Monday, August 30, 2010

Summer Spectacular, 2010

Pictures removed 11-25-12

If you like vintage cars and varieties of crafts, the Summer Spectacular at the Dakota County Fairgrounds at Farmington would've been to your liking on Saturday, August 28.
Regardless of which direction I aimed my camera, I discovered acres of classic vehicles in my view finder. So I snapped a few pictures.

Since I promised Nancy I would return to our booth soon, I didn't have time to leisurely check out all the great cars and pickups at this annual event. I had to satisfy myself with a few long shots and a few close-ups before returning to our craft building.

Craft booths lined the entrance to our building, but outside vendors did not need to worry about the weather, which was sunny with just enough breeze to keep everyone cool.

People were curious about our collector series of books, which try to preserve the local farm heritage in a fun but accurate way. We sold some books, talked to some teachers about my visiting their school, and swapped stories with some new friends. All this added up to a good day for us.

In case you're wondering, they had plenty food to eat there too. Put it on your calendar for next year about this time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Refrigerator Door Treasure

photos removed 11-25-12

Still clinging onto our refrigerator door is a card from last March, sent to our home by the fine teachers and students at JWP Waldorf Elementary in Waldorf, Minnesota, after we performed A Farm Country Christmas Eve on March 5, 2010. 

I visit the refrigerator often, as you might expect, but today I decide to re-visit the card, and then I discover why I'm one of these guys who never throws anything away. 
I open it. 
I read it. 
I laugh out loud. 
You see, the kids enjoyed my rhyme so they wrote one for me: 

"Thank you for coming and sharing your book.
We really admire the time that it took.
We love how you wrote your story in rhyme.
Our hope is to see you next year some time."

The inside of the card has signatures along with the rhyme.

The rest of the signatures are on the back of the card.

So I decide to post the pictures of the event and explain just a little about it.

Mrs. Miller, the 4th grade teacher who arranged the event, had us set up in the library so they could rotate each grade in separately and keep the audiences small, allowing every student to ask questions and make comments after the show.  Grade 5 was the first audience, then grade 4, and grade 6 was last.

I appreciated their attention, their smiles, and their questions after the show.

The day gave more proof that nobody is too old or too young for a good Christmas story, and it works in any season.

JWP Waldorf Elementary is another testament to the quality education found in schools located in small towns throughout Minnesota.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oil Can Holder, II

The Ahlberg Hall Museum at the Dakota County Fair gives me joy and amusement. The joy comes from viewing the old machines, appreciating how they worked, and remembering working with friends, cousins, neighbors, and family.

Some of my amusement comes from the fact that although the machines represent farm equipment from the early part of the 20th century, many farmers from this area used them well past 1950 and into 1970. I took the photograph above in 1969, the last time we used a threshing machine. Dad hired someone to combine in the years that followed. To my surprise, however, several folks who visited with Nancy and me at the Dakota County Fair last week said they used a threshing machine as late as 1975.

I always look for the oil can holders on the old machines. You see, before grease fittings or sealed bearings, machines had places to add oil, as seen in the tall spout with the cap in the picture of the side of the threshing machine below.
In those days, the operator would tend his machine by walking around with an oil can, ensuring that oil receptacles did not go dry. 
Consequently, machines usually came with some kind of oil can holder, as shown on the side of another threshing machine.

Here's an oil can holder mounted on the end of the tool box on a grain binder.

Close up of same oil can holder.

You probably guessed already that most of my amusement when viewing the old machinery comes from my memory of being a human oil can holder, and for the purpose of clarity, I'll repeat the picture from my previous blog below.
On Saturday, August 28, 2010, the Dakota County Fairgrounds will be the site for The Summer Spectacular, which will include 2 buildings full of crafts for sale and classic cars on display. Nancy and I will be selling our books in building 22, which is on the south edge of the grounds. Stop by to say "hello."

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Farm Country Thanksgiving

Last Wednesday I tore myself away from the Dakota County Fair and rushed up to the warehouse to pick up copies of my newest book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving, which tells a story of the Carlson family rushing to get morning chores done before the arrival of lots of company for Thanksgiving dinner at noon.

Like all my stories, this Thanksgiving tale is based on actual events and my memories of how things were when I was a boy on the farm.  I try to recapture the hard work doing chores and the excitement brought by the preparation for holiday company as well as the joy of spending the day with people I care about.

 Since the story takes place in the days when there was no television, nobody's focus was on football or parades. People talked and also played cards and talked. Kids weren't exactly kicked out of the house, but if we hung around too long, an adult would suggest, "Don't you kids want to go outside and play?"
It was not a question. The house was small.

But we seldom had to be reminded of the fun that awaited us outdoors. We might swing on a rope in he hay barn, go sledding on the pasture hill, build snow people, play fox and goose, or if the weather was too nasty, play card games or board games on a bale of straw in the barn where the heat from the cattle kept us warm.

Memory also brings to mind many less idealistic details: There were no electric appliances in the kitchen; cooking was done on a stove fueled by wood; chores were done manually, including milking cows by hand; and  since water had to be carried to the house and then heated, trying to clean oneself up was not an easy task.The joys of a hot shower came nearly a decade later.

To be fair, the book doesn't include details on everything I've mentioned. The scope of the story is much smaller than that, but since the contrast of struggles and joys bring to mind words in my Prologue to the Farm Country Tales, please forgive me for quoting from my own work:

Imagine an era that's diff'rent from now,
When times were not better, but pleasing, somehow.

Yes, there was something particularly pleasing about sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner at noon with lots of company, lots of food, and a whole afternoon free before we had to start evening chores. 

The entire Prologue plus a recipe for pumpkin pie from scratch can be found in my newest book,  A Farm Country Thanksgiving.  For sample pages and more information, visit my website at 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oil Can Holder

I started "helping" Dad when I was really little. Obviously, he invented some pretty important tasks that made me feel indispensable:

In the picture above, I'm holding the oil can, ready to hand it to him as needed. But I was versatile. Other times, I held his cap when he crawled under machinery or I held the hammer when no hammer was needed. Most importantly, I kept him from getting bored by asking him a million questions.

I remember him saying more than once, "OK, Kid, you get two more questions." He never held me to it though.

I loved it when he called me his "hired man."

We'd walk into the general store in New Market and the owner, Eugene Busch, would exclaim to Dad, "Gordon, I see you brought your hired man!"
I liked walking into Busch's General Store with Dad.

In my job as hired man, when I misplaced things or did stuff wrong, he was patient with me, especially considering he was not a patient man. Then there was that one time, though, when I accidentally did something foolish.

While he oils a gear on the corn binder, I see him turn the spout on the oil can to squirt the oil to the side. He hands it  back to me and I immediately put my new-found knowledge to work by turning the spout around to face the user. He grabs the oil can from me. Without checking the direction of the spout, he pumps the handle to add another squirt of oil to a gear and, instead, squirts himself in the face with oil.
I say nothing while he gives me a look that contains only a hint of a smile. As he takes out his big red handkerchief to wipe the oil off his face, he says, "I'll get you back for that one, Kid."  

And so he did, many times, and I got back at him many times. This "oil can trick"was a running gag between us for nearly 50 years.

Photograph by Helen Fredrickson

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Medtronic Child Care Center

Photos removed 11-25-12

Nancy and I get a nice view of Medtronic Child Care Center as we drive into the roomy parking lot on Tuesday, August 17, 2010.

We unload our equipment quickly, and Janet, the assistant director, greets us at the door to show us the performance area.
We learn that the facility provides child care for children of Medtronic employees only and has been doing so for decades.

After we complete the set up and I am prepared to begin my story called If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure, I take the opportunity to chat with some early arrivals who readily explain their ages,  3-5. One young man assures me, "No one here is as old as 6." 

Note: The images on the screen appear bright and colorful to the audience, but a photo does not capture the screen image accurately

Kids always enjoy the bit about "why farmers wear bibbed overalls." They watch intently as I show them the pliers in the tool pocket.

When Nancy, the little girl in the story, says that bulls are dangerous, a little girl in the audience immediately asks, "Why are bulls dangerous?" I point to the picture and say, "Because they are big and may knock you down." This seems to satisfy her.

The children stay focused on the story and laugh when little Nancy squirts milk at her kitty Dusty as she milks Suzie the cow.

During the introduction to the story, I had told the kids that after the show, they could stick their hands into the coffee can of oats. After the show some kids hurry over to take me up on the offer. 

Others go right to the book table and start paging through the books.

A concerned staff member asks my permission and I assure her that I am comfortable with the kids paging through the books on their own.

 The fact is that I am delighted with their desire to touch and view my books.

I notice that the kids treat the books with great reverence as they carefully turn the pages and delight in the illustrations.  Their affection for books is surely the result of parental influence and good practices at Medtronic Child Care.

We enjoy a few more minutes of watching the children look at the books before we begin to pack up.

I did not inquire about the cost of child care for employees, but the convenience and quality of the facility are big perks for Medtronic employees, who can go to their jobs just a few hundred feet away knowing that their children are in a safe, loving, learning, environment.

 Here's one more shot. Aren't they precious?

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Volunteers and Fairgoers at the Dakota County Fair

The Dakota City volunteers at the Dakota County Fair amaze me.  It's hot and humid, and every move a body makes causes discomfort,Yet these workers continue to attend their buildings dressed in costume while retaining ample good humor.
Print shop volunteer Sydney Gunther, 15, working in the Print Shop.

Wayne and his wife selling lemonade.

Carl always stops by to help.

Even the hot fire in the blacksmith shop is attended.

Lots of effort is put into showing the antique tractors. 

Fair attendees are amazing too! As Nancy and I sit in our small building with four fans working to keep us cool, fair goers pop in to say hello. Many stay to talk and some buy books or t-shirts. I'm thinking that these people are tough.They could stay home and remain comfortable, but, instead, they have the spirit to brave the heat, many of them with two or three youngsters running ahead of them.
As father touring Dakota City with three pre-teens explained, "Well, if you miss the fair one year, you can never get that opportunity back."

I'm signing some books for a long-time friend, Darlene Thomas, and her daughter on Tuesday.

Emily Zweber, a neighbor and new friend, reading one of my books to her son on Tuesday.

Jeremiah selected A Farm Country Halloween.

Isabelle got A Farm Country Christmas Eve.

Hailey and Jenna Schmidt on Thursday. 

But there is more...
At the beginning of the fair, my goal was to post a blog every evening after we returned from the fair, but, honestly, the weather and the hours are keeping Nancy and me pretty humble. The heat and humidity are hard enough to handle for one day, but when it never lets up, every day gets harder. Consequently, when we return home after spending over 12 hours in the heat, we are pretty wiped out, and about all we can manage is to unload, eat supper, download pictures, and prepare for the next day.
Lloyd Randall tightening the belt and Gordy Peters preparing the threshing machine for Thursday's threshing demonstration.

However, let me tell you why the events of Thursday perked me up a bit.
It's about 1 PM when I find out that all shows in the Dakota Tent have been moved outside. You see, it's just too hot in the tent for the audience and the musicians. So the musicians perform outside.

Well, that works fine for musicians, but my show requires a projection screen, and the image disappears in the bright outdoors. I understand that we don't want to lose anyone to the heat in that hot tent, so canceling my 5 makes sense to me, but I am a bit down about it.

About 4:25 P.M. I walk to the tent to see if anyone has arrived who may not have received the message of the show being canceled. Sure enough, several people were at the tent waiting. Today is Senior Citizens' Day at the fair so all of these people are older than I am, but, apparently, they still have more stamina than I do. I explain the situation and apologize. They are all really nice about it, but several walk into the tent and assert, "We could've handled this. It really isn't so bad."
I suggest they come back to our building. They follow me back and they mention I should do a short version of my show. No one has ever had to twist my arm to perform, and as I recite the prologue and do a couple other routines, they listen intently and ask a few questions.  I think that these people are pretty tough. Once again I am humbled.

 I perform the bit about why farmers wear bibbed overalls to a few people who came to our booth after I told them my show was canceled.

They ask me when I am scheduled to perform in the tent again and I tell them 11:30 on Saturday.

But the on Thursday night and early Friday morning the storm hits the fairgrounds hard, delivering hard winds and over 5 inches of rain which destroys the Dakota Tent where I was to perform, and the winds drive a tall tent pole through the roof of the nearby Dakota City Drug Store.

When we arrive on Friday morning, workers have collected the pieces and are assessing the damage.

But the workers, volunteers, and fair goers show up, and we continue business as usual.

People visit the blacksmith shop and rest on the bench outside.

Singers rehearse for a bandstand show.

A shootout takes place in front of our building. Not to worry, Folks, it's just show.

But the high point of my day is when longtime-fans Hailey and Jenna Schmidt show up again, this time with their mother, to buy my newest book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving.

I hope you can come to the fair this weekend. Maybe the weather will be cooler, but if it isn't come anyway and enjoy the people and the sights.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dakota City and the Dakota County Fair, 2010

Dakota City, located on the grounds just west of the Dakota County Fair, is a collection of shops, commercial buildings and houses from the early 1900's. Visitors can stroll through Ahlberg Heritage Museum before walking the streets of Dakota Village where they will find a working blacksmith shop, a print shop displaying tools of the trade, a fire hall, a bank, and a general store, just to name a few of the buildings neatly arranged along the streets.
 Dakota City will be open during fair hours (10 A.M. to 9 P.M.) from August 9-August 15. If you're at the fair, you may as well walk over to visit Dakota Village, too. It's like killing two birds with one stone, only there is no bloodshed.

In a small building I call the Display Building, which is just east of the blacksmith shop and south of the print shop, you will find my wife Nancy and me displaying and selling our books about farm kids in 1950, soft animal toys that represent animals from the books, and tee-shirts,and caps with original farm-related artwork.
You won't find this stuff anywhere else. This is the only place where you can get your official HARD COW CAFE or FARMING IS THE AMERICAN DREAM tee shirt and cap.. Stop by to take a look and visit. We will have a couple fans going for your comfort and a chair or two for visitors to sit. No obligation, of course, though I would like to sell you a book, but it costs nothing to browse.

Located just out the back door of our building, the Dakota Tent has room for lots of people to watch various groups performing. I'll be performing some stories from my books at 11:30 A.M. on Tuesday, 5:00 P.M. on Thursday, and 11:30 A.M. on Saturday.  Performances last about 35 minutes so stop in and see the show. It's free.
On Monday I had a little time to set up my equipment for a dry run to see how everything will work in the tent. All went well. now all I can do is hope for a break in the hot weather so folks can sit comfortably and enjoy the show. The shows are for kids and adults so I hope you can stop by.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Farmfest 2010

Two Guys From Scott County, Inc., a company consisting of my wife Nancy and me, finally made it to Farmfest, which was held at the Gilfillan Estate in Redwood County, near Redwood Falls, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this past week.

I need to explain that our products aren't all pink as they appear in his picture. But the hot sun beating through the tall, pink-striped Craft and Toy Tent sure gave everything a pink hew. 

We had to explain to farmers that our caps with our original artwork "Farming is the American Dream" were red, not pink. Several customers took us up on our offer to take the cap outside in the sun to check out the color.

Greetings to all of you who stopped by to say "Hello" to us at Farmfest. Nancy and I really enjoyed meeting you and listening to your stories. I'd like to list you all by name but, obviously, I don't remember them all.

I do want to say I was especially happy to have a sweet little girl named Lydia, from Franklin, MN, stop by with her mother to buy my new book, If I Were a Farmer: Field Work. I remember signing If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure for her during my visit to Franklin last spring.
Also, "Hello" to Pat Oswald, who attended my show at Frost, MN, and stopped by our booth on Thursday to buy A Farm Country Christmas Eve and a tee shirt.

We especially enjoyed taking to to members of FFA and Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Here's Nancy, the other "guy," working at the Two Guys From Scott County booth.

To anyone unfamiliar with Farmfest, I'll just explain that during the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's the State Fair's legendary Machinery Hill dwindled as the dealers took their displays to the farmers at a festival that could provide a more practical place to display their large machines. This farm festival added several huge tents full of craft and toy vendors, commercial displays of all types, booths for political groups, and places for political speeches.  Having the festival at the Historic Gilfillan Estate provides the added attraction of a tour of the house and other farm buildings.

From our tent, we had to venture through tall rows of corn to the other display areas. Pretty darn appropriate, I thought.

The first two days of the three-day event were so hot and humid that just breathing caused Nancy and I to sweat profusely. We did not venture out to take pictures. I admire those who came to the show and walked the grounds. For those first two days, the weather decreased enjoyment of the event and probably kept a lot of people home.
This is a photo of the Craft and Toy Tent from a distance.  It was by far the smallest of several large tents on the festival grounds.

Since I grew up in an era when "weed control"
meant hoeing thistle or picking mustard by hand, this huge sprayer caught my interest.

The third day, however, was cool and sunny, perfect weather, but the crowd kept us so busy we didn't have time to take many pictures. This was good for business but bad for blogging. We took pictures of some of the machinery about 7 A.M. on that cool Thursday morning before the gates opened.

When Nancy and I farmed in the 1970's, she did much of the field work while I was at school. Here she is contemplating those days on a tractor pulling a twelve-foot field cultivator.

We met Diana Uhlmann, a college student from Germany who was working as an intern with with a local radio station. She snapped a few photos of us, and then we asked her to step in the booth and pose. She purchased one of our Tee-shirts as a souvenir after I assured her our designs are totally original.  I didn't ask her for her impression of Minnesota, but she gave it voluntarily. "Everybody is so kind and nice to me and I'm a stranger."
I was going to tell her that we Minnesotans like to get to know people before we are mean to them, but I said nothing. Let the myth live on. Just kidding.
Diana was a very sweet person so it's pretty easy to see why people have been so nice to her.

Diana and Nancy posing in our booth. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our first Farmfest experience and vowed to return next year.

After the show closed at 4 P.M. on Thursday, we drove home immediately to prepare for our visit to the Dakota County Fair, Farmington, MN, where we will be selling our books, tees, and caps in the Display Building across from the Print Shop at Dakota Village, and I will be performing several times at the Chautauqua Tent during the run of the fair from August 9 through August 15. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tractors on Tombstones

Like lots of women, my mother worked hard and long hours. Yet I never remember her complaining. She seemed to link work, love, farming, family, and satisfaction in a way that made her happy to be alive and, when she was near the end, reluctant to die.

For about a month before she passed away, she was confined to a bed and hooked up to an IV and oxygen. Talking was difficult for her. Nancy and I visited with her regularly on week ends, and during the week I would stop to visit after work before I went home. These visits provided precious moments for both of us as we often talked of her life on the farm.

 "...and what did you enjoy most during your 60 years farming with Dad?" I know the question is stupid the moment it comes out of my mouth, yet I say nothing more because I see her dark blue eyes sparkle a little as she blinks. The oxygen tubes slow down her speech as she struggles to position them with her free hand.
Finally, she says,"Your dad, he was such a wise guy, always pulling jokes, always racing to do things--always he was the center of attention." 
She pauses a moment before she continues. "What I liked best was when I pulled the silage wagon with the newer 850 Ford alongside the field chopper when he was pulling the field chopper with the older 860 Ford. I had more power and speed and just by pulling the throttle back I could gain on his older tractor. Gosh, I loved pulling ahead of him!"

She smiles widely, uninhibited by the tubes pinching her face. Her eyes tear and we laugh softly.

In less than a week she passed away. When it came to picking out a stone, I conferred with Dad and he agreed with my suggestion. Since the tractors looked identical, I supplied the engraver with just one picture. The numbers are too small to see on this picture, but the tractor above Mom's name is labeled "850" and the tractor above Dad's name is labeled "860."

Mom on the 1957 
Model 850 Ford
The wheels are wide for cultivating corn.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Are you Positive?

Whenever I see a picture of my old WD I have to chuckle as I remember my first experience replacing the battery.

About 30 years ago, I bought a nice-looking WD with a loader and a wide bucket because I needed something to clear out my driveway. It started easily, sounded good, and was reasonably priced. A couple years later, I was not upset with the prospect of having to replace the battery. I figured it was due.  Nevertheless, I disconnected it and tried to charge the dead battery over night to make sure I needed a new one.  After an over night charge, it was still dead.

First, I need to explain that I did not grow up servicing Allis-Chalmers tractors. My folks had Fords, and although I was familiar with driving AC tractors, I had never replaced a battery.

When I came back with the new battery, I discovered I did not know if the tractor had a negative or a positive ground. Since I had already removed the old battery the day before to charge it, I could not simply copy the old hook up. I only briefly tried to remember how the battery fit in when I heard Nancy calling me for dinner. I just left the battery by the tractor and went in to eat. While we ate, I had an idea. "I'll call my cousin Danny," I said. Nancy thought it was a good idea too.

Danny, a long-time Allis owner, was one of my many older cousins I looked up to as kind of a big brother. All my older male cousins were mechanically inclined. I was not.

Danny was a talented bricklayer who owned his own company. Although he didn't farm anymore, I knew he still had his WD 45 Allis-Chalmers, and I was sure he could tell me the battery hook-up off the top of his head.

I punch in his number and he answers. We exchange a few of the expected greetings before I spring the  question. "Is your Allis a positive or negative ground?'
I sense that the question hits him like a meteor out of the night sky. 
After a pause, he says hesitantly, "Positive, I think."
No one speaks for a long moment.
So I ask, "Are you sure?"
"No, wait. Maybe negative."
"Are you positive?" I ask.
"Negative," he says.
I pause to think about this. Then I ask, "Negative you're not sure it's positive or negative you're positive it's negative?
After another moment of silence, I hear a sound that I fondly recall from my childhood. Danny is starting to chuckle. In a moment we are both giggling like a couple of kids. I'm feeling especially happy because....well, you know how good you feel when you giggle with your older brother?
Holding back bursts of laughter, we exchange a few more absurd questions and answers regarding whether the WD has a negative or positive ground. We laugh at everything.
Finally he says, "I'll go look at the WD 45 and call you back.
A bit later he calls, and I install the battery without problem.
Danny "Red" Cervenka

I do not recall now if the ground on the WD is positive or negative, but that phone call will stick in my head forever.