Every spring for years, I’ve heard secondhand reports from the great social event of the season here in northwest Wisconsin. But sadly, I’d never been invited to tag along.
That is, until this year.
Dad and my nephew Colton, who farm together north of Turtle Lake, were making plans to attend the spring open house at Bar-H Implement near Stone Lake and asked if me and my husband, Dave, wanted to join them.
It was the first really warm, sunny day of April. Throw in some free food, live old-time country music, door prizes, parts discounts and potential fodder for this column, and how could I refuse? From what I’d been hearing, the baked beans alone were worth the three-hour round trip.
My mom, who got to go along last year, emailed me that morning: “Just thinking how lucky you are to be invited to have the big Stone Lake day with the ‘boys!’”
I’ll admit, I felt pretty fortunate as Dave and I jumped into the car that bright, beautiful midday and picked up Dad and Colton at the farm en route to Stone Lake.
Conversation on the drive north and back covered everything from chain saws to cattle, from tight hay supplies to the spring mud season. Colton paged through a copy of The Country Today, completing the word search puzzle and leafing through the Farm and Fleet flier.
But talk always seemed to turn back to the mouth-watering baked beans we had to look forward to at Bar-H, which was marking 57 years of business.
Lunch was just as advertised — hot dogs, potato salad, an assortment of tasty cakes and the piece de resistance, a giant, floor-standing stainless-steel kettle filled to the brim with molasses-sweetened baked beans. People truly come from near and far for those beans, and they scooped them up eagerly with large plastic ladles.
“This is your anniversary dinner,” Dave teased me as we moved through the line, four days shy of our 25th wedding anniversary.
Seven feet tall with a big appetite, 19-year-old Colton dished up two heaping helpings of beans — the first spilling from his plate’s largest compartment into the two smaller ones to add a, well, unique flavoring to his chocolate cake, the second precariously overfilling all three plate compartments.
I’ve never seen someone put away so many beans, and neither had those sitting near us. In amazement, one lady took a picture on her phone. We texted a picture to his dad as fair warning.
Remembering that I would be sharing the backseat with Colton on the way home, I can’t deny that I was filled with some dread. But all went well.
The lawn in front of dealership building was filled with rows of new and used equipment. No doubt, a few people were shopping, but most were catching up with old friends and neighbors. As I walked, I overheard chit-chat on everything from the farm economy to the damp spring.
“The only thing I’d be planting now is a tractor,” one man lamented about the delayed planting.
Bunched around a piece of equipment, we caught up with a few farmer friends from the old neighborhood — a young dairy farmer in his 20s, a dairy farmer nearing retirement and one recently retired from the business.
Dad referred to the open house as “one of life’s simple pleasures,” and that’s about right. It reminded me of the times he and Mom brought us kids to the local John Deere Days for lunch and films highlighting the latest in shiny, green farm machinery.
The dealership open house is a throwback to farming’s past, a chance for rural neighbors to reconnect and prep for the growing season. Hopefully, it can be part of the future, too.
Carrying a handful of rake teeth, sickle guards for a haybine and an oil filter for the four-wheeler — not to mention bellies full of “the best beans around” — we headed for home. I’m already looking forward to next year’s invitation.