Pictures certainly have stories to tell

Jerry Apps
So many stories buried in one picture of the Apps' farmstead in Waushara County.  Stories of farm life in the1950s, when there were family farms everywhere.

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  For me, a picture is also worth many stories, stories that may have not have been told for many years.  A couple week ago, my brother Donald and I gazed at the picture of the home farm’s buildings.  It was an aerial photo taken in the late 1950s, after my two brothers and I had left the farm, but our father and mother continued farming.

We looked at the photo of the old barn, really two barns in one.  We had moved the larger barn to the farm shortly after World War II.  What a task it was to move a barn of that size.  Pa had purchased the barn from near Heffron, which was about five miles north of our place.  Don and I talked about how we spent several days trimming back tree limbs along the country roads where we would haul the barn.  Not an easy task.  Then we talked about the day that the barn was moved.  The mover had attached wheels to the corners of the big structure, and then with his truck along with our Farmall H tractor and our neighbor, Bill Miller’s John Deere B, we pulled the huge barn—it took up the entire road—from Heffron to our farm.  It moved along at about three miles an hour.  And what a sight to see.  A barn moving down the road.

We noticed the big straw stack just beyond the barn, and commented that that the photo had been taken shortly after we had threshed.  This brought back memories of threshing machines and threshing dinners, and moving from farm to farm during threshing season.  Pa and Bill Miller owned a threshing machine together, so we had first had experience with that complicated machine with its pulleys and belts running every which way.  We remembered how important the straw stack was to our dairy farm operations, as the straw providing bedding for the cows that remained in the barn throughout our long, cold Wisconsin winters.

We commented on the brooder house, just west of the barn, where we started all the baby chicks that arrived each spring by train.  We looked at the machine shed on the west side of the farmstead, with its crooked doors built by a carpenter who had celebrated a bit too much the night before he worked on our shed.

So many stories buried in one picture.  Stories of farm life in the1950s, when there were family farms everywhere.  Now, all but a handful of them are gone.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: So many stories from old photos—stories that should be told, and remembered.

Jerry Apps

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 or contact him