Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When you’re not into Star Wars December 21, 2015

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MY KNOWLEDGE OF STAR WARS is limited. I would recognize Darth Vader if I saw him on the street. I know there’s a Princess Someone or Other. And Luke Skywalker. Yes, I remember that name. But that’s about it.

I grew up watching Lost in Space on TV with characters like Judy, Penny, Will, Don and the evil Dr. Smith. And a robot whose name may have been Robot.

You never know what art will be showcased in Hot Sam's Interstate 35 display. I've seen a shark, guitar, submarine...

You never know what art will be showcased in Hot Sam’s Interstate 35 display. I’ve seen a shark, guitar, submarine…and now this spaceship.

Sci-Fi, though, as an adult, is not my genre. Still, I had to wonder about the spaceship suspended in an artsy display along Interstate 35 at Hot Sam’s Antiques near Lakeville, south of Minneapolis. I last visited Hot Sam’s in 2012. This one-of-a-kind place features an eclectic mix of art and old stuff scattered over several acres.

The hovering spaceship.

Hot Sam’s hovering spaceship.

Recently, the spaceship was added to the highly-visible hilltop Interstate collection. I thought perhaps it was a Star Wars ship replica. At this point, feel free to laugh. My son may have snickered when I asked. “Uh, no, Mom.” he said.

To all you Star Wars fans, my apologies.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


One person’s junk…Hot Sam’s Antiques, Part III September 19, 2012

Truck door signage, a nod perhaps to Jake Hood, owner of Hot Sam’s Antiques, Lakeville, Minnesota.

ONE MAN’S (or woman’s) junk is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure.

That adage could aptly be applied to Hot Sam’s Antiques, rural Lakeville, Minnesota.

I’ve posted about this antique theme park twice already. Click here and here to read those stories. But Hot Sam’s deserves a third post. Why? Think upcycling and recycling.

Barry, artist and upcycler of stuff at Hot Sam’s Antiques.

I appreciate businesses like Hot Sam’s Antiques which sell or re-purpose used stuff. We are too much a throw-away society although, in recent years, it’s become suddenly chic to upcycle or purchase vintage/used. I hope the trend lasts beyond the current economic depression.

Inside the log cabin at Hot Sam’s is a bounty of antiques, collectibles and other used merchandise. The door leads to the wrap around porch, where you’ll find more goods.

For decades I’ve shopped at rummage sales and thrift stores. The bottom line is that I am careful with my money, a trait instilled in me while growing up in a farm family with little money. Think eating white rice with cinnamon and sugar for a meal. Think no birthday presents. Think shopping only for clothes hung on the sales rack.

My parents worked hard to provide for our family of eight, but it was not easy for them. I never realized, though, that we were poor until I grew into adulthood. That’s a credit to my parents’ love and care.

Because of my upbringing, I tend to bargain shop and put less value on material possessions than many in today’s society. For example, of all the furniture in the house my husband and I own, only five—the sofa, recliner, twin bed frame, entertainment center and my office desk—are pieces we bought new.

Likewise, nearly all of the art I own originates from rummage sales, thrift or antique stores, or recycled art sales.

There. That should explain why I appreciate places like Hot Sam’s Antiques.

And I also like Hot Sam’s because of the creative art pieces such as Popeye and Olive Oil and Sweet Pea riding in the family car. I watched “Popeye” cartoons while growing up.

Somewhere in my memory bank I possess a memory of my dad telling us to watch for the flying red horse en route to visit relatives in the Cities. I couldn’t tell you now where that red horse was located, but I’m fond of this icon. In the background you”re correctly seeing a Statue of Liberty jutting from the front end of a partial vintage car.

I rode in a taxi once in Chicago. It didn’t look anything like this one at Hot Sam’s. But that’s my single taxi experience.

I’d like to attend a circus once… See why I love this place?

Ten years or more before I experience the validity of this statement.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My adventure at a Minnesota “antique theme park,” Part II September 18, 2012

Would you follow this driveway into the woods? I did. And what an adventure.

“I’M A LITTLE SCARED,” I admitted as we turned off Pillsbury Avenue just south of Lakeville, Minnesota, onto a narrow, hard-packed gravel road. Thick dark woods crept to the edge of the driveway and my imagination ran wild with fairy tales that ended badly.

What lurked in those woods? I glanced toward my husband, who was guiding our van into the unknown. “I hope there’s not a big dog.” I imagined a ferocious canine, teeth bared, legs planted in a defensive stance.

A dog-themed sign, one of many signs on the property. And, no, spelling is apparently not a priority here.

There were no guard dogs—unless you count the little dog interested only in pursuing a baby bunny and not humans. There were no bad endings.

But I wanted to warn you, lest you initially think like me and consider backing out even before you enter the wonderment which is Hot Sam’s Antiques.

Junk cars line the driveway, left. And, yes, that’s a Statue of Liberty standing in that red junk car in the background.

This place is part junkyard, sculpture garden and antique shop.

If you like your picking places all nice and neat and tidy, then this may not be your shopping venue.

Under construction in the woods, an over-sized motorcycle sculpture currently lashed to a tree limb among the junk.

But if you are adventuresome, don’t mind scuttling around junk (aka art/fabulous finds/treasures), have lots of time to meander and appreciate a one-of-a-kind place bursting with creativity, then, welcome to Hot Sam’s Antiques.

FYI: Click here to read my first post introducing you to Hot Sam’s Antiques. I have so much to show you that I will be writing a third post.

Along the driveway, you’ll see this fence decorated with an eclectic collection of stuff.

Just more abandoned vintage cars along the side of the driveway.

One of two planes on the property; the other one’s nosedived into the swampland. Yup, that’s a train in the background, behind the gigantic sunflower and to the left.

Following its theme park theme, Hot Sam’s pays tribute to the 1960s television sitcom, “Petticoat Junction,” via several on-site train cars (including this caboose) and a water tank. You’ll find antiques and collectibles inside the boxcars.

Anyone who knows me and how much I fear chickens will appreciate that I actually photographed these fowl roaming at Hot Sam’s.

This log cabin is simply bursting with antiques and collectibles, inside and out.

The hippie van, parked along the beach in the theme park area of Hot Sam’s.

I was tempted, quite tempted, to disobey these signs. Next visit…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Touring Hot Sam’s, an “antique theme park” near Lakeville September 17, 2012

Northbound on Interstate 35 just south of Lakeville, you’ll see this roadside art marking the location of Hot Sam’s Antiques.

YOU’VE SEEN THE ECLECTIC COLLECTION, I’m sure, if you’ve ever traveled Interstate 35 northbound near Lakeville.

Just another view of the eclectic art collection, shot while traveling the interstate. No stopping for this photo.

You’ll see the fearsome shark first as you’re driving north on I35.

Just south of exit 81 atop a hill on the east side of the interstate, a red ANTIQUE sign draws your eye to a mish-mash of stuff. Several rusting cars. A rather vicious looking blue shark (although I’m sure you don’t notice the detailed sharp teeth while racing along the interstate at 70 mph). A lady bug. A rocket and a submarine. And, heck, there’s an oversized guitar, too.

At the north end of the line, the ginormous guitar.

A view from atop the hill, in the middle of the eclectic collection.

For 30 years I’ve seen the changing collection and always wondered about Hot Sam’s Antiques. Now, after a recent Saturday afternoon visit, I need wonder no more.

Kathy Sakry, left, and Aina Puritis on the front porch of the log cabin.

Honestly, how to begin to describe this place seems an impossibility, until I meet Aina Puritis—pronounce that Latvian first name with a silent “A” and a long “i”—a part-time employee of three months. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” I tell Aina.

“You got that right, honey,” she agrees, then offers her definition. “It’s an antique theme park, a mix of this and that.”

The log cabin, back and to the right, is packed with antiques and collectibles. I spotted the charming, cottage style treehouse, left, but didn’t even check to see if I could explore inside. I was running short on time.

Aina nails Hot Sam’s with that description because, in addition to thousands of antiques and collectibles crammed inside and outside a log house, outbuildings and train cars and scattered upon the grass and through the woods and along the sides of the narrow gravel drive, you’ll discover a wonderment of creations fitting a theme park.

Barry was painting a giant sunflower when I came upon him among the junk in the woods.

You might find Barry (no last name offered), a retired laser cutter turned artist, back in the woods among all the junk working on his latest sculptures—painting a giant sunflower or building an oversized motorcycle roped and suspended from a tree limb.

Nemo from the back, looking toward the log cabin on the hill, center, a boat on the left and train cars in the distance to the right.

He takes credit for transforming a vintage car into the Disney cartoon fish Nemo via orange paint, the addition of fins and eyes and some major interior redecorating. Nemo’s beached in sugar fine sand along a ribbon of water which meanders into the 10-acre property.

Inside Nemo, my absolute favorite part of the entire antique theme park. Who would ever think you could turn an old car into something so incredibly magical?

The tropical beach scene seems oddly out of place given the native swampland grass and surrounding woods and the autumn leaves littering the sand. But no one claims anything’s exactly as it should be at Hot Sam’s.

A close-up of the hippie van parked in a beach setting with fine white sand and even a hammock.

That’s part of the appeal, to see a peace-out hippie van parked on the beach; the wreck of the S.S. Minnow from the 1960s T.V. sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, hugging the shore; the canary yellow tail of a crashed airplane poking through the swampland grass across the water.

“It became a labor of love,” Kathy Sakry says of this whole intriguing place. She’s the significant other of Jake Hood, who, along with his mother, Gladys Hood, 26 years ago transformed a field with a two-car path into Hot Sam’s Antiques. Nine years prior to that, the business was located in Burnsville. Gladys died in December 2010.

Kathy prefers not to explain the story and inspiration behind the antique theme park, choosing instead to hand over a reprint of an article written by Gladys and published in Reader’s Digest. To summarize, Gladys’ father, Hyreeg, an Armenian immigrant living in Detroit, collected scrap metal to raise money for a flagpole upon which he flew a U.S. flag symbolizing his pride in becoming an American.

Inside the log cabin, I found this collectible glassware and this welcoming sign, which seems to exemplify the welcoming spirit of Hot Sam’s Antiques.

Gladys wrote in 2002 that she acquired her father’s love for hard work and collecting (she would go “picking” with him as a child) and continued his legacy via her business. She collected for practical and recycling reasons and for the joy of sharing in the memories of those who visit Hot Sam’s.

I saw at least three Statues of Liberty on the property.

Whether a tribute to her father’s patriotism or not, numerous replicas of the Statue of Liberty are planted on Gladys’ tangible slice of the American dream.

About that business name… Kathy says Hot Sam was Gladys’ nickname, a name she preferred to her given Gladys, which taunting youngsters reinvented into, well, you can figure that out, during her childhood.

Then Kathy shares more about Gladys and a clearer picture emerges of this strong woman. She once raced cars, breaking the land speed record on Daytona Beach in 1956.

This mock, crashed airplane is positioned across swamp grass on the property.

Despite her prior days of daring, competitive racing in a man’s world and of traveling, Gladys seldom left Hot Sam’s once established, Kathy relates. And when she did, it was to attend air shows with her adopted daughter, airline and aerobatic pilot Julie Clark. The bi-plane and staged, mock plane crash at Hot Sam’s are perhaps visual connections to Julie, whose birth father was murdered in 1964 while piloting a plane which subsequently crashed, killing all 44 aboard. Or perhaps the planes reflect Gladys’ general affection for air shows.

While wandering the grounds of Hot Sam’s, you have to wonder where Jake and Gladys acquired all this stuff and Kathy says only that they are buyers and sellers. She wants me to talk to Jake and sets off to find him. But I am anxious to photograph this magical antique theme park in the perfect, golden hour around sunset. I never do connect with Jake.

I am not the only photographer here on this late Saturday afternoon. I meet a young couple and their two children primping for a family photo shoot with St. Louis Park-based portrait photographer Jess Sandager of Olive Avenue Photography. Later I meet up with the family and photographer near the beach. Jess tells me Hot Sam’s is well-known in the photo industry.

Although I’d like more details, I won’t keep Jess from the waning, perfect light.

I watch for a minute as Jess works her camera, photographing the little boy on a tractor and then mom and baby.

The beached Nemo.

Father and son, in the meantime, are now heading toward the orange fish on the beach, toward Nemo—dad walking, son running…

Watch for this sign at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue South directing you onto the narrow gravel road into Hot Sam’s Antiques.

FYI: To get to Hot Sam’s Antiques from Interstate 35, take exit 81 near Lakeville and go east on Dakota County Road 70 about half a mile to the stoplight. Then turn south onto Kenrick Avenue/County Road 46. Continue approximately 1 1/2 miles on Kenrick, which turns into Pillsbury Avenue. Hot Sam’s is located on the west side of the road at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue South, Lakeville. You’ll see a sign.

Hours are from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekdays (except closed on Thursday) and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Check back for more photos from Hot Sam’s because there’s so much more I need to share with you.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



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