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The leaning silo of Belleville, owned by the Sonneberg family, didn’t fall but was finally knocked down.

The leaning silo of Belleville, owned by the Sonneberg family, didn’t fall but was finally knocked down. Photo By John Oncken

A few was', could be's and what if's of 2012

Jan. 8, 2013 | 0 comments

Another year has come and gone.

That means we all had good times, bad times, what if times and what happened times. Intermixed are "what was that" times and "I knew it all the time," times.

Here are some of my "to remember times" that sort of fit in somewhere into those catagories during 2012.

• What if the water had been six feet deep, or he hadn't scrambled over the side of the landing ship, or he had caught a machine gun bullet head on and never made it ashore in one of the first waves of GI's to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, or was not able to make it through the six months of constant battle to follow?

If any of these things had happened, Les Mabie would not have become a Stoughton dairy farmer raising registered Jersey cattle. a well known dairy co-op leader and a friend of mine. He is truly one of the most interesting people I've ever met and for that brief six-month from landing at Normandy and fighting his way through Europe, was the recipient of lots of positive "what ifs."

• A what if time: The concrete stave silo at Sonnenberg Dairy at Belleville that tilted 12 feet off-center impressed me and a lot of folks who were driving by or had heard about it came to take a look.

"Why didn't it fall down," some asked. "It sure looks funny," was a common comment.

After talking with Tom Sonnenberg and his son Ryan, I learned that the 20x70-foot stave silo was full of silage, which after a bit of reenforcing, the Sonnenbergs emptied with the help of an internal rig to keep the unloader centered. This meant someone had to occasionally climb the silo through the chute.

It wasn't too scary," Ryan says. "The chute was on the outside of the leaning silo and climbing was sort of like going up the outside of a 'banana shaped' curve."

The silo was eventually taken down and replaced with a used one of a similar style.

• What does a star Green Bay Packer look like when he is not in uniform?

In the case of wide receiver Jordy Nelson (#87), he looks like a tall, crew cut, good looking farm boy (6" 3' and 217 pounds) from Kansas who could probably run a combine and offload the wheat into a semi trailer while on the go.

Nelson can indeed do that and more. You see, he was raised on a 4,000-acre grain farm that is still in the family.

He posed with and talked football and farming with visitors to the Service Motor Co. booth at the WPS Farm Show and he knows a lot about both. • How did those kids who attended one-room rural schools with one teacher, few books, an outdoor privy and no computers become PhD's, engineers who built huge buildings, college professors, journalists and successful farmers?

I and a couple hundred visitors to the Brace rural school 50th reunion (of its closing) at Fall River last August talked a lot about that.

Dolly Sauer, who put the event together, owns the one-room school that looks like it could go back in business tomorrow.

Take it from this one-room school graduate, none of us has the answer.

Maybe it's because we came to school after lots of exercise. Everyone walked, most of us had to clean the barn, and recess was all about playing physical games like tackle football, Red Rover, work-up softball and anny-eye-over the garage.

Whatever the reason, it worked and civilization advanced by the day.

What if we went back to small schools? No answer; it will never happen.

• How does the knotter on a hay baler or old grain binder work? It looks complicated.

John Appleby was 15 years old (in 1855) when he saw a demonstration of a recently invented grain-cutting machine. He recognized a major shortcoming in its function - it could not tie the grain into bundles.

He suggested that a device was needed to mechanically tie knots and automatically bind the grain. Those attending the demonstration scoffed at him as much for his idea as for his age.

At age 19, the concept for such a knot-tying device struck Appleby while he was working in the field. He stopped his chores, got out his penknife, fashioned a model of the hooked device from a piece of wood, and put it on a shelf for 25 years. But he never gave up the idea.

In 1874, he organized the Appleby Reaper Works at Mazomanie and, after a lot of experimenting, he patented the Appleby Knotter in 1878 and a binder in 1879.

In 1881, Appleby sold his invention to Cyrus McCormick for $35,000 and his knotter went on to become the standard for tying bundles and bales - even today.

• What are those bags and boxes of little oranges, called "Cuties," that are in every grocery store?

Cuties are a trade name initiated by several California mandarin (a small orange-like citrus smaller than an orange) growers in an effort to market more of their fruit. They formed a cooperative, Cuties Cooperative at Bakersfield, and market clementines (that are really mandarins) and Murcotts (always labeled mandarins).

The producers have several highly mechanized processing plants and many groves where "all their citrus fruits are hand picked ever so gently."

Cuties are a brand name coined for marketing purpose and it sure is working.

• How come California doesn't raise enough corn and soybeans to feed their dairy herds? Yet there are lots of big fields with something growing on them?

Yes, there are miles and miles of really big fields all along the Central Valley of California, but they are all being use to raise more valuable crops: Grapes, nuts (pistachio, almonds), vegetables, and dozens of other crops that feed people worldwide.

Hay, soybeans and corn are way down the list of "value" crops.

Some California dairy experts see their industry as unworkable without cheap midwest grain - a resource that may have come to an end.

• What can I do to get closer to agriculture and farmers - I don't know anyone who farms?

Attend a farm auction. This can be one of your good times. You'll meet people, talk to anyone as long as you want, and eat a hamburger cooked onsite.

Don't be bashful, after all, most folks who go to farm auctions are there to look around, shake hands, talk long, loud and smart, and catch up on any news. Oh yes, and to give out opinions on anything and everything. If you don't meet farmers and make a few friends, it's your own fault.

It's now 2013, another year for new experiences, new fun and new times - good and bad.

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