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


Tractors, bikes & covered wagons June 25, 2014


Glancing out the cafe's front window, I noticed the tractorcade rolling into new Richland.

Glancing out the front window of the Red Leaf Cafe, I noticed the tractorcade rolling into New Richland.

Around noon on Saturday, just as my Philly steak sandwich, fries and coleslaw arrived at my table in the Red Leaf Cafe, I glanced out the street-side window to see tractors rolling into New Richland.

The tractors kept coming, not all under their own power.

The tractors kept coming, not all under their own power.

The tractorcade, which began three hours earlier 27 miles away at Farmamerica near Waseca, was parading into this southern Minnesota town. And I didn’t want to miss grabbing some quick shots of the tractor enthusiasts and their John Deere, Ford, International, Farmall and other tractors.

Driving through downtown New Richland.

Driving through downtown New Richland.

So I darted outside, fired off some frames and then headed back inside to eat.

One of the 20 or so old-time tractor enthusiasts.

One of the 20 or so old-time tractor enthusiasts.

Shortly thereafter, all those tractorcade participants filed into the restaurant. Timing is everything.

The BBQed rib special.

The BBQed rib special.

Regular diner Robert arrived soon afterward, securing the single vacant table next to the one occupied by my husband and me. But this local senior didn’t have to wait for his food. The crew at the Red Leaf Cafe knows that every Friday, Robert eats the fried fish. On Saturday he has the BBQ rib special. And on Sunday he wants chicken fried steak.

You have to love it—this small town life.

Some of the tractorcade diners.

Some of the tractorcade diners.

While the tractor collectors in their worn blue jeans, tractor t-shirts and tractor caps waited to order, Randy and I finished our meals, just as a parade of motorcycles rumbled into town.

Raising monies for those in the military.

Raising monies for those in the military and their families.

Two hundred of them, by one participant’s estimate, riding on a 100-mile Freedom Ride to raise monies for Minnesota’s active duty military families. They’ve raised $100,000 in seven years.

Bikes lined New Richland's downtown street.

Bikes lined New Richland’s downtown street.

Signs of support and service.

Signs of support and service.

One of the hundreds of bikers.

One of the hundreds of bikers.

Taking a break on the 100-mile ride.

Taking a break on the 100-mile ride.

Parking along three blocks of Broadway, the bikers, in their worn jeans and leather vests and Freedom Ride and other t-shirts, and with tattoos inked onto many arms, ambled toward a corner bar for beverages, then hung outside in the glorious sunshine of a hot and humid afternoon.

You have to love it—this slice of rural Americana, this appreciation for those who serve our country.

The Red Leaf Cafe in the heart of downtown offered an ideal vantage point to view the tractors and bikes.

The Red Leaf Cafe in the heart of downtown offered an ideal vantage point to view the tractors and bikes.

In that moment, that afternoon, New Richland seemed the place to be with old tractors to examine and motorcycles to admire.

Checking out the parked tractors.

Checking out the parked tractors.

We lingered and looked. And then, when a whistle shrilled marking time for the bikers to ready for departure, we hurried to our van, wanting to get ahead of the pack heading north, also our direction of departure.

Timing is everything.

A Wagon Train participant readies to leave Otisco.

A Wagon Train participant readies to leave Otisco.

The drive to Waseca should have been uneventful. But then, to the west, I spotted covered wagons lined up in Otisco as part of the annual Friendship Wagon Train fundraiser for Camp Winnebago. We detoured off the highway, drove through the train and then turned around. A quick look with no time to dally.

Waiting to leave Otisco.

Waiting to leave Otisco.

You have to love it—this gathering of horse lovers raising monies for a camp that serves children and adults with special needs.

We did not expect any of this as we set out on our Saturday afternoon drive. But that’s the joy of an unplanned day. The surprise of it all, the timing, the ability to simply enjoy whatever unfolds.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from New Richland.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Small-town Minnesota murals: Grassroots art January 30, 2012

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DRIVE INTO MONTGOMERY or New Richland, Ellendale or West Concord, or many small Minnesota towns, and you’ll find grassroots art, my term for Main Street murals.

It’s art that’s out-front and public, depicting the history and feel of a community.

Such murals typically offer a visual snapshot of the past, impressing upon visitors and locals a defined sense of place.

In Ellendale, for example, a locomotive and depot comprise about a third of the 16-foot by 32-foot mural on the side of the Ellendale Café. The train points to the community’s roots as a railroad town, established in 1900 when the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railroad passed through on its way to Minneapolis. Ellendale is named after the railroad president’s wife, Ellen Dale Ives, known for her humanitarian works.

The Ellendale Centennial Mural photographed last summer.

The Sweere brothers of the Twin Cities-based National Mural Company and natives of nearby Owatonna painted the 1999 Ellendale Centennial Mural.

The mural, by the way, is just across the street from Lerberg’s Foods, an old-fashioned grocery store established in 1901 and complete with a moosehead on the wall. (Click here to read an earlier post about this must-visit grocery store.)

The city section of the mural stretching along the side of the New Richland post office.

In neighboring New Richland, the Sweere brothers also created the 12.5-foot by 65-foot mural brushed onto an exterior cement block wall of the post office. In this 2003 grassroots art, train tracks visually divide the mural into city and country scenes. It is a point this community emphasizes—not the division of the two, but the link between rural and town. Each July this Waseca County town of 1,200 celebrates Farm and City Days.

The rural portion of the New Richland mural.

Should you be interested in moving to New Richland, you might want to click here and check out this deal: The city is offering free land to individuals looking to build a new home in the Homestake Subdivision on the northwest side of town within a year of acquiring the deed. (Note that you’ll need to pay the special assessments.) Just thought I’d throw that land offer out there.

A 1950s version of West Concord is showcased in the mural on the side of a bowling alley.

To the east, over in West Concord, cars, not trains, define that town’s mural on the side of Wescon Lanes next to West Concord Centennial Park. The art depicts a 1950s street-scape, a nod to a community that celebrates summer with weekly car cruises and an annual West Concord Historical Society Car and Truck  Show in July.

Just down the street, you can shop at Woody’s Auto Literature and More.

Montgomery, Minnesota's mural

Traveling back west over to Montgomery in Le Sueur County, you’ll spot a mural of Main Street just across from famous Franke’s Bakery, known for its kolacky (Czech pastry). Local sign-painter Victor Garcia painted the scene based on an early 1900s photo of this town founded by Czech immigrants.

A close-up shot of the Montgomery mural

So there you have it—abbreviated visual histories of four small southeastern Minnesota towns showcased in grassroots art. Think about that the next time you see a mural.

The Mural Society of Faribault created this mural honoring the Tilt-A-Whirl amusement ride, made in Faribault since 1926. Today Gold Star Manufacturing still produces the fiberglass cars for this ride.

DO YOU KNOW of any small towns that tell their stories via murals? In Faribault, where I live, five murals are posted on buildings in the downtown area. With a population of more than 20,000, Faribault isn’t exactly a small town, not from my perspective anyway. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to peruse the murals which depict differing aspects of this city’s history.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Connecting to God at country churches August 28, 2011

Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at the intersection of Waseca County Roads 20 and 56 northeast of New Richland was built in 1908 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS, whenever I spot an old country church and have the time to stop and photograph it, I do.

I possess a sincere appreciation for the history, architecture, beauty and art found in these rural houses of worship.

There’s also something about a church in the country that exudes a deep sense of peace not found in a church built in a town and surrounded by homes or businesses, confined by concrete or pavement.

In the country, a church feels more closely connected to God by the sky, the land, the stirring of the wind through the trees, the background buzz of bugs on an end-of-summer day.

Serene. Peaceful. Calm. A certain sense of comfort comes from walking through a country churchyard, through the adjoining cemetery that links to farm fields where congregational forefathers worked the land and, on Sunday mornings, paused to thank God for the blessings bestowed upon them.

A plaque at Vista details the congregation's Swedish roots and history. Early settlers met on a hill north of the current church on August 8, 1858, and signed a constitution.

Most times on these brief visits to country churches, I find the doors locked. It wasn’t always this way. Perhaps even a decade ago, I could have walked inside. But times are different. Worry about theft requires locked doors.

So I can only imagine the sun streaming through stained glass windows, the worn pews, the ornate altar, the frayed rope of the bell pull.

Nearly every old country church features irreplaceable stained glass windows.

As I circle the church exterior, I consider the families that have come together here to celebrate baptisms and marriages and to mourn the loss of loved ones. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Cornfields snuggle up to Vista's church yard. It's the most beautiful of settings.

Here, standing with my feet planted next to the church next to a corn or soybean field overlooking the picturesque countryside, I can feel the almighty presence of God the Creator as I contemplate words from “Beautiful Savior,” my favorite hymn:

Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of Man!

Truly I’d love thee, Truly I’d serve thee,

Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.


Fair are the meadows, Fair are the woodlands, Robed in flow’rs of blooming spring;

Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,

He makes our sorr’wing spirit sing.

Vista's steeple rises above the countryside as a local landmark.

A lovely grassy area of shade trees lies to the north and west of the Vista church.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Verses one and two of “Beautiful Savior” are from The Lutheran Worship hymnal.


Guess the pig’s weight and other farm stories from New Richland July 29, 2011

VENTURE INTO RURAL MINNESOTA—and we’re talking the small farming communities here, not what metro folks call “Greater Minnesota” or “outstate Minnesota”—and you’ll connect to our state’s agrarian roots in some interesting ways.

Take New Richland, for example, a town of 1,200 in southeastern Waseca County. Drive into town and you’ll see the usual grain bins and elevator and other farm-related businesses you would expect in an agricultural community.

A cluster of grain bins in the heart of New Richland.

But then explore a little more and you’ll discover just how much this town values its agricultural heritage. Take the post office. Peek around the corner…

A corner of the New Richland Post Office. Note the grain bins a few blocks away.

Around the post office corner you'll find this mural which reflects the connection between city and country.

A snippet of the country portion of the mural. I wonder how the artist decided what type of tractor to feature?

Country connects to city in this detailed mural.

and you’ll find a mural depicting farm and city.

Now I’ve seen many a mural in my day, and I’d rate this as among the best. I wish I knew who to credit for this detailed artwork that draws the eye along the winding country road, down the train tracks to the grain elevator or along city streets to downtown. But I couldn’t find any information about the mural in a quick online search.

However, I did learn more about New Richland and the pride this community takes in its agricultural roots. Just a few weeks ago the town celebrated its 28th annual Farm & City Days. Events included the usual parade, street dance, bingo, antique car show, medallion hunt and such.

But I found a few activities that definitely say country through and through.

Teams of two competed in the  second annual Chore Boy Race. (Just for the record, girls can participate, too; the winners were Molly Flor and Brandon Mullenbach). Anyway, it’s a contest that involves eggs, milk, hay, grain and wheelbarrows. You can learn more about the competition by clicking here and reading this story in the local newspaper, The Star Eagle.

I found a Chore Boy Race contestant application online and one Farm & City Days Facebook page photo and these rules (some in boldface):  “You must wear all your chore clothes at all times. This includes but is not limited to Boots, Hat, Bibs & Gloves.”

OK then, got that?

If you’d rather use your brain than your brawn, Farm & City Days offers a “Guess the weight of the pig” contest at $1 a guess. The person with the closest guess wins the pig and processing at Morgan’s Meat Market. This year two entrants correctly guessed the exact weight of 208 pounds and agreed to split the hog, according to the Farm & City Days Facebook page.

If you didn’t win the pig, you could still eat pork by buying a pork sandwich meal from the Waseca County Pork Producers at the city park.

Two other agricultural-themed activities included a kids’ tractor pull and a Farm vs. City 3-person Scramble at a golf course.

I’m disappointed I missed Farm & City Days because it sounds like one heckuva good time, as small-town celebrations typically are. But I wouldn’t even have known about this annual farm-city event if I hadn’t been poking around New Richland last Sunday, spotted that mural on the side of the post office and then gone online to learn more about it, which I didn’t, but I did.

This John Deere tractor was parked outside the funeral home in New Richland on Sunday afternoon.

My husband and I stopped in New Richland while on a recent Sunday afternoon drive. Check out my July 24 blog post from this community and watch for future stories and photos from New Richland.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Canning jars and funeral info at the hardware store July 24, 2011

A sign in the Gambles' hardware store window gives updated visitation and funeral information to the residents of the New Richland area.

SHE PULLED UP ALONGSIDE the curb Sunday afternoon, leaned toward the semi-open window on the passenger side of her van and asked if my husband or I knew why Rodney had died. “He seemed so young,” she said.

“We’re not from here,” I answered. “I have no idea.”

But I had a question for her: “Why is his funeral information in the Gambles’ window?”

She didn’t exactly have a response for me—not one I can publicly share anyway—so I took this as one of those small-town oddities.

Even finding a Gambles hardware store in New Richland, population around 1,200, seemed an oddity. But there it was, sandwiched between New Richland Drug and Blondie’s Grill, along a main drag in this Waseca County community. These hardware stores were common when Randy and I were growing up in the 1960s, but not so much now.

Gambles stores, like this one in New Richland, were once common in Minnesota small towns. From 1925 - 1928, Gamble-Skogmo was headquartered in Fergus Falls and then moved to Minneapolis.

As surprised and delighted as we were to find the Gambles store, we were even more surprised to see that funeral and visitation information posted in the front window next to the canning jars.

But apparently this business place public posting is a usual practice in New Richland since the elderly van driver pulled up in front of Gambles for the sole purpose of checking out the information about Rodney Arnold.

Randy, wanting to know how she defined “seemed so young,” inquired while I snapped photos of that seemingly out-of-place sign in the hardware store window.

“He was maybe in his early 60s,” the woman, probably in her late 70s or early 80s, guessed, then drove off.

For the record, Rodney Arnold was 62. Upon our return home, I went online to Friedrichs Funeral Home and checked. I also learned that this self-employed dry wall installer met his friends every morning for coffee at Dads Good Stuff, just a few doors down from Gambles.

The things you learn if you simply take the time to stop along a small-town Minnesota Main Street…to read the latest funeral information.

The flashy front door of Dads Good Stuff.

Unfortunately, Dads Good Stuff antique, etc., store was closed when we were in New Richland Sunday afternoon.

Just a close-up shot of New Richland's Gambles store, which was closed when we were in town.

READERS: This is the first of many posts I’ll publish this week about a Sunday afternoon drive south to Hope, west to Ellendale and New Richland, north to Otisco and Waseca, and then back home to Faribault, with two country church stops in between.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling