My dad bought his farm in Little Falls, WI in the 1960's with the hope that he would one day retire there. Life didn't turn out quite like he imagined. His wife got Alzheimer's and then his son, who he thought would take over the farm, passed away. I tried to step up to the plate, but I think in the end, my dad thought the farm would be too much of a burden for me. He recently decided to sell it and as I write this some other family officially owns it and will make their own memories there.
The farm has been used in many ways over the years. In those early days (before I was around, but when my brother and sister were little), my dad used to actually farm the land on the weekends. I'm not sure when that petered out, but the farm has also been essential for my dad to get his wood supply to heat his house with his pot belly stove. For many years, going to the farm ensured that we would be cutting and hauling wood. So much cutting and hauling wood.
While the farm always included some sort of work, we did have some fun, whether it was going down to the Apple River, snowmobiling on our Johnson snowmobiles in the winter, or cutting down Christmas trees. In the early years, we would easily come back with 20 trees for friends and family. Seeing it was also Wisconsin's deer hunting season, I always think of us as lucky to never have been shot at since people tresspassed all the time. While we typically were near our loud farm truck, my farm coat was the exact same color as a deer. Not exactly my smartest move, but that was a darn warm coat. #no regrets
|Us kids by the Apple river. Years later, my brother painted a picture of this photo that now hangs in my dad's house.|
We've rented the farm house out off and on and have had a variety of people and pets live there. In the early years, there was a woman and her daughter living there that disappeared. We went out to the farm one weekend and found all their belongings piled in the front yard. Not a clue to this day what happened to them, but later, when my sister, Karen, lived at the farm with her family, she said there were ghosts upstairs as she heard a mother and child speaking to each other and her son's rocking horse rocked on it's own each afternoon at a specific time. There is a marsh right next to the farm and I've always wondered if they met some terrible demise and were disposed of there. Later, we had a renter that took really good care of the place, but ended up in prison after writing a threatening letter to the president or some other official. I'm sure there was more to it than that, but I know it was something pretty serious.
When my sister lived at the farm, there wasn't an indoor bathroom or indoor water initially. And, the kitchen stove was an old wood stove too - like she had to heat up the stove with wood to cook every day. I think I would have eaten a lot of sandwiches and cereal had I lived there at that time. Not sure how she did it, but all those things were eventually updated. I was only about 8 years old when she lived there, but I have a lot of memories of those times. Probably, the most vivid was when I opened the door to go upstairs to bed and a bat flew right out at me. That was fun... if you're into being chased by bats, that is.
Years later, in between renters, we decided to use it as a cabin of sorts. My brother had young kids and a bunch of nieces and nephews that he would bring out to go tubing on the Apple river, dirt biking, four wheeling, and snowmobiling. I spent many weekends out there during that time and found time to go out there alone (with my cat) and with friends. My friend, Laura, and I spent a day walking through the woods only to find ourselves covered with more ticks than I've ever had on me before - perhaps more than I've had over all the years combined. No joke. The ride home included multiple stops just to remove ticks. Creeps me out to even think about it now.
|My brother carved our family name at the entrance of the farm.|
Speaking of bugs, my brother was very handy and artistic and decided to make a bed out of a tree with the bark still on it. It was a nice looking bed, but I only slept on it once since I could hear bugs munching on the wood all night. That was enough for me.
It was about this time that we cleared the trails and built the second barn. My dad had cleared trails 25 plus years before, but they'd grown over. In the end, we estimated that we cleared 5 - 6 miles worth of trails. I sort of think of these days as the glory days of the farm. The farm was well tended and I think my dad saw my brother, Scott, as someone who would continue to love the farm as he always did. There was a sense of a future here.
|Haha. One of my favorite pictures of my brother.|
|Whenever I see a blue Dodge pick up I think of my brother.|
I also found a lot of pictures from this time (1998 - 2000) and while these are scanned in film pictures, they are some of my favorite since they bring me back to a time when my brother was around and my dad wasn't so worried about his own future. Family meant a lot to my brother so he did a lot to make sure everyone was having a good time. It seems like a lifetime ago that he was lighting fireworks off here every year on the 4th of July (see also: surprised the barn never burned down) or was burning a huge fire in the 6 foot + diameter fire pit (see also: surprised the fields didn't burn down as well).
|This barn is now gone and mostly buried underground.|
|The truck once almost tipped over on my dad in this spot once so we eventually had a bob cat |
come in a level the trail. I can still feel that moment of fear when I thought my dad was hurt.
|My nieces and a bit of wild Brad sitting in one of many farm trucks we had. I have no idea what Brad is |
up to these days, but he should be a professional dirt biker or a dare devil or something crazy like that.
|Under all the leaves and pine needles is a big, heavy metal plate that we pulled behind|
the truck to help keep the trails clear. And that's my sister's old Studebaker in the back.
Fall at the farm:
The Apple River:
|Path to the river|
Building the barn:
The old tractor:
|I don't know why these pictures scanned in so saturated. Annoying.|
Other random pictures from those days:
|Inside part of the new barn that we sectioned off so we could heat it and sleep out there if needed.|
|My friend Laura and the tickiest walk I've ever been on.|
|My dad bolted this broken saw to the rock. Totally a Frank thing to do. |
Also he had us both pose with it. Also a Frank thing to do.
|I may have gotten the photography thing from my dad a bit. He often suggested we take pictures.|
|The play house my brother built for his daughter.|
One of my favorite memories was after the barn was built when my dad and I were out at the farm doing some extra work on one thing or the other. It was a hot day and after awhile my dad, who never stops working, turned and handed me some cash and asked me to drive to to the (now closed) mercantile to get us some beer. I hadn't drank beer with my dad too much so it was a pretty special moment for me to chill with my dad sharing a 6 pack. In fact, on our last visit to the farm he sat down and looked out at the yard and commented how it would be nice to just sit there and have a beer.
Some years later my dad and I went out to the farm in the winter and decided to pull out a snowmobile. I hadn't been snowmobiling with my dad in years so this was also a special memory. I remember that the snow was super deep and fluffy and the snowmobile we were on wasn't handling the deep snow with two people on it's back that well. We came around a corner and fell sideways. We we looked up and a couple of deer were standing nearby just looking at us. I don't know how long we laid there, but it felt like we hung out with those deer forever. It was probably 15 seconds, but it was a cool moment.
Then my brother had a massive stroke in 2008 and it felt like so much changed. We weren't out at the farm as much anyway since the kids had grown, but it shifted the feel of the farm. I always felt a little sad being out there after that. There were signs of him everywhere which were constant reminders that he was gone.
|Burying my brother at the farm.|
|Me, my brother's daughter, my sister, my sister's daughter, and my dad.|
|These belong to our former renters. The current renters have three deer heads on the wall. |
Not sure I'd feel comfortable having them look down on me while I was watching TV.
While my dad rented out the house for many years, he also rented out some of the fields for farming from time to time and he sold off trees. Many of those trees became Christmas trees at random churches. Occasionally, it would be helpful to clean up the woods so new growth could continue. He'd have a logger come in and cut trees. I think the last time he did this might have contributed to his decision to sell the farm as the logging company ran into many issues including multiple people being injured on our property. I know he worried about being accountable for it.
When my dad bought the farm, many of these trees were new. The government paid landowners to plant trees and so the former owner planted 10,000 trees on this property. Speaking of the former owner, there was an article in the paper a handful of years ago about a guy who donated some farm land recently. Turns out it was the guy that used to own this property and I was able to connect him with my dad for a chat.
My dad also had part of the land put into a DNR program which would prevent it from being developed for 25 years.
|I always loved this trail in the fall. There was an old pop or beer can propped in a tree that we should have removed, |
but it's been there since who know when (it was a really old can) and I wanted to see how long it would last.
Riley and I went for one last visit with my dad a couple weeks ago. I wanted to see the place one last time to take in all the sights and smells and memories. We also wanted to say goodbye to my brother, Scott, by scattering his ashes. He loved that place, and if he was still around, there would be a good chance that he'd be living there. Originally, we buried him in a cedar box my dad made, we included notes, placed a couple plaques nearby and planted a tree.
|My favorite farm dog, Thor.|
My dad suggested scattering Scott's ashes around the farm as he felt that was a better fit than sitting in a box (and they might be disturbed where they were anyway). We brought the plaques home, and unfortunately the tree died recently. At any rate, my dad has 140 acres, most covered in woods. I anticipated we take the farm truck on the trails and scatter my brother that way. My dad is more practical, than sentimental so he just started scattering the ashes in the front yard. It wasn't the touching moment I had anticipated, but I was proud when Riley said she wanted to help.
My dad would break off a chunk of ashes and try to disburse them in the grass, but the ashes had hardened into one big block making his task difficult. I was taking pictures at first, but stopped momentarily when my dad dropped the bag of ashes and started stomping on them to break them up. I pointed out that he was stomping on his son and we had a little laugh about it, but I'm guessing some people would have been horrified by that moment. If Scott were alive he would be the first one making a joke about it so it seemed appropriate to laugh. My brother was freaking hilarious and I can totally hear him telling a funny story right now. Scott was able to find the funny in anything.
|Moments before my dad stomped on my brother.|
Eventually, I convinced my dad to head to the edge of the woods to scatter the ashes and Riley continued to help. I had previously talked with her about this and even showed her our cats ashes (that we have yet to scatter in our own yard). Side note: I meant to wash her hands after this, but totally forgot and then served her lunch. So, it's highly likely that she may have had a side of Scott with her sandwich. Mother moment of the year.
Later we did take a ride through the trails. They were horribly overgrown and just made me sad. I planned to take more pictures of the trails and the fields, but I sort of wanted to remember them they way they were. Another side note: The farm truck (actually, it's now a jeep) smelled like a rat family of 3000 had been using it as their toilet for years. It was absolutely disgusting and should be put out of it's misery.
|We rented the open land to a farmer who is growing soybeans this year.|
One last stroll around the yard and house:
|That's supposed to be a garden in there.|
|I was determined to get a bunch of pictures of my dad at the farm.|
My dad dug up a couple pine trees for his yard and it occurred to me that my rock and tree supply was about to dry up. I suddenly wanted to dig up my own trees even though I had no place to put them and I had to convince myself that I had all the rocks I needed for lining my flower gardens.
|My weird kid|
After collecting a few last things (easiest move ever - my dad basically left everything there except
some nails and gloves and such) we drove down to the Apple River right around the corner. There is a somewhat steep trail that heads down to the river so I wasn't sure my 88 year old dad (with a fake hip) should be going down there, but he grabbed a walking stick and followed us down the path. There I was in the middle, trying to make sure my 6 year old in front of me and my dad in back of me didn't fall.
|Drop off straight ahead|
It had been some time since I'd been down to this spot. I spotted some new trails, and my favorite trail (to the big rock by the rapids) was inaccessible since the water was high. When I was little I was equally delighted to splash in the water at the Apple river, but totally scared by the drop off in the water at the bottom of the trail. I've never once tubed down this river and it's probably partly because it scares me a bit. Two little girls (that I know of) drowned there. One was my age and I went to her funeral when I was about 7 or 8. Just to the side of the drop off, the water is so shallow you can easily walk across without the water coming up much past your knees. My dad used to lead me across when I was little and at one point there was a rope you could hold on to for guidance. I've had some peaceful moments down by that river, but there is sadness there too.
On our way home we stopped in the small town of Star Prairie. For the last 50 some years my dad has been stopping to get his haircut at the barber there so I was glad that he wanted to stop one last time. In all my years going out to the farm with him, I don't think I ever went into the barber shop. He'd always have me wait in the truck, but this time I went in and had my camera with me. It seemed like a memory that I would always want to keep.
While we drove to the farm on the 94 route, we decided to go back home through Stillwater. It's my preferred way, but it meant that we wouldn't stop at the Dairy Queen in New Richmond one last time. It was a tradition when I was little to stop for some ice cream on the way home and even though it's been years since we've done so, it's something I'll greatly miss.
Farm, thank you for sharing your land with us. I will forever treasure my memories of our time together.(And bravo to all of you who stuck with this post and read it to the end.)