In 1892, in the small rural community of Malone, Wis., two brothers, Joseph and Christ Pickart, decided to establish a grain, seed and general mercantile store to support the farmers and other residents in the
area. On the Report of Mill activities from Jan. 20, 1925, to Jan. 1, 1926, the Pickart Bros. letterhead lists the
business as dealers in grain, flour, feed, coal, salt and farm implements. It also shows they ground feed and sold corn, alfalfa and general merchandise. That year’s report showed 1,613,544 lbs. of feed were ground, for net earnings of $1,162.75. Joseph’s son, Leo L. Pickart, was managing the business at that time.
Leo Pickart dedicated his life to the Malone Feed Mill
The railroad track behind the business brought in needed components for the store, and a burr mill provided a feed grinding service for area farmers. The railroad also served as a means for area farmers to export their crops to markets beyond the Malone area. According to Elmer Thome, local historian, the rail came through Malone in 1869. The service was discontinued in 1952.
This past spring, the feed mill was taken down, after a long history of service to the farming community. It’s structural and mechanical components are finding new life in many different forms.
Photo of the H.C Timm mill, guessed to be taken around the late 1940s.
Jason Guelig Excavating was hired by current owners, Country Visions Cooperative, to remove the structure and its contents. The mill had outlived its usefulness as technology and methods of mixing and processing feed became outdated and too costly to replace. In his bid for dismantling the mill, Guelig scrutinized what parts of the mill could be sold and used for other purposes.
The tin roof was sold on Craig’s List and the roof boards were removed by members of the Malone Area Historical Museum. They will be used to build a loft in their building across the road for the larger pieces of history they want to display. Old feed signs also found an interested buyer.
Local farmers and businesses found use for the augers and fans. The crimper used to process feed
was sold, and two grain legs wait for a buyer at Calumet Dryer Service in Calumetville. The 3-phase electrical
starters found a renewed life in Medford. An antique Fairbanks bank scale is the focal point in a local
carpenter’s living room.
The take-down of the wooden bins in the elevator portion of the mill, built around 1941, was time-consuming and labor intense. Two of Guelig’s employees dismantled the bins board by board. Constructed of 2-inch X
6-inch fir lumber, the boards were laid flat and stacked to the top of each bin. The lumber is being used to make
furniture by a local business called The Modern Table Company.
Roger Muellenbach, who was employed at the mill from 1974 until 2013, said Leo Pickart told him a train car of nails was used to build the elevator portion of the mill where the bins were located. Muellenbach noted the structure housed six bins to store dry shelled corn, soybeans, oats and sometimes soybean meal.
It also housed an overhead bin and a holding bin with a wooden scale hopper underneath it.
2-foot by 2-foot fir beams ran the length of the building and 2 beams ran the width of the building to support the bins and the structure. The floor was constructed with full 2-inch by 6-inch boards locked together.
When emptying the bins, there was a slide going down 10 feet to the basement to another 10-foot slide into a pit. From there, the grain was elevated to the mixer by a wooden elevator leg.
“Jim (Birschbach) and I were down in that pit a lot. Wooden legs leaked and there sometimes was water down there,” Muellenbach said.
Jim Birschbach worked at the mill from 1956 to 1996, taking over the management position when Leo Pickart retired.
“Leo Pickart and Herman Timm were good guys to work for. I was only going to work at the mill until I found another job. I was offered a job at Michigan/Wisconsin Pipeline, but turned it down because I would have had to travel. So, I stuck it out at Malone. It was interesting and I didn’t have far to go to work. I didn’t care for factory work so this is what I did,” Birschbach said.
A burr mill was used initially at the mill. In 1925, a 50-horse hammer mill was also installed. It ground faster than the burr mill and different size screens allowed for different levels of coarseness. Eventually, the burr mill
was taken out and replaced with a 60-horse hammer mill. The mill then operated with two hammer mills.
Birschbach remembers using the burr mill to grind feed for farmers. Two, 25-horse motors drove two wheels that ran in opposite directions, cracking the grain kernels.
“One guy almost cried when he couldn’t get his chicken feed ground anymore. The burr mill didn’t grind as fine as the hammer mill,” Birschbach said.
Feed mills are very subjective to fire, and Malone was no exception. Leo Pickart did a lot of seed cleaning. A gasoline engine ran a generator that was used to run the seed cleaner and different tools. It also provided lighting in earlier years. It was that portion of the mill that caught fire on an icy night in 1970. Elmer Thome remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I was ready for bed. I looked out the door and then sat down to take my shoes off. With that, the doorbell rang. It was Fritz Bink. He said the mill was on fire. The cupola on top was all red. With that, I heard the sirens,” he said.
The Mount Calvary Fire Department was called and they called the Calumet Fire Department located in Pipe for back-up. Thome noted at that time the volunteer firemen hauled water in tanks placed on the back of their pick-up trucks. Pick-up trucks lined the road waiting to be emptied. The portions of the mill to the east and west were saved.
“When it was all said and done, about one o’clock in the morning, they had the thing pretty well doused. I was told the insurance company took both fire departments out for dinner. Leo Pickart told me that the agent
had been selling insurance to mills for 27 years and he never saw any of it saved,” Thome said.
Seed cleaning for the Malone customers was continued at Timm’s New Holstein location. The morning after the fire, Andrew Excavating was there, digging a hole and preparing the site for the new storage bins that were erected in the space where the seed cleaning operation was housed.
The early history of the mill is vague. Joseph and Christ Pickart operated the mill and mercantile store. Joseph Pickart died in 1929, with his brother Christ passing away in 1938.
According to Victor Sippel of Mt. Calvary, Joseph’s sons sold machinery at the site, possibly bringing the Wallace brand tractor to farmers in the area. One of Joseph’s sons, Leo, worked in the mill. Sippel was married to Leo and Leona Pickart’s daughter, Anna Mae Pickart. She is deceased. Another daughter, Mary Ellen (Ed) Slovak admired her father’s work ethic and his respect for people “He was a noble man. I think he was a very fair and just person,” she said.
The second generation Pickart brothers included from left: Ed, Leo, Henry and Oscar. The family also included three sisters, Agatha, Eleanor and Odelia.
Slovak’s childhood memories take her back to the times her dad would have to unload rail cars of feed, seed and merchandise. She chuckled when she said her dad would get a bunch of guys to help unload the cars, and a case of beer and a large wheel of Fromage de Brie cheese was their payment.
In 1947, Cyril Niquette began working for H.C. Timm Co. He tells the story he was told by H.C. Timm II. In 1933, Timm went out to Malone to visit with Leo Pickart about buying the family’s feed mill. Leo agreed and was hired to manage the Malone Mill. Niquette was the bookkeeper for Timm, so he visited with Leo several times a year. Timm also had mills in New Holstein and Hayton. Timm sold those two locations in 1979, and the name was changed to Calumet Seed and Supply.
Also at that time, Fond du Lac Midland Cooperative purchased the Malone feed mill from Timm. The year before, stockholders of the Malone Cooperative, headquartered across the road from the mill, had voted to merge
with the Fond du Lac Cooperative. The mill addition was a nice fit for a cooperative that already had two mills. In 1981, the Fond du Lac Midland Cooperative changed its name to Agri-Land Cooperative.
“We got rid of two feed mills and we gained two feed mills,” noted Muellenbach. The Cooperative had mills in Fond du Lac and Theresa. Eventually, both of those locations closed and customers were serviced by the Malone location.
During Muellenbach’s tenure at the mill, he was witness to a lot of changes. His first job was taking a pick-up truck and scoop shovel out to area farms and loading it with cob corn and oats. That method was replaced by a
truck with a shovelveyer attachment. Processing cob corn discontinued when only four farmers needed the
While the mill was owned by Timm, Muellenbach would shuffle feed to and from the three Timm locations and from the Purina plant in Fond du Lac. Train cars brought in bagged feed at New Holstein and Hayton, and Muellenbach would help unload the 100 lb. bags of beet pulp and bran, along with other bagged feed and commodities.
With a bit of nostalgia, Muellenbach recalled that every week the trucks were washed at Leo Pickart’s house. “He took pride in his trucks,” Muellenbach said. The mill did not have running water.
Taking over as manager when Jim Birschbach retired, Muellenbach oversaw the installation of computerized gate openers on the existing bins and the addition of holding bins on the outside of the building. New legs and the addition of an elevator on the main mill’s west side were also added. The wooden legs in the west mill were still utilized.
Cottonseed was hauled from Lakeside Harvestore in New Holstein and stored in an old barn on the Co-op’s property. Eventually, three buildings adjacent to the mill were torn down and the railroad depot was moved across the road to the museum. A shed was built and cottonseed was delivered to the mill in hopper bottom semi-trailers. The old barn was taken down and the Co-op built a warehouse and office to accommodate the feed and agronomy divisions.
The history of the mill continued to change. On September 1, 2011, Agri-Land Cooperative and Agri-Partners Cooperative, headquartered in Brillion, merged. On September 1, 2013, Agri-Partners joined forces with Country Visions Cooperative, headquartered in Reedsville. With both Agri-Partners and Country Visions
having significant ownership in CP Feeds, LLC., located in Valders, a binding agreement existed that the Co-ops could not operate their own feed mills except for specialty mixes and bagged feed. CP Feeds leased the Malone mill from Sept. 1, 2011 until October of 2013. The Co-op continued to mix specialty feeds until March, 2014. Bagged specialty feed continues to be available at Malone. Their product line includes Purina and Land O’ Lakes premixes for swine, horse, calf, steer and lifestyle feeds.
Closing the mill and taking it down wasn’t an easy decision for Dennis Halbach, Vice President of Ag for Country Visions. As general manager of the then Agri-Land Coop, he had first-hand experience with overseeing the feed mill operation.
“We couldn’t put out feed fast enough. It took up to an hour to mix a semi-load of feed. In 1996, after making major changes, it was the cat’s meow. Today, we have to get everything done in a shorter period of time,” he said.
Another concern was the implementation of the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Act. To ensure food quality standards, cattle feed will be required to trace it to its point of origin.
Today, Co-op members and others once served at the Malone feed mill are serviced by CP Feeds. The
way farmers feed their cattle has changed. Jim Loefer, general manager at CP Feeds, has seen many changes in his milling career.
“My dad bought a small feed mill in Collins, Wis., in 1982. After he passed away I took over management in 1986. We had sales of $700,000 that year. Last year CP Feeds had sales of $156,000,000,” he said.
“We need to change with our customers. With the popularity of the total mixed ration we saw pellets, which worked good for top dressing, go away. It allowed the feeding of different ingredients like blood meal, meat and bone meal and liquid and dry fat sources. As the farms became larger they had more pricing power and could even buy ingredients by the semi load from the manufacturer or a broker. We started to receive more ingredients by rail to have a price advantage and also broker direct commodities to large farmers,” Loefer added.
He said CP Feeds can offer three times as many ingredients in bulk as the Malone mill could, which equates to lower cost of ingredients because they are bulk vs. bags, and more choices for the nutritionist to provide the best cost feed ration.
Today, CP Feeds delivers to farms with 14 semi bulk trucks and 4 quad trucks, meaning 80% of all feed is hauled by semis. Loefer said the feed mills of years ago were a social gathering place. Most of the loyalty was how close a mill was to your farm so you didn’t have to drive too far to pick up your feed.
Loefer said back ‘in the day,’ most feed was bagged but now about 97% is bulk, all of which is delivered.
Ninety percent of the bagged feed that is sold is delivered, with only three or four farmers a day stopping in to pick up their feed. He said 85% of CP Feeds territory is in Manitowoc and the adjoining counties, and also Fond du Lac County.
“Just 20 years ago, a 70-cow tie stall barn with a pipeline, TMR and Harvestore silos was ‘state of the art.’ Farms have changed drastically and the agri-businesses that serve them have had to change as much or more,” Loefer said.