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

Advertisements
 

Sweet vintage signage in Sleepy Eye & a theatre in need of rescue June 9, 2014

Classic vintage signage on the King Koin Launderette.

Classic vintage signage on the King Koin Launderette in Sleepy Eye.

EVERY TIME I PASS through Sleepy Eye along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota, I admire the same business signage, especially on the King Koin Launderette downtown.

With no time ever to stop for a proper photo shoot, I settle for a drive-by shot.

That laundromat sign is just so classic. You gotta love it.

Another eye-catching sign on the west side of Sleepy Eye.

Another eye-catching sign on the west side of Sleepy Eye.

Ditto for the simple geometric sign that’s likely marked Mathiowetz Body Shop for years. The garage style building and clutter of vehicles tell me this is a body shop, even if I miss the sign.

Can the PIX Theatre be reclaimed?

Can the PIX Theatre be reclaimed?

And, finally, there’s the PIX Theatre. Each time I observe the clearly abandoned building with those three aging letters and the hole in the marquee, I want to scream, “Please, somebody, anybody, buy this place and restore it.”

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating a vintage Dairy Queen sign in Janesville August 22, 2012

ICE CREAM. It has to be the single treat with the most universal appeal. And I expect Dairy Queen rates as the company most universally known for its soft-serve ice cream.

With 6,000 plus Dairy Queens throughout the world, this fast food franchise certainly has established itself as a dominating presence since the first DQ opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois.

The Dairy Queen along old U.S. Highway 14 in Janesville on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Within 40 miles of my home are 35 Dairy Queens, including two right here in Faribault, and a walk-up DQ along old U.S. Highway 14 in Janesville some 30 miles away.

On a recent Sunday afternoon while passing through Janesville, located east of Mankato and with a population of about 2,100, I photographed the DQ. I wasn’t hungry, having just eaten too much at a church potluck. But I didn’t let that keep me from stopping at the DQ to photograph this long-time business with the vintage signage.

The vintage Dairy Queen sign that drew me to the Janesville DQ.

It’s the sign that caused me to stop because, well, I like and appreciate old signs as works of art. They’re also classic, charming cultural and historic icons in a community.

I was a bit dismayed, though, when the woman working the counter suggested that once the lights fizzle on the sign, it will be replaced with a newer, more modern DQ sign because, really, who could fix the lighting?

I insisted that shouldn’t happen and may have pleaded a bit. “You can’t do that.”

But she seemed resigned to the sign’s eventual replacement.

On the bottom edge of the sign, I noticed LEROY SIGN REG.

Not so fast. I noticed LEROY SIGN REG printed along the lower edge of the DQ sign. That was just enough for me to google the company and track down the sign’s origin with Leroy Signs & Manufacturing of Brooklyn Park.

After viewing a photo I took of the Janesville sign, Ralph Leroy “Lee” Reiter III told me it dates back to the late 1940s or early 1950s and is one of about 50 made by his grandfather, Ralph Leroy Reiter, Sr. While the younger Reiter doesn’t know exactly how many of these specific signs were placed in Minnesota, he says his third-generation company recently refurbished one in Columbia Heights and he knows of one in Robbinsdale and another in Brooklyn Park.

I was especially pleased to learn that the 75-year-old family business he co-owns with siblings Kaj Reiter and Andria Reiter can replace the neon lighting and otherwise refurbish the porcelain enamel finished vintage DQ sign.

On the other side of the DQ, looking toward downtown Janesville.

Lee Reiter has high praise for the condition of the Janesville DQ sign. “It’s one of the cleanest I’ve seen and in really good condition.”

He observed, though, that the sign may have been touched up some. You could fool me. The sign as designed decades ago—DQ designed and Leroy Sign made the sign—allowed it to take in water, Lee noted.

Early on in DQ’s history, Leroy Signs made signs for DQ, last doing so about five years ago.

As for that vintage DQ sign in Janesville, Lee says if the owner ever wants to get rid of it, he’ll take it. That, in itself, should tell you something, don’t you think?

You know you’re in a rural town when you see a combine driving down the street like this John Deere which passed the Janesville DQ.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls June 17, 2011

The vintage-looking sign on the side of a building in downtown Fergus Falls caught my attention. The Market sells a variety of merchandise from kitchen to bath and body, garden and home accent products and lots more.

UNTIL LAST SATURDAY, I’d never entered Fergus Falls, only driven past this west central Minnesota community along I-94 en route to the Dakotas. After miles and miles of interstate travel, the towns don’t seem to matter any more. On the fringes, one seems like the other—just another rest break, a place to tank up on gas or a quick stop for a bite to eat.

Sadly, that marks the reality of today’s fast-paced, get from point A to point B, world.

But then one day you have a reason to pull off the four-lane, to explore one of these interstate-side communities and you discover a town with a personality and identity, and you wonder why you have not come here before this day.

And so that is how I found Fergus Falls, population 14,500, when I traveled there last weekend to view my Roadside Poetry Project poem displayed on four billboards. (My spring poem has since been replaced by a summer poem.)

After photographing my poem and dining at the downtown Viking Café (click here to read my earlier post on this vintage restaurant), I explored this Otter Tail County seat with my husband, Randy.

Certainly, we saw only a small portion of this riverside town. But I toured enough of Fergus Falls to come up with a single word to describe it: artistic.

I wonder if the folks who live in Fergus also see their hometown as an art community. Or would they choose another word to describe their town?

Here are photos to back up my word selection.

Knit graffiti circled a tree downtown. Bottlecaps were strung on another tree by this one. What a simple and memorable art idea.

Fergus Falls Summerfest happened to be on when we were in town. Here's one section of the event.

Clear Lake, S.D., artist Karlys Wells of Back Porch Art created this gourd art, among my favorite art at the fair.

Even signage can be art, like this on a downtown bakery.

Call it art, or something else, but this Rice Krispie cake in a bakery window display made me laugh out loud.

Kaddatz Galleries, a nonprofit art gallery, showcases the work of Charles Beck and other local artists.

Woodcuts and woodblock prints by one of Minnesota's most-recognized artists, Charles Beck of Fergus Falls. His subjects are the landscapes and nature of Otter Tail County. Until I walked into this gallery, I do not recall having ever heard of Beck. His earthy, rural art appeals to me.

I was impressed with the number of visitors in the Kaddatz Galleries.

The doors to the Fergus Theatre were locked, or I would most definitely have gone inside. The vintage exterior adds so much to the charm of downtown Fergus Falls.

I am a big fan of vintage signs for the character they add to a community.

SO HAVE I CONVINCED you to pull off I-94 in west central Minnesota and explore Fergus Falls? Fergus lies 2 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, mighty close to Fargo, N.D.

Here are several websites to check out and learn more about some of the places highlighted in my photos and story:

www.VisitFergusFalls.com

www.kaddatzgalleries.org

www.fergusarts.org

www.fergusfallssummerfest.com

www.roadsidepoetry.org

www.marketfergusfalls.com

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling