Garden Diary - November 2021

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Christmas on Howell Living History Farm
Saturday, 4 December 2021

There's a sign at the turn off Route 29, announcing today's very popular event.
Probably the most popular of the whole year - Santa and Mrs Claus are here!

Today, visitors sign in at the table outside the barn, then walk through the open door.

The Jugtown Mountain band is here, performing songs of the season.

There's a tree, decorated with ears of corn, miniature Santas, some heads of sunflower seeds, tassels of. . . maybe sorghum too. A huge bag bedecked with red bows and filled with hundreds of pounds of corn, ready to go to be milled into cornmeal. Cleaned fleece and a spinning wheel.

A bushel basket filled with acorn and butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and leeks.
Howell Farm, you see, has been donating literally tons of cornmeal, whole wheat flour,
and vegetables to nearby food pantries and food banks. Eggs from their chickens too.
There's a long table with a display of honeynut squash and a box of butternut squash,

a bag of Siberian kale, another of collards. And a jar for donations.

Out the door opposite the entry, and there's a display of wreaths and door swags for sale.

But when you walk up to the farmhouse there are several craft tables set up, including
one for making a door swag of your own with natural material foraged here on the farm.

One of Santa's elves is making popcorn over a wood fire. Little cones of popcorn are handed out.

Excitement! Here comes Kevin, driving a team of horses and a buckboard
with an enormous Christmas tree. Children are following, their parents too.

Chester, the farm's elderly "ambassador" horse has his groupies too. Instagram moment.

But what this gentle giant really enjoys is another mouthful of still-green grass.

There are so many Instagrammable options - an old fashioned sleigh with swags
and sleigh bells, plaid carriage robes . . . and an ever changing cast of children.

But the real excitement, announced by the haunting scream of a steam whistle is

the Case steam traction engine. It's huge. It moves. It takes two hours to fire up a head of steam.

Several years ago I asked Reinhold Steigerwald, my go-to friend at Howell Living History Farm about the history of the engine. He, alas, is now gone. But here is what he told me: "This steam engine was built in 1907 by Jerome Increase Case (aka J.I. Case) in Racine , Wisconsin. At that time they were the biggest manufacturer of steam engines. And they are still in business.

"It is a 65 HP engine meaning 65 HP at the flywheel, about 20-25 HP at the drawbar. . . . If I remember correctly, the boiler maximum pressure is 125 PSI, regular operation pressure at 80-100 PSI. The little whistle (signaling whistle) was on the steam engine in the old days, the big one is a locomotive whistle.

"The steam engine runs, it is inspected yearly, and is owned by the farm ( meaning Mercer County.) For that reason we can only operate it on the farm (and New Jersey) . . . . We would need a different inspection in PA or any other state. "

Notice the pair of eagles on the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co. cartouche and on the boiler.

There's a story. In 1861, Chippewa Indians traded an eaglet to a Jim Falls resident for corn. He raised it, and then sold the eagle to the captain of the Eau Claire Company C of the 88th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. The eagle was their good luck mascot in their 40-some battles and skirmishes during the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War. Company C named the eagle Old Abe after then U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Jerome Increase Case saw the eagle flying and screeching overhead during a military parade in Eau Claire while he was there on a business trip. And the J.I. Case Tractor Company incorporated Old Abe into its logo in 1865.

Here comes the steam traction engine! Scream of the steam whistle and billows of steam.
Bridge washed out in Hurricane Ida? That's not a problem, the engine just fords the stream.

There's an engineer driving the machine, likely a fireman to keep stoking the firebox.
But most important of all are Santa Claus himself, and rosy cheeked Mrs. Claus too.

They've arrived, stepped down, settled in their chairs. And now children can come
and say hello. Dare I say, another Instagrammable moment. Christmas on the farm.

Things will now quiet down on the farm. There will be an ice harvest, late in January. That's if the weather has been cold enough for the pond to freeze. And sometime in February, just when is again dependent on the weather, it will be time to tap the maple trees and boil the sap down into maple syrup. Soon they will have the 2022 event calendar up and you can look to see what's ahead and the dates.

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