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W2299 County Road B, Dalton, WI 53926  
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  Evergreen  Ranch  History

The 200+ acre farm that would become Evergreen Ranch was acquired from Nettie Kidder in 1957.

For decades beginning in the late 1800's, nearly every farm in Buffalo township like this farm had a small herd of dairy cattle and the family that operated it was making a living growing hay, oats, and corn, milking a few cows and hauling milk to the cheese factory where it was turned into cheese and butter. By the mid 50's most families decided on a better way of life. The economic boom after WWII demonstrated to farmers that there was serious money to be made and better way of life in the city, especially when compared to farming where the natural soil lacked basic productivity. Some farmers remained part-time farmers, working in the city by day and farming by evening and weekends. Some sold off their cattle and continued to grow hay and corn which they sold to the bigger farmers.

The hay and corn fields on the Kidder Farm had been planted to rye in the fall of 1956 as a cover crop to prevent erosion by wind and water. The rather sandy soil was capable of producing a good cover crop of rye, but didn't do as well with hay, oats and corn unless Mother Nature delivered rain at all the right times and chemical fertilizer was applied in heavy doses at planting time. Jack had driven by the Kidder Farm hundreds and thousands of time since the Whirry Home Farm was just a mile south. He had often thought the Kidder Farm would grow trees better than it would small grains. As Vocational Agriculture teacher at Montello High School he had already found very inexpensive land for evergreen tree production, which he bought on behalf of the school. There was the 40 acre Montello School Forest south of Buffalo Lake, which he purchased for the school for $10 per acre. And there was a much larger plot of land north of Montello just west of Highway B called the Hungry Hills School Forest, 80 acres purchased for $4 per acre at a sheriff's sale. Both school forests had been planted to evergreens, primarily Red Pine and White Pine. The farms were invaluable outdoor forestry labs for Montello High School agriculture students and in time with Christmas tree sales and pulp wood sales would produce revenue for the Montello FFA, which managed the forests as guided and directed by Jack Whirry.

Driving by the Kidder Farm one day in early 1957, Jack decided to call Mrs. Kidder to see if she would sell it. It hadn't been seriously farmed in quite a few years. An old hired man had lived on the farm in the early 50's, keeping an eye on things. One night the beautiful old farm house caught fire and burned to the ground. The story was that the hired hand smoked in bed. That was his last cigarette.

A call to Mrs. Kidder produced "Yes, I'd consider selling it to you". A few months later "the ole Kidder place", as it was known to Buffalo Township neighbors, was sold to Jack Whirry and his partner in the deal Christmas tree grower Bill Skaife. In a few years Jack and Mickey would own 100% of the farm.

In 1957 the first tree planting was done on what had been corn, hay, and oats fields. The fields along the south line had fairly heavy soil and it was thought to be the right acreage for planting White Spruce. Skaife's old single row planter was early tree planting technology and the plan was to use Jack's dad's tractor to pull it. But it was extremely heavy and Jim Whirry's Allis-Chalmers WD wasn't powerful enough to pull it. Jack approached farmer and friend Carl Hartwig and rented what was the biggest tractor in all of Buffalo in 57. The Farmall Super M pulled that planter with the greatest of ease as 50,000 White Spruce were put into the ground. The weather was less than cooperative and only 20% of the seedings survived. So the next year the entire area was replanted with another 50,000 White Spruce. This time Jack rented a Ford tractor with a three point hitch from his uncle Arnold Whirry. A single row planter behind a 53 Ford was perfect since the hydraulic system allowed the planter to be raised and lowered easily for passing over the few White Spruce that made it through the first year.

The really serious planting got underway in 58 and continued through 60. Bill Skaife arranged for the use of a John Deere caterpillar with a double planter behind it. Jack and Bill rode the planters the first weekend as they began planting 100,000 Norway Pine and White Pine. The second weekend, Jack's cousin Bill Whirry joined the planting team and took Skaife's place on the planter. It was family affair. Jack's dad Jim Whirry was in charge of straight rows. He'd stand at midpoint of the field, which was more than a half mile long, holding a sucker spear with a red handkerchief tied to it high in the air to guide cat driver Jon Whirry across the long field. Jack was on one planter, Bill Whirry on the other. Mickey Whirry and oldest daughter Merry were in charge of separating trees and handing them to the men planting. And they'd both walk behind the planters making sure there was a tree every six feet. If Jack or Bill accidentally missed putting a tree into the ground at the correct location, they'll call out "missed one" and Mickey and Merry would plant one by hand. Jack's mother Irma was in charging of food preparation. The tree planting crew was fed roasted chicken and Irma's famous potato salad for a midday meal most days. 100,000 Norways and Whites went into the ground that fall. Another 100,000+ were planted the next spring.

The planting crew has vivid recollections of planting the field along County Highway B between the farmstead and the Greenwood Church. It was Easter Sunday 1960. Rain threatened early in the day but those trees had to be planted. Everybody had to be back at work and school the next day. Drizzle greeted the tree planting crew early in the morning. Planting started about 7:00 a.m. By midday drizzle had become a steady rain. In the early afternoon dark clouds had moved in and there was thunder in the distance but moving ever closer. Quickly there was a thunderstorm overhead. What to do? Leave the field and run for cover? That might have been more dangerous than continuing. With the accompaniment of thunder and lighting the planting continued. By the end of the day, the field was planted and the rain had stopped. Jack noted "Those trees got watered at precisely the right time." The crew who carried on though Mother Nature's fireworks display that afternoon, had both laughed and cried as the field was planted in the storm. "Nice rain. Should make for good survival."

Planting the field along Highway B between the farm and the church concluded the major early planning on Evergreen Ranch. Each spring since that time we've "planted-in" by hand where trees died or were harvested, or where it was determined that a few hundred trees could be planted for harvesting as Christmas trees. Grandpa Jim Whirry for many years had a major family garden on the south side of the barn. His garden acreage there and an equal size parcel west of the barn was planted to Scotch Pine in the early 70's. Likewise along B west of the farm entrance, we initially planted hundreds of Scotch Pine. As those Scotch were harvested, we planted-in with Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Spruce for Christmas trees. Today Frasers are the most popular Christmas tree and get top honors as Most-Planted-In.

The first harvesting on Evergreen Ranch was hundreds and thousands of Norways and a few hundred Whites that were sold wholesale and sent via semi to major cities in the south. Thinning for pulp wood is an annual fall affair that opens up the major forest planting so the remaining Norways and Whites can grow more rapidly in an oncrowded environment. 35 years ago the desirable Christmas trees were unsheared Norway Pines, Scotch Pines, White Pines and Spruce, both White and Colorado Blue. Shearing and the introduction of fir trees changed the acceptable standards for tree buyers. Today the most sought-after Christmas trees are Fraser Firs that are six to eight feet tall. They respond to shearing very effectively, are very soft to the touch, and have a beautiful evergreen fragrance. Tree buyers love them and deer love to eat them, so Frasers have to be grown within a fenced area.

What began as a family affair still is. The Jack and Mickey Whirry Family continue operating Evergreen Ranch – children Kathy, Janie, Merry and Jon and spouses Jim, Phil and David, and Betty. The Evergreen Ranch Team is every increasing in numbers and includes Jack and Mickey's grandchildren and great grandchildren.

At Evergreen Ranch preparation for the Christmas season begins each year in late June. That's shearing time when all our Christmas trees – Fraser Firs, Balsam Firs, Norway Pines, White Pines, Scotch Pines, White Spruces, and Colorado Blue Spruces – are given their annual hair cuts.

As Thanksgiving approaches, additional preparation is made for selling Christmas trees and custom made wreaths. The Christmas season is a joyful time for you to be in the woods checking tree by tree to find the perfect one to cut for your home. We look forward to seeing you. We'll have a saw for you to use, a nice hot fire going in the office wood stove, and lollipops for the kids. Merry Christmas!

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