Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Lyon County exhibit receives state history award April 30, 2021

My poem with accompanying photos in the Lyon County exhibit. Photo courtesy of the LCHS.

ONLY A FEW DAYS AGO, I wrote about the inclusion of my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit at a county museum in Marshall.

Now the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums (MALHM) has named the Lyon County Historical Society (LCHS) a recipient of a 2021 Minnesota History Award for that exhibit. That honor is a credit to LCHS Executive Director Jennifer Andries, staff, board, volunteers and, yes, also locals who contributed stories, artifacts and more in the crafting of this exhibit.

A portion of the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit focuses on 4-H and more. Photo courtesy of the LCHS.

Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis also deserves recognition as lead contractor for the project. I was first contacted by Museology in January 2020 about inclusion of my rural-themed poem in this exhibit focusing on Lyon County and also reflective of the surrounding area in southwestern Minnesota. I feel incredibly honored to be part of an award-winning exhibit that connects people to the history of this rural region.

MALHM awards were also given to historical societies in Anoka, Carver and St. Louis counties and to the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery. Susan Garwood, director of the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault (RCHS), earned the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award for 30-plus years of service to organizations across Minnesota, including the RCHS, Northfield Historical Society and the MALHM. The award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions and demonstrated leadership to Minnesota’s history community on a broad scale.

The state-wide Alliance serves some 500-plus local history groups throughout Minnesota with a basic mission “of connecting people to nearby history.” It also provides peer-to-peer support and aims “to raise the quality of work in the local history field in Minnesota.”

Mrs. Morris takes a break from making applesauce during A Night at the Museum at the Rice County Historical Society. This is an example of local living history. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

A time existed when I didn’t appreciate history or history centers like I do now. My shift in appreciating history came when museum exhibits changed. When they became more personal and interactive. When an artifact was not just something encased in glass, but an object with meaning, purpose, depth. When living history became a standard. When stories became part of the story.

I photographed this abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta (my hometown) on the southwestern Minnesota prairie in 2012. The house is no longer there. But it looks similar to the one in which I lived during the first 10-plus years of my life. This is the landscape of my upbringing and the place which shaped me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

That brings me back to my “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” After I posted on Tuesday about the poem’s inclusion in the Lyon County exhibit, my cousin Diane emailed a 1958 photo of my parents. And while I’m not sharing that image here, I will tell you that I was overjoyed to see a different side of my parents other than as, well, simply parents. They were young and clearly blissfully, joyfully in love. Diane also shared that her parents and mine would often attend dances together, leaving the kids with Grandma. As one of the oldest, Diane helped look after the babies, including me. I’d never heard that story or seen that black-and-white snapshot. To receive both now—with my dad long gone and my mom in failing health—was a gift. Such a gift.

I hope my poem, inspired by my mom, yet representative of all the hardworking farm women of the 1950s and 1960s, is also a gift to those who read it. I hope those who read my words, who view the accompanying photos, will reflect and feel gratitude for these strong rural women.

I shall forever feel grateful to my mom and to the rural region which shaped me and continues to inspire me today in my writing and photography.

FYI: If you didn’t see my back story on “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” please click here to read that initial post. The post includes my poem and more info about the new Lyon County exhibit.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring rural life at Heritage Park of North Iowa May 20, 2015

“COME BACK ON SATURDAY,” Monte Topp advised. “There’ll be 25,000 people here.”

“No, thanks,” I said.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

And that is how I learned about the May 21 – 24 Tree Town Music Festival in Forest City, Iowa, with Saturday headliner Blake Shelton. Yes, the Blake Shelton, whom even I, not a fan of country western music, know as a judge from The Voice.

But Monte wasn’t talking much music when I met him at Heritage Park of North Iowa last Saturday morning. He was focused instead on the weekend Steam School which drew folks from around the country to learn the ins and outs of operating steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Steam engine tractors.

Steam engine tractors. It takes a full day to move all of the steam engine tractors out of a massive building on-site.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

A sampling of steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the historic church.

A sampling of steam engine tractors lined up across the road from the historic Beaver Creek Church.

Yet, he found time to take my husband and me inside two expansive buildings to view massive steam engine and vintage tractors. This member of the Heritage Park board knows his stuff. Names and dates. A quarter of a million dollars to purchase that steam engine tractor and another $250,000 invested in its restoration. One-of-a-kind. Only one left. If you want to know anything about anything steam engine, ask Monte.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A tractor seat.

A tractor seat.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

We threaded our way around hulks of machinery in spaces so dark I could only take a few photos. Heavy scent of oil overwhelmed as did thoughts of yesteryear at this 91-acre site dedicated to preserving America’s rural history.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper's cabin.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper’s cabin.

I peered inside a partially open door to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It's filled with dolls.

I peered in a window to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It’s filled with dolls.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband's amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband’s amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a barn and windmill.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a red barn and creaky windmill.

A sampling of smaller steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the park's historic church.

An overview of the grounds. I was about to open the door on the grey house when I realized someone lives here.

Buildings—ranging from a church to log cabins to barn, barbershop, jail, school, farmstead house and much more—create this impressive park. As luck would have it, we were not there when the park was open to the public and had to settle for an exterior walk-around.

“Come back this afternoon,” Monte advised as his phone rang.

We couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we won’t return another time.

FYI: Click here to read my first post from Heritage Park. And check back for one more photo story, this one from downtown Forest City.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Farming of yesteryear remembered & celebrated at show August 30, 2014

IT’S MOSTLY ABOUT THE MEMORIES, I’ve decided.

A snippet of the tractors displayed at the show.

A snippet of the tractors and more displayed at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

Past memories.

Spotted at the flea market...

Spotted at the flea market…

And building memories.

A sign along Highway 3 welcomes visitors.

A sign along Highway 3 welcomes visitors.

The Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc., annual Labor Day weekend show, which continues through Sunday, brought back many memories for me as I wandered among tractors and flea market merchandise and more for nearly four hours Saturday.

The young and the older guide a John Deere toward the parade route.

The young and the older guide a John Deere toward the parade route.

Curve of a Surge milking machine. Putt-putt-putt of a John Deere tractor chugging along the tractor parade route.

Al and Marllene Sutherland of Country Junction, Tripoli, Iowa, pose with the replica small scale farm buildings Al constructs from memory. The corn crib in the foreground includes 400 pieces and sells for $200.

Al and Marlene Sutherland of Country Junction, Tripoli, Iowa, pose with the replica small scale farm buildings Al constructs. He taps into his memory to design and build the buildings. The corn crib in the foreground includes 400 pieces and sells for $200.

The agrarian lines of a corn crib.

Vintage oil cans grabbed my attention at the flea market.

Vintage oil cans grabbed my attention at the flea market.

A Midland oil can. An NFO sign. All so familiar.

Rows and rows of tractors, including these John Deeres, line the grounds.

Rows and rows of tractors, including these John Deeres, line the grounds.

As I paused to admire an aged, rusty John Deere, an elderly woman said the green machine brought tears to her eyes. It was exactly like the one her father drove.

Brothers William and Jacob climb atop a Farmall.

Brothers William and Jacob climb atop a Farmall.

Nearby, grandparents smiled as their two great grandsons climbed onto a Farmall. Building memories.

Several steam engines are part of the exhibition.

Several steam engines are part of the exhibition.

If you’re into farming of yesteryear and flea markets, then consider attending this event. Gates open at 7 a.m. Sunday and close at 5:30 p.m. A tractor pull is slated for 9 a.m. Admission is $8 with 12 and under free.

Ford tractors, including this one from Westbrook Ag Power (where my oldest brother is co-owner)

Fords, including this one from Westbrook Ag Power (where my oldest brother is part owner) were the featured tractor at this year’s show. This Ford is owned by a rural Northfield man.

The show grounds is located three miles south of Northfield on Minnesota State Highway 3. For more information, click here.

BONUS PHOTOS:

You can buy a chance to win a Golden Jubilee 1950s Ford being raffled by the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc.

You can buy a chance to win a Golden Jubilee 1953 Ford tractor being raffled by Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc.

Checking out the Minneapolis Molines.

Checking out the Minneapolis Molines.

My favorite t-shirt of the day. The show presents a rural fashion statement.

My favorite t-shirt of the day. The show always offers photo-worthy rural fashion shots.

Every time I attend this show, I order a BBQ shredded pork sandwich from the Rice and Dakota County Pork Producers.

Every time I attend this show, I order a BBQ shredded pork sandwich from the Rice and Dakota County Pork Producers.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling