Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Traveling Wisconsin State Highway 21 December 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:04 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

THIS PAST WEEKEND my husband and I moved our second-born to eastern Wisconsin, where she just started a job as a Spanish medical interpreter. Our mission focused primarily on transporting her possessions, carrying them into her second floor apartment, helping her settle in and then leaving the next morning.

That, of course, left no time for exploring the Dairyland state, much to my dismay. I had to settle for viewing the attractions and oddities from the passenger seat of our van.

I settled in for the 300-mile trip with my legs snuggled under a fleece throw and my camera resting in my lap. Whenever I saw something interesting, different or unusual, I clicked away, shooting photos through the side window and windshield which were specked with salt residue.

It didn’t take long before I started seeing roadside cheese signs and fiberglass cows and business names that I found downright intriguing and often amusing.


Wisconsin is, rightfully so, proud of its cheese as promoted in this highway billboard.

Join me for a photographic journey along Wisconsin’s State Highway 21, which slices through the south central part of the state. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t tell you where most of these images were shot. After awhile the towns blend together.

Be assured, though, that the next time we travel Highway 21, we’ll stop and explore. I saw plenty of places—cranberry bogs, an Amish quilt shop, country churches, antique stores, cheese shops, even bars with interesting names—some of which I want to check out. Meanwhile, enjoy this armchair tour, the first in my on-the-road in Wisconsin travel installments.


You can't miss these cows and cheese sign right next to Highway 21 in Omro, west of Oshkosh. A sign by the stop sign said we didn't have to stop if we were turning right, crossing over the bridge. It was the oddest stop sign sign I've ever seen. No, I was not quick enough to photograph the stop sign sign. Next trip.

Piggly Wiggly grocery stores are popular in towns along Wisconsin Highway 21. I love the cute, vintage sound of that name. For some reason, I found it humorous that the sign on the right advertises pork chops on special with that smiling pig logo looming overhead. I also hear, via a friend whose brother lives in Wisconsin, that Wisconsinites simply call these grocery stores "The Pig."

Hunting is big in Wisconsin as evidenced by the many "Welcome hunters" signs I saw. And then I spotted this sign in Wautoma, our one brief stop to have lunch with my cousin Bev..

I wondered...are gals welcome too at Guy's Discount Grocery & Liquor? Wisconsin seems more lax with its liquor laws than Minnesota. Grocery and liquor stores are housed together with no dividing walls or doors between them. In Appleton, a sign inside a grocery store advertised the city's new ordinance allowing liquor sales from 8 a.m. to midnight. From the produce department, you could walk right into the liquor department. Oh, and all the store employees were wearing Green Bay Packers jerseys.


Hands down, here's the funniest bar name I saw on signage along Wisconsin Highway 21--the Stumble Inn

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A roadside oddity: the Kasota Zoo October 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:37 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I loved the story about The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Do you remember that tale of the three goats planning to cross a bridge, but first encountering a hungry troll?

The goats, beginning with the smallest, tricked the troll into waiting for the next, and bigger, goat. The third, and largest, goat was so big that he easily tossed the troll into oblivion and safely crossed the bridge.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed that tale so much. Maybe because I owned that storybook and my mom read and reread the words until I had them memorized. Or maybe I just appreciated that three goats could outsmart a mean old troll.

Anyway, because of that childhood literary introduction to goats, I’ve always rather enjoyed these mischievous animals. I find them humorous and cute and naughty all at the same time.

So, when I saw a bunch of goats fenced in at the Kasota Zoo several weeks ago, I had to investigate. Believe me, this is unlike any zoo you’ve ever seen. Propped pallets and a hodge podge of fences corral the 32 pygmy goats at this roadside oddity on the southern edge of Kasota.



The Kasota Zoo, home to 32 pygmy goats.



The goats have plenty of space to roam at the Kasota Zoo.


Toss in rocks and old tires, a bunch of shacks (some covered with tarps) and a few American flags and you have, by far, the strangest, weirdest, oddest, most unusual zoo I have ever visited.



American flag decor adds a patriotic flair to this down-home zoo.


I really question whether this even qualifies as a zoo given I paid no admission and saw no pathways that would take me beyond standing next to the fence watching the goats.

That’s when zookeeper Eugene joined me. I have no idea where he appeared from, but, all of a sudden, there he was. His co-zookeeper, girlfriend Patty, was hunkered down in a lawn chair on the zoo driveway.

I didn’t learn too much from Eugene. He’s not the most talkative fellow. But you can tell he genuinely cares for these goats, which are rotund enough to have eaten a troll or two. His zoo has been here 30-plus years, he says.

He grew up with goats; his dad had milk goats.

But Eugene and Patty raise and care for pygmy goats, which they’ll sell to anyone who wants one.

“Do you have names for all of them?” I ask Eugene.

“That one’s Number 8,” he says, pointing, while I struggle to keep from laughing that a goat would be named Number 8.

But then he picks out Spot and Chucky. That’s more like it, I think—name-names for these inquisitive creatures that have scooted up to the fence to see me.



Eugene and Patty have named all their goats, although I can't tell you the name of this one.


I don’t spend much more time at the Kasota Zoo, just enough for Eugene to tell me that he has a visual impairment and that Patty is legally blind.



Eugene, the zookeeper at the Kasota Zoo, wears thick glasses, but still struggles to see.


I don’t mention a word about trolls to these zookeepers. Not a single word.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling