Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wisconsin 'Summer Kid'

  • After WWII came to a victorious close, Prosperous times once again returned to the USA. My Grandparents built a varnished pine log with green shingled roof, uninsulated small one room cabin. On the entrance road was the handmade sign from a friend, 'Pappy's Dream'. The little cabin was built on the NE shore of TRUMP LAKE in the Nicholet National Forest of Northern Wisconsin (Wisconsin natives refer to any place with trees, as "Da Woods":>).

    Following years of WWII Rationing and Deprivation, 'Everything' quickly became obtainable and 'War Bonds' were cashed in. Being almost 9 yrs old, after the crops were planted, I started spending the summers (freezing winter snows often touched the eaves) at little, obscure Trump Lake. Usually accompanied by my Dear, patient and understanding Grandmother. After a time, younger sister with cousins and friends, also visited and enjoyed the 'Summer Place'. BTW Understand that out of state 'Summer Kids' are viewed very differently (to put it mildly) by Wisconsin native kids.

    Grandpa drove us to the new cabin in his, made in Wisconsin, 1946 Nash ('Kenosha Diesel' or 'Kelvinator', as the Ford, Chevy and Plymouth crowd called it), pulling a little 'one wheeled', very overloaded trailer. It often broke it's one tiny, sprung and swiveled wheel. The design was creative and used two frame bars to fasten the little, light duty box trailer, to the big chrome bumper on the Nash.

    Cars of those times, were highly prone to flat tires and 'blowouts'. The old cotton fabric cords were bias diagonal in structure. Unlike the modern Synthetic and steel corded Radial tires of today, they easily overheated and blew out on long heavily loaded trips, pulling the car sharply to the direction of the blowout. One time, either caused by, or taking the Nash wheel rim (mfd by BUDD) with it.

    Canadian-French Grandpa periodically used his finely honed mechanical ingenuity to repair the little trailer (and everything else). Items at hand, heavy wire, C Clamps and rope to bimd the tiny trailer wheel back into a somewhat useable configuration. The first of many trips, heavily loaded with construction tools and materials, was an adventure in itself. At that time, countless hundreds of small Cheese factories, were interspersed among the myriad of little Wisconsin Dairy farms..... I am sure the term "Cheese Head" comes to mind?

    During the trips, a stop at the little 'Factories' was always in order. The big oblong tanks were filled with Milk The overhead mixing arms slowly tracked from one end of the tank to the other, stirring the milk laced with salt and being temperature controlled. Another stop further down the road, found their tanks filled with what appeared to be course cottage Cheese.

    I always enjoyed a golf ball sized Curd, with it's salty taste. Yet another stop may find the tanks empty and the cheese being processed into large muslin wrapped 'Wheels' of various types of Cheese for ageing. The finished 'Cheese Wheels' were placed in round wooden boxes for shipping. The process was ongoing all along the highways of Wisconsin to the northern forests.

    Once in the National Forest, the scenery changed dramatically. No longer open rolling 'Morain (remnants of last Ice Age)' fields, with hand stacked field stone barns and fences. Being on roughly the same lattitude as their homeland, the industrious German Immigrants (Legal!!!) knew exactly how to deal with this climate and terrain to make it highly productive and profitable.

    The often 'Detoured' Wisconsin county roads, once within the forest, were closed in with walls of trees on both sides. The little towns, some with Indian names, became stranger sounding. 'Wabeno' was our final settlement. It had previously been a major Logging community.

    A massive log showing the years of it's existance recorded in the rings, was set on concrete blocks under a roofed structure. A set of monster, spoked wooden wheels, once used to carry logs out of the Forest, were on display in the little park, along with an old steam log hauler
  • A small 'Frozen Custard and Rootbeer' stand, was my favorite stop in Wabeno. We stocked up with perishables and a block of ice at the little 'Red Owl' grocery store.

    The sparsely equipped cabin only had our old 'Ice Box'. Common during the war years. Our squatty, little old wood stove was the heat and cooking facility. The well was a Hand Pounded iron casing, with a pipe leading to the cabin. A hand pump on the sink supplied the water. Eventually Grandpa fitted a shower stall and little electric pump to the shallow well. An outhouse served us for a while until a septic and drain field was dug into a far end of the property.

    The trip leaving Wabeno to Trump Lake, was always filled with anticipation. A family of baby skunks blocked our road. We stopped, got out and and watched while the mother encouraged them off into the brush. Birch trees with their white bark, lined segments of road, but mostly Pine, closely forested and mixed with a few Maples, packed densely around the little lake.

    A rare trip to the larger towns of Crandon or 'Laona' was exciting. At one time a large Hardwood logging and mill operation was based there. The logging and railroad equipment was displayed proudly in their public areas. An actual Department store was the pride of 'Laona'.

    Paul Bunyan's huge hand carved wooden figure, along with Babe his Blue Ox, marked the tourist stops. The little gift shops sold nic-nacs and small boxes made from Cedar. The aroma was locked into my memory, still lingering all of these years.

    Across the road from my grand parents lakeshore cabin, the pretty, young Olsen lady and her children, raised Mink near Birch rd. Hundreds of the feisty little beady eyed critters of all colors (I liked the black ones). With the new Post War prosperity, Mink coats in colder climates, were in fashion. My 'sometimes' job, was to feed them...Horsemeat..

    A trip to 'educational' Polar Wisconsin, in the old Chevy ranch wagon, with my 'Reality' teacher, Mrs Olsen, taught me the fascinating finer points of Horse Butchering. At that time it was begun with a 22 rifle. Several well placed shots to the cranial cavity, brought down the large animal in the chuted, concrete floored processing barn.

    Then began a fast crude process, by tough, rubber aproned and booted men with axes. They rapidly finished the job. A task I will only describe as 'very interesting'. The tough men quickly skinned and reduced the old, worn out and scraggly horses, to a ground 'pulp', to be frozen into large blocks. Mrs Olsen's Chevy Surbaban wagon was loaded with frozen blocks wrapped in cardboard, for the trip back to Trump Lake.

    As needed, Each frozen block was removed from the 'cold room' and thawed on Mrs Olsen's enclosed back porch, to be mixed later with water. A large timber Wolf/Coyote got a snif of the horsemeat one night, broke through the window and rousted out of her bed, the tough Mrs Olsen and her kids. She grabbed her gun and went after him. He jumped back out of the window and screen he had broken, and returned to the forest.... with a chunk of horsemeat in his jaws.

    My orders, one large 'military spoonful' per each animal, per cage. Dolloped onto the top wire, just over their metal 'slop dish', was my favorite routine. The Mink went absolutely berserk as we approached with the meat kettle, while pulling the old and squeaky, faded and rusty, red Radio Flyer wagon. I learned quickly to keep fingers away from cages.

    The only Mink I could not feed, were the special breeders with babies. The Olsen lady fed them in her quiet manner, to keep them calm. If upset they ATE their babies. Hmmm... some Moms in the 'new's today seem capable of that. Mrs Olsen's husband was an 'over the road' trucker, and rarely home. Rawhide Tough, as well as pretty, Mrs Olsen and her kids ran the 'Mink Ranch' all by themselves.

    During the icey cold winter, the lake froze solid and thick. Men with big saws cut blocks of ice for storage in an old 'Ice House' filled with sawdust. The insulating sawdust kept the big blocks frozen through the summer. As kids, we liked to get in to lay in the cool sawdust on hot days. We sometimes used a pocketknife to chip off a smaller chunk of ice, and sucked on it like a popsicle.

    Many times we played 'Hide and Seek'. The boundary lines had to be understood beforehand or we would never find each other in the dense pine trees around the cabins. One 'summer kid' by the name of Ricky was far older than his years. Educated in the city, Among countless other worldly things, he knew gymnastics. He could swing through the trees, then 'leap and roll' from the rooftops of the cabins. Hard to catch Ricky. He also had the fastest aluminum boat with a 5hp Johnson and flirted with the pretty 'Summer Girls', especially pretty Elizabeth, who I secretively longed for, while wishing I was a bit older. :>)

    Vacant Lot Baseball, if enough kids available, was always on the agenda. One kid had actually attended 'Baseball Camp'. We were really impresed by Rall's detailed knowledge of the game. He later became a Priest from what I was told by Jim, a Wisconsin native 'lake kid', who's parents ran the little store across the lake.

    Last time I saw Jim, my wife and I were on a motor coach trip to find my old territories. He was retired from teaching at Madison College, and tapping the maple trees at his Trump Lake cabin home. We discussed the Olsens, Paul (never changed:>), Marvin, Doug, Ricky, Elizabeth, Rall and a few others, including Tommy, the kid that owned the little movie theater in Wabeno. :>)

    One other Trump Lake 'kid job', was hanging around the nearby riding horses. A string of them took paying riders on the forest trail, to visit the Nicholet National 'Forest Fire Lookout Tower' on the trail to Blackwell (population at the time, 12 humans, 4 cats and several dogs). On hiking trips into the forest, as 'lake kids', we often climbed the very tall tower and looked at the interesting telescopic and triangulation equipment inside.

    Rarely was a seasonal (fire season) Ranger in there. It was really a small fully glass enclosed cabin, mounted high on very very tall iron stilts, far above the Forest below. Fun and very exciting climb. "Don't Look Down", were our words of encouragement, passed among all of the climbing kids. Some remained on the terra firma, understandably refusing to climb. 'Sugar Bush' Fire Lookout tower, was reputed by the 'experienced' kids, to be even taller.

    Around sunset the Mosquitos emerged from the dense forest. "The big ones would actually kill and suck dry a horse, then toss his horseshoes to see which ones got the saddle". At least that was what we were told. :>) A wipe of your mosquito covered arm, left a streak of your blood. We were proud of seing who could stand the swarms the longest. That was proof of who was 'The Toughest'.

    The horses got ticks..lots of them, and BIG. Picked them all off as we spotted them, loudly shouting "WOW.. look at the size of this one".. Big blood bloated, firm blue ones were the most fun. Same process with the local Hounds. Ticks got in their ears. 'Blue Tick Hounds' for sure. Grandma checked me every night for the little reddish brown Ticks before bed. Had to be careful, use various methods and Not leave the head embedded (infection). Turpentine, Kerosene, freshly burnt, wooden Diamond Brand matches, were all home remedies.

    Always creative, Canadian Frenchman Grandpa, had built a bunk style double decker, double bed. Every night following an interesting day, was slept in a 'rock like' state of hibernation. Morning was often started with Coffee, bacon and eggs cooked on the little wood stove. Chopping wood was my chore..

    Some mornings involved a trip across the lake to the little store on Sunset Point. It was operated by the Newton's. I was often sent rowing to find fresh milk. Milk came in a cone shaped container that worked as a Megaphone after the bottom was cut out. Grandma often used it to call me in from the lake.

    Every day was spent either hiking the dark forest trails, or exploring every swampy, floating island lilly pad and Venus Fly Trap covered area of the lake, including the mysterious other little lake 'Eugene' at the far west end. The unique Call of the ever present Loons were really wonderful in the evening. Never caught one. About the time you boated over to them, they dived under the water and emerged many yards away. All of the daily adventures were done in our beautiful small Green thin plywood veneered row boat named Sea Wolf. Mr Wolf built and sold them by the dozens. Thank You Grandpa.

    A small hog pen was at the far end of the other little lake 'Eugene', hidden in the trees. A Bear had killed a hog. The hunters went in search of the Bear. They found it with it when it returned to eat more Hog, killed it and displayed it in Wabeno at the little town Locker. Asked if I wanted to see the rogue Bear, I was really excited. As we drove up to the hanging, skinned Bear, I was shocked to see that it looked like a very big naked Man...

    I hiked with wide eyes on the forest trails after that. Deer were always everywhere...but Bears...?

    Fishing was of course a major pastime. Iridescent Bluegill, brilliant Sunfish, Crappy and the rare, fascinating Northern Pike and 'Musky' with sharp teeth, was on every daily fish hunting safari. I lost many a red and white 'Daredevil' casting lures into bottom debris. Endlessly repeated 'Backlash' on the Southbend open spool casting reels ('spin cast' was not yet easily available), saved many a fish. Bamboo poles were swung wildly by kids. On one occasion, a night crawler was freshly put on the hook and swung in an arc by a nearby fishing friend.

    The hook painfully snagged my eyebrow. Jerking away, and dragging his cane pole, while running into the cabin, I yelled to Grandma, "My Eye, My Eye". She about dropped her dishes, seeing the wriggling, dangling night crawler glob, hanging from my eye. She said later, she thought my eye was hanging down on my cheek. Sorry to cause you so much stress in my life, Grandma.

    The crystal clear lake with easily seen bottom (20 ft) was purposely scattered with large square 'fish structures', meant to enhance breeding and hatchlings. On clear, wind free days, the boat appeared to magically hover in mid air over the bottom far below. Fish could be seen hanging motionless at various depths. They never would bite in those wave free, sunny circumstances, even if you bumped their noses with the worm.

    A little silver antique Johnson outboard, with a U shaped, very dented tubular tank around the motor of less than 1 hp, powered my cruiser... well sort of. Most all times I had to 'pull oars'.

    Desperate for the sound of 'horse power', I wound and pulled on that rope for hours. Wore out the rope, tied a new knot, wound it around the pulley, and pulled some more. 'Hard to start', were not the words for that little old Johnson. Christmas, Grandpa bought a new beautiful Deep Green Scott-Atwater of 3.8 hp.

    Summer came agonizingly slow. Trip to Trump Lake cabin was with great anticipation. I was very excited to show this powerful New Motor to the native Wisconsin friends I had met the last summer. I dragged the new Scott down to the dock, rolled over the inverted boat, mounted the mighty Scott on the transom and launched, now magnificent, 'Sea Wolf'. I was in heaven. Scott started on the first pull and It actually left a wake :>) At that time, a Five Horsepower outboard was a 'Big' motor on the lake.

    Very confident of their excitement, I buzzed over to the Public Ground, where the kids often camped. As I approached the beach, they started shooting a single shot BB gun at me. I yelled at them to "quit it, remember me"? They laughed and kept cocking the break action BB gun, spitting BB's (kept them in their mouth) into the end of the barrel, and firing at me. They Stung, I only had a T shirt on. Dejected, I started the Scott-Atwater and putted back to the cabin.

    Walking in the door with my spirits dampened into despair, I saw my other recent 'post war' Christmas aquisition leaning against the wall. A new Daisy Red Ryder, lever action repeater with a leather thong. Never one to run away from a reasonably fair fight, I roared back to approach the enemy campground.

    They started firing that 'break action' single shot again...and laughing. While at the cabin, I had also put on my leather jacket. Now properly Armored... 'And Armed', I stood up in the coasting boat and sent 'lever Actioned' dozens of BB's rapid fire, accurately targeting and stinging each and every kid.

    They began howling and running for the trees. It only took about a dozen hits to make the biggest kid (one with the gun) recognise superior firepower, throw down his little single shot weapon, tear off his T shirt and frantically wave it from behind a tree, shouting 'Truce, Truce'. I beached Sea Wolf, dismounted and strode ashore like General Douglas McCarther. By now extremely confident and prepared, with already cocked Red Ryder swinging casually at my side.

    Like Dogs sniffing butts, we warily reaquainted with each other, and re-formed our summer long bond.......until the next Summer.

    Blogengeezer, the Wisconsin 'Summer Kid'..

    Blogger Mary Beck said...


    My parents, Joe and June Johnson also had a mink ranch on Trump Lake and the Olsens were their very good friends. Mr. Olsen was my godfather. Ten years ago my husband and I bought the cabin across from the Olsen's mink ranch. It is a vertical log put up by the Menominee Bay Shore Lumber Co in Wabeno. Sooooo, I'm curious where your grandpa's place was and who was your grandpa. BTW--Elizabeth is my cousin!

    Hope I hear from you.

    Mary Frances Johnson Beck

    6:38 AM  
    Blogger Blogengeezer said...

    Mary Frances, I remember the Johnson's as Mrs Olson's friends and I also remember You... if my mem serves me. You were the calming more rational influence, when we were involved in any 'endeavor', of which their always were 'opportunities'. I stopped by the Braun's cabin on the motor coach trip. Meeting a daughter of Marvin's sister? I also remember the 'vertical log' cabin. Seems I hid under it during one Hiding game, only to be sniffed out by a dog. :>) The 'Joppie's were our neighbors. 'Pappy's Dream' was our cabin. Drop another comment with your email. I will not publish it. Thank you for your welcome comment. 'Elizabeth' is your cousin.. lol

    9:28 AM  

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