Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Westward, ho: A surprising discovery at the Cannon Mall March 16, 2017


I’VE SHOPPED MANY ANTIQUE stores and malls. But this is a first: an 1840 Conestoga wagon for sale. Not to be confused with a covered wagon, this heavy-duty wagon hails from the Conestoga River region of Pennsylvania.


Beautiful lighting marks Thora Mae’s inside the Cannon Mall.


Inside the Cannon Mall, which houses about a half-dozen businesses.


Storefront windows to Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures, 31284 64th Avenue Path, Cannon Falls.


If not for my husband noticing a fabric Antiques sign fluttering in the breeze along the highway, we would have missed this rare find inside the Cannon Mall in Cannon Falls. We didn’t even know the mall existed and we’ve visited this southeastern Minnesota community numerous times.


Vintage and other signage directs shoppers to Thora Mae’s.


Thora Mae’s has lots of vintage signage, most of it rural, for sale.


Another sign at Thora Mae’s…


But there is was, hidden from our view and housing a hardware store, Chinese restaurant, dollar store, an occasional shop and Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures. This is one antique shop worth your visit. It’s bright, well-organized and filled with an abundance of yesteryear merchandise.



Given our late arrival shortly before closing on a Saturday afternoon, Randy and I had minimal time to poke around. And I spent some of that precious shopping time focused on the Conestoga wagon. Signage reveals the wagon traveled four times along the Oregon Trail and was used on the set of the TV western “Wagon Train.” That series ran from 1957 – 1965.



Dr. Joseph Link Jr. donated the wagon to the Hamilton County Park District in, I believe, the Cincinnati area in 1975. I couldn’t access online info to learn more during a quick search.


There’s even a western theme in a portion of this Thora Mae’s window display.


Now, if you’re my Baby Boomer age, you grew up watching and re-enacting westerns and appreciate anything that jolts those childhood memories. Right now I’m thinking straw cowboy hats, cap guns, stick horses and a red wagon, aka an improvised covered wagon.



For $6,000, I could have the real deal, the real experience and a genuine piece of early American history.



TELL ME: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen for sale at an antique shop?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Wisconsin: A look inside The Paine, setting for an episode of The Bachelor January 25, 2017

OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN is perhaps best-known for its annual summer air show that draws aviation enthusiasts from around the world.

But Monday evening may have changed that, at least for a segment of the population—those who watch The Bachelor. The fourth episode of this TV show took viewers to Wisconsin, home state of this season’s bachelor, Nick Viall of Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb.

The visitors' entry to The Paine Art Center, housed in a 1920s mansion.

The visitors’ entry to The Paine Art Center, housed in a 1920s mansion.

I occasionally tune in to The Bachelor, which I hesitate to admit. Monday was one of those times. And, as it turned out, a good evening to see Wisconsin showcased, including the community of Waukesha, Omro area Knigge Farms and The Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh.

Among art in the library is an oil on canvas portrait of Koto Robertine Chase Carr Sullivan painted by her father William Merritt Chase, ca. 1914.

Among art in the library is an oil on canvas portrait of Koto Robertine Chase Carr Sullivan painted by her father, William Merritt Chase, ca. 1914.


The Great Hall, designed for leisure and entertainment, features an aged rug. Visitors cannot walk on that rug.

The Great Hall, designed for leisure and entertainment, features an aged Persian rug upon which you cannot walk.

This past July I toured The Paine with my husband and daughter Miranda, who lives in the area. The Paine is the legacy of Nathan and Jessie Kimberly Paine of the once-thriving Paine Lumber Company. Construction started on the mansion in 1927. Then The Depression hit and the business took a hit and so did completion of the estate. Decades later the opulent house and grounds opened to the public. No one ever lived in the historic home.

My favorite space, the sun-drenched Breakfast Room.

My favorite space, the window-lined Breakfast Room.

Everything about The Paine exudes elegance, including the table setting.

Everything about The Paine exudes elegance, including the table setting in the formal dining room.

The luxurious dining room.

The luxurious dining room.

In the January 23 episode of The Bachelor, Viall and women vying to become his wife were filmed inside and outside The Paine. As most estates are, The Paine is a lovely place of gardens, art, architectural beauty and history. And love. Not just The Bachelor love, but as the site of many weddings.

Beautiful flowerbeds edge the mansion and extend into backyard gardens.

Beautiful flowerbeds edge the mansion and extend into backyard gardens.

When I visited this past summer, “Audubon’s Birds of America” was on exhibit in the mansion gallery. Photos were banned there, although I could photograph throughout the rest of the property, inside and out.

A sitting area.

A sitting area.

Arched doors and doorways, heavy doors, art and more define The Paine.

Arched doors and doorways, heavy doors, art and more define The Paine.

The second floor includes two bedrooms.

The second floor includes two bedrooms.

Enjoy this first look at a place that can now add an episode of The Bachelor to its notoriety.


FYI: Click here to learn more about The Paine Art Center and Gardens. The Paine is open to visitors from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday, closed on Monday. Animals and rural imagery by Wisconsin artist Craig Blietz are currently displayed in The Paine gallery. Check back for another post, outdoors at The Paine.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


One couple’s affection for a vintage ambulance July 26, 2012

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED about the types of individuals who own vintage ambulances and hearses. Why? Why would you want a vehicle associated with medical emergencies and/or death?

Craig and Kathy Schuster arrive in their 1969 Cadillac ambulance on Faribault’s Central Avenue.

Craig Schuster of Faribault partially answered that question after he and wife Kathy pulled onto Central Avenue in their 1969 Cadillac ambulance during the recent Faribault Car Cruise Night. I practically pounced to get answers from the couple who are members of The Professional Car Society, Northland Chapter, and have also owned a hearse.

Looking for a parking spot during Faribault Car Cruise Night, held on the third Friday of every month, May – September.

For Craig, the interest in ambulances stretches back to his youth. Growing up in Waseca during the 1950s and 1960s, he admired the ambulances driving through town on their way to Rochester.

“They just tripped my trigger,” says Craig. “I always said, ‘I’m going to work in, drive and own one.’”

And he did—all three. Craig is a casual EMT, plus a barber, although his wife laughs and admits that’s hard to believe given her husband’s long silver pony tail.

Yes, the lights and siren still work. Craig obliged my request to turn on the lights.

The couple’s attachment to ambulances, specifically the 1969 Cadillac, is assuredly one of devotion. They sold the Cadillac in 2006 after four years of ownership, then bought it back this spring. Why? Says Kathy: “We like it.”

Part of Craig’s affection for this particular ambulance likely comes from his belief (or perhaps more accurately, wishful thinking) that this could be the very same ambulance used in the 1977-1983 television drama CHiPS. His ambulance, he claims, is identical to the one seen in the show which features the adventures of two motorcycle-riding California highway patrolmen. I really remember only the handsome and macho Erik Estrada in his role as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. The ambulance? What ambulance?

As Craig tells it, his 1969 Cadillac ambulance came from southern California and was on the verge of being crushed in a salvage yard when it was rescued and brought to Minnesota.

“I wish this thing could talk,” Craig says. “Maybe it would say, ‘Yes, I’m the one (from the ChiPS show).’”

A peek at the drug overdose patient inside the vintage ambulance.

Though Craig doesn’t know the detailed history of his ambulance, he can tell you about the patient he’s transporting. The man overdosed on bad acid at Woodstock, the 1969 music festival in New York which attracted more than half a million attendees and went down in music history.

My husband, Randy, helps Craig Schuster, left, unload the patient.

Or if you prefer the truthful version, the mannequin comes from a Northfield barbershop and is placed in the front window during that community’s annual Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration in early September.

So there you go—one man’s fun with his vintage ambulance and the reason he owns it.

This could have been a scene straight out of the 70s, minus the modern car on the right.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling