Tractor Tales; The New Allis

Spring is here, and along with the onset of blooming flowers and invasive weeds, tractor training has thus begun. Let’s give a warm welcome to the Allis Chalmers WD-45, or the new Allis as we refer to it:

Allis Chalmers Tractor

It is this new Allis upon which I will be learning to drive a tractor. The old Allis is the tractor that Pete has been driving since God created man. Or close to it anyway. He purchased the new Allis to supplement tractor duties when needed. This is where I step in, or hide according to mood. Ha, no really, I do want to learn to drive a tractor. Partly because as a farmer’s wife, I think it’s a good skill set to have, and also I just like the sound of the engine and build up of power as the tractor leaps into life. It’s a rush.

Sexy Allis

Both of our Allis tractors are from the late 40’s to early 50’s. The new Allis was rebuilt prior to our purchase, so its origins are a little mixed. Sort of like that mixed breed puppy that we all gush over. I’m trying very hard not to gush over this one because in all seriousness, this is a machine and that means safety first. So I must pay attention and resist the urge to just stroll over and turn the key and take it for a spin.

Starter Key

Fortunately I have enough healthy fear and respect for this machine to not do anything as foolhardy as that. Plus, I have a patient driving instructor in Pete “The Clutch” Farm Guy:

Pete on Allis

So for my first lesson, Pete drove the tractor out and cleared a 5-mile radius of buildings, animals, people and productive crop. I kid, he didn’t really clear the vicinity but he did drive the tractor out to an area giving me enough radius within which to practice. I did notice however that the barn cats steered clear of the area during this time. Smart cats. Good cats. Very much alive cats.

Some of you who have grown up on farms must find driving a tractor second nature. Not so with me. I wish it were so, but holy crap, this is not like driving my car. Sure there’s that key to start it, but there’s this wire that one pulls to really get it going. Once pulled, the engine roars to life and my heart leaps with excitement, fear and anticipation. My car doesn’t have that little trip wire.

Allis Choke Wire

Understand that Pete “The Clutch” Farm Guy made sure to walk me through the mechanics before I even sat in the seat. But it’s one thing to walk through the process and see him do it, and another thing to plop my butt down on the seat and commence engines on…and realize that 1) I can barely engage the clutch entirely, and 2) THERE’S TWO FREAKIN’ CLUTCHES! My car is a stick shift and I prefer that mode, so I’m good with clutches and shifting. But this was a challenge reaching the clutch and engaging the gears. That’s going to take more practice. And muscle. And longer legs!

Allis Chalmers Gears

You know how people say they can feel muscles ache that they’ve never used before after doing something new? I felt muscles ache that had no business aching after clutch and shift exercises on this tractor! This is embarrassing but I was breaking into a sweat just trying to shift gears. I need more arm muscle. Or the tractor simply needs to get more use. Cue me. This has left me with an incredible and invigorating feeling, and with more practice hopefully I will become more confident in taking the helm. But before this first session closed, I had to learn to reverse, back up, turn, and ultimately, drive the tractor into the garage whose doors seemed unusually close together upon my approach. I questioned Pete about whether the doors should be pushed wider apart but he said that they were fine. Fine. Just fine. And this is where I realize I have to just go for it. Be scared but go for it. My god is Pete a trusting fellow. I could’ve very well driven the tractor straight through the garage into the calf pen next door. But either that guy has a tractor remote tucked in his pocket, or he has great confidence in me.

Allis Chalmers

Either way, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I got that tractor in the garage without tearing down the property. And now, I have a hint of that bond one must feel for a tractor he or she utilizes on a regular basis. Just getting to know the nuances and particularities of Allis on this one day has already drawn me closer to it. I can’t wait for more Allis days!



The wind has been really knocking things and me around these days. Though it’s been pleasantly warm, I feel like my head is spinning within Lady Vortex. I need to lie down. No I don’t, so I went outside instead and ended up in the barn. I forget why, most likely checking on the barn cat situation. Everyone present and accounted for. However a persistent banging of a reckless door drew my attention, which led me into the belly of the beast known here as the silo. It’s not a place I oft go into but the siren call was clear, and I heeded it. Idiot.

silo vestibule

This is not a safe place. This is hard hat territory. The vestibule leading into the silo is slowly crumbling within itself, the roof sadly sagging. But I went in mostly to quell that banging door with a cinder block pushed against it. Once that was done, I couldn’t help but poke around a bit more.

Silo_VestibleRoofingI don’t spend a lot of time in silos, but there is something captivating about the engineering and in this case, the slow sense of decay. (Much like our basement I might add) It’s whispering its past history and sense of usefulness in my ear. I never quite understood exactly how the mechanism of a silo works until I crept into this one. But apparently, this cable seen below was cranked from within the vestibule…

Silo Cable

raising or lowering this unit to follow the level of the silage stored therein. Cat not included. (Can you see the cat?)

Silo mechanismAs silage is needed, it is then that a “window of opportunity” is opened, again within the vestibule, and the silage pours down the chute into a waiting wheelbarrow or some such mode of transport below:

Silo windowsGad, that looks like a subway tunnel but really I’m looking up, so think vertical here with those rectangles being windows. It’s not just the wind that was making me dizzy at this point. Being a little afraid of heights myself, I don’t envy the fellow who had to ascend the silo ladder on the outside for whatever reason.

Silo ladderPete has actually used this silo way back when he first purchased this property, but when I showed him this picture, he was kind of puzzled about the missing bottom half of the ladder. Where did it go? I say someone just didn’t want to go up there anymore and lopped it off in the dark of the night. That’s what I would do.

Meanwhile, the silo sits. And next to the silo sits its sister silo. Two silos in the same state of quiet crumble. But they are such icons to an era gone by that they remain along with so many other silos sprinkled across our Wisconsin landscape. They are so familiar here that there is no horizon without one. Ours are staying until time takes them down. But if we could, we would somehow repurpose them. Wouldn’t that be interesting! I’m thinking a Silo Bed & Breakfast perhaps, or a multi-level restaurant…how is that for farm to fork?! Or how about just a simple tack room albeit with a very high ceiling. Of course we’d have to get a ceiling, cause right now…eh, no ceiling:

Silo interiorSo if you can think of an interesting way to repurpose an old silo or two, I’d sure like to hear it!

Gate Watch; With Horns

Gate LockMarch is in like a lion and out like a lion. No lamb yet. Still cold, blustery and icy with a little bit of tundra on top. But that is no match for me I thought. The roads may still be icy, but guess what? I still have my snow tires on. So screw you post-Winter weather. I’m still going out to run my dumb errands. So I stepped out the door, and stepped right back in the door. Icy, icy porch. Where are my crampons? Where are my big girl pants? I guess I have to find them out there on the icy road because Pete wouldn’t let me back in the house without them. Thanks guy, next time you need a gate watcher we’ll see what happens.

One hour later, “I may need you to watch the gate for me.” Good thing I found my big girl pants out on the icy road.

Hay man strawBut this is no problem. We’re just above the freezing mark so I’m comfortably numb. No freezing. In fact I went without gloves. And along comes the straw man. So, I ran to the gate and opened it feeling like this is a breeze. Just unlock the gate, usher back the steer, let in the skid steer, Pete and myself, lock the gate, stand in the pen and watch. As usual it took me a few seconds to really secure the lock before I looked up to observe. And when I did finally look up:

Big Horn 16 Holstein SteerOh shit…I mean, hello Sir. Mister Sixteen sir. Crap. Okay, who forgot to take the horns off of this one?? I mean I know he’s not a bull, but if you’ve got horns you’ve got balls. Or pretend balls anyway. So I just figure let’s not play games here. Nod politely and don’t look him in the eye. Oh crap, too late:

Big Horn 16 pen, HolsteinWe locked eyeballs again. I couldn’t help myself. He looks quite proud with his unshorn horns and tuft of unruly hair crowning his poll. One might even say he’s handsome, once one gets over the fright of standing eyeball to horn with him in a locked pen. I wonder if he knows just how handsome he is. And I wonder how he managed to slip by without getting dehorned. A clever ruse I suppose. I asked Pete last night how that came about. I don’t think I got a solid answer. I do think I got an eye roll. No matter, it’s nice to see a Holstein with props and a little attitude. Check you later Mr. Sixteen.

Spring through a window

Spring Window BootsI’m feeling that faint blush of Spring in the air. At last. Maybe I can peel off a layer if I dare. Not sure yet, it’s still early March and we can still get a blizzard. It’s not unheard of. In fact, I still have my snow tires on for just that reason. But I did put away the heavy duty, insulated, I-feel-no-cold-or-limbs overalls for the season. That should put a knife in winter. And if that doesn’t, then putting in the spring window display at the Hydro Street Brewery is a good start.

Hydro Street Window BloomersThose of us on the Hydro Street Window Committee put our frozen brains together and came up with a laundry line, rain boots and umbrellas theme. Because that is what Spring is to us; the crisp snap of bloomers on the line, puddle-splashing boots, and dancing umbrellas performing a duet with raindrops. Why do I feel like I should be breaking into a song here? I won’t. Can’t hold a note. But we took the bloomers and aprons to the line and dressed the window in a spring sonnet. So put that in your bonnet!

Hydro Street Spring WindowJust like Spring though, the window is a work in progress. We intend to fill the space with a flowery field of rain boots, if we could find enough boots. Seems it’s a hard thing to pull the boots off of people’s feet. They actually want to wear them rather than display them. There ought to be a city-wide ordinance; if you have rain boots, you must have a secondary pair for display. It’s all for the good of Spring people!

laundry line birdsLike any good laundry line, a few birds came to roost. I’m very encouraged to hear the Spring sing-along-song of birds announcing milder weather. If they say so, then it must be. Still, I’m not ready to pull down the draft drapes yet as March always has a few tricks up its sleeve. Until then, we look forward to Spring while¬†glancing back over our shoulders with a Winter-weary eye should we need to layer up again.

Meanwhile, watch your boots, these gals may try to grab them off your feet for the window display, and you don’t want to mess with them. Best to just hand them over, and have a beer!

Hydro Street Window Committee

Steers’ Night Out

Yesterday, a delightful, fluffy snow fell throughout the day, topping off the snow that we had already received the other day during our mini-blizzard. That’s Winter’s version of icing on the cake. It was beautiful. As I drove (carefully) home from work, all I could think about was how I’d love to run around and play in it. But that night I had to be the responsible adult and attend a very important meeting. Which included wine and pizza. Most serious. No snow play for me that night. Winter RoadSo off we went to our meeting, carefully wending our way through white-wrapped roads to our meeting and pizza. And wine. And beer. As a side note, this meeting did take place at a brewery so that explains that. Meeting and pizza done, we got home in the flurry night and started winding down for the evening. All is calm, all is white. I had just gotten into my pajamas, the dog was in his nesting spot, the cat was waiting for popcorn, and Pete was in his jammies…when the phone rang. “Your barn door is open” “No really, your animals are out” That wasn’t really how the conversation went, in fact all I heard was, “this isn’t going to be good”. This is where I went into my invisibility-mode, wherein I squeeze my eyes shut very tight in order to not be seen by humans. Cats okay. Dogs okay. Farmer rustling steer at 10:30 pm…not so much. No, I jest. I did not do that though I may have thought about it, but I must say, I was game to go out in the snow. Didn’t I say I wanted to play in the snow earlier in the evening? And if it means playing with a bunch of wandering steer, game on! So the hell, I just pulled my jeans on over my jammies, pulled my Carhartts over my jeans, accessorized with a pair of winter farm boots and puffy coat and I was good to go. {And oh by the way, I did not take pictures of the events. While I may have been having fun, my husband was stressed. It just did not seem appropriate to whip out a camera while I should be helping. So I only included a couple that I had taken in the past couple days} Onward, The animals in question were up at the home farm, a mile up the road. So we hopped in the truck and drove through the fresh, snow-covered road until lo, hoof marks. Lots of them on the road. Drat, so it wasn’t just a few little calves that got out for a little romp, but rather the big guys. Lots of big guys judging by the hoof marks. Sure enough, as we drove past Pete’s cousin’s farm, we saw a couple steer wandering near there. Okay, drive on to assess the situation. We pulled into the barn drive …steer. Just steer, hanging out in the garage, hanging out in the machine shed, all nonchalant like nothing happening here. Just us dudes hanging out, go back to bed. Ooooh nooo you don’t. Because that’s when the big guns came out swinging a lantern! That’s right, Lucille came out, and so there were three of us to coax the steer back in. And let me tell you, Pete’s mom knows how to let out a good whoop to get cattle moving. All “HOOOOO HEEEEY” and that. Me, I’m a pip squeak. I was all, “c’mon, let’s go, c’mon, good boy”. Sure, that’ll move ’em. But they did go taking their attitudes with them. So that was done, now the second part was to go back down the road and retrieve the rest. Lucille stationed herself at the end of the driveway to hand out road maps back to the barn to any wayward cattle, while Pete and I hopped in the truck to go half a mile down the road. Truck parked in road (okay, I could never do that in Chicago!) we dashed onto his cousin’s farm, gosh no one awake, and ran through powdery, fluffy snow amidst dark, lurking machinery and implements, trying to discern steer from stationary object. I was having a blast! I loved it. Loved running around in the powdery snow, and breathing in crispy, clear air, enjoying the game of Find The Steer. It was seriously like a game of hide and seek. And as it turned out, there was more of a herd there than just the random 3 or 4 I was expecting. Which presented a few logistical decisions. Once we felt we gathered them all together, we then had to herd them to the road. Then the plan changed when the steer decided going field-wise was the way to go. That plan changed again when they decided the road was indeed a better route. That decided, Pete herded on foot, and I ran for the truck and slowly inched along behind. Once the steer reached the driveway with Lucille there handing out road maps, they took a sharp left and headed for the pen in a somewhat orderly manner, obeying all traffic rules and yielding when appropriate. Gate locked, Pete did a final check while Lucille and I stood in the snow and talked of how simply beautiful the night was for a cattle round-up, and how it sure beats working out in a gym any day. So I guess I did get my wish that night to run and play in the snow. I just didn’t think it would be in my pajamas/jeans/Carhartts. But I’d do it again. And there’s a good chance I will! Blustery Holsteins

Snow Pas

Up until now we hadn’t had any really big snow this season, which seems kind of unusual. So when a few inches of snow was predicted for Saturday night into Sunday I felt a little winter glee coming on. While I’m all, “yay, let’s go play, bring it on!”, Poor Pete predicted doom and gloom. Ha, I exaggerate. He expressed a healthy concern because it can create extra work and a headache or two. So while I may think it’s play time, it’s certainly not the case for those who have to work in the elements whether they like it or not. No snow day for farmers.

Snowy Fieldscape So Sunday morning dawns, and we didn’t get a huge dump but the wind was relentless, and continued its rally cry throughout the afternoon, tearing through the tree lines, whipping up drifts and being generally a major presence. In short, the snow was a bit player to the main character Wind.
Snowy Corn CribDespite the low snow total, it sure was a struggle to do even the simplest of things. Make one little faux pas out there, and its repercussions are amplified a few times more. I would know…I made a minor one today while locking a gate as the big wind blew at my back. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem but for the big, astronaut gloves I was wearing. In short, and skipping the details, there I was with one hand stuck in a hole in the steel shed, while the other hand, going in the opposite direction, held the steer gate “closed” as I contemplated my way out of this dilemma. During this time of speculation, the wind was doing its mighty best to rip the gate out of my clutch. And beyond that gate lurked the steer just waiting for that break to happen, or for my body to split in two.

Snowy Steer PenNeither happened and I did manage to shed myself of the shed and lock the gate with both sets of hands and arms intact. I must have looked pretty ridiculous. I wish I could have taken a shot of that situation, but my hands were of course preoccupied.

snowy treesThe whole time that I was doing my very best human wishbone impersonation, Pete was off somewhere else. Which gave me plenty of time to think about hmm, how long till he notices that I’m missing in action? No wonder Pete gets mad at me for not always keeping my cell phone on me. Not that I could’ve used it, not having a hand available and all. But still.

Snowy HolsteinDespite all that, I loved being out in the snow today, even though I was attached to the shed for a while.


Confessions of a farmer’s wife

A little over a week ago, I read a blog post that really made me pause and consider my position here, that being a farmer’s wife. IllinoisFarmGirl was once told by her father-in-law that she and her sister-in-law as farmer’s wives were the ones to determine how successful the farm would be. What?? Yikes. If that’s the case here on our farm, we’re doomed. I’m sort of kidding, but reading her post really hit home and I’d encourage others to read it to get an inside look into the behind-the-scenes machinations of farm family life. In fact, I need to read more on this subject because believe me, I don’t hold a candle to these farm wives! My god, I’m an imposter! A farmer’s wife by default!!

Manure bootsI kind of feel bad about that. I don’t farm side-by-side with my husband. I have a full-time job off the farm in a non-ag business (Strike 1). I don’t make my husband’s lunches. In fact someone once asked him if I made him lunch, and his reply was to start laughing (Strike 2). I still don’t know how to drive a tractor (Strike 3). I should be out at this point but I’m still here which had been kind of a running joke between us during my first 6 months on site; “oh, you haven’t left yet”, or “I guess you can stay a while longer”. Thanks dude.

muddy messAnd oh god, I just realized I don’t do his laundry either. That would be strike 4 so I better stop counting. At this point you’re probably wondering what the heck do I do around here to provide support and encouragement for my husband. I wonder too, so let me ponder the point for a bit…

Okay, here goes:

I’m his companion for life. Forever. I’m not getting back on the train to Chicago.

Gate watching. If he needs someone to watch a gate, I’m there. Even if it’s below 0.

Rodeo round-ups. I’m getting better at waving my arms and moving the cattle.

Barn cat care. It’s a shared duty and the barn cats are an integral part of our farm.

Bowzer B. Dawg. He gets older and he needs lots of attention. I’m there for him.

Clean up duty. I’m the kitchen clean-up crew. That’s my domain. I’m also available for sweeping up the dropped chips, wayward wrappers and loose laundry.

Fleet Farm Run. It just so happens that I work near Fleet Farm. Hence, I can expect to do a trip to Fleet Farm to pick up random calf stuff. Do I always pick up the right thing? No. But I’m getting to know the farm animal aisle better and better.

House cleaning. Mostly me. Which reminds me that I’ve been looking at the same set of boot prints on the stairs for a week now. I better get on that.

Second income. Handy for house renovations and random expenses.

Health Insurance. Thank goodness for my job or insurance would be costly.

Farm clothes repair. I mend his clothes. And now that I have a new kick-ass Pfaff, I can even repair his denim, which is very integral around here. First I have to learn how to use my new kick-as Pfaff. Today.

Fun stuff. Since I’ve been here, we’ve hosted parties in the barn a few times now. And we’re looking forward to another Cajun Fest at our barn this summer. Neither of us could have done this without the other.

Gardening. What was once a patch of weeds, has now become the herb garden. This has lent not only patio appeal, but a tasty addition to our meals. And each spring, I expand my reach and add more plants to the yard. The old asparagus patch is now 12 plants strong. Straw bale garden to come this spring.

Milk house repositioning. I turned the rundown, neglected milk house into an art space which adds a different dimension to the farm. We did tie-dyed tee shirts in there with Pete’s niece last summer. I would love to see more of that happen in there.

Pitch forksBut let’s face it. I need to up my game here. For example, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a pitch fork review. That was one of the first things that Pete went over with me when we started dating. I had to revisit that recently to keep up on things. It would be bad form to pick up the wrong pitch fork for a particular job. The barn cats would laugh at me.

Tractor DrivingIt’s also my goal in this year of 2015 to learn to drive a freakin’ tractor! How long have I been saying this? Time to get on it. I’ve got a tractor parade to get in! Maybe. Someday.

There’s lots more I could or should be doing around here, but at least that’s a start. I’m so encouraged to read about what other farmer’s wives do. Everyone is different but all are strong. Farm strong. It’s something to which I can aspire, but make it my own, and I’ve been lucky to have married the right guy to do just that.

Meanwhile, I better get outside. I heard there was a “procedure” I might need to do…

Tools of the Trade



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers