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Stone barn stands the test of time

CHASE — The Krause Stone Barn isn’t merely a scenic site in the Wisconsin countryside.

“The stone barn really is the town’s identity,” said Jeff VanEnkevort, chairman of the Town of Chase Park Commission. “It’s an important place, and the renovation is something the entire community came together and supported as a concerted effort. Everybody loves it.”

The community recently celebrated the 115th anniversary of the barn’s construction.

The structure, included on the National Register of Historic Places and State Register of Historic Places, is among only a handful of all-fieldstone barns still standing in the United States.

The barn underwent an extensive renovation a few years ago and has retained its historic charm. “You see a lot of people there taking pictures as a backdrop because it’s so beautiful,” VanEnkevort said.

Longtime Chase resident Norb Reinhard, who was involved with the renovation effort, said the barn “has gotten to be very, very important. It’s become a real focal point for us.”

The barn measures 100 feet long and 60 feet wide, with walls 2 feet thick. Embedded in one wall is an inscription that reads, “1903, D.E. Krause, Architect, Wm Mensenkamp, Mason.”

Daniel Krause Sr. and his family emigrated from Germany and settled in the town of Chase in 1867, which was six years before the town was established (originally as St. Nathans, before changing to Chase in 1890). Settlement occurred rapidly throughout the region as farmers bought inexpensive, newly cleared farm land.

In 1876, Daniel Krause Jr. married and took over running his father’s farm. The family, with nine children, also owned and operated a nearby sawmill and co-owned a farm implement dealership. In addition, they hunted, logged and made maple syrup.

In 1903, Krause enlisted the help of a local stonemason, Wilhelm Mensenkamp, to use fieldstones to build a barn.

“With unusual flair and in a style that harkens back to the great granaries of Europe, a stone barn like no other was erected that was so magnificent it would withstand the test of time,” stated a report by the Chase Stone Barn Committee.

The barn walls were constructed of lime putty mortar and stones, including granite, quartz, mica, feldspar, gneiss, hornblende, gabbro and schist, among others. They were picked by hand from local farm fields, having been deposited in the region by glaciers thousands of years ago.

The barn was designed with large arched doorways on each end, allowing farmers to enter through one end with a wagon full of hay, unload the hay into the loft using a rope and pulley mounted on a track system, and then proceed out the other end.

Arched lintels above doorways and windows support the openings while giving the barn a stylish architectural design.

Another interesting component of the barn is the half stone wall that separates the threshing area from the stable area. It also was used as a porthole to pass feed through. Feed was dropped over the edge of the loft and then pushed by hand through the wooden hinged doors into the stable area on the other side.

A large cement ring inside the threshing area is believed to have been the foundation for a wooden stave silo or cistern. And an old pump fed water from a hand-dug, stone-lined well located about 50 feet from the barn.

Krause sold his farm in 1920, and numerous people owned the barn in the ensuing decades.

Several years ago, a local land developer bought the property. Upon hearing of the barn’s importance to the community, he sold the structure to the town so it could protect it and make it the focal point of a new park, which is surrounded by farmland and maintains its rural appeal.

Chase Stone Barn Park, 8246 County Highway S, Chase, is open to the public. For information about renting the barn, call Cindy Kroll at 920-822-5909.

Three years ago, another farm building from the town of Chase was moved to Chase Stone Barn Park and placed a few hundred feet west of the stone barn. VanEnkevort said he anticipates that building is being worked on in preparation for use as a museum and storage space.

The barn and surrounding park “will stand as a legacy to one man’s vision and a testament to the hardworking men and women that helped build this country,” the park committee report stated.

Seibels named 2019 Outstanding Young Farmers

JOHNSON CREEK — Adam and Christina Seibel of Bloomer were named 2019 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmers, emerging from a group of eight finalists for the award at the Jan. 27 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer banquet.

In 2002, after graduating from high school, Adam Seibel joined his family’s dairy farm business, becoming the fifth generation to carry on the family tradition. He and his wife, Chrissy, are partners with his parents on a certified organic dairy farm that has continued to change with the times, growing from 50 cows to 140 cows, from 225 acres to 1,000 acres and from conventional to organic.

In fact, the Seibel’s farm was one of the first organic farms in the country to install robotic milkers in 2011, but with that project came an immense learning curve. However, Adam was willing to put in the time and energy to make it work, even in the challenging times of today’s dairy industry.

About 10 years ago, the Seibels started raising and selling grass-fed, organic steers, selling the meat at local farmers markets. Now, many of their customers come right to the farm and the products from the Seibel farm are available at several stores and restaurants in their community.

Adam has also dedicated time to crop production on the farm, reducing weed and insect pressure and allowing more nutrients to be available to the plants by tightening the crop rotation. Pasture management remains one of his top priorities as well, carefully planning his pastures to include lush clover and grass at all times and grazing the pasture when the grass reaches 12 inches.

The Seibels have been using cover crops for 15 years, and have shared their knowledge and wisdom with their conventional neighbors. Because of their interest, they have teamed up with the neighbors to have cover crop seeds broadcast onto fields in September.

Chrissy is a high school science teacher, working off the farm to provide health insurance for the family of four, as the Seibels have two children, Claire, age 7, and Garrett, age 4. She also helps on the farm as needed, assisting with the farm’s recruitment, management of their youth apprenticeship program, bookkeeping and online presence, as well as managing all of the direct marketing for their organic beef.

The couple also finds time to be active spokespeople for agriculture, working with UW-Extension to develop new ways to reach out to farmers and teach them how to manage conflicts. They have also worked with Sen. Ron Johnson to advocate for organic integrity in the dairy and crop markets.

Within their community, the Seibel’s farm was also featured in a promotional video by the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, highlighting agriculture in the county.

Going forward, Adam’s goal is to figure out new ways to get more of the fertilizer needed to grow high producing crops out of the soil and air to reduce the amount of purchased fertilizer. He also continues to seek ways to improve both crop and milk production to levels comparable to that of conventional farms.

“Thank you to everyone that has helped me out through the years,” Adam Seibel said after accepting the honor. “It has been an interesting experience and I just can’t believe that you can’t all be up here beside me. You all deserve it.”

He added that he has learned a lot throughout the weekend and met a lot of great farmers from across the state. As winners of this year’s event, the Seibels will be nominated to attend the national Outstanding Young Farmer event in Westbrook, Conn., in 2020.

First runners-up were Brody and Carolyn Stapel of Cedar Grove. The Stapels are partners in Double Dutch Dairy, a 220-head dairy farm 30 miles from the farm where Brody grew up. Brody was recently re-elected president of the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, a role he has had for the past year after the passing of John Pagel.

Third runners-up were Scott Laeser and Chelsea Chandler of Argyle. Their sustainable food production mindset, combined with the desire to preserve the land for future generations, carries them through each day in the fields on their community-supported agriculture farm called Plowshares and Prairie Farm in Lafayette County.

Receiving the “Speak Up for Agriculture Award,” sponsored by The Country Today, was Tony Mellenthin of Eau Galle. Mellenthin has been farming since 2011, joining his family’s Dunn County farm business in 2013 after receiving his college degree in agricultural business. Along with his on-farm successes, Mellenthin has been involved with the Wisconsin Soybean Association, serving as the organization’s president for almost a year now; has served as part of Congressman Ron Kind’s advisory team; and is active with the Pepin County Farm Management Club.

He believes farmers, through agricultural organizations, can have an impact on the local level by providing farmers with resources they need to be leaders.

Other finalists in the state Outstanding Young Farmer event included Evan Hillan of Ladysmith, Ryan and Tasha Schlies of Kewaunee, Mark and Cari Stoltz of Muscoda and Jon and Holly White of Edgar.

2018 National Outstanding Young Farmer and 2017 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer winners Sam and Jenn Zimmerman served as emcees of the event.

A real trailblazer
Carl Eliason invented the snowmobile in Wisconsin’s Northwoods 95 years ago

SAYNER — Ski-Doo, Polaris, Arctic Cat and Yamaha dominate the snowmobile industry these days.

But 95 years ago, one name stood alone — Eliason.

In 1924, after nearly two years of planning and building, Carl Eliason unveiled a handmade contraption powerful enough to skim over Wisconsin’s snow-covered Northwoods yet small enough to navigate trails just a few feet wide.

Born was the Eliason Motor Toboggan, precursor to the modern snowmobile.

Eliason died 40 years ago at the age of 80. But his original creation, in remarkably good condition after all these decades, is displayed here in Vilas County at the business he founded, Eliason Lumber and Hardware Company.

“We’re very proud of what he accomplished,” said his granddaughter, Jona Eliason, who operates the business with her father, John (Carl’s son), and brother, John Jr. “Not a lot of people can say their grandpa invented the snowmobile. So it’s a big thing for our family and for our community.”

Proving again that necessity is the mother of invention, the elder Eliason conceived the idea for the machine in his early 20s because he longed to hunt and trap in the surrounding woods. But a foot deformity prevented him from using skis or snowshoes.

He experimented with wind-driven sleds and automobiles with tracks, but they were too heavy. So he worked with available parts and pieces.

The Eliason Motor Toboggan, built in a shed behind a pub, used four snow skis joined together with beaded ceiling for the majority of the machine’s base. Two shorter skis, mounted under the front and controlled by a rope, steered the machine. An endless track drive was fashioned with bicycle sprockets and chains, wood slide rails and cleats, with a conveyor belt webbing for flotation. A seat was installed over the track drive.

The entire apparatus was powered by a front-mounted, shaft-shortened, 2.5-horsepower Johnson outboard engine. The motor, which Eliason rented out to anglers in the summer, was cooled by a section from a Ford Model T radiator.

“He was a very smart man,” said Carl’s son, John.

Once it hit the snow, the 10-foot machine worked splendid, topping out at 20 to 25 mph. In 1927, it became the first patented personal snowmobile, Jona said.

“He just wanted to get out in the woods like everybody else, and this is what he came up with to make that possible,” she said while standing alongside his original creation. “Everybody thought he was nuts for trying, but that didn’t stop him.

“So all of a sudden a lot of people were interested in what he was doing, because they had never seen anything like it. More and more people wanted them, and that got things going.”

Eliason constructed about 40 more Motor Toboggans during the ensuing 15 years. Using whatever parts he could find meant no two machines were the same.

Two-cylinder versions incorporated the Excelsior engine and sold for $350, while four-cylinder machines used Henderson engines and sold for $550. Marketing of the Eliason Motor Toboggans primarily targeted hunters, trappers and anglers.

With demand for the machines growing, the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company of Clintonville began handling production in 1940. Eliason assigned his patents to FWD in exchange for a 2 percent royalty on all machines produced and sold by the company. FWD marketed the machines under the Eliason Motor Toboggan name, and Eliason remained a prime consultant.

FWD built four models — called A, B, C and D — from 1940 to 1946. The Model A is believed to be the first known factory-produced, single-track snowmobile.

Models B and C were used during World War II, with war design improvements that included covering the exposed engine, enclosing the track assembly and, in some cases, adding width to the machine for better flotation. As World War II production tapered off, marketing efforts were aimed at utilities, rangers, conservation workers, doctors, mail carriers, trappers and other conventional uses.

Model D machines, featuring steering wheels, were the last of the Motor Toboggans to use Indian engines.

With increasing FWD truck sales and declining Motor Toboggan interest in the United States, FWD’s Canadian subsidiary in Kitchener, Ontario, entered the picture in 1947. Production of Model D machines was transferred to Kitchener. In 1951, the smaller Model K-10 was introduced, sporting a rear-mounted, 6-horsepower Salsbury engine and variable speed belt-driven clutch. Two years later, the Model K-12 entered the market with a larger 8.5-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine.

The Model K-12 turned out to be the last model of Eliason produced, and it was the snowmobile that some future manufacturers used as a framework in designing rear-engine machines. The Eliason/FWD effort continued until 1963, when the company sold its parts and rights to Carter Brothers of Waterloo, Ontario.

The original 1924 Eliason Motor Toboggan is displayed at Eliason Lumber and Hardware Company, 2954 Highway 155, Sayner, from October through Memorial Day. Also showcased at the store are a 1941 Model A, 1946 Model D and 1951 Model K-10. The business is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with extended summer hours. Admission is free.

From Memorial Day until October, the original Eliason Motor Toboggan is showcased alongside other historically significant snowmobiles just down the road at the Vilas County Historical Museum, 2889 Highway 155. Admission is $4 for ages 10 and older.

“The original is in Sayner, and that’s where my grandpa wanted the snowmobile to stay,” Jona said. “I’m glad we have it here. When I think about it, that first machine used to just hang out on a wall in the lumber shed for years. And then a friend of my grandpa told him, ‘Carl, you have to tell people about this. You can’t just keep it up here on this wall.’ Now everybody can come and see it.”

Going green
Eau Claire man hopes to bring natural cemetery to area

EAU CLAIRE — Lloyd Shepherd is trying to figure out what to do with his body when he’s done with it.

After deciding against a traditional burial, he briefly settled on cremation. But it wasn’t until after he attended an open house at a natural cemetery in southern Wisconsin that he felt he had found the best option for his remains after shuffling off this mortal coil.

“I find standard burial kind of creepy, myself,” Shepherd said. “I was researching things a bit and convinced my son and even my grandson to come to the open house with me.”

The cemetery Shepherd and his family visited, Natural Path Sanctuary, is part of a nature preserve near Verona that includes 25 acres of woods and meadows, a pond and rocky ridges.

The visit to Natural Path Sanctuary convinced Shepherd that, while the location may not have been exactly to his liking, natural burial was the way he wanted to go after he goes. As for the site of his final resting place, Shepherd has started working toward his ultimate goal: establishing a natural cemetery in the Eau Claire area.

“I come from the prairies, and I kind of like to be able to see things, so I’d be happier with a more open landscape,” Shepherd said. “So I really want to get a natural cemetery established here for my own benefit.”

The biggest differences between standard and natural burial is that natural burials occur with no embalming of the body and commonly lack a vault and a headstone.

“And with the natural burial, you don’t go as deep because you want to be in the zone where the microbes can work,” he said.

According to the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization focusing on environmental sustainability in the field of funeral service, natural burials occur 3.5 feet under the ground with, at minimum, an 18-inch smell barrier, preventing animals from becoming interested in the bodies; present no danger of contaminating potable water and include a mandatory setback from water sources; and are ideally situated on well-drained soils with some clay content to absorb organic compounds and an active biological presence of bacteria for promoting efficient decomposition.

Shepherd said most natural cemeteries don’t allow headstones in an effort to allow the cemetery to blend better with the landscape around it, but they do often allow a marker that is flush with the ground. Some natural cemeteries allow caskets made from wicker but others just a body wrapped in a shroud and placed on a pallet to lower into the ground.

Shepherd has already built a pallet he’s planning to use for himself using pine boards from a sawmill near Augusta and cotton cord to hold the pallet together.

“Everything has to be biodegradable,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd is currently trying to pin down a property for the cemetery, and he recently found a property near Elk Mound in Dunn County that he considers promising. He said his ideal site would be 3 to 5 acres of relatively level land that is reasonably accessible from county roads in Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire or Trempealeau counties.

Shepherd said he expects the natural cemetery he hopes to create would serve an eight-county area surrounding Eau Claire. The region has a population of more than 330,000, and at the rate of mortality in Wisconsin would account for about 3,000 deaths per year. If just 1 percent of those individuals would choose burial in Shepherd’s cemetery, the cemetery would be able to break even financially, Shepherd said.

He said costs could be made comparable to, or possibly even less expensive than, cremation.

“Cremation takes quite a bit of energy,” Shepherd said. “The attraction for (natural burial) comes, primarily, from people with environmental concerns.”

Wisconsin is currently home to two natural cemeteries with a third near La Crosse serving a local Catholic convent. There are also traditional cemeteries in the state that have space set aside for natural burial.

Natural Path Sanctuary, the natural cemetery near Verona, opened as a natural cemetery in 2011. Linda and Gene Farley lived on the property for 25 years before Linda died in 2009. The couple, both longtime family physicians, had planned to donate their bodies to science, according to Shedd Farley, the couple’s son and Natural Path Sanctuary coordinator. When Linda Farley’s body was rejected for donation for scientific purposes, the family was left without a Plan B, Shedd Farley said, so they decided to bury Linda’s body on the couple’s property.

“Family and friends came, and it was an amazing thing for us,” Farley said. “There was lots of participating in the process, which you don’t get with a conventional burial.”

Following Linda’s burial, the Farley family had to make some decisions about their future and the future of their property.

“You can bury one body pretty much any place you want,” Shepherd said. “But if you bury two, then it becomes a cemetery. So they went through the process of making it into a cemetery.”

“After Mom died, we had to make a choice: We could either get rid of the property after Dad died and bury him someplace else, or we could get certified as a cemetery,” Farley said. “Dad was never a small thinker, so he said, ‘Let’s get certified as a natural, green cemetery.’”

Farley said it took about two and a half years for the preserve to get certified as a cemetery.

“Wisconsin laws work perfectly for natural burial,” Farley said. “There are no hoops to jump through, you just have to follow the law.”

Farley said his father’s vision was for the cemetery to pay for the other initiatives that are the focus of The Linda and Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability, including community-works projects and a farm-incubator program that provides immigrant farmers with a place to use their skills.

Shepherd, a member of both the Unity Christ Center and Lake Street United Methodist churches, is hoping to spark some interest in natural burial within the churches to help him move ahead in the process of establishing a natural cemetery near Eau Claire.

“It’s going slower than I’d hoped it would go, but I’m not discouraged,” Shepherd said. “It’s kind of a new idea; people aren’t really aware of it. There is definitely an educational component to this.”