ElkFarm Stories

A Daily Dose of Writing

Category: Amery (page 1 of 2)

What Makes a Good Story?

On the back of a shirt I have the statement: Writer Looking for a Good Story. In other words, when I’m out among people, I would like people to share their best story. So far I haven’t worked out the process, but I’ll keep at it. And here would be the time for you to write to me with your best story.  elkfarm@wctc.net

The natural question would be, What makes a story good, what makes it great? A person could describe and list attributes, but the best way to define a good story is to tell a good story. The following story is 100% true.

In my hometown of Amery, a farming community, a farmer’s wife died a number of years ago. This man wasn’t wealthy, but he spent carefully and had money that eventually helped fund a humane shelter in Amery and other programs. After his wife died, neighbors, relatives, and church members brought him hot-dishes, pies, bread products, and cakes. Overwhelmed with gratitude, he kept track of the people who showed love in the form of food. The man wasn’t used to receiving help because he seldom needed it in the past.

Years later after his death, in his will he gave specific instructions for the money he left behind (the couple had no children). Along with the big programs that would help the Amery area, he left instructions to give something to the people who showed kindness and love after his wife’s death.

Using that list, he asked the executors of his will to give a $1,000 check to all of them. Each person who came forward who gave him something, and paid him a visit, he rewarded. That’s gratitude. That’s a legacy.



Long Boards Long Time

Lou walked into Lampert’s Lumberyard in Amery last Thursday and told Mac behind the counter that he wanted lots of boards.

“We’re remodeling and adding on,” he bragged, as if he knew what he was doing.

Mac asked him how long he wanted them. Lou, confused, asked to use the phone to call Kathleen. After he got done, he said to Mac:

Kathleen says we’re going to nail them on so we’ll need them for a long time.

Mac? Speechless.


Bringing in the Hay

Long before bales became popular and common, farmers brought in loose hay. My Don Johnson neighbors unloaded it into the haymow with a lift powered by a tractor; my wife Marilyn in the 1950s worked with a horse-drawn lift on the farms of her relatives. The top picture is a late in the day painting, getting the hay in after sundown.

The photo below is my Aunt Olga and her brother, my Uncle Lawrence, with a huge loose hay wagon on the home farm north of Amery, WI. This photo probably was taken in the mid-1920s.


Ida Mae’s Cafe in Amery; Inquiring Minds

Ida Mae’s Cafe, downtown Amery. There’s the clock in the distance.

A stranger approached Kathleen and Lou as they scarfed down breakfast at Ida Mae’s Café. He introduced himself as traveling through the area and asked if they’d be able to answer a question.
“Go ahead,” Lou said with his mouth full of bacon.
“I’m headed for Clayton, I think that’s east here.”
Kathy and Lou nodded.
“What’s the quickest way to get there?”
Lou thought for a few seconds, took in an entire fried egg into his mouth, and asked him a question.
“You walking, biking, or driving a car.”
The guy thought that was a foolish question, but in all seriousness answered, “A car.”
Lou looked thoughtful, shoved a half a piece of toast in his mouth, and said to him, “Yeah, that’ll be the fastest.”

Lou and Kathy when they aren’t eating, a quite thoughtful pair of former teachers.

Margie and Me

She surprised me, alone on her bike by the Amery Beach. Told me she felt like a swim but the water safety class had the beach that July day.
“Hi, Loren.”
“Margie. Strange to see you here.”
She smiled and said little except to ask if I wanted to ride bike together. She straightened my collar. I pretended to punch her in the stomach.

“Think you can keep up with me,” followed by her famous chuckle.
We rode to the culvert area where North Twin runs into South Twin. Usually there’s  a lot of fishing going on at this spot but not today.
We sat down facing South Twin, and at the same time asked each other how summer was going.
For me it was going great with lots of reading and an upcoming family trip to the Wisconsin Dells.
For her, a family reunion, plenty of reading, and sleeping in.
Throwing rocks, skipping rocks, a few words.
“Mrs. Wilson was nice, wasn’t she.” We just finished 3rd grade.
Me, I never thought about teachers and nice. Just grumpy ones and regular ones, but I told her she was fine.
Both back on our bikes, I asked her if she knew about the church tent by the football field.
“Yeah, I came by it to get to the beach.”
The tent site was deserted. We rode up to it quietly before dropping our bikes on the grass. Still no signs of life.
The sign advertised the “Amery Revival” Three nights, and the question: “Have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?”
Nothing but chairs under the middle section, and a platform on the north end.

“What’s that tank for? Dunk tank?”
We laughed. Too small for a dunk tank.
We both saw the name BAPTISM on it at the same time. Catholic Margie and Lutheran Loren: clueless about tanks like this.
We stared at each other, gazing around for adults. Then we looked down at our clothes and decided quickly that they were swim-worthy.
She walked up the steps at one end, and I came up the other. Touching our toes in the water, we felt it pleasantly warm. Laughing, we couldn’t believe we’d soon be swimming.

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That Amazing Season, Summertime

(Recent Amery Free Press Column)
Growing up around Amery I found out that I could write my own ticket for what to do on a summer day. Not a bad ticket but a good one, an open ticket.
Both west of Amery by Donald Johnson’s farm and east of Amery near the Howard Stindle farm, many choices available.
But I’d like to sum up more memories from Jack Harkness who reveled, not rebelled, in the Amery culture.
Biking everywhere, beach swimming and lessons including water safety, and organized summer baseball. Fishing in Apple River or one of the lakes, and daily newspaper routes. The St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune bundles arrived at the Amery Hotel, and Jack and Greg T. delivered them.
The A and W Root Beer stand attracted all ages of kids, with root beer floats, hot dogs, quarts of root beer, and hot beef sandwiches.

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Toll Bridge: St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

Recently on Facebook, someone posted this photo of a man who found a sign that at one time was used for a toll bridge. The current crossing, the modern multi-laned bridge, wasn’t always there to cross the St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The crossing is between St. Croix Falls, WI, and Taylors Falls, MN, both early settlements for settlers north of the even busier Stillwater, MN. It’s in Polk County, west of Amery.

Teams of mules in sets of 12 or more, 2 cents each to cross. Pigs, a penny. Passengers 3 cents each. Not sure what year the toll bridge operated, before 1900.

Tribute to a Great Father


My dad wasn’t a great communicator, wasn’t outwardly affectionate, and wasn’t a person who did a lot with me as a kid.

On that cold dark November evening as I drove to the hospital the night he died, I thought about my relationship with him and what he meant to me. Trite but true. “I didn’t know what I had until he was gone,” which summed up my feelings then and on to this day.

One thing my dad HAD, if I can label it that way was: He Was There. He was around. He and my mom attended my football and basketball games, he attended church with me and came for the church programs. We ice fished a few times, we went to Amery on winter Saturday mornings to deliver eggs and get feed. A couple times we went to the Andersen Corporation summer picnic. Oh, yeah,  a couple Sundays in the summer we ushered together at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. And after Dad died my mom told me that one of the few times she saw him weep was when he watched my confirmation in that church.

He worked hard, he didn’t have a temper, and he presented himself to me as a solid, moral person. What more can I expect or ask for, a wonderful example.

The photo above shows us standing in one of the harbors / villages in Door County, maybe Sister Bay or Ephriam. My wife told us to stand over there, in front of those boats, and in hindsight the background was great. This is the closest we came to hugging, but I remember a firm handshake after graduating from UW-Superior after the ceremony. My dad, Harold Elkin. What more could I ask for.

Female Veterinarian in Amery

Another unique sign I found on the internet somewhere. Not in Amery that I know of.

Growing up in Amery, we were used to the variety of doctors and other professionals that we saw nearly every day.

One veterinarian, Shirley Carver, ran a small and large animal practice, but she had another business on the side. One of her hobbies was taxidermy. She’d make anything from a mouse or rabbit to a dairy cow look as realistic as the day the animal died. People laughed about the Carver name, but she got used to the teasing. She had Mary Lou design a sign for her front yard where she lived east of Amery. The sign read:

Veterinary Services and Taxidermy–Bring in your cat or dog, and either way you get to bring it home.



The Amery Homefront, World War II

Victory Gardens were common; this is a file photo, not from Amery.

German soldiers arriving on the Soo Line Railroad, getting off at the Amery Depot and taking over the city. What was that? It was the nightmare of a young teen living in Amery during World War 2.
Barbara Burman, now Barbara Preble living in Prospect Heights, Illinois, sent two pages of typed notes to me, filled with WW II Amery memories. And what readings those pages were, sharing feelings, sights, and key Amery locations from 75 years earlier. She’s the daughter of the late John Burman.
On the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, Barbara and her family had been dining with relatives in St. Paul. After the initial news, she remembers parking within sight of the Mississippi River and listening to further reports on their car radio.
Throughout the war, posters that inspired and warned were seen all over Amery. “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, “I Want You” from Uncle Sam, and “Remember Pearl Harbor”. “Buy War Bonds” was also a common appeal.
Visible reminders to her of the war effort were victory gardens, coupons for food and goods, and foil collection for the government. An aunt with a certain type of hair had it cut, to be donated it to the government to make parachutes.

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Looking Back at Amery in the ’60s

This writing was a column in the Amery Free Press the week of May 15th, 2017. (Amery Wisconsin, Polk County)

“I am going to remember Amery and some of the lingering memories of a Wisconsin community that is the epitome of small town Americana.” This from Jack Harkness, AHS class of 66, Navy veteran, later high school history teacher living in Washington state. In fact he told me on more than one occasion that he used the Amery experience to connect with his class, telling them about the idea of community.
Jack wrote to me a couple years ago with an overall view of the good of Amery and followed that with memories from each of the four seasons. His recollections covered a broad variety of Amery events such as living on Arch Street with natural playgrounds galore in the undeveloped lots. And proximity to the Catholic Church made his mother happy.
The Harkness family moved from Cumberland in the late 50s, his father heading the Land O’ Lakes at the Amery Super Locker Company. Jack’s mother was a nurse at the Amery Hospital.
Memories from Jack include riding bikes or walking everywhere, everything seemed accessible. One New Years Eve party at his place had many of us later walking the streets in search of other parties, and ending up on Broadway on the east side.
He liked the idea that all the school levels were in one building, and that the city was bordered by woods, the Apple River, and the three lakes. In no time at all a person could bike to the surrounding farmland and country.

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Dirt Track Racing in Amery

Column for the Amery Free Press. Racing in the 50s and 60s north of Amery, WI, created a number of memories for local racers and fans. What made the track special? It wasn’t flat, and that created a number of variables to the contests.

Received a great email from Raymond Mork whose car PP gave Niles Framsted a chuckle when he announced it at the races. Raymond and Wayne Macarthy didn’t miss a Saturday night at the races.
The start of the process began with picking up a car for $25, maybe $40, to take to the Framsted farm to weld in roll bars. Niles was most helpful, doing what he could to get them in running condition.
The goal of many drivers happened on roll-over night, the first roll-over winning a prize of $10, sometimes $25. The track had a unique design, not flat but hilly, and the momentum of coming down the slopes meant speed galore. Roll-overs often resulted. Niles promoted it that way, declaring that anyone could race on a flat track. “Try the Framsted Race Track to test your driving skills.”
There’ll be more on the Framsted Track as stories come in.

A Bit of News from Amery

Mother Montese and her little girl Virginia  play in the waters of South Twin Lake near Mystery Island. Underwater game camera caught them interacting.

Drove to Amery Sunday. On the way through Augusta I stopped to attend a Mennonite service, their church located between Augusta and Cadott. What an eye opener, not exactly  what I expected. Quite friendly people (men), and the sexes are separated with men on the left, women on the right. Full house, and it was one of two days a year when they practice communion plus washing of feet (the men’s side). Anyway, a new experience, will blog in more detail later. A couple photos were taken, accidently, from the back of the church. Not sure how they feel about photos.

Attended another Sunday evening session at Apple River Community Church music night. The list of people to read something, as opposed to singing, was full when I got there. No room on the list for my reading.  I have something I wrote about a lady living east of Amery, now dead, who got through her final year with the help and inspiration of music. Some of you might know this fictional lady, Inez Dahlberg. Will blog this as well in the next week.

Also, someone snapped an underwater photo of 2 of the 3 hippos in Amery’s South Twin. You know, the animals planted there to keep kids, or anyone, from swimming before Memorial Day. Mom and daughter out by the island. (check earlier post/ blog)

Email me or contact me through this page. Please check this site regularly. If you have my business card, attach it onto the edge of the computer screen (if it’s a desktop computer), check out what’s new, and keep in touch. My email is   elkfarm@wctc.net

Currently at the Amery Library, looking out of the window where huge snowflakes were descending a couple hours ago. Just finished paying for the vase, below. Happy May 1st.

Here I am looking at the new art room at the Amery Library. (wink, wink) Always a careful fellow, occasionally I cause minor disasters.

Apple River Church Music for March

Another wonderful night of music, the March session. Deb is making the list of musicians, angels are practicing in the small classroom, and Ken is looking more distinguished than ever. Last Sunday of each month, an hour or more of gospels and songs of strong feeling. I’ll place the list of songs at the end, at the spot where you can read more if you want, but for now I want to sum up the night and remind you that the next “concert” will be on the 30th of April. Be there before 7:00, the warm-ups are enjoyable.

Guitar, autoharp, piano, harmonica, 4 part harmony, mandolin, flat guitar (photo left), and combinations of all of these. Ernie played a wicked harmonica, and the piano solo of “Blessed Assurance” had the ringing sound of the theme from “Chariots of Fire”. Engaging. Sue and Lois anchoring everything with their piano accompaniment.

A couple readings for variety, and the night of free entertainment felt so fulfilling. Much better, by far, than being home watching TV. The list of songs is included below, click to read the list if you want to.

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The Pilfered Ring

Why the word pilfered? Because it’s a gentler word than stolen. But I did steal it.
At a home in Amery where my parents and friends had coffee and conversation one Sunday afternoon, we kids hung out in the bedroom. In this room there was very little to play with, but there was a jewelry box. Lovely jewelry, piles, and maybe a little gold and silver.
Ten years old, I could have written a brochure on immaturity. Then the theft. Sneaking the lovely, shiny ring out of the jewelry box and into my pocket, I had no idea what I’d do with it. Of the three kids playing that day, I was the only thief.
Mom and Polly Linden had been friends in teacher training in Polk County Normal, and they were bosom buddies, sister-like.
Two days later, at suppertime, Mom answered the phone. She was talking to Polly, and as she spoke she looked over at me. When she hung up, she asked point blank if I had stolen anything. Polly had discovered a ring missing, and Mom grilled me about it. At first I denied it, but that didn’t last long. Admitting to the act, she told me to get it. Up to my room I went, and soon brought it down. That, I thought, might be the end of it. But no.

(this was written as a recent column in The Amery Free Press)

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