Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reconnecting to southwestern Minnesota, root place of my creativity May 22, 2018

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

THERE IS NO PLACE, none, that I’d rather be this time of year than in rural southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my heart, of my memories, of everything that shaped me into the person, the writer and photographer that I am today.

 

 

This place of wide skies and dark rich soil in some of Minnesota’s best farm land claims me still, decades after I left. I left not because I disliked this place, but for education and opportunity. Like so many of my generation.

 

In a reminder of decades past, a vintage tractor works the land on the edge of Delhi.

 

When I return to visit family here, I feel an ache of absence, that longing for a return to the familiar.

 

 

I realize those who’ve never lived on the prairie often fail to recognize its value, its beauty, its power in inspiring creativity. To many, even my own children, southwestern Minnesota seems the middle of nowhere. But to me, this land has always inspired. And it’s somewhere. Home.

 

 

Between Echo and Delhi.

 

A long familiar landmark tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

When you’ve lived in a place so stark, in a place that exposes you to the elements, where life evolves around the land, you learn to appreciate the details. Like the endless wind. The spaciousness of land and sky. The scent of tilled soil. Rows of corn erupting green from the earth. A lone tree along a highway.

 

 

 

 

Acre after acre after acre across this land, I take in the rural scenes of farmers working fields, rushing to get crops in during a particularly late planting season.

 

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

I notice vehicles kicking dust along gravel roads,

 

Parked near the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

small town grain elevators,

 

 

a school bus splashing color into the landscape. I see it all in this place, this middle of somewhere.

 

A rural-themed license plate on a vehicle driving past Echo on a recent weekday morning. I confirmed with writer and photographer Ruth Klossner that this was her vehicle. She was on her way to interview a source for a magazine article. Ruth collects cow items of all sorts and opens the doors of her Bernadotte home for visitors to view the massive collection.

 

This is my joy, to each spring return to my Minnesota prairie roots, to reconnect to the land, to embrace the birth source of my creativity.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: When memories cruise into a car show August 4, 2016

A 1964 Chevy SS.

A 1964 Chevy SS.

THERE ARE REASONS we love the things we do. Always reasons. And at the Cruise-In Car Show held last weekend at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, there was a reason my husband voted for a 1964 Chevy SS as his favorite car. He once owned a similar Chevy. Not an SS. But a rusted out 1964 Chevy Impala. He wishes he still had that vintage vehicle, albeit in pristine condition.

The tail light on the 1958 Chevy I liked.

The tail light on the 1958 Chevy I liked.

I favored a cherry red 1958 Chevy that reminded me of the car my maternal grandpa drove. I remember mostly the salmon (not red) hue, the distinctive click of the blinker and the bumpy plastic protecting the seats. Grandpa’s car may not even have been a Chevy. But the lines of this car looked familiar.

Look at the graceful lines in these vintage cars.

Look at the graceful lines in these vintage cars.

My appreciation of vehicles is more about lines, curves and colors—the visual artistic appeal—rather than performance. Perhaps that’s why current day cars seem less attractive than those of 50 years ago.

Several tractors were registered at the show.

Several tractors were registered at the show.

As I approached the four tractors parked at the cruise-in, I hoped to see a B Farmall or John Deere like the ones from my childhood farm. But there were none. It’s difficult for me to think of 1970s tractors as collectibles. There’s a reason for that and it’s called aging. My aging.

At the request of St. John's car cruise-in organizers, I climbed a 10-foot step ladder to photograph the scene.

At the request of St. John’s car cruise-in organizers, I climbed a 10-foot step ladder to photograph the event.

These days I find myself growing more nostalgic. I am drawn to that which defined my past. I find that a tad unsettling, this yearning for seemingly simpler days when life was less complicated, less stressful, less cluttered. The “good old days,” they call them. Am I that old already to think that way?

Chevrolets are popular collector cars.

Chevrolets are popular collector cars.

Perhaps this is really what car shows are all about. Not about shiny vehicles or souped up whatever, but rather about memories and appreciating the past.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A tractor owner left his key in his tractor, complete with key chain from the Little Brown Church in the Vale.

A tractor owner left his key in his tractor, complete with key chain from the Little Brown Church in the Vale.

I have an affinity for Mustangs that traces to my teen years.

I have an affinity for Mustangs that traces to my teen years.

I was intrigued by these gauges on the exterior of a car, just outside the driver's side of the windshield.

I was intrigued by these gauges on the exterior of a car, just outside the driver’s side of the windshield.

Because green is my favorite color, I am naturally drawn to this car.

Because green is my favorite color, I am naturally drawn to this car owned by a Minnesotan who is a big Green Bay Packers fan.

Likewise, this blue on a blue Volkswagon also drew my eye and my interest.

Likewise, this blue on a blue Volkswagon also drew my eye and my interest.

FYI: Click here to read my first post from St. John’s Cruise-In Car Show. And check back tomorrow for one final post from this rural Faribault event.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a car show at St. John’s, rural Faribault August 3, 2016

At the St. John's car cruise-in.

At the St. John’s car cruise-in.

I’VE ATTENDED CAR SHOWS in parks, along city streets and at a fairgrounds. But never at a church or in the country.

A vintage car arrives for the cruise-in car show at St. John's, 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault.

A vintage car arrives for the cruise-in car show at St. John’s, 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault.

A tractor trophy awarded at the show reflects the rural region.

A tractor trophy awarded at the show reflects this rural region of southern Minnesota.

Across the road from St. John's, a truck pulls a grain bin.

Across the road from St. John’s, a truck pulls a grain bin.

Saturday morning I wheeled to a country church northeast of Faribault for St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township’s first-ever Cruise-In Car Show. It’s a peaceful rural setting among farm fields and farm sites near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

An overview of the car show next to the church.

An overview of the car show next to the church.

This congregation knows how to draw folks in for events ranging from the annual The Last Supper Drama on Palm Sunday to Lenten soup luncheons to an ice cream social to a September Germanfest to the Big Woods Run and more. Many times I’ve gone to St. John’s activities, where I always feel welcomed by a friendly group of people like 90-year-old historian Elsie, Lynn (who’s usually in the kitchen) and the Rev. Lora Sturm.

My husband's hands clasped in prayer.

My husband’s hands clasped in prayer.

On this Saturday morning, the reverend leads attendees in prayer. As I stand between a row of vintage cars in the church parking lot, I consider how wonderful to hear this prayer of blessing upon the vehicles and upon those in attendance.

This group of men visited for a long time around various vehicles.

This group of men visited for a long time around various vehicles.

While visiting with others, I note that most either belong to this congregation or grew up in this church. There’s a special closeness in country churches that comes from living in the same geographical area and gathering here to socialize, to celebrate, to mourn, to grow in the faith (although some admittedly have drifted away).

The oldest vehicle at the event.

The oldest vehicle at the event.

Roots run deep through generations of families. German immigrants founded this congregation in 1856 as Minnesota’s first German Evangelical Church. They worshiped, nonagenarian Elsie tells me, in a log cabin before that burned and the current church was built in 1870 by German farmers from locally-quarried limestone.

I set my camera on the grass and aimed up to photograph this view of St. John's.

I set my camera on the grass and aimed up to photograph this view of St. John’s. Yes, there’s a cross-topped steeple, just not in this image.

The “Old Stone Church,” as it is known, stands strong on the corner of a paved county and gravel road next to the church cemetery. A 4-year-old boy points to a gravestone and tells me God is buried there. I lead him to the stone, read the name thereon and explain to him that God is not buried here nor is He dead.

Cars parked right next to the cemetery.

Cars parked right next to the cemetery.

I love that these kids have been together for hours—romping on the mini playground, playing hide-and-seek, searching for a geo-cache stashed in a treeline behind the cemetery… This setting invites such play, reminding me of my own upbringing in a small town Lutheran church.

The scene reflected in the shiny bumper of a car.

The scene reflected in the shiny bumper of a car.

Guys chatted next to tractors.

Guys chatted next to tractors.

Lovely crabapple trees edge the parking lot. St. John's members make their famous apple jelly from these apples to sell at Germanfest.

Lovely crabapple trees edge the parking lot. St. John’s members make their famous apple jelly from these apples to sell at Germanfest.

On this Saturday, this cruise-in is not just a gathering of car, truck and tractor enthusiasts showing off their vehicles. This event is about memories and socializing, about slowing down and appreciating the beauty and quiet of this reverent country place. It’s about being neighborly.

Volunteers served up a generous plate of a BBQ pulled pork sandwich, potato salad and beans, all for $5.

Volunteers served up a generous plate of a BBQ pulled pork sandwich, potato salad and beans, all for $5.

That delicious food.

That delicious food.

And it’s also about the food, this time delicious BBQ pulled pork sandwiches from the Rice County Pork Producers.

I always leave St. John's feeling happy and smiling.

I always leave St. John’s feeling happy and smiling.

St. John’s, from my experience, has always nourished the body, soul and spirit. And on this late July morning, this cruise-in accomplishes that mission in food, setting and friendly conversation.

FYI: Check back tomorrow and the day after for more photos from the St. John’s Cruise-In Car Show.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisn’ to church, but not for a sermon July 27, 2016

UCC-CarShow-page-001

 

FOR ST. JOHN’S UNITED CHURCH of Christ, Wheeling Township, a weekend Cruise-In Car Show offers an opportunity to bring the community together.

There’s no ulterior motive. This isn’t a fundraiser. The church isn’t trying to get folks to join.

Rather, says Steve Wille of the St. John’s Revitalization Group, the Car Show is strictly a social event aimed at bringing folks together in a neighborly sort of way. I like that. Visiting with your neighbors, he says, seems to be a lost art.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

St. John’s, a country church located east of Faribault near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, is good at reaching out to the community. The congregation hosts annual events like the Big Woods Run, The Last Supper Drama, German Fest, an ice cream social and more. I’ve been there many times, often enough that congregants know me. These folks are country friendly and welcoming. And they’re fantastic cooks and bakers.

No St. John’s event is complete without food. Pork sandwiches and snacks will be available at the 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday, July 30, Cruise-In Car Show.

Car Show is a bit of a misnomer, though. Trucks and tractors are also welcome with first place trophies awarded to each of the top three.

If you enjoy cruise-ins, country churches, a rural setting and visiting, consider attending (or participating in) St. John’s first-ever Cruise-In Car Show.

FYI: St. John’s is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

© Copyright 2016 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

 

Tractors, bikes & covered wagons June 25, 2014

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Or so they say.

Glancing out the cafe's front window, I noticed the tractorcade rolling into new Richland.

Glancing out the front window of the Red Leaf Cafe, I noticed the tractorcade rolling into New Richland.

Around noon on Saturday, just as my Philly steak sandwich, fries and coleslaw arrived at my table in the Red Leaf Cafe, I glanced out the street-side window to see tractors rolling into New Richland.

The tractors kept coming, not all under their own power.

The tractors kept coming, not all under their own power.

The tractorcade, which began three hours earlier 27 miles away at Farmamerica near Waseca, was parading into this southern Minnesota town. And I didn’t want to miss grabbing some quick shots of the tractor enthusiasts and their John Deere, Ford, International, Farmall and other tractors.

Driving through downtown New Richland.

Driving through downtown New Richland.

So I darted outside, fired off some frames and then headed back inside to eat.

One of the 20 or so old-time tractor enthusiasts.

One of the 20 or so old-time tractor enthusiasts.

Shortly thereafter, all those tractorcade participants filed into the restaurant. Timing is everything.

The BBQed rib special.

The BBQed rib special.

Regular diner Robert arrived soon afterward, securing the single vacant table next to the one occupied by my husband and me. But this local senior didn’t have to wait for his food. The crew at the Red Leaf Cafe knows that every Friday, Robert eats the fried fish. On Saturday he has the BBQ rib special. And on Sunday he wants chicken fried steak.

You have to love it—this small town life.

Some of the tractorcade diners.

Some of the tractorcade diners.

While the tractor collectors in their worn blue jeans, tractor t-shirts and tractor caps waited to order, Randy and I finished our meals, just as a parade of motorcycles rumbled into town.

Raising monies for those in the military.

Raising monies for those in the military and their families.

Two hundred of them, by one participant’s estimate, riding on a 100-mile Freedom Ride to raise monies for Minnesota’s active duty military families. They’ve raised $100,000 in seven years.

Bikes lined New Richland's downtown street.

Bikes lined New Richland’s downtown street.

Signs of support and service.

Signs of support and service.

One of the hundreds of bikers.

One of the hundreds of bikers.

Taking a break on the 100-mile ride.

Taking a break on the 100-mile ride.

Parking along three blocks of Broadway, the bikers, in their worn jeans and leather vests and Freedom Ride and other t-shirts, and with tattoos inked onto many arms, ambled toward a corner bar for beverages, then hung outside in the glorious sunshine of a hot and humid afternoon.

You have to love it—this slice of rural Americana, this appreciation for those who serve our country.

The Red Leaf Cafe in the heart of downtown offered an ideal vantage point to view the tractors and bikes.

The Red Leaf Cafe in the heart of downtown offered an ideal vantage point to view the tractors and bikes.

In that moment, that afternoon, New Richland seemed the place to be with old tractors to examine and motorcycles to admire.

Checking out the parked tractors.

Checking out the parked tractors.

We lingered and looked. And then, when a whistle shrilled marking time for the bikers to ready for departure, we hurried to our van, wanting to get ahead of the pack heading north, also our direction of departure.

Timing is everything.

A Wagon Train participant readies to leave Otisco.

A Wagon Train participant readies to leave Otisco.

The drive to Waseca should have been uneventful. But then, to the west, I spotted covered wagons lined up in Otisco as part of the annual Friendship Wagon Train fundraiser for Camp Winnebago. We detoured off the highway, drove through the train and then turned around. A quick look with no time to dally.

Waiting to leave Otisco.

Waiting to leave Otisco.

You have to love it—this gathering of horse lovers raising monies for a camp that serves children and adults with special needs.

We did not expect any of this as we set out on our Saturday afternoon drive. But that’s the joy of an unplanned day. The surprise of it all, the timing, the ability to simply enjoy whatever unfolds.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from New Richland.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the things you see & hear at a vintage farm show September 6, 2013

WHENEVER I ATTEND the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas, I never quite know what I will discover, or hear.  Look and listen.

Displayed at the Friends of Minnesota Barns booth.

Displayed at the Friends of Minnesota Barns booth.

I noted the above sign at the Friends of Minnesota Barns booth. Then the guy manning the display shared a story from the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show a week earlier. A man and his wife read the sign. The husband asked, “Will you take my wife in trade?”

She shot back, “You’re the INSERT SLANG WORD FOR MULE in the family.”

The Friends of Minnesota Barns guy and I laughed, oh, how we laughed.

Speaking of INSERT SLANG WORD FOR MULE HERE, EXCEPT IN PLURAL, look at this lawn art by opinionated Bob Michniewicz of Madelia. You never quite know what Bob is going to say or create.

"Quality Lawn Ornaments" from Michniewicz Sales.

“Quality Lawn Ornaments” from Michniewicz Sales.

I did a double take on this potty humor:

Brand loyalty and barn humor.

Brand loyalty and potty humor. Seriously, I could not believe I was seeing this. I grew up with John Deere farm equipment.

Let me show you something sweet and endearing:

Family time at the playground.

Family time at the playground on vintage playground equipment.

And patriotic:

Flags abound at the show.

Flags abound at the show.

This reminds me of my growing up years on the farm and the Farmalls my dad owned and I drove (a B Farmall to be exact):

Vintage Farmalls.

Vintage Farmalls.

Loren Fossum's corn picker. That is not Loren driving, though.

Loren Fossum’s corn picker. That is not Loren driving, though.

I was just plain giddy when I saw this vintage 1960s corn picker, similar to one my Dad used but not a Ford. Loren Fossum of Northfield recently purchased the combo tractor and corn picker for a bargain price, which I won’t reveal because maybe Loren doesn’t want that publicized.  He told a little story about overhearing a conversation among several young men trying to figure out what type of equipment they were viewing. They finally concluded that the blue monstrosity was designed to take down trees. Wrong. That would be corn, boys.

Another reminder of life on the farm, spotted at the flea market:

Oh, how I loved to twirl the handle on my dad's vise grip until I tightened something, maybe a block of wood, in place.

Oh, how I loved to twirl the handle on my dad’s vise grip until I tightened something, maybe a block of wood, in place.

And just because I found this Cropgard Farm Dryer interesting:

I spent many a childhood day playing in farm wagons, covered wagons in my western-themed eyes.

Apparently not just an ordinary vintage farm wagon.

This quartet was so engrossed in viewing photos of the homemade John Deere tractor that they didn’t even notice me. Sweet. I love capturing moments like this that tell a story:

Immersed in tractor talk.

Immersed in tractor talk.

Tractors everywhere:

Rows and rows and rows of vintage tractors define this show. For me the interest lies in the artsy aspect of these machines.

Rows and rows and rows of vintage tractors define this show. For me the interest lies in the artsy aspect of these machines. Just look at the front of this Massey Ferguson–the font, the grill…

More cool vintage:

Anything rustic and vintage has visual appeal.

Anything rustic and vintage appeals to me visually.

My parting shot, taken through the fence on the back of bleachers, says it all: Passing a love of tractors along to the next generation.

Passing a love of tractors on to the next generation.

To future generations of John Deere tractor lovers…

AFTER VIEWING THESE IMAGES, let’s hear from you. Do any of these photos spark memories or thoughts? Please share.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling