Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road along Wisconsin Highway 21 April 21, 2014

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


In Wisconsin: Sharing the highway with the Amish November 19, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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IN THE PAST THREE YEARS, I’ve traveled through the heart of central Wisconsin often enough to know where I might see the Amish.

An Amish farm in central Wisconsin, photographed on Friday, October 11, 2013.

An Amish farm in central Wisconsin, photographed on Friday, October 11, 2013. Notice the buggy parked by the red shed.

Between Coloma and Wautoma is a prime location for spotting Amish farms and maybe even a buggy, especially on a Sunday, the day these folks gather to worship in homes.

An Amish man traveling Wisconsin State Highway 21 on Friday, October 11, 2013.

An Amish man traveling Wisconsin State Highway 21 on Friday, October 11, 2013.

On our most recent trip to Wisconsin, my husband and I, for the first time, encountered an Amish man guiding a horse-pulled wagon along the shoulder of Wisconsin State Highway 21 by the Mecan River Fishery Area.

A close-up taken while passing by the Amish man.

Passing by the Amish man.

Truthfully, I felt nervous watching him journey along this busy stretch of highway heavy with semi truck and other traffic.

I could only hope drivers would see him and that his horses wouldn’t spook.

How about you? Have you ever encountered Amish along a roadway and worried about their safety?

FYI: To learn more about the Amish in Wisconsin, click here to reach the Amish America website.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Preserving central Wisconsin’s rural heritage via on-the-road photography January 5, 2012

Each time I see this Wisconsin barn, I think of the biblical story of Joseph's coat of many colors.

ON OUR FOURTH TRIP through central Wisconsin in a year along the same route—Interstate 90 to Interstate 94 in Tomah then on Wisconsin Highway 21 to Oshkosh, up U.S. Highway 41 to Appleton—I’m getting to know the Dairyland state from her western to near eastern borders.

She’s a beautiful state of rolling hills, flat marsh land, stands of packed pencil-thin pines, too many towns whose names end in “ville,” infinite piles of stacked firewood, cranberry bogs and potato patches, muskrat mounds, cheese stores, Packers fans, small-town bars and barns—oh, the barns that I love to photograph.

One of my favorite barns along Wisconsin Highway 21 because of the stone walls.

As I’ve done on every 600-mile round trip to and from our second daughter’s Appleton home, I capture the scenery via on-the-road photography, meaning I photograph through the passenger side window or windshield of our vehicle at highway speeds. Sometimes I manage to snap a well-composed image. Other times I fail to lift my camera, compose and click in time and miss the photo op.

Journey after journey, I find my eyes drawn to the many old barns that are so much a part of Wisconsin’s landscape and heritage. And mine. Only in Minnesota.

I’ve seen every type of barn, from the well-preserved to the crumbling, pieced-together-with-tin structure. I know that any barn, once left to fall into a rotting pile of boards, will never be replaced by an equally grand structure.

A pieced together weathered barn blends into the gray landscape on a dreary winter afternoon.

A once grand barn shows the first signs of falling into disrepair.

The occasional white barn pops up among the characteristically red barns.

Majestic barns, rising sturdy and proud above the land, are seldom crafted anymore. Instead, mundane metal rectangles sprawl, without any character or beauty, across the landscape. Such structures hold no artistic, but only practical, value on the farm.

Via my barn photography, I am documenting for future generations a way of life—the family farm—which, in many places, has already vanished.

If my photos inspire you to appreciate barns and rural life and the land and our agricultural heritage and the men and women who work the soil and their importance in this great country of ours, then I will have passed along to you something of great worth.

An especially picturesque farm site along Wisconsin Highway 21.

The muted blue-grey of this old farmhouse blends seamlessly with the dreamy landscape on a snowy New Year's Day afternoon in central Wisconsin.

Contrasted against snow, red barns are particularly visually appealing.

NOTE: The above photos were taken on December 30, 2011, and January 1, 2012, along Wisconsin Highway 21 in the central part of the state primarily between Wautoma and Oshkosh.

I have applied a canvas style editing technique to most of the images, creating a quality that is more painting than photo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thanks for the laughs, Wisconsin September 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:59 PM
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WISCONSINITES, YOU MAKE me laugh. A cow mooing in the produce department of a grocery store? Honestly. Seriously. How funny is that?

So here’s how this bovine encounter played out. About two months ago my husband, son and I stopped at the StoneRidge Piggly Wiggly in Wautoma in east central Wisconsin to pick up deli meat for a picnic lunch.

This was right after we stopped at The Milty Wilty drive-in for an ice cream treat. But that’s another story for another day.

I walked into the Piggly Wiggly and dawdled in the produce department while my husband headed to the deli counter. Then I heard a cow mooing.

What the heck? I was not in a barn.

But, I was in Wisconsin.

Because I am nearly deaf in one ear, I cannot distinguish the source of sound. So I just stood there for awhile among the apples and lettuce and array of other fruits and vegetables attempting to decipher the source of that bellowing cow.

Then I walked over to the deli counter and told my husband, “I just heard a cow mooing.”

The woman standing next to him started laughing and then explained: “Whenever water sprays onto the vegetables, the cow moos. Makes me laugh every time.” I didn’t even ask her to tell me how that rigged up system works.

But I did think to myself, since this is a Piggly Wiggly store, perhaps a squealing pig would be more appropriate. But then again, maybe not; I was in the Dairyland State, after all.

A few other things you should know about Wautoma’s Piggly Wiggly. The grocery store, which also includes StoneRidge Meat, smells like smoked meat. Some folks might like that smell; I don’t happen to be one of them.

If you need to drop off a deer for processing, follow the signage at the back of the store for deer deposit.

I took this picture of StoneRidge Piggly Wiggly, with that deer out front, last winter.

Signage for deer drop off at the back of the Piggly Wiggly complex.

And just in case you would like a brat, which seems to be another of those Wisconsin “things,” you can stop at Uncle Butch’s Brat Barn right outside the Piggly Wiggly. It wasn’t open when we were there, but I bet my husband wished it had been. He loves brats. Me, not so much.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

But I sure enjoyed my experience at the Piggly Wiggly, right down to the “Pig Point$” sign I read when I walked out the door.

Thanks for the laughs, Wisconsin neighbors.

Please, may I have some Pig Points? I don't know what they are, but I think I'd like some.

IF YOU ARE A WISCONSIN resident and would like to share some other unique quirks about your state, I’d like to hear. Ditto if you are a traveler and have discovered some interesting finds in the Dairyland State. Oh, and if you are a non-Minnesotan and have found quirks in my home state, share those, too. I’d like to hear how others view Minnesota. Submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Milty Wilty in Wautoma, Wisconsin January 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:26 AM
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UNTIL ABOUT A MONTH AGO, I’d never heard of the Milty Wilty.

In fact, I’d never been to Wautoma, the small, central Wisconsin town that is home to this old-fashioned drive-in. But my husband and I were driving through Wautoma, moving our second eldest daughter to eastern Wisconsin, when I spotted the Milty Wilty. For sure there’s a story behind that name.


The Milty Wilty, which I photographed while we were driving through Wautoma, Wisconsin..

If the drive-in had been open, we would have pulled in. But it’s closed for the season.

You can bet that next summer, when we’re passing through Wautoma again, we’ll stop at the Milty Wilty for a treat. According to several online reviews, the1947 diner serves rich and creamy, light-as-a-feather custard ice cream in huge cones.

I expect the place will be hopping with locals and tourists lining up for that custard or a thick, creamy shake.

My cousin Bev lives in Wautoma. She says the area lakes draw the rich people (OK, she may not exactly have said “rich people,” but that’s what she meant) from Milwaukee and Chicago. I believe her. I saw lots of fancy houses along the lakeshore on the edge of Wautoma.

But I also saw that vintage Milty Wilty along Wisconsin Highway 21. And, honestly, it’s down-home places like that small-town drive-in which appeal to me more than any lakeside McMansion.

You can’t put a price on nostalgia, on a place like the Milty Wilty.

IF ANYONE HAS BEEN to the Milty Wilty, feel free to submit a comment. I’d love to learn more about the drive-in, including how it got its name. Do you have a favorite Minnesota (or Wisconsin or other-state) drive-in? Submit a comment, too. I’m always looking for interesting places to visit when I’m on the road.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling