Dad’s Story: Milk Cows

April 1, 2022
Grandpa on my Mom’s side with dairy cow hitched to cart

Milk Cows

We had five milk cows.  Two were Holsteins, two were Jerseys, and one Guernsey.

The Holsteins gave too much milk and were hard milkers for a boy.  The Guernsey, my favorite, was real quiet and easy to milk.  The two Jerseys, the older one was a nice cow, the younger one was her daughter.

She was a kicker.  You didn’t know when she was going to kick, today or maybe tomorrow, but she was going to kick the pail over.

The hired man milked in the morning.  When we boys got old enough, we milked in the evening.  

If we were in a hurry, we could milk with a boy on each side.  Eventually we aged out of the job and younger brothers took over.  Brother Carl will tell you that he milked for the longest time.

We turned the cows out to pasture during the green season.  We had to go out with a tractor, truck, horse, whatever was available to bring them in to the barn.  It was never a problem, as soon as the cows saw you they started for the barn.

We took the milk to the house and Mom would run it through the separator to get the cream for making butter.  The skim was fed to the pigs and chickens.

We sold cream on Saturday evenings in Grand Ridge to about five different customers, 45 cents a pint or 80 cents a quart.  Its funny, I can’t remember what I did this morning, but I can remember the price of cream from seventy years ago.

Dad’s Story: Blacky

March 23, 2022

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date: April 2nd.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: Thank you!

My Dad has started writing down some stories from his life and I’m encouraging him.  I’m editing and typing them up and will share one now.


Dad went to the Illinois State Shorthorn Sale to buy a bull, late 1950s.

 He was bidding on the high bull when the auctioneer stopped the sale and said, “A few years ago, Shetland ponies brought more than what this bull is bringing.”

A few years earlier, Shetland ponies got real high.  The smaller the pony, the higher the price.

Les Mathers, the man selling the bull, had even imported Shetland ponies from Scotland during the Shetland pony boom. 

Inspired by the auctioneer, Les shouted, “a pony goes with this bull.”

Shetland ponies were the latest boom and bust fad as scarcity created demand with higher and higher prices being paid until finally supply catches up with demand and the price crashes.  

Probably the best example of this was the Dutch Tulip Bulb craze of the 1600s where some of the most rare Tulip bulbs sold for more than six times the average person’s annual wage at the time.

Chinchillas, Pot-bellied pigs, and most recently Alpacas, would fit in this category as well.

Well, Dad bought the bull and when he got home told us we had a pony to pick up.  Uncle Bill had his hired hand take my brother Dean and I to go get the pony.

We called him Blacky.  He was wild.  Blacky had never had a rope on him.

I trained Blacky to pull a cart with a homemade harness.  I had my younger brother Elmer get in the cart and I led Blacky down the road east about an eighth of a mile.  

Everything went really well until I turned Blacky around and we headed back home.  I gave Elmer the reins and walked beside them.  Blacky took off at a dead run home.

They made the first turn by the barn, but everything went bad on the second turn, upsetting Elmer and the cart.  Despite that initial setback, Blacky got really good at pulling the cart.

Another thing Blacky liked was riding in the back of brother Dale’s old 47 Chevy.  Take out the back seat and roll down the windows.  The neighbors did a double take when we drove by.

We built a new garage and had a New Year’s Eve party.  We played cards, danced some.  

It was a mixed group, some neighbor friends, some from Streator.  One Streator girl said she had never ridden a horse.  I went and got Blacky and gave her a ride with me leading.

When the Streator friends were going home, (2 girls, 1 boy), they got hit head on by a drunk, driving without his lights on, on the wrong side of the road.  Killed all three kids.

This was very upsetting to all of us.  That Streator girl had her first and last pony ride on Blacky.

Found My Old Homemade Snowboard

February 5, 2021

Like most Americans, I save too much stuff.  But I’m glad I saved this old snowboard I made one winter night, so many years ago.


“It shouldn’t be that hard to build a snowboard,” Jimmy said.

“Yeah, we could do that,” Doug said.

Jimmy, Doug and I were all home from our respective colleges on winter break.  

We always got together when we had a chance to hang out, practice our songs, (we had a house party band), and whatever else intrigued us.

I had been lamenting that I would like to have a snowboard, when the engineer and the architect decided that a snowboard was definitely doable.

“We can use my Dad’s tools, and he always has extra boards lying around,”  Jimmy said.

“Ok, let’s do it tonight!  We each have until dawn to build a snowboard.  Then we find a hill and race down!”  I said.

“Yes!  The Snowboard Challenge!”

We drove to Jimmy’s home farm.  Jimmy suggested we work in the dairy barn in the middle alleyway since it was super cold outside and the barn stayed relatively warm since the cows were kept in overnight.

Plus the barn had electricity, pretty good lights, and a radio with surround sound.  Jimmy loves to tinker.  When he learned that sound can be transmitted via metal, he taped a speaker wire to the metal milk line and taped a speaker to the milk line at the other end of the barn.

It worked perfectly.  Sound on both ends of the barn.

Jimmy now works as an electrical engineer for a dairy equipment company, so he’s still tinkering with pipelines. 

Doug has his own architect firm out in Vermont, still enjoying building things.

Jimmy got us set up with power tools and boards and misc other supplies.

Its a good thing Jimmy’s Dad’s cows were quiet and used to machinery, as we made a lot of noise when we set to work on our boards.  Jimmy’s Dad was super easy going about stuff like this.

We all were in high spirits as we started.  But I’m not a night person, so about 3 or 4 am I started feeling it.

“Matt.  Are you all right?” Jimmy asked.

I guess he found me standing, holding my board, not moving for several minutes.  I was nearly asleep on my feet.

But somehow each of us finished with our prototype snowboard.

“Where should we race?” Doug asked.

“Let’s go to my farm,” I said.  “We can borrow warmer clothes for you guys.

Mom was surprised to see us.  We braced ourselves with hot coffee.  Then I got some of my Dad’s coveralls for Jimmy and Doug and we set out for the steepest hill we could find.


It wasn’t so much of a race.  More of see who could actually ride their board down the hill.

Doug and I kept practicing.  We gave each other’s boards a try. 

Jimmy is not a morning person, and the night finally caught up with him.  I remember him lying on his back in the snow, one arm up over his eyes to shield the sun, napping.

Now middle-aged with life’s responsibilities, I don’t get to see my old buddies as often as I wish.  But we keep in touch and always have a good time when we do get together.

Robert Frost: A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury

March 6, 2011

How can a poem, written years before, capture the way I feel?  In “A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury,” Robert Frost writes my thoughts, my feelings.

“A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury” describes a young man’s mind, as he observes his blue-ribbon winning hen.


The one who gave her ankle-band,
Her keeper, empty pail in hand,
He lingers too, averse to slight
His chores for all the wintry night.

He leans against the dusty wall,
Immured almost beyond recall,
A depth past many swinging doors
And many litter-muffled floors.

He meditates the breeder’s art.
He has a half a mind to start,
With her for Mother Eve, a race
That shall all living things displace.

The cattle on my farm can be traced back over fifty years, the hogs over thirty, the chickens over ten.  We are always selecting, always monitoring, always striving.

Thank you Quantum Devices, Inc. for your guess. Since you were the only one to guess which Frost poem is my favorite, you win the $25 gift certificate to Kiva.


February 20, 2011

I set this round bale of straw down after the big snow.  We had a big melt this past week and all the snow around it melted, leaving the bale sitting on its own block of ice.  It got me to thinking about the insulating properties of straw.

There is an old building on my Dad’s home farm.  The building is called the Icehouse.  Back in the days before rural electrification, people would cut chunks of ice out of lakes or streams and put the ice into their icehouse.  Then they would insulate the ice with wood shavings or straw.

People had an Icebox in their house to keep food and beverages cool.  There was a place to put a block of ice.  When one block of ice melted, they would go get another one.  Maybe you’ve heard someone refer to the refrigerator as the icebox.

In Henry David Thoreau’s classic, “Walden,” he tells about the time he let a young man warm up in his cabin.  He had fallen in the cold water of Walden Pond when he was out cutting ice.

Thoreau provides details about the process of cutting out ice, which he observed 100 men doing over a span of 16 days.  They made a stack of ice weighing 10 tons.  They covered the stack with hay and boards for insulation, and didn’t open until July.  Even after it was exposed to the air and sunshine, Thoreau says the stack didn’t fully melt until September of the following year.

Leaves of Grass

February 7, 2011

Timothy, Phleum pratense

Timothy is one of my favorite grasses.  I mix its small seeds in with alfalfa, when I’m planting the new hay seeding in the spring.  Look at the broad, beautiful leaves.  Look at the seedheads, covered in pollen.

I’ll lay it down, sun-dry, rake, and roll up, into a big, round, bale.  Summer sun, tucked away, waiting to be fed on a cold, winter’s day.

I’ve often thought that I should like the poetry of Walt Whitman more.  He titled his epic book of poems, “Leaves of Grass.” This suggested a kinship with him that turned out to be  nonexistent. I recently learned that he titled his life’s work based on a pun, “Grass” was a term given by publishers to works of minor value and “leaves” is another name for the pages on which they were printed.

I do like his poem, “O Captain! My Captain!”, written about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  It’s more straightforward.

My favorite poet is Robert Frost. I plan on writing a post, inspired by one of his poems.  The first person to guess which poem, will win a $25 gift certificate to Kiva. One guess per person.  The poem is not “Mending Wall.” I’ll give you a hint, the post is about genetics.  Good luck!

I’m Stuck

February 1, 2011

School started two hours late today, let out an hour early.  My 4-wheel drive SUV made it half-way down my quarter-mile lane before the snow proved too deep.  My Dad pulled me out with the tractor, and pulled us back in.  It’s supposed to start snowing again tonight, with wind.  If you want to visit, and you don’t have a snowmobile, you’re going to be walking.  We’re stuck.

I’m stuck with this blog, and having trouble getting restarted.  There is a reason I post every week, and it’s not because of popular demand.  It’s how I’m wired. I like starting every day with chores.

And so, I’m publicly announcing my intention to post every week, even though I still feel stuck.

I think this blog works best when I’m answering a question.  Some questions I want to answer:

How much wood does my outdoor wood boiler use?

How much fuel does my farm use?

What is the feed efficiency of my hogs from 250 to 300 lbs.?

Why can hogs digest acorns without processing?

How long did the “wild west” last?  Side note: I think a major contributor to the wild west was post-traumatic stress disorder from the civil war veterans.

Another thing I want to look at more closely is how a square foot of land changes throughout the year.  I think I know, but forcing myself to look every week, and take a picture, may prove eye-opening.

Until next week, stay warm.