Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The story of Babe the Blue Ox in Nisswa November 13, 2017

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WHAT DEFINES NISSWA?

 

 

Ten years ago, Nisswa Elementary School students created a work of art which partially answers that question in an unlikely place—on a Babe the Blue Ox statue.

 

 

Situated on a corner of Main Street, the artwork showcases most anything a visitor, like me, would want to know about this northwoods Minnesota community.

 

 

From the story behind the town’s name to the availability of pizza and ice cream treats to the turtle races, these kids highlight the best of Nisswa on Paul Bunyan’s sidekick.

 

 

They appreciate their parks and bookstore, Pioneer Village, the Halloween parade and, yes, the local library, too.

 

 

Well done, former kids of Nisswa.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Roadside art & more in Foley December 22, 2016

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foley-art-42

 

AN ECLECTIC MIX OF CAST-OFFS rests roadside at the intersections of Minnesota State Highways 23 and 25 in Foley.

I don’t know what to make of this collection. Trucks. Trailers. Wheels. Sections of perhaps culverts and grain bins. All jumbled together.

Storage lot mixed with art, I assess.

 

foley-art-44

 

If anything, the scene succeeds in grabbing the attention of passersby who, perhaps like me, wonder about the story behind these sculptures, this space.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bing’s collectibles: Part II August 15, 2014

SO HOW DID I DISCOVER Bing Skelton’s place near Clearwater? Blogger friend and frequent commenter, Jackie, posed that question after yesterday’s post. Great question, given Bing’s collection of service station collectibles, phone booths and more is tucked out of the way along Stearns County Road 143 north of Clearwater.

My brother-in-law, Tom, checks out signage fronting Bing's garage.

My brother-in-law, Tom, checks out gas pumps and signage fronting Bing’s garage.

My sister-in-law, Annette, and her husband, Marty, noticed Bing’s place when they were scouting out a location for the Helbling family reunion in May. So, on reunion day, several of us headed over to check things out.

An eagle carved by Bing graces the circle drive entrance to his property.

An eagle carved by Bing graces the circle drive entrance to his property.

And what we found is one of those rare treasures that makes exploring the back roads such a delightful experience. It’s truly about following the less-traveled route, slowing down and taking time to stop that leads you to these unique people and places.

Sometimes it pays to forget about time.

Sometimes it pays to forget about time.

That’s my advice: Get off the interstate. Slow down. Stop. Take time. Appreciate.

Charles "Bing" Skelton just outside his garage.

Charles “Bing” Skelton just outside his garage.

To meet folks like Bing and his wife, Mary, uplifts one’s spirits, reaffirms that, in this rat race of life, it’s worth slowing down. Fail to do so, and you miss out on so much.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Signage above the garage door.

Signage above the garage door.

A back and side view of Bing's garage.

A back and side view of Bing’s garage.

Lots of vintage gas pumps to study up close.

Lots of vintage gas pumps to study up close.

Seats from farm implements appear as art to my eyes.

Seats from farm implements appear as art to my eyes.

One of many phone from your car phones. So classic.

One of many phone from your car phones. So classic.

You'll find this tribute to Minnesota native Charles Lindbergh behind the garage.

You’ll find this tribute to Minnesota native Charles Lindbergh behind the garage.

A gauge on a really old gas pump.

A gauge on a really old gas pump.

A fast food drive-in is recreated on a wing of the garage.

A fast food drive-in is recreated on a wing of the garage.

Locals will appreciate this pizza sign from a regional grocery store.

Locals will appreciate this pizza sign from a regional grocery store.

More signs to appreciate from this rural area.

More signs to appreciate from this rural area.

Signage that simply made me laugh.

Signage that simply made me laugh.

Bing's collection even includes motor oil cans.

Bing’s collection even includes motor oil cans.

Bing probably has enough horses for his own merry-go-round.

Bing probably has enough horses for his own merry-go-round.

No coke sold here, but...

No coke sold here, but…

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Sculpture garden in Jarrett November 10, 2013

Sculpture, lens flare on arch

SUN FILTERED THROUGH THE STAND of cedars. Bright enough to cause lens flare when I shot toward the scraggly close-knit cluster of trees shadowing the banks of the clear, fast-flowing Zumbro River.

The setting appeared almost surreal and haunting in the sense that viewing the unexplained can impress upon the mind.

Sculpture, castle

I’d heard of this place, missed it on a previous pass through Jarrett, and nearly missed it again. But on this Sunday afternoon drive, I glimpsed the stone configurations among the cedars and asked my husband to swing the van around.

So here we were, pulled off Wabasha County Road 11, parked in a drive about the length of our van. I wasn’t even sure we should be here, uncertain whether this was public or private land. But I figured “No trespassing” signs would mark the property if visitors weren’t welcome into this sculpture garden.

Sculpture, wreath

In the quiet of this Sunday afternoon, and I cannot imagine any day being anything but quiet here in this secluded wide spot in the road, we meandered among the sculptures, shoes sinking into squishy earth tunneled by varmints.

Sculpture, cone top sculpture

Arches and points.

Sculpture, stones close-up 1

Sculpture, stone close up 3

Sculpture, stone close-up 2

Stones joined somehow into these interesting pieces of art. By whom? And why?

As Randy and I wandered and examined and wondered aloud, my appreciation grew for this artist. I expect he worked alone here, drawn to the solitude of this rugged place in the valley. He was, perhaps, viewed as a bit of an odd fellow. Was he a poet? A farmer? A musician?

Do you know the story of this artist and the rock garden in Jarrett, the unincorporated community which made headlines when the Zumbro roared from its banks during the flash floods of September 2010? I’d like to hear.

Someone tends this sculpture garden as flowers grew (during the warmer months) here among the artwork. Someone cares…

BONUS PHOTO:

As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me in my tracks. We saw boards lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me. We saw boards, mostly buried under leaves, lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The enduring smiley face May 18, 2013

Freeport water tower

I DON’T CARE how many times I’ve seen this water tower smiling down at me along Interstate 94 in Freeport. I still react with a smile each time I spot it.

In a community which is reportedly the inspiration for Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, this water tower epitomizes “Have a good day” in a singular visual.

And that, my friends, makes me happy.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a prairie chicken saves the day May 14, 2013

NUMEROUS TIMES ON TRIPS to and from Fargo, I’ve wanted to stop and photograph a kitschy roadside attraction along Interstate 94 on the edge of Rothsay. But time never allowed, until Friday morning.

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area.

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area.

I convinced my husband, who didn’t seem as excited as me, that we had time for a photo op with an 18-foot tall, 8,000-pound prairie chicken. He sat in the van while I did a quick photo shoot in the whipping wind.

In the right background of this photo, you can see the smoke rising from a grass fire along Interstate 94 near Rothsay late Friday morning.

In the right background of this photo, you can see smoke.

From our hilltop position next to the interstate, we noticed a towering plume of white smoke in the distance. Randy speculated a controlled burn at a nearby wildlife refuge. I wasn’t so sure. Who would be crazy enough to light the land afire on a windy day like Friday? But what do I know?

The road to the left leads into Rothsay, "The Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota."

The road to the left leads into Rothsay, “Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota.”

So…given my curiosity about this self-proclaimed “Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota,” we drove into Rothsay and meandered through residential areas before parking across from the Wilkin County Sheriff’s Department office (that’s another story) to scout out the town.

Soon, the wail of sirens pierced the quiet of an unexciting Friday morning in Rothsay as a rescue squad vehicle and fire truck roared out of town. To that fire, I presumed.

I shot a few more photos and then, just as we were about to leave the downtown, spotted a thrift store in an old church. We stopped.

This photo shows a section of the road ditch burned Friday morning along I-94 near Rothsay and photographed several hours later.

This photo shows a section of the road ditch burned Friday morning along I-94 near Rothsay and photographed several hours later.

When I met a local exiting the thrift shop, I asked if he knew anything about the fire. As I expected, he did. Word travels fast in a small town like Rothsay, population around 500. The fire, he said, was burning in the road ditch along the west side of the interstate about a mile north of town.

“Could have started with a bearing going out on a truck,” he speculated.

Or a cigarette butt tossed out a vehicle window, I thought.

Then he advised us not to take the interstate. “Go past the truck stop on the edge of town and keep going straight north til you get to County Road 108. Turn onto that and it will take you back onto the interstate,” he repeated. Thrice.

He reckoned that drivers, blinded by the smoke, might be piling into one another on the roadway. “They don’t slow down like they should.”

More of the charred road ditch from the Friday morning grass fire which halted traffic and caused accidents.

More of the charred road ditch from the Friday morning grass fire which halted traffic and caused accidents.

Randy wasn’t so sure the elderly man was right. I was. He seemed quite sure of his information.

As we aimed toward the edge of Rothsay, my indecisive husband suggested that we watch for southbound traffic on I-94. There was none. So north we traveled on a county road, soon catching glimpses of long lines of stopped traffic on both sides of the interstate.

From the County Road 108 entrance ramp nearly all the way to Moorhead, a distance of about 40 miles, we had the entire interstate mostly to ourselves. Talk about an eerie feeling. But better to freewheel along the interstate than to be stuck in traffic at the dual emergency site of a grass fire and multiple crashes.

So that is my story of how a prairie chicken, and a kindly man from Rothsay, saved the day for us.

And, I suppose, I can take some credit, too, as I suggested we stop in Rothsay. If not for my desire to photograph kitschy art, we would have driven right into that smoke and…perhaps another vehicle.

The feet of the giant prairie chicken along with info about the statue built in 1976 by artist

The feet of the giant “booming” prairie chicken along with info about the statue erected in 1976.

FYI: According to minimal information I found online, several crashes resulted from the large grass fire burning along I-94 near mile marker 36 north of Rothsay. I couldn’t find any details.

Also, according to info I read online, the 23-mile section of roadway from the Downer exit to Rothsay is known as “the Bermuda Triangle of I-94” because of the high volume of crashes during the winter months. The article doesn’t cite grass fires. Click here to read that story.

This past weekend, numerous grass fires were reported in this region of Minnesota. Click here to read about the fires.

Also, due to the high fire danger in many areas of Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources has issued burning restrictions in specific counties. Click here to learn more about those restrictions.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling