Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

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

 

Even the Amish need to scrape windshields December 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
I always watch for Amish farms in the Coloma, Wisconsin, area.

I always watch for Amish farms in the Coloma, Wisconsin, area.

I’D NEVER CONSIDERED THIS, how the Amish travel comfortably in cold weather months. But then I don’t live in Amish country, only pass through it on the several times a year trips from southeastern Minnesota to eastern Wisconsin.

 

Amish buggy 1

 

On Thanksgiving morning I spotted an Amish buggy along Wisconsin State Highway 21 just outside of Coloma. I didn’t expect this on such an unseasonably cold and winter-like day. I wondered how this mode of transportation can possibly keep its occupants warm. Perhaps a heater, as suggested by a Google search, provides the necessary warmth.

 

Amish buggy 2

 

I couldn’t see the riders for the glass. A disappointment. But then again, who would ride in an open buggy in such cold temps? Not me. And not these Amish either.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisin’ the car show on Central July 17, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME, I could have cared less about car shows. They held no interest for me. Or so I thought.

A scene from Faribault Car Cruise Night during Heritage Days.

A scene from Faribault Car Cruise Night during the community’s recent Heritage Days.

But then a few years back, I tagged along with my husband to a local car show, camera in hand, and I was hooked.

It’s not the make or model or engine or such that typically draws my interest. Rather, it’s the art of the vehicles and my ability to view a car show with a photographer’s eye.

The red grabbed my attention.

The red grabbed my attention.

 

This rustic Chevy wagon rated as my favorite of the evening.

This rustic Chevy wagon rated as my favorite of the evening.

Here it was the message which drew my focus.

Here it was the message which drew my focus.

From the back of the Rat Rod (above photo), I moved to the front, crafted from a tractor.

From the back of the Rat Rod (above photo), I moved to the front, crafted from a tractor.

And then I moved in even closer to examine the freaky skull atop the Rat Rod.

And then I moved in even closer to examine the freaky skull atop the Rat Rod.

I find myself seeking our hood ornaments, the curve of a fender, the shine of a gleaming bumper. Anything artsy. Or unique. Or interesting.

I'm ever conscious of shine and reflections.

I’m ever conscious of shine and reflections.

Awhile ago, a Chicago ad agency contacted me about using a car show image of a rippled, shiny bumper. The offer for my photo, one of six being considered for a nation-wide ad campaign for a car wax company, was wildly substantial. In the end, mine was not chosen.

But this experience taught me to value every photo I take, even those shot at the car shows I once dismissed.

All ages participate in and enjoy the car show.

All ages participate in and enjoy the car show.

It’s not only the photo op aspect I enjoy, though. It’s also the opportunity to stroll along the street of my historic downtown in the gloaming of the day, chatting with friends and car collectors alike.

As darkness falls, vehicles begin to leave.

As daylight fades, vehicles begin to leave.

Talking cars. Talking family. Talking while the sun fades and Johnny Cash rumbles “Ring of Fire,” his throaty, husky words bouncing between buildings.

BONUS PHOTOS:

I like the style and the colors. So classy.

I like the style and the colors. So classy.

Details: a toy Mustang in a rear window.

Details: a toy Mustang in a rear window.

A snazzy GTO.

A snazzy GTO.

Custom upholstery matches the exterior paint striping.

Custom upholstery matches the exterior paint striping.

A 1965 Plymouth Baracuda purchased in 1964 and still owned by the original owner.

A 1965 Plymouth Barracuda, center, purchased in 1964 and still owned by the original owner.

Leaving...

Leaving…

Leaving the show and driving southbound on Central Avenue through historic downtown Faribault.

Leaving the show and driving southbound on Central Avenue through historic downtown Faribault.

FYI: Faribault Car Cruise Night is held from 6 – 9 p.m.  the third Friday of every month during the summer with upcoming shows set for July 18 and August 15. The event is held on Central Avenue in downtown Faribault.

© 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

 

On the road along Wisconsin Highway 21 April 21, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

TRAVELING THE 100 MILES or so between Tomah and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, can get downright tedious.

My husband and I have driven that stretch of narrow Wisconsin State Highway 21 numerous times in the past three years en route to and from Appleton, where our second eldest daughter lives.

With lots of small towns to filter through—and you know how much I appreciate small towns, unless I’m on a schedule, which we typically are—and a roadway that rates as heavily traveled and usually impossible to pass slow moving vehicles, this section of the trip is often taxing.

So we divert ourselves by trying to appreciate the sites around us, although not always pleasant. The shoulders and ditches of Highway 21 are often littered with deer carcases. Better a dead deer than one walking/running into the path of our van.

Sometimes we play a game, seeing how many dead deer we can spot. Yes, I know. Whatever works to pass the time.

I typically rest my camera in my lap, too, ready to capture whatever I find intriguing, in other words potential blog material.

My single Wisconsin Amish photo during our most recent trip shows and Amish buggy in a farmyard and an Amish teen standing next to a small outbuilding.

My single Wisconsin Amish photo during our most recent trip shows an Amish buggy in a farmyard and an Amish teen standing next to a small outbuilding.

Typically I am on shutter button alert around the Coloma area, home to many Amish.

But anything out of the ordinary can cause me to raise my camera and shoot.

Photographed just east of Coloma.

Photographed just east of Coloma.

How often do you see a pink semi cab?

The weaving truck in Wautoma.

The weaving truck, right, in Wautoma.

Or a truck with boats aboard weaving through traffic in Wautoma like some some speed boat on an area lake?

I really should have photographed the crazy multi-lane roundabouts near Oshkosh. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation seems to fancy these traffic intersectors with more than 200 constructed in the state, many in the Fox Valley area where we travel. In contrast, Minnesota has about 120.

While I understand how roundabouts enhance safety, that does not make them any less scary, especially during rush hour. Suffice to say, you best know which lane you need to be in, something not in the knowledge bank of out-of-state drivers like us encountering a particular roundabout for the first time.

In summary, though Highway 21 proves a long drive through central Wisconsin, I manage to keep it semi interesting by scouting for blog material.

FYI: These photos were shot during a March trip, thus the snow you see in some of the images. Check back for additional posts this week from that visit to eastern Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Car art December 3, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

I WAS NEAR GIDDY as I crossed the Buckham Memorial Library parking lot.

Car art, side view

There, there sat that car. That car. The one I’ve watched zoom up the street past my Faribault home many times.

I’ve always wanted to photograph this Joseph’s coat of many colors automobile. And now, with my camera available, I could.

Car art, side view 2

But wouldn’t you know, just as I grabbed my Canon from the van, droplets of rain spurted from the sky. I folded my camera inside my cardigan and hurried toward the car to snap a few quick frames.

Car art, back of

Close up, I noticed that what I thought to be duct tape was, instead, reflective tape in primary colors plus black, white and brown adhered to this Cadillac Cimarron.

I got my photos. Now I need the story.

Who owns this work of art?

Why is this Caddy covered in tape? Is the owner making an artistic statement? Or was this tape adhered for some practical reason?

Thoughts? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A flat tire, an upgrade & a crime October 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:29 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

OUR DAUGHTER, the one who lives 5 ½ hours away in eastern Wisconsin, had a flat tire on her car Wednesday morning. Four days after she bought four new tires. What are the odds?

“I can’t believe it,” she texted.

I couldn’t believe it either. But then I remembered the lemon colored Mercury Comet I bought in 1978. It got two flat tires the same day I purchased it. The hue of the vehicle should have clued me in. Later, I would rename it “The Vomit.” An appropriate moniker, I might add.

YESTERDAY WE BOUGHT a new van. New to us. To replace the 1988 Plymouth Grand Voyager. We really had no choice. The ‘88 needs tires. At an eye-popping $400 – $500 for four tires, it is not worth the investment in a hail-pocked, paint-peeling, rusting vehicle that has seen better days.

I suggested that perhaps we could sell the wood-grain paneled van as a collector’s vehicle. Then my husband mentioned that the Smithsonian has a Dodge Caravan in its collection. I did not believe him.

But then, as all truth-seeking journalists/wives will do, I googled the Smithsonian and learned that, yes, indeed, he was right. A 1986 Dodge Caravan exists in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as a symbol of suburbia.

Now an affordable 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan, with 95,000 miles and right front fender damage from a deer strike rests in our driveway. It is a symbol of lower middle income Americans who are not all that particular about the age or beauty of a vehicle as long as it runs well and gets you (and college students and 20-somethings moved) from point A to point B.

The husband only wishes the van color was not white. Better than yellow, I say. Better than yellow.

ALL THIS CAR TALK reminds me of a little incident back in 2003. We sold our 1989 Dodge Aires to a young man for cash. A month later, the police came knocking on our door on Memorial Day weekend. We were out of town, so they went to our next-door neighbor’s house at around 10 p.m. asking questions.

Upon our return, our neighbor told us about the inquiry by law enforcement and handed us a business card from a Northfield police investigator. That evening we settled in to watch the 10 p.m. news. The lead story reported on a drive-by gang shooting at a Northfield trailer park.

I wasn’t surprised when the investigator showed up at our doorstep the next morning. Turns out the gun used in the shooting was stashed in the trunk of “our” car. Seems the reputed Minneapolis gang member, now charged with attempted murder, had failed to change the car title still registered in our names.

SO THERE, can you top that final car story?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling