There was a Box on the Wall
This is one of a series of essays on my life. We moved from Ellsworth Wisconsin to a farm in the countryside.
Mom and Dad had to forgo lots of modern conveniences like indoor toilets for the next few years. Actually it took ten years
before they could install a bathroom.
The Box on the Wall
and The Bare Essentials
After several years of working the Brickner Dairy Mom and Dad were ready to move to their own property.
Then Dad surprised Mom one winter day. He came home from a horse buying trip to announce he had bought a farm.
We moved in 1944 just in time for spring planting. The farm had a good, sturdy barn, a
large chicken coup, a well, and 120 acres of crop, pasture and woodland. The house
was a large, square, six bedroom affair with NO electricity, NO in door bathroom, NO
running water, a full basement, wood heat, and NO insulation. An outhouse served our
sanitary needs. and weekly baths were taken in a tub in the kitchen. There was, however, a
box on the wall - we had a telephone. Mom said she cried at first.
That telephone, the box on the wall, was our sole means of electronic communication
and remained so until well after I was out of college. My brother rescued it from the
farm before my folks sold out and has it refinished at his new home in nearby Bay City.
In those days communities organized small private telephone exchanges with a
centrally located line switch usually in someone's home. We were part of the Esdaile
exchange. We were 101 on line 11, Esdaile, Wisconsin. With that information we could
be reached from "anywhere in the world". The box would do a "BRRRINNG, BRING,
BRRRINNG". When we were supposed to pick up the earpiece and talk. Everyone had
their own ring pattern. Everyone on the party line knew who was being called. It was
easy enough to listen in, known as rubbering, or even join the conversation. If the ring
was four longs, it meant there was an alert and everyone should listen.
Calling out was easy enough. Local calls were made by turning the crank to make the
appropriate ring pattern. For longer distance calls, one had to alert the operator at the local switch
board. (one long ring) "She" could connect you to another line in the exchange or connect you to
another exchange or phone company.
As to electricity, remember there is a war on. The Rural Electrification Agency (REA)
was not even ten years old. (you can read about the REA here: http://newdeal.feri.org/
tva/tva10.htm . It is an interesting read) The previous owner of the farm had begged
and pleaded to get electric service to no avail. But, Dad's connections around town
worked and he had service before we moved in. Along with electricity we got an electric
pump jack to replace the windmill, an electric hot water heater, and a faucet for hot
water in the kitchen pantry. No drain though. That came much, much later. I am not
sure what was used for water storage the first years on the farm. There may have been
a small cistern near the well. Dad built a much larger one some years later.
We still had an ice box at first. Ice was purchased in town from my Uncle John's
"Brickner Ice and Dray Service". Canning was still very much a part of our lives. The
big basement would serve us well as a place to store canned goods, wood for the stove,
and even as a place to hang and age meat.
A word about that ice is appropriate here. Uncle John cut ice out of the St Croix river
just north of where this river joined the Mississippi at Prescott Wi. There was a toll
bridge crossing from Wisconsin into Minnesota. People crossed on the ice in the winter
in order to avoid the tolls. (Kids can learn a lot by observing the adults near by). This
was before chain saws so the ice was cut using hand saws. The blocks of ice were
loaded on trucks and hauled back to Ellsworth. There the blocks were stacked and
packed in sawdust. The ice was available for sale throughout the year. This was back
breaking effort like much of the work so many years ago.
The farm, located in Hartland township, was on county highway "D" about seven miles east
of Ellsworth. Our nearest neighbor was a quarter mile away. The whole neighborhood was
spread out with farms typically a half mile apart on one mile section grids. There was a
grade school one mile south. The local Catholic Church, our Lady of Perpetual Help was a
two miles north and a mile west. There were several more churches and schools within
about five miles. Essential shopping was done in East and West Ellsworth with occasional
excursions to River Falls WI or across the river to Redwing MN. Our new address was RR1,
Bay City WI.
I have struggled to find farm pictures from this period. I took this from a Mooney MK21 in 1970.
Of course, there are a lot more buildings as a result of various construction efforts over the
years. The picture encompasses the original 120 acres. In 1948 an 80 acre plot was adde to the
farm. That '80 is across the road east and south of this picture.
My folks owned a large two car garage and shop near the Klein house in Ellsworth and decided to
move it to the new farm. It was pretty good sized at about 20 feet wide by 30 feet. The
building was jacked up and old truck axels were fitted to each side. The old JD-A was
hooked up and down the road they went. The first mishap occurred about a hundred
yards from the start when a power line caught the roof of the moving garage. They pulled a brick right out of
the connected house. After that all went well. I have a memory of the garage cresting
the hill just north of the new farm. No permits required.
Mom was not alone with sacrifices in the new place. Dad started out without a milking
machine and had to milk his herd by hand. Milking was accomplished twice each day once
at night after the evening meal and once in the morning before breakfast. The
milk was dumped into ten gallon milk cans. The cans were kept in a water tank until
they were pickup by the "cream man". All the stainless milking equipment was hauled
back and forth to the basement where it was cleaned and sanitized.
In all the years that my folks had the farm, they sold milk to the Ellsworth Cooperative
Creamery in Ellsworth. Milk was picked up by one of the many independent haulers
that serviced the creamery and the farmers. The Creamery was always famous for
butter and cheddar cheese. Our farm was classed as "B"grade as we did not have
equipment and facilities to support "A" grade. That meant our milk would go for butter
and cheese instead of as a bottled product. My Dad often maintained that milk cows were
not profitable considering all the feed and labor they required. But, the check from
the creamery came every two weeks and represented a regular paycheck through out the year.
One issue that was an artifact of the war made a big impression on my young mind.
The cream man had a small cold locker on the truck to carry butter from the creamery
which we could buy. But, the deal was, we had to have ration stamps even though the
butter had been made from our own milk. Seemed strange.
All in all, it looks like a good place to grow up.
More stories to come