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Farm boys’ winter fun during the Great Depression | By Dave Bohn

West Bend, WI – For over 15 years, Dave Bohn wrote down memories of his childhood, growing up on the family farm, just south of West Bend on Hwy P. He hopes his writings will preserve the often-overlooked stories of ordinary farmers and everyday farm life in rural Washington County during the Great Depression through the eyes of a local farm boy.

Farm boys’ winter fun during the Great Depression


Winters were long back in the Great Depression. We didn’t have very good winter clothing by today’s standards, so we got cold quickly. I don’t know if it was much colder than it is now or if it just felt that way. I do remember being cold all of the time though. Only the kitchen stove was used for heat in the house so we kept all the doors in the house closed so the heat would stay in the kitchen.

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The radio was in the kitchen, too. We all would stay in the kitchen after supper until bedtime and either do homework or listen to radio shows like “Jack Armstrong, The All American Boy,” Ellery Queen mysteries, and the “Tom Mix Radio Show” about a cowboy.

Dave Bohn

Mom and Dad listened to the “National Barn Dance” on Saturday nights on WLS out of Chicago. They would also listen to the news and the farm reports on the radio. There were serials on in the afternoon, but I don’t think Mom listened to them.

Sometimes for a pastime in winter, my brother Tom and I would go to Rusco Creek (now known as Quass Creek) near our farm. We didn’t go that often because there wasn’t much to do there in the winter. We couldn’t even find a single fish or a minnow in the creek.

Where the minnows go in winter, I don’t know.  Rusco Creek never froze over entirely, as springs kept the water warm in spots. We would try skating on it, but there was never a big enough stretch of ice to skate because of the open water from the springs.  We’d also trapped muskrats and mink when we were a little older, as there was a market for them back then.

When there was enough snow, my brother Tom and I would go sledding. The milk truck’s daily pick-up of milk would pack down the snow from the road all the way down to the barn. It was good sledding there.

We would start up by the house and sled down to the barn over the path the milk truck made. When we were serious about sledding, we’d go down a hill on our land that ended up by our mailbox on Rusco Road.

Betty Nelson on a sled winter

Tom and I each had our own sled. My sister MaryAnn would go sledding with us once in a while, but not too often. My younger brother Gerry was too young, so he didn’t go with us.

Sometimes our cousins, Jim and Gene Bohn, would come over and join us with their own sleds. Our dogs always came along with us whenever we went outside in winter because they wanted to be around us kids.

Sometimes in winter, we played in the barn. The barn never had heat, but the body heat from 15 cows, 3 horses and later on, 200 chickens kept it warm. Even on the coldest winter day, the water for the cows never froze, so it was always above freezing in the barn.

When we were young, Tom and I and our cousins would play Cowboys and Indians in the barn. Our cousin Gene Bohn had lots of toy cap guns that he would bring along for all of us, so we all had a toy gun to use.

cowboy, horse

We played it like a game of hide-and-seek. We would hide wherever we could find a good place–and there were a lot of good hiding places in the barn. We would hide and try to “shoot” the other guy before he “shot” us.

We played this game in the lower barn by the cows and horses. Sometimes our yelling and running around would scare the cows and they would kick Dad when he was milking. That would be the end of the game, as Dad was not happy. Then he would shoo us out to play in the upper barn.

In summer, Tom and I played baseball; in winter, it was basketball. When we were in our early teens, we would play basketball in winter in the upper barn, next to the hay mow where the hay for animal feed was stored.

The upper barn was cold because the animals and their body heat were in the lower barn. It was almost as cold in the upper barn as it was outside, but we warmed up from running around, so it didn’t matter.

Boys from the neighboring farms, like the Kahlscheuer’s, Heppe’s, Ollinger’s, and Werner’s, would come over to play basketball with Tom and me. Some of the boys weren’t big into basketball, but it was something to do in the winter.  We used a piece of plywood for the backboard and a hoop we had bought from the hardware store.

We nailed the backboard with the hoop to one of the barn beams. We always had a basketball hoop in our barn, but we only had one, so we had to make up rules to accommodate for that. There were no referees to enforce the rules, but we rarely got into fights.

We only played basketball if we had enough players, and we had enough players only when the weather was good. The neighbor boys couldn’t make it if it was too cold out or the roads weren’t good. But we tried to play basketball about once a week. We would arrange the next game each time we finished playing a game, as we didn’t have a telephone at our house.

We almost always played basketball in our barn. We had electricity in the barn by the time I was a teenager so we would play after supper, around 6:00 to 8:00 at night. For the most part, I never played basketball anywhere else, except as a teenager in our barn.

I never liked winter. It was too cold. But we kids on the farm found ways to play and have fun back then. Winters weren’t easy, but that’s the way it was at our house and all our neighbors also. We just made the best of it.

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