Monday, August 20, 2007


I worked for a dozen years in a large apple orchard outside of Baraboo, WI. This was not even thirty years ago--I was just finishing high school and looking for a job. It started with part-time work after school and Saturdays in the Fall. It is a strange adventure to walk into an orchard operation in full swing, with the crazy variety of apples, the smells and the specialized machinery. And the farmers. There is no mistaking a farmer-type, and Arthur Bassett, the elderly man I went to work for, was prototypical. He had to have been born in Oshgosh B'Gosh coveralls; I never saw him wear anything else. He walked with a peculiar swagger, I called it a "sailor-in-port" walk--he had never gotten his land legs.

Arthur was gruff; called me "Boy" rather than my real name for the better part of two years. A farmer can't afford to get too personal with the help, especially the young help. You never know when off they'll go, and all of that personal politeness and consideration would have been for naught. No. The way to handle a young pup is to put him at the end of the line, and occasionally yell at him. If the pup keeps a civil tongue in his head--that is to say, if he remains silent and follows orders to the letter--then eventually he'll be brought into the discussion. Believe me, it took years.

The orchard was called Ski Hi Fruit Farm; it was pronounced "sky high". Many a footloose visitor to the Baraboo hills and Devil's Lake State Park in the Fall of the year have stopped in to take in the view, visit with the friendly sales ladies--including Olga and Betty, the wife and daughter of the old orchardist-- have a slice of fresh apple pie, and buy some of the many varieties of apples for sale there.

I try to drop in for a visit at Ski Hi every year. I'll hunt squirrel in the several-hundred-acres wood above the orchard, and stop in at the sorting house afterward. Art is long gone, and Olga may be too, but Betty still runs the place. I'll make Betty stop and visit for a spell, along with her long-time sidekick Shoemaker, now relegated to a wheel chair. Shoe always tells people when I visit that I hold the record for the most apples picked in a day, something like 162 bushels. It is true, actually. I have no idea how I did that. My daily average was actually around 130 bushels, I think. This is not that hard to do if you are focused, systematic, and...and much younger!


scott said...

My entire family makes a trek (or 2) to Sky Hi every fall to get the great apples. To be honest, the apples are less of a draw for me than are the grounds and the caramel apples (my pregnant wife is counting the days till she gets her Sky Hi caramel).

We drive by there 3-4 times a summer on the way to Devils Lake and the kids always beg to stop, but of course they are not open during most of the summer.

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Bruce Gee said...

Maybe we ought to go up there together, our families, this Fall. I can show you the old log cabin where the family lived in 1905; the packing sheds etc. We can go down into the orchard. Some Sunday afternoon in late September, eh?


Robin said...

That'd be fun. The cabin's really cool, and we could brin Anke along, maybe? Think she'd be old enough for a venture like that by then?

Kelly T. said...

Thanks for such a great story! I'm actually the great-granddaughter of Arthur Bassett (I'm Betty's granddaughter). Ski-Hi is always a great place for me; going up during the apple season is always a blast! I'm sorry to tell you, but Olga passed away in May 2007. Shoey recently passed away as well. They are in a better place now though. Anyway, keep going to Ski-Hi and enjoying the great time there!

Bruce Gee said...

Hi Kelly. Your welcome. I have a much longer essay called ARTHUR that I wrote for Betty about ten years ago, and I'd be happy to forward it to you (I'm thinking of putting it on my blog one of these days) if you like.

I had heard about Olga, but hadn't heard about shoemaker. He was a good guy, I'll miss him. I saw Betty in October and had the usual brisk and sunny visit with her. Always it is a pleasure to visit Ski Hi.

Send me your email address to, and I'll dig out the longer essay.

dakober said...

my name is daniel koberstein
my grandfather's sister used
to own it a lon long time ago. his name ws anton koberstein.
I would like to know if anyone from the family still owns it and i would like to here some of my family's history and pick some apples of course.

Bruce Gee said...

Hello Daniel. You can read my longer essay about the orchard here:

Betty Thiessen, who is Arthur and Olga's daughter, is still the owner and proprietor of the orchard. You could probably contact her at the orchard by phone--the number would be easily accessible from any phone. You might just want to wait till, say December, to try to contact her. The orchard is going to be nuts right now; I'm afraid she wouldn't have much time for you.
Also, the orchard does not allow "pick your own". It is strictly an employee-pick operation.

Anonymous said...

great thank you, i wish i could meet some of the other family now that my parents are gone. you can add dave koberstein (son)
and julie (wife) with 4 more daughters adn john with son and daughter,john is grandfather
of nikki.are all of related to me?

dakober said...

this is cool. if any one of
you want to keep in touch,
my email is like i said i'd like to meet some of you.i've never met my grandfather's relatives. he died when imwas two years old .
thank you for all of the help

dakober said...

bruce, i was wondering if the farm has a general store
that is open to the dad never really talked much about it, and i
just recently learned about it from my uncle marson,
who i visited with last week.


Bruce Gee said...


Yes, it has. This time of year it is open seven days a week, around 10-6.