Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Touring an historic mill in Morristown June 4, 2013

I WISH MY MEMORIES of the old feed mill were imprinted upon the pages of a book. Indelible ink. Words recorded so that I would always remember. The smell. The sound. The sights. The everything encompassing this agricultural business in my southwestern Minnesota prairie town.

I recall so little—the wooden steps leading to the feed mill; the ground feed residue lingering in the air and on surfaces; the ever-deafening grinding noise of machinery chomping grain; handsome operator Wally Anderson with his shock of white hair who lived in a well-kept corner house several blocks north; and the summer a ventriloquist sat in front of Vesta’s feed mill with a dummy perched on his knee.

The Morristown Feed Mill in Morristown, Minnesota.

The Morristown Feed Mill in Morristown, Minnesota.

Those faint wisps of recollection filtered through my thoughts on Saturday as I meandered through an historic 1860 grist mill along the banks of the Cannon River in Morristown. Once a year this rural southeastern Minnesota community opens the mill for tours and grinds wheat and corn.

A replica waterwheel built in 1997 by Theodore E. Sawle.

A replica waterwheel built in 1997 by Theodore E. Sawle.

I won’t even pretend to understand all I viewed and photographed at this mill once powered by a waterwheel, later by electricity.

A volunteer grinds wheat into flour in the old grist mill. Each time the waterwheel turns, it spins the millstone 17 times in the process of crushing grain between stones. The volunteer's wife bakes Communion bread for the local Methodist church.

A volunteer grinds wheat into flour in the old grist mill. Each time the waterwheel turns, it spins the millstone 17.5 times in the process of crushing grain between stones. The volunteer’s wife bakes Communion bread for the local Methodist church.

Initially, the mill opened in 1855 as a sawmill. But, within years, the business was replaced by Hershey Grist Mill, a mill for grinding grain into flour and livestock feed. On the afternoon I toured, a volunteer was grinding wheat into flour with the waterwheel powering the grinder. I had intended to buy a bag of the $2 wheat flour, but forgot in the midst of my photographic focus.

Guidelines for pig feed.

Guidelines for pig feed posted on a mixer.

The Morristown Historical Society today cares for the facility which closed in the 1970s as the Morristown Feed Mill, purveyor of livestock feed. For those like me, who grew up on a farm but have long ago left the land, such endeavors to preserve the rural past are deeply appreciated.

The conveyor belt powered by the waterwheel. This operates the grinder.

The waterwheel turns these pulleys and belts which operate the grinder.

While I walked the old wooden floor of the feed mill, descended stairs into the cluttered utility room where a dangerous conveyor belt cycled and afterward climbed stairs to the second floor, I reconnected with my rural roots.

The old feed mill is stocked with lots of vintage grinding equipment.

The old feed mill is stocked with lots of vintage mill equipment.

And it may not have been in the way you most likely would expect. For me, the experience was mostly about the dust—knowing I needed to protect my camera from the fine grain dust which permeates a place like this, layers on the skin, hovers in the air, filters into memories.

Inside the feed mill, where a volunteer stamps cloth bags with Morristown Feed Mill.

Inside the feed mill, a volunteer stamps cloth bags with Morristown Feed Mill. Behind the sign are two mixers.

An old fanning mill cleans the grain for planting.

An old fanning mill cleans the grain for planting.

When I heard mention of mice, I was a little nervous about going into the utility room.

When I heard mention of mice, I was a little nervous about going into the utility room.

The Cannon River dam right next to the mill.

The Cannon River dam right next to the mill.

FYI: As a side note, the mill sheltered several refugees from the U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862.  Check back for more mill photos.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating rural America at a kids’ pedal tractor pull in Morristown June 3, 2013

Heavy clouds rolled in from the west as I stood on the west edge of the ball field in Morristown late Saturday afternoon.

Heavy clouds rolled in from the west as I stood on the west edge of the ball field in Morristown late Saturday afternoon.

ONLY BLOCKS FROM THE HEART of Morristown, next to Babe Nordmeier Field on the west edge of town, corn sprouts in tidy rows upon the fertile earth.

This southeastern Minneosta community runs rural through and through with businesses centered on agriculture. Farmers live and work on land passed down through generations.

I climbed onto the back of the riser/stage to shoot this photo. In the foreground, behind the Dam Days royalty, are the trophies and ribbons and perhaps other prizes in the bags.

I climbed onto the back of the riser/stage to shoot this photo. In the foreground, behind the Dam Days royalty, are the trophies and ribbons and perhaps other prizes in the bags.

On Saturday afternoon, locals and those who grew up here, and others, like me, gathered under a tent on Main Street to watch the Kids’ Pedal Tractor Pull during the annual Dam Days celebration. It’s a grassroots event that melds a deep appreciation of the town’s rural roots with the connections of family and friendly competition.

Even the Dam Days princesses participated in the pedal pull. Look at the faces in the crowd.

Even the Dam Days princesses participated in the pedal pull. Look at the faces in the crowd.

As I observed the pedal pull, I focused not only on the determined little ones peddling with all their might, but on the proud parents, the equally encouraging grandparents, the enthusiastic siblings, the sweet princesses and more.

Cameras and encouragement abounded.

Cameras and encouragement abounded.

Before me I viewed a competition, yes. But I also noted smiles and felt that sense of community which prevails in the heart of rural America. At this moment in time, in this small town, all is well in the world.

The vehicle of competition, momentarily parked.

The vehicles of competition, momentarily parked.

This little guy cheers on a competitor.

This little guy cheers on a competitor.

...while this preschooler was getting tired. She wasn't sleeping, but...

…while this preschooler was getting tired. She wasn’t sleeping, but…

Cheering on a contestant.

Cheering on a contestant.

Dam Days royalty turned around and flashed their royal smiles when they realized I was behind them.

Sweet Dam Days royalty turned around and flashed their royal smiles when they realized I was behind them.

One word: Determined.

Happy and determined.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographing the midway at Dam Days in Morristown June 1, 2013

SET ALONG THE CANNON RIVER in Rice County, Morristown, population around 1,000, bills itself as “The Best Little Town by a Dam Site!”

And this weekend, this southeastern Minnesota community celebrates its annual Dam Days, which continue through tomorrow. It’s one of the first summer celebrations in the area, an event that typically draws large crowds, especially for the Friday evening parade.

The compact Midway in downtown Morristown.

The compact midway in downtown Morristown.

I’ve never attended the parade, but Saturday afternoon my husband and I toured the historic grist mill and schoolhouse and also took in the carnival and kids’ tractor pull.

Dakota waves to his dad who is photographing his little boy's ride on the merry-go-round.

Dakota waves to his dad who is photographing his little boy’s ride on the merry-go-round.

As always, I found an abundance of photo ops. Today I’ll show you the midway. Oh, my gosh, a carnival is a photographer’s playground with colorful characters, happy kids, young love, and just so much to take in.

Enjoy.

In front of the local Legion, the choppers.

In front of the local Legion, the choppers.

The coveted prizes hang high.

The coveted prizes hang high.

Young love. No other words needed.

Young love. No other words needed.

A riot of color.

A riot of color.

The Old Town Tavern advertises its Dam Days specials. Great place to eat.

The Old Town Tavern advertises its Dam Days specials. Great place to eat.

Trying to win a prize.

Trying to win a prize.

One of the healthier food choices.

One of the healthier food choices.

Walking (or falling) in the water balls.

Walking (or falling) in the water balls.

A slow afternoon on the Midway...

A slow afternoon on the midway…at the Dizzy Dragons ride, originating in Faribault.

Shooting to win.

Shooting to win.

One final look at the Midway.

One final look at the carnival.

If you want to experience a small town celebration, head over to Morristown, located about 10 miles west of Faribault on Minnesota State Highway 60, tomorrow. Click here to read the entire list of events happening on Sunday.

Among Sunday events is the 2nd annual Amateur Backyard BBQ Contest, beginning at 1 p.m. in the park by the river. You can sample five BBQed items for $5.

Among Sunday events is the 2nd annual Amateur Backyard BBQ Contest, beginning at 1 p.m. in the park by the river. You can sample five BBQed items for $5.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE POSTS from the Morristown Mill, the old schoolhouse and the kids’ tractor pull.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling