South Main Street in Lake Mills, had deteriorated into a tree-lined cattle path. When the Prius’ and mini-vans started to bottom out and we lost a Smart Car in a sink hole, it was time to repave.
To make room for parking and bike lanes, and to secure state funding, it was dictated the trees along the boulevard had to come down. Smartly-dressed, persuasive, and articulate, Charlie Roy and the whole town rallied, but the government won. Today, Main Street looks like Barneveld, Wisconsin after the ’84 tornado.
We can take some solace. Walter Cnare was an arborist for the city. He said if the Stihls hadn’t gotten the Ash trees, the Emerald Borer would have.
Early spring of 2019, the barricades came up and the A-1 Excavating army rolled in from the North. The boys from Bloomer had a dozen Cat, Case, and John Deer ‘hoes, ‘dozers, and end loaders hauled in by a fleet of lowboys. Some still had plastic on the seats and paint on the buckets.
Not for long.
Stage 1 of deconstruction took place just outside the Laker’s Athletic Club. I get to the club by quarter-to-six. Sources reported the crew would do last call at Sporty’s Saloon or TT’s Tavern, but by the time I was done with crunches and sit-ups, the guys were oilin’, greasing, and fueling their machines. By six-thirty, they were blowing black smoke and moving material. When they tore out the old road, the triple-axle Macs were lined up nose-to bumper. The guy on the hoe swung steady as a metronome. Every stroke, he laid four yards of broken asphalt in the bed of the trucks gentle as a baby in a bassinet. It was like a choreographed, diesel-powered dance.
The job foreman was a hard-handed young man named Cody. He looked like he could have won a state-championship in wrestling at a hundred-eighty pounds, last week. Mid-June his Brittany Spaniel ran through a barbed-wire fence. He apologized profusely for disrupting my Sunday. I explained the clinic he was standing in and my education were subsidized by a heavy-equipment operator working overtime; it was the least I could do.
For twelve years, we were entertained by an exuberant English Cocker Spaniel named Lilly who belonged to our friends Joe and Wanda Pleshek. Alas, we finally had to say goodbye, but the void would not last long. Joe found Buck, heir apparent to the legendary Lilly from a top-flight breeder in Vandalia, Illinois. I know the area well. “Vandelly” is an hour South of Decatur, and en route to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Kelsey’s farm in Greenville.
Joe is the CEO of a large biotech firm, and looks the part. He spoke highly of his experience with the breeder Jay Lowry, but the drive was a drag, “Man, Dr. Stork, once you get south of Rockford, there is nothin’ to see.”
Boredom is in the eye of the beholder.
Since Dad died, I make that drive every Thanksgiving. The road is straight-as-a-snap-line, but to me, there is plenty to see.
2019 is a year the Wisconsin farmers will talk about ad infinitum. The same near-biblical rains that hampered the road crew in Lake Mills made it impossible to get crops in the ground. There was talk at the diner of planting corn by pontoon boat or float plane.
I had to see how the farmers in Illinois were faring.
In Illinois, there are precious few dairy farms to feed silage, so six or eight weeks later we hope corn and beans are below twenty-percent moisture so we can harvest them for dry grain. Combine them too early and wet and you’re docked at the elevator to dry it down. Wait for the crops to dry in the field and you risk Halloween 2019 — it looked more like Christmas.
I tried to tally the ratio of corn and beans standing to picked. I have a rudimentary grasp on Excel with a computer in front of me; I was not about to construct a spreadsheet in my head and pilot the pickup at the same time. I didn’t see another bean field standing until LaSalle Peru, so I’ll report that they’re doing pretty good on beans. Corn was a different story. It’s not as easy as it looks to take inventory on. both sides of the Interstate, and drive at the same time. Did I count that field by the hedge row? So, I did one side of the road, one section at a time. I concluded by my head-math there was a solid thirty-percent of the corn still standing.
Altorfer Ag Products is a CLAAS-LEXION dealer out on Old Highway 51. On one trip there were thirty-nine combine harvesters at half-a-million dollars a copy, on the lot. Thanksgiving Day 2019, there was one, and he looked like he was there for service. Translated, farmers are hopeful.
The point of this is perspective.
I ate dinner with a construction worker for my first eighteen years. I’ve worked for farmers for nigh on to twenty-five. By seeing the world through their eyes, I got six-months of entertainment watching a road being built, and never nodded for two-hundred-fifty miles of corn fields, without so much as a radio, iPad, or smart phone.
My friend Jennifer Rodriguez once shared a quote, “We come away from every human interaction, forever changed.”
Let’s make darn sure we do.