Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In New Richland: Lots of good stuff at Wayne’s place June 26, 2014

Wayne Wenzel in the back workshop/office area of Dad's Good Stuff.

Wayne Wenzel in the back workshop/office area of Dad’s Good Stuff.

CALL HIM A CHARACTER or the ultimate BS-er or, simply, a man of quick wit. Whichever, Wayne Wenzel truly is all of these.

Dad's Good Stuff is located on a street corner in downtown New Richland, Minnesota, south of Waseca.

Dad’s Good Stuff is located on a corner of Broadway in downtown New Richland, Minnesota, south of Waseca.

And to locals, this proprietor of Dad’s Good Stuff, a long ago hardware store age-defined by worn wood floors and a wainscot ceiling, Wayne is much more.

Dad's Good Stuff, keys

You can get duplicate keys made here.

He’s the key maker, paint salesman, furniture refinisher, window and screen repairman and peddler of all things old in New Richland.

Lots and lots and lots of merchandise.

Lots and lots and lots of merchandise.

Poke around here long enough in the stashes of aged merchandise that create for narrow, barely-passable aisles, and you will find something you need.

A stack of colorful Fiesta ware awaits a buyer.

A stack of colorful Fiestaware awaits a buyer.

Wayne's store holds some wonderful antique furniture including the Murphy bed

Wayne’s store holds some wonderful antique furniture including the Murphy bed folded against the wall behind the white table.

Plenty of collectibles here.

Plenty of collectibles here.

Wayne will open the door of the oven here and show you the "pies" he made. Fake, of course.

Wayne will open the door of the oven here and show you the “pies” he made. Fake, of course.

Pottery for sale.

Pottery for sale.

From Red Wing chicken feeders to Pyrex casseroles, to a Murphy bed, vintage calendars, Fiestaware, John Deere collectible toy tractors and lots lots more, Wayne’s store is packed with good stuff. That is if you are into antiques and collectibles. Or need paint or paint supplies. Or a key. Or a piece of furniture refinished. Or…a bit of bull.

Wayne likely adheres to this sign.

Wayne likely adheres to this sign.

Throughout the building, tacked on walls and tucked into displays, signs showcase Wayne’s humor. Under a “Complaint Department—Push Button for Service” sign, this jokester has affixed a doctored mousetrap with a button.

High on a wall, Wayne informs shoppers: “This Wagon Tonng Was on the First Wells Fargo Stagecoatch that Came Thru N. R. and Latter Robbed by the James Brothers Frank & Jessy James.”

Now, if you believe that, you’ll believe that Wayne once won the Waseca County Spelling Bee.

My favorite of all Wayne's signs.

My favorite of all Wayne’s signs.

But remark to this jovial man about the handprinted “Our Surveillance.” warning posted next to a portrait of Christ peering downward, and his mood shifts. “He’s been good to us,” Wayne says, suddenly serious.

And I know he’s thinking of his son who died of a heart attack five years ago.

“They say time heals,” he’s told me earlier, his eyes watering. I listen and reassure Wayne that it’s OK to talk about Troy, to cry, that time doesn’t really heal. I wonder then how much pain this barrel-chested man hides behind his humor. The moment passes and he’s back at it, dishing out bull.

I’ve only just met Wayne. But he’s made me laugh more than I’ve laughed in a long time. That is his gift to the community of New Richland, to those who stop by Dad’s Good Stuff for paint or keys or collectibles or BS. Laughter. The good stuff.


Be sure to sign the guestbook next to this horse lamp when you walk in the front door.

Be sure to sign the guestbook next to this horse lamp when you walk in the front door.

Admire the aged wood floors.

Admire the aged wood floors.

Be careful what you touch. The varnish on this trunk was still drying when I visited. Table saws are set up about mid-way through the store for Wayne's woodworking projects.

Be careful what you touch. The varnish on this trunk was still drying when I visited. Table saws are set up about mid-way through the store for Wayne’s woodworking projects.

These, Wayne tells me, are his "computer files," handwritten cards detailing customers' paint purchases.

These, Wayne tells me, are his “computer files,” handwritten cards detailing customers’ paint purchases.

FYI: Current hours at Dad’s Good Stuff are from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday, from 8 a.m. – noon Friday and Saturday, and Sundays by appointment. I’d suggest calling ahead (507-465-8551) if you’re traveling from any distance to shop here. Tell Wayne I sent you.

Check back for another post from New Richland.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering a historic gem (pearl) in Lake City July 16, 2012

A view of downtown Lake City, Minnesota.

DRIVING INTO LAKE CITY on a recent sultry summer afternoon, I expected to learn about water skiing in this Lake Pepin side community which calls itself the birthplace of that water sport.

Lots and lots and lots of sailboats are moored in Lake City.

After all, the popularity of water sports is evident in the sailboats crammed and tethered in the harbor on a weekday, waiting to be unleashed on the weekend.

I wanted to check out the sculpture (an anchor?) along Lake Pepin, but no parking was allowed and the weather was too hot to walk any distance. That’s Wisconsin across the lake. Beautiful scenery here in this busy water sport area.

And around the bend, fancy yachts—at least that’s what I call boats so big that one arrived on a semi—float in the bay. And a bit farther, boaters enjoy a summer afternoon on the lake.

Nautical-themed merchandise perched on a window on the second floor of Treats and Treasures. The “treats” are homemade candy, found downstairs in the treats section.

Offshore, too, you’ll catch the nautical theme of this Mississippi River town in business names and merchandise.

A side view of the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co., now an antique store featuring merchandise from some 40 dealers.

But, if you happen to walk into the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company, which is today a place of “the old, odd and unusual,” you will learn the gem of history I found most interesting about Lake City. Dave Close, who along with his wife, Juleen, runs the aforementioned antique store, will educate you about Lake City’s role in making pearl buttons.

It’s fascinating to hear about clammers who once harvested freshwater clams from Lake Pepin, delivering them to the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company and The Wisconsin Pearl Button Company (according to Steve Swan at Swan Jewelers). Both Swan and Close can offer detailed oral histories about local button making.

The Closes have this display of clam shells and button blanks in their shop.

According to Close, about 50 percent of the buttons in the world once came from the Upper Mississippi River, north of Ohio. That included Lake City, where factory workers sawed button “blanks” from clam shells before shipping the 50-pound burlap bags of clam shell cut-outs downriver to button finishing houses in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Muscatine, Iowa.

Old photos and more pay homage to this building’s former use as the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co.

Next to the still operating original freight elevator, the Closes have posted vintage photos and other items, including these clamming bar hooks. Note also the beautiful original wainscoting from the building.

Dave Close, co-owner and in-house historian at the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co.

Close has created a mini museum about this side of Lake City’s history behind the counter and in a corner of the 1866 former dry goods store which housed the button company from 1914 – 1920. It is the building’s history and Close’s clear appreciation for that history, which set his business apart from your typical antique shop. You need only notice the clam shells on the counter, the rainbow of buttons secured to his straw hat and the Pearl Button signage, inside and outside, to inquire about the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company.

Two freshwater pearl rings crafted by jeweler Steve Swan of Swan Jewelers in Lake City.

Nearby, Swan also honors Lake City’s button past via a display in his jewelry store that includes jewelry he’s crafted from the pearls of freshwater clams. Up until about a dozen years ago, when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources halted clamming operations on the river, this jeweler was buying from clammers.

However, the once thriving pearl button making industry ended long before that, in the late 1930s, when plastic buttons replaced pearl buttons, according to Swan.

All of this I learned on a sultry summer afternoon in Lake City, the birthplace of water skiing.

WATCH FOR ANOTHER POST from this southeastern Minnesota community of some 5,000 residents and many, many, many boats.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Sunday morning with The Hope Feline Patrol July 31, 2011

The Hope Feline Patrol lounges on the porch of Hopefull Treasures.

VISIT HOPE, MINNESOTA, late on a Sunday morning and you might feel like you’re in a ghost town. Except for the cats. The Hope Feline Patrol, I’ve dubbed them.

When my husband and I pulled into this Steele County town because that’s what we sometimes do on Sundays after church—hop in the car and drive to places we haven’t been to before—not a soul was in sight save those two cats.

They lounged on the porch of Hopefull Treasures, aka Wilker’s Antiques, all stretched out as if they had not a care in the world. Until I appeared.

The long-haired orange cat stirred, on alert, jumped off a weathered wooden box and wound around my leg. The tabby stayed put, flicking eyes toward me, then, satisfied that I presented no threat, resumed cat napping.

The orange cat, however, plopped down on the sidewalk in front of the antique store, rolled around for awhile and then assumed a leisurely pose with a watchful eye on the single main route through this town of 120 residents.

The orange cat almost immediately sat up and assessed the situation when I arrived.

The napping tabby left patrol duties primarily to the orange cat.

Hopefull Treasure's orange cat keeps an eye on the single road that runs through Hope.

All the while I kept taking pictures of the cats and the antique store I wished was unlocked. It’s open only from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or by chance or appointment. Apparently I wasn’t drawing a chance card on this day.

I knew I’d love poking around inside this place, scrounging for more story and photo treasures, plus antique and collectible treasures.

Every place, every person, every animal, every thing holds a story. And at Hopefull Treasures I’d found my story in The Hope Feline Patrol.

I had to peer into the windows of the closed antique store to check out the treasures.

Vintage postcards and coffee cups I spotted through the front window of Hopefull Treasures.

When I moved on down the street, the orange cat was still lying on the sidewalk in front of Hopefull Treasures.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling