Realizing the American Dream by Having a Family Farm
Realizing the American Dream by Having a Family Farm
On March 1, 1957, mom and dad used a land contract to purchase a 117-acre dairy farm one-half mile north of Honey Creek, Wisconsin.
From 1957 until 1982, by working two jobs each, my parents struggled to pay off the farm mortgage while raising five children.
Finally, after my folks had retired from their outside jobs, they were able to realize their dream of building up a dairy herd and then shipping Grade A milk 1977-1985.
Through austerity, savings, and the sale of their dairy cattle, my parents were able to help my second-oldest sister through vet school and my youngest sister through law school. They were also able to purchase a house in Milwaukee for my oldest sister.
After getting out of milking in 1985, mom and dad still did some cash-cropping but finally had time to enjoy themselves by traveling and associating with seniors in Burlington from 1986 until dad passed away in 2004.
The following is an account of my parents' quest in realizing the American dream.
The Early Years--1957-1963
When mom and dad got married in 1943, they had two common goals. The first was to become successful dairy farmers and own their farm. The second was to make sure that their children had a good education.
After renting a small dairy farm near Mukwonago, Wisconsin, for three years, my parents saved up enough money to put a down payment on a 117-acre dairy farm not far from Mukwonago. The farm is now still located one-half mile north of the small community of Honey Creek.
It was especially appealing to mom and dad in 1957 because a big creek, Honey Creek, passed through the middle of the farm. The farmhouse was better because it had plumbing with hot water and a bathroom with a bathtub and flush toilet. A fairly new barn also had room for 15-18 milk cows.
Although our farmhouse was better than the previously rented one, it still had problems. During the winter, it was extremely cold in the house, especially in the early morning. This was due to an ancient coal/wood-burning furnace heating system that had only one big floor register in the dining room next to the stairs leading to the upper floor. The whole family would sit over the register when it was cold outside. On many mornings, mom and dad would awaken first and find that the fire in the furnace had gone out. While dad restocked the furnace with wood or coal and got the fire going again, mom would turn on the gas stove oven and open its door for heat.
Besides having a very small kitchen, the basement and foundation of the old house built around the 1890s were poorly insulated. During the winter of 1957-1958, dad insulated by banking manure around the foundation of the house.
From 1957 through 1963, my folks were poor. Although dad had outside jobs first in West Allis and later in Waukesha, there never seemed to be enough money for the cows and five children. With three young kids, mom didn't work outside.
Mom and dad were frugal and very seldom would they buy meat and vegetables in the store. We butchered steers on the front and side lawns around the house. A big garden supplied us with various vegetables that Mom canned every year.
During the summer, we would grow pickles and sell them to a pickle factory in Waterford to get money for school clothes. We would also sell sweet corn at neighboring community festivals.
In 1957, dad cut down a couple of rows of apple trees in a three-acre field north of the farmhouse so that he could have more tillable farmland. With an eventual herd of 15-18 dairy cattle and some young ones, we needed to grow a lot of alfalfa for hay, corn, and oats.
My folks could only ship Grade B milk because the milk house was too small and out-dated. Dad also couldn't afford to put in a bulk milk tank and modern milking system at that time.
By the fall of 1962, after I went away to college, dad enlarged the gutters in the barn by himself and then had a barn cleaning system installed.
Although cleaning the barn was now a lot easier, mom and dad were forced to sell all of the cattle at an auction in December 1963. They were too much in debt to banks for money they had borrowed to buy feed for the cows. Land taxes had to be paid and the farm mortgage payment was also due every month.
It is a wonder that my parents were able to make ends meet, especially after dad didn't have an outside job during parts of 1963.
The Colony Years--1964-1977
It was very sad seeing mom and dad having to sell all of our cattle at an auction right before Christmas in 1963. The slate had to be wiped clean, however, to get out of debt.
Shortly after the auction, mom had promised that she would go off to work in the next few months. The family at that time had no income without a steady milk check. Mom had heard that there were openings for nurses' aides at the Southern Wisconsin Colony near Union Grove not far away.
Luckily, mom got hired in the spring of 1964. While I was home on summer vacation from college in June, I can remember picking my ma up at Waterford after she finished work and then driving home.
Shortly later, through her influence, mom was able to get dad hired as a plumber/maintenance man at the Colony.
With two stable incomes, my parents were able to stay out of debt and resume their quest for the American dream.
From around 1965 through 1967, mom and dad were able to see the completion of three lasting improvements to the farmhouse and farm. The first improvement was the final construction of a new kitchen with a big picture window that dad had built by himself. The second was the installation of an oil furnace which replaced the inefficient coal furnace and made our house much warmer. The third was the planting of thousands of spruces and evergreens in the wooded area around the creek.
Dad still farmed but now had only a few beef cattle and some pigs during the late 1960s up until the mid-1970s. Every year he grew alfalfa for hay, oats, and corn.
While I lived at home in 1971 after getting out of the Navy, dad realized one of his dreams by having enough money to hire the building of a big machine shed. After the Morton building was up, I helped my father pour cement for a workshop that was in one corner of the shed. Besides having a huge area for farm machinery, dad now finally had enough room for his tools, workbench, welder, and other building and repair equipment. My father was truly a handyman who could do welding, carpenter work, masonry, plumbing, and fix almost anything.
Dad knew that he could retire from his Colony job at age 62 in March 1978. Therefore, two years before retiring in 1976, my father set in motion his plans for shipping Grade A milk. His plans included remodeling the stalls in the barn, building a new modern milk house, and acquiring calves to raise to become milk cows.
Since dad didn't have a truck in the 1970s, he transported his young calves individually in a car from the seller to his barn. According to my sister Patty, the calves were placed in gunny sacks held by my brother or two youngest sisters so that they wouldn't soil his car. This procedure was done for 25 calves that dad purchased from a nearby farmer.
By the time dad retired in 1978, mom and dad had realized the American dream of owning their farm. They also were beginning to ship Grade A milk!
Shipping Grade A Milk--1977-1985
During the period 1977-1985, mom and dad finally realized their dream of shipping Grade A milk. According to my sister Patty, the first milk production from probably less than 10 cows was sold to AMPI in Burlington in 1977.
Later, as more and more heifers freshened, my parents' milk production increased. At the probable height of milk production in 1984 or 1985, mom and dad were milking 20-25 cows with an up-to-date pipeline system. According to my sister, they were receiving a good price for their milk.
Before mom retired from her Colony job in October 1982, Patty helped dad milk 1977-1978. Dad then had a hired hand 1979-1982 when mom retired and could then help. My younger brother Philip helped when he could especially with the hard work making hay. Dad needed to grow quite a bit of oats and corn as well as make hay during these years.
During 1985, mom and dad decided to sell all of their cows. They were not sold at auction but rather individually to select farmers who bought them at higher prices.
Mom and dad got out of farming at this time probably for a number of reasons. The main reason was probably due to their ages. Dad was almost 70 and mom 65. The graduation of my sisters Patty and Connie from vet and undergraduate school respectively in 1986 was possibly another reason. Both were almost through school and wouldn't need my parents' assistance. Then, too, mom and dad wanted to start enjoying themselves by going into town to socialize and also traveling to visit friends and relatives.
Now that mom and dad had money in the bank from the sale of their cattle and retirement pensions coming in monthly, it was time to enjoy life.
The first year of retirement was very busy for my folks.
During February 1986, I can still remember my parents coming out to Maryland where I lived to visit my family and me. It was the first time dad had ever been on a plane.
In the spring, mom and dad attended sister Connie's graduation and Patty's graduation from vet school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Dad was still ambitious and got a welding certificate from a nearby community college. Shortly later, he opened a welding service in his machine shed workshop.
Although mom and dad were still making some hay to sell, they put most of their tillable land in the CRP soil bank and received money for not planting crops.
As to daily activities, I quickly learned that my parents would go to a thrift store that had a senior corner in Burlington daily to socialize and purchase used clothing and antiques. Mom became a volunteer at this thrift store.
When not going to the thrift store, mom and dad would often visit my sister Beatrice in Milwaukee and Patty on her farm outside of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Connie lived at home with my parents most of the time and Philip lived in Burlington.
My parents would also occasionally go on gambling bus trips with other seniors to different casinos throughout Wisconsin.
During the summer, mom and dad always had a big garden with many tomatoes, potatoes, beans, sweet corn, and other vegetables.
I remember dad planting oats and soybeans during the late 1990s but by 2000, he had rented most of his farmland to a neighboring farmer.
Dad continued to build right after retirement. Between 1985 and 1990, he put up a chimney and installed a wood-burning stove in the farmhouse dining room. He put up another chimney and also installed a wood-burning stove in his workshop.
Mom and dad also purchased an older house on the East Side of Milwaukee. Knowing that my oldest sister Beatrice and her husband with five young children were having a hard time making ends meet, my parents let my sister and her family live in the house paying very little rent. Beatrice inherited the house after mom passed away in 2011.
The history of our family farm, however, as I remember it, ended after the sudden death of dad from a heart attack in May 2004.
© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn