Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Future Speaking Engagements

I did not make it over to Badger Ordnance on January 11th to give my dam talk – icy roads caused a cancellation of that endeavor.  We are going to try and reschedule.  
Speaking of rescheduling, the culmination of my “Last Dam Talk*” at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve has been set for Wednesday, March 21st.  The talk is scheduled for 7 pm, with socializing and smoozing & refreshments at 6:30.  Check out the KVR webpage for more information on my Last Dam Talk*.
I am going to give a local history talk focusing on Volume II of my La Farge history at the Lawton Library on Tuesday, February 20th beginning at 6:30 pm.  Check out the library's webpage for more information on that talk.

            Don’t forget that copies of all three of my books are for sale at the KVR Gift Shop, the La Farge bank and the office of the Episcope.  If you would like me to send you a copy of the recently published Volume II of my La Farge history, please send me $25 along with your address to P.O. Box 202, La Farge, WI 54639.

            Recently via Face Book, I heard from Guillaume Caudebec, who lives near Paris, France.  Guillaume was a foreign exchange student at La Farge High School during the 1988-89 school year.  He was interested in purchasing a copy of Volume II and wanted to know what it would cost.  The cheapest mailing fee to “Gay Paree” is a tad over $36, so I’m not sure if he will be interested.  He wasn't!
            I recently mailed out a copy of Volume II to a former classmate (LHS Class of 1965 – a great class!) Carlyle Stoleson in Mazomanie.  In his letter, Carlyle mentioned that he had read my column on Badger Ordnance and that he drove a tram at the ammo plant in 1969.  Fellow classmate Rudy Hamilton also mentioned to me that he worked at Badger that year as well.
            Working together, we can tell the story of this little Kickapoo River town.     

Badger Army Ammunition Plant

I was going to be giving a history talk in Baraboo on January 11th at the Badger Ammo Plant Museum.  (Because of bad weather and wintry roads, my talk was postponed.  Hopefully it will be rescheduled in the spring of 2018.  I will be talking about the La Farge dam project history with an audience interested in comparisons of the Kickapoo Valley project with the current conversion of the old ammo plant grounds at Merrimac over to public lands.  The Badger History Group, an organization that is preserving the history of the former U.S. Army ordnance facility, is sponsoring my talk.
            As I prepare my presentation, I have been thinking about the connections between the Badger Ammo Plant and the community of La Farge.  Over the years, lots of people from the La Farge area worked at Badger Ordnance and the effects of those paychecks and jobs were significant.
            The Badger Army Ammunition Plant was built during World War II and became the largest munitions factory in the world at that time.  Besides the factory that was located on nearly 10,000 acres of prairie south of Baraboo at a place called Merrimac, the operation also included a village where workers and their families could live.  “Badger Village” included a school, recreation center, child-care facility, cafeterias, and a transportation system.  The village housed up to 8,000 workers and their families during the war.  By 1948, all munitions production had stopped at the plant and the Badger Ordnance Plant was deactivated.
            In 1951, when the war in Korea spread to include American troops, Badger Ordnance was reactivated and the Olin Corporation took over the operation of the plant.  During the Korean Conflict, the Badger plant produced ball powder, rocket propellants, smokeless powder, acid and oleum that were used in a variety of weapons.  Olin continued to create munitions at Badger on a limited basis after the war in Korea ended, finally going on stand-by status for the plant in 1957.
            When the United States became involved in the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, Badger Ordinance was once again put into full production.  Beginning in 1966, Olin operated Badger at full capacity again and continued producing munitions at the Wisconsin facility through the middle of 1975.  In 1997, the U.S. Defense Department declared that Badger Ordnance was “in excess of its needs” and plans were made to return the facility to state and local control.
            At the heights of production during the various war years, Badger Ordnance employed as many as 12,000 people.  The need for employees at the Badger plant reached out to all of the communities of southern Wisconsin, including those in the Kickapoo Valley.  Many workers and their families relocated to Badger during the various war years of peak production.  Here is what I wrote in Volume I of my history of La Farge when the Badger munitions plant began during World War II,
            The construction of the government powder plant at Merrimac, south of Baraboo, in 1942 and 1943 had an immediate impact on employment for La Farge men and women.  Bob Kennedy was one of the first from the village to work at the munitions plant, called Badger Ordnance.  His brother-in-law, Merton Calhoon soon joined him when he resigned his positions at the bank and as village clerk in La Farge and started work at Badger in April of 1943.  Merton moved his family to Pardeeville to be closer to his new job at the powder plant.  Others car-pooled to work at the new plant.  By the spring of 1944, there were seventeen from La Farge working at Badger Ordnance and Harry Lounsbury; village board member sought a bus to stop at La Farge to carry the workers.  A bus wasn’t available at that time, but the La Farge workers at the munitions plant were given extra gasoline rations to make the drive, while others caught the bus to Badger at Hillsboro.  Eventually the bus line to Badger Ordinance was extended to La Farge to carry the workers to and from work.  A village with temporary housing was set up across from the Merrimac munitions plant and some from La Farge moved there.  The “Badger Village” started its own school and Clarence Krumm, former school principal in La Farge, was the first principal at the new school.  Many women from La Farge worked at the Merrimac plant, some working away from home for the first time. (From page 136)
            I remember one lady from La Farge telling me that her first good-paying job was at the Badger Ammo plant during WWII.  After the war was over and her job at Badger was eliminated, she was determined to find another job.  She did not want to return to her home to become a “housewife” – a term she used with derision.
            Later in Volume I, I wrote this about the connection between La Farge and Badger Ordnance during the Korean War,
            Another impact that the Korean conflict had on the village was the revival of operations at the Badger Ordnance powder plant in Baraboo.  Once again thousands of people were needed to work at the munitions plant and many would come from the La Farge area.  Daily bus service was begun from the village to the war plant, carrying workers from La Farge and the surrounding area.  The good paying jobs at Badger
Ordnance further increased the bustling economy of the village.
(From page 154 – there is also a photo of the Badger Ordnance Works in 1942)
            When Badger Ordnance was cranked back up to full production during the Vietnam War, many from La Farge once again worked at the munitions plant.  A daily bus line once again ran from La Farge to Merrimac to carry workers back and forth, stopping in Hillsboro and Union Center along the way.  In 1969, I occasionally rode on that bus as I worked at Badger that summer.  Bob Kennedy, who was back working at Badger Ordnance for a third time – this time as a production line foreman, got me the job.  Although I was still planning to return to LaCrosse that fall to finish up my college education, the ammo plant needed workers badly that summer.  Bob told me to not mention about returning to college in my Badger Ammo job interview – that way I would get a job.  It never came up and I was soon working on the “Air Dry Line” at Badger Ordnance along with David Mick, another college student from La Farge who had started work there a couple of weeks before me.
            We worked a “swing shift” that summer – one week we would work days, then the next week it was the 2nd shift, followed by the graveyard shift the week after that.  Since the bus lines did not operate for the night shifts, we had to drive a lot of the time.  I think back now that some of my classmates from LHS – Rudy Hamilton, Ben Rastall, and Danny Thayer to name a few – had served in Vietnam before I even started working at Badger Ordnance.
            The summer of 1969 was also when the Army Corps of Engineers, in an entirely non-war related enterprise, began purchasing property north of La Farge for the dam & lake project. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017


It only took five years or so, but Volume II of my little history of La Farge is finally finished.  The book is printed and is available to the public.  After completing the book at the beginning of October, I gave the text to my publishing guru, Chuck Hatfield, who formatted the book, made a really spiffy cover and added all the photos, maps and other inserts.  Chuck also contacted printing companies that he has used in the past and took bids to print my book.  We settled on TPS Printing for the job and Chuck e-mailed them a copy of my book.  TPS ran a quick proof copy of the book and sent it back to me for a look over.
            At this point in the process, I was a little ambivalent about the process as I kept remembering things I should have included in the history.  I realized that everything cannot be included in such a history, but leaving parts of the story out of the telling is difficult.  As I looked over the proof copy, I also felt there were lots of places that the story could have been better written.  Regardless of my ambivalence, the proof was approved and the printing process initiated.
            Volume II is over 420-pages in length.  It covers the goings-on in La Farge from the 1960’s until the present.  The longest chapter in the book focuses on the 1970’s - a period that I title “Dynamic Times”.  The 1980’s and ‘90’s also are covered in some depth as I tried to focus on a couple of developments that make La Farge rather different than most small towns in western Wisconsin.  Those, of course, were CROPP coming to town in 1989 and the creation of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve about a decade later.
            I tried a different format with my “Chapter Notes” in Volume II.  In the earlier book on La Farge’s history that I wrote, I put the “Chapter Notes” in a separate section at the end of the book.  I had “borrowed” this technique from author Lynne Heasley, when I read her book about the Kickapoo Valley, A Thousand Pieces of Paradise.  Lynne had used the chapter notes in her book to flesh out the story even more and to add some personal comments as well outside of the main text.
            As the length of Volume II became greater and the number of “Chapter Notes” stretched into the dozens for some chapters, I thought I should put the notes at the end of each chapter instead of all being placed at the end of the text.  I felt the notes and the personal asides contained within them would be easier to access if they were at the end of each chapter.  As a reader of Volume II, you’ll have to let me know how you like the change.  I’m sure Lynne Heasley will be OK with it and even might copy my style in return.
            In another similarity with my first La Farge history book, I have also included a number of “Local History Notebook” columns in Volume II.  Since I write about a lot of divisiveness in the community in Volume II, I tried to pick out some of my columns that show how the people of La Farge came together during that time as well.  Successful athletic teams at LHS were often a source of that coming together, so I copied a few of my columns about some of those teams and included them as part of the story.  In addition, I included “Notebooks” on the building of the first medical clinic in La Farge, the history of Calhoon Park, “The People Remember” oral history project on the dam project, gas station memories, pool hall memories, and several more.  By the time that we added those twenty-five “Notebooks” with photos, the book had stretched out to over 420 pages.
            The editing of Volume II was a bittersweet process for me.  My good friend, Paula Muller Howard had edited the first volume of the La Farge history for me.  As I completed each chapter of that book, I would send Paula the finished product.  She would read through it, making edits and providing comments for me to look at along the way.  That process worked really well as Paula had a real talent for editing.  We had started the process again for Volume II and Paula had edited the first three chapters for me.  Several other chapters were written, but I had been tardy in passing them onto her to look at.  With Paula’s passing, the editing process at which she excelled was lost.  I’m sure her absence shows in the latter part of Volume II.
            I conclude Volume II of my La Farge history with another of my little “Walks Down Main Street” that I often use to close out the year when writing my newspaper column.  There are actually several Main Street walks in Volume II as I like using the devise to show what was happening in the village at a particular time in history.
            The last walk was actually first written in 2013-2014 as that was when I had hoped to finish up Volume II.  But for a variety of reasons (that I chronicle in the beginning of the new book), that last little walk kept getting extended, first into 2015, then 2016, and finally 2017.  Even though the walk ends up chronicling about a half of a decade in La Farge’s most recent history, it also shows some of the dynamics that show how the changes occurred.  This is how I introduce that last walk down Main Street at the end of Volume II.

            So as we arrive at the end of our story about this little Kickapoo River town, we might ask the question – what position is La Farge in?  If we climbed up to the top of Fort Wales or Spring Mountain with our camera phones and took a snapshot or a panorama scan – what would we see?  Or if we climbed into an airplane and departed one of the air strips in Hillsboro or Viroqua, and then swooped down over the village and photographed it from above  (Which has been done so many times as the Kickapoo floods ravished the town from 1935 right up through the devastating 2008 flood.  Does anyone fly above La Farge and photograph it when there isn’t a flood?  Of course they do, but we don’t tend to see those photos.), what would we see now?  How would the La Farge of 2017 compare to that view of La Farge in the early 20th century taken from Fort Wales?  (By the way, that photo was the cover of the Volume I book.)  Would you recognize the La Farge of 2017 in a photo taken from an airplane if you compared it to the 1935 aerial photo of the flooded village that was the front page of the Milwaukee Sentinel?

And sometimes, even now,
When I’m lonely and beat.
I drift back in time and I find my feet
Down on Mainstreet.

Verse from the song “Mainstreet”

By Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (1977)

If you would like me to send you a copy of the new Volume II, send me a $25 check (covers all packaging and postage) to P.O. Box 202, La Farge, WI 54639.  Make sure to include your address if it is different than what is on your check. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017


As the decade of the 1980’s came to a close, the little Kickapoo River town of La Farge would experience some rare community unity as three LHS teams had great success.  1989 would be a year to remember in La Farge.
In February of that year, the LHS boy’s basketball team captured a conference championship for the first time in 33 years.  The Wildcats, coached by Bob Constalie, won the Ridge & Valley Conference Championship Trophy with a perfect 14-0 record and finished 17-3 for the regular season.  The LHS squad was led by Seniors John Hamilton, Clint Howard and Chris Zahm with juniors Joey Niles and Brian Wheeler rounding out the starting “5”.  Senior Rod Hendrickson and junior Chet Wilson were key contributors off the bench and Tim Coggins, Cory Shird, Chris Vesbach and exchange student Guillaume Caudebec also were on the team.
The La Farge Wildcat squad was able to clinch the school’s first conference championship since 1956 with a 51-36 win at home over Seneca on February 9.  La Farge would finish the season with two more conference wins to conclude the perfect season in the R&V.
The Wildcats kept their dream season going in post-season play by capturing the WIAA regional title with three exciting wins.  La Farge opened tourney play with a 65-41 home win over Boscobel.  In the regional semifinal game played at Hillsboro, the LHS squad used a miraculous fourth quarter comeback to beat R&V Conference foe Desoto 62-55 in overtime.  For the regional final game, the Wildcats would travel to Kickapoo to face the Weston Silver Eagles.
Weston was the two-time reigning R&V champ in boys basketball before the season began, but La Farge pounded the Silver Eagles 61-41 in their first conference meeting played in La Farge.  In the next to last game of the season, and the first game after the Wildcats had clinched the conference title, LHS had won at Weston 53-52 as John Hamilton hit a three-pointer from near half court at the final buzzer.  Weston fans were sure that La Farge could not win a third time over the Silver Eagles. 
But they were wrong. The La Farge Wildcats added a WIAA regional plaque to their season by playing perhaps their best game of the year and pummeled Weston by a score of 76-59.  After the game, the La Farge fire trucks were at the ready to escort the champion Wildcats and their fans back into town as the team enjoyed some victory laps around the village. 
There was little time to get ready for the WIAA sectional opener.  Because of delays caused by earlier snowstorms, the regional final game with Weston had been pushed back to Tuesday night and the sectionals semifinal was to be played on Friday of the same week.  Wildcat fans soon scarfed up all of their allotted 700 tickets for the sectional game to be played at LaCrosse Central.  The Community Pep Rally held on Friday afternoon served as a great sendoff for the team.
Iowa-Grant High School proved to be too tough for the Wildcats and posted a convincing 76-47 win in the sectional semifinal.  (The I-G Panthers went on to pound Fall Creek 80-64 the next night to win the sectional and advance to state.)  Regardless, the community of La Farge had gone “all-in” to show support for their LHS Champs!  It would be one of several occasions in 1989 when the community of La Farge could come together to rally behind their local teams.
When the weather warmed to springtime, the Wildcat baseball team returned to its championship ways by capturing an R&V Conference co-championship with a 6-1 record.  Senior pitcher John Hamilton who posted a 10-2 season record on the mound led Coach Roger Hooker’s La Farge team.  Fellow Senior Clint Howard led the team in batting with a .578 average, while Junior Jason Parr batted .429, Hamilton hit at a .400 clip and fellow Senior Chris Zahm hit .388.  The Wildcats tied for the league title with Desoto.
The Wildcats kept up the winning ways in the post-season as they swept three games to claim the WIAA regional crown.  La Farge beat Bangor 9-7 and Brookwood 19-7 before traveling to far off Pepin to play Pepin-Arkansas in the regional finals.  Behind a strong mound performance by Hamilton, who struck out 13, the Wildcats prevailed by a score of 4-2.  The following week, La Farge lost to defending WIAA Class C champion Greenwood in sectional play to finish their great season with a 14-3 record.
When the new school year began in the fall of 1989, Wildcat fans would have another championship team to cheer on, but this time it was the girls from LHS capturing the trophy.  The LHS volleyball team coached by Gail Hanson captured the first girls’ team trophy in the history of the school by finishing tied for first in the R&V Conference.  Led by all-conference players Erika Thomas and Jo Lynn Deaver, the Wildcats tied with Seneca for the R&V title.  Other Wildcat players included Emma Bader (team MVP), Beth Rolfe (team MIP), Tine Smith, Kari Shird, Dode Smith, Jonel Kiesau, Michelle Donovan and Kelli Hamilton.
A key win in the volleyball season happened when La Farge traveled to Seneca in early October.  The Wildcats were riding an eight match winning streak and had not even lost a set in their previous five matches.  A large contingent of La Farge fans made the trip to Crawford County for the matchup between two undefeated R&V teams.  In the first game, both teams had leads at times, but La Farge prevailed 17-15 behind a strong serving game.  Defending conference champion Seneca then showed what they were made of by winning game #2, 15-0, and amazingly never once lost the service during the entire game.  The third and deciding match was close all the way with both teams playing their best.  Eventually it went to extra points and when the ball hit the floor for the last time and the scoreboard showed that La Farge had won 18-16, pandemonium erupted from the Wildcat team and fans.  It was the first time that La Farge had ever defeated Seneca in volleyball!

A week later, in front of a large crowd in the La Farge gym, the Wildcats clinched a share of the R&V championship by shutting out Ithaca 3-0.  Despite a road loss at Desoto the next week, Coach Hanson and the Wildcats were still happy to receive their conference championship trophy.  The La Farge fire trucks were out again to escort the historic team of girls back to town and the R&V co-champs and their fans celebrated with a victory party at the village hall.