A lovely article was written about me in The Country Today, a regional newspaper that “…Cares About Rural Life”. I had a great time talking to Jim Massey and am very pleased with how the article turned out.
Rebuilding the herd
Retired dairy farmer makes cow-shaped riding carts from wood
By Jim Massey
Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGANVILLE – Like many dairy farmers who sell their milking string, Phil Schroeder has begun to build back his herd of cows in re-cent years.
But unlike most farmers, Schroeder is making his re-placement herd out of wood. For the past two years he has been making unique cow kiddie carts that are growing in popularity as people see them in use.
The carts, about 12-1/2 inches high at the cow’s back and weighing 15 pounds, are sturdy enough to carry children of all sizes. Schroeder has made 22 of the carts so far and is gearing up to make more.
“They won’t break when the bigger kids sit on them – if they do, I want to know about it,” Schroeder said. “I just love working on these little animals to make them come alive. I enjoy carving them and making them look like a real cow.
“Somebody asked me why I am so fussy about making them look real, because the kids will never know the difference. You don’t sell them to the kids – you sell them to the adults.”
Schroeder lives on a farm that has been in his family since 1874. The land was originally deeded as muster-ing-out pay to a widow of the War of 1812 – she was issued the original 40 acres as retribution for the loss of her husband. She didn’t claim the land, so it was purchased by someone else. Schroeder’s ancestors bought it from the first owner.
The 200 acres was operated as a 25-cow dairy farm for many years before Schroeder increased the herd to 35 cows in 1970. He operated the dairy farm at that size until health issues forced him to sell the cows in 2008.
His wife of 37 years, Carla, 62, died of nonsmoking lung cancer in February of 2011 after a 14-month illness. “It’s lonely, but my kids are as close as the telephone,” Schroeder said. “We talk very often.”
His son, Aaron, 38, is a structural engineer in Waukegan, Ill., while his oldest daughter, Miriam, 35, a website consultant, lives in New York. His daughter Rebecca, 33, recently moved to Nimes, France. He has three grandchildren.
Schroeder has been making things out of wrought iron for many years. He said he start-ed the hobby as a way “to re-lax as a sideline when I was milking cows.”
He has made floor lamps, table lamps, custom end and coffee tables, park benches, picnic tables and plant stands. Much of his metal work is done using a torch instead of a forge, and he cold-bends about 90 percent of his iron-work. He said he has sold about 60 lamps over the past 25 years.
The idea for the cow kiddie cart came from a similar horse cart Schroeder rode when he was a child. It took him about six months to make his original prototype and he kept fine-tuning it un-til he got it the way he want-ed it.
“I want to make it as real looking as I can,” he said. “The first five I made, none of them were shaped properly and it drove me nuts. Now I round off the rough edges and shape the body to look more like a cow. They’re very time consuming. But I finally got it down pat.”Each of the cow carts sells for $225 plus tax.
Schroeder estimated that each cart would take about a week to make, from start to finish. Virtually the entire cart is made from scratch, including the wheels. A pipe runs through the body to house the rear axle.
Dowels are used for the horns and teats. Leather ears are attached and rope is inserted to serve as a tail. He uses different colored rope for black and white Hol-steins, Red and White Hol-steins, Brown Swiss cows, etc. A bell on a leather strap hangs around each cow’s neck.
A hinge between the cow’s head and torso allows the front end of the cart to turn so the rider can quickly change directions.
He currently has 17 of the cows in the works.
“I get my lumber from a local Amishman who has a lumberyard, and he said if I put the cows in the local Amish stores I might need help making them,” Schroeder said.
“I went to the dentist the other day and the dentist ordered one. Everybody there just loved it. I should take it everyplace I go. Everybody has a conversation about it.”
Schroeder said some customers prefer to paint the carts themselves. If they don’t, he applies a coat of white flat latex paint and then paints on the black spots.
“If people have a favorite cow they’d like the cart to look like, they can send me a picture and I will do the best I can to make it look like the cow,” he said. “Somebody told me I should use glossy paint but cows aren’t glossy.”
Schroeder said he used “God’s design” for the cows.
“I didn’t create anything – I made it out of wood,” Schroeder said. “He’s the one who created the cows.”
Schroeder said during this past winter he spent three or four hours a day in the work-shop in his barn, cutting and shaping cows.
He glued the pieces together in the house where it was warmer.
“I worked in the shop until I got tired or cold,” he said. “In the summer I’ll work more. The barn shop is well insulated and heated, but at times my fingers got a little cold.”
Schroeder served in embassy duty in Afghanistan for the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964 to 1967 before getting the call that his father passed away.
“I had a 15-year-old brother here who was trying to farm, so I was able to get a hardship discharge from the military to come home tofarm,” Schroeder said. “That was 47 years ago and I’m still here.”
Schroeder rents the cropland out to a neighbor and another farmer grazes beef on the farm in the sum-mer.
Schroeder’s daughter Miriam helps Schroeder manage his website. The cow kiddie carts were recently added to the website for the first time.
He has been told that his cow carts would sell like hot-cakes at craft fairs, but Schroeder said he doesn’t want to go there.
“If you go to craft fairs you pay to sit there and you feel pressure to sell,” he said. “I do it not so much as a business but as a pleasure and for relaxation.”
Schroeder said although he could transform his prototype into just about any four-legged animal, he has no intention of deviating from his cow cart.
“When I took it to the dentist the other day a girl asked me, ‘Do you have horses?’ ” He said. “No matter what I do somebody wants some-thing different. I have to tell them, this is what I make. You can’t satisfy everybody.”