We were made to feel welcome in rural America. Rita had looked at me with lustrous big brown eyes, but then so had Jill and Freda. The calves and cows are kinda friendly down on the farm and we saw enough of them to realise why the slogan on the car number plates calls the State of Wisconsin 'America's Dairyland.'
We had explored winding country roads where barns with green roofs and high silver domed silos stood between meadows and crop fields.
At Hoards Dairyman's farm near Fort Atkinson we pulled over on to the gravel drive and checked our guide. Sure enough it was one that was listed by the local tourist office as ‘open for visits’ and was actually on the National Register of Historic Places.
We were welcomed and told that they had the longest continual Guernsey Herd in the United States, probably the world. Then we were shown over the milking parlour where each beast had it's name above the stall. Once outside again we met the small calves. They were particularly appealing and each had it's own little hut and pen.
We were assured that they do really well there, even in the winter when it can be thirty below freezing. They looked at me with large brown eyes. They seemed content enough but somehow I would preferred to have seen them, like the ones at home, out in the lush green fields. It’s great to enjoy a ‘fly-drive’ holiday and to be free to roam the countryside, we realised how lucky we were and felt sorry the farmers who always had to be around for the milking and got only every second Sunday off.
It was small town America and we drove past a sign that said “Stans Lumber” no nothing to do with Stanley’s current girl friend, just a hard wood store. Then there was the ‘diner’ or snack bar that had a sign that read 'beep beep' for kerb service.
It all seemed so different. There were wooden houses with unfenced lawns that ran down to the streets. Occasionally these were strewn with children’s toys and more adult playthings, like camper vans and speed boats. Then in one town centre we saw a giant paper mashé statue of a black and white cow. It stood in a place of honour as part of the celebrations for ‘Dairy Day.’
It was a warm balmy summer’s day and as we drove past a mountain of salt we found it hard to imagine the change that comes with winter when the chill winds and fogs come in off Lake Michigan. Locals joke that ‘Wisconsin has two seasons' - Winter and road repair. Severe winters mean icy roads so they stockpile a lot of salt.
There are fifteen thousand lakes in the State and one of the most popular ‘visitor areas’ is Geneva Lake. You can walk round it in twelve hours or do as we did, stroll part of the way and come back on one of the boats. They connect the different piers and as ours headed in it looked not unlike the ‘African Queen’ but there was no dishevelled unshaven Humphry Bogart in command. It turned out to be much more spick and span. ‘The Louise’ was built in 1900 and her highly polished brass gleamed.
Her steam engine pounded pleasantly as we pushed along at a steady 10 mph. We sipped our drinks from the bar and listened to a commentary about the mansions on the water’s edge. These included one made from chewing gumor to be more accurate the Wrigly's great house that arose from the chewing gum millions. It also had a barn shaped boat house that protected their twenty boats in the winter.
We were happy enough with our trip on The Louise. There are five boats in the fleet and you can take a two hour luncheon cruise during which a Mark Twain impersonator entertains with a few stories.
On Geneva Lake, like Loch Lomond there is a mail boat. The boats doesn't stop at it’s various calls but glide slowly along the jetties as the young lady jumps off and collects the mail. Once or twice a summer the postal person ends up in the water. It sounds like quite an interesting spectator sport. You can find real action there in winter when the lake freezes over. There is ice sailing for which 'Hoby Cat’ catamarans are fitted with ice blades and travel at speeds of up to sixty or seventy miles an hour. The participants wear full body suits and helmets.
But for me I think I’ll stick to my happy memories of the summer and cooling off with a Corona Beer. This comes with a piece of lime stuck in the neck of the bottle. You invert the bottle and let it float up ready to flavour your beer as you drink it, (like the locals,) from the bottle.
Allan Rogers visits Wisconsin and finds 'America's Dairyland.'