Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Picking Stones and Building Barns

By  Delores Zillmer Miller

One hundred and thirty five years ago our ancestors came from overseas to seek their fortune.  Settled in Central Wisconsin, which was  a wild land of forests, trees and rocks.  In their German/Prussian/Poland  homeland, they were peasants working for rich absentee landlords. Houses and barns were built together, the cow herds provided the heat for the house.  Emigrant tickets were provided by relatives already in America.  Here they decided to become dairy farmers.

 Four feet of frost every winter  forced boulders to the ground surface, which had to be picked before the land could be cultivated.  A contraption known as a stone boat, 4 feet wide, twelve feet long, looped upwards in front and pulled by a good team of horses.  These peasant children walked over the  acres hoisting pebbles, rocks, stones, cobblestones and boulders.    Sometimes the horses spooked and ran away, scattering stones over freshly picked soil.

In the early years of the twentieth century, farmers decided to build barns. The barn was essential for storage and livestock shelter.   The good Lord had provided these rocks:  granite, basalt, quartzite, sandstone.  Masons worked for a dollar a day, building a stone wall, ten foot high, two feet deep, three feet in the ground.   Rocks weighed about thirty pounds, and for a 36x50 foot barn, 4000 rocks were needed for the 272 feet total of rocks.  Filled with a sand concrete mortar, huge boulders made the corner stones, chiseled the year.  This took about six weeks, crews slept in tents, housewives cooked and baked each day to feed the crew.  No one builds barns like this anymore, only in our memories the lore and legends remain.


 Delores Miller lives with husband Russell in Hortonville, Wisconsin.    In the summer of 2007 they  celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party hosted by their five children and ten grandchildren.  It’s been a long road.  Dairy farming until retirement in 1993, they continued to 'work' the land, making a subdivision of 39 new homes on their former hay fields.

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