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When we bought the farm we have now, one of the first things I noticed was the pile of stones that stretched for 50 yards or so along the west side of the buildings, just inside of the willow windbreak.

This old moss-covered stone pile has a story to tell. The Coombes family, who owned our farm before us, never owned a tractor, so all of these stones were picked by hand, rolled onto a stone boat, and then with a team of horses toted to this place where they remain, and will likely remain as I have no intention of moving them. This old stone pile represents a lot of hard work.

I grew up picking stones as the home farm, which is some two miles from the farm we now own. Like the Coombes farm, the home place was on the terminal moraine—where the last glacier stopped.

Upon melting, the glacier left behind a landscape studded with stones. Stones as large as a small car. Stones as small as marbles. Black stones and red stones. Round stones and jagged stones.

With winter’s frosts the stones came to the surface each year. And each spring, we picked them, loaded them on a stone boat pulled by our trusty team of horses. We hauled them to stone piles scattered across our farm. My dad would often say, as we picked stones: “If nothing else grows on this farm, we can always count on a good crop of stones.”

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: Want to build some character: spend a day picking stones.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to www.jerryapps.com. 

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