Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Westward, ho: A surprising discovery at the Cannon Mall March 16, 2017

 

I’VE SHOPPED MANY ANTIQUE stores and malls. But this is a first: an 1840 Conestoga wagon for sale. Not to be confused with a covered wagon, this heavy-duty wagon hails from the Conestoga River region of Pennsylvania.

 

Beautiful lighting marks Thora Mae’s inside the Cannon Mall.

 

Inside the Cannon Mall, which houses about a half-dozen businesses.

 

Storefront windows to Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures, 31284 64th Avenue Path, Cannon Falls.

 

If not for my husband noticing a fabric Antiques sign fluttering in the breeze along the highway, we would have missed this rare find inside the Cannon Mall in Cannon Falls. We didn’t even know the mall existed and we’ve visited this southeastern Minnesota community numerous times.

 

Vintage and other signage directs shoppers to Thora Mae’s.

 

Thora Mae’s has lots of vintage signage, most of it rural, for sale.

 

Another sign at Thora Mae’s…

 

But there is was, hidden from our view and housing a hardware store, Chinese restaurant, dollar store, an occasional shop and Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures. This is one antique shop worth your visit. It’s bright, well-organized and filled with an abundance of yesteryear merchandise.

 

 

Given our late arrival shortly before closing on a Saturday afternoon, Randy and I had minimal time to poke around. And I spent some of that precious shopping time focused on the Conestoga wagon. Signage reveals the wagon traveled four times along the Oregon Trail and was used on the set of the TV western “Wagon Train.” That series ran from 1957 – 1965.

 

 

Dr. Joseph Link Jr. donated the wagon to the Hamilton County Park District in, I believe, the Cincinnati area in 1975. I couldn’t access online info to learn more during a quick search.

 

There’s even a western theme in a portion of this Thora Mae’s window display.

 

Now, if you’re my Baby Boomer age, you grew up watching and re-enacting westerns and appreciate anything that jolts those childhood memories. Right now I’m thinking straw cowboy hats, cap guns, stick horses and a red wagon, aka an improvised covered wagon.

 

 

For $6,000, I could have the real deal, the real experience and a genuine piece of early American history.

 

 

TELL ME: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen for sale at an antique shop?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part V from Wanamingo: Landmarks & oddities March 28, 2016

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Some of the airport luggage carts still remaining in Wanamingo.

Some of the airport luggage carts still remaining in Wanamingo.

MOST SMALL TOWNS possess oddities and landmarks unique to the community. Wanamingo in Goodhue County is no exception.

A few years back, I spotted row upon row of airport luggage carts parked outdoors in a lot on the north edge of town. It was the oddest sight. Only a small cluster of carts remains now. They’re still a mystery to me.

 

Small town Wanamingo, 47 elementary school

 

I am also intrigued by the massive pipes winding along the roofline of Kenyon-Wanamingo Elementary School. Typically, these heating (I presume) pipes run underground. Why are these atop the roof?

 

Small town Wanamingo, 44 butcher shop sign

 

At Wanamingo Meats and Catering, a hot pink sign and hot pink shutters draw attention to this downtown business owned by two sisters. That explains the pink. Butcher shops aren’t typically owned by women. Customers sing the praises of this business on its Facebook page.

 

Small town Wanamingo, 38 Ringo's sign above bar

 

Downtown, I noticed a bar and grill with a seeming identity crisis. A sign high on the building identifies the business as Ringo’s Bar & Grill. But an over-the-door sign banners J B’s Tavern.

I would love to get inside this aged house, to know its story.

I would love to get inside this aged house, to know its story.

On the north end of Main Street, I photographed a hulking old house with a widow’s walk. Surely there’s a story here. I expect the original owner may have been someone of great importance in Wanamingo.

That this portion of the old creamery was saved and posted on a highly-visible corner impresses me.

That this portion of the old creamery was saved and posted on a highly-visible corner along Minnesota State Highway 57 impresses me.

Finally, on the corner of Riverside Park, angles signage for Minneola Creamery. A quick google search tells me the creamery, organized in December 1893, was one of the most successful in Minnesota. In 1908, according to information in History of Goodhue County, Minnesota by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, the creamery manufactured 550,00 pounds of butter selling for $125,000. Oh, the things I learn because I notice and photograph. And because I delight in touring small town Minnesota.

WHAT ODDITIES OR LANDMARKS would I find in your town/city? Let’s hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow as I conclude my “from Wanamingo” series. To read the first four posts in this series, check last week’s archives.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Utica, not New York, but Minnesota February 23, 2016

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A farm site just minutes east of Utica.

A farm site just minutes east of Utica in southeastern Minnesota.

YOU NEVER KNOW what oddities will surprise you in a small town, which is precisely why I delight in exploring rural communities.

Utica, a town of about 300 located along U.S. Highway 14 between Rochester and Winona, definitely presented some attractions worth photographing this past September. I use the word “attractions” loosely. What I find interesting may go unnoticed by others.

I'm always happy to see a grain elevator that has been maintained and is appreciated.

I’m always happy to see a grain elevator that has been maintained and is appreciated. These are small town treasures.

It was the red and grey grain elevator jutting above Utica that drew my husband and me off the highway and into this community as a freight train roared through town.

Utica may not have a website, but it has this sign to tell you a bit about the town.

Utica may not have a website, but it has this sign to tell you a bit about the town.

From there we swung onto Main Street and noted that Utica was founded in 1858, if the signage on Utica Storage is accurate. We laughed at the “ELV. PRETTY HIGH” notation.

The law.

The law…

...up close.

…up close.

And, if not for Randy, I would have missed the 10 Commandments posted on the front of the building.

The "can't miss it" house.

The “can’t miss it” house.

Then, in a residential area, a Victorian house painted in lavender hues presided on a corner. I wondered for a second if it might be a tea house, but saw no such signage. Apparently the owner just really likes this hue given the outbuildings are also painted lavender.

This reminded me of my Aunt Marilyn, whose house is not lavender, but who loves the color. And I once worked with legendary Northfield News editor Maggie Lee, who wore only lavender.

Utica is definitely a farming community.

Utica is definitely a farming community.

Utica’s final attractions were two tractors—a wonderfully restored John Deere and a rusting Farmall—staged for sale outside a shed.

Now, if we’d taken the fast route home via Interstate 90, we would have missed all of this. Utica would remain just a sign along the interstate. I would know nothing of its character, its individuality, its colors.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oddities & art at a rural Minnesota flea market September 3, 2013

WHENEVER I SHOP a flea market with my camera, I challenge myself to find and photograph items that rate as unique, odd, artistic. I consider shapes and fonts, weirdness and, really, anything unusual that catches my eye.

Sunday afternoon browsing the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show Flea Market in rural Dundas provided plenty of subject matter.

Here are my top picks for flea market art and oddities, starting with the weirdest, a trio of doll heads in a colander:

Kind of creepy if you ask me.

Kind of creepy if you ask me.

The same vendor, Lou of Mantiques LLC (gotta appreciate that creative name), also offered another odd item, a child’s coffin, for sale. It drew my interest in that unsettled sort of way when you’re curious enough to ask but are uncertain you want to hear the story.

A child's coffin.

A child’s coffin.

According to Lou, who speaks with a thick accent even after 18 years away from Boston, during the diphtheria epidemic parents built coffins in advance, storing the boxes in barns in anticipation of their children’s deaths. Sad. Just plain sad. The coffin Lou was selling has never, obviously, been used but was passed down through the generations. Not in his family; some other. I can’t imagine anyone buying this coffin, but…

Michniewicz Sales presents "Quality Lawn Ornaments" made in the USA.

Michniewicz Sales presents “Quality Lawn Ornaments” made in the USA, in living color.

To balance the melancholy of that story, let me show you a sampling of Bob Michniewicz’ kitschy lawn ornaments. I first met Bob a year ago at the same flea market, photographed and blogged about him (click here to read that post). He was happy to see me again as, apparently, the publicity I gave him last September resulted in the sale of 10 cow lawn ornaments. Bob extended an open invitation to photograph his art anytime I please.

Tool and/or art, you decide.

Tools and/or art, you decide.

Now not all vendors are likely aware that they’ve created art. Or perhaps the art unfolds in the eyes of the beholder. While most flea market shoppers would see open end wrenches, dies, a brush and a turnbuckle hook when viewing these tools, I see something more—a collage.

Historic art.

Historic art.

Ditto for community celebration and homecoming buttons. These are mini pieces of historic art. Mini, however, would not describe the Albert Lea Tigers’ “Stomp the Packers” (as in Austin, not Green Bay) homecoming button. That button is the size of a dessert plate. Wowza.

A vendor's "trailer."

A vendor’s “trailer.”

Finally, my camera lens landed on a vintage Winnebago camper because, yes, sometimes even a camper converted into a flea market merchandise hauler can be a work of art in angled lines and graphics.

There you have it. My top picks from this year’s flea market.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A mail order tractor and other oddities at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show September 7, 2010

“STEP RIGHT UP! See the phenomenon that is attracting world-wide attention among pickle lovers—a gigantic bottled pickle.”

Yes, folks, if you had attended the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc., Show this past weekend in rural Dundas (like me), you would have discovered oddities and attractions worthy of a stop-and-look second look.

First off, we have…

…a peculiar overgrown pickle (or a cucumber) preserved in a slim-neck bottle and for sale at the flea market. Puzzled by this specimen, I asked another gawker, “How did that get inside the bottle?” He figures a small still-on-the-vine cucumber was inserted into the bottle and allowed to grow. Duh.

Next, we have…

…the black John Deere tractor. Again, I am puzzled. Why is this John Deere General Purpose Model B tractor painted black instead of yellow and green? Why is “MICHAEL” imprinted on the tractor? Is Michael the owner? And if so, can he answer my question?

For you toy collectors, we have…

…the amazingly expensive toy cow. Priced at $175, the rather forlorn-looking animal wasn’t flying off the shelf. Then Mankato collector/seller Steven M. Ulmen clued me in that the overpriced price was purely a joke. He would, he said, sell the miniature cow for a buck, or maybe even give it away to a kid. Steve also has a serious side. This former probation officer is an author. I left without a cow, but with two of his books, Blood on the Prairie: A Novel of the Sioux Uprising and his recently-published Bad Moon Arising.

Next, folks, we have a walk-through parts store on wheels…

…J. J’s Tractor Parts of Jackson stashes bins full of parts inside a semi trailer and travels to shows like the one in Dundas. The guy I talked to, who may or may not have been J.J., has been a traveling partsman since 1968. Three years ago he acquired the user-friendly semi trailer. I wanted to suggest, however, that he add a ladder to his inventory.

For all you hunters out there, impress your buddies without going on that big hunt by purchasing this flea market find…

…an antelope (I think) head. Need I say more?

Wait, sportsmen (and women), there’s more…

…try out this Ski Whiz from Massey Ferguson. This dual-seat snowmobile features a dual clutch steering system. No promises are made regarding speed.

And for those of you who prefer to order products from the comfort of your home, we offer…

…this 1949 Wards tractor found on page 250 of the Montgomery Wards catalog. Mail order brides, mail order tractors…

Finally, we advise you to read and follow this warning…

…on the back of a horse-drawn wagon: CAUTION POWERED BY OATS DON’T STEP IN EXHAUST.

So there, folks, you have it, just some of the many oddities I discovered at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

CHECK BACK for future blog posts about the Dundas event.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling