When it rains, it pours

Winter weather dampens weekend

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ELROY, Wis. — It was a Sunday morning in February when the weather warmed up just enough to bring on a rainstorm. Rich and Mary Houzner, along with their two teenaged-sons at the time, Trystan and Lance, headed out for morning chores on their 50-cow dairy when they discovered a flooded barn.

“I walked out and looked out back, and it was just like it was Lake Michigan,” Rich said. “I was just sick. We had to deal with getting the water out of the barn, but the bigger problem was that it kept raining, and it was coming in as fast as we could pail it out.”

The farm is situated on a hill near Elroy. Normally, when it rained, the water ran off the buildings and into a culvert that drained into a ditch about 100 feet downhill from the barn. Since it was the middle of winter, the culvert and all the ground around it were frozen, preventing any water from draining. That meant the water flowed into the barn.

The Houzners first tried moving the water with transfer pumps. But the pumps plugged from the debris in the water. They also tried shoving rods in the ice in the culvert to break it up but did not make any progress that way either.

“We were losing the battle, there’s no question about it,” Rich said. “It was a pretty intense day.”

The Houzners were also trying to get the barn cleaned out because the cows were standing in six inches of water. Lance was milking and trying to keep the cows from lying down while Trystan and Rich worked the flood. 

At one point, Rich looked up and saw one of Trystan’s friends driving by, hauling their fishing boat. Rich said he yelled to Trystan that his friends were off fishing while they were practically drowning in the flood; he was only half joking at the time, but the Houzners said they can laugh about that moment now.

It was a 35-degree day, and the rain kept pouring on them. At that time, the barn cleaner chain was on a steep incline to the chute, and the transfer pumps kept plugging.

Finally, they called their neighbor, the owner of a backhoe. He dug out the culvert as best he could and then bumped the culvert just hard enough to break the ice. This proved to be the trick to get the water to drain.

The culvert was 12 inches wide, and Rich said the water flowed out of it for 15-20 minutes before it ceased. On the outside, the water had climbed about 3 feet up the sides of the barn.

To add to the chaos, at one point, while Rich was battling with the pumps and the ice, he was trying to process every scenario and possible solution to the problem. Lance and Mary came around the corner of the barn with more news.

With his bottom lip quivering, 11-year-old Lance confessed to his dad that after milking, he forgot to take the pipe out of the bulk tank, so the first rinse of the wash cycle had gone in the tank.

“He was so scared I was going to be mad,” Rich said. “I just looked at him and said that was the least of my problems right now and not to worry about it.”

It took until almost 5:30 that night to get everything cleaned up and just in time for night chores to begin. When the family thinks back on that day now, they remember the doom of the flood and the miserable, wet weather, but they also remember the valuable lesson that Lance learned from his dad that day.

“Mistakes happen,” Rich said. “If you never try, you never make a mistake, but you never get anywhere either.”

Lance is now grown and milking cows with his dad and his fiancée, Mikayla. Trystan and his family live nearby and continue to help when not working off the farm. Many things have changed around the farm since the day the barn flooded, but their dedication to their farm and each other is not one of them.

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