Reinhardt Family History
Memories of Eggs and Chickens
Stories from Neil Reinhardt
Reinhardt Road Revisited
Recently I dreamed of the delicious hickory nut cakes that my mother or sister baked many years ago. This made me want to return to the farm where I spent 23 of the first 25 years of my life. I just wanted to see if there were any of the trees left, where we used to harvest those hickory nuts that gave those cakes that wonderful flavor.
On a bright fall afternoon we traveled south of the city on the Martin Road to the wooden railroad bridge. We parked the car in a wide place at the beginning of Reinhardt Road. Then we walked across the bridge. What a change. The planks were worn and patched, to prevent cars that traveled Martin Road from falling on the tracks below.
From a vantage point on the bridge we could look down on the farm. The lawn and yard was mowed. The big garden where I had spent many hours hoeing and pulling weeds was missing. The house was painted and well maintained, but the barn, silo and sheds were in a state of disrepair. They were hidden by rows of evergreen trees on the north and west. These trees I had helped my dad plant as seedlings 60 years ago. Some are now over 30 ft. high.
The high banks of red clay are still on both sides of the railroad bed. They were put there as the railroad was built, before I was born. Those clay banks formed about 80 rods of boundary on the northeast side of the farm. The section gang always cut the brush along the railroad right-of-way. They also burned the dry grass to prevent fires from getting started by sparks from the steam engine.
There was always a good wild strawberry crop after the burning. These clay banks were always referred to as the railroad banks. Since the railway goes through the farm at an angle, there is a small triangular piece of land of about 2 acres across the tracks, that belongs to the farm. Fred Supple rented the crop land on the farm for over 30 years. This triangular piece of land was too small to maneuver his big machinery in, so it has lain idle in all that time. There are now trees 20 feet tall growing on it. The homestead was now a far cry from the neat painted buildings I left over 60 years earlier. Only the house looks as it did then. Em and I crawled through the roadside ditch and onto the railroad bank. I had a sturdy stick about 4 1/2 ft long, instead of my cane. It helped to keep me from falling as I walked over the uneven ground. The first 200 feet were easy going. The grass came almost to our knees. Then trouble began. Our way was blocked by many thorn apple trees. They had grown from the seeds of the only thorn apple tree that grew near. This part of the farm had usually been pasture, and so 60 years ago the young trees never had a chance to get started. We had to leave the bank and go into the field where corn, oats or hay usually grew. The land had not grown a crop for three or four years, and had just weeds of all kinds - quack grass, stick tights, burdocks, Canada thistles, bull thistles - many weeds that reached to our waists, and many that I had never seen before. As we slowly walked along, we stopped to rest now and then, to look around and recall things that happened 60 or more years ago. The first memory was the thorn apple tree. It has grown some. We could not get near it because of the many young thorn apple trees that grew around it. Its fruit had been larger than most. My older sister Catherine had made jelly from them, after first cutting them in half and discarding those that had a worm in the center. We walked just below the bank. We came to a place where wild roses once grew. You could always smell them before you were near them. There were several places where wood chucks and gophers lived. At one time it was an ideal place to shoot them with a .22 rifle, as they sat on their hind legs near their burrows. Next we came to a small grove of burr oak trees. The last I remember of them, the largest was about five inches in diameter. Now it is over fourteen inches. Finally came the largest of the thorn apple trees. It had not grown much since I last saw it. Wild grape vines almost covered it. This tree was where the logger head shrike (or butcher bird) built its nest and raised a family. One day as I was resting the horses after they had pulled the cultivator through rows of corn, I saw this bird hang a meadow mouse on one of the tree's thorns. This was to feed his hungry brood of young birds in the nest. As Em and I walked among the weeds in the field just below the railroad bank, I could recall things or happenings at certain spots along the way. There were several spots where I had picked wild strawberries. Also, I found places where there was asparagus in the early spring, and now the yellow mature plants are still there. One certain spot brought back vivid memories. I and my sisters were herding the cows along the railroad banks. Corn had been planted in the adjoining field, and our job was to keep the cows on the banks to eat the grass that grew there. A yearling heifer was with the cows. This heifer was a pet from the day it was born. She was called Miney. Maybe the name came from some of the kids all saying "She's mine." This particular day she was standing on the banks watching the kids below. She started down the bank toward my sister Frances, and Frances, thinking Miney was coming to be petted, waited for her to come to her. However, the bank was steep, and Miney was coming too fast. Miney bumped Frances with her head and knocked her flat. Frances has had a silver plate holding her collar bone together for nearly 70 years now.
As we continued our stroll we came to where there were 2 large burr oak trees and a hickory tree. They were in the line fence between dad's farm and the Mihills farm. I recalled when I was about seven years old. My job was to carry a jug of cold water to dad as he worked in the field. Shep, a three-legged dog, was my constant companion. Shep ran through the fence onto the Mihills farm. He was hot on the trail of something, and suddenly a flock of prairie chickens exploded from the grassy field. By the time I was old enough to hunt there were no more prairie chickens in Fond du Lac County.
We headed across the field where three hickory trees stood. These trees were all that was left of a grove of about twelve trees that once were a cow pasture. These trees were the only ones left standing, when the pasture was turned into crop land, because they always had a good crop of hickory nuts. The one tree that always had the best and most nuts had been struck by lightning and over half of it was destroyed. We had to get down on our knees to find the nuts hidden in the tall grass and weeds. We did find about three quarts of nuts.
I had to show Em the spot where one of the large hickory trees once stood. This particular tree nearly cost me my life, as I was still in the tops of the branches when the tree came crashing down.
Finally Em and I headed through the weeds back to the road. We had a few hickory nuts and many many memories recalled. From the vantage point back on the railroad bridge I could once again picture the farm with Brown Swiss cows grazing in the pasture. The corn field was kept free of weeds by horses pulling a one row cultivator. Canada thistles were kept under control by a boy with a hoe. Any weed showing it's head around the farm was quickly decapitated by a scythe wielded by dad. All of this was before Monsanto and Dow Chemical Companies produced drops that would kill hundreds of weeds, by just putting it in a gallon of water and spraying on the weeds.
From our vantage point I also thought about the time the house was remodeled. I was twelve at the time. I mixed the cement in a little mixer. I did not cut any of the lumber. That was done by dad. I just handed him the lumber when he called for it. Every year after that, there was some remodeling project on the other buildings on the farm...the barn, a new garage, remodeled chicken house, machine shed and granary. With all the buildings painted it was one of the showplaces on the Martin Road.
Now, with an absentee landlord, all has changed. Only the house and lawn are kept neat by the tenant. The fences all have been removed. The entire farm is one big field, although for one afternoon, it was back the way it used to be.