Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Only in Minnesota: Babe the Blue Ox tops the news following a severe storm August 4, 2016

NOT EVEN THE STRENGTH of an ox could match the power of Mother Nature during severe thunderstorms that rolled through the Brainerd Lakes area of Central Minnesota Thursday morning.

At Paul Bunyan Land along State Highway 18 east of Brainerd, strong winds toppled a 6,000-pound iconic Babe the Blue Ox statue. The 18-foot tall by 24-foot wide ox is “a little dinged up, but in true Paul Bunyan fashion, back up on his feet in no time,” according to an entry on the attraction’s Facebook page.

See for yourself:

Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher & courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher & courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Reeds Backhoe Service worked to upright Babe. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Reeds Backhoe Service worked to upright Babe. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe suffered a few dings, including to his flank. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe suffered a few injuries, including to his rear flank. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe's horn was also damaged. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunayn Land.

Babe’s horn was also damaged. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunayn Land.

Babe, back on his feet. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe, back on his feet. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

If you’re from Minnesota or you’ve ever vacationed in the Brainerd Lakes area, you understand the importance of Babe the Blue Ox. He, along with his owner, lumberjack Paul Bunyan, are the stuff of Northwoods legend. Since the early 1950s, statues of the pair welcomed visitors to the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center near Baxter. Parents slipped their children’s names to the ticket taker and soon Paul was personally greeting Johnny or Jane from Wherever. Such is the stuff of summer childhood memories in Minnesota.

In 2003, the long-time tourist attraction closed and Paul and Babe moved to their new home next to This Old Farm Pioneer Village east of Brainerd. This morning, Babe proved his resiliency in adversity. Paul Bunyan Land opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, right on schedule.

BONUS STORY & IMAGE:

Paul Bunyan book cover

 

Several months ago I purchased Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, a slim book (more like a pamphlet) at a used book sale in Faribault. Published by Bang Printing of Brainerd, likely in the 1960s, this book was written by Daphne Hogstrom and illustrated by Art Seiden. I acquired it for the art more than the story. I value such period graphics, especially this publication about a Minnesota legend.

According to the author, Babe the Blue Ox is as wide as the Mississippi River, stands 11 pine trees tall, does the work of 60 men and can pull rivers.

Legend goes and this writer writes, that Paul pulled Babe from a snowdrift in the year of the blue snow, thus the hue of this much beloved ox.

FYI: Click here to view the full gallery of storm damage images. All photos are courtesy of the Rademacher family and available for the public to use, according to the Paul Bunyan Land FB page. Note that Thursday’s storm caused severe damage throughout the Brainerd Lakes area with trees and power lines down. Damage reports are still coming in. This storm, and specifically the toppling of Babe the Blue Ox, is leading Minnesota news stories today.

© Story copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vesta & Belview celebrating one year after storms June 29, 2012

TWO REDWOOD COUNTY COMMUNITIES will come together to celebrate this Sunday, one year to the date after severe storms ripped through this region of southwestern Minnesota.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta, hours after a July 1, 2011, storm ripped half the roof from the sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

In my hometown of Vesta, area residents will remember the storm anniversary and rededicate St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at a 10:30 a.m. worship service followed by a catered chicken dinner.

Damage to one of the grain bins at the local elevator. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

The grain elevator complex, the visual defining landmark in the farming community of Vesta, was ravaged by winds. You’ll see the damage near the top of the old grain elevator. Photo by Brian Kletscher

During the late afternoon of July 1, 2011, a series of downbursts with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph swept through Vesta, ripping half the roof from St. John’s sanctuary, felling trees, denting grain bins, damaging the landmark grain elevator and more.

Under construction in March, a pastor’s office, bathroom and storage room were added to the south side of the early 1970s era church. Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling.

It took nearly a year for St. John’s to reopen after the congregation decided to expand the church as part of the roof reconstruction process.

Entering Belview from Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on July 2, the morning after the tornado. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher, who were not yet living in Belview when the storm hit.

In Belview, about 10 miles to the north and east, residents will also mark the one-year anniversary of an EF-1 tornado which rode in on the same storm system. The tornado, with winds of 95 – 105 mph, wiped out many of this prairie town’s trees (which fell onto buildings and vehicles), damaged the nursing home to the point that it closed for awhile, wrecked roofs and more.

A month after the tornado, Belview’s Parkview Home (nursing home) remained closed as repairs were needed to the damaged roof, covered here with blue tarps. Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling.

The communities of Belview and Vesta lost many trees in the July 1 storms. This photo is along a Belview street north of the park. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

Jerry Hagen’s house, across the street from Merlin and Iylene’s home in a July 2 photo. Photo courtesy of Merlin & Iylene Kletscher.

Damage along South Main Street in Belview. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

A year later, Belview residents are celebrating with a catered community picnic supper and entertainment at the local park (or in the air conditioned historic Odeon Hall if the weather is too hot) from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday.

“We know we can pull together when the going gets tough as was proven after the storm,” says City Clerk Lori Ryer. “Now we would like to pull together in a spirit of community and fellowship and say thank you to everyone in town and to those that helped.”

My Uncle Merlin and Aunt Iylene Kletscher will be among Belview residents attending that picnic, celebrating and listening to the music of Ron and Kathy and Friends. The Kletschers had just closed on the purchase of a foreclosed fixer-upper home along Belview’s Main Street when the tornado ravaged Iylene’s hometown. They lost most of their trees—one of the reasons the couple bought the property—and sustained damage to their house, which they had just begun renovating.

Says Merlin:

So far we have planted four flowering crabs, a new disease resistant elm tree, 13 lilac bushes and the city has the Main Street boulevard planted with really nice-sized maples. We have two churches with new roofs, the bank is putting a new roof on right now and there are also more homes in the process of new shingles, etc., now.

One year later, Belview is looking pretty darn good!

A portion of Main Street in Belview a month after the tornado. Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

FYI: To read more about the July 1, 2011, storms and to view more storm damage photos, check the Minnesota Prairie Roots archives from July 2011. In addition to the damage in Vesta and Belview, many rural residences also were hit. The farm of my cousins, Danny and Marilyn Schmidt, was struck by a second EF-1 tornado which nipped the northwestern corner of Redwood County. Near the South Dakota/Minnesota border, the community of Tyler experienced an EF-2 tornado which followed a 3-mile path through Lincoln County. The tornadoes and wind storms were part of a massive storm system  on July 1, 2011, which began along the western edge of Minnesota and extended as far east as northwestern Wisconsin.

I was on my way with my husband to a party near Nerstrand not far from our Faribault home in southeastern Minnesota when these threatening clouds moved in during the early evening hours of July 1, 2011. It was while driving to our friends’ rural home that my sister Lanae phoned to tell me about the storm in our hometown and to warn me of the approaching bad weather. Fortunately the ominous clouds delivered only rain and nothing severe. But I was worried, very worried.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Couple grateful to survive Belview tornado July 8, 2011

TOM AND DeLORES JOHNSON never reached their storm shelter late Friday afternoon, July 1, when an EF-1 tornado blew into Belview. They didn’t have time.

But for the Johnsons, that turned out to be a good thing.

“The storm shelter was ripped up by the big tree that stood next to it…we would have been injured or possibly killed if we would have been in it,” DeLores surmises. Instead, they managed to seek protection in the basement of their 1898 home.

The storm cellar where the Johnsons would have sought protection had they had time to reach it.

“We are grateful to be alive,” DeLores says, a statement likely echoed by other rural and small-town residents in southwestern Minnesota where a wide-spread July 1 storm spawned four EF-1 tornadoes and a more powerful EF-2 twister. Belview was among the communities hardest hit when the tornado, with winds of 95 – 105 mph, ravaged this town of 375.

The Johnsons are in the process of cleaning up, dealing with insurance adjusters and gathering estimates so they can begin repairs on the 113-year-old house they’ve lived in since 1988. The list of damages to their home is extensive:

  • chimney blown down
  • rafters broken in the attic
  • shingles missing
  • paint blown off house
  • broken window
  • water damage to walls, ceilings, maple floors and carpet
  • roofs on two porches damaged and in need of replacement

The Johnsons' 1898 house was damaged inside and out by last Friday's tornado. DeLores offered to take photos of the interior for me, but I figured she had enough to do without adding this to her list.

A view of the house roof where the chimney was ripped off by the tornado.

DeLores shares some interesting details about the storm. “The wind blew water through the air conditioner in the bedroom upstairs and blew the water so it ran across the hall into another bedroom. It soaked up the carpet in the hallway and that in turn ran down into our living room.

“Upstairs in my office, water also blew through the air conditioner there. The shade has ground-up leaves stuck into it as does the shade in the bedroom.”

And that’s just the house.

The garage received structural damage when a tree toppled onto it and onto Tom’s  SUV. His vehicle was totaled.

A tree fell onto the garage and Tom's SUV, which was totaled.

The Johnsons lost nine trees, some of which fell onto a 100-year-old fence that DeLores says they’ve lovingly protected for years.

One of several trees that landed on the 100-year-old fence.

One of numerous downed trees.

Despite the severe damage to home and property, DeLores is grateful that they survived the storm.

She is also appreciative of all the help from family members and others. “Men from Belgrade, Long Prairie and Sauk Centre came and sawed up trees for us and helped to clean up. They were volunteers who we had never seen.”

NEARBY ON A WOOD LAKE area farm, my cousin, Marilyn Schmidt, expressed similar sentiments in an email I received at noon Thursday. “Lucky no loss of life. Fortunately, we were not home.”

Marilyn and her husband, Dan, had just arrived at a west-central Minnesota lake for the July Fourth weekend when an EF-1 tornado hit their Redwood County farm one week ago today.

Since then, with the help of family and residents from Cottonwood, the Schmidts are cleaning up. Click here to read a previous post about the storm damage at their place.

Their son, Matt, was at the farm with a crew on Thursday when Marilyn emailed.

She tells me that all of their neighbors to the south and east and some north and some west had major damage to their properties. The Schmidts’ insurance adjuster already had gotten 1,500 claims by Tuesday night.

Marilyn closed her brief email with this sentence: “Gotta go—men to feed!!!”

IN VESTA, WHERE A SERIES OF DOWNBURSTS with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph caused significant damage and downed trees, members of St. John’s Lutheran Church are planning to repair their church. The south half of the church roof was lifted off and slammed against the bell tower, according to my uncle, Milan Stage, a church member. The tower was cracked at the base and will need to be taken down, he says.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half ripped off by strong winds during the Friday afternoon storm. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

Everything has been removed from the sanctuary into the attached social hall. The congregation is awaiting reports from an insurance adjuster and two contractors who have been on-site.

Milan says the west end and sides of St. John’s appear to be alright, but that “It will be a slow process getting the church back in use.” The church council met Wednesday evening and decided, if funds are available, to remodel the church along with repairing it. In the meantime, congregational members will worship at their sister church, Peace, in nearby Echo.

Across town at Uncle Milan and Aunt Jeanette’s home, the high winds wrecked eave troughs and a deck railing. A branch went through the railing, taking half of the railing and the grill with it, Milan says. Tops were snapped from some ash trees in the Stages’ back yard. Branches from their big cottonwood tree were strewn across the lawn.

JUST A BLOCK TO THE SOUTH my 79-year-old mom, Arlene Kletscher, never made it to the basement during the storm. She was sitting in her living room sorting through papers and wanted to complete the task. In her closed-up, air conditioned house, she never heard the warning sirens. By the time she realized the severity of the situation, it was already too late to seek safety.

This marks the second time my mom has not gotten to safety during a severe storm. Thirty some years ago a tornado hit our home farm, where she was living at the time. Then a silo was downed, wagons strewn across the field, among other destruction.

I am thankful, again, that she is OK.

My mom’s Vesta home was apparently unscathed. However, she lost one tree and her yard was littered with branches and other debris.

READERS, THANK YOU for following my series of storm stories which began last Saturday. Yesterday Minnesota Prairie Roots’ views reached an all-time daily high of 1,443. That indicates to me a continued strong interest in the storms of southwestern Minnesota.

I know several of you have posted links to my blogs on Facebook. Thank you for doing that and also thanks to those who have shared their stories and photos. If you’re reading this and have a storm-related story to share, please submit a comment.

If you missed my earlier storm posts, check my archives. Many of those stories include links to more storm information and images.

PHOTOS COURTESY of DeLores and Tom Johnson

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ominous skies near Nerstrand July 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:40 AM
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HAD I NOT KNOWN about the storm damage earlier that evening in southwestern Minnesota, I may not have worried so much.

Had my sister not called from Waseca and advised my husband and me to “get home,” I may not have worried so much.

Had the clouds not turned dark and foreboding, looming low enough to nearly brush the earth, I may not have worried so much.

Had my friend Fritz kept quiet and not shared her tales of tornado terror, I may not have worried so much.

But Friday evening when a strong storm hit my hometown of Vesta, when my sister warned of the approaching storm, when the sky threatened and when Fritz told her stories, I worried. I cannot help myself. Storms scare me.

And here are the images, taken at a farm near Nerstrand where I was attending a party, to prove why I was concerned.

Despite my fear, I must admit that the skies held a certain ominous beauty.

Spectacular lightning—our own fireworks show—crisscrossed the sky for hours. I attempted a few lightning shots, but could never get the timing right. And when you’re scared, holding the camera still enough for a slow shutter speed doesn’t work. Rain also kept me from pulling out my Canon.

The evening ended without any severe storms in our locale, despite skies that I swore would drop a tornado at any minute.

But in my hometown, the results were different. If you haven’t read my earlier post today about the storm in Vesta, click here. My brother was stopped twice trying to get into town to check on our mom, who is OK.

After the ominous clouds and the rain, this rainbow appeared.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling