explored.

Crops and soils: This station will focus on the importance of soil and how farmers are stewards of the land. They will learn about the characteristics of different kinds of soil, about seeds, weeds, insects and diseases. Planting, tending and harvesting will be included.

Horsepower: This station will feature the care and use of draft horses, historically and today. Students will learn about feeding, training, harnessing and maintenance of working horses.

All group activities will include planting a garden, turning a horsepower and a horse drawn wagon ride.

As the tour progresses, the facilitator will help students make connections between their individual responsibilities. For example: What happens if the seed is not cleaned and weed seeds removed? The point is to make the students aware of the many things a farmer has to do to grow food for people and their livestock. Everyone’s job is important and connected to everyone else’s.

The learning experiences will be designed to engage the students in problem solving exercises. For example, students may be asked how do you know how much to feed a horse? They will need to take into consideration the size and condition of the animal and what type of work it is doing. What do you think will happen if… questions will be posed and students will be asked for their suggestions and solutions.

The learning experiences will incorporate relevance and empathy whenever possible. For example, drought and potato bugs were major problems in the 1930’s. Students will be asked to imagine that they had to get their food from a garden and that they had to raise food for their animals. Then they would ponder the question; What would happen if it didn’t rain? Or if the potato bugs ate all the leaves and blossoms and there were no potatoes to dig? What if a fox got all your chickens and you had no eggs to sell or trade for food?

The facilitators will incorporate stories from the Great Depression era on how people coped with natural and economic hard times. These stories will emphasize what it was to be a child on a hard scramble, northern Minnesota farm. The conversation will be interspersed with thought-provoking questions: What would you do? How do you think those kids felt? How would you feel if this happened to your family?

Finally, the field trip is intended to leave the students with a memorable experience. This is the day they got to visit Mr. Ed’s Farm. This is the day they were asked to help with the chores. This was the day they got to see, feed and pet real farm animals. This was the day their class worked, played and shared a real horse drawn wagon ride to see huge draft horses performing farm work.

Students learn where food comes from.
Students learn the meanings of words like agriculture, crops, livestock husbandry, planting, harvesting, soil and more
Students learn about daily life and seasons on a farm
Students learn how they are connected to each other and the world they live in by working together to produce a crop.
Students learn how, children born in another time, lived and how that compares to their lives today.

Please feel free to provide comments, suggestions and ideas. Mr. Ed’s Farm is a work in progress. My email address is

A view from the driveway

A view from the front porch

The night I almost made it home

Being away from home for an extended period of time for a farmer is like a barn sour horse. You can physically get away but it’s always in the back of your mind. Going away from the “barn” the horse goes increasing slower. Coming back, hang on! I’ve worked horses that appear dog tired only to have them suddenly come to life like colts when you turn and head them back towards home. Logging horses are the same way. Coming out of the woods with a log, they have pep in their step. When you turn and head them back for another log, you would can almost hear them saying, “ah come on, do we have too?”

Growing up on a dairy farm, we always planned our lives to be home no later than five o’clock. There is a feeling of special responsibility to make sure the cows get milked at the same times every day. If you were late you almost felt like you needed to apologize. There is a saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk! If we spilled the milk or broke an egg, mom would say, “You better apologize to the cows or the chickens”.

This feeling of responsibility never leaves a farm born person. The snowstorm raging outside tonight reminds me of a time early in Mr. Ed’s Farm’s history. It was the time I almost made it home. It was the time Mrs Ed saved the day.

Doing chores is not her favorite job. Occasionally she will help me, probably just because she enjoys my company. If I’m running late I’ll say, “So, did you do the chores?” “No” she replies, “you better go apologize to the animals”. I know I’ve pushed the wrong button when she asks me “So how much are those sheep and horses worth and do you know of anyone who might want to buy them? ” “No, I don’t know anyone with enough money to buy those valuable animals”. “Hummm, I could almost hear her thinking”.

The night I almost made it home began two days earlier. It was March, about state tournament time, about the time when blizzards hit the Range. I had to go to St. Paul for a three day meeting. Reluctantly, Mrs. Ed agreed to feed the animals. I gave her a list of things to do and laid out extra bales of hay.

By the time I headed down the driveway, the uneasy feeling began to creep into my mind.
By the time I reached Floodwood, the car was slower by three miles an hour. By Hinckley cars were passing me with ease. At Forest Lake heads turned to see who was driving. I reached the motel, had supper, and called home. “Everything ok?” “Yes, everything is fine”. “So far, so good”, I thought,

I woke up in the morning and called. “Everything ok?” A less than enthusiastic “Yes” followed. I concentrated as best I could on the business at hand until someone asked “So who’s doing the chores?” Thought of heading to the barn crept into my consciousness. Only a day and a half to go.. Supper and time to call home. “Everything ok? A quiet pause on the end of the phone. “I guess so”.

“How’s the weather?” I asked, trying to move the conversation along. “It’s snowing”. “Really, it’s not snowing here”. Quiet pause. “I watched the six o’clock news. They said there’s a blizzard coming”.
Not thinking I blurted out “Make sure you put the sheep in. Don’t want them to get wet”. Pause in conversation. “When do you think you will be home? “The meeting gets done about four”. “I’ll call you in the morning”. Pretty much end of conversation. Better check weather channel. Yup, there’s a blizzard hitting tomorrow. Travel warnings and all. Restless night of sleep, dreaming about wet sheep and a less than happy spouse calling around to see if anyone is shopping for livestock.

Morning call. “Hello. When will you be home?” I sense a hint of tension in her voice. I tried to explain my dilemma “I’m not sure. There’s a blizzard coming and the roads are supposed to be bad”. “So what time are you leaving”? “The meeting is over at four”. “So you will be home by 7:30.”?
I didn’t ask how it was going.

I’ll admit, I ditched out of the meeting about an hour early. By this time, the blizzard was approaching full force. I wormed my way out of downtown St. Paul and onto the freeway. It looked like it was going to be slow going. Then it hit me, I was heading back to the barn. The car creeped up to the speed of traffic. For some reason, about Pine City, the other cars started slowing down. I found myself passing cars with ease. By the time I hit Cloquet, I was passing snowplows. By the time I made it to the Hibbing cutoff at Highway 37, the plows were heading back to the barn too.

The drifts rattled the car. Oncoming headlights faded in and out in the darkness. My hands were numb from my grasp on the wheel. Eyes straight ahead, I found myself getting memorized by the driving snow. Pushing on into the darkness with low beams, not able to recognize landmarks, time seemed to be slowing. Finally my turn on highway five. It quickly became evident the county plows had long since headed back to their barn. Three miles to go. Snow billowed over the hood as I hit drift after drift. I slowed, looking for the sign for our road. Finally the sign. There must be a road there someplace, I thought.

Now in a situation like this, there comes a moment of truth. I can feel the barn. So close. Do I plow ahead and risk getting stuck? Do I hit it hard and if I keep it moving and hope I make it? Of course I did not have a shovel. The turn came up fast. Big drift left by the last plow. I hit it at a pretty good speed. The car lurched, the undercarriage screeched on the crust as I pressed the accelerator. I came to a roaring stop as the car hung up on a snow drift, wheels spinning helplessly. One mile to the barn and going nowhere. At least I’m off the highway, I thought. Time to bundle up. Wish I had remembered to bring my boots and maybe a flashlight.

By now I was long overdue. This was the days before cell phones. I had just driven 199 miles. Now I had the longest one left. It was then I empathized with a tired horse when he knows he’s made the last round and you point him towards the barn. Somewhere down deep I found the strength to push on. One step at a time, one snow bank, then another until I could see the yard light. Up the driveway, to the side door of the house. Too cold to find my house key, I pounded on the door. “Who is it” I heard from inside. I don’t know if I said ” It’s me” or what I was really thinking.

The door opened. Now I know why the horses try to run over me when I open the barn door. “Did you miss me”? I asked, to see if she was still speaking to me. Then I made my first mistake. “Did you do the chores”? If looks could kill. Second mistake “No? Well you better go apologize to the animals” I joked. Daggers. I didn’t ask her if she locked up the sheep. Figured I’d go out and see for myself.

Doing chores is one thing. Doing winter chores is another. Doing winter chores in a snowstorm tests even the most ardent farm person. Mrs Ed, as it turns out, did a great job. The sheep were dry and snug in the barn. This was the winter before we dug in the waterline. She had carried pail after pail of water to the sheep. She had opened the barn and let the horses in. They were grateful to get out of the wind and had a great time running loose in the barn.

By the next morning, the storm had passed. The plows had not been by yet. I knew I had to get my car off the road. Thank goodness for horses. I had made a heavy v plow with a three horse evener. I harnessed the trio of horses and headed down the road. It was a heavy pull even for three horses. They were steaming and breathing hard by the time we got to the car. I turned them around on the highway. An amazing thing happened. They were headed toward the barn. Away we went, three colts and a guy hanging on for dear life.

Lesson learned: Don’t leave the farm when there is a blizzard coming. If you do, you may have to do some serious apologizing.

Mrs Ed’s favorite Duncan print

My faithful chore partner, Winston

Staring death in the eye, he said”No problem”

My buddy Duane and I have been going up to Ely to help with the ice harvest for the past five years. The event is a throw back to the days before electric refrigerators. While electric power reached American cities in the late 1800’s, much of rural America did not get power until FDR’s Rural Electrification program during the 1930’s. Many rural areas in northern Minnesota did not get electricity until the 1950’s. Farmers joined Rural Electric Cooperatives and in many cases had to help dig in the posts and string the wire.

Electricity revolutionized life for farmers. One of the first things they bought were washing machines. Imagine how the machine most of us take for granted, changed the life of a farm wife? Refrigeration was another life changer. Prior to freezers, farmers had to salt and smoke meats. Butchering was not done until the weather was predictably cold. Milk and other perishables could now be kept from spoiling without the labor required to maintain an icebox.

Iceboxes are pieces of furniture with insulated compartments with ice on the bottom and the food on top. A small drain hole in the bottom let the melted water out. Large ice companies built huge warehouses next to bodies of water, usually lakes, so the ice could be cut and transported into the insulated icehouses. Often the ice warehouse was serviced by a railroad so the ice could be shipped and sold across the country.

The ice warehouses had heavily insulated walls and roofs. The ice blocks were packed in sawdust. Stored this way, the ice held from the end of the harvest, through the winter and to the beginning of the next winter.

Preparation for harvesting ice began when the ice was thick enough to walk on. Crews of workers kept the ice free of snow to increase the depth and clarity of the ice. Ice contaminated by snow does not keep as well as solid ice.

When the ice was deemed thick enough, large crews of laborers were mobilized. The goal was to harvest the needed amount of ice in the shortest amount of time. The ice fields were scored using a grid system. A horse pulled a marker and a spacer guide that had short teeth to mark out the lines. Once the ice was scored, a horse drawn ice cutter cut a groove into the ice. The knife did not cut all the way through to the water. A chisel and saw were used to free the first block of ice. Once the first block was removed, the next blocks were broken off with a chisel or cut with an ice hand saw. The free floating blocks were floated to a hoist here they were conveyed to the ice house. Once inside, laborers stacked the cubes into layers and rows. Sawdust was added to keep them from freezing together.

Pictures show the ice plows usually being pulled by one horse and the horse being led, not driven from behind. Also the horse is hooked to the plow at a distance by a rope. This was done to minimize side pressure on the plow and prevent the shear from snapping off. Also a heavy rope was looped around the horse’s neck in case of a emergency. Even though the horses were shod, they were susceptible to slipping into the open water. If a horse went in, the men would grab the rope and choke off it’s wind. This caused two things to happen. It would prevent the horse from inhaling water and drowning. Second, it would trap the air in the horse, making it more buoyant and easier to haul out.

My dad told us about how they cut ice on the farm. Their ice harvest involved the whole neighborhood. All of the neighbors would converge on a beaver pond on Daggett Brooke on a cold winter day with their horses and bob sleds. A hole would be cut and chunks sawed free with one handled ice saws. He remembered times when the water was so low, there would be mud and sticks imbedded in the chunks of ice. Fortunately they didn’t need to drink the water from the ice. I’m sure these neighborhood ice harvests were common throughout the northern states.

The Ely ice harvest is a little more modern. Chain saws, minus the bar oil, are used to score the ice. Oil would contaminate the water. Also the chain saw does not cut all the way through. If it comes in contact with water, the chain will freeze. Hand saws are used to cut blocks approximately six by six feet. A line is attached to the block. The block is bounced in the water until one edge catches the edge of a plank. Once this happens a group of people grab the rope and pull the block onto the adjacent ice. The big blocks are cut into smaller cubes of clear ice about sixteen inches square. These are loaded on a sled and hauled to the icehouse on top of the hill with horses.

The horsepower this year was provided by 4 Shire horses. These horses performed admirably, given the steep grade up the side of the lake. They have to be able to work and pull together. A rope and pulley system was used to even out the load. Even so, the teamster had to be able to manage the lines to control the speed and direction of the leaders and the wheel team for everything to work correctly.

Duane and I did not supply the horses this year. It was nice to attend under these circumstances. My percherons, Mick and Bud, hauled the ice the first two years. The first year, the temperature did not get above 20 below zero. It was brutal but not as dramatic as 2011.

To set the stage for this adventure, you need to know a few things. Cedar lake is about a dozen miles out of Ely. It is at the end of a road that gets smaller and smaller and increasingly hillier and curvier. To haul a team and a sled you need at least a 20 foot stock trailer and a full size four wheel drive truck. The last three miles, before you turn into the mile long driveway, are marked by a sign ” minimum maintenance road”. In 2011, a winter with ample snow in the Arrowhead region, this portion was being maintained as a snowmobile trail.

Duane, a retired professional truck driver, was at the wheel of my Dodge one ton and 20 foot fifth wheel trailer. When we reached the place in the road where the snowplow had turned around, I asked ” So what do we do now?” Without missing a beat he said “No problem, we’ll just keep going”. Snow banks scratching the sides of the trailer, it was clear backing out or turning around were not options. “What if we meet someone”? I asked “They will have to back up” . “What about when we get to those hills?” ” Put it in four wheel drive”.

Amazingly we made it around the curves and up the hills. I noticed he was taking the curves as wide as he could and that the trailer was crowding the snow banks. Every once in a while an overhanging tree would slam into the trailer. I don’t know who winced more, the trailer’s owner or the horses. I don’t have to say, I breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the parking area. Duane wiggled the trailer around in a tight space. Soon we had the sled unloaded, horses hooked, and started hauling ice. The day itself went very well.

At day’s end we loaded Duane’s team of Belgium horses, Duke and Bud, and the sled into the trailer. Tired and cold, we said our goodbyes. Dusk was upon us by the time we warmed up the truck. Knowing what the first four miles held, I quietly took a deep breath and said a prayer. Lights on, diesel engine revved up, we set out. “God, please don’t let us meet anyone”, I said to myself.

As we approached the curve and hill from hell, I held my breath. Duane eased her on, trying to hug the outside without putting the front tire over the edge of the ditch we couldn’t see. Half way up the hill, the thing I feared most, if I had thought of it, happened. Suddenly a lone light shot over the hill and headed straight towards us. I gasped! The snowmobiler saw us at the same instant and slammed on his brakes. Unable to do anything else, Duane brought the truck and trailer to an abrupt stop. But not before the right front wheel slid over the edge. A birch tree lodged against my door. I had to crawl out the driver’s door.

We are miles from nowhere, deep in wolf infested wilderness, it’s getting dark. I check my cell phone. Of course, “No service”. “What do we do now?” I asked. “No, problem.” he said, “Start shoveling”. Ok, sounds like a plan. After shoveling the front wheel free, Duane was able to rock the truck free. Backing as far down the hill as he could, he took a run at it. The truck roared and inched up the hill. Halfway up, it started to slide toward the ditch. Stop, back up, try again. Halfway through the third try, a set of headlights appeared at the top of the hill and inched toward us. It was a pickup truck, a four wheel drive we hoped. The driver got out. A conversation ensued. The driver tried to back the truck up the hill. No luck. Now we had a truck between us and the rest of our now short lives.

“What do we do now”? I asked, starting to sound like a broken record. “Unload the sled and get the horses out”. “What if they can’t pull it”? Duane smiled “Guess we’ll have to shoot-um”. I almost said, “but we don’t have a gun” until I realized he was kidding. We slid the sled out, and unloaded the team. The horses had to scramble up and over the snow bank. The truck’s owner shook his head as he hooked the chain to the truck’s trailer hitch and then to the eveners. Duane gave the driver the signal to start backing up. He chuckled to Bud and Duke. They dug in. Snow flying from all eight feet, they hauled that pickup up and over the hill. The driver pulled over to the side at a wide spot. It was obvious there was no point in hooking his truck to our truck.

“Ok, now what”? I asked? “Get the chain, hook it to the front of the truck.” The horses rested quietly while we reloaded the sled. I shook my head. I thought to myself, “There isn’t any way they were going to pull a one ton dully and a 20 foot featherlight up and over a hill on a slippery road”. It was really dark by now. I could imagine a pack of hungry wolves licking their jowls, lurking in the dark woods just out of sight. With our options rapidly diminishing, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

Sled loaded, horses hooked, I climbed into the truck. I double checked, yup, it was in four wheel drive. Duane steadied himself, gathered up the lines, glanced in my direction, nodded and chuckled to his team. I gently let out the clutch. The truck, wheels caught in a rut, inched toward the ditch. The horses eased into their collars. Duane chuckled again. What happened next was absolutely remarkable.

Once they felt the weight, those boys lowered their bodies and dug in. The truck began to straighten out and move forward. I grasp the steering wheel with both fists, but didn’t really need to. The horses held it straight. Snow flew from all four wheels as we roared toward the top. Inch by inch, foot by foot, Duke and Bud never let up. Duane’s steps became strides as we picked up speed. We crested the hill before Duane and the team stopped. Duane turned to look at me. He was grinning from ear to ear. He didn’t need to say anything else.

We walked the team to end of the driveway and onto the main road. After unloading the sled, loading the horses and reloading the sled, we started out. It was now completely dark so it was easy to see the oncoming head lights. I almost said “What do we do now?” When Duane said, “We ain’t gonna back up”. The cars stopped. A conversation ensued. We found a flat spot on the side of the road and started shoveling, just enough for a car. The car pulled in, we pulled by. The car went on. We backed up. The second car pulled in. We pulled by and went on our way. Fortunately we didn’t meet anyone else until we got to town.

As we approached the City of Ely, I started to breath again. I glanced at the clock. It was after 7. I realized we had not eaten all day. “How about stopping for a sandwich”. Duane said “Sounds good”
Just to test his unflappableness I asked “What if their out of coffee?” “We will have to shoot them” “But we don’t have a gun”.

That’s the day I learned that sometimes it’s best to just look death in the eye, grin and say “no Problem”.

A four horse hitch pulled the sled load of ice up the steep grade

Pulling a large block of ice from the water


There is one word that sends shivers through the heart of sheep ranchers besides wolves, eagles and bears. It is COYOTES!. People ask me if predators ever get our sheep. Mostly they are thinking timber wolves.

“Not that I know of, ” I tell them. “We have coyotes, and I heard that coyotes and wolves don’t occupy the same territories.”

“So having coyotes is a good thing?”

“Not exactly. They are smaller than wolves so they are less likely to kill a full grown sheep. But they can develop a taste for lamb especially in the spring when they are feeding their young.”

“So, what do you do?.”

“I lamb early and don’t let the lambs go out on pasture.”

I did have a serious problem one time with canines killing the sheep. I went out one morning to find a couple ewes in the barn lot that had been killed and some others that were torn up. It was horrible. It’s a helpless feeling because there isn’t anything you can do if you don’t catch the culprits in the act. The worst thing is the likelihood of their returning after they have tasted blood is pretty good.

At that time we had a family of geese on the farm. I am not crazy about geese because they do two annoying things. One, they sneak up behind kids and wives and “goose” them. If you have ever been pinched on the butt when you’re not expecting it, it’s not funny. Mrs. Ed has a pretty quick left hook, but that’s another story. The other bad thing about geese is they like to make themselves at home, like on the front door step and sidewalk. They leave little treats for you to step in.

Geese do have one redeeming quality. They are great at sounding alarms when something is out of the ordinary. That night I chased the family of geese in the barn and made a little pen for them. They weren’t happy because I corralled them before they left their treats. As anyone who has goose experience knows, adult geese are very protective of their young. They do a lot of honking and wing flapping if they think their goslings are in danger.

Dusk followed by darkness came. I went to bed with an uneasy feeling. Even though it was cold outside, I kept the bedroom window open. Half asleep, I kept my ear’s on high alert. The night nearly passed without incident. It was about the time when the first rooster announces the new day that the geese let loose. The instant uproar sent me straight up and out of bed. Flying downstairs to where I had readied my trusty shot gun. I pulled on my old coat, jumped in my boots and sped towards the barn. Even before I reached the door I knew something was seriously wrong. The commotion included sheep baaing, chickens cackling and geese honking and flapping their wings.

I carefully opened the door to the entryway. It was still dark in the barn. I didn’t want to turn on the light for fear I would give the killers a chance to escape. I crept in. The noise masked the squeak in the door hinges. I had the gun loaded and ready to fire. Then I saw them! The sheep, in full panic were piled up in a corner. Two ugly looking snarling dogs had them trapped. One bloody sheep lay sprawled out on the straw. Intent on stalking their next victim, the beasts didn’t even look at me when I raised the gun.

I don’t particularly like guns and I don’t like shooting animals. This is one time I did not hesitate, and I did not miss. Unfortunately for me, the second dog did not wait around. He disappeared into the dark cover of the nearby woods. He never returned. The dead dog had a collar but no identification. We called the police to let them know what happened and a little blurb appeared in the local paper. Hopefully whoever owned the dogs read it and tied the animal up.

This story has a lighter side. Faced with the possibility of predation, I consulted my trusty sheep books. There were three options. Get a guard dog, some European breed that lives with the sheep. The more I read, the more uncomfortable I became. It seems these dogs are very protective and in some cases, consider people intruders. Maybe a little too harsh, I thought. Might be harder to get a stranger to do chores. The second option was a guard llama. Ranchers in South Dakota had been using them for years. At that time there weren’t too many llamas around so that would have taken some time to find one.

The third option was a guard donkey. Hey, I thought, that sounds pretty good. Mrs. Ed wasn’t so easily convinced. “Are you sure donkeys will guard sheep?” “Of, course, it says so here in the book.”

Did I mention it was almost Christmas? Matt was a youngster. I bet if he asked Santa for a donkey mom would not have any reservations. Probably best not to trouble her with having to contact Santa and make the arrangements as she was busy trying to decide what to get for me.

To make a longer story shorter, Santa had a surplus donkey he was willing to part with for a small shipping and handling fee. Arrangements were made, Santa delivered Cracker Jack on Christmas morning with a big red bow around his neck. Smiles abounded.

Cracker Jack lived with the horses that winter, being he was of the equine persuasion. Spring came, lambs were born and fresh green grass sprouted in the pasture. The day came when it was time to release the flock unto greener pastures. It was time to unleash Cracker Jack, the guard donkey.

I had a pen outside the barn where the ewes with lambs went after the lambs were a week or two old. The lambs had grown well and some of the bigger ones had reached 40 pounds. I figured I’d put Cracker in with them before I opened the pasture gate. I did. I slipped around the corner to watch. Cracker was a curious fellow. He sniffed each ewe. He walked slowly and carefully up to the lambs. “So far, so good,” I thought. Then he did the unexpected. He reached down, grabbed a 40 pound lamb by the neck with his teeth and started shaking it. Coyotes are about 40 pounds. Donkeys take care of coyotes by grabbing and shaking them. It was a heck of a time to find out Cracker Jack, the guard donkey, didn’t know the difference between sheep and coyotes. I hollered at him. He dropped the lamb and immediately grabbed a full size sheep. I suppose he thought he was supposed to get the big ones.

As funny as it wasn’t, I wish I had a camera. A 400-pound Jerusalem donkey standing there with a 150 pound sheep hanging out of his mouth. I don’t know who was more surprised, the ewe or me.
Finally the wool gave way and the sheep dropped, hitting the ground at full stride. Cracker Jack stood there looking at me, a tuft of wool in his mouth as if to say,” I showed that coyote a thing or two.” He then proceeded to eat the wool.

Mrs Ed asked me later how things went. “Pretty good”, I said. “That donkey has guarding instincts for sure. Only one problem though.”

“What’s that?”

“I think he really misses the horses. I think he would be happier with them.”

Mrs. Ed is a very kind and sensitive person. “If you think so. But what are you going to do about the coyotes?”

“Interesting you ask, I located a llama ….”

Young Matt Nelson aboard Cracker Jack

Mr. Ed and the bees

I saw a picture on Facebook today that reminded me of a honey of a story. I’ll call it “Mr. Ed and the bees.” I have had a lifelong fascination with honey bees. When I was kid we would go visit my uncle Art and Aunt Christine. They lived in a cool place in Brainerd near the Mississippi River. Uncle Art had a two story workshop, heated by a wood barrel stove. He collected model T cars. He restored and rebuilt wagon wheels. He made dog sleds and kids wagons. Coolest of all, he was a bee keeper.

I fondly remember having golden honey on fresh bread at their house. I was fascinated by the white boxes he kept in his workshop in the winter. I’ll never forget when he carefully lifted the lid to show us the bees. Sluggish in their semi-dormant state, they emitted a low hum. Scary and exciting at the same time.

My maternal grandparents lived about a mile from us. In the upstairs of Grandpa’s granary under a thick layer dust there were several of these white boxes. According to my Uncle Raymond, Grandpa used to have many hives of bees which he kept under the stand of plum trees. Grandpa had retired, the boxes tucked away and forgotten.

One summer, mid July I think, something happened in our granary where we stored oats. Threshing season was only a week or two away when the bees moved in. I know, because it was my job to sweep out the bins. Unfortunately the bees noticed me before I saw them and they made their presence known by giving me a good stinging. “Put some mud on the stings,” Dad advised. I did, the pain subsided, I went back to investigate, from a safe distance.

About that time my Uncle Raymond stopped over. “They’re honey bees, Italians, I’d say. Must be a swarm that moved in.” He was always good at explaining things and told me how colonies of bees split in two when they get too full of bees.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“If I were you, I’d catch them and put them in a hive and raise honey.”

“I don’t have a hive to put them in.” He left and soon returned with a dusty old box.

“Put them in here. Make sure you get the queen. She’s the big bee.”

The thought of having jars of golden honey to put on fresh baked bread slathered with butter helped me overcome my fear of the little stingers. The first thing I had to do was fashion a bee hat. I got an old straw hat and some screen-door screen. I put on a pair of dad’s coveralls and yellow chore gloves and I was ready to go in. The bees saw me coming.

I remembered something else Uncle Raymond said: “Calm people work bees with their bare hands. Bees can smell fear.” The way they acted, I was really stinking. The first action required a claw hammer and a pry bar to open the wall. Trust me, that really ticked them off. Buckets of fear laden sweat poured off my brow and ran down my back. Did I mention it was about 90 degrees?

Wall open, I discovered a huge mass of angry bees. “Gotta find the queen. Look for a bigger bee.” His words ran through my mind. I’ll admit I looked, but I didn’t study the mass. By this time, the bees had located a small hole in the coveralls just above the right knee. I could feel them crawling on my leg. “Bees sense fear. Remain calm” I told myself. I sensed that my time and luck were running out, so I did the next best thing. I started scooping bees and putting them in the hive hoping the queen bee was in there somewhere. When I had several gobs in the hive I slammed the lid. He didn’t tell me slamming the lid is a sign of fear. I quickly confirmed this when the squadron of Italian honey bees launched their attack inside my coveralls.

My escape was made with lightning speed. Anyone watching out the picture window of the house must have wondered what the heck was going on when I flung off the makeshift hat and coveralls and headed for the muddy barnyard. For the next few hours the angry confused bees flew around the yard, chasing off everyone including the dog.

“Bees don’t fly at night” Uncle Raymond said. I waited until way after dark before cautiously approaching the hive. It was quiet, except for the internal hum. “YES! I got-um.” I moved the hive under the plum tree. By fall it would be full of honey. Remember that part about the queen? No queen, no honey. I’m pretty sure it’s true.

A few years ago, bee fever hit me again. This time I got it from my buddy Mike. He had several hives.

“Can I buy one” I asked “Sure.” I picked it up after dark and brought it home and put it under the plum tree. Visions of honey danced in my head.

“Any tips?” I asked. “Just make sure you divide the hive before they swarm.” “How do you know when they will swarm?” “When they make another queen. Look in the hive and check. She is the big bee.”

I am at work. It is mid afternoon, mid July. Phone rings. It is Matt. He is old enough to be home alone. “Dad, there are bees all over the yard. What do I do?”

“If it were me, I’d stay in the house, the bees are swarming.” By the time I got home, the bees were gone. I guess they couldn’t decide what queen should leave so they both left. Foiled again.

Years passed, Matt grew up and left in search of his future. Last spring my brother Ron called. “Mann Lake is taking orders for bees. Want some?” Without thinking too much, I said, “Sure.” I readied the hive and waited. The day came to pick up the bees. I drove down to Brainerd. The bees came in a six-by-six wooden cage. They buzzed menacingly in the back seat of the car. I got home and waited for dusk to release them in the hive.

For some reason I couldn’t locate my bee helmet. No problem. I had a helmet that came with my sandblaster. It fit down to my shoulders and had a glass plate to see through. I found a pair of coveralls and a roll of duct tape. I taped up all the holes in my Carharts and wrapped my ankles to keep the bees out of my boots. Somehow I managed to tape the sleeves to my leather gloves. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

I retrieved the box of bees. They hummed louder, anticipating their impending freedom, possibly catching a scent of fear. I slid the hive cover open and removed two combs. I felt sweat starting to drip down my back. I fumbled with the little pry bar I had brought to open the cage. It slipped, clattering on the metal hive cover. The buzzing increased by a couple decibels. I recovered the bar and lodged it between the cover and the box. The nails yielded. The top fell free. Bees began to realize freedom was now in their grasp. The scouts began to investigate the masked figure that exuded fear.

About now, my head, covered by a bee proof and nearly air tight canvas helmet began to sweat profusely. My moisture-laden breath began to condense on the glass. My vision began to cloud. I fumbled with the box, tipping it upside down shaking bees into the hive. Hands shaking, I still had to remove the queen from her capsule. By this time, the glass had completely fogged over. I was working blind and running out of time. In my haste, the duct tape sealing the helmet to the coveralls, began to fail. Driven by the scent of fear emanating from a neck line crack, a squadron (sound familiar?) of angry bees launched an attack.

Did I mention Mrs. Ed and DJ. were observing this from a safe distance? By the time I ripped the helmet from my head, they were both laughing. I thought they were going to fall over when I started slapping myself and tried to undo the duct tape holding the gloves on. He’s got bees in his pants. Ha Ha Ha. “Can somebody please get me some mud?”

I had high hopes as I watched the bees work the plum and apple trees. As the summer wore on, I noticed the hive never really grew. I surmised something happened to the queen. No sweet golden honey this year. In the meantime I ordered a real bee suit. Now I am just waiting for the new Mann Lake catalog.

Uncle Raymond, a fountain of information


There is a blizzard coming…..

There’s a blizzard coming! These are words that can send shivers of fear through the hearts of some, and embers of hope through others. DJ, the neighbor girl stopped by last night. An approaching blizzard meant the possibility of a snow day. Even as a kid, you learn about weighing the risks. Do you really have to do your homework? Can I stay up late like a Friday night when I can sleep in? I think schools hold off announcing school closings just to help kids develop those risk assessment skills. They come in handy later in life.

When I was a kid I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I imagined myself caught in those horrific blizzards, struggling to get from the house to the barn and back clinging to a rope. Of being caught while trying to get home from town with a wagon load of feed and having to sacrifice the poor oxen in order to make it through the night. Of hearing the wind and the wolves howling just outside the cabin door waiting for Pa to get home.

Like a lot of things that happened when you were a kid, winters seemed much worse than they are today. Our farm was on a dirt road. The nearest blacktop road was a mile away. My brother Leo remembered when my brother William was born. It was late February. It had been a winter of deep snow. Sometimes it took days for the township plow to get the roads open. The road to the west was open to the north and wooded to the south. Drifts twice as high as a car were expected on “the second hill”. The only chance to get out was to go east. The time came for William to be born. Mom got ready. Dad went to harness the horses. They had a crank phone and called someone to meet them on the highway. Leo recalled the snow being so deep the planks on the sled kept slipping off. The horses busted through the drifts, the car was waiting and mom made it to the hospital in time. Maybe that is why I was born in June.

Winters were tougher back when we moved to the Iron Range. By year two we were putting down roots, giving up a rental house and purchasing a used 14 by 70 trailer house. Home ownership is a big step. With achievement comes new responsibility. With new responsibility comes new challenges. Owning a trailer house in a northern climate can test one’s mettle. I figured out how to put up skirting to enclose the crawl space under the house. I read about applying heat tape to water pipes. I even heard about leaving the water running a little when it is really cold to keep them from freezing up.

As par for the course, I had to learn a few of these things the hard way. When it says in fine print, “Be careful you don’t overlap the heat tape”, they really mean it. Of course I waited to tape and insulate the water lines until it got cold. Maybe I thought winter would spare us, maybe I just liked crawling around under a trailer in the dirt and spider webs while the cold seeped into my bones. NOT!

I bought my heat tape at L&M Supply. They had a couple of brands. Cheap and expensive. Why buy expensive when you can buy cheap? There’s a lesson there too. I bought rolls of fiberglass insulation. You know the kind that suggests you wear gloves, cover exposed skin and don’t breath in the fibers. It was cold so no problem there.

Another lesson, it is dark under a trailer, especially if you start a project late in the afternoon. Wrapping and taping under the faint glow of a weak flashlight increases the intensity of the experience. Lesson: be sure to keep plenty of fresh batteries on hand. The directions said “Don’t overlap the tape” Making sure the heat tape doesn’t overlap using the Braille method is a learning experience in itself. Tape on, insulation applied and wrapped with ample amounts of duct tape, I finally slithered out the crawl space trap door pulling the extension cord behind me. After fumbling with the cord with my semi-functioning half frozen hands, I plugged her in.

I went inside. Mrs Ed, God bless her, had run me a hot bath and brewed me some hot tea. All appeared to be well as I slipped into the bubbles. “Do you smell something”? She asked. “No, but I think my nose is still full of spider webs” . “I think it smells like smoke”. “No way. ” “Really, it smells like something’s burning”. I got out of the heavenly bath. Hum…maybe a little bit. Reluctantly I got dressed, pulled on my dirty coveralls from which I had just escaped. I grabbed the flashlight, gave it a couple of wacks. The bulb, having warmed a bit, came on. I headed out. No smell out here. I was hoping the neighbors were burning garbage in their wood stove. I tapped the latch on the trap door and pulled it aside. The sickening sweet smell of melted plastic seared my nostrils. Back peddling I raced to the hot water heater door, opening it, I yanked the extension cord from the outlet.

About that time Mrs. Ed poked her head out the door. “Is everything OK”. Trying to remain calm. I said “I think so. Do you know where the fire extinguisher is and maybe you should find the number for the fire department”. To make a long story shorter, I was able to extinguish the smoldering insulation before the fire trucks got there. “First time putting on heat tape?” “Yup”. “Bought the cheap stuff?” “Yup”. “Make sure you don’t overlap it”. “Got it, thanks”.

Lesson whatever, never start a project if you can’t finish and test it before L & M Supply closes. That night the temperature plummeted. OK, let the water drip. It will keep the water lines from freezing. Next lesson. Sewer lines can freeze too! Boy, I don’t miss those days!

Leo, Iris and William

Chub and Tony busted through the snow drifts

Mondays, best left for reflection

Mondays, maybe it would be best to skip them altogether. Go right to Tuesday. Since it’s the beginning of the week , it’s a good time to start a plan. I will admit I am not too good with plans. I am a free spirit, a liberal arts major. That’s why I am not too good at carpentry.

Okay. I realize that needs some explanation. This morning started with a plan. My buddy Duane and I were supposed to get back to our logging job. We were supposed to go to the woods. We took a break in mid December to do sleigh rides. During the holidays one must make hay while the sun shines. Then came the cold spells in January. It’s not fun to log when the high for the day is 5 below. Besides it is down right dangerous to cut trees when the wind is 20 mph, not to mention the wind chill is 30 below. The truth is, it is a pretty rough blowdown salvage job. It’s hard work and we are feeling our ages. We will get it done. We are just being reasonable and becoming very good at rationalizing. Besides we are both retired. There is a storm on its way. We can do it next week. No problem.

The last minute plan change left me with a whole day. Time to regroup, look for a meaningful plan. I mentally fumbled through my list of undone projects. It is a long one. Spontaneity struck when I went to feed the rabbits. They came in small cages. The rabbits of my youth had big cages. My list had ” build new rabbit cages ” on it. Today I would build a new rabbit cage!

This led me to recall that January 28th is my brother Duane’s birthday. There are 8 kids in my family. I am fourth from the oldest. Duane is third from the youngest. I connected the rabbit cage with Duane because he was the rabbit raiser in the family. In fact he carried this skill into his professional life, diversified dairy farmer. He builds a pretty good cage. I don’t.

When I was seven or eight years old, I got a rabbit. A brown and white buck. I named him Bosco. My younger sister Roseanne got a white doe named Ice Cream. This was my first venture into carpentry. I found some old chicken wire. I recovered some old boards from the wood pile. I found a coffee can of nails in the tools house. I found a ball been hammer and set to work.

Now there are differences between carpenters and farmers. My uncle Art was a carpenter. He did beautiful works of art with wood. Dad was a farmer. Farmers do carpentry out of necessity. Get it done and move on. I took after the farmer side of the family. Real carpenters actually measure things and use tools like squares. My buddy Duane is a pretty good carpenter. He actually plans things out so they are square. I hammer things together and hope for the best. I use a lot of nails, trim and paint.

Anyway, I built a cage for Bosco and Ice Cream. They escaped. I added boards over the holes where they had wriggled out. They found new exits. Winter came. I remodeled the old outhouse for a shelter for the rabbits. We had indoor plumbing by that time so it was not being used. My lack of carpentry skills showed when Bosco escaped. It’s a good thing (maybe) that I was a skinny little kid when I had to dive in for the rescue.

When I was five years old my parents were in an automobile accident on New Years Eve. Mom was in the hospital for six months. My brother Duane and sister Rosanne and I went to stay with my dad’s sister, Lila. When your five, you don’t remember much. I do remember my little brother and my aunt Lila. Birthdays were always special in our family. When it was your birthday, you were the center of attention. January 28th was Duane’s first birthday. My dad and older brothers and sisters came to visit. It was a special day.

Being one year old, Duane had just got his legs and boy could that kid could move. Lila had a set of Lincoln Logs that I loved to play with. Just about the time I would be ready to put the chimney on, here came Duane. At first I was very upset until Lila turned it into a game. She nicknamed Duane the “Tornado”. I’d build something and in would come the “tornado”, smashing my structure to pieces.

Today, Duane is a successful dairy farmer, carrying on the family tradition. He is a proud grandfather and runs marathons for cancer research. I hope he has a good birthday and I hope my new cage holds the rabbits.

The “tornado,” at age one.

You can’t kill-em all

Living on a farm has its pros and cons. Sometimes people who don’t have farm roots ask me “Doesn’t farming tie you down? Do you ever get a vacation? What do you do with the animals when you have to go away?”

I grew up on a dairy farm. The cows needed milking twice a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. The Fourth of July was the closest thing we had to a day off. We would usually go to a parade and a party at a neighbor’ s place. Picnic food, soft ball, pony rides and fire crackers rounded out the afternoon and evening. About five thirty a couple of the older kids would slip away to do the milking. We would rush home, change clothes, get the dog and go round up the cows. If we were a little late they would be waiting at the barn door. We would hurry through the chores so we could get back for more fireworks.

So when people ask me if I feel tied down with the sheep and horses I chuckle to myself. There is a lot more latitude with them with the exception of lambing season. This is mid winter so we don’t really have any place to go anyway. During the summer the animals are out on grass so a simple check and see caretaker arrangement works fine.

Over the years we have had a number of different people who have volunteered to do chores. Neighbors with farm experience are the first choice. They understand that when you are dealing with animals anything can happen. That is probably why they sold their animals years ago. They are also close by in case the horses go for a stroll around the neighborhood. They have probably chased them out of their yards before.

Giving clear directions is very important. One time I arranged for a fellow sheep farmer who lived about 25 miles away to feed the horses hay. I carefully counted out the number of bales required for the time we were going to be gone. In fact, I added a few extra bales as over-fed horses are much more content to stay in the fence than hungry ones. I told my friend “Feed the horses enough hay to keep them happy”. Not being familiar with the appetites of draft horses and estimating the number of bales required to keep them happy based on what it takes to keep sheep happy, he fed frugally. Six hungry draft horses separated from a pile of hay bales by a strand or two of electric fence wire, soon overcame their fear of electricity.

We arrived home to find the horses standing in the pile of hay bales. In the meantime they had made the rounds of the neighborhood. It was in the spring of the year. Their hoof prints, left in the dark of the night, led to and from our place. Fortunately they had only escaped the night before. We had hoped for the best until we listened to the message on our answering machine. Had to do some apologizing on that one.

Another time we arranged for a friend with no farm experience to feed the sheep grain. It was spring and the sheep were out on pasture. They had a pretty big area to graze, part of it wooded. He came out and I showed him where to put the grain. Pretty simple. He was nervous and even wrote everything down. In an effort to ease his worries, I jokingly said “Don’t worry you can’t kill them all”.
In hindsight I probably should not have planted this seed in his head.

Day one. Morning feeding went well. The sheep had been grazing all night and were at rest in the yard. All seventy plus sheep present and accounted for. Evening came. Follow directions #1 Fill two pails with grain. #2. Open gate. #3 dump feed in feeders 4. Shut gate. Easy right? Only one problem.THE SHEEP WERE GONE! Does kill them all equate to losing them all?

As a person who has been faced with similar situations, had I been there, I would have offered this advice. 1. Don’t panic. 2. Don’t take the buckets of feed with you when you go look for the sheep 3. When you holler ” here sheepie, here sheepie, “. Don’t turn your back to the woods.

From what I gather he went from the panic of thinking he had lost a whole flock of sheep to “What’s that sound? Is there a thunder storm brewing”? By the time he realized why the earth was shaking, the feed crazed sheep had busted out of the woods and were bearing down on him.

I can imagine the scene. A panic stricken man carrying two pails sprinting for his life to get to the feeders. Sheep, seeing their feed getting away from them, kick it into second gear. I speculate the flock leader was first on the scene, sticking her head into the pail, delaying the getaway just enough so a lieutenant could get a head into the other pail. By then, the rest of the flock would do the envelop maneuver. A life or death decision must be made in a fraction of a second. An experienced farm seasoned chore doer would know when to throw them (the pails). An amateur might try to hold-em.

The sheep won the day. Nobody died. Funny though, he never volunteered to do chores again. If fact I think he gave up wearing sweaters too.

“Here sheepie, “

Do your sheep have ticks?

Shearing went well today. I am a little tired from counting sheep. Brian, our shearer, sleeps very well. It’s a perk of the profession. My buddy Duane called and wanted to know why sheep don’t shrink when they get wet. I told him they do, dry sheep are as big as cows. That’s why the cattle and sheep ranchers never got along. The sheep herders blamed the cattlemen for shrinking their livestock whenever it rained. The cattlemen blamed the sheep men for their sheep eating as much as a cow. He said he thought it was because wool on sheep is live. Only dead wool shrinks. I said there are times when it is OK to say, “I don’t know”. Duane feels people deserve answers and if you don’t have one, it is your duty to provide something. I feel truth is what you make it to be. I guess it’s figuring out what it is people want to hear and providing it. It’s all about the fine line of plausibility. Done correctly, everyone is happy.

Something happened today that reminded me of a story. A true story, honest. After reading all the How-To books on sheep raising I became a paranoid shepherd. The books are filled with chapter after chapter of sheep diseases, things you must vaccinate for, put your veterinarian on speed dial stuff. I was so bad I once had the vet do an autopsy on a dead sheep. $87.00 bucks later, I learned the most important lesson a sheep farmer can learn. A sheep is just an animal looking for an excuse to die. The secret is to sell them before they find a reason. If not, be sure to remove the body before the rest of the sheep decide to follow.

This story is about the time I discovered my flock was infected with The dreaded SHEEP TICK! Here is my advice. When buying sheep there are two questions you should ask. If the seller hesitates for even an instance, walk away. If you are tempted to buy some cheap sheep at a sales barn and the owner is nowhere to be found, don’t raise your hand unless you are very cheap and 100 percent lucky.

The first question is: Do you have foot root in your flock? I have never experienced this on my farm but I do remember it on the dairy farm. All I know is it’s not good, it stinks, and once you get it in your soil, you will have a problem for years.

The second is, “Do your sheep have ticks”? Maybe this isn’t important to most people. It is to me because I hate eight legged insects I.e., spiders and wood ticks. I know sheep ticks don’t suck human blood but they still look like wood ticks and give me the willies. Getting the sheep tick willies is like getting slapped in the face with an eelpout. I know, I got slapped!

It happened on a very cold winter day. The shearer came at the crack of dawn. I had sixty seven ewes on high alert. The first ewe had hardly been tipped when the shearer slapped me with devastating news. “Ed, do you know your sheep have ticks?” “Ahhhh ” I screamed, “how could that be possible? ” “Did you buy any sheep this year? Yes I bought a couple ewes from a guy… “Did you ask him if he had ticks”? “No”. He shook his head and muttered what I thought sounded like “amateurs”.

The next few hours were excruciating. Each sheep revealed more ticks. I was so embarrassed. To add insult to injury I had to retrieve each fleece and carry it to the sack. I had ticks next to my coveralls. Hungry blood sucking insects that look just like wood ticks. Sensing my horror, the shearer tried to calm my nerves. “It’s OK,”He said, “sheep ticks only live on sheep”.
“Then they are OK” I asked. He didn’t need to say it. No respectable sheep farmer would have sheep ticks.

I swallowed my pride. “What should I do”? “Well most people use WARBEX. It’s nasty stuff, you need to dip the sheep in it or use the concentrate and pour it on their backs”. I remembered my dad talking about “sheep dip”. I vaguely remembered it from my youth. The smell came back to me like a chicken coop in August. The shearer continued.”WARBEX will kill them for sure. It’s nasty stuff. Make sure you wear gloves, maybe a mask”.

The thought of pouring caustic chemicals on my poor sheep and risking horrific side effects on myself just to get rid of some little insects that I might be able to get used to, ravaged my brain. That’s when fate intervened.

As the shearer relieved sheep after sheep from its wool and returned it to the flock, I noticed something interesting (besides that the sheep were shivering in the sub zero temperatures). I had a flock of wild bantam chickens that roamed the farm and roosted in the rafters at night. This band of feathered marauders fluttered down from their rafter sanctuary and landed amongst the naked beasts. Heads cocked, they moved in and began attacking the sheep with their beaks. At first the sheep recoiled, perhaps from the close proximity of the fowl, perhaps from the sharp pokes to their sides. Then a strange thing happened.

The sheep, newly liberated from their itchy tick invested coats realized they could now scratch those itches. “I imagined them thinking “Oh that feels so good”. The chickens, seeing the tasty looking ticks exposed to the light of day, seized the moment. They moved in with the cunning of a hungry wolf pack. I swear the chickens and the sheep were one that day as they waged war on the sheep ticks. Exposed and separated from their warm and secure environment, these nasty little buggers were annihilated in a matter of minutes.

Needless to say, because of my unwillingness to use dangerous, smelly and did I mention expensive chemicals, I didn’t get around to dip the sheep. Shearing day came sooner than latter as always. I held my breath as the shearer peeled back the first strips of wool. I waited. And waited. Finally I asked the question. “Do I have ticks?” “No, I don’t see any.”

Inside, I leapt for joy! My management strategy of letting nature do the work actually worked. My reluctance to charge off down the slippery slope of chemical application and expensive treatments were not necessary after all. I was vindicated. Procrastination can pay!

That was the day “Mr Ed’s Chicken Tick Picken natural pest control process” was born.
Due to my continued subscription to the basic belief in the benefits of procrastination, I never got around to patent this process.

I am happy to report there were no ticks discovered today. However, as you can see from this picture, the chicken tick Picken squad was ready for action.

Tick Picken chicken scout surveying the situation and ready to sound the alarm.