How do you spell manure?

My great-uncle Albert was the youngest child in his family. Uncle ‘Al’, his parents and siblings (including my maternal grandmother) all lived in the City of Chicago (yes, in the city…we don’t bullshit about that) on Giddings Avenue on the NW side (yes, also Cubs fans). It’s hard to believe that, when Albert was young, his father (my great-grandpa) was a Chicago garbage man…who picked up trash with a wagon…drawn by horses…and that they lived just a block from Lawrence Avenue…which was then a dirt road. As a kid who also grew up on the NW side of Chicago – Mind. Blown.

The Redmanns lived on a double lot, which they needed, because the horses were kept in the carriage house on the property (the carriage house is no longer standing, sadly). One chore for young Albert was to collect the horse manure in a wagon, take it to Lawrence Avenue and sell it to passersby for their gardens. When my gram first told me this story, I could see it…and feel it as though I were Albert (perhaps a glimpse into my distant future). I can picture young, slight Albert trudging with an unwieldy wagon to the ‘busy road’ to set up and sell. He had the backing for his sign and something to write with and hesitated a bit when it came time to spell m-a-n-u-r-e. That’s a tough one… So, he did what many descendants of the Redmanns do so well…he improvised. His sign read “HORSE SHIT FOR SALE.” My gram’s belly would shake with laughter at this story. Needless to say, great-grandpa Redmann didn’t think it funny when word got back that his youngest was peddling horse ‘shit’ on Lawrence Avenue.

As a city kid turned country(ish) myself, I’ve learned a lot of things about shit since moving to Viola, Wisconsin ten years ago. Great-uncle Albert was fortunate to be charged with disposing of horse apples (what people ‘in the know’ call horse manure) – as it’s much less disgusting on the excrement scale. Our area of expertise at Griff Run now includes your run-of-the-mill dog and cat shit; progressing to horse, chicken, bat and alpaca (those last two being superior fertilizers, btw).

This year we embarked upon what seemed impossible; convert the old red dairy barn into a swank vintage shop. We have kept horses and alpacas in this barn and the previous owner managed a cattle operation here for five decades. The barn is in excellent condition structurally, but had never been scoured clean…because, why would it be? So…before our vintage dreams could become reality, and like Albert, we had to move the shit.

The first space we tackled was the hay mow (upstairs, for you city folk); donning masks, gloves, long sleeves and pants, putting up extension ladders and scraping decades of gardener’s gold from the barn framing – AKA, bat guano. After scraping, vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning and fumigating, we moved downstairs to get up close and personal with DECADES old, (prehistoric, haha!) cow manure that blew straight from the source onto the beautiful oak boards that made up the stalls. I still carry plenty of ignorance about farm life and was confused as to why there was gray, hard-as-stone, dried concrete on the oak boards in the alcove under the stairs to the hay mow – but only the boards that were about 3-4 feet from the ground (yes, perfect height for the assplosions). First I thought, well, I can just leave that…but I was also raised by a bunch of German women and that’s not how we clean. So, back to scraping, then sweeping up the scrapings, then breaking out the shop vac, then grabbing two buckets, four rags, a scrub brush, gloves and some soap.

If you ever wondered if cow shit (it wasn’t concrete, after all) could be reconstituted decades later…I can tell you, YES. Each oak board in what used to be the cattle stalls averaged about eight feet long and eight inches tall. Once wet, and scrubbed and wiped (think foamy, light brown sludge resulting), it would take an average of SIX bucket changes (remember, we were using two at a time, so totaling 12 buckets) to clean a single board. I wish we had started counting buckets at the very beginning…because this is a large barn…and the number must be in the hundreds and hundreds. Cleaning of the barn took months…

Upsides? Red Barn at Griff Run is amazing (find us on social to see for yourself). We’ve dropped any/all weight we may have gained during COVID isolation; there are Madonna arms going on here. We now utilize this oft neglected barn and she may just make it another 100 years…shit-free.

Come see us,
Shawna

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