Some barns have a weathervane, some the old style of cupola vents that spin in the wind, but ours has a bright orange windsock. Like a weathervane, it allows you to know which direction the wind is blowing, but because the sock is shaped like a cone with its end cut off, strong breezes will cause it to lift. A real wind makes the sock stand straight outwards, so you can gauge wind speeds.
The windsock tradition started when Grandma and Grandpa bought the homestead in 1968. Grandpa had his medical practice in Platteville, WI (southwest corner of the state), and he had a tip from Gib Waite, a dentist in the same town. The Waites had hunting land outside of Hayward that abutted the Fullington’s farm and alerted Grandpa when it came up for sale.
Grandpa had been in the Air Force, and both he and Grandma had their pilot licenses. At the time, they co-owned a Cessna 182 with the Waites, and Gib thought that one of the hay fields on the Fullington farm would be long enough to land the airplane. With a personal airstrip, either of them could reach their getaway place in the Northwoods.
It was April when the family came to look at the farm. Mom was 12 years old, and she remembers staying at Sheer’s Resort on Ghost Lake and hunting for Easter eggs in the snow with her two brothers. Grandma and Grandpa made their offer, as had a group of deer hunters from the Chicago area. Lloyd and Wilma Fullington deliberated, ultimately deciding that the family doc and his young family were the best choice for the future of the farm.
The hayfield was indeed long enough to land the plane, if you went from one corner to the next and lined up your trajectory between two tall pines at the far end. The dip and a hillock had to be smoothed out, and concrete-reinforced tiedowns were installed at the edge of the barnyard for securing the landed plane.
Called “Hay Creek International” by the family, the farm’s hayfield landing strip turned an eight-hour car trip into a three-hour flight. With the two parents, three kids and the black lab mix named Lazy on board, Cessna flight stories of coming up to the farm still are told at family gatherings.
But in order to safely land an airplane, knowing the wind direction and speed are critical. Instead of erecting a tall pole in the yard, the height of the old Gambrel barn was put to work with the addition of a smaller pole up from the rooftop for the classic windsock. And even though the Cessna 182 days have long since passed and the hayfield is now fenced for pasturing livestock, we’ve always maintained a windsock on the barn as a living memory of that piece of the farm’s story.
Windsocks don’t last forever — especially in storm seasons. I remember once heading to the chicken coop in the dim of evening for chores and being spooked by this limp shape on my path. What the??? It was a chunk of the windsock, torn from its holder, crumpled in a shredded orange heap.
John Sorensen, our contractor, replaced the sock once for us. It’s quite aways up there to the top of the barn! Using his longest extension latter, he still had to shimmy up the pole to reach the sock. On that slippery metal roof, it was one of those white-knuckle moments watching from below.
But even that windsock succumbed to the elements, and we had a new one on order. But how to reach the top? This time, with Bill O’Brian re-staining the house with the aid of his hydraulic lift, we asked if he could help us with placement of the new sock.
“Think I can reach that?” he squinted over at the barn, then chuckled, ready for the challenge. It was a busy day at Farmstead when he pulled the rig over to the barn, so I didn’t have a chance to snap a picture, but Bill shared the story later.
“You know, that is really up there. I had quite the view! I could have gone about three feet more, but that would have been it. I got it up there though — looks nice.”
So, the old barn now has a bright new windsock for it’s 100th birthday, and it works, too! I took the picture on a calm day, with the sock trailing down. But as the 4th of July storms rolled through, there was no doubt as to when the winds switched to the north, gusting and blowing their way through the farm.
The barn has sported a windsock for 50 years now, and the tradition lives on as we honor both the heritage of our farm and our progressive vision towards a healthy planet and all its inhabitants. I hope this windsock stands strong for years to come!
See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715.462.3453 www.northstarhomestead.com.