Wednesday, August 31, 2005

gone fishin'

The Farmers Wife is going fishin' again.

Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Myrtle Beach.....then we'll be driving down the coast to Charleston. I plan to check out those shrimp boats in McClellanville, and make sure it's still the sleepy little southern town I remember. Then it's on to Fort Moultrie outside Charleston, to visit Chief Osceola's resting place. In Charleston we'll have dinner at Ansons - which is the spot where I had the best dinner EVER!!! Pecan encrusted chicken breast, whipped sweet potatoes and collard greens.

So have a good time over the labor day weekend. I promise to bring back lots of photographs.


The work on the loft areas of the barn continues in somewhat orderly fashion, but the floor of the loft has been removed, which allows all the loose material to fall into the milkroom below. The result is total chaos.

The most mysterious element of the image is a childs wheelchair which stands abandoned among the debris. When I first visited the barn the chair was in a small tool room. I've never been able to determine how or why it appeared in a old dairy barn.

Monday, August 29, 2005

a new life

The crew leader is young and fit, one of those taking up the torch from those who've had their heyday. He opens his mouth to speak and I am taken aback by his words, "Yes, we're removing the exterior barn siding and battens which will be used in the construction of a nature center in Bourbonnais, Illinois."

It was a sunny morning and at that moment I'd wished I had worn my sunglasses. It would hide the misty stuff building up in the corner of my eye. Turning quickly and looking into the gaping hole I secretly wished the young man wouldn't notice. He was probably thinking I was an aging, barn-hugging hippie freak.

It's amazing sometimes how things work out. All these months I'd dreaded the loss of the barn. I still will miss it's looming presence on the landscape, but the barn will live on in a different form - a shelter for educating people about nature. It will continue a new line of work for years to come. And when the nature center has outlived it's usefulness......who knows?

Perhaps someday I'll drive down to Bourbonnais, and visit an old friend.

it's enough

Santa Claus has gone the way of childhood myth, oh so many years ago. But last year as I began to take up photography again as a hobby, I longed to find some like-minded people, a camera club perhaps. So I took a chance and on Christmas eve asked Santa for a camera club. And, lo and behold, in January there appeared a flyer at the local photography shop - "Camera club forming..."

But now it's August, and Santa won't accept requests for another couple of months. When the bid was awarded to take down the barn I began to meditate on it's fate...thinking good thoughts about it's useful and faithful service as an important partner in the success of the farm that occupied this land. I didn't presume to ask that it be spared.

I'm getting older myself and have come to the conclusion that a long and hard working life is it's own reward - no need for lingering past all usefulness.


As luck would have it the small crew arrives shortly after I return to my car. I climb the small hill, back up to the old barnyard and the crew chief says, "Hi." I return the greeting and explain that I've been photographing the barn for the last year or so and that I'm happy to see that they are dismantling as opposed to demolishing the structure.

Every Sunday The Farmers Wife posts an entry entitled, "Faith." Faith encompasses so much more than simply organized religion and worship. There is a faith born of age and experience that, no matter how trite it may sound, means that life unfolds as it should.

At some point a friend suggested that I form a grassroots effort to save the barn. Our village board ordered a study by a group of professionals to assess the possibility of converting the barn to our village hall and community center. Regardless of the fact that the barn was basically sound, it would still require $1 million dollars to transform it to a useable space. Our tiny community of less than 700 people does not have type of money. With only 2 businesses and only one of those producing sales tax revenue, we struggle to maintain the 8 miles of roadway that are our responsibility.

The farmer has long retired or moved on, and for the last few years, before the farmhouse was torn down, this has been rental property.

I turn back to the crew chief and he tells me what I never suspected.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Early morning sunlight streams into the formerly dark space of the hayloft. According to the newspaper this barn is 130 years old, but I doubt that age because it seems to me that it was constructed using more modern methods. The entire barn is sturdy, save for the west wall which has started to peel away. The beams are lined in straight rows, and they're plenty of them. They're not as huge as those in some of the older barns, which are 12 x 12's. These, I determined later are 8 x 8's. I take my photos and slip out of the barn, knowing that shortly the crew will arrive to resume their work.


A small town west of De Kalb, Illinois is home to two small churches. The congregations seem to be dwindling.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


The phones lull for a moment at work and the barn creeps into my consciousness. In the next moment I feel a sense of urgency and make a mental note to pass by the barn on the trip home.

My instincts were correct, work on demolishing the barn had begun that morning and the left quadrant of the east wall had already been removed.

It has begun....somehow I felt OK with the turn of events. My mind did not register "demolition", as this seemed more of a deconstruction. It appeared as though the boards had been removed carefully, one a a time. Thankfully, there's no wrecking ball on the premises, or even worse a team of volunteer firemen who set these structures ablaze for practice sessions.

Someone is taking care with the end of the barns working life, and for that I am thankful. It's late and the light begins to fade. I make plans to return early the following morning.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

the bid is signed

My husband serves on the village board of our tiny community. Knowing on my fascination and history of photographing "the barn", he returned from the monthly meeting with news.

"They've signed a bid to have the barn torn down", he said.

"August," he continued. "Don't know exactly when though."

I remember well the cold winters day I sat shivering in the abandoned hay loft, marveling at the grandeur of the space. It always reminded me of a cathedral, abandoned now to birds, raccoons and the occasional photographer. On that day I fantasized about buying an entire professional lighting set up, to allow me to successfully capture the beauty of the loft. And then I longed for Travis' talent in shooting in the most difficult of lighting situations.

I decided to make the best of what I had and grabbed a shot of the massive beams and soaring roof.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

hog heaven

A large hog keeps cool during the dog days of summer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

the lovely bones

"The barn is America at it's fragrant and warmest best. It stands for the genius of a nation built of rich soil and fat cattle." - Robert P. Tristram Cuffin, On the Green Carpet, 1951

Perhaps it's no mistaked that I happened across a copy of "The Lovely Bones" a couple weeks ago at the Goodwill store. Last Tuesday evening I began to read.

Those of you who have been following The Farmers Wife for awhile know about "the barn". It was an image entitled, "Milking Room Window" that first drew Pilgrim to my site, an image that spoke to him across the miles in faraway Paraguay.

I've bemoaned the barn's fate in image and in word, loudly dreading the day of it's demise. The vow was made publicly that although not around for it's raising, I would record it's razing.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Some steeples are more ornate than others, and not all the faithful in life occupy pews.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

what's more fun than a video game?

This scene brought back memories of my young children, who took great pleasure in making an entire afternoon of fun centered around a large discarded cardboard box. Or the day they decorated paper grocery bags and cut holes so they could see, and proceeded to run around the yard with bags on their heads. (I have the photographic evidence of that adventure somewhere).

These children were having a delightful time in the haystack. Perhaps it was something new, maybe it just magic hay. But I do remember as a child, spending many hours in the hayloft of a dairy barn, engaged in every type of imaginative play.

Hay is magic - believe it!

get mommy

What's left at the end of an afternoon of threshing? A giant haystack.

It didn't take long for the kids to discover the fantasyland of hay. I stood for quite awhile taking photographs and it became apparent that there was a game emerging. I promptly named it, "Get mommy!"

The kids were delighting in gathering up armfuls of hay, as much as their little arms could hold. They would then run over to where mom was standing, hopefully with her back turned, and pitch the entire load while screaming with glee.

The moms, being the good moms that they are, would act totally surprised.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

the beast

It is best, if you're a young child, to wear sunglasses in the presence of the beast. The dark curtain between you and the monster will shield your fear from his gaze.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


One of the huge machines pulls away from it's holding spot and lumbers over to the threshing area. These machines are not graceful when they move but they are powerful when they are working.

The Case tractor pulls at a distance behind the thresher, which is belt driven. Farm hands attach the belt, one end on the steam tractor and the other on the thresher......and work begins. It takes awhile and a good amount of hard work for the men to feed the contents of the loaded haywagon into the thresher. They work in unison, lifting each pitchfork full into the air and the waiting jaws of the old machine.

This was dangerous work. As a young farm boy in the 1930's my stepfather slipped and fell into the thresher, losing a leg. It was every farm woman's nightmare as they carried his wounded body back to the farmhouse. He was only 12 years old. There were many, many farm accidents back then.


Everywhere you look at the steam powered threshing event men are stoking and oiling and greasing and performing all types of maintenance duties. It seems the large engines require a lot of attention.

This young man works on the giant wheel of a tractor and represents the next generation that will be called upon to take up the task of maintaining these pieces of history. I've heard of golf widows, do you imagine there are steam engine widows? I'm sure of that.

the mighty case

Leaving the pole barn I come upon an amazing sight - a valley of dinosaurs. Literally hundreds of old tractors are lined up row after row, shining examples of farming days gone by. The stars of the show are the huge steam tractors. These giants lumber around the grounds, occasionally moving from their appointed holding spots to where the demonstrations are to take place.

Again, I'm struck by how quiet the machines operate as opposed to their noisy cousins, the combustion engine machines. This 1919 steam powered Case tractor was my favorite. Perhaps because I had spent some time watching the owner shovel coal into it's belly, and a bit later it produced a full head of steam and this awesome plume of smoke from the stack. Politically incorrect smoke in this day and age, but a symbol of power at the time.

I stand close to the mighty Case, and it breathes imperceptibly. You become aware of the heat and the fine balance to keep it's power balanced and safe. A little on edge being this close to so much raw power, I jump noticeably when water drips from an opening and dances noisily across the metal, like spit on a griddle.

I handed this gentleman one of my cards, and I hope he has the chance to witness an image of the power of his machine. All of these machines are lovingly cared for by everyday folks, a kind of grass roots living museum effort. These men are the curators. I can imagine that this is a time consuming and expensive effort.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


After paying the entrance fee of $5, I turn to the left and enter the first outbuilding. It's a large pole building and inside there are a number of tables set up. Vendors are selling various tools and parts. There's a slightly odd smell in the air, which is unidentifiable to me. Growing up in the 50's and early 60's my generation was past the time when homes were heated with coal burning furnaces, and thus the smell of burning coal is new to me.

The building is fairly dark, and it's quite large. It's difficult to see clearly to the other side, but the space is punctuated by a hissing sound and a low rhythmic beat, soft and strong like a giant heart. I've entered the den of the mythical dragon - the steam engine. Like the dragons of yore, the engines breathe hot steam, their bellies filled with red hot coals.

I make my way deeper into the den and behold, find a huge engine that is powering a giant wheels. It's not apparent to me what the original purpose of this wheel might be, but other things grab my attention. I'm struck by how quiet this leviathan occasional hiss and the mesmerizing low beat and the piston and armatures set the mechanics in motion. It seems to me that the various moving parts are engaged in quiet, gentle and small motions. Surely this isn't what sets the giant wheel spinning.

As I stand before the beast, prepared to take the photo, I feel as though I've been transported to another time and place. A place where giant machines ruled the earth. Dr. Emmett Brown has somehow taken us "Back to the Future" when the steam engine was king.

Monday, August 15, 2005

avery is coming!

Back on June 26th you were introduced to Avery Stevens. I had encountered him at the local gas station where he was filling up the truck to haul his 1948 Minneapolis Moline tractor to a show in Sandwich, Illinois.

After I parked my car in the pasture at the threshing bee, a group of us stood together waiting for the shuttle to take us up to the entry. It wasn't very far, but my knee was feeling quirky and besides it's fun to ride in a tractor driven hay wagon. Pretty soon I look up and who's coming but - - - Avery! And of course, he's driving the favorite of the tractors in his collection, the 1948 MM. He's also decked out in a Minneapolis Moline shirt and hat.

If you remember I mentioned he had a cassette player retro-fitted onto the tractor, just above the steering wheel. He was playing his Norwegian polkas to get us in the mood for the exciting things waiting for us just up the rise. We rode along, sitting on old bus seats that had been mounted to the hay wagon. A young girl sitting across from me noticed the cameras (plural), including the Nikon which made her sure I worked for a newspaper or something. A newspaper, yes, but not as a photographer. I handed her my card and told her to check out the website.

Just before we left the wagon I also handed a card to Avery, and told him to search out the pictures of his beloved tractor. He doesn't have a computer, but he assured me that his daughter would look it up for him on her machine.

Hey Avery!!! Thanks for the ride, you're one really interesting and happy fellow that seems to have found the secret to staying young - doing something you love!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

threshing bee

Here at the Farmers Wife we spare no expense to bring you the best American midwest experience. Today I headed out to a threshing bee....not just any threshing bee, but a steam powered event!

Let me begin by saying that if it's mechnical and has an engine, there's a guy somewhere that collects it. As for Farmers Wives, they simply hold out for a 1970 Chevelle SS454.

The four day event at a local farm in Sycamore, provides last minute summer jobs to local teenagers who run the parking lot, a.k.a. a large pasture just south of the outbuildings. It was quite exciting for me to do a little off-roading across the bumpy field in my Grand Am.

This is the Lott Miller rig, which is an appropriate entry to begin the foray into a steam powered farm experience. IT RUNS!! And it was the vehicle in charge of the corn husking apparatus. More about that later, and coming up.....a contest!

My hope was to get down to the small Aurora airport later in the day to capture photos of the WW2 B17G Flying Fortress. There's only so much time and money! The 25 minute flight in the flying fortress came in at $395, and that's more than the Farmers Wife budget can comfortably afford. Heck, the Farmers Wife doesn't have a budget come to think of it.

But today I spent $9.95.........
Entrance ticket - $5.00
Ear of roasted corn - $1.00
Small tub of homemade fudge - $1.00
Jar of homemade Blackberry Butter - $2.95

An awful lot of fun for under 10 bucks. So here's Lot Miller rig, and we're on our way.


The English Congregational Church in Big Rock is of the most unusual design. I can't say that I've seen anything like it in the northern Illinois countryside. The design includes two identical entrances, and yet memory does not recall the English separating the sexes during services. All this means I must call the church and ask for some history. In my book a question unanswered simply gnaws at your brain.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Someone has thrown a concrete block over the bridge into Mill Creek. Perhaps it's been there for quite awhile, hidden by higher water levels. All the local streams and rivers are low, and the smallers streams are stagnant with little or no areas of moving water.

Low lying clouds cast an odd shadow on the streams surface. There's a strange opalescent sheen to the water and I'm hoping it's not pollution.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

the hag

Normally cheerful sunflowers have given up the ghost, surrendering in the face of heat, drought and pests. Overnight they've gone from ingenues to the hags of the community garden plot.


Sunrise at the beach is strictly the kingdom of dog owners and photographers. The evenings waves have wiped the slate clean, only paw prints puncture the smooth surface of the sand.

Two dogs enjoy an early morning swim.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

filling in the lake

The water brings out the kid in all of us. This young man was on a mission to refill the lake, one shovel at a time. He was having a great time throwing sand back in the lake, alternating with jumping up over the very, very tame waves lapping the shore.

My own childhood was marked by the feeling of being landlocked. Occasionally we would venture to downtown Chicago for a day at the beach. Once a year we made our pilgrimage to Westville, Florida where most days were spent begging dad to take us to DeFuniak Springs for a swim in the cold and rusty colored spring water. It wasn't the gulf but at least it was preferable to the creepy sand pond with its hanging Spanish moss, gators and snakes. It was something straight out of a bad '50's horror movie.

Monday, August 08, 2005

the inland sea

Although not technically a sea, Lake Michigan stretches as far as the eye can see. It commands respect from all who choose to ply its waters. Not as dangerous as its deep, cold and mysterious sister to the north, Lake Superior, it nonetheless can be a widowmaker. Only a foolish sailor would underestimate the power of Lake Michigan.

I sat for awhile midway down the long staircase leading from the high bluffs down to the beach. Early in the morning the water is a as calm as glass, only later does the wind pick up and whip the water into a confusion of waves and white caps. Smaller craft and pontoon boats cruise to the mouth of the Kalamazoo River that leads onto the lake. At this point they turn around and cruise back. Only the larger crafts dare enter the rough waters.

Summer is simple and lovely in Saugatuck and Douglas, Michigan in the summertime.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


A stained glass window is back lit on a Sunday morning in Creston, Illinois.

Friday, August 05, 2005

road trip

"I had forgotten just how flat and empty it (middle America) is. Stand on two phone books almost anywhere in Iowa and you get a view". - Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent

That's true of Illinois also, but you'd need more than two phone books to see over the corn. It's true of Kansas and Nebraska also. Oh, and I've never seen anything flatter than the rice paddy areas in Southeastern Missouri/Northeastern Arkansas.

Anyway, I'm hitting the road for a short weekend trip across the pond - no, not the big pond, the little pond, a.k.a. Lake Michigan. Going to pick lots of fresh Blueberries and go to Phils Bar & Grill in Saugatuck, Michigan and have the best Bloody Mary on the planet. Spicy goodness with a skewer carefully balanced across the top of the glass - on the skewer is a dill pickle spear, a chuck of salami, another chunk of cheese and a huge green olive.

I'll raise a toast to all my loyal readers....and maybe I'll take a pic!

limping along

The corn limps along with little or no precipitation. The weather report doesn't look hopeful for this weekend either....nothing but sunny skies.

There's a couple more months until it's harvested. It's got a long way to go.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


As a kid, the best thing about the county fair is that you can have great adventures - if only in your imagination.

You can even fly!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


A young man leads his steer down the chute after being auctioned off. Earlier the Grand Champion Steer went for over $6.00 a pound to Woodman's Foods, a chain out of Wisconsin that is expanding into northern Illinois. That computes to somewhere in the neighborhood of $11,000 dollars which is the better part of one year at a state college.

The other animals went for less, but all garnered money for college or for other purposes.

On auction day there were yet a couple more cantankerous animals. The kids showed great poise and determination, knowing the regardless of the animals behavior, they could never, ever let go of the lead. The fair is a busy place with lots of bystanders. A runaway animal could spell disaster.

four dollars....four dollars!!!

A livestock auction bears little resemblance to it's demure cousin the art and antique auction. Forget the dulcet tones of Leslie Hindman, "Fair warning...". Livestock auctions are instead loud and raucous affairs, with uninteligible syllables tumbling out of the auctioneers mouth at amazing speed.

Helpers on the auction floor scan the crowd for signs of a bid - a raised finger or a nod. It's then that they spring into action and with the drama of a home plate umpire calling a third strike, they acknowledge the bid - FOUR DOLLARS!!!

who'll start the bidding?

The auctioneer for this event is Steve Almburg, who is very well known in these parts. In addition, he knows most of the kids and their families, so there's lots of friendly banter before he begins the business of auctioning.

Who'll give $2.50??? That's per pound. Do the math.

auction time

On Sunday morning the show ring is tranformed to an auction venue. The animals will be led down a chute to the stage area and the auctioneer will work his magic.

All parties interested in bidding sign up at the registration table. It's close to 99 degrees and the crowd is small. The local McDonalds has provided a huge jug of orange drink and the local food store donated cookies. Free bottles of water are in a large cooler near the stage.

These two bidders check out the information, with their bid numbers tucked safely in their pockets.

blue ribbons

Prize winning ribbons are pocketed and on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. the livestock auction is scheduled to begin. Not only livestock is auctioned, but the ribbons themselves are up for bid.

Grandparents, parents and others bid for the ribbons to allow even the kids who don't have top prize winning livestock to realize a little profit from their efforts. Of course, the kids keep the ribbons! There's lots of drama involved, as Kelli from Sugar Creek Farm explained in her blog. Grandpa was in a bidding war with the manager of the local grain elevator. Grandpa won, of course.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

beating the heat

Sunday morning is stinking hot, and the weatherman has predicted temperatures of up to 100 degrees. With the other animals released the prize winners get a few extra fans to help them beat the heat. Banks of fans are strapped together and blow into the barn.

It's a long haul until the 1:00 auction time, and chances are the heat will keep the bidding crowd down, which is not good for the kids. The cattle will probably be auctioned off and lower prices this year.

sunday morning

Sunday is the last day of the fair, and that means auction day. All of the non-prize winning animals have been released back to the farm, and the prize winners are prepared for the auction ring. They don't go through the lengthy detailing process again, but are basically cleaned up.

At this point I'll discuss the status of livestock. One of my friends, who is a photographer at the local newspaper, asked me about how the kids could part with animals knowing their eventual fate. I attempted to explain to him that these animals are not pets....they are livestock and there's a difference. The kids know that besides the crops of corn and soybeans, livestock is how their family makes a living.

Farm kids have pets, they're just not 1,500 lb. steers!

barn mates

Late on Saturday afternoon the judging is over and it's time to relax. Alot of the teens have cots set up to sleep in the barn with their animals. They require plenty of attention - feeding, watering and milking.

The teenagers have planned a pizza party for Saturday night, but those plans are disrupted by the decision of the fair organizers to release all the animals early due to the oppressive heat. Moving a group of 6-8 dairy cows is no small task, and requires several trips back to the farm with a livestock trailer.

This, by the way, is a beautiful Jersey cow. They're not typical of this area as most local dairy farms keep Holsteins - the recognizable black and white cows. But Jersey are very efficient in turning silage into milk, and their milk is very high in butterfat. Besides that, they are beautiful, gentle looking animals. Behold the Jersey....

Monday, August 01, 2005

bad day in black rock

Animals can have a bad day, just like humans. This steer was having a particularly bad day. Perhaps he was tired and hot like everyone else, but he was being very cantankerous. I felt bad for this young man because he was having a time controlling this steer which seemed hell bent on making everything difficult.

My greatest admiration for this young guy, who was infinitely patient, and in the end wound up with a ribbon and a chance in the auction ring.

leaning action

Lots of leaning action all over the ring.


100 lbs. of farm girl attempts to create leverage to move a 1,300 lb. steer.

the show ring

Finally, everyone's in place, lined up in the show ring for judging. Nerves are frayed, but all are hopeful.


Early in the morning on show day the barns are a veritable flurry of actitivity. The livestock is washed down in what I'll call a "cow wash". Following a good scrubbing down they're confined in a portable stanchion where they can be detailed.

First they are vaccuumed with portable tank units, and then the real work begins....spraying them down with a product similar to our hair care products. It creates a smooth and uniform shiny coat. In the case of the black steers they used something that's specifically formulated to help enhance that intense black color.

The detailing is handled by the 4-H'ers family and friends, as in a few moments they must appear in the show ring looking presentable, and this is very hot and dirty work. As I see it, it's a great team building exercise.