Mail Call May/June 2016: Covered Bridges, Good Neighbors, Remembering Loved Ones and More

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Grit played an integral role in the construction of the 36-year-old wooden covered bridge, which is a photogenic attraction in the area.
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After a change of plans, Elaine manages her late husband’s Holstein herd with some help.
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Subscriber Elaine Nordmeyer crafted this quilt which showcases the covered bridges of Vermont.
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The Bavarian Inn Holz Brücke, or “Wooden Bridge,” in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Grit’s Covered Bridge

I’m writing you because we receive Grit magazine, and for decades our founder, William “Tiny” Zehnder, read the Grit newspaper. In about 1977, he read an article about the “last” of the wooden covered bridge builders out of New Hampshire in your paper. Tiny, as we called him, wrote a letter to Milton Graton, who was featured in your article. Within a year, Mr. Graton (probably 65-plus years young) and his son came to our Bavarian-themed town of Frankenmuth, Michigan, to talk about building a wooden covered bridge. A contract was hand-written between the two men – I think we still have it – on lined paper, and the process began to build our 239-feet-long, 230-ton wooden covered bridge, known as the Bavarian Inn Holz Brücke, or Wooden Bridge.

Your March/April article “Rural Bridges of America’s Back Roads” invited readers to submit photos of their local old bridges. I thought sending this story of how the Grit newspaper played an integral part in making our bridge a reality was a bit more interesting than just sending the photographs themselves. The bridge just turned 36 years old – likely the youngest wooden covered bridge built in the United States. The first cedar shake roof lasted 35 years. It just received a significant renovation this last summer.

Unfortunately, Tiny Zehnder passed away about eight years ago, but we are a family-run business, and Judy Zehnder, his daughter and president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, was intimately involved in the process.

Our 1,200-seat Bavarian Inn Restaurant is located on Main Street in “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Our German culture is celebrated with a Bavarian motif throughout the community.

We just appreciate how Grit magazine was an integral part of our history.

Bridge facts:

• Opened: January 1980
• Length: 239 feet; Width: 28 feet (Roadway: 19 feet, Walkway: 4 feet, 6 inches on each side)
• Used 163,288 board feet of lumber
• Weight: 230 tons; Load capacity: 18 tons
• Over 4 million vehicle crossings to date

Jim Engel, Frankenmuth, Michigan

Good Neighbors

Caleb – Welcome and good luck; big boots to fill indeed.

Hank was more than just an editor. We thought of him, sitting out in the yard on the old bucket, as a person who would listen and understand. Just like our country neighbors do: making time in the midst of today’s rush to nowhere; being kind and patient while understanding the shortcomings of other folks; doing what needs to be done, no matter the time or weather; responding to calls for assistance, which come without warning; never intrusive, always respectful; the entire clan always ready to respond to any emergency. They offer themselves as family, not just neighbors, and know of no other way to live.

My neighbors, Travis and Dena Bybee, are all of the above. She is a mother, his right hand, and teaches school. He is a father, a cattleman, and serves on the school board. Their lives are full from dawn to dusk and beyond, 365 days of the year. “Rest” is just another word to a farmer. Work is their life. Travis and Dena, like so many other great neighbors and friends across this land, never say “No.”

Joel Monteith, Preston, Missouri

Part of the fabric of rural America, Joel, and we could not agree more. Thanks to Travis and Dena for being one reason we love the country lifestyle. – Editors

Urban Neighbors

Country neighbors are the best at helping each other. My start in life was from country living, and even though I am now an urban dweller, the desire to help those around me is still active in my life. I live on a street where neighbors are all willing and able to help each other. The latest example of that involves an elderly couple who live at the end of the street: he had a heart attack three years ago, and she had a stroke four years ago. Neither can drive because he can’t see well enough, and she can’t react fast enough because of the stroke. I’ve taken on the task of helping them get to doctor, hair and shopping appointments. The rest of the neighborhood has helped with evening meals and visitation to pass the time.

It’s the natural course of things on my street to see a need and just help. I happened to mention the fact that I needed to clean out my gutters on Facebook, and the neighbor was caught on my roof like a little elf cleaning out the gutters for me. Well, of course, when it snows, I try to be the first out with my snow blower to get the neighbor’s driveway before one of the other neighbors beat me to it.

I plant tomatoes and green peppers for the neighbors on both sides, to pick at their leisure. Green beans seem to be another favorite, as well as cucumbers. We truly are a street community.

I kind of miss the days when the neighbor’s kids, who are all now teenagers, filled my driveway with chalk drawings.

Nebraska Dave, Omaha, Nebraska

Carrying On

I just read “Picking Up the Pieces,” (Our View, in the January/February issue) and I had to respond, as my story is similar, yet the opposite.

I’m a retired RN, who was married to a fourth-generation farmer. His love was Holstein cattle, and when I met him it was dairy, but he switched to beef when corn prices fell. He passed away suddenly in June of 2015. We had talked about the “what-ifs,” and the plan was for me to sell all the cattle immediately, because they needed continuous attention, and then hold a big auction for the machinery. You see, he grew all his own feed and independently managed the 165-head herd, from birth to shipping, with the occasional help of a high school future farmer.

My late husband, Greg, knew he wanted to farm and have animals from the time he was very young. This young helper had the same desires, but didn’t grow up on a farm. It was a perfect arrangement. Greg hired him more than four years ago, and I knew he thought a lot of the young man. That young man, Tom, offered to help me if I kept the cattle, and neither of us wanted to see them go.

So a new partnership began, and has been growing, right along with the remaining beef cattle. I know Greg would want to give him every chance possible, so together we are keeping the place going. Through the years of marriage, I have helped and learned, but had my own profession. Now, “the young kid and the widow” are learning together and keeping the place going – to the amazement of neighbors, I’m sure, all who have been supportive and helpful when I ask.

Farm communities are just that way. I can count on any of them to clarify any questions I might have. This farm will go on, but not through a fifth generation, as they live too far away to help daily. But it will be here for the grandkids when they come, so they will see what their Papa Greg was so proud of doing throughout his full, albeit shortened, farmer’s life.

Elaine A. Bellow, RN, BSN, Sole Proprietor, Bellows Farm, Eaton Rapids, Michigan

We love it, Elaine, and hope that the endeavor is profitable and long-lasting. No doubt that it’s been fulfilling, both for you and Tom, and that Greg would be very proud. We sincerely wish you the very best! – Editors

Barn Quilt

At the request of my sister, Elaine Nordmeyer, who is a subscriber to your magazine, I’m sharing photos of a quilt she made documenting the many historic covered bridges in Vermont.

Bob Buciak, Via email

Pressure Washing Walnuts

I’ve been reading my old Grit magazines, so I can pass them on to our son, who owns about an acre “farm.” The chicken stories are always interesting, as he has chickens and I grew up having chickens as a girl living on a farm.

I just finished the November/December 2012 issue, where I read an article about walnuts. I thought I could add somewhat of a different method to cleaning them.

We’ve driven over them and cleaned them with gloves and stained hands. My husband recently built a frame about 3 feet by 3 feet, and he made two frames. He put chicken wire with small enough wire so the nuts won’t fall out on each frame. Putting the frames on sawhorses, he power washes the nuts, then flips the frame and sprays again. It knocks the hulls off, and the nuts are so clean you wouldn’t be afraid to lick them. Make sure it’s over a driveway that you don’t mind being black and dirty. Pick up the hulls, and nature takes care of the black stain.

I know power washers are more modern and not exactly old-fashioned in the ways of homesteading, but if you do have one, they make nut cleaning a whole lot easier and cleaner. Last year we picked up more than 72 5-gallon buckets full to clean. I get addicted to picking them out, and we sell them at craft shows.

Karen S. Mekus, Defiance, Ohio

Pressure washers for cleaning nuts is a great idea, Karen, and we appreciate y’all’s rural ingenuity! – Editors

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