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El Paso the Longhorn steer serves as a mascot and Biblical platform for the Cowboy Country Church.

All in on A-C
VanHandel showcases allegiance to Allis-Chalmers
Brillion man showcases allegiance to Allis-Chalmers

BRILLION — One look at John VanHandel’s toilet seat says it all: This man certainly loves Allis-Chalmers.

“Pretty nice, isn’t it?” said VanHandel, 79, noting the Allis-Chalmers logo and Persian orange color gracing the upstairs bathroom’s toilet seat. “I got that in Dyersville (Iowa). I didn’t have one, so I bought it. What can I say? I like Allis-Chalmers.”

Indeed, practically every room in VanHandel’s Calumet County home features something relating to Allis-Chalmers.

Most of the items are painstakingly arranged in a converted upstairs bedroom, which features more than 180 Allis-Chalmers toy tractors and a few other tractor brands. He grew up on a dairy farm but never owned toy tractors as a child; he first bought one at the age of 56 and has been collecting ever since.

VanHandel’s Allis-Chalmers collection also includes hats, signs, pictures, jigsaw puzzles and clothing, as well as a miniature windmill, lampshade, pedal tractor, clock, dustpan, ashtray, milk can, lawn chair, wind chime, lawn tractor and beer stein, to name a few.

Outside, a wagon wheel, bench and larger windmill are painted orange, as is the mailbox, designed to resemble an Allis-Chalmers tractor. His truck features an Allis-Chalmers license plate attachment and stickers affixed to the doors.

And, of course, VanHandel owns a full-size tractor housed in the backyard — a 1938 Allis-Chalmers B with a one-row cultivator.

“Dad mainly had Allis-Chalmers on the farm when we were younger, so that’s what I’ve stayed with,” said VanHandel, wearing an Allis-Chalmers shirt, hat, suspenders and jacket. “I bought that (B model) about 15 years ago to remember the Allis-Chalmers tractors we had on the farm.”

VanHandel was raised on a 30-cow dairy farm owned by his parents, Ted and Angeline, in the Brown County community of Shirley. His father’s first new Allis-Chalmers was a WD model, and the last Allis-Chalmers he bought was a D17 model in 1959.

VanHandel first drove one of his father’s Allis-Chalmers’ tractors as a young teen in the early 1950s.

Betty, his wife of 56 years, grew up one mile down the road from the VanHandels’ farm. They knew each other virtually their entire lives, attending grade school and high school together before marrying in 1962.

Betty’s father preferred Farmall tractors, so VanHandel created a playful display inside his house of an Allis-Chalmers WD tractor engaging in a tug-of-war with a Farmall M tractor. With Betty sitting within earshot, VanHandel diplomatically said he didn’t know which tractor won the tug-of-war, but his grin and tone of voice indicated what he truly thought.

Said Betty: “I’m glad he collects things that he enjoys. He has a lot.”

VanHandel began collecting Allis-Chalmers items in 1995 when he attended the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville with his younger brother, Gordon, who also collects Allis-Chalmers products in the Brown County community of Wayside.

“That’s how it all started for me,” VanHandel said. “We came home with the trunk and backseat full of Allis-Chalmers toy tractors. One night there was a snowstorm but we still brought every toy we bought into the hotel room because we were afraid someone would break into our car and take them all.”

VanHandel displays his toy tractor collection every now and then at shows. His son, Mark, created signs for each tractor indicating the model and years they were produced. Typically, it takes VanHandel an hour to unload the tractors and four more hours to meticulously arrange them.

“I’ve met a lot of people at the shows,” he said. “Some worked for Allis-Chalmers or had relatives who worked for Allis-Chalmers, and they stop by to chat and re-live the memories. That’s a lot of fun.”

Occasionally, someone asks if the collection is for sale. To which VanHandel said with a laugh: “They wouldn’t have a big enough pocketbook. These things mean too much to me.”

Wisconsin bankers still leery of hemp production

Hemp leapt a major hurdle with the passing of the farm bill in late December. But despite being removed from the Controlled Substance Act and now being treated as a commodity, a recent Wisconsin Bankers Association survey showed low confidence in the crop.

The survey, which was given to 95 Wisconsin bank CEOs and presidents, asked two hemp-related questions. The first was: “If the 2018 Farm Bill changes the federal view of hemp, will your bank actively seek to provide loans to industrial hemp farmers and/or processors in Wisconsin?” This question was followed by: “Do you think industrial hemp will provide enough revenue to stabilize revenue streams for Wisconsin farmers?”

From the responding bankers, 83 percent responded to both of the questions “no.”

Leo Braun, agricultural lender with AbbyBank of Abbotsford, said they currently do not have any hemp farmers but are not opposed to the idea. Braun said despite being open to discussing financing with these farmers, he doesn’t see a whole lot of interest in the crop, as of yet, in his lending area.

“A wide portion of our lending area is in Clark and Marathon County, which are the two largest dairy counties in Wisconsin. We have great diversity with tie stall, stanchion, parlor and robotic setups,” he said. “There is so much competition for bare land out in our area for crop farming and the dairy industry that I do not see farmers in our area coming to me soon asking to finance the hemp crop.”

The new farm bill has increased discussion on the growth potential for hemp markets, now that the crop has been given a more positive light. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is drafting a plan for submission to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “primary regulatory control” as authorized in the bill.

Discussion from the Wisconsin Bankers Association said most bankers would need to see a lot of data to ease any concerns with financing the crop, a sentiment echoed by Braun.

“I can see bankers asking for hard collateral up front on deals to minimize risk. The banker will also have plenty of questions for the customer including cost, price, yield, contracts, markets and more,” he said.

The Wisconsin hemp industry and bankers alike are keeping a close eye on Kentucky’s hemp industry, which has a program very similar to the one in Wisconsin. In 2017, the Kentucky hemp industry produced $25.6 million in capital improvement and $16.7 million in gross product sales, numbers that many would like to see in Wisconsin in the future.

Braun said he believes a lot of the future of financing hemp in Wisconsin will be wait-and-see.

“It’ll take that first bank to take a chance on this crop and everybody will sit back and wait for the result to see if it can cash flow,” he said. “If hemp can turn a profit constantly, more banks will get into this niche market.”

Wisconsin native earns national rodeo title

Jessica Routier has been riding horses from a very young age — before she can even remember. She entered her first competition when she was 6 years old and has earned numerous accolades throughout her rodeo career.

But it still doesn’t seem real to her to see her name listed as No. 2 in the world after an exceptional performance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas Dec. 6-15.

“It was an amazing experience and we enjoyed every second of it,” she said.

Routier grew up on a farm in Montfort, a small community in southwest Wisconsin. Both of her parents participated in rodeo; her mother made a living training horses, which originally sparked her interest in barrel racing.

As a youth, she participated in Wisconsin Little Britches rodeos, then high school rodeos. She qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo four times, earning a scholarship to attend National American University in South Dakota. And after qualifying for the College National Finals Rodeo four times, in 2003, she was named the College National Champion Barrel Racer.

“I don’t know that there was ever a point in my life when I decided I was going to make a career out of rodeo. It was just always what I wanted to do and what I did,” she said. “I rodeoed throughout all the phases of my life, so it was never something I decided I was going to do — I just did it.”

In 2010, Routier began a working relationship with Gary Westergren, a horse breeder from Nebraska. She recalled the first time she met him in person in 2011 as she was riding his mare, Special French Bear (Anna Belle), in Arizona.

“I remember him saying, ‘I want to see one of my horses run at National Finals Rodeo,’ ” Routier said. “My thought was that this guy doesn’t know how hard a task that is to accomplish!”

However, she wasn’t ready to rule out qualifying for the national competition as impossible.

Since then, Westergren and Routier have been working to get his horses out into the barrel racing world. His horses come to Routier’s ranch when they turn 2 years old, and they learn to work on the ranch and are introduced to barrel racing, she said.

Her NFR winning horse, Missy, came to the ranch when she was 2 years old, just as all of Westergren’s horses do. Routier started Missy with a little bit of barrel racing here and there, in between putting on a lot of outside miles, she said. Her friend ran Missy at her first futurity while Routier was pregnant, and after giving birth to a daughter, Charlie, ran Missy at seven other events as a 5-year-old.

“She won money at every single one,” she said. “From there, Missy’s rodeo career began, and she has never missed a beat.”

Routier described her as gritty, a horse that tries her heart out with every run she makes. Missy has always been mature for her age and always stays very focused, Routier added. All of these qualities make her an exceptional rodeo horse — fully capable of earning the title of 2018 Reserve World Champion.

In 2017, Routier started taking Missy to professional rodeos. The duo ended up winning the Badlands Circuit, which led them to participate in the Ram National Circuit Finals, where they placed second. Then they qualified for the Calgary Stampede, finishing third at that competition.

“With all of the money from those three rodeos counting toward the NFR, I knew we needed to take advantage of the situation and keep rodeoing to see where we could end up,” Routier said.

Routier took extra care of Missy, bringing a 5-year-old horse along to provide company to Missy while they were on the road. The two ate and drank well all summer, Routier said, with Missy fresh and ready to go every time and ready to jump back in to go to the next competition as well.

After Calgary, which took place in July, the pair was sitting seventh in the world standings. Routier said things were looking good, but she doesn’t like to count on anything until it actually happens. However, after the deadline for qualifying came at the end of September, she knew for sure they had made it into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is the season-ending competition event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and has been held annually since 1959. The prestigious rodeo showcases the very best cowboys, barrel racers and livestock in the world — with Routier and Missy fulfilling Westergren’s dream to see one of his horses at the respected competition.

To prepare Missy physically and mentally for the big event, which includes 10 rounds over 10 days, Routier sent her to stay with friends at Steele Equi-fit, where she swam in an AquaTred equine underwater treadmill to build muscle strength and stamina. In Las Vegas, Routier continued to focus on Missy, making sure she could rest comfortably in between rounds.

Along with earning the title of 2018 Reserve World Champion at NFR, Routier also received the Jerry Ann Taylor Best Dressed Award, an honor voted on by fans in recognition of Jerry Ann Taylor, a well-known trick rider that brought style, glamour and spirit to the arena. This award was also something special for Routier, adding to an unforgettable experience.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Routier said.

Because of their stellar finish in 2018, she and Missy now have opportunities to compete in other big events this winter. Routier plans to participate and see where those competitions lead them.

Back home at her and her husband’s ranch in Buffalo, S.D., Routier is raising the next generation of rodeo enthusiasts. All five of her children have a love for horses and competing, as well as working on the ranch with family.

And while there isn’t much, or any, downtime on the ranch in between competitions and caring for the animals and land, the family wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It would be awesome to get to compete at the NFR again, and if the conditions are right, we will try,” she said.

Banker survey: Ag loans buck state trend

While Wisconsin bankers say they’re optimistic about the state’s overall economy in 2019, they don’t have particularly high hopes for agricultural loans.

In the latest Wisconsin Bankers Association Bank CEO Economic Conditions Survey, conducted over the first two weeks of December, more than half of the 99 Wisconsin bank CEOs and presidents surveyed said they believe Wisconsin’s economy will remain strong in the new year. The rest of the respondents were almost evenly split on whether the economy will grow or weaken in the year ahead.

However, ag loans bucked the statewide trend. Almost half of respondents rated current demand for ag loans as fair, and 36 percent said it’s poor. Half of respondents said ag loan demand for 2019 will stay the same, while 42 percent predicted it will weaken further in the year ahead.

No respondents rated ag loans as excellent in the survey, while 15 percent said they’re good, 48 percent called them fair, and 36 percent said they’re poor.

Only 8 percent of those surveyed predicted that ag loan demand will grow this year, while half said it’ll stay the same and 42 percent said it’ll weaken.

As for the general economy, 85 percent of respondents rated Wisconsin’s current economic health as good or excellent. More than half said the state’s economy will be unchanged in the first half of 2019. The remaining responses were about split as to whether the economy will grow (21 percent) or weaken (25 percent).

A majority of responses to questions about other economic indicators followed this trend. When asked about the current economic health or demand for loans, most bankers (85 percent) said it’s good or excellent. Regarding the next six months, more than half predicted the current status would continue. Remaining responses almost even with positive and negative predictions (21 percent said it will grow, and 25 percent said it’ll weaken).

Businesses will hire more employees this year, according to 49 percent of respondents. Forty-six percent of bankers surveyed said businesses likely will maintain current staffing levels.

“As predicted in our last survey, 2018 was a great year for Wisconsin’s economy, as well as lending activity,” said WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald. “It’s very encouraging to see most bankers believe 2019 will continue that strong performance.

“Bankers are the best barometers of the economy, as they see all segments of every marketplace. They work together with their communities and are the first to see and understand Wisconsin’s economic trends due to their customers’ activities. In turn, our members use that information to help their communities prosper.”

The WBA is the state’s largest financial industry trade association, representing almost 235 commercial banks and savings institutions, along with their almost 2,300 branch offices and 23,000 employees.

Ben Wideman / Photos by Benjamin Wideman/  

Turnovers are popular among customers at Toasty Oven Bake Shoppe in St. Anna.