Back down the line

Classic Farm and Tractor – May/June 2019

By: Anthony Lovelace

I am looking forward to this visit. This picture is really interesting and has a lot of small detail in it. If I remember correctly, when I bought the picture, it said it was a town in Wisconsin, although it didn’t list the exact town. This first thing I did was take a close look at the writing on the buildings to see if the name of the town was on one of them. I could not make out any town name. On the tall building, which I would call an elevator, there is a giant “A” and then underneath of that are what appears to be an R or B, U-E, then another R or B, then a clear C-E and the last letter is an R or B. Underneath that, it says “Elevator.” On that same building, if you go down to what looks like two garage openings behind the fellas in wagons, you can clearly make out “Milwaukee.” So I got to thinking, surely this is not early Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Upon further inspection of that sign, it says “Milwaukee Binders and Mowers.” So I didn’t think Milwaukee had anything to do with the location.

I then focused my attention on the building to the left. The picture is blurry; I would guess it was taken sometime in the late 1800s, but what I can make out on the building to the left is “Hardware and Farming Implements” right under the windows and below that it says “Hardware Paints & Oil.” I pretty much struck out on location.
You will notice that there is not one gasoline powered machine in the picture—everything is horse and wagon. I think it is really neat to see all the business that there is going on. It seems like this town had plenty of farmers to trade at these two establishments. I loved the fact that the railroad tracks were present and that next to the elevator, you can see some railcars lined up. It’s interesting—if you look closely, there are two guys standing on top of one of the cars; maybe they were hobos who just thought they would join in the picture or maybe they were worried about not being seen in the picture so they climbed up onto the railcar. Who knows? I see no spouts coming out the side of the elevator to fill the railcars, which seem to be for freight and not grain.
To the right of the gentlemen on the railcar, you will notice a tall exhaust pipe extending up. If you look closely, you can see what looks like smoke coming out. Follow the big exhaust pipe down and to its left is a small pipe with what appears to be steam coming out. Is there a big steam engine of some sort in there, maybe a steam powered cotton gin? Now look at the chimney coming out of the roof right above the window. I can’t see any smoke coming out of there— most of the gentlemen in the picture are wearing a light jacket or coat, but maybe it is not cold enough for a fire in the fireplace yet. I wonder if the fireplace was in the office.
Next look at the holes on either side of the window. I found those to be a bit odd; it even looks like some of them have been patched up.
Before we start our discussion on the men in the picture, let’s talk a bit about the hardware store. To me, it appears to be a pretty fancy store—upstairs must be the living quarters. I can’t really tell but it doesn’t look like there are any more businesses around these two, so the main part of town may be down the road or down the tracks a bit.
The men in the picture all seem to be dressed pretty nicely. I wonder, with the number of people and the way they are dressed, if it wasn’t the one day a week the country folk came into town. Out of all the people, I could only make out one woman—she is in the buggy just to the left of the railcar, which is the only buggy in the picture. The rest are wagons. I wonder if people didn’t find out the photographer was going to take a picture and flock down to these businesses to be in it. The guy standing in the door of the hardware store looks as if he might be the owner making a cameo.
One other odd thing, you guys probably won’t be able to see, but there is what appears to be a door just to the right of the railcar and when I look closely, I can see a blur like there was somebody standing there who didn’t stand still long enough. There are a few other gentleman who stand out to me—on the very right of the hardware store, it looks like a black farmer is standing there holding the reins to the team or horses in front of him. There are two other guys I found interesting—just to the right of the railroad tracks, there is a guy wearing a bow tie who is leaning against a horse; I didn’t think he matched the other people in the picture.
Now look right above him and to the left at the guy sitting there—he looks to be dressed more like a cowboy than farmer. The last couple of things about the guys in the picture—I noticed a few of them smoking pipes which, as a sometimes pipe smoker, I thought was pretty cool. The other thing is their hats. You do not see any of the “cowboy” hats we see today, but what you do see are bowler hats or what we call a derby. The bowler hat was the most popular hat for cowboys and railroad men to wear, not the cowboy hat that Hollywood and the rodeo cowboys made famous. The bowler was designed so that it would not come off in the wind, which was perfect for both the railroad and out on the range.
The last thing I want you to see is in the lower left hand corner. I first thought this was a pile of firewood or something, but when I looked closer, it actually looks like a pile of ceramic pipe. Maybe the town was getting running water or a sewer system or something. Or maybe the pipes have something to do with the elevator. I don’t know.
I hope you enjoyed traveling back down the line with me and I look forward to meeting again. Until next time, enjoy the present because tomorrow it’s history.