By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
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I was born the year our father decided to become his own boss and return to farming. He knew the hard work and long hours that would be involved, since he had grown up on a farm in the Plain, Wisconsin area. Back then he worked the land with a team of horses and horse-drawn equipment.
After he left his parents’ farm, he had several jobs working for other people. Two of those jobs were working at implement companies setting up farm equipment for farmers after their purchase.
He was working at Oscar Mayer in Madison when he bought his first farm and he continued to work there for a short time, working the farm when he got home from his day job.
Maybe it was during his implement days working with the different brands of equipment, and maybe it was talking with the farmers who bought equipment, but he became a life-long John Deere man.
When the state came through and took land on that first farm to expand Highway 151 north of Sun Prairie, Dad hunted for a new farm. He found one outside of Lake Mills -- a much bigger farm where we kids would have to really step up and help.
During the school year, the biggest farm job the kids had was helping with morning and evening milking, but during the summer we also had to help with the harvesting. The biggest part of that was making hay.
After Phyllis and David, our oldest siblings, left the farm, I became the hay mower and raker. I only remember mowing with the sickle mower a couple of times, and I didn’t like it. All of those little blades really worried me, and I was glad when dad bought a combination mower/conditioner.
I think most times we don’t realize how smart our parents are, but once I started mowing hay, it became very clear to me that Dad was awfully smart. Weather forecasts back in those days were nothing like they are today, where they can predict weather by the hour.
And as a farmer, you had to know when to cut hay and when to hold off until after rain. The cycle was to cut hay on day 1 and let it dry, rake it on day 2 and let it dry again, then bale it up on day 3. Other than the first year on the Lake Mills farm, when it rained almost every single day all summer, our hay rarely got rained on.
Dad would always open up fields, which included cutting the outside edges, and, depending on the size of the field, cutting a swath or two in the middle. Then he would move on to other chores and I would cut the field. One day, as I was sitting on the fender, and he was opening up the field, I asked him how he cut straight lines through the middle of the field.
I was asking because he almost always cut dead-on straight lines, but on this day, he was driving very crooked. He told me that he picked something at the far end of the field to focus on, like a fence post or a tree, and drove toward it. The field we were in was sloped, so at the start of the field, you couldn’t see the other end.
I asked what he was focusing on that day, and he told me he was focused on a cloud. Then he turned around and looked behind him. He had a big laugh about how crooked the cut was, since the cloud was moving across the sky and he was following it. The he told me that I would have to work hard to straighten out the rows in those sections as I continued mowing.
There was a lot of field work that Dad did himself or with the help of one other person. We didn’t have to help with the planting, with chopping hay or corn for silage, or with picking corn. During those times of the year, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in the field long after we finished milking. He tried to get done before dark, but sometimes, especially during planting, he wouldn’t come in until way past dark. And yet, he would be up before dawn the next morning for milking. And when it was light enough, he was right back in the fields.
During the winter, you would think it would be a time of rest, but there was always a full day of work for him. He maintained all of the equipment and farm buildings himself as well as the two houses (for three families) on that Lake Mills farm.
I won’t lie and say that farm life was wonderful, but we learned a lot from Dad and we all learned the value of hard work. We learned to always do our best no matter the task.
And even now, when Joann and I are out shunpiking, we have a special fondness for John Deere tractors and freshly mowed hay fields. Sometimes, we even slow down, and put the windows down just to get a whiff of that nostalgic smell.
Next month Dad will be gone for three years, but he lives on in us and in our memories.
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So to all the fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day, and Happy Shunpiking!