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

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More than just an aged pick-up truck January 29, 2016

A GMC 150 parked in historic downtown Faribault.

A GMC 150 parked in a city lot in historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

GROWING UP ON A FARM, I never truly appreciated pick-up trucks. They were simply a part of farm life—the workhorse of the farmer.

The truck needs a lot of work, but it has potential.

The truck needs a lot of work, but it has potential. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

In the bed of his red and white Chevy pick-up, my dad tossed fence posts, seedcorn bags, chains, shovels, and a myriad of other agricultural essentials. He may even have transported an animal or two.

I recall flying along gravel roads in the front seat of the pick-up, and sometimes in the bed, dust trailing a cloud across the prairie. Other times Dad would bump his truck across the stubbled alfalfa field.

Every time I spot an aged pick-up truck, I covet it. Not because I necessarily desire ownership. Rather, it’s about reliving, and holding onto, those rural memories.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Traveling art September 23, 2015

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Art car, entire view of #89

 

I’VE SEEN THIS CAR tooling around Faribault and parked at the local library. It’s memorable. One-of-a-kind. Definitely photo-worthy. But I never had my Canon DSLR with me when I spotted it. On a recent Saturday I did.

 

Art car, front of

 

I practically flew from the van with my camera upon sighting the colorful car parked along Central Avenue in front of the Paradise Center for the Arts. And then, bonus, the owner strode across the street toward his vehicle as I was snapping frames.

 

Art car, Michael in photo

 

He is Michael. No last name given. I didn’t ask. We chatted briefly, enough for me to learn that this former travel industry professional “works to travel.” His words, not mine. He’s been to about 100 countries.

 

Art car, close-up side

 

A close examination of the national flags and words pasted onto Michael’s Saturn reveals those destinations: Bangkok, Vienna, Zurich, Barcelona, Hawaii, Paris, Delhi…

“Try to see it all,” the message adhered to the trunk advises.

 

Art car, horse on roof

 

Art car, elephant on roof

 

Art car, helicopter

 

And Michael has, via some interesting, and ordinary, modes of transportation—car, plane, train, helicopter, horse and elephant—documented by toys attached to the car’s roof. He rode the elephant in Laos or Cambodia. I can’t remember which.

 

Art car, front side close-up #90

 

Michael, though friendly, seemed reticent to engage in a more in-depth conversation. Maybe he was, like me, on a tight schedule. Or simply reserved, choosing to maintain a level of mystery about himself and his travels. That’s OK.

 

Art car, Frank Zappa quote

 

I asked if there was anything specific on his car that I should photograph. He directed me to a Frank Zappa quote on the windshield: “Progress is not possible without deviation from the norm.”

 

Art car, rear back close-up

 

Perhaps that reveals more about Michael than anything he could have spoken.

 

Art car, hood close-up

 

As does this question, posted on the Saturn’s hood: “Where to next Michael?”

FYI: To read another post about an art car I’ve photographed in Faribault, click here. Then click here to view one I photographed in Northfield. And to view a photo of another art car, photographed by one of my favorite Minnesota documentary photographers, Dan Traun of Red Wing, click here and check out the Sept. 14 entry.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the Faribault car show, Part II: Fit for royalty & fit for the jester July 21, 2015

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The Rolls Royce parked in downtown Faribault Friday evening for the Car Cruise.

The Rolls Royce parked in downtown Faribault Friday evening for the Car Cruise.

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU may see at a car show.

A royal photo opp.

A royal photo opp.

At Friday evening’s Faribault Car Cruise Night, it was the 1970s Rolls Royce parked on the corner of Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 and Central Avenue that drew lots of second looks. One group even posed for photos. The owners, whose identity I did not ask, take the car to the occasional car show and on Sunday afternoon drives. I expect if you own a Rolls Royce, you are selective about where you drive.

Typically, this dog's behind is attached to the back of the truck. But on this evening, it was resting on the roof. This made me laugh.

Typically, this dog’s behind is attached to the back of the truck. But on this evening, it was resting on the roof. This made me laugh.

While the Rolls Royce rated riveting royal attention, the behind of a dog attached to the roof of a truck did too. Except it seemed more fitting for the jester’s court. No one was photographing that except me.

Zooming in on the details, a Mustang emblem.

Zooming in on the details, a Mustang emblem.

I often focus on details as much as the overall scene to tell a story. An event is like a book. There are letters within words within sentences within paragraphs within chapters, between the covers. Without one, there is nothing.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Vehicles lined one block of Central Avenue.

Vehicles lined one block of Central Avenue.

I have no idea what Dixie 66 means. But there are always interesting plates on these vehicles.

Apparently 1966 Mustangs are “Dixie Dream Cars.”

Interested in what's under the hood? Many hoods are open at car shows.

Interested in what’s under the hood? Many hoods are open at car shows.

Art on the hood of a Thunderbird.

Art on the hood of a Pontiac Firebird.

Car cruise participants typically bring lawn chairs and sit near their vehicles.

Car cruise participants typically bring lawn chairs and sit near their vehicles.

More car art, this time on the trunk.

More car art, this time on the trunk.

FYI: Click here to read my first post on the July 17 Faribault Car Cruise Night. The final Cruise Night of the season is slated for 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday, August 21 on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The pick-up truck March 23, 2015

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The pick-up truck that inspired this most, photographed Saturday afternoon in West Concord.

The pick-up truck that inspired this post, photographed Saturday afternoon in West Concord, Minnesota.

IT’S ICONIC SMALL TOWN. The pick-up truck parked along Main Street within view of the grain elevator.

By my definition, a pick-up serves as a farmer’s all-purpose vehicle. Bags of seed corn piled in the back. Squealing pigs penned for market. Fence posts slid across the bed. Must-have auction purchases tossed in the back.

My image is based upon memory. Yesteryear. My Dad’s red-and-white 1960s vintage pick-up, replaced later by a newer one.

This is a late 1960s Chevy.

This is a late 1960s Chevy.

You can have your shiny new hulking pick-up trucks. I’ll take those aged by history—by the weight of a farmer sliding onto a cracked seat, springs groaning, his seed corn cap nearly brushing the cab interior.

Farmer or not, I don't know. But I told this guy I liked his truck. He bellowed out a big, "Thank you" before firing up the truck.

Farmer or not, I don’t know. But I told this guy I liked his truck. He bellowed out a big, “Thank you” before firing up his unmuffled truck. And just as I shot this frame, a much newer pick-up truck rounded the corner behind him.

I’ll take muddy Red Wings planted on floorboards, grease-stained fingers gripping the steering wheel, smell of cows lingering.

Roll down the windows to the wind. Crank the radio to ‘CCO. Bounce along the gravel road, dust rolling behind in a cloud.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on mass transit in Minnesota: memories & more January 15, 2015

MY EAST COAST COLLEGE son enthuses about mass transit, specifically about the T in Boston. It’s his go-to form of transportation if he’s not walking or unicycling.

The lack of wide-spread mass transit in Minnesota frustrates him. As I see it, cars, cost, lower population, and a much larger geographical area all factor into less public transportation availability here than out East.

I’ve reminded him that many a compact East Coast state would fit inside Minnesota’s borders. We don’t have nearly as many people living here as there.

The light rail heads toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The light rail heads toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

To be fair, mass transit exists in Minnesota’s larger communities and cities with bus service and, in the Twin Cities metro, light rail. And even in rural areas, limited bus service is available in some counties.

Decades ago, when I visited my Aunt Rae and Uncle Bob each summer, riding the Greyhound bus solo from my Uncle Harold’s gas station along Highway 19 in Vesta in southwestern Minnesota all the way to downtown Minneapolis, I experienced big city mass transit.

An excited nervousness jittered through me as Rae and I boarded a Minneapolis city bus to wherever she wanted to take me. To the Munsingwear warehouse to sort through piles of fabric. Or maybe downtown to view an art exhibit. Specific destination details mostly elude me now all these decades later.

But the wonderment of wheeling along narrow city streets, the bus pulsating to a stop, door swishing open, passengers boarding, remains with me. To be young and in the big city hustle far from corn and soybean fields and bellowing cows opened my eyes.

I saw beyond rural. I saw the possibilities. Another life. Another world.

Not that I ever fell in love with the big city. But riding the bus through Minneapolis sparked something inside me. A yearning for art galleries and music and museums and architecture. A library. An appreciation for people who didn’t look like the German Lutherans and Catholics back home. An almost dizzying awareness of noise and lights and motion. And tall buildings.

Vehicle traffic and light rail meet at this oddly configured intersection near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Vehicle traffic and light rail meet at this oddly configured and confusing intersection near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

I wonder if, today, a young girl from outstate Minnesota boards the Metro Blue Line (light rail) with her parents, perhaps headed to Target Field for a Twins game or to the Mall of America, and feels the same thrill I experienced decades ago riding the bus through the streets of Minneapolis.

Does she imagine the possibilities, study the faces, note the traffic, delight in her destination, desire to explore more of the city? Or is she overwhelmed by it all, wishing only to leave?

FYI: The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a statewide rail plan for an inter-city passenger rail line running from the metro to my community of Faribault and perhaps farther south. This proposal is in the early discussion stages. Click here to learn more.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No Minnesota car wash blues for us December 5, 2014

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HOW LONG WILL YOU wait in line at a car wash?

Which line should we choose?

Which line should we choose?

 

My husband and I recently waited for nearly half an hour at the Kwik Trip Car Wash in Faribault on a Saturday evening. Fourth in line. Next to a second line equally as long.

Moving up in line.

Moving up in line.

Arriving, we pondered which row to choose. Which will move faster? The one with the monster pick-up that doesn’t really appear in need of a wash? Or the other row? It’s a gamble. We chose the pick-up line. (Yeah, I know…)

I passed the time by deleting content from my cell phone. I took photos. I scanned the waiting vehicles and wondered why some were there, like that truck.

Before we headed over to the car wash, I snapped this photo through the dirty driver's side window.

Before we headed over to the car wash, I snapped this photo through the dirty driver’s side window.

It was obvious why my husband and I were waiting. Road salt and grime layered our van from a 600-mile round trip to eastern Wisconsin when the windshield wipers and washer fluid dispenser worked over-time. We could barely see out the side and rear windows for the film of white.

Randy wished aloud for some car wash tune to play on the radio while he amused himself by timing the length each vehicle was in the bay.

Not exactly a night at the movies, but entertaining anyway in the form of car wash art.

Not exactly a night at the movies, but entertaining anyway in the form of car wash art.

As for me, I thought to myself, after 32 years of marriage, it’s come to this—a Saturday night date at the car wash. But, you know, I’m OK with that.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling