After two dangerous, devastating fires, Joe and Betty Hamm’s big farm family pitched in together to rebuild the rural Saukville log house that has been the family homestead since the 1850s—and it will be ready for the family’s Christmas celebrations
"I’ll be home for Christmas” is a song lyric that has taken on a special meaning this year for the Hamm family in the Town of Saukville.
From the ashes of a double devastation, the Hamms are experiencing a most merry Christmas.
The family, which for more than a century has operated a farm on Blueberry Road on the far north end of the town, was staggered by two potentially deadly fires earlier this year.
In June, faulty electrical wiring was blamed for a blaze that largely gutted the log house that had been the family homestead since the 1850s.
Three months earlier, a late-night fire was ignited when a block heater used on a skid loader malfunctioned, destroying a 3,600-square-foot pole barn on the thriving dairy farm.
In something of a miracle, no people or livestock were hurt in either blaze. Still, the disasters sent the industrious Hamm family into furious construction mode.
After countless hours, both structures have now been rebuilt and significantly enhanced.
Joe and Betty Hamm are in the process of moving back into the renovated house that has been their home since 1960. They, and their son Rick, expect to be settled in time for Christmas celebrations.
The dairy operation — and the farmhouse — is now owned by their son Don and his wife Diane. The couple live in a house on the dairy farm about a half mile away from the homestead.
Sandy Loam Dairy Farm provides a livelihood for many members of the extended family. Hamms pitching in at the farm include Don’s brothers Rick and Randy, his daughter Heather, and a variety of nieces and nephews
“We have some hired help, but pretty much anyone you see working here is family,” Don said.
“Technically, my brother Bill doesn’t work on the farm, but he spends so much time here you would think he did.”
The dairy has about 250 milking cows, along with a variety of young stock, 20 ewes, two rams, three horses and assorted barn cats and dogs.
In addition, the family runs 600 acres of crop land, raising corn and alfalfa to keep the livestock fed.
When not tending to the demands of farm life, virtually every spare moment for the Hamms over the past six months was spent pitching in on the rebuilding process.
A new and expanded barn went up quickly, but rebuilding the house was a more involved process.
Walters Buildings, where Bill Hamm works as district sales and construction manager, put up the shell for the renovated house.
“We hired guys to put on the roof and a contractor did the wiring and plumbing, but we pitched in as much as we could,” Don said.
“A lot of the teardown we did ourselves, which was pretty hard because you would remember all the things you did in this room or that.”
It wasn’t just the men who pitched in on the construction, either.
“It was a lot of work. I am pretty good at baking and frosting cakes, but I learned to do things I never thought I could,” Diane Hamm said, “like how to use a circular saw and a chop saw.”
She also helped build a stone retaining wall on the property.
“The way the family came together was amazing, especially when you think we all have jobs and a farm to run,” Diane said.
“Everyone put in long hours to get this building done, and there were times we were ready to kill one another, but there was never a question about this family coming together. That is just what families do.”
Ultimately, Don said the renovated house retained many touches from the original homestead, while adding many desired new amenities.
All of the home’s essential accommodations are now on the ground level to make life a little easier for his parents, Joe and Betty.
The country kitchen was updated and a great room was added.
“Our family is so big we were never able to eat together in the same room, but we will be able to now in the great room,” Don said.
“And when the grandkids get to be too much to handle, they can now go into the entertainment room we put in the basement.”
Efforts were made to expose some of the original logs. That building feature served as a sobering reminder for the volunteer work crew of the long history behind the home.
“It was pretty amazing when you looked at how big those logs were and realize the house was put up without the benefit of things like hydraulics,” Don said.
As welcoming as the new house is, he said it is impossible to look at it and not reflect on what could have been.
“Out of two bad things, a lot of good came. But I can’t help thinking how we are so fortunate the house fire came during the day,” Don said.
“As fast as it spread, I doubt anyone would have lived if the fire started in the middle of the night.”
Don has a similar sense of gratitude for the quick response of firefighters from Fredonia and other nearby departments at the time of the fires.
“I am so humbled and overwhelmed at how those volunteers were willing to drop what they were doing, or get up in the middle of the night and do whatever it took. They all worked so well together, I can’t say enough about the job they did,” he said.
Don said one neighbor, Fredonia Assistant Fire Chief Chris Kunstmann, was “on the scene directing traffic in a matter of seconds” from when the house fire call was made.
Neighbors in the farming community and beyond were also quick to help, usually before even being asked, Diane said.
“That is really the beauty of living in a small town,” she said.
Diane said by “an act of God” most of the family’s precious photos and keepsakes were saved from the ravages of the flames.
“Some of grandma’s knickknacks and the woodworking projects the boys made when they were young were lost, but it could have been so much worse,” she said.
At one point, it was feared Joe Hamm’s wedding ring was lost in the blaze.
“Then, while sifting through the debris we found the ring. We had it cleaned and held sort of an impromptu wedding ceremony,” Diane said.
Like her husband, she said there could be no better gift for the family than having the house rebuild completed in time for Christmas.
“I think we all realize we have so much to be grateful for this Christmas,” Diane said.
Joe and Betty Hamm are settling into their rebuilt Town of Saukville home on Blueberry Road which was badly damaged in a fire last summer.