Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back at the Rice County Fairgrounds April 21, 2021

Looking toward food stands and the Midway. To the right, is the outdoor entertainment center. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

VACATED. That word best describes my assessment of the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault during a recent walk there.

Many local groups have food stands at the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Picnic tables near the pork food stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The presence of 4-Hers at the fair is strong. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

In the absence of people, the absence of animals, the absence of a carnival, the absence of exhibits, the place feels empty. No pulsating lights on the Midway. No smell of grilling burgers. No taste of sugary mini donuts. No shouts of kids. No feel of a prize stuffed animal clutched in arms.

The entertainment space to the left with the St. Luke’s food stand on the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

If everything works out COVID-wise, this fairgrounds will teem with people come late July. Animals will fill barns. Ribbons will mark prize-winning 4-H entries. Greasy cheese curds will satisfy those who crave fair food. The sounds of music and clustered conversations and happy kids will create a steady buzz of noise. Little hands will grasp adult hands and teenage hands will lock in fair love. People will reconnect. Celebrate. Experience that which was lost last summer, during the height of the pandemic.

Love this signage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The commercial exhibit building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Garden decor stored until the fair. The garden is next to the conservation building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

This is the fair I imagine as I walk past shuttered buildings, as I pause to photograph buildings and signs and expanses of open space.

Just a snippet of the 32 barn swallow nests on Curtis Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

And then I pause outside the 4-H building, Curtis Hall, to photograph the row of barn swallow nests mudded under the eaves. So many. Thirty-two. Too many. If there’s one bird I dislike, it’s the barn swallow. We have a history. As a child, I endured barn swallows swooping over me as I did farm chores. The swallows built their nests on beams above the barn aisle, my direct work route. I felt threatened by them as I shoveled manure into gutters, pushed a wheelbarrow full of ground feed down the aisle. My feelings for the swallow have not changed. Even though they eat mosquitoes, I still don’t like this bird.

Just another view of those swallow nests. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

That’s my sidebar from the fairgrounds, perhaps one you can relate to if you did farm chores like me.

The sheep arena is named after a Rice County deputy killed in the line of duty. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2021.
A view of the sheep barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Each of the livestock buildings is numbered. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Fairs are rooted in agriculture. Prize animals. Prize vegetables. A once-a-year opportunity to showcase the best of barns and of gardens. But today’s fair is much more. Entertainment. Creativity. And, above all, a place for communities to come together once a year in one place. To celebrate. To connect.

The Rice County Fair office with the grandstand in the background. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

FYI: The Rice County Fair is tentatively set for July 21-25 in Faribault. Whether it happens depends on all of us. See my previous post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Rice County: Fair or not? April 20, 2021

The Rice County Fair office, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

DECADES AGO, AS A YOUNG newspaper reporter, I covered county fairs. I’d grab my notebook and my camera and head to the fairgrounds. One particular summer, I was assigned to photograph 4-H kids and their animals at the Brown County Free Fair in New Ulm while working for The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch. I spent days tracking down youth and photographing them with their prize livestock. Pigs. Cows. Sheep. Horses. Chickens. Try getting animals to cooperate for a photo shoot. Not easy. The experience left me so exhausted and fair-weary that I lost all interest in county fairs.

Among the many popular local food booths. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Rice County 4-H is an integral part of the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Next to a livestock building sits this carnival ride, originating in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Ever since, I’ve seldom attended a county fair. But I recognize most people love fairs, including the Rice County Fair here in Faribault. They enjoy the food, the carnival rides, the entertainment, the exhibits and, yes, even all those penned animals hauled to town by 4-H families.

Livestock buildings at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Last summer, COVID-19 canceled our fair. And most other fairs, including The Minnesota State Fair, aka The Great Minnesota Get-Together. This summer, from small town Minnesota to the metro, officials hope to host fairs. In Rice County, the fair board tentatively plans for a July 21-25 fair. Whether that happens will depend on the pandemic and state restrictions on gatherings.

The open air BINGO shed at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Minnesota Prairie Root photo March 2021.
Just across the way from the BINGO shed sits the Beer Garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
One of the newer fair buildings houses open class exhibits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file March 2021.

I’m all for putting health and safety first. This pandemic is far from over with cases of the virus surging. I recognize the weariness folks are feeling, but don’t accept that as an excuse for behavior that is increasing the spread. If people want to enjoy BINGO and beer, cheese curds and carnival rides, art and animals, and so much more at the fair, then they need to intentionally choose to help stop the spread of COVID. Mask up. Properly. Social distance. Stay home when feeling unwell. Get vaccinated.

An example of needed touch-ups. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

On a recent afternoon, Randy and I walked the Rice County Fairgrounds, just to have a different place to explore away from people. The emptiness of the space, without distracting crowds, exposes much. I observed that many of the aging buildings need upkeep, especially paint.

The new public restrooms at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

I’m sure fair-goers will appreciate one new addition—the construction of public restrooms.

A view of the grandstand underside. This was rebuilt following an arson fire many years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

I often wonder why the fairgrounds aren’t used more, especially the grandstand. That said, the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market sets up occasionally at the fairgrounds in Faribault. Car shows and food trucks have also used the grounds. In a year when spread of the virus remains an ongoing concern, this vast outdoor space offers options to indoor gatherings.

Photographed on the side of the Rice County Fair office in March. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Whether the Rice County Fair happens in July remains unknown. It’s really up to us to follow public health and safety mandates/guidelines and to choose vaccination. We’re not powerless. We have the ability to control our behavior, to think beyond ourselves to the public good. To make the fair happen in 2021.

FYI: Rice County is lagging in vaccinations. According to Rice County Public Health April 16 data, 41.7 percent of county residents ages 16 and above have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. That compares to 52 percent statewide. We can do better.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please check back for more Rice County Fairgrounds photos.

 

This little piggy can go home July 20, 2011

THE RICE COUNTY FAIR in Faribault officially opened at 5 p.m.Tuesday.

But even before then, fair officials were telling 4-H kids and other livestock exhibitors that, because of the excessive heat and humidity, they could arrive late and take their critters home after judging, according to information I heard on local radio station KDHL.

Then Tuesday at 10 p.m., my 17-year-old received a text message and asked me to switch the TV to KARE 11 news. “Adam’s going to be on,” he said. And sure enough, 30 seconds later the camera focused on his friend Adam Donkers spraying a pig with water in the swine barn at the fair. Adam informed viewers that hogs can’t sweat so he was sweating for them by cooling them with water. His family farm lost 11 pigs overnight due to heat stress.

So that got me thinking about excessive heat warnings for livestock, none of which I’ve heard. That doesn’t mean, however, that such warnings haven’t been issued; I simply might not be tapping into the right media sources.

This morning I checked the Rice County Fair website, but didn’t find any information there. I do know that fair officials brought extra fans into the barns on Tuesday.

Then I googled “livestock heat warning,” only to find warnings (not all of them current) from places like Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Montana. Not Minnesota.

I googled the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Pork Producers, the Linder Farm Network and the University of Minnesota Extension Service and, in quick scans of the websites, found nothing.

But then, I suppose, most farmers already understand the importance of keeping their swine, cattle, poultry and other animals cool with fans and water during extended periods of excessive heat and humidity like we’re experiencing in Minnesota. Yesterday the heat index reached 119 in Minnesota, the highest since July 11, 1966. The dew point soared to an all-time high of 82.

But back to those animals… Some may question why removing livestock from the fair would help because conditions are just as hot back on the farm. Consider the stress factor. Take an animal out of its familiar environment, load it into a trailer or truck, haul it to the fair, place it among strange animals and gawking people in unfamiliar surroundings, and stress multiplies. I mean, how would you feel?

IF YOU’RE A FARMER with cattle, swine, poultry or other animals, how are you keeping your animals comfortable and cool during this weather? How is the excessive heat affecting your animals? Have you lost any due to heat stress? How are your crops faring? Submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tilt-A-Whirl tradition continues in Faribault May 13, 2011

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed this Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim's Auto & Tire along Fourth Street in downtown Faribault in the fall of 2010.

AN AMERICAN ICON amusement ride made in Faribault since 1926 will remain here despite the sale of Sellner Manufacturing to a Texas company.

Jim Hermel and Mike Featherston, co-owners of Gold Star Manufacturing, recently purchased the fiberglass and staging portions of Sellner, I learned in a recent e-mail exchange with Hermel.

That’s good news for Faribault, where the Tilt-A-Whirl, perhaps America’s best-known carnival ride, has been made by the Sellner family since 1926.

If you didn’t realize the Tilt-A-Whirl was produced in Faribault, don’t fret your lack of knowledge. Not until I moved in 1984 into a house blocks away from the carnival ride maker, did I even know this icon ride was made in Minnesota, let alone Faribault.

Local State Representative Patti Fritz tried to get the word out in 2007 by introducing a bill to make the Tilt-A-Whirl Minnesota’s official amusement ride. However, that legislation failed.

My community has also missed the mark on tapping into this home-grown carnival ride as a tourist attraction. But now that the fiberglass ride car portion will continue to be produced here, I believe the opportunity still exists to promote the Tilt-A-Whirl. I’ve always envisioned a fun-focused carnival atmosphere museum and gift shop complete with Tilt-A-Whirl rides, cotton candy, popcorn, activities for kids and more.

Given the current economy, I doubt my vision for a Tilt-A-Whirl tourist site will happen any time soon, unless…

For now I’m content with the fact that Faribault-based Gold Star Manufacturing is contracting with Larson International, Inc., of Plainview, Texas, to manufacture the fiberglass cars for the Tilt-A-Whirl and for other amusement rides. The working machinery part of the business went toTexas.

Gold Star Manufacturing shipped its first carnival ride, Bear Affair, to Toronto, Canada, earlier this month.

Dizzy Dragons, one of the carnival rides that Gold Star will continue to manufacture.

Gold Star will also continue to make the fiberglass bodies for other Sellner-created carnival rides: the Bear Affair, Dizzy Dragons, Ships Ahoy and Pumpkin Patch. Another ride is in the works, Hermel says, and three other fiberglass products are in the development stage.

If anyone can succeed at revitalizing a company which fell into financial hardship, Hermel and Featherston would be the men.

Hermel comes to Gold Star Manufacturing with nearly 30 years in the tire business (selling almost 2 million tires, he says) and with 14 years as executive secretary and manager of the Rice County Fair.

“I wanted to get into something that would offer me a challenge,” the 59-year-old Hermel says.

His partner, Mike Featherston, brings a life-time of experience in the outdoor amusement industry to the new company. Featherston and his family own GoldStar Amusements, Inc., a traveling entertainment business with amusement rides, food and games based in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and Louisiana. GoldStar contracts for the midway at the Rice County Fair.

Featherston was recently elected second vice chair of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association which aims “to encourage the growth and preservation of the outdoor amusement industry through leadership, legislation, education and membership services.”

Now, as co-owner of Gold Star Manufacturing, Featherston is certainly fulfilling one of those missions by keeping an iconic American carnival ride in production, in Faribault. He and Hermel are continuing the legacy of Herb Sellner who built the first nine-car wooden Tilt-A-Whirl 85 years ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bear Affair photo courtesy of Gold Star Manufacturing

 

Inside a pet portrait studio November 2, 2010

GROWING UP IN HOUSTON—that would be Minnesota, not Texas—Julie M Fakler always envied the farm kids with their farm animals.

Today, though, Julie has no reason to feel jealous. She’s surrounded by a menagerie of animals, some real (her cats), most not.

She’s an artist, specializing in pet portraits. A quick peek inside her Faribault studio and gallery during the recent South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and Sale reveals that Julie especially loves cats and dogs. They comprise the bulk of her acrylics.

 

 

Examples of Julie M Fakler's animal portraits.

 

Occasionally, though, you’ll see a farm animal like a goat, chicken or calf. Some of those she’s painted at the nearby Rice County Fairgrounds, setting up her easel during the fair to recreate those critters.

 

 

Rice County Fair animal portraits painted during the fair.

 

As I sorted through the photos I took of Julie’s artwork, I finally figured out what was niggling at my brain about her paintings of animals against simple backgrounds of primarily primary colors. Her paintings, in my opinion, would fit perfectly into children’s picture books.

I haven’t asked Julie whether she’s ever considered illustrating a children’s book. But she will paint a portrait of your pet, on commission, or hand-stitch a quilt for you (another one of her artistic endeavors).

 

 

Julie painted this neighborhood dog.

 

 

Items tacked onto a bulletin board, left, provide Julie with inspiration for her paintings.

 

 

A jumble of paint tubes in the studio, which is housed in a former upholstery shop behind her Faribault home.

 

 

Paintings propped on the studio floor.

 

 

More animal art.

 

 

Julie and her sister make books, using them to record their world-wide travels via words and art.

 

 

One final nod to Julie's artistic side is represented in this old sink, acquired from a neighbor, and decorated for fall. It's outside her studio/gallery door. She intends to use the sink as a potting station in the spring.

 

For additional information and to view more of Julie’s art, click here to visit her Web site.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling