Waushara County Gay Youth Have Positive Role Model In Pete Buttigieg, Non-Verbalized Lesson Mighty Important In Coloma

On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Waushara County. There are many reasons to cheer when a cabinet officer visits any small community, but in this case, there is an unstated reason which deserves comment.

As one of the crafters and motivating voices in the passage of the much-needed $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed last year, Buttigieg is now visiting places across the country helping locals understand the goals to be achieved. Coloma was where ‘Mayor Pete’ spoke about the construction trades that will need more workers as a result of the federal dollars being pumped into local economies.

The visit was aimed to talk about the national investment into our infrastructure on the day that high school students from around Wisconsin were able to get a first-hand look at the operation of heavy machinery, hands-on experience with mini-excavators, and meetings with industry professionals about apprenticeships.

And with the ample projects that are needed to be completed around Wisconsin, it goes without saying that the industry needs workers.

Buttigieg being in heavily Republican and conservative Waushara County allowed for something else to manifest itself, in addition to infrastructure needs. High school students who may come from homes where gay people are belittled or laughed at had an opportunity to see an openly married gay man with children. who ran for president. and now serves as a top federal officeholder.

Without a doubt, and statistically speaking, there were a few gay students in attendance on Tuesday. Having grown up in that county–in fact, about 10 miles from Coloma–I well know the tone and type that reside in this rural part of Wisconsin. That is not snarky wording but just a plain fact.

So I can also clearly state the non-verbalized lessons for gay youth concerning the power and potential for their personal lives were a lesson they were able to see up close. Whatever information they may have gleaned about potential jobs is far less important than the fact that living authentically matters.

All the snide comments and bigotry in these small towns can not stain the truth when Buttigieg walks up, smiles, and shakes your hand. It does not take your average student very long to discern the truth. The folks back home with their bigotry were just wrong.

Gay youth in these small towns must learn they can live their lives and have every single part of the American dream, from spouses to kids, just like their fellow classmates. Just like Pete Buttigieg.

When I grew up it would have been helpful to have had openly gay role models. Rural Wisconsin had such a man among them today. Thanks, Pete Buttigieg for just being you.

And so it goes.

Coloma, Wisconsin Man Indicted On Gun Conversion Equipment Distribution

Guns, guns, and more guns. Nothing good comes with a gun.

Prosecutors who last year charged a Clay County man with selling illegal machine-gun conversion devices are now also going to court against a Wisconsin gun dealer who raised money for his defense.

A new federal indictment accuses Kristopher “Justin” Ervin of Orange Park and Matthew R. Hoover of Coloma, Wisconsin, of conspiring to illegally distribute unregistered conversion equipment, which the indictment equates with distributing machine guns.

The list of charges from a federal grand jury in Jacksonville replaces one filed last spring against Ervin alone, detailing new claims from investigators’ probe of his online sale of credit card-sized metal strips under the product name Auto Key Card.

The 17-count indictment says Ervin’s sales took off because of publicity he received from Hoover, 38, who regularly posts videos on a YouTube channel about guns and shooting that this month counted 134,000 subscribers.

The indictment lists 10 dates between November 2020 and February 2021 when, it says, Hoover promoted Ervin’s product in videos and referred to autokeycard.com as the videos’ sponsor.

“Mr. Ervin was paying Mr. Hoover for the advertisements,” Jacksonville-based Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor told a judge in Milwaukee Friday. The indictment identifies Hoover as operating Coloma Resale, a store which is a federally licensed firearms dealer, but in court attorneys said much of Hoover’s income comes from his YouTube postings. 

And so it goes.

Letter From Home “Snowdrifts Beckon” 3/6/19

Eighty-one miles northward.  Fifty years in reverse.

The road where my dad grew up in Coloma, Wisconsin.

Most winters, over the recent years in Wisconsin, have lost their bluster.  The snows come late.  The drifts look anemic.  The cold can still bite but without the scenic wonderland of white there is just not the drama of the season.  Over time there has been little from Ole Man Winter to remind those with decades behind them what it felt like to be a kid.   And then came February 2019.

With sharp blasts of Arctic air, significant snow falls, and wind gusts that shaped and sculpted drifts the dreary landscape was transformed.  With the aid of dual-wing snow plows, and motor graders with massive front-end plows waging battle in the rural areas, the piles of snow started to echo the memories that older people recall from childhood.

This week, when James and I started northwards for a trip, there were no thoughts given that anything more interesting would be seen than the folks we were to visit.  We had traveled the same highway and back roads often over the years.  But it was not long after heading north from Madison that the sights started to change, and my mood–which was already chipper–took off with a broad smile.

Along the road were large molded drifts with the tops curled down and shaped by the winds.  A brisk raw breeze made for the continuing sifting and blowing of snow that arced off the tops of the drifts and came like wafts of white over and around the car.  Where the drifts along the road were continuous it was akin to following a semi on a snow-covered road.  I loved it.

But it was not until we reached the area where I grew up that I stopped the car several times on back country roads, grabbed the camera, and tried to photograph how I felt.  Winter in the country is much different from the same season in the city.

As a boy walking in the fields and woods back home I always plodded through snow deeper than my boots.   Without fail I would wind up with snow inside them and a need for dry socks.  I have not had that sensation for at least 40 years.

Standing on the roadways this week the bracing wind and the rustle of the dry foliage were the only sounds to be heard.  No traffic or hub-bub to block out the silence of winter.  In the city we forget that winter is a quiet season.   It is to be restful and restorative.  The snow is to be calming, pointing us inwards.  The country woods and open fields have always known that truth.

Childhood memories of snow drifts that covered a portion of the Buick in the driveway, or the blowing winds which sent snow through the crack in the back entry screen door still bring smiles. Mom was none too pleased with the snow at the bottom of the door but as a kid I marveled at how strong winter had to be to get the snow inside.

But it was while drinking strong hot coffee this week, while looking across the road at the old home place, that allowed me to recall another memory.  When dad worked at night plowing snow the yard light would be left on for his return.  It was those nights I would draw back the window coverings in my bedroom and watch the snow fall.  The room would be awash in light but the snow falling and blowing about was a tonic as I fell to sleep.  At some point I would awake and the light would be off.  Dad was home.

The work of the snow plow drivers was much in evidence this week–as was the power of Mother Nature.  In order to create the mounds of snow in the flat open areas there needs to be hours of howling winds and measurable snowfall.  With just the right velocity and amounts of precip the outcome mimicked what I knew as a kid.   I stopped the car quickly on the icy road just about a mile from the family home and yelled to James “this is what it was like”!

And it was.

Wisconsin has four seasons.  Some people like parts of each.  Some love a few, and much dislike one.  As I stopped the car for the umpteenth time to hop out and snap a photo I felt a bit like a kid.  It was a good day.  But I also felt something else, too.  Something that comes with experience and time.  It is a blessing to have four seasons and be alive to enjoy them. We should not wish time away to get to another season.  We should feel the bite of the wind, hear the crunch of snow underfoot, and thrill at the sight of snow lifting off of a mound taller than we are.

And we should never venture northwards in a Wisconsin winter without a hat in the car.

The road where I grew up in Hancock, Wisconsin.  Home can be seen slightly far right in middle of photo.

Riding The Rails With Fred Mertz—A Train Ride From Washington, D.C. To Chicago On The Capitol Limited

It may seem odd but the story of my train trip starts in Madison with a security guard at the airport groping me in ways that were not welcoming. I was pulled from the TSA line to have my suitcase opened and my over-the-shoulder bag examined. As I was having fingers slipped into the waistband of my jeans and hands sternly rubbing up between my legs I asked in probably a less than Midwestern tone what was happening.   As seconds passed an agent said it appeared that I had an ammunition cartridge in my shoulder bag.

Since I am not even sure I have ever shot a handgun in my life and clearly know I would never own one the idea that I had a weapon or ammo in my possession was simply ridiculous.   When they pulled the offending ‘weapon’ from my bag, which had produced anxiety for all, I simply said,   “That is my harmonica! I am going on a train trip!”

To some overly excitable ones that simple instrument of Americana that has made train rides so iconic had created high tension. While the TSA agents watched I simply broke into a big smile and started to put my shirt back inside my jeans, and belt on. Had I thought they would not lock me away I would have even given a quick musical riff.

It was nine days later that James and I walked through the historical Union Station in Washington, D.C., which is located only a few blocks from Capitol Hill. We were about to set out on my first real train ride.   James had done so years before but to make sure this trip was perfect he had bought a sleeper car so the journey would be relaxing and not overly taxing on energy reserves.

With our bags stowed away and the whistle blowing the gentle motion started that moved us away from the station and soon outside the city. It was not long before we had stopped at the Rockland, Maryland station upon leaving a small white church that could be viewed. There in a cemetery is the coffin with the remains of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The images of America started passing the windows. There were sections where the sycamore trees with their peeling bark seemed to be everywhere. The farms with their sloping hills of green looked lush. Horse farms with young ponies bouncing about in the late spring afternoon were as idyllic as the words make them sound. The brown of the Potomac River as we crossed it, and often rode the rails alongside it, seemed to be churning and restless.

James sat across from me and started one of the many books we had purchased on the trip. As I watched the landscapes turn from farm to small town and then back to forests he read portions aloud from David McCullough’s latest book, The American Spirit: Who We Are And What We Stand For. 

As he read portions about history and civics a long train that ran parallel to ours and carried countless cars of coal whizzed by.   Farms gave way to the mountains in West Virginia where the rocks had been blasted to make way for the rails. It was delightful to see bursting out of the seams of the rocks countless rose bushes that had found a way to live and add their beauty for train passengers.

As we entered Harpers Ferry the raindrops started falling from dark clouds that had dominated the skies of the region throughout the day. It was here that John Brown had hoped to start a slave revolt across the South in 1859.

As the evening continued we moved to the observation car and watched as the rolling hills and winding waterways and mountain views continued to pull at the senses. The whistle blew at every road crossing and small town along the way. The soft rumble and jostle of the train cars over the rails made me aware that babies must fall asleep easily on such a ride.

No babes were on this trip but a young sweet-faced Mennonite girl grinned at me showing new teeth starting to grow. She sat next to her family. I said hello and after asking how she liked the ride she smiled even more broadly and told me it was her first train ride. I said “Me too!’ She kept looking and smiling for many minutes as the train rumbled along.

James and I enjoy eating dinner later in the evening so it was perfect that we had selected an 8 PM dining car time.   As we entered the car and sat down I must say I thought of my sister, not a natural reaction at all given the severe differences I have with her. But it was the two of us that commented for years on the scene of the dining car on the Truman-like train that had stopped in October 1992 in Plover, Wisconsin, and allowed President Bush to campaign for re-election. Then the dining car was lit with white tablecloths spread over them, as waiters were ready to take orders.   Now as the Capitol Limited rolled along the darkening night in Pennsylvania that dream for me of eating such a meal would come true.

Our table mates that evening were a longtime married and retired couple from Ely, Minnesota. The conversation flowed, as she was a former employee with a state library associated with the workings of the legislature. The topics of their past train rides and our gardens and past experiences of one kind or another were effortless. The food was really very good and 90 minutes into the meal, which by then had reached the dessert stage, meant that they were yawning and ready to settle down for the night. When James and I asked how the food bills were handled the couple that had traveled often this way said it was already paid for in the ticket for those in the sleeping cars. I had researched so many areas of the trip to be prepared but had overlooked that item. With a nice tip for the waiters, we all departed.

At 11 PM, per our request, Perry, a jocular and truly most helpful Amtrak employee came to put our beds together.   I had launched into The Intimate Lives Of The Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming who is a scholar of the Revolutionary period, purchased at the Library of Congress. James and I placed our books away and got ready for sleep. But that was not easy when there are sights to see such as the colorful lights on the Pittsburgh bridge that demand to be viewed.

With the lights in the car out and the conversations ended it was time to allow the mind to reflect as the dark stretches of the countryside slipped away without making any impression.   It was then I thought of people like Eric Severaid who had ridden the rails in the Great Depression. John Steinbeck was another.   I thought of how Lyndon Johnson, as a young congressman, had made it his mission to get young men out of boxcars and into jobs.

My mind went back to my Grandma Humphrey, who I was too young to ever know before she passed, who always it was told to me, had food for the men who jumped off the train near the family home in Coloma, Wisconsin. The home was near to the tracks where hoboes would jump off and after sleeping the night in the barn and assisting with some chores for food would be off again on the rails.   As the whistle blew and the night scenes passed the images from the pages of history were what lulled me to sleep.

The ride for me was sleep-inducing and I actually was so deep into slumber I had dreams. When I would stir and turn over the whistle in the night was a soothing tonic and I fell back to sleep.

I am not a morning person.   Never have been. But at 6 AM I was awake and heard others rustling about in the train car. I got ready, slipped on my shoes, and walked into the main aisle of the car and it was there I saw Fred Mertz’s double.

He was halfway into his sleeping car and halfway out. But as he stood and folded some clothes it was a sight to behold. On his head was a sleeping cap that came from the set of a Christmas Carol where Scrooge prepares for bed. On his short and round body was a sleeping gown that went halfway past his knees. It was white with thin red faded stripes. In another era, someone would have asked for his autograph. Later I would see him once more dressed for breakfast and he even had the belt pulled too far northwards with his pants pulled high.

I was not interested in food but James and I still made our way to the dining car. And that is when I thought of my folks. On each summer trip out west, there was always the morning coffee and eggs that made mom comment that the smell was so welcome at the start of another day of travel. Then she added, “and I do not have to do the dishes”. With the aroma of freshly made coffee and my first sips, everything clicked.

The eggs and potatoes were nicely prepared and the table guests this time were two men who were veterans. One of them was an African American born in Talladega, Mississippi.   He had served in Vietnam and was now an assistant pastor in California with a Baptist church. He had liberal perspectives about politics and issues and was truly an engaging person.   Soon James was talking about a poem by Hugo and the man was taking notes that he thought might make for a sermon.

After a few more hours of traveling through Indiana, we passed Elkhart which was the inspiration for the Broadway play The Music Man which my high school put on one year. Once we entered the working city of Gary it was only a short time before the journey ended in downtown Chicago.

So why does this all matter? Why does train travel still have relevancy in modern America when a plane can take a person in a matter of a few hours what an Amtrak trip does in 19 hours?

First, everything that is faster is not necessarily better. To see the small towns and villages, the streams and contours of the land allow us to connect with one another as fellow citizens.   So much beauty and perspective are lost at 25,000 feet.

Second, there is something very special about traveling with others and not being strapped to a seat in a flying tube. Walking around and sitting here and there and talking with new folks—such as the two women from New York who decided to travel coast to coast on the train just to have the experience—is relaxing.   Their destination was Seattle.

One of the women moved near me and showed me on her phone where the train was in relation to Hancock on the Maryland and West Virginia state lines. I had mentioned my interest in the place as I had come from another Hancock.   The one we would pass straddled the Potomac River with its north bank in Maryland, its south bank in West Virginia, and its extreme northern edge in Pennsylvania. We talked for about half an hour and had a grand time.

The third reason train travel is important is that it shows the connections we have in this broad nation of many competing interests.   From Maryland and the areas of economic need in West Virginia on across the states to the homes in Gary, there were homes flying the American flag.   Some were on back porches of homes needing to be scraped and painted. Others were on a pole in lawns that were manicured while others needed mowing and then baling. But each time I saw one flying it was confirmation that the tissue that unites us is still there and real.   You cannot see that from the seats of a Delta flight and it is not a small thing to witness or feel.

I cannot more highly recommend that those who read this long account of my travel by train take a similar journey.

My Grand-Niece, Hannah Lietz From Coloma, Creates Ad For Local Newspaper Contest

Every now and then this blog takes a break from politics and posts about other things that are of interest to me.  This week the Waushara Argus had their annual insert where students from a variety of local schools created print ads for area businesses.   I noted at once that my grand-niece, Hannah Lietz from Coloma, was listed as one of the top finishers in her school for this undertaking.

This blog has noted almost every chance it can about the importance of newspapers.  Coming from a childhood where a daily newspaper was in our mailbox, and almost every evening dad would be reading the news from around the state and world meant that I too would become attached to the inky pages.  Between my youthful love of Buz Sawyer on the comic page to mom requesting for the hundredth time not to smear my darkened fingers on the white trim in the house—well, newspapers have never lost their importance in my life.    As a boy I would locate places all over the world named in the paper and then use mom’s very large hard-covered atlas to find them on a map.  There is no way to over-state the role newspapers played in my youth or how they shaped the man I am today.

I think the work that newspapers such as the Argus do each year with projects of this kind are most important to inculcate young people to the role papers provide in our daily lives.  From local news and high school sports, reports on meetings of town and county government, and the sometimes pithy letters to the editor allows local papers to be a connection for resident in small communities.

I commented to a relative this weekend as we journeyed down the genealogical conversational road about a real concern many have in this technological world. Where will the death notices and pictures and news reports one seeks for family research be found if newspapers are no longer a constant first writing of history?   The absence of a quick response, but a thoughtful quiet moment, made my point.

When I was a boy ‘Uncle’ Walter Cronkite was the anchor that most Americans watched as he informed us about the news of the day.  No matter where we lived, or what we thought, we had a point of reference as a nation when discussing the news.  To some extent the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times can make the same type of claim.  For it is these papers that often set the topic for discussion on radio, or by the pundits on the evening cable news shows.  I think it important that as a nation we have some points of commonality in viewing the issues of the day.  For much of our history the role of newspapers has played a key role in that mission.

Cronkite would often say that he had been allowed only a few minutes to inform the nation but citizens should turn to their morning newspapers for the full report.  That lesson is still most valid today.

So I am pleased that newspapers and teachers connect to make the point about the role of newspapers.  I also trust that when Hannah is my age she will know the sound of the morning thud of the newspapers as they land on her front stoop in the city she will someday call home.  It is a sound that I often hear in the early morning and one that always make me smile.  May it always be.



Andrew Jackson Should Not Be On $20 Bill

This week as I woke up one morning a conversation about the $20 bill was taking place on Wisconsin Public Radio.   In short, a nonprofit group called Women on 20’s suggested that it is now time to retire the face of  Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill and replace it with a bill featuring one of several prominent women from American history.

The fact we have no women on currency at this time makes part of the reasoning quite clear.  But as my mind that morning was adjusting to daylight and the harsh reality of another bitterly cold Wisconsin morning my mind jumped to a small fact that perhaps should have been added to the mix if for no other reason than the irony it held.

From my knowledge of history the bank wars that were central to his time in office should make all aware he was not the one most suited to have his face on any currency.  He was not a fan of paper money and had I already drank some morning coffee would have added these views on the call-in portion of the show.

Now that it is Friday afternoon and the week slows down I come back to this topic I had noted with a yellow sticky slip should be posted about on my blog.   While Jackson remains a colorful personality to read about it has been my belief that his lapses in judgment as a solider, landholder, and national leader should undercut any reason to consider him the only one who should be placed on the $20 bill.

There are many who talk of the “Trail Of Tears” as a reason Jackson should never have been placed on the bill, and why he should not stay.  I have perhaps more reason than most to feel this to be the case.  My relatives were on the infamous “Trail Of Tears”.

My Grandma Schwarz was 1/12th Cherokee, and I am 1/48th.   I am most proud of being first cousin, 6 times removed, from Chief John Ross.  He was also known as Guwisguwi (a mythological or rare migratory bird), and was Principal Chief of the Cherokee Native American Nation from 1828–1866.  My Mom’s side of the family always spoke with pride about their heritage.

It is with that same sense of history that I reject the idea that Jackson remain on the $20 bill.

Conversely on my Dad’s side there were those like Uncle Vernon who never wanted to know too much about the Native American links to our past on his side of the family.  When pressed about genealogy matters he often stated his concern about researching the past as “you never know when you will find a ****** in the wood pile.”    That racism and lack of curiosity was shameful.

That type of racist thinking ebbs away with the passing of time–thankfully-and we are left to examine our Native-American heritage with pride.

Richfield Dairy In Coloma Area Still On Track For Construction

Just a matter of when it will happen.

Estimated to cost around $40 million, the Richfield dairy’s development plans have been in limbo for roughly three years as the company faced court challenges preventing it from proceeding with construction. The facility would be home to 4,300 milking or dry cows and 250 steers, as well as two high-capacity wells with an annual maximum pumping rate of 52.5 million gallons.

Still, Milk Source is not exactly sure when construction on the new farm will begin. For now, the site where the CAFO would sit is bereft of any facility. The land does, however, continue to be farmed.

“It’s been growing crops since we purchased it in 2011,” Harke said.

During the three years the Richfield dairy has been tied up in the courts, the company saw opportunities for new facilities pop up in Hudson, Mich., and Medina, Mich. Milk Source is finishing work at these operations and will complete its work in Michigan before it starts working on its Richfield farm, Harke said.

“We got to finish up Michigan — we got to finish up (the project) in Medina, Mich.,” Harke said. “That’s the No. 1 priority.”

Although a start date for the dairy is unknown, the Richfield dairy’s details — including the farm’s designs and permits — are all set, Harke said.

Richfield Dairy Project Can Move Forward in Adams County, Coloma Area

After much controversy and litigation a judge ruled this past week that the Richfield Dairy Project can proceed forward.  An administrative law judge confirmed that state permits issued to Milk Source for the construction of the Richfield Dairy in Adams County are legal.  But added in the ruling was that the Department of Natural Resources does have the obligation to consider the cumulative effects of local water supplies when issuing high capacity well permits.

Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ruled that the Department of Natural Resources failed to consider the accumulated effects of groundwater use when the agency reviewed an application for a high-capacity well for a $35 million dairy farm.

Boldt says the DNR “took an unreasonably limited view of its authority” and failed to adequately consider “basic science” when it evaluated an application for a high-capacity well in Adams County in central Wisconsin.

The DNR is reviewing the ruling and the mega-farm operator is not stating they are ready for constriction at this time.

In his ruling, Boldt agreed that the DNR could approve the company’s application for a waste permit, which is required for the farm to properly handle the manure. Plans have called for 4,200 cows.

He also approved the farm’s high-capacity well permit. But based on scientific testimony in the case, Boldt reduced the amount of groundwater the farm could pump by 28% to 52.5 million gallons annually.

Milk Source was pleased that Boldt agreed the farm should be permitted and did not dispute the limit on water use. But it stopped short of saying it is ready to proceed with plans at Richfield.

The company has tied up capital on other projects, including two farms in Michigan, a spokesman said.

“This is a very important decision for us, and we are happy to have it after a three-year wait,” said spokesman Bill Harke.

At the end of the day the voters in Adams and the Coloma area who are concerned about the environment and the politics of mega-farms need to come to grips with how they vote.  One can not pick conservatives for office and then expect a political culture in Madison to operate–be it in the legislature or at the agencies–for the needs and goals of environmentalists.