BY LILY KONGSLIEN
Special to the Star Journal
We didn’t have snowmobiles, snow boards or sophisticated ski outfits, but we had many homespun activities during the long, cold winters. These days, as soon as there is enough snowfall, out will come the winter sports people to try out their new skis, sled or maybe a snowmobile.
I’ve heard quite a few “old-timers” lately make mention of the ‘30s and ‘40s, days when snow drifts were higher than the fence posts. Snow fences were used, and this helped the drifting on the roads and highways, but we didn’t mind the drifts as they provided fun for the kids.
Our “igloos” were made by using an old hand saw and cutting blocks out of the hard drifted snow and stacking these snow squares like an Eskimo’s igloo.
When the town’s plow came down our way there were many times when the driver missed the actual road and plowed off-center; my father had to be careful or we’d end up in the ditch. After a big snowfall, the most welcome sound was that of the snowplow coming down our road to plow us out. It could very well be several days, or even a week, and it usually was in the night hours when our dog would start barking to let us know we were being rescued from the recent huge snowfall. Now we would be able to get to school, to our mailbox, and into town for supplies and groceries.
On the days when we didn’t get to school, which were few since we could ski across the Wisconsin River over to Hwy. 47, we would spend many hours with our sleds, skis and toboggan in the cold snow. We were warmly dressed and moved about a lot, so we didn’t feel the cold air. There were no hills on our property, so we hauled snow and made our own “hills.” We were fortunate to have a toboggan; our father used it to haul firewood, which then had to be sawed, split and then used the next winter to keep us warm. Word traveled that we could use the toboggan on certain days when father wasn’t cutting wood, and then we’d have the neighbor kids come down and we’d have a great time in the snow. It was different than using our usual sleds, and we enjoyed it immensely.
We each had a sled and a pair of skis; not fancy, with only a leather strap to hold our feet in place. They were fun if we remembered to keep them waxed. We had to depend on our skis to get us to school in the winter, as after the river’s ice was safe our father would mark the trail we were to follow across the river and sloughs to the highway, where we hid our skis in the snow. Of course, that was not always the best idea, as we found out one night when we were out of school for the day and headed down the highway to where we expected to easily find our buried skis. We found that the big plow had come through and widened the highway, and in so doing, completely buried our skis under mounds of crusty snow. We did find them; they were not harmed, but after that experience we went further away from the road area to bury our skis. One of our many learning experiences!
Snowshoes were necessary to get around in heavy snow. They did not sink into the snow because of body weight, and our father used them a lot, especially on his trap line and also when he made our path to follow on our skis across the river and to school. He made his own snowshoes; my brother had a small pair when he was young. I preferred skis, however. We didn’t have skates, as the river water froze “rough” because of the current. In later years I did own skates and did some skating at Pioneer Park when I lived and worked in town.
At school we took advantage of the snow at recess time – played “Fox and Geese” and built forts with a big pile of snowballs for some cold and snowy competition. Girls like this sport as well as the boys, and after recess was over, we had to dry our outer clothes near the big jacketed stove in the corner. A lot of wool was worn in those days, and sometimes it did not get dry…I can still smell the odor of the wet woolen jackets, caps and mittens. But we had a lot of fun and perhaps enjoyed the winter activities around the school and home more than any other season of the year.
One thing we had to do on the farm in the winter, but I didn’t help much with it, was to chop a hole at the river’s edge so our cows could get water to drink. If it was particularly cold and the hole froze over almost immediately, we would have to pump buckets of water from the pump in the kitchen and carry those heavy pails of water to the barn. I did help with that chore, although I could not (and would not) use an ax.
Winter seemed to last forever, but children did not seem to mind at all as there were a lot of outside activities and new experiences. The cold and snow and blizzards were a way of life in Wisconsin in the long winters, but they were enjoyed- especially by the children. I see now that it was a hard time for the parents, and they welcomed spring much more heartily than we did. Some of my best memories are of winter fun on snow days in northern Wisconsin!