Greg Koelker

Koelker

El and I were driving through Prairie du Chien on Friday last when she pointed out a classic pickup — a fixed and polished up 1940ish Ford. I had to smile at the memory that old work horse sparked in me.

When I was a kid, AKA my grandpa’s sidekick, I spent some quality time in a pickup like that, riding with Grandpa, Dad and Uncle Ike when they came to help hay, or with the various hired men: Freddie, Bob, (soon to be Marines) Mike and Mike, and Arch. I learned how to smoke and roll a cigarette pack up in my sleeveless T—and not to chew; I learned a little bit about the mysterious opposite sex; I had my first biting and burning sip of warm Kesslers from a bottle hidden in the detritus of rags, tools, chains, gloves, and old shirts behind the seat, I began to learn to drive in that old truck, how to use a clutch, and how to AND how not to haul hay on steep hill roads. Grandpa’s rig was a hay — or whatever needing hauling — hauler with a homemade flatbed polished smooth by many winter’s worth of hay bales. I remember riding on that flatbed holding a precious package—newborn Holstein calf — whose mother had sneaked off into the woods to birth it. My Uncle Ike and his friend Bill Buschbom used horses — I loved horses until I discovered girls and muscle cars — and found the calf. The old Ford’s paint was a flat bluish green with streaks of rust here and there. I recall that all the windows had spidery cracks in their corners. The seat was always dusty and torn and usually hot in the afternoon anyway and slippery. I learned about being discreet from one of the hired men when we were bouncing up the hill road and my door came open and I fell out, knocking the wind out of lungs. Inexplicably or more like by the grace of God, I wasn’t run over by the back tires. I wasn’t even hurt beyond a bruise or two, but it hurt like the dickens — frosted with enough profanity to melt over the sides — both mine and the hired man who was driving. I never told either. I remember the hired men making over Brownie, my cousin’s pony — but mostly mine. Hired man Bob once tried the TV cowboy move of jumping up into the saddle over the rump. Bob made it but Brownie was not a fan. (I tried that move, too. I never made the saddle, so... )

We just passed the Memorial Day holiday and I thought I’d mention that one of the Marine Mikes mentioned above — Marine PFC Michael John Davidson was killed in Vietnam in May of 1967 only a few weeks after being deployed; he was 19.

Anyway, many of the farmers we could see had haying on their things-to-do list this hot June day in 2019. We enjoyed the sweet scent of fields of wind-rowed hay on our trip to visit my mom in Grant County. There were choppers and chopper wagons at farms no doubt getting their joints greased and adjusted. We saw hay mowers and hay rakes in the fields.

That sweet scent reminds me of summer and winter. Summer because of when hay is first cut and raked and baled or chopped and put in the barn or silo, sweet with promise. Winter because when that same hay are dropped down the chute on a cold winter day into a warm barn and broken up and fed to hungry milk cows. Often bringing back welcome memories of summer through the magic of scent. When I smell newly cut hay, hot grease, summer dust, sweat, and tractor exhaust my memories of my grandpa come back clearer. He was really good at shooting pool, but his eyesight was slowly getting in the way on the slate—at the Town Pump at lunch time. He was strong, wiry, and could fix just about anything or seemed to me.

Until next time, get out — my 88-year old mother had a stroke in late May. She was out of it for a few days, and we didn’t hold much hope that she’d recover, but she fooled us all and is doing much better now. She got to visit her home for a few hours as part of a transition program where she could demonstrate getting around and such. My siblings and I moved furniture to facilitate a w alker, ordered a Life Line, and other necessary things for living at home — with assistance. We shall see how it goes. Enjoy.

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Contributor

Greg and his wife Ellen Koelker are retired and live on Grouse Hollow Farm near Stoddard. He is chairman of the Vernon County Chapter of Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

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