Saturday, November 28, 2015


Every once in awhile, I need to stop and catch up.  I have to pause and write about some things, this and that, I learned along the way on this little path of historical research. 
In the last Local History Notebook that I write for the La Farge Episcope, I was ruminating on the beginnings of the Zzip Stop gas station/convenience store in La Farge.  I forgot to mention that when the Zzip Stop opened in 1987, the La Farge Co-op was also still selling gasoline.  After talking to Kevin Janecek, the present manager of the Co-op, he related that the Co-op stopped selling gas around 1990.  When that happened, the Zzip Stop was the last and only place left in town to buy fuel for your automobile.
            After that column on the Zzip Stop came out, I was chatting with Megan Stone, the friendly gal at the cash register of the Zzip Stop.  She informed me that there was no hyphen in the Zzip of Zzip Stop.  I was aghast, as I had changed the spelling of the gas station several times as I wrote that column.  I originally had it spelled Z-Zip with two capital Z’s, but edited it down to one capital Z and one small case z.  But through the editing process, I had not noticed that there wasn’t a hyphen in the name of the business. So, for now, Zzip Stop with two Z’s (one big – one little) and no hyphen should be correct.  If you think differently, keep it zzipped!
Joe Young called me last week about the Lyons School.  Harry Peterson has been trying to take photographs of all the old country schools that once were in Vernon County and had contacted me about that school’s whereabouts.  I wasn’t sure, but Harry and I had both heard that the school had been moved to La Farge and converted into a residence.  The problem with that story was that I couldn’t find anyone among my reliable history sources (not to be confused with my unreliable history sources) that knew anything about that move of the schoolhouse to La Farge.  Turns out it never happened.  The schoolhouse burned down back when it was still being used as a school.  According to Joe, some of the students had to go to Fairview School after the fire.  I also heard from others that some Lyons School students went to Tunnelville School after the fire.  Some of the remains of the old school are still visible along the old roadway that once ran from Tunnelville out to Buchanan Ridge.
Later, another Lyons School was built and in 1951 that schoolhouse was moved to Viola.  (So we had part of the story right; the school was moved to a town, but it was Viola and not La Farge.)  John Burnard lived in the school that became a residence for years.  Now it is owned by Max Perkins, who gave me a phone call about the old school house, its location (on the corner of McKinley & York Streets in Viola) and some of its history.  Harry now has a photo or two of the former schoolhouse as well.
Harry was also looking for the Buckeye Ridge School.  Art Thelen filled me in on the final journey of that old country school.  Years back, after the school closed due to consolidation, the building was moved down off the ridge to a property along Plum Run Road.  But the school was not well maintained and, alas, soon fell into disrepair and collapsed in on itself.  Eventually the property was cleaned up and the old Buckeye Ridge School became a large pile of ashes.
I have this file saved on my computer screen called “LHS Strikeout Kings”.  It is the possible genesis of a column on notable La Farge Wildcat baseball pitchers with lots of K’s.  While conducting some research recently on what was happening in La Farge back in 1976, I found where Van Bergum had been named an All-Conference pitcher in his senior year at LHS.  Van had led the Wildcats to a conference championship that spring and had pitched two no-hitters along the way.  In one of those No-No’s, Van had struck out 16 batters.  That rekindled my wondering who held the school record for strikeouts in a game. 
In May of 2013, Josh Lisney had struck out 20 batters in ten innings in a 1-0 LHS win over Seneca.  At the time, everyone wondered if that was a school strikeout record.  As it turned out, it wasn’t.  Upon examining the contents of the Years past in La Farge column in the October 27th issue of the La Farge Episcope, we found that Mac Marshall Jr. struck out 22 batters in a 9-inning 1-0 win over Wauzeka.  That strikeout total of Mac’s was a Kickapoo Valley League record (which I’m assuming stood the test of time).  It’s interesting to note that both Mac’s and Josh’s strikeout totals were reached in extra-inning 1-0 games won by La Farge.  Ironically, in that 2013 game in which Josh fanned twenty Seneca batters, the game actually went eleven innings.  But by WIAA pitching rule, Josh had to leave the mound after the tenth inning, thus never having the chance to challenge Mac’s school record.  Are there any other stories out there about LHS hurlers and their strikeout exploits? 
            Another notable accomplishment in high school athletics was achieved a couple of weeks back by a former LHS student.  Mark Johnson, LHS Class of 1980, coached the Eau Claire Memorial High School girls’ cross-country team to a second straight WIAA D-1 state title!  Johnson, who is the co-head coach along with Angie Rush, watched the Old Abe runners win the D-1 title over the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids on October 31.  It was plenty of treats and no tricks for the girls in the purple and white of Eau Claire Memorial that day.  Way to go MJ!
            Several people have talked to me about the question that has arisen recently regarding the Viola Horse & Colt Show.  When did the Horse & Colt Show switch from being always held on a Friday to being held on a Saturday?  My rather vague recollections put the change at about 1960.  I seem to remember of the change being made at the insistence of the principal at the Viola school because he didn’t want the students in Viola to be missing another day of school.  It seems to me that the students at La Farge also got out of school when the Horse & Colt Show was held on Friday, so there was some consternation by the upriver students about the change as well.  I must admit that my memories of this are rather murky.  Can anyone clear away the clouds?
            A friend recently talked to me about a column written last month by Matt Johnson, the editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster newspaper.  Matt’s column addressed a division that he saw in the city of Viroqua between the old-timers (people born and raised in the area) and the newcomers.  He identified the newcomers as the people who have recently moved to the city and as those that espouse charter schools, home schooling, alternate and back-to-nature lifestyles and have other sorts of  “New Age” credentials.  Matt saw the newcomers as almost isolating themselves from the community at large through their choices of lifestyle.  I found that observation by Matt interesting because usually one would view the separation to be caused by the non-acceptance of the new people by the more traditional establishment folk.
            My friend, who moved to La Farge in the 1970s along with many other “Hippies”, “Back-to-the-Landers” and other societal dropouts of that time, said that he never felt that separation in the community of La Farge.  He said that he thought the “new” people of that time were well accepted in La Farge.  I tend to agree with him for the most part.  Generally, Kickapoogians are not a group that wants to put on airs (for some very obvious reasons), so acceptance of others may come rather easily.  It is interesting to note though that at the same time as there was this influx of new blood into the community, La Farge was being torn apart over the controversy of the dam project.  Perhaps the La Farge locals did not have time to discriminate against the newcomers since they were so busy staking out their sides over the dam story.  I will write more about these dynamics of division within the community at a later time.
            I also want to send a “Shout Out” to the folks at North Crawford High School for their recent production of “Fiddler on the Roof”.  The students, faculty and entire community came together to make the 48th season of musical theater at North Crawford a rousing success.  Historically, I found the production interesting in that this was the third time that “Fiddler” had been done at North Crawford.  The musical had previously been done in the school years of 2000-01 and 1973-74 and there were cast members from those two previous productions in attendance the night we saw this years production of “Fiddler”.  I found that connection with the past quite amazing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


A chaotic occurrence happened in La Farge for several days last week.  The Z-zip Stop was kind of closed!  It was more like a Z-zip Stopped!  There was nowhere in the village to buy gasoline or diesel fuel!  Citizens of La Farge were without the conveniences of a convenience store!  EEK!
            The mayhem began around 10 pm on the evening of Sunday, October 25th.  As the Z-zip Stop closed its doors for the evening, machines of evil destruction moved in.  In the darkness of night (although lighted by the village streetlights and the lights of the business itself) the pulverization of the parking lot occurred.  By morning the gas pumps were gone, never to be seen again (actually, they stood over by the alley next to the motel).  The cement of the parking lot was completely pounded to pieces save for a new portion between the pumps and the sidewalk next to Main Street that had been poured only a week prior.  As people sleepily drove towards La Farge’s only gas station/convenience store that Monday morning, expecting to pick up a cup of Joe or their morning newspaper, they were shocked to see the parking lot marked off with the yellow tape of a crime scene.  Going to the Z-zip Stop was a no-go; business as usual was stopped!
            Actually, regular customers to the Z-zip Stop should not have been that amazed at the goings-on there that morning.  For the previous week, there had been a sign in the front door warning customers, “NO GAS OR FUEL!!” followed by a lengthy explanation on the renovations planned for the business for a few days (and the days were individually listed when there would be no gas) of the following week.  But who has time to read such proclamations?  Certainly not most of us loyal customers needing our daily visit with Jenni, Megan, or Diane, who all work at the Z-zip Stop. 
I had read the sign on the door, a couple of times actually as there had been some editing done to the original warning, but still I was totally unready for the days of deprivation.  I had even mentioned to Jenni on one occasion prior to the “Eve of Destruction”, as she punched through my lottery cards, that it looked like there wouldn’t be any gas available for a few days.  She shot me back a wary glance and muttered something about how it might be longer and that wouldn’t be the only thing not for sale.  I should have known!
As I stood on Main Street on that fateful Monday morning with other people wondering how we could get to the front door of the Z-zip Stop, I contemplated on when was the last time that the village had been “gasless”?  How long had it been since there was no place to buy gasoline in La Farge for your vehicle of choice?
We could go back to that terrible day in September of 2001 when the terrorist attacks on America took place.  The fear that followed caused a gas run in La Farge that evening as the line of vehicles wanting to gas up or top off reached beyond a block long.  The gas tanks at the Z-zip Stop ran dry that night due to the panic.
Earlier, when the last set of gas pumps were installed at the Z-zip Stop (I believe those were the second set of pumps there at the station), they had the credit card feature added so gas could be purchased even when the station was closed.  Before that, there were those after-closing evening hours when you could not buy gas in town.  When you have one gas station in town – that can be a problem. 
Back in the heyday of La Farge’s Main Street business district, there used to be nearly a dozen places where you could buy gas.  Someone usually knew someone who could open up one of those La Farge business places and sell some late night or early morning gas to you.  (I can remember such phone calls to my Dad when he owned C&S Motors back in the 1950s and ‘60s.)
            Later when the number of businesses selling gas in La Farge decreased, those places being closed at night or on weekends really became a problem.  When the oil crisis of the early 1970s hit America with a gasoline shortage, small town gas stations like La Farge’s could not get enough gasoline to last for seven days, so closing on weekends was almost mandatory.  Later when the number of gas stations in La Farge diminished to two or three, sometimes none were open for business on Sundays.  (When we operated the root beer stand in La Farge back in the early 1980s, we would often be the only business open in La Farge on a Sunday evening.  Many a time, we had to send folks new to town out to Viroqua for gas on those summer Sunday evenings.)
The Z-zip Stop opened on La Farge’s Main Street in 1987.  It was the first convenience store/gas station type of business in the village. Soon after it opened, the other gas station in town – Steve Olson’s Citgo Station – closed and the gas pumps fell silent there.
            The new Z-zip Stop was located on the southeast corner of the village’s Main and Silver Street intersection.  Previously, there had been a car lot on that corner that once had been used for the garage located across the street.  Next to the corner lot, was an old two-story building that last housed storage for parts and an office for Jack Caucutts’ plumbing business.  Next to that was another two-story building that had housed the offices of the Epitaph newspaper.  Both of those old buildings were torn down to make room for the new gas station.  After the Z-zip Stop opened, that corner soon became the busiest place in town.
            Gary Leis was the guiding force behind the new business in La Farge and provided the money for the construction.  He was the owner of Leis Oil in Viroqua and ran a similar gas station/convenience store on the north side of that city as the one he was building in La Farge.  When interviewed for an article that appeared in the January 22, 1987 issue of the Epitaph-News, Leis said the La Farge station/store would be similar to a Kwik-Trip or Quik Stop operation.  The business would be housed in a 64’ x 34’ building and would include a full line of convenience items, ranging from coffee and soda pop to basic groceries. 
            Leis went on to say that an in-store delicatessen would also be part of the business with fresh sandwich specials everyday and pizza for sale by the slice or pie.  He also said that the deli operation selections would depend on “what business in La Farge requires”.
            Leis added, “We’ll be installing two dual pumps for regular and unleaded gas.  We plan to feel it out for the size of La Farge.  If business calls for more pumps, we’ll put them in.  We won’t blacktop the lot until it settles, so putting in extra pumps shouldn’t be a problem.”  A diesel fuel pump was also added when the business was first built.
            Leis planned to have the store open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but added that could change.  “We’re going to adapt our store to the needs of La Farge.  I don’t know what the economic impact will be, but I have high hopes or I wouldn’t be doing it.”
            Needless to say, the economic impact of the new business was HUGE (going Donald Trump here) for the little village.  In many ways, the Z-zip Stop, so new to La Farge, was old-fashioned in its hours and service.  Being open every day for seventeen hours a day harkened back to a time when many La Farge places of business kept those same kinds of schedules to meet the needs of their customers.  Businesses stayed open late for the farmers coming to town after the evening chores or for the laborer working late at the sawmill.  More than once in the village’s history, there were disputes between the churches and the business places about being open on Sundays.  But the businesses stayed open for the most part to accommodate the customers who couldn’t shop on any other day but Sunday because they worked twelve hours a day or more on the other six days of the week.
            So, it took until Tuesday afternoon for me to figure out that the Z-Zip Stop was actually open!  You just had to use the back door to get in.  The new gas pumps had arrived late Monday afternoon and they had been moved to another spot nearer Main Street by Tuesday.  They were still in the same place on Wednesday, but the site was nowhere near ready for installation of the pumps.
            Z-zip Stop owner Shane Nottestad (he had purchased the business from Leis in 1993) was nowhere to be seen as the construction progressed slowly onward.  But by Thursday the pumps were lifted into place atop their concrete pedestals and by late that evening, there was a way for the villagers to buy gas and diesel fuel once again!  That night cement was being poured between the pump island and the store.  More of that cement work followed on Friday.  That morning, the way was open to access all the new pumps from the Main Street side.   The village was saved from its gas deprivation!