Snow – the Farmer’s Other S-word!

As I write this month’s Back 40 blog installment, the first big winter storm has hit Wisconsin. Thankfully, here in the north central part of the state, we only got a little snow mixed with some sleet and ice pellets, which made for challenging driving, but not anything too bad. Our friends to the north received several inches of the white stuff.

On the farm, snowfall made for additional chores as we had to clear several hundred yards of roadway so the milk truck could get to the barn to pick up the milk each day and other service providers could get in as needed. We were usually prepared for winter storms and didn’t have a pressing need to get to town, but when my grandparents still lived on the farm, there were days where the road had to be plowed, because Grandma had a social event in town.

Our Tales from the Back 40 blogger, doing what he enjoys!

Our Tales from the Back 40 blogger, doing what he enjoys!

When I was growing up, clearing the road and having a hard-packed run from the top of the hill all the way to the barn meant I had my own bobsled run, which I zipped down repeatedly until I was too tired to make the climb back up to the top again. It was great fun to see how far I could get, but, no matter how hard I tried, I never quite had enough speed and momentum to get all the way to the barn.

I asked my dad recently what he remembered about snow removal on the farm. The first “snowplow” he recalled was a pair of wooden planks bolted together and pulled by a team of horses to smooth a track through the new-fallen snow.

“That worked fine for a while,” he said, “but then we had to get a neighbor with a blade on his tractor to really push the snow back.”

In the 1950s, my grandfather and a neighbor bought a home-built snowplow that could be mounted on a two-cylinder tractor. Grandpa provided the tractor, and the neighbor did the plowing of both his farm and ours. Dad said the snowplow was constructed out of a steel barrel that had been cut in half to give a curved face to the plow that was needed to make the snow flow to each side of the road.

In the early 1960s, Dad was able to purchase a John Deere snowplow from the local dealer.

“He had gotten in a bunch of them and was asking $250 apiece,” he said, “but one of our friends bought one for $160 and told a couple of us, so we got ours for that price.”

It worked well with the John Deere 60 he had at the time.

When Dad bought his John Deere 3020 in 1968, he had a local welder make a new steel frame for his snowplow blade, adapting it to fit the new tractor. A hydraulic cylinder near the front left corner raised and lowered the blade, which was permanently angled to the right. It was our primary snow removal tool until Dad retired and moved to town, when he sold the snowplow and its frame.

Once I was the primary driver of the 3020, I reveled in all the things I could do with that tractor, and it became my tractor of choice for almost everything. (Well, maybe not for hauling manure in the winter, but that’s another story.) Plowing snow became one of my jobs, and I enjoyed it so much, I couldn’t wait for another snowfall to get out and plow. Even after I moved away to take an editing job in Iola, Wisconsin, I still ran the snowplow when I visited the farm, and my wife Kim took this picture of one of those outings. As far as actually shoveling snow? I always wished for a snowthrower for our sidewalks at the farm.

After Dad and Mom moved to town, the 3020 moved with them, and Dad bought a small blade to mount on the three-point hitch to push the snow back from his driveways. Unfortunately, the 3020 was really too much tractor for such a task; it ripped up the lawn rather than neatly piling snow, so the blade was retired and a walk-behind snow thrower employed. It’s not as much fun, but it gets the job done.

What are your farm-related winter memories?

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