It was probably the year after my mother-in-law died. Lea and I took a trip to Wisconsin in early Summer to spend the weekend with Bill and Leslie on their farm outside of Ettrick, WI.
Ettrick is about as rural as you can get in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin can get pretty darn rural, dontcha know. It’s part of the coulee country, a bunch of hills and valleys carved out of a huge plateau by a ga-jillion streams and rivers over a few centuries.
It’s a very scenic place to live and raise goats and stuff.
It wasn’t the first time we had visited the farm, but I think it was the first time Bill and Leslie took us on a tour of the area. We went to some of the Amish shops, and a few antique stores. And we went to the Furniture Bar. You could drink beer while you shopped for furniture.
I thought it was the coolest store, ever.
And it was the first time I ever went to an horse pulling contest. An horse pull is just what it sounds like. A team of horses is hitched to a dynamometer, and they pull it.
A dynamometer is a weighted sledge, and the weights are increased as the competition progresses. The team that pulls the most weight the farthest wins.
It’s kind of like unto a tractor pull, except it’s not as loud, and horses are used instead of tractors. I saw my first tractor pull in Wisconsin too, at the World Famous Blair Cheese Festival.
Possible Little Known Fact About Living in Rural Minnesota and Wisconsin: almost every small town in has a summer festival of some sort. It’s something to do instead of hang around with your livestock, and you get to drink a lots of beer. The suicide rate would probably skyrocket if not for the summer festivals.
I enjoyed the tractor pulls. I took a lots of pictures, and because I carried an expensive camera I was given access to places most spectators couldn’t go. If anyone asked, I told them I worked for National Geographic.
I loved the tractor pulls, but I loved the horse pull more. And the reason for that was mostly because of the announcer.
He was a guy in his sixties or seventies. He wore a pair of bib overalls, a flannel shirt and a John Deere cap. It’s too damn bad this isn’t an audioblog because it was his voice that made me fall in love with the announcer.
“Yah, how’re you guys doin’ out there! Yah, real good! Well, I’ll tell ya what, we got a real good show for ya here today. We got a bunch a good teams competin’, the sun is shinin’, we got a lots good food to eat. And is there beer here? Oh yah, we got cold beer, too!”
All of the competitors were local farmer guys, and the announcer guy knew each of them and their teams.
“Okay. Comin’ up first is Larry Jenson and his team of Belgians. Larry’s been workin’ his team for the last four years or so, ain’t that right, Larry? Yah, well, I guess I better go back to school then. It’s been seven years!
“Now, Larry won here last year, but he’s using a new horse this year. He had to put one of his team down, so we’ll see how the rookie does.”
Those horses are very well trained. They trot to the front of the sledge, back up, and once they’re hitched up, they pull for all they’re worth. And they are not cheap.
“That’s a good pull for Larry! Looks like the rookie’s gonna be okay, there! Okay. Comin’ up next is Willie Olson. I’ve known Willie since he was in high school. He married my niece, Karen. They got a real cute family now, and that team of Clydesdales is one of the prettiest teams in the county.
“Clydesdales are the Budweiser horses, and has anyone seen my beer? What? I drank it? Well, we’re gonna have to take a break here just as soon as Willie finishes his run.”
I can’t remember how many teams of horses competed that day, but they were all beautiful animals, and they all pulled for everything they were worth. Occasionally there was an error hitching the team to the dynamometer, and the driver (?) would be pulled from his seat on the dynamometer, and then they had to be stopped and rehitched.
“Whoa, there, fellas! Looks like one of those premature exclamations or somethin’! Okay, let’s give ‘er another try there boys!”
In between pulls, the announcer guy would talk about anything that popped into his head.
“Hey! Did anyone find my beer out there? Oh yah! Thanks a whole bunch there, Vince. About time you bought me a beer!”
And he encouraged people to try the food.
“Yah, is anyone gettin’ hungry? The women from the Rotary Club were up fryin’ chicken all night! I’ll tell ya what, that’s the best damn chicken I’ve had in my life! What do we got to go with the chicken? There’s potato salad. And do they have baked beans this year. Yah, a course they do! And there’s bread and butter. And pickles! And is there anythin’ ta drink? Oh, for the love of the Packers, yah, we got more beer!”
I hadn’t quit drinking yet, so I was happy to hear there was more beer. And he was right about the chicken. That was very tasty.
“Okay, whose up next? Dave Wilson! Hey, Dave! How’s your wife and my kids doin’? What’s that? You know I’m deaf in one ear and I don’t hear so good with the other!”
I shot three or four rolls of film that day. Lea and I talk about looking through the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years. I have them in a cedar chest that weighs about half a ton. If we ever get around to doing that, I’ll post some pictures on my Facebook page.
“And here we are, ladies and gentlemans, the last competitor of the day, Frank Gilbertson. I can’t tell ya how many times I’ve been at Frank and Irene’s house. Irene is one heckuva cook, and no one can dance a polka like Irene!
“Frank has a pair of Percherons, you don’t see a lots of them so much no more. Okay, Frank! Take us home!”
I couldn’t say who won the horse pull. But it was a weekend I’ll never forget, mostly because of the announcer guy.
He was the best part of that weekend. Even better than the Furniture Bar.