Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Goin’ to the lake June 27, 2016

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Boat, 1 ahead on I-94

 

TRAVELING TO CENTRAL and northern Minnesota on a summer weekend, motorists expect heavy traffic as folks head to lake cabins and resorts. It’s a given. Campers, trucks pulling boats and loaded-down vehicles cram roadways. Ditto for the return trip home Sunday afternoon.

 

Boat, 5 pulled along I-94

 

Even knowing this, I did not expect to see a semi truck transporting an oversized boat along Interstate 94 between Monticello and Clearwater on Saturday morning. As traffic slowed in both lanes, my husband and I wondered if we’d encounter an accident, road construction or what.

 

Boat, 7 close-up of along I-94

 

And then, as speeds picked up again, we saw the or what—the ginormous boat carried by the semi.

That led to speculation: What lake in central/northern Minnesota can handle a boat of this size? How will the owner get this boat into a lake? And what is the value of this boat?

 

Boat, 9 along I-94 in side mirror

 

Randy, who grew up in central Minnesota, unlike me a native of (mostly) lake-less southwestern Minnesota, speculated on Gull Lake near Brainerd as the boat’s destination. Right or wrong, we’ll never know. We lost track of the watercraft after sneaking ahead of the boat-towing-semi just before it crossed the Mississippi River bridge at Clearwater.

IF YOU’RE A MINNESOTAN, I’d like to hear a story about driving north on a summer weekend. If you’re not from Minnesota, tell me about traffic in your state on the weekends, perhaps areas you avoid or wish you could avoid.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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An obit: I didn’t know Jim, but now I do April 27, 2016

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A fence surrounds the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in the Sogn Valley area.

A fence surrounds the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in the Sogn Valley area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010 used here for illustration purposes only.

MORE AND MORE, I READ OBITUARIES. Probably because I am aging and more people I know are now dying.

I didn’t know Jim Mueller of Clearwater, though. Yet I still read his 22 column inch obit published April 21 in The Gaylord Hub, a small southern Minnesota weekly where I worked as a reporter for two years right out of college. The Hub arrives in my mailbox each week, a tangible reminder of my past and of the passage of time.

James Henry Mueller left his hometown of Gaylord in 1973, five years before I arrived. If he had still resided there, I likely would have interviewed him. He was that kind of guy. Socially active. A storyteller. A businessman. A character. He would have made for an interesting feature.

Consider this line from the beginning of his obit: Jimmy grew up doted on by his ma and arguing with his pa.

But it is the ninth and final paragraph of this lengthy obit which makes me wish I’d known this 88-year-old:

Jim’s many hats included: Veteran Navy Man, Well Driller, Grain Bin Mover, Beer Seller, Horse Wrangler, and Postmaster. He was a smooth dancer and an ace at bridge. He will fondly be remembered as a Teller of Tales, A Spinner of Yarns, and a Preacher of Sermons.

In addition, paragraph eight notes that Jim donated his body to science. Even in death, his story continues.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. How would you like to be remembered? What hats would others say you wore? What do you think of this trend to personalize obituaries with insights and commentary?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bing’s collectibles: Part II August 15, 2014

SO HOW DID I DISCOVER Bing Skelton’s place near Clearwater? Blogger friend and frequent commenter, Jackie, posed that question after yesterday’s post. Great question, given Bing’s collection of service station collectibles, phone booths and more is tucked out of the way along Stearns County Road 143 north of Clearwater.

My brother-in-law, Tom, checks out signage fronting Bing's garage.

My brother-in-law, Tom, checks out gas pumps and signage fronting Bing’s garage.

My sister-in-law, Annette, and her husband, Marty, noticed Bing’s place when they were scouting out a location for the Helbling family reunion in May. So, on reunion day, several of us headed over to check things out.

An eagle carved by Bing graces the circle drive entrance to his property.

An eagle carved by Bing graces the circle drive entrance to his property.

And what we found is one of those rare treasures that makes exploring the back roads such a delightful experience. It’s truly about following the less-traveled route, slowing down and taking time to stop that leads you to these unique people and places.

Sometimes it pays to forget about time.

Sometimes it pays to forget about time.

That’s my advice: Get off the interstate. Slow down. Stop. Take time. Appreciate.

Charles "Bing" Skelton just outside his garage.

Charles “Bing” Skelton just outside his garage.

To meet folks like Bing and his wife, Mary, uplifts one’s spirits, reaffirms that, in this rat race of life, it’s worth slowing down. Fail to do so, and you miss out on so much.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Signage above the garage door.

Signage above the garage door.

A back and side view of Bing's garage.

A back and side view of Bing’s garage.

Lots of vintage gas pumps to study up close.

Lots of vintage gas pumps to study up close.

Seats from farm implements appear as art to my eyes.

Seats from farm implements appear as art to my eyes.

One of many phone from your car phones. So classic.

One of many phone from your car phones. So classic.

You'll find this tribute to Minnesota native Charles Lindbergh behind the garage.

You’ll find this tribute to Minnesota native Charles Lindbergh behind the garage.

A gauge on a really old gas pump.

A gauge on a really old gas pump.

A fast food drive-in is recreated on a wing of the garage.

A fast food drive-in is recreated on a wing of the garage.

Locals will appreciate this pizza sign from a regional grocery store.

Locals will appreciate this pizza sign from a regional grocery store.

More signs to appreciate from this rural area.

More signs to appreciate from this rural area.

Signage that simply made me laugh.

Signage that simply made me laugh.

Bing's collection even includes motor oil cans.

Bing’s collection even includes motor oil cans.

Bing probably has enough horses for his own merry-go-round.

Bing probably has enough horses for his own merry-go-round.

No coke sold here, but...

No coke sold here, but…

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Near Clearwater, MN: Discovering Bing’s service station collectibles & more August 14, 2014

THE COLLECTION OF VINTAGE GAS PUMPS, signage, phone booths and more is overwhelming, mind-boggling and impressive. To say the least.

The signs in Bing's collection are either original, reproductions or ones painted by him.

The signs in Bing’s collection are either original, reproductions or ones painted by him.

I could have wandered for hours at Bing and Mary Skelton’s property north of Clearwater in central Minnesota to see it all.

Rows of collectibles...

Rows of collectibles…

“All” is a massive collection of service station memorabilia coupled with those outdoor public phones, horse harnesses and so much more gathered during the past 15 years. That time span could be longer. Bing, real name Charles, isn’t precise on when he began amassing this stuff.

Bing poses for a portrait in his garage.

Bing poses for a portrait in his garage.

But one thing is certain. Bing welcomes visitors with the hospitality of long-time friends. His warmth is genuine, his enthusiasm unbridled. He grew up in the 1950s and appreciates items from that era. He likes Elvis and filling stations and, obviously, lots of other stuff from the past.

An overview of Bing's place upon entering the circle drive.

An overview of Bing’s place upon entering the circle drive.

Upon arriving at Bing’s place, discovered while attending a family reunion at Sportman’s Park just down the road and around the corner, I simply stood and took in the scene before me. You just cannot believe what you are seeing.

Looking down the short driveway to Stearns County Road 143. Use extreme caution when exiting onto the county road.

Looking down the short driveway to Stearns County Road 143. Use extreme caution when exiting onto the county road.

And even more unbelievable is that nothing is for sale nor does Bing charge for the joy and privilege of viewing his collection. People from all over the world find his place, tucked behind a hedge row and trees, hidden from Stearns County Road 143, just off 27th Avenue East off CR 75. If you’re not observant, you could easily miss this attraction that sits nearly atop the roadway.

Among all the signage, I noticed this print of Christ in the garage.

Among all the signage, I noticed this print of Christ in the garage.

It didn’t take me long, though, to notice a particular print among all the signage and collectibles in a garage that carries the aged scent of motor oil. There, above a May 1989 calendar page from St. Augusta Oil Co., to the left of a 2011 Gas & Oil Collection auction bill from Perham and near a portrait of a much younger Bing and Mary, hangs a portrait of Christ.

“It’s our Lord and Saviour,” Bing tells me as I remark on the image by artist Bette Meyers.

And I tell him I know and it is then that this collector shares his faith, terming himself a “caretaker for Jesus,” his collection a “calling card” to draw people in.

Not that he pushes his faith upon visitors. I did not sense that at all. Rather, by simply being Bing—a man who is genuinely welcoming, interesting and kind—he is witnessing. He’s not boastful either, just delighted to share his collecting passion.

Some of the wood sculptures Bing carved.

Some of the wood sculptures Bing carved.

His wife, Mary, who exited their adjacent home to rest on a chair in the cool of the garage, confirms that. Bing doesn’t like to talk about himself, she tells me. Not until Mary reveals it, do I learn that her husband molds metal to rebuild the oldest of the gas pumps on their property. And he paints signs and has created items, like guitars and sculptures from wood.

The wood guitars Bing crafts.

The wood guitars Bing crafts.

The talents of this man with past work experience on a mink ranch, fighting forest fires, in plumbing, sheet metal and more, are many. Mary seems his strongest supporter. She’s as kind and friendly and as gentle in spirit as her husband.

I convinced Mary to pose for this sweet portrait with her husband.

I convinced Mary to pose for this sweet portrait with her husband outside the garage. She hugged me before we left.

When I inquire as to her talent, the couple’s 45-year-old son, Joe, who has arrived at his parents’ place to tinker on a car, pipes up that his mom can cook. She confirms that and eventually father and son lead me into a lean-to off the garage. Inside rests a mammoth blue cookstove that Mary used while Joe was growing up. Lots of pizzas baked inside that oven.

The wood-burning cookstove Mary used when Joe was growing up.

The wood-burning cookstove Mary used when Joe was growing up.

During Joe’s youth, his dad collected antiques, but then Bing sold them all. And now he’s amassed this “new” collection.

Then I am treated to one more glimpse into the past after spotting a black rotary dial phone in the garage.

The Skeltons' working rotary dial phone.

The Skeltons’ working rotary dial phone.

That phone doesn’t work. But Joe tells me his folks have a working rotary dial wall phone inside the house. When I look doubtful, Mary takes me inside to view the vintage phone. I pick up the receiver, hear a dial tone.

I am a believer. Exactly what Bing hopes.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Pausing among the pumps.

Pausing among the pumps.

More collectibles, including horse harnesses, are clumped around the General Store.

More collectibles, clumped around the General Store.

Vintage phone booths are a major part of the collection.

Vintage outdoor public phones are a major part of the collection.

The Sinclair dinosaur has always been one of my favorite icons.

The Sinclair dinosaur is among the numerous gas company signs in Bing’s collection.

Two of my favorite of Bing's carvings, of Native Americans.

Two of my favorite of Bing’s carvings, of Native Americans.

Another favorite icon, the flying red horse.

Bing has several of the iconic flying red horse signs.

FYI: Please check back tomorrow for more photos of Bing’s collection.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling