Tenure of Francis Langer 1933-1989

© 2017 by Edward G. Langer. All rights reserved.

After the death of his father, Francis, as eldest son, took over the farm. The early years of his tenure were difficult since he was starting out during the Great Depression. It was expected that Gertrud would help with the milking when she moved to the farm. She tried to milk the cows but was unable to because her hands swelled up too much. Her other responsibilities were for the house and the garden. Francis had the assistance of a hired man on the farm until the eldest son, Vern, was old enough, 14, to work on the farm. The hired men generally lived with the family and stayed in the small downstairs bedroom on the south end of the house. These hired men included Van Harris’ brother Glenn. Prior to the war he made one improvement on the property. In 1938, the chicken house was built below the granary by Uncle Ed Pitterle and Cousin George Pitterle. It is 20 x 42 feet. Unfortunately, this building proved to be poorly sited for poultry, due to a lack of adequate ventilation.

They built a new garage in 1949 at a cost of $500.

The Second World War did not have a serious impact on the family because Francis received a deferment due to his farming. These farm deferments were jokingly referred to as “hiding beneath the cow’s tail.” The Langers did grow a new crop, hemp, which was used to make rope. At one time, German prisoners of war were sent to help with the harvest. Francis still remembered enough German to converse with them.

It was late in the war, about 1944, that the Langers started to raise turkeys. They kept most of them on the range. With rationing of food during the war they had to be careful that turkeys were not stolen during the night. Francis became extensively involved with this industry. Francis signed the charter for the state’s turkey council in a lawyer’s office in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He and Gertrud went to turkey conventions almost every year. Some of these were state conventions and others were national conventions. These were held in Minneapolis, Eau Claire, Chicago and Milwaukee. They stayed in the turkey business until about 1962.


It was under Francis that a shift from the growing of grains to the growing of vegetables occurred. Vegetable crops — including sweet corn, sugar beets, pickles and peas — were raised for sale to canning factories. At one point even popcorn was raised.

Francis produced certain foodstuffs for direct sale to consumers. Turkeys were a big product during the forties and fifties. He also planted strawberries and pickles for sale directly to consumers.

After the war, his financial picture improved for two reasons: first the market for agricultural products improved and secondly he could now use his children as labor rather than relying on hired help. One of his first improvements after the war was a luxury — in 1949, he built the garage to house his cars. It cost him $500.00 to build. He also attempted to start a fish operation in 1949 (???), by building a fish pond west of the buildings and stocking it with large-mouth bass and bluegill. However, the pond was quickly overgrown with weeds, which doomed the fish, but did not interfere with its primary use as a swimming hole and ice skating rink. On February 16, 1949, Francis registered the farm name •Green Acres• as part of his turkey marketing. Due to the tremendous market for turkeys after the war, Francis built the freezer house in 1954 as a retail outlet for turkey sales at a cost of $3,000.00.

Francis’ eldest son Vern was expected to take over the family farm. Francis tried to force Vern to quit school after his sophomore year in high school. Gertrud, who had a teaching certificate from Oshkosh Normal School, vehemently disagreed. Fortunately, the State of Wisconsin passed a law requiring school attendance until a child’s 16th birthday. Since Vern was 15 at the start of his junior year, he had to start school that fall. Since Vern had started his junior, Francis reluctantly agreed to allow him to finish that year. After that year, he again wanted Vern to drop out of school but Gertrud prevailed and Vern was allowed to finish high school. Upon his graduation in May, 1954, Vern remained on the farm with the intention of taking it over. Since Francis used Vern more as a full-time hired hand rather than as a partner, Vern did not take over the farm but rather went on to college. What follows is his description of farm life in 1954.

Vern John Langer’s Description of Farm Life in 1954

(The following is Vern’s written description of farm life. Again, certain minor changes were made for purposes of clarification and flow).



In the late 40s, Francis purchased two small Allis-Chalmers tractors to replace the horses.
Since the 1930s, much of the horse-drawn farm equipment needed to be changed to tractor-drawn equipment.

Was anything adapted?

Henry said always had five hours – now down to zero



Did not seed hay by hand

Grain drill

Corn planter

Fertilization and Cultivation

Henry said done by hand – anything left – like cutting thistles

When was manure spreader acquired?


The threshing machine was long gone – replaced by a combine in 1935

Making Hay

Were they still using the fork and track system?

Harvesting Corn and Making Silage


Cutting Wood


Francis continued to milk two dozen cows in the early 50s since this was the milking capacity of the barn. The main difference in the milking operation was that it was no longer done by hand.

Francis had invested in ___ Surge milkers. The milkers were suspended by a harness below the cow. A rubber tube was connected to a vacuum pump which operated the milkers. These milkers used a tug-and-pull movement that was similar to the tugging and pulling of a calf. It was an efficient milker and markedly diminished the time required to milk a herd of cows. One of its best features was it easy clean-ability. There were no long milk tubing to try and keep sanitary but only pieces of rubber about 4 inches long. The tit cup was easily cleaned with a brush. Purportedly it took five minutes to take it completely apart and clean it.



Where penned

Free range?

Chickens and Turkeys

Chicken house below the granary.

Free-range turkeys.

Had home many roosting sheds?

Had to take water out – and terrorize younger siblings.

Built sales room in 1954 for $3000.

The Bees

I know Michael tended bees when I was small.

Farm Chores

Other Aspects of Farm Life

Francis and Gertrud also several remodeled the house a number of times. In the 1940s??? the upstairs was remodeled to put in a bathroom and to make the three-room apartment into two long bedrooms. In 1949, the kitchen was remodeled. In about 19??? a basement was dug below the kitchen to accommodate a heating system and plumbing. Previously there had been a cistern below the kitchen.

The farm operation allowed Francis to enjoy certain luxuries. He was able to buy new vehicles on a regular basis. He was able to bowl several nights a week. In the summer of 1965, the family as a unit built a swimming pool southeast of the house. However, it was plagued with cracks from its inception and was bulldozed in the late 1970s.

Farm Life in 1968

1968 was the last year of full agricultural operation of the farm under the tenure of Francis Langer. The following is description of farm life in the late 1960s.

Multi-Purpose Farm Equipment

3 tractors
Stone boat

Allis Chalmers WD

In October, 1969, he bought a new truck for $2290.
In May 1970 he bought a used Allis Chalmers tractor of $2350.

Per his depreciation schedule, the following equipment still subject to depreciation was used in the farm operation in the 1960s: a hower, Allis cultivator, grain elevator, Allis Chalmers W-D, 3 bottom plow, a Gehl Harvester, a field cultivator, a corn planter, a corn picker, a blower, an A-C cultivator, a manure loader, an A-C plow, a crimper, a baler, a wagon rack, a sprayer, a disc, a hoe, a harrow, a gas engine, a spreader, a feeder chain and a saw frame. (David, the auction flyer also has a description of some of the farm equipment.)


Francis moved into no-till faming during the 1960s. No-till farming is a method of agriculture which minimizes plowing. Crop residues are left on the soil surface and sowing and fertilizing is done with minimal soil disturbance. So rather than plowing a corn field after the corn was harvested, Francis used a newly purchased stalk chopper to shred the corn stalks remaining on the field. In the spring, he used a disc to prepare the field for planting.

April 1966 bought a disc for $788,

In March 1969 bought a corn planter for $2015.

Fertilization and Cultivation

Used chemical fertilizers and herbicides

Would cultivate corn using corn cultivators attached to the tractors

In April 1965 bought a sprayer for $237,


Francis replaced his combine

Did some work for others.

Francis continued combining for some neighbors up until his retirement. By the 1960s, the only neighbor he was combining for was Lester Will who lived on Highway 60 north of Clyman.


Making Hay

Big difference was the acquisition of a bale thrower. This thrower propelled the hay and straw into a wagon and so no one needed to stack the hay by hand on a wagon.

Harvesting Corn and Making Silage

In August of 1956 he bought a new elevator — could also be used for hay

Francis continued to make silage out of corn.

In 1958, he built the corn crib at a cost of $2,000.00.

Cutting Wood

By 1968, Francis had an oil furnace and so no more wood was cut.


In 1962, he built a new milk house to permit bulk shipping of milk to the Grade B market. This milk house cost him $1,200.00. Milk cans were no longer necessary because the milk was now stored in a bulk tank. Later, in 1965, the barn was remodeled to allow a switch to the Grade A milk market. The remodeling included enlarging windows in the barn and adding a pipeline milker. These improvements cost about $5,000.00. The building of the pole barn and the new milk house reflect a further move away from the emphasis on grain crops as the major source of income on the farm.

Milking was done by two sons at 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 at night. The boys divided up the cows so that each had half, with the elder son normally having first choice. The boys washed the udder and ______ with a sanitizing water, squeeze each tit to encourage milk flow and to check for the lumps that indicated mastitis and then attached the milking machine. The milking machine consisted of four cups. Each boy would have two milkers going simultaneously. They monitored the cows and when the cow was done milking, remove the milker and proceed to the next cow. The milk was automatically sent through the pipe to the bulk tank in the milk house.

After the cows were milked, the boys were responsible for sanitizing the equipment. Step number 1 was to remove the pipe that lead from the pipeline to the bulk tank. Chemicals were then added to the pipeline system to sanitize it. Then the pipeline was flushed with clean water so that it was ready for the next milking. One time David remembered he needed to remove the pipe leading to the bulk tank after he had started the cleaning process and returned to the barn. He raised frantically back to the milk house to remove the pipe before any chemical could be flushed into the bulk tank. He was not sure if he got there in time and spent a number of nervous days waiting to hear if Hawthorne Dairy had found chemicals in the milk. He must have removed the pipe on time since the Langer never heard from the dairy.

Most of the cows were docile and easy to milk. The main concern was being hit by a cows tail when she tried to chase a pesky fly. If the cow’s tail was wet, it stung. Periodically, the Langers had a very difficult cow. One of the worst was Zircon. David was responsible in breaking the heifer to milking. Zircon did not like being milked and frequently kicked anyone who got near here. To prevent the kicking, the boy announced his presence so the cow now he was going to get near her. Then the boy would carefully try to prepare the cow for milking. IF Zircon started kicking, the boy would trough a rope over the front shoulders of the cow. The rope would be tied just behind her front legs. The rope would be tightened by inserting a small stick and twisted it to tighten the rope. When the cow moaned, the milker knew it was tight enough so that Zircon could not freely kick without causing herself more pain. As soon as he could, David passed the milking responsibility to his younger brother Pat who in turn transferred her to his younger brother Edward who transferred her to his younger brother Terry. However, shortly after Terry started milking Zircon, she kicked him and so Gertrud told Edward he had to milk her in the future. Before leaving on a European vacation in 1969, Zircon was shipped to market for meat processing. Gertrud refused to travel to Europe and leave her young sons with this dangerous animal.

In contrast to Zircon, there was once a cow that was too friendly. She had a friendly disposition as a calf and responded positively to petting. She started a little game of trying to head-butt anyone petting her into the barnyard fence or the barn wall. The boys quickly learned to make sure that there was open space behind them when they approached her. During her first estrus, she attempted to mount Edward as he was switching fences in the barnyard.

As part of his retirement plans, Francis decided to stop milking. He planned to inseminated each cow when it was due for breeding and then sell it right before it was due to give birth. This resulted in the slow decline in the number of cows milked. Before he sold all of the cows, Francis sold the pipeline milker. This forced Terry and Edward to milk a few cows by hand until all the cows were sold.

The milking herd was constantly changing as older cows were shipped to market and replace by young stock that Francis had raised.


The raising of swine was phased out in the early 1960s.

Frances would periodically breed a Holstein with Herford semen in order to produce a Holstein-Herford mix. This calf was raised in the barn until it reached a weight it could be slaughtered for meat for consumption on the farm.

From Turkeys to Chickens

In 1959, Francis built the pole barn for the turkey operation at a cost of $8,500.00. The equipment in it cost $3,500.00.

By the early 1960s, profits from the turkey operation began to decline. In about 1963, Francis stopped raising turkeys and switched to raising chickens in the pole barn into a chicken operation. Francis contracted with Wyman Kastein of Alto Wisconsin who ran a large egg production business. At one point Kastein had two cage houses containing 22,000 chickens and contracts with five farmers to keep 40,000 laying hens. (“Nothing to Yolk About,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 24, 1977). Francis was contracted to care for 3000 new-born chicks until they were ready to be moved to a laying house when they are 20 weeks old. At one point, he was paid a penny a bird a week. Daily care of the chickens was delegated to one of the younger sons. For example, Edward was given charge of the chickens when he was ten. His responsibilities on non-school days was to walk through the chicken house three times a day to insure that the automatic feeding and watering systems were working properly. Additionally, he had to collect and tally any dead chickens and report to his father on any sign of ill-health of the chicken. Every Saturday he was tasked with cleaning the waterers to prevent infection.

Disease and illness was a constant concern for Francis. One way to combat diseases was by adding medications to the water. To this end, he placed in the rafters a water tank where he added medications to the tank water. He would then turn off the well water, and allow the water in the tank to flow by gravity into the chicken waterers. Sometimes when the boys filled the water tank, they would fail to monitor closely and it would overflow. The boys then had to remove and replace the soaking bedding.

One time, a newly arrived flock of chicks brought with them an infectious disease. The chicks stared dying by the dozens. It was eventually decided to euthanize all of the chicks by placing them in five gallon pails and then gassing the chickens. All of the bedding was then removed from the chicken house and the chicken house thoroughly sanitized.

In about 1966, Wyman Kastein did not have room in a laying house available for the 3000 chickens when they reached the laying age of 20 weeks. At this point the chickens were fully grown and the pole barn was very crowded. There were no laying facilities in the pole barn and so the chickens laid their eggs anywhere in the pole barn but most often in the corners. As more and more chickens started laying eggs, they would climb on top of other chickens in the corner in their desire to lay the eggs. Many chickens were suffocated. To prevent more suffocated chickens, Francis stretched woven wires over the corners so that chickens at the bottom had a chance to breathe. Conditions were horrendous • too many chickens, too much chicken dung, crushed eggs and clouds of dust and excrement. Edward was paid a dollar a gross for each egg laid. He remembers earning about $60 which means that around 9000 were laid in a totally unsuitable environment. Since this crisis occurred during the school year, Gertrud had to help with the chickens. As a result of her exposure to this toxic environment, she developed asthma and allergies that plagued her for the rest of her life.

As a result of this horrible experience, Francis contracted with a new chicken operation. Rather than raise 3000 chickens for 20 week, he was now contracted 10,000 chickens for 8 weeks. The day to day operation remained the same. Francis worked with this second company until about 1970 when the chicken company had problems paying Francis. Francis decided to phase out the chicken operation as he moved into retirement.

The Bees

By 1968, no more bees were raised on the farm.

Farm Chores

Other Aspects of Farm Life

Francis and Gertrud continued to remodel the house. In the late 1960s the dining room was enlarged by removing the wall on its south end. A picture window was added to the front. Although Gertrud frequently expressed the desire for shutters on the house and a fireplace, they never were added to the house.

During the early sixties, Joe Caughlin frequently helped with the farm work. During most of the sixties, a cousin, Louis Weber, also helped on a periodic basis. During the late sixties and early seventies, their second eldest son, Ralph, helped a lot on the farm during weekends.

The end of the decade saw a major change in the farm operation. In 1969, Patrick graduated from high school. This left Terry and Edward to help on the farm. Neither one was well suited to farming. Terry was small and Edward had suffered from a serious illness as a child which limited his physical abilities. He also had a bad attitude toward farming. Francis was sixty years old and clearly could not handle the work without a substantial contribution from someone. He was also looking toward retirement. He planned on receiving Social Security when he became 62 years old in 1971. Therefore the decision was made to phase out the milking operation. This was completed by 1970. The milking operation had been the major source of the farm income, and thus Gertrud’s paycheck as an elementary school teacher assumed a greater importance in the family.

Shortly thereafter, the commercial chicken-raising operation was also phased out. Young heifers were then run in the pole barn. Acreage was also rented to a neighbor, Harvey Haase, and to Aunt Nellie’s Canning Company in Clyman, Wisconsin.

He bought a new cultivator in 1973 for $730 and a four-row cultivator in 1974 for $1300.

Eventually, on Sunday, April 16, 1978, the farm equipment was auctioned off. After that, Francis retired completely from the farming operation.

Francis lived on the farm until his death on January 10, 1989. He was born in the farmhouse and died in, as he desired. His widow, Gertrud, was unable to live there alone and so the farm was put up for sale. It was sold on August 1, 1989 to Mary Selle, a neighbor.

© 2017 by Edward G. Langer. All rights reserved.