$curWeaInfo.name, $curWeaInfo.state
Current Conditions
0:$curWeaInfo.min AM $curWeaInfo.tz
Dew Point
$curWeaInfo.wdir at $curWeaInfo.wspd mph
$curWeaInfo.bar in. F
$curWeaInfo.visibility mi.
$dailyWea.get(0).sunrise a.m.
$dailyWea.get(0).sunset p.m.
7-Day Forecast
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
$dailyWea.get($m).high°F / $dailyWea.get($m).low°F
Detailed Short Term Forecast
Issued at 0:$curWeaInfo.min AM $curWeaInfo.tz
The leaning tower from the highway show makes for an unusual sight on the Tom Sonnenburg dairy farm. <br />

The leaning tower from the highway show makes for an unusual sight on the Tom Sonnenburg dairy farm.
Photo By John Oncken

Learn a lot of local history when traveling

June 7, 2012 | 0 comments

You are traveling down a rural road, probably in a hurry, and you see something unusual and interesting. The thought hits you: "I wish I had taken a picture of that."

But, your camera was at home, behind the seat in the pickup or in the trunk of the car. And you didn't think of your cell phone camera. "Oh well," you conclude, "it's too late, maybe next time."

Recently I saw some of these unforgettable moments and had my camera with me and recorded a few memorable but not earthshaking scenes.

The "leaning tower of silage" on the Sonnenburg farm just south of Belleville has been a traffic stopper since last fall. It's a strange sight - the tall concrete stave silo tilting at what appears to be a critical and awkward angle - yet still standing.

I had heard about this "wonder" and sort of forgot about it until a recent Sunday when my wife and I drove by on our return from Monroe. (When not in a hurry, I always take a back road rather than a main highway).

The dairy farm is owned by Tom Sonnenburg, who with his family milk 101 cows.

Last September, just after filling the 20 x 70 concrete stave silo with corn silage, they noticed the silo was leaning and about a week later it had tilted about 12 feet off center.

Ryan, the Sonnenburg's 25-year-old son, who works full-time on the farm and is an ambitious registered Holstein advocate, said they contacted Field Silo & Equipment at Mt. Horeb for some advice.

Brian Peterson of that company sought further opinions and the result was reenforcement with Jet Crete at the base of the silo to stabilize it.

Peterson says a couple of the encircling "rings" had broke as did some staves at the bottom of the late 1960s silo causing the tilting. The opinion was that the structure would stabilize and allow removal of the feed.

That's the way it worked out.

Ryan said that he and his dad had climbed the silo weekly to adjust the unloader, which had to be anchored because of the tilted silo.

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

The silage was finally all fed out a week or so ago. "We wanted to get it out," Tom says. "After all, we had about $35,000 worth of silage in it."

Note - I'm awed by the coolness and calmness of Ryan and Tom when explaining their climbing this leaning tower.

What next?

Plans were to have it taken down and buried and replaced with a used 22 x 70 silo offered by a neighbor who wanted it gone from his property.

Brian Peterson says his company will build a new foundation and that they have contacted a silo builder to do the rebuild.

The silo came down on Saturday, knocked down by an expert with a back hoe swinging a heavy ball that took out the bottom staves and toppled the big silo. (Note - you can see it all on You Tube: Sonnenburg Silo One and Two.)

Do tilting silos happen often? I wondered.

Bruce Johnson of Wisconsin Silos, Plover, a true silo expert, says its happening more often these days.

"It wasn't long ago when silos were filled over a several-day period and had time to settle," he says. "Today they may be filled in a day or less and the pressure is so great."

I missed the big knock down but have photos of the leaning tower.


The big round roof barn with the entire front end missing - a most unusual sight - was another "car stopper."

Clarence " Bob" Byrne, Stoughton, who owned the farm located in the Town of Fitchburg, south of Madison for many years, quit milking in 2002 and has since sold the farm.

He said the barn was fine when he milked 51 cows there and doesn't have a clue as to why the end is missing.

I couldn't contact the current owner. so the missing barn end will remain a mystery for now.


Every baseball fan is aware of the vines covering the outfield wall (maybe 10-foot high) at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

But, the vines climbing to the top of two tall silos and a former dairy barn on an Oregon area farm seemed a lot bigger and more impressive.

"This was a well-known dairy farm in its day and is still family owned," says Sharon Studenka. "My grandfather Robert "Bud" Doerfer was a progressive dairyman. I don't know what these vines are but they look like some kind of grape."

Whatever, the vines have climbed to the top of two silos and make for an interesting sight from the highway and are even more impressive close-up.


Then there was the cow that was sitting and watching the crowd that was watching her at the Rock County Dairy Breakfast at Larson Acres on Saturday.

I heard the youngster who, in a very loud voice, was shouting, "Mommy, Mommy, look at the cow, she's sitting and watching me."

So I also came to look and sure enough the Holstein cow was sitting and calmly watching the people go by - another photo opportunity.

I don't remember ever seeing a cow just sitting, sure they sometimes pause momentarily as they struggle to get their big body up on four feet, but sitting?

I told Ed Larson about his sitting cow and he seemed doubtful. But, it's true and I've got photos.


For decades I've passed the modern looking building at the junction of Highways A and PB a couple miles south of Paoli in Dane County. I knew it had to be a former cheese factory but didn't know any history.

I finally stopped and knocked on the door of Floyd and Charlotte Viney who live just across the road - and of course they knew the full story having taken their milk there while farming from 1948 to 1964..

"That was the Central Cheese Factory Cooperative and it closed in 1968," Viney begins. "John Stadelman was the cheesemaker and he was a good one."

Viney says the first factory burned in the 1930s and was rebuilt. In the 1940s a new make-room, can washer and front door were added. He says it was a "B" factory and probably closed when Grade "A" milk and bulk tanks became common on dairy farms.

The old but still modern-looking factory has served as housing (apartments) for decades.

At last, after years of wondering. my curiosity is answered.

(An additional note - The Central Cheese Factory Cooperative was listed in state records as early as 1901 and in 1909 was one of 92 cheese factories in Dane County - today there are none.)

If you look closely when traveling Wisconsin's rural roads you can spot many curious sites and learn a lot of local history. Keep your camera close by and record the moment and you can relive it another day.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Page Tools