By Joann M. Ringelstetter
When we were kids, we never missed an episode of the popular comedy show, "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." At the end of every show, cast members took turns opening panels in a psychedelic "joke wall" and telling jokes.
Three years ago, Ruth and I were out shunpiking on a beautiful fall day and we stumbled on a barn with several open windows. This wouldn't have been so unusual, except for the fact that in each window was the head of a cow. We stood there in "udder" delight (sorry for my pun) as we watched the cows fight for a spot in one of the open windows. It was ever-changing and very amusing. It reminded us of the Laugh-in joke wall, so we referred to the scene as "The Laugh-in Cows."
A few days later, I took three friends on their first "shunpiking tour." They had heard me speak excitedly about hitting the backroads and wanted to experience it for themselves. I took them to Amish country, where I showed them an old spring house, a root cellar in the hillside, a round barn, a cheese factory, a Mule Hide advertising sign, and a Gold Medal Flour mural. I also took them to lunch at Gina's Pies Are Square in Wilton, Wisconsin.
The best stop of the entire day was the first one -- the Laugh-in Cows. We were heading toward Amish country and suddenly I pulled off the road. They started asking why we had stopped. I told them to get out of the car for a minute. "No guarantees," I said, thinking we might only see a barn with open windows. But as soon as one of them slammed the car door, cow heads started popping out of each window, as if on cue. They will remember it always.
In May of this year, Ruth and I decided to pay another visit to the Laugh-in Cows. As we approached the farm, our mouths dropped open as we discovered that the barn is no more. There is only a small piece of the foundation left. So we don't know what happened to the laugh-in cows, but we will remember them fondly forever.
This is what drives us to capture as much of our rural heritage as possible before it is gone forever. So, if you're ever out on a road trip and something tells you that you ought to stop and take a picture, do it, because you never know how long things will remain the same.