Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring Minnesota’s agricultural heritage at a steam & gas engines show, Part I September 6, 2017

A steam engine tractor plows a field. The men standing on the plow guide the blades to the proper plowing depth via levers.

 

AS SEASONS SHIFT from the growing days of summer to the harvest days of autumn here in Minnesota, aged tractors, threshing machines and other vintage agricultural equipment roll out of storage for annual threshing and steam and gas engine shows.

 

The engineers at the helm of the steam engine tractor concentrate on guiding it along the field.

 

On display under plexiglass: a replica 1920s threshing scene crafted by David Terry.

 

It’s a common scene this clustering of folks around vintage tractors.

 

These events mark a celebration of the past, a preservation of history, the remembering of a way of life, a focus on the labor intensive efforts of long ago farming. Here retired farmers lean against tractor wheels, men guide massive steam engines, kids learn and an honoring of times past prevails.

 

After finishing a plowing pass in the field, the steam engine tractor heads back to the other end.

 

Sunday afternoon I embraced Minnesota’s agricultural history at the annual Labor Day weekend Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas. I didn’t view every aspect of the event, but enough to once again feel a deep appreciation and respect for my rural heritage.

 

John Deeres were the featured tractor this year.

 

I love meeting friendly and photogenic vendors who are willing to be photographed.

 

Flea market vendors offer merchandise ranging from glassware to tools to clothing and lots more, including many agricultural related items.

 

With camera in hand, I roamed part of the grounds looking for photo ops that would present a personal and unique perspective of the show. From the flea market to the music shed to the rows of tractors and the vintage playground, I found my photos. There is so much heart and soul here and an obvious love of all things related to farming of bygone decades.

 

These girls rode their vintage banana seat bikes from Northfield. And, yes, there parents were at the show.

 

Carefree dancing and twirling as only kids will do.

 

Even the playground equipment is vintage.

 

I’m especially delighted that so many kids attend. Kids pedaling banana seat bikes. Kids twirling to the old-time music of the Czech Area Concertina Club. Kids steering tractors. Kids swinging on heavy horse swings now banned from most playgrounds.

 

Some families, like the Pinc family, bring multiple tractors in multiple brands.

 

Generations spanning infants to elders come to this show ground along Minnesota State Highway 3 under a sky that holds the haze of autumn, of a sun that still blazes heat in the afternoon, of a land that yields its bounty to the harvesters. Here on these acres, memories rise like a prayer of thanksgiving as summer eases into autumn.

TELL ME: Do you attend these types of historic farming shows? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

PLEASE CHECK back for additional photo rich posts as I continue my series from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Preserving central Wisconsin’s rural heritage via on-the-road photography January 5, 2012

Each time I see this Wisconsin barn, I think of the biblical story of Joseph's coat of many colors.

ON OUR FOURTH TRIP through central Wisconsin in a year along the same route—Interstate 90 to Interstate 94 in Tomah then on Wisconsin Highway 21 to Oshkosh, up U.S. Highway 41 to Appleton—I’m getting to know the Dairyland state from her western to near eastern borders.

She’s a beautiful state of rolling hills, flat marsh land, stands of packed pencil-thin pines, too many towns whose names end in “ville,” infinite piles of stacked firewood, cranberry bogs and potato patches, muskrat mounds, cheese stores, Packers fans, small-town bars and barns—oh, the barns that I love to photograph.

One of my favorite barns along Wisconsin Highway 21 because of the stone walls.

As I’ve done on every 600-mile round trip to and from our second daughter’s Appleton home, I capture the scenery via on-the-road photography, meaning I photograph through the passenger side window or windshield of our vehicle at highway speeds. Sometimes I manage to snap a well-composed image. Other times I fail to lift my camera, compose and click in time and miss the photo op.

Journey after journey, I find my eyes drawn to the many old barns that are so much a part of Wisconsin’s landscape and heritage. And mine. Only in Minnesota.

I’ve seen every type of barn, from the well-preserved to the crumbling, pieced-together-with-tin structure. I know that any barn, once left to fall into a rotting pile of boards, will never be replaced by an equally grand structure.

A pieced together weathered barn blends into the gray landscape on a dreary winter afternoon.

A once grand barn shows the first signs of falling into disrepair.

The occasional white barn pops up among the characteristically red barns.

Majestic barns, rising sturdy and proud above the land, are seldom crafted anymore. Instead, mundane metal rectangles sprawl, without any character or beauty, across the landscape. Such structures hold no artistic, but only practical, value on the farm.

Via my barn photography, I am documenting for future generations a way of life—the family farm—which, in many places, has already vanished.

If my photos inspire you to appreciate barns and rural life and the land and our agricultural heritage and the men and women who work the soil and their importance in this great country of ours, then I will have passed along to you something of great worth.

An especially picturesque farm site along Wisconsin Highway 21.

The muted blue-grey of this old farmhouse blends seamlessly with the dreamy landscape on a snowy New Year's Day afternoon in central Wisconsin.

Contrasted against snow, red barns are particularly visually appealing.

NOTE: The above photos were taken on December 30, 2011, and January 1, 2012, along Wisconsin Highway 21 in the central part of the state primarily between Wautoma and Oshkosh.

I have applied a canvas style editing technique to most of the images, creating a quality that is more painting than photo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Farm Country Thanksgiving November 24, 2010

The third book in the Farm Country series.

WHENEVER I OPEN one of Lakeville author Gordon Fredrickson’s books, I feel like I’m stepping back in time to my childhood on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm.

I’m thankful for Fredrickson, who understands the value in preserving the history of small family farms. Because he was raised on a Scott County dairy farm and farmed for awhile as an adult with his wife, Nancy, Fredrickson gets his 1950s era farm stories right.

Last night I snuggled up in the recliner with his latest children’s picture book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving. I thought it would be a fairly quick read, but I was wrong.

I didn’t whiz through this story told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old farm boy Jimmy. Rather, I savored every rhyming word by Fredrickson and every detailed illustration by Michaelin Otis.

I was the one sledding down the hill. I was the one with snow stuffed down my neck by my older brother. I was pitching silage down the silo chute, eating banana-filled Jell-O, sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving…

If you grew up on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s, you absolutely must read this book and Fredrickson’s other Farm Country series stories about Halloween and Christmas. He’s also published three If I Were a Farmer books.

I guarantee that you will feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic and want to dig out the old photo albums or reminisce with your siblings.

I noticed the ear flapper caps, the buckle overshoes, the checkerboard ringed silo (just like the one on my childhood farm), the old runner sled—book illustrations that are as accurate as photographs. The only difference: My albums hold black-and-white snapshots.

Fredrickson captures the essence of family, of hard work, of rural life. He understands that these are worth preserving. But his efforts to save our rural heritage extend beyond his books. This writer travels across Minnesota, and sometimes out of state, presenting his message to school children, senior citizens and others. He dresses the part of a 1950s farmer in bib overalls, brings farm props, talks and reads from his books.

I will tell you too that Fredrickson and his wife, Nancy, are as genuine and kind-hearted and as down-to-earth good as they come. My husband and I lunched with the couple this past summer. Although we had never met before then, having corresponded only via e-mail, I felt as comfortable with the Fredricksons as if I had known them for years. They are truly my kind of without pretenses folks.

 

I snapped this image of the Fredricksons after lunching with them in August.

I must also point out to you that Fredrickson gives me a plug on the back cover of his Thanksgiving book. He has pulled a quote from a book review I wrote. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the praise I am directing toward him here. He has earned his praise by writing these books, complete with glossaries (after I suggested a glossary), that forever preserve life on the family farm.

I thank him for taking on this project with a passion rooted deep in the land.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of Gordon Fredrickson