Who are poor souls working in below zero temperatures?

Marie Krueger with her multi-purpose sled.

Marie Krueger with her multi-purpose sled.

By Marcie Klomp

Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton had already closed all public schools in Minnesota for Monday. Most local schools, including Howard-Winn., were also closed Monday. Not everyone’s work, or school, gets closed due to weather. Lots of folks have to go to work when temps drop to -27o (not windchill) like they did on Monday. Most of those have it relatively easy. From house to car and car to work, then back again. Others have to actually work in that god-awful weather.


Farmers can’t call in sick to work because the temperature is below zero and the winds are howling. They don’t just have themselves to look after. They have to take care of their animals as well. That means bundling up and leaving their nice warm houses to take care of the livestock.

~ That’s basically how Jerry and Marie Krueger, who live on the state line, get through the winter—one chore session at a time.

The couple is up at 6 and get out to the barn around 7, when it’s still dark out.

Jerry goes to the barn to feed the calves, mix up the milk, feed the cows and then feed the cow and calf. He comes in around 8 for breakfast. He goes back out afterwards for another couple hours.

During that time he cleans the barn and carries five-gallon pails of oats and corn to the sows. Jerry added, “I fill the hog waterers and sometimes that needs thawed out!” Of course, when it is the coldest is when everything goes wrong.

Marie has a different philosophy about chores. She just keeps going until she’s done. Then she can come in and relax until the next set. She’ll haul hot water to the horses. “I have a sled with three buckets. I also give them hay and oats.” Then she hauls some more hot water to the horse and colt in the other barn. Then she cleans the barn.

“We say we’re just one step ahead of the Amish,” she jokes. She uses her sled to scoop the manure onto and then hauls it outside. “It beats going forkful by forkful.”

The couple is done by noon for lunch and they start all over again about 3 p.m. A person may think they have three hours to relax, but on a farm there is always something—clearing snow, cleaning house, cooking, etc.

One good thing about working where you live is that when the couple gets cold, they’ll just come inside for a while! Jerry commented, “We must like it, we’re still doing it!”

Yes, the Kruegers are very busy, but they have slowed down. They used to milk cows, but Jerry decided after the new year to stop milking their one cow. Now they have to remember to pick up milk when they go to the store.

~ Jim Lensch and family of Lime Springs are dairy farmers and have many animals to care for . . . young and old. The couple has 47 dairy cows, 36 heifers, two beef and 22 calves.

The day starts off with wife Verla checking on the animals at 5:30-6 a.m., before she goes to work. He also gets help from son, Michael, who is a junior at Crestwood

Jim admits he starts later in the day than some farmers, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t put in the same amount of hours. He usually starts his chores at 8 a.m. and finishes around noon. “We start all over about 4:30-5 p.m. until about 10, when I go in for supper.”

He keeps his cows in stanchions for most of the day, letting them out for exercise and to get hay and silage for a couple hours during the winter. But on really cold days, the cows are outside only for a half-hour.

On those really cold days, “The outside animals get extra bedding, and we make sure the waterers aren’t clogged. They need to be fed, despite the cold. Right before a bad stretch, we put out additional round bales in case the tractor doesn’t start in the cold. You have to plan ahead,” he stated.

Jim pointed out things are a lot easier than they used to be—even from when he started 1988.

His dairy cows can lay on a mattress made of crushed car tiles. They no longer lay on the cement, where they needed bedding. This saves on having to clean out the barn as in years past. The family also has a manure pit that can hold the manure until spring—saving time out in the cold.

The cold weather always makes things seem worse than it is. Just the other day, the dairy cows and heifers got together and had to be sorted.

The cold can be especially hard on the very young animals. In fact, a cow was calving while Jim was being interviewed.

“Going from 102o to -15o . . . what a shocker!” he said. That is another thing that has changed. How to care for the calves in the cold weather. The calf is placed in a warmer, an enclosed pen not much bigger than the calf, where warm air is forced into. The calf will then have a blanket put on to keep it warm. Matthew says the warmer has made a difference in the survival rate of the calves.

~ Folks in northeast Iowa probably cringe when they see an Amish buggy traveling down the road on cold days. But when the weather turns frigidly cold, The Amish community isn’t much different than us English. They tend to stay inside as much as possible.

Fred Beachy and his friends enjoy playing hockey in winter. He wears two t-shirts, two sweaters, two pairs of long johns, along with coats, gloves and hats. In the negative temperatures the area has seen lately, they tend to stay away from the ice.

Beachy figures his construction friends try to find indoor jobs to do when it gets to be 20 below or more. “Working outside when you don’t have to is nuts!” he laughed.

The English cringe every time the furnace turns on in cold weather. Beachy says, “We absolutely go through more wood. We just open the damper up more.”

In regards to animals, he makes sure they have shelter in a barn or at least out of the wind. “When it’s bad, we turn them out for exercise two times a day. When doing chores, you do it as fast as you can and get back inside!”

Yep. Everyone, English or Amish, stays warm the same way . . . stay inside as much as possible.

Mail Carriers

Kelly Thomas and Norb Loftus are plucking their way in the cold, snowy weather. Thomas informed the paper he has good heaters. He did admit it takes longer to get around on the roads and he tends to make it back later.

Loftus said the cold weather makes it more stressful. “I bundle up more and make sure the windows are defrosted for safety.” He did have compassion for his fellow mail carriers who walk, rather than drive, their route.

He did worry one recent day when his car didn’t start. He had to get it started before he could even get to work. Present day carriers have it easier than their predecessors. Back in the 1920s and ‘30s cars had to be put up on blocks for the winter, and the mail was delivered by horse and sleigh.

Line workers

John Petru, who worked for the telephone company for many years, shrugged, “There’s not much colder than being up off the ground and fixing wires when it’s below zero. One time, it was 10 below and I had 10 lines not working.” One thing he found helpful was snowshoes. With the ditches full of snow, the snowshoes kept him from falling knee-deep in the snowbanks.

Emergency Services

~ Former Lime Springs Fire Chief and current firefighter Tony Roberts recalls the Rick Kirkpatrick fire as being the coldest fire he ever attended. “I remember being numb. It was bad. It was 20 below. Everything was freezing.”

He said ice was the biggest problem. “People were falling down and things were freezing up.” Because of that fire, the department made sure it had ice-tracks on hand.

“You couldn’t keep warm. We just kept rotating people in and out. Donna Leverson let us use her house and garage to let people in to get warm.”

~ Sheriff Mike Miner said the deputies get called to many scenes where they have to direct traffic or help during frigid temperatures. “The guys wear heavy clothing to the scene. We provide them with some parkas and stuff to keep warm.”

Nobody likes extreme temperatures. Those of us who have it relatively easy should definitely be sympathetic to those who battle that cold on a regular basis.


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