Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gathering photos & stories at a Faribault car show June 17, 2013

An idyllic car show setting in Faribault's TeePee Tonka Park.

An idyllic car show setting in Faribault’s TeePee Tonka Park.

SUNDAY MARKED A PERFECT summer-like day here in southeastern Minnesota, ideal for strolling the Faribault Heritage Days Car Show in TeePee Tonka Park.

I love the tree-lined setting along the banks of the Straight River where, on this afternoon, wisps of cottonwood tree seed fluff wafted through the air while I meandered among the vintage vehicles. Fifties music set a period mood.

The truck marking the show.

The truck marking the show.

Although my knowledge of cars is limited, my automotive machinist husband is like a walking encyclopedia of information. He approaches car shows from an automotive perspective. I view them from photographic and storytelling angles.

This ambulance transported patients to the  Tracy Hospital and to other hospitals, including in Sioux Falls, S.D.

This ambulance transported patients to the Tracy Hospital and to other hospitals, including in Sioux Falls, S.D.

For example, why would someone like Kurt Halverson of Owatonna own a 1977 ambulance used by the City of Tracy from 1981-1989 and prior to that, Fergus Falls?

The words that caught my attention on this 1977 ambulance.

The words that caught my attention on this 1977 ambulance. Kurt hopes to drive the ambulance in Tracy’s annual community celebration, Boxcar Days, in September. He recently received an old Tracy ambulance jacket from the Rev. Homer Dobson,pastor at his grandfather’s church.

I was drawn to this particular vehicle by the words “Tracy Ambulance” posted on side windows. (I wrote about Tracy, 25 miles from my hometown, last week on the 45th anniversary of a killer tornado there on June 13, 1968. Click here and then click here to read those posts.)

Kurt, a former EMT, always wanted to own an ambulance. When the Tracy emergency vehicle came up for sale, he jumped at the chance to purchase it. His grandpa lived in the Tracy area, so he knows this small town in southwestern Minnesota well. Owning Tracy’s ambulance is a sentimental connection, he says.

Besides that, this particular ambulance fits into a 7-foot standard garage.

A peek inside Kurt's ambulance. At one time the funeral home in Tracy, like those in many small towns, provided ambulance service.

A peek inside Kurt’s ambulance. At one time the funeral home in Tracy, like those in many small towns, provided ambulance service. Kurt belongs to The Professional Car Society, Northland Chapter.

His geographic familiarity with the Tracy area surprised me. I find few people around here who know towns west of Mankato. We instantly connected as we talked about Tracy and he praised Tracy native Scott Thoma’s book, Out of the Blue, about the killer F5 tornado.

Our connection, though, extended beyond Tracy. Turns out Kurt attended Waseca High School with my niece, Tara, and knows my sister, Lanae. Small world.

For me, these car shows are always more about the stories than about the cars…

BONUS PHOTOS (with more to come in a future post):

a 1930s Ford owned, if I remember correctly, by Kurt's father-in-law.

A 1930s Ford owned, if I remember correctly, by Kurt’s father-in-law.

Because I like to photograph details...

Because I like to photograph details…

On the front of a Road Runner car.

On the front of a Road Runner car.

Lots of trophies to be awarded.

Lots of trophies to be awarded.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


After a natural disaster…the fear, the loss and reaching out to help April 29, 2011

I COULD WHINE, moan and grumble all day about the recent weather here in Minnesota. Rain. Cold. Snow showers. More rain and more cold. The cycle never ends.

But then I pick up today’s newspaper, turn on the television, switch on the radio or go online and my mouth clams. I have nothing, nothing, about which to complain.

I have not lost my home, my possessions, my business, my community, family or friends to killer tornadoes like those in Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. Wednesday’s storms have been termed “the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in nearly 40 years.”

To view the devastation, to hear the survivors, to even think about the utter destruction brings me to tears. I cannot fathom, do not want to fathom, such total devastation, loss of life and injury.

Tornadoes scare the h double hockey sticks out of me. I can trace that fear back to the June 13, 1968, tornado in Tracy, about 25 miles from my childhood home. I was an impressionable 11 ½-year-old when the tornado raced through this southwestern Minnesota farming community, killing nine. My family drove to Tracy, saw the flattened homes, the pick-up stix jumbled trees, the boxcars tossed aside like dropped toys. You don’t forget memorable images like that.

Decades later a tornado struck my childhood farm, damaging a silo and silo room, tossing farm wagons effortlessly about in the field. Those images, too, remain forever imprinted upon my memory.

Last week I saw snapped trees and minor damage to buildings along Wisconsin Highway 21 near Arkdale, which was struck by an April 10 tornado.

A view of storm damage to trees while traveling along Wisconsin Highway 21 west of Arkdale.

A felled tree by an apparently untouched home in Arkdale, Wisconsin.

In the distance, trees were damaged by a tornado that cut a 17-mile path from Arkdale to near Coleman in Wisconsin on April 10.

Less than a year ago, on June 17, 2010, a tornado outbreak swept through Minnesota, killing one person in Mentor in Polk County, another in Almora in Otter Tail County and the third near Albert Lea in Freeborn County.

How many of us have already forgotten about those tornadoes as we move on to the next natural disaster news story?

Yet, for those personally affected, the story never really ends. The chapters continue with the rebuilding of homes and lives, the haunting nightmares, the emotional aftershocks. Lives have been forever rewritten.

Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Fires. Floods.

Survivors manage to pull their lives back together with the help of family, friends, neighbors and even strangers.

After a flash flood devastated Hammond in southeastern Minnesota last September, a group of Dakota County Technical College architectural technology students reached out.  They’ve worked with Hammond resident Judy Johnson in drafting remodeling plan options for her damaged home. You can read their story by clicking here. These students represent the good that emerges from the bad, the spirit of giving that makes me proud to be a Minnesotan.

I’ve followed the situation in Hammond since visiting that community shortly after the flood. I haven’t lifted a hammer to assist with recovery there. Rather, I’ve used the one tool that I possess—my words. I’ve crafted words into stories that I hope are making a difference. After reading my blog posts, two groups of volunteers have gone to help in Hammond.

That’s what it takes, each of us using our resources—whether that be words or money or skills or whatever—to help our neighbors in need.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling