Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Discovering the arts at an historic Minnesota ag show, Part IV September 12, 2017

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Farm art on a dish at the flea market.

 

AN EVENT FOCUSING on farming of bygone years might be the last place you would expect to experience the arts. But the biannual Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show always showcases the arts through music, hands-on demos, flea market vendors and more. At least from my perspective.

 

The Czech Area Concertina Club performs.

 

 

 

 

 

This year I watched and listened as seasoned musicians eased concertinas in and out, in and out. A trio of kids twirled on the gravel floor of the music barn next to a John Deere tractor in an impromptu dance recital.

 

 

At the flea market, jars of golden honey showcased the culinary arts, beeswax candles the visual arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the booth of Larry and Nicholas Ahrens, I found a gallery of garden art crafted from gas cans, shovels, railroad spikes, horseshoes, golf clubs and more. I admire the ingenuity of artists who can sculpt such art from what some might consider junk. This pair does it well.

 

 

Likewise handcrafted embroidered greeting cards from Boho Boutique and Gifts, New Prague, drew my interest for their uniqueness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often I see art in flea market merchandise displays—a cluster of angled rolling pins, a collage of toy farm wagons, three pieces of vintage 70s Sarah Coventry jewelry, a solo woodcarving and more.

 

 

 

 

 

On the back of a t-shirt.

 

As an appreciator of the graphic arts, I am drawn to letters and words in advertising, in comic books, machinery manuals and even on license plates.

 

 

To my surprise, I discovered the literary arts on a tree mural memorial in the words of Psalm 96:12. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.

 

 

Beyond those words, outside on the grassy field punctuated by shade trees, I saw art, too, in the curves of tractor bodies, the spokes of a steering wheel, the jagged treads of a tire. This ag-focused event celebrates the arts with a decidedly rural twist.

 

Please check back for one more post in this five-part series.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Oddities at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, Part III September 8, 2017

Rows and rows of vintage tractors are a main attraction at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

 

WHEN I’M OUT and about with my camera whether at an event or simply exploring a small town or other setting, I often seek out the off-the-wall, the unusual, the humorous. The Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas offers all three. I appreciate the creativity and humor displayed there. In these troubling and difficult times, we need diversions. We need laughter.

So I targeted seven scenes that grabbed my photographic attention in the categories of odd, funny, weird and, most certainly, creative. Take a look.

 

 

At the flea market, I noticed a fake bloody hand positioned next to vintage saws. Randy suggested we buy the appendage to gift to my sister at her annual Halloween-themed autumn soup party. The hand, the vendor said, was not for sale. His sister staged it next to the saws as a marketing gimmick. I’d like to meet his sister and introduce her to mine.

 

 

 

 

Then there’s Mike, who brought his 1930 Model A to the show. Typically one expects shiny restored cars showcased by proud owners. The Northfield man’s vintage Ford, though, is riddled with bullet holes. On purpose. After paying $800 for the car, Mike was advised that the decrepit Ford was not worth the $30K he would spend to properly refurbish it. Not to be discouraged, Mike and a friend shot up the Model A then created a story about Jesse James III killing two bank tellers while robbing a southern Missouri bank in 1932. The car was his get-away vehicle. Now the bullet-riddled Ford and the accompanying legend garner more interest than if Mike had spent all that money restoring his car.

 

 

Parked next to the Model A was yet another original—a customized Ford Courier pick-up transformed into a double-headed car by the crafty Andy’s Auto Body of Webster. That turned a few heads, including mine. And made me laugh.

 

 

Not everyone was laughing at the toy John Deere tractor George Pinc placed inside a jar atop his Farmall tractor. He got a less than courteous comment from a show attendee. George didn’t care. He’s not a loyal-to-one-brand type of guy. But he assuredly is a man with a sense of humor.

 

 

I don’t know the story behind the horns clamped to the top of another tractor. But the add-on caused me to smile.

 

 

And then, as I walked between rows of tractors, I noticed a boy (I think Mike’s son) on a banana seat bike towing a cooler. Again, I just had to smile at the ingenuity. Got a problem? Solve it.

 

 

Finally, there’s the water bottle. By itself, tucked in the crook of a tree, it means nothing. But there’s a story. I watched a guy stretch and place the bottle in the vee. Before he entered a porta potty. How smart is that? Got a problem? Solve it.

Sometimes in life you have to think and act beyond the expected and laugh. Just laugh.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A tractor so deere featured at historic ag show, Part II September 7, 2017

A snippet of the many vintage tractors displayed at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas, Minnesota.

 

DRIVING AWAY FROM THE RICE COUNTY Steam & Gas Engines Show, Randy and I reminisced about a long ago popular farming event in our respective rural Minnesota hometown areas. That would be John Deere Days, an annual implement dealership open house. At the ones I attended in Redwood Falls, families enjoyed a free meal of BBQs, baked beans and individual servings of ice cream eaten with mini wooden spoons from plastic cups. Funny how one recalls such details five decades later.

 

There were plenty of John Deere tractors on the grounds.

 

A vintage John Deere combine.

 

I found the vintage hay loader especially interesting.

 

I remember, too, going to the local theater afterward to watch movies about John Deere tractors and other farming equipment. To a farm girl who viewed less than a handful of big screen movies during her entire childhood, these yearly John Deere promo flicks rated as a big deal.

 

Not every tractor emblem at the show has been restored. I like the ones that bear the marks of hard use on the farm.

 

But before the film reel rolled, several lucky attendees won door prizes. Like silver dollars. Randy won a bag of seed corn. His dad, who planted the silage seed corn on his Morrison County farm, was likely more thrilled than his son about that prize.

 

John Deere tractors and related equipment got front row display space.

 

So what prompted our memories of John Deere Days after attending the recent historic ag show in rural Dundas? It was this year’s selection of the John Deere as the honored tractor line. I hold a fondness for The Long Green Line that traces back to my dad’s John Deere. There’s a certain comfort in the auditory memories of putt-putt-putt. Anything that specifically reminds me of my nearly 18 years on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm—and that would be John Deeres—yields sweet thoughts.

 

Identifying words on the side of a John Deere tractor at the Dundas show.

 

I really should tour the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.

 

My dad owned a later model Ford, unlike these earlier Ford tractors.

 

Unlike my great nephew Landon who, at age four, is loyal solely to John Deere, I am not. My dad also owned Farmalls, Internationals and Fords. He, however, only ever allowed me to drive the B Farmall.

 

A leaping deer has long been John Deere’s iconic symbol.

 

Nothing runs like a Deere. That catchy coined phrase endures still as do the signature green and yellow and leaping deer symbols of this implement company. I appreciate those long-lasting recognizable tags that trace to my rural roots and remind me of my youth on a Minnesota farm.

 

Do you, like me, have sweet memories of a John Deere tractor?

 

TELL ME: Do you have memories of events like John Deere Days? Or do you hold a fondness for a particular tractor line? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Minnesota’s agricultural heritage at a steam & gas engines show, Part I September 6, 2017

A steam engine tractor plows a field. The men standing on the plow guide the blades to the proper plowing depth via levers.

 

AS SEASONS SHIFT from the growing days of summer to the harvest days of autumn here in Minnesota, aged tractors, threshing machines and other vintage agricultural equipment roll out of storage for annual threshing and steam and gas engine shows.

 

The engineers at the helm of the steam engine tractor concentrate on guiding it along the field.

 

On display under plexiglass: a replica 1920s threshing scene crafted by David Terry.

 

It’s a common scene this clustering of folks around vintage tractors.

 

These events mark a celebration of the past, a preservation of history, the remembering of a way of life, a focus on the labor intensive efforts of long ago farming. Here retired farmers lean against tractor wheels, men guide massive steam engines, kids learn and an honoring of times past prevails.

 

After finishing a plowing pass in the field, the steam engine tractor heads back to the other end.

 

Sunday afternoon I embraced Minnesota’s agricultural history at the annual Labor Day weekend Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas. I didn’t view every aspect of the event, but enough to once again feel a deep appreciation and respect for my rural heritage.

 

John Deeres were the featured tractor this year.

 

I love meeting friendly and photogenic vendors who are willing to be photographed.

 

Flea market vendors offer merchandise ranging from glassware to tools to clothing and lots more, including many agricultural related items.

 

With camera in hand, I roamed part of the grounds looking for photo ops that would present a personal and unique perspective of the show. From the flea market to the music shed to the rows of tractors and the vintage playground, I found my photos. There is so much heart and soul here and an obvious love of all things related to farming of bygone decades.

 

These girls rode their vintage banana seat bikes from Northfield. And, yes, there parents were at the show.

 

Carefree dancing and twirling as only kids will do.

 

Even the playground equipment is vintage.

 

I’m especially delighted that so many kids attend. Kids pedaling banana seat bikes. Kids twirling to the old-time music of the Czech Area Concertina Club. Kids steering tractors. Kids swinging on heavy horse swings now banned from most playgrounds.

 

Some families, like the Pinc family, bring multiple tractors in multiple brands.

 

Generations spanning infants to elders come to this show ground along Minnesota State Highway 3 under a sky that holds the haze of autumn, of a sun that still blazes heat in the afternoon, of a land that yields its bounty to the harvesters. Here on these acres, memories rise like a prayer of thanksgiving as summer eases into autumn.

TELL ME: Do you attend these types of historic farming shows? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

PLEASE CHECK back for additional photo rich posts as I continue my series from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

West of Mankato August 23, 2017

Cattle graze in a pasture along U.S. Highway 14.

Cattle graze in a pasture along U.S. Highway 14.

 

WHEN I TELL FELLOW MINNESOTANS I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, specifically near the small town of Vesta, I typically get a blank stare. So, when “Vesta” doesn’t register with them, I mention Marshall to the west and Redwood Falls to the east of my hometown. Both are county seats and fair-sized communities, in my opinion.

 

Driving on U.S. Highway 14 around Mankato traveling to southwestern Minnesota.

Driving on U.S. Highway 14 around Mankato traveling through southern Minnesota toward the prairie.

 

Even after dropping those two names, I still often get that quizzical look. It’s as if they have no idea there’s anything west of Mankato.

 

This barn along U.S. Highway 14 west of Sleepy Eye always catches my eye.

Gotta love this barn between Sleepy Eye and Springfield.

 

Grain storage along U.S. Highway 14.

Grain storage along U.S. Highway 14.

 

 

But there is. Lots. Land and sky and small towns and oddities and grain elevators, and corn and soybean fields stretching into forever. There are pitch-black skies perfect for star-gazing and sunsets so bold I sometimes wonder why I ever left this land.

 

There are so many well-kept barns along U.S. Highway 14, this one between Mankato and Nicollet.

There are so many beautiful old barns along U.S. Highway 14, this one between Mankato and Nicollet.

 

I understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I simply want others to see that this corner of Minnesota, just like the lakes and woods to the north and the rolling hills and rivers to the south and the Twin Cities metro, is lovely and quirky and interesting in a peaceful prairie way.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

U.S. Highway 14 passes through many small towns, like Sleepy Eye where these guys were shopping for a car.

Shopping for cars in Sleepy Eye, one of many small towns along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

 

A farm site between Mankato and Nicollet.

A farm site between Mankato and Nicollet.

 

Baling the road ditch between Mankato and New Ulm.

Baling the road ditch between Mankato and New Ulm.

 

If you appreciate barns, this area of Minnesota offers plenty of barn gazing.

If you appreciate barns, this area of Minnesota offers plenty of barn gazing.

 

FYI: All of these photos are from my files and were taken along U.S. Highway 14 between Mankato and Lamberton. That would be west of Mankato.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring in southeastern Minnesota May 10, 2017

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THESE ARE GLORIOUS DAYS in Minnesota. This May. This month when the landscape morphs from greys and browns into the vibrant greens of spring.

 

 

Leaves unfurl a canopy of green.

 

 

Lawns grow lush and sprout crops of dandelions.

 

 

Tulips pop bold colors like exclamation marks in flowerbeds.

 

 

Coiled fiddleheads unwind into feathery ferns dancing in cool spring breezes.

 

 

Bleeding hearts awaken, pushing new growth from stems dangling dozens of pink hearts. Hearts of love and hope and the beating of spring. All of this I see as if for the first time, although 60 springs have passed since I was born a Minnesotan.

 

 

In the countryside, I watch a blue green Ford pick-up truck tool along an Interstate frontage road between strips of greening road ditches.

 

 

I observe, too, farmers working the land. Soon shoots of green will emerge from black soil as corn and soybean seeds erupt in new growth.

This is the season of newness in Minnesota, when anything seems possible. And perhaps it is.

 

TELL ME: How do you view and react to spring, wherever you may live?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Published in Oakwood: My latest rural-rooted poem honors my farm wife mom April 28, 2017

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta, my hometown. The house is no longer standing. This image represents my rural heritage and looks similar to the house I called home for the first 11 years of my life. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE THAN 40 YEARS removed from the farm, my creative voice remains decidedly rural, especially in the poetry I write.

My latest published poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” honors the woman who raised me, alongside my father, on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm. My parents were of good German stock, a hardworking couple who believed in God, in family and in the land. I carry that heritage with me, ever grateful for my rural upbringing.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern, taken in 1980.

 

Life in rural Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s was hard. I see that now from the perspective of an adult. My dad worked long hard hours in the barn milking cows and equally long hard hours in the fields. Farming was much more labor intensive then.

 

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother, Doug.

 

Likewise, my mom’s job of caring for our family of eight required long hard hours of labor. She tended a large garden, preserved fruits and vegetables to stock the freezer and cellar shelves, baked bread from scratch, washed clothes with a wringer washer, did without a bathroom or telephone or television for many years, and much more.

 

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

 

Sometimes I think how much easier my mother’s life would have been had she not married my dad and stayed at her town job in Marshall.

 

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings. I write about this red-and-white checked floor in my poem.

 

But then I remind myself of how much family means to my mom and I could not imagine her life without any of her six children. She centered us, grounded us, taught us kindness and gratitude, instilled in us a loving and compassionate spirit.

 

Arlene’s 1951 graduation portrait.

 

She has always been mom to me, a mother now nearing age 85. But there was a time when she was Arlene, not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother. There was a time when she and my dad danced away a Saturday night in a southwestern Minnesota dance hall. They met at a dance.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

Those thoughts inspired me to write “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” published last week in South Dakota State University’s literary journal, Oakwood. I am honored to have my poem selected for inclusion with the work of other writers and artists from the Northern Great Plains. It’s a quality publication that represents well those of us who call this middle-of-the country, often overlooked place, home.

 

Ode to My Farm Wife Mother

Before my brother,
you were Saturday nights at the Blue Moon Ballroom—
a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey in a brown paper bag,
Old Spice scenting your dampened curls,
Perry Como crooning love in your ear.

Then motherhood quelled your dancing duet.
Interludes passed between births
until the sixth, and final, baby slipped into your world
in 1967. Thirteen years after you married.
Not at all unlucky.

Life shifted to the thrum of the Maytag,
sing-song nursery rhymes,
sway of Naugahyde rocker on red-and-white checked linoleum.
Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread
and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly.

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,
but to the beat of farm life—
laundry tangled on the clothesline,
charred burgers jazzed with ketch-up,
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

Yet, you showed gratitude in bowed head,
hard work in a sun-baked garden,
sweetness in peanut butter oatmeal bars,
endurance in endless summer days of canning,
goodness in the kindness of silence.

All of this I remember now
as you shove your walker down the halls of Parkview.
in the final set of your life, in a place far removed
from Blue Moon Ballroom memories
and the young woman you once were.

                                         #

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016 in rural southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I took some liberties with my poem. I doubt my mom ever drank whiskey. But back in the day, folks brought booze bottles in brown paper bags to dances for set-ups. She didn’t dance in the Blue Moon Ballroom, although one once stood in Marshall. Arlene went to dances in Ghent, in a dance hall whose name eludes me. Blue Moon sounds more poetic. But the rest of the poem is factual right down to the Naugahyde rocker and my mom shoving her walker down the hallways of Parkview.

FYI: You can view my poem on page 78 of Oakwood, found online by clicking here. My bio is published on page 89, listed among the other 40 contributors’ bios. I am grateful to SDSU in Brookings for the opportunity to be part of this magazine which showcases the creative voices of Plains writers and artists. I shall always feel proud of my rural upbringing, the single greatest influence on me as a poet, a writer, a photographer.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling