Next time you come into Milton, (from the north) on State Highway 26 keep your eye peeled for the Studebaker place. It's just past Nelson Drive on the left side of the road. Slow down as you approach it. If you don't, you may miss one of the most ingenious, inventive and artistic homesteads in the four lakes area.
Harry and Carol Studebaker have lived on Highway 26 for 36 or 37 years. Harry's not sure exactly.
"When we moved here, we was the only ones here," Harry says. "There weren't any other houses or business around here. Just us."
Born in Pontiac, IL, Harry and his family moved to the east side of Milton on Six Comers Road when he was about 15 years old. His mother and father ran a dairy farm and milked about 60 cows. Eventually, he worked for a roofing company and then for a hardware store. Finally, he operated his own plumbing business, but after an aneurysm and two strokes he retired. --
Carol was born in the Edgerton Hospital, but has always lived in the Milton area. She graduated from Milton High School in 1959 and went on to Milton College for two years. She now serves on the board for the Alumni Association. She also serves as secretary for the Rock River Thresheree Association.
Inside their home, and out, are objects from another time - arrowheads, buffalo skulls, old tractors, small pieces of outmoded farm equipment, cannon balls, fire hydrants, telephone booths, net floats, and an assortment of small "walk behind" plows. "Those are the kind of plows that are pulled behind a mule or a horse," Harry says. "There's seven miles of walking in an acre."
The inside walls in a large octagonal gazebo in the Studebaker's backyard are hung with about a dozen two man "buck" saws. A huge wooden ox yoke hangs from the ceiling.
Cheek by jowl with all the artifacts and machinery are constructions that can only be considered works of art. Studebaker has taken old pieces of this, and parts of that, put them together and made a gazebo, two arbors, and other conglomerations that can't be as clearly identified. "I've always done stuff," says Harry Studebaker, his face wrinkling into a smile. "We're always fiddlin', always fiddlin', you know."
Studebaker, 61 and his wife Carol, 58, have a son, Harry Jr. -whom they call Marty - a daughter Jackie, and two grandsons.
Taking a cue from his father, Marty is involved in restoring old equipment. He exhibits a Rumley steam engine at the Thresheree every year. One of Harry's current projects, but certainly not the only one, is a wooden wagon. The chassis is set on metal wheels which came from a grain separator. The wooden beams for the frame came from an old barn. Studebaker says he's thinking about creating a flared box wagon on the chassis. What he has already accomplished of the project ,is beautifully done. The work shows care and attention to detail.
Oddly enough, the Studebakers aren't involved in auctions or sales much. "We never got into that too much," Harry says. "Lots of things are just given to me."
The posts which hold up the metal rails, which serve as the roof of each of the arbors, were cut from cement telegraph poles which had been installed on Main Street in Milton in 1879. Studebaker sawed them in two, sunk them in the ground and created his arbors. The metal bars of the roof hold old wheels, tines from old hay rakes and other assorted metal objects all rusted to a rich red-brown patina. The effect is undeniably beautiful. He used two of the posts to create a lovely little swing just at the end of his garden spot. "Me and the dogs will work in the garden and I'll take a seat and rest for a bit," Studebaker says.
In the Studebaker's basement is the last Milton barber pole, the original Milton College bell, a map showing the locations of all the Native American artifacts in the Milton area which was drawn in 1907, and count- less other treasures. Harry says he finds many of the artifacts he has accumulated by keeping his eyes on the ground. For years he hunted in South Dakota. He found artifacts as arcane as a petrified buffalo kidney while there. "Out in the Badlands they think I'm crazy," Studebaker says, completely unperturbed by the notion. "They say to me, 'Studebaker, why in the hell do you bother to come out here? You go home with a couple of scrawny deer and a pick-up truck full of rocks and stuff.'"
When asked what started his collecting he says blithely, "Always been that way." Carol says he got spurred on a bit by a job he once held. "When we were first married," Carol says, "he had a junk route and he'd pick up all the junk in town. Then every now and then, somebody would call him to clean out an attic or a basement. He'd bring all this stuff home." His reputation as someone interested in oddities has spread. "Once people know him," Carol says, "they call him, and they'll say, 'we've got something you're really going to want.'"
Sadly, the Studebaker homestead is under the threat of extinction. The property sits directly in line with one of three proposed "bypass" alternatives being considered by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to funnel ever increasing truck traffic around or through Milton on a high- speed, divided four-lane, limited access highway. The creative, emotional and financial investment in their property could be obliterated if the route their property sits on is chosen. Both the Studebakers are shaken by the possibility that their property could be taken from them. Harry plans to attend every meeting about the proposed bypass and make his views known.
Just as the interview for this article was closing, Harry stood up and dug in his pocket. "All the old guys carry these around," he said, opening his palm and revealing a beautifully polished, dark brown chestnut. "They're Buckeyes," he explained. "Supposed to be good luck." He left the room for a moment and came back with four Buckeyes in his hand and dropped them on the table. "They're not the kind you eat," Carol advised. "Just ornamental." When asked where the notion that carrying the Buckeye was good luck, he said, "That idea was way before our time."
Next time you pass through Milton, stop and enjoy the Studebaker lawn art. Unless Harry's Buckeye works, it may not be there for much longer.