By Laurie Sordahl

Madison

(Dane County)

On Saturday mornings, our local Farmers Union Cooperative feed mill buzzed with activity — employees scurried around the main floor amidst the roaring noise and dust clouds generated from the grain hoppers, augers, conveyors, scales and other machinery mixing and making feed.

Inside the mill, the office was a focal point where customers chatted with neighbors from the area or shopped for farm supplies. The room was not as noisy and more conducive to conducting business. The office walls displayed a small inventory of essential farm supplies that included fly sprayers, aluminum shovels and feed scoops, baler twine, push brooms, farm gloves, syringes, ear tags, salt and mineral blocks, buckets, and the like.

Oftentimes, a line of six or more trucks would be parked outside the co-op before it opened at 8 a.m. because the mill closed at noon. Sometimes, my brother, Don, and I tagged along with Dad for this weekly task, which proved to be the highlight to end our week that was filled with grade-school classes, homework and chores. When Dad pulled up to the co-op in his Ford pickup, he pointed out how other trucks were loaded down at the rear axle from the weight of the ear corn, just like ours.

Don and I spent most of our time inside the feed mill office where the deafening sounds of the grinders and motors were muffled and you could carry on normal conversations without shouting.

The most fascinating item in the office — especially for kids — was the milk dispensing machine that sat in front of the 5-foot-high counter where customers took care of paperwork. The milk cooler was a deep fire-engine red color, about the size of a small chest freezer with sliding aluminum doors on the top. Inside the cooler, 10-ounce bottles of fresh milk sat in aluminum racks immersed in cold water.

Betty Kuester, the office manager, always greeted visitors with a bright smile on her bespectacled face. We handed Betty a dollar bill Dad had given us and she in turn presented us with four shiny quarters. After dropping a quarter into the slot, Don and I would dunk our hands into the cold water, then maneuver our bottle of chocolate milk along an aluminum track until it reached the end and was released. It was like a wonderful arcade game for us.

We could choose either white or chocolate milk; we always chose the latter. I remember the taste of that chocolate milk yet today — cold, smooth and chocolatey. The local creamery in Chaseburg processed and bottled the milk which made the product even more special because of its freshness and quick turnaround from the farm to the finished bottled product.

Meanwhile, the mill workers on the production floor paid close attention to details so the correct ingredients were mixed together for each batch of cattle or pig feed. In addition to Betty, I specifically remember three men who worked at the mill: Rudy Strasser, the mill manager known as “Dude,” LaVerne Myhre was called “Moose,” and Eugene Harold — they were Saturday morning fixtures at the mill.

Out on the main floor where these men worked, a billowing plume of fine corn dust lingered in the air and made the wooden floors delightfully slippery for a kid. This was before the days of safety rails and stringent safety rules. Don and I had great fun skidding around on the slick floor — that is, until we got caught by Dad.

I remember how the feed dust blanketed the workers and encapsulated their entire bodies from capped head to work boot. Dude wore black horn-rimmed glasses that had to be wiped off constantly during his shift. I was fascinated with the men as they bagged up feed. Their bulky forearms were strong from lifting the heavy feed sacks and their thick hands deftly tied the twine around the top of each sack with such ease.

I loved the aromas in the grinding area, and I’d close my eyes to inhale the fragrances of the rich molasses, sweet corn, and the earthy soybean ingredients. I remember thinking, “No wonder the livestock love this stuff.”

After the truck was loaded, Dad allowed Don and me to ride in back of the open truck — if the weather was warm enough of course. The bulging burlap sacks provided comfy seating for us. We enjoyed the freedom and joy of farm living and smiled and giggled as the fresh air whisked past our faces all the way home. There was no other place we’d rather be.