Cataract, Wisconsin

I spent my early years on our family dairy farm three miles from the unincorporated village of Cataract in western Wisconsin (See picture). The farm was small enough so that our family could run it by ourselves. Next to our farm my uncle had a bigger farm, and he had two hired men living at his house who worked on his farm. These hired farm men were usually single, and many of them had a drinking problem.

One of my uncle’s hired men who worked there a long time was named Harry. If there is one word that described Harry, it is the word ‘ornery’. If anyone teased him or took his stuff, he would get angry and fly off the handle. So of course some of the jokers among the neighborhood farmers and farm boys picked on him mercilessly.

Every summer we had the oats ‘thrashing’; I suppose more refined places called it ‘threshing’. This required a large crew, so all the neighborhood farmers worked together and harvested each farm consecutively.

This was the great time of year when the neighbors got together, and the farm wives would prepare these wonderful meals for the farmers to eat between working. Thrashing was hard work and after the huge meal, the farmers would sit out on the lawn under a tree for a few minutes before resuming the job. Harry would be sitting out there too, and pretty soon one of the jokers would grab the cap off of his head. Harry would get up, start swearing, and chase after the guy who had the cap, The guy with the cap would then toss it to another one of the jokers, and Harry would go chasing after that guy. So the cap would get passed around, and Harry would get madder and madder. Harry was a good worker when he was sober, and he always had his pitchfork with him, so when he got mad enough he’d start waving the pitchfork around. I don’t believe anyone ever got hurt by that pitchfork, but the way Harry was swinging it around, it was a dangerous weapon.

Even when we got out in the fields, the teasing of Harry didn’t stop. Each wagon that went out to pick up the oats bundles had a crew of four people. There would be two pitchers who pitched the bundles on to the wagon, one loader who arranged the bundles on the wagon, and the tractor driver who was usually a nine or ten year old boy. Pitching was the hardest job, especially since it was always late July or early August, and often the temperature was approaching 100 degrees, and there were no trees or shade out in the fields. The hired men were always pitchers, because they got paid to work hard. The loader had it a little easier arranging the bundles, but this was more exacting work, and usually the farm owners themselves would be the loaders.

Sometimes Harry would be out there pitching bundles, and the joker loading would start throwing the bundles back down on top of him. Harry would throw the bundle up again, and the loader would throw it back down again. By this time Harry would be so angry, he would be threatening the loader with his pitchfork.

Also in summer, the Cataract Rod and Gun Club had their annual get-together. There would be shooting target ranges, pick-up softball games, pony rides for the little kids, a beer tent, and lots of food.

Our man Harry always took part in one event there to get a little extra beer money. They would hang up this large canvas with a hole in the middle like a movie screen. Harry would stick his head through that hole. Then people attending would buy either raw eggs or ripe tomatoes for a nickel and throw them at Harry’s head. The throwers would have to stand behind a line that was at least twenty five feet away from the canvas, so often the raw egg or ripe tomato would miss and just smash on the canvas, But every once in a while there would be a good throw, and Harry would get splattered in the face or head by the raw egg or tomato. Some of the more artful throwers would aim just above Harry’s head, so the egg or tomato stuff would drip down on Harry’s head and neck. I can’t remember if a prize were given out for a direct hit, or if the pride in accomplishment was enough of a prize.

By the time I was eight or nine the Cataract Rod and Gun Club stopped doing this event out of human considerations, or maybe it was because Harry wouldn’t do it anymore, and they couldn’t find anybody else who would.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by James D. on April 17, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    Great stuff, the stories I could dig up from my childhood that I don’t even remember much about anymore.

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  2. Posted by Kelly S on April 17, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Sounds like Harry would be a hard person to forget! You have me wondering what happened to him.

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  3. Hi Kelly,
    I don’t know what happened to Harry. At some point he stopped working for my uncle, and I don’t know what happened to him after that.

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  4. You need to write a novel, Tony!

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  5. Hi Kimbofo,
    Thank you. My first goal is to write a good twenty page story. I’ve written shorter things I like, but if I can do twenty pages I’ll believe I’m getting somewhere

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  6. Posted by Jon on April 28, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    That’s a good story.

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    • Hi Jon,
      yes, it’s surprising how primitive things were back in those days. At the time I suppose people thought they were modern.

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  7. I have probably driven past farm a hundred times! My boyfriend lives in Cataract, in the house on the pond.

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    • Hi Fallon,
      Good for you, I’m very familiar with the Mill Pond in Cataract which is what they used to call it. Yes, you can see our farm or what used to be our farm on Highway 27 going either from Cataract to Sparta or from Sparta to Cataract. Imagine my surprise when I saw your comment.

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