Schnitzelbank

Gemma, my five-year-old granddaughter, held up a picture she had drawn, proudly explaining, “See, Grandma? Here is a flower and a heart and a person…” I leaned forward and looked at her picture and praised her work.

From the other side of the dining room table, Niki, her mother looked up from a cookbook she was studying. She said, “I’m taking the kids to Farm Technology Days this week. Do you want to join us?”

Remembering past visits I’d made to this yearly farm show, I eagerly accepted the invitation. “Sure. Hopefully it won’t be too hot the day we’re there. One year I felt completely baked by the time we went home. I want to go to the women’s tent first. They put on cooking shows and have dozens of information booths.”

My daughter smiled and admitted, “The thing I want to see on the day we’re going is someone carving cheese.” Three of my young grandsons who were listening to our conversation all chimed in saying how they wanted to see the cheese carving, too.

I laughed and teased, “Maybe you just want to be there to eat the cheese shavings.”

A few days later I was riding in my daughter’s van with her family. Following directions, Niki turned off the highway into a farm field. A parking attendant motioned to where she was to pull to a stop. I marveled, “The hayfield, now a parking lot is marked with rows of uncut alfalfa so the vehicles can easily be parked in an orderly manner. What a huge amount of planning went into this event!”

Farm Technology Days is more than just displays of the latest, greatest machinery dealers think every farmer should have. It is about the people who work the farms, the families. Displays focusing on woman and children were everywhere.

One tent that caught my attention was filled with home and farm tools people used one hundred years ago. I pointed out heavy irons that needed to be heated on wood stoves before ironing clothes, hot iron hair curlers that were heated in a similar way.  Some of the drills and other farm tools looked like some I had seen as a child on my Daddy’s work bench. Pointing to one, I commented to my grandchildren, “They didn’t have electric drills, but that tool worked just like one if the user had strong arms!”

At that booth the children helped make a strong rope out binder twine. They took wet dish towels out of a wash tub and got them ready to hang on clothes lines by putting them through a hand cranked wringer.

Just as we were getting ready to move on, I spotted something unusual that I had seen on my childhood farm tucked away in a back corner of the machine shed. It appeared to be a bench which required a person to sit astride it as if on a horse. I had never thought to ask Daddy what it was. Beneath the wooden horse was a pedal. Stepping on the pedal made a large, clumsy wooden head on the topside of the bench move up and down.

The docent working in that tent was dressed like a farm woman from an earlier era. She affably answered my question. “That’s a schnitzelbank.” (The way she pronounced the word was; schnitzel-bonk) “It’s often called a shaving horse. People used the foot pedal to tightly secure a cedar shake shingle so it could be shaved to the correct size. Some people still use it to strip bark off branches.” After demonstrating the use of a drawing knife on a cedar shingle, she invited us to do the same.

Then I realized this was one of the tools left over from my grandpa. Daddy had never used it. He did use another of grandpa’s workbenches, though. That one was fitted with a flint wheel. Pumping a pedal made the stone go around, allowing Daddy to sharpen his mower blades.

While walking back to the van in the parking lot, I thought about other antique tools I had grown up seeing on the farm. As old as they were, Daddy had continued using some of them just because they were there and they worked.

Seeing the familiar old tools had been fun. It made me feel grateful that I’d grown up on a family farm in the 1950’s. Brushing the tips of my fingers over the alfalfa blossoms left to mark the field for parking, I got into the van reminiscing about Daddy’s machine shed and all the treasures I’d found in it.

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