If necessity is the mother of invention, then farmers are the ultimate innovators. Because when there is a job that needs to get done, farmers will find a way to do it.
I have before extolled the flexible virtues of baling twine — the genetic building block of many on-farm repairs. Sometimes the inventions are quite elaborate — a category my handiwork seldom sees — and other times they are simply quick fixes.
Battling the deep snow has been a challenge lately, especially when it comes to moving small bales of hay to my feeding area. Carrying bales through the snow while your feet break through the crust is a true exercise in frustration.
Last week I decided to fall back on a tried-but-true method for hauling items through the snow with the use of a toboggan. While it was not an authentic wooden toboggan (we do have one of those as well), the plastic sled allowed me to easily haul several bales at once across the few hundred feet of trail.
Naturally I tried to load six bales the first time, but after a few tips I realized that three or four was an efficient haul.
The February snowfall of 31.1 inches in La Crosse has set a record for that month. It’s more than half of the snow we’ve had all winter. The deep drifts and piles of snow remind me of some of the winters in the 1970s when I was a kid.
I have distinct memories of winters in the 1970s being snowed-in on our dead-end road for at least a couple of days before the plow came through. The fact-checker in me wants to temper fond memories with reality, so I did a little research on my winter recollections. According to the National Weather Service, two of the top 10 snowiest seasons were in the 1970s. The winter of 1974-75 had 73.2 inches of snow to rank No. 3. The winter of 1970-71 had 67.6 inches to rank No. 6.
I know many parents who have gone a little stir crazy lately with all of the snow days and having kids home from school. In the old days we had no video games, no computer, no recorded movies and only two channels on TV when I was a kid. But deep snow meant having fun outside. My brother and I — sometimes joined by our cousins — would go sledding, dig tunnels, build forts or have snowball wars.
The six-foot toboggan was our favorite. We’d all try to squeeze on, a jumbled mass of crossed arms and legs. We made countless trips up and down the hills, trying to coax the sled to go just a little faster and a little farther with every trip, trying to avoid obstacles (like trees and grassy humps) in between. We didn’t head for home until we were exhausted, wet and cold or until the short winter day came to an end.
To this day the scent of wet wool brings back memories of mittens and caps drying out by the wood stove or above the floor registers in my Aunt Sara’s house. We’d drink hot chocolate and make grandiose plans about how we were going to conquer the hill the next time.
In the 1970s, a couple of companies came out with red plastic “ski and skates” that you strapped to your boots. They were like short skis and cost only $3.49. I couldn’t even stand up on the things, much less ski.
But my cousin who had some skiing experience strapped on a pair one day and decided to go snow skiing behind a snowmobile. He wiped out and ended up breaking his collarbone. It was many years before he fessed up that that injury was not due to falling off the toboggan.
I also had a sledding accident when I was only 5. My brother and I were sledding on a plastic saucer. There was a glaze of ice on the snow and we went fast. On my last ride of the day Kevin fell off and I held on for dear life before running face-first into a woven wire fence.
I was left with a bloodied and broken nose and, as Kevin still says 50 years later, “a face that looked like a waffle.” In my defense, I wasn’t told that you should bail out when you reach the bottom of the hill.
Today I glance across the creek to those hills and think of those simpler times. My kids and now grandchildren have now sledded on the farm, the fifth-generation in our family to do so.
Yes, I am weary of winter. But the snow and cold provides some warm memories. That makes me feel all right.