By Joann M. Ringelstetter
This past summer, my friends, Julaine and Marlys, asked me if I would take them shunpiking on the backroads of Vernon County again this fall. I quickly agreed and, just as quickly, they picked a date in October and put it on their calendars.
At the end of September, they started counting the days until we would be meandering along the roads of Amish country and stopping at Amish farms, cheese factories, and bakeries. On October 11, we departed at 7:00 am and headed west. Our first planned stop was Wildcat Mountain State Park, where we enjoyed the scenic overlook.
After that, we shunpiked down in the valleys and up on the ridges on our way to the Amish cheese factory. First we passed an Amish farm where the corn had been harvested, leaving a field of old-fashioned corn shocks.
Just down the road from the corn shocks, we passed a home with an amusing autumn display where the male scarecrow was mooning towards the road. As we approached it to take pictures, the owner came out and told us that they had gotten bored with their traditional autumn display, so they decided to try something different. He said it was drawing lots of attention. It surely drew ours and we had a good laugh over it.
When I was planning our trip the night before, I had noticed a little cemetery on the map between Wildcat Mountain and the cheese factory. It had a name that was too interesting to ignore – the Bad Axe Cemetery. So we looked for it and as we pulled up to it, we noticed that the sheep from the pasture next to the cemetery had jumped the fence and were wandering around in the cemetery.
As we got out of the car to explore the cemetery, the sheep took on a guilty look as if to say, “Oh-oh, we’ve been caught in the act,” and quickly jumped back into the pasture. Now I know where the saying “looking sheepish” comes from.
There was a sign near the road that explained the history of the church that used to be next to the cemetery. As I read the sign, I heard the wonderful clip-clop of horse hooves as one Amish buggy after another passed by the Bad Axe Cemetery.
In 1867-68, Irish immigrants built a white frame church on this site and dedicated it to St. Patrick. Over the years, priests from various surrounding parishes served as pastors to St. Patrick’s. Unfortunately, in 1936, the church burned to the ground due to a lightning strike. The name Bad Axe comes from Vernon County’s original name and the cemetery is all that remains on the site today.
The Amish cheese factory was officially our second stop, but we were having quite a busy day before we got there. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at an Amish candy store and, although we all said we certainly didn’t need candy, each of us left with something sweet. We also passed an old gas tank with a smiley face that I couldn’t resist capturing.
Finally we reached the cheese factory and, just as we were purchasing our cheese, a tour bus full of people arrived and began unloading. So we made a quick exit and headed on down the road. Our next stop was a favorite Amish bakery. As we pulled into the farm, we discovered four Amish buggies parked next to the barn.
When we opened the door to the bakery, we were overwhelmed by the smell of freshly baked bread, pies, and….what’s this?...doughnuts?.....on a Thursday?! If you’re familiar with Amish bakeries in Wisconsin, you know that most of them are open only on Friday and Saturday. And if they are open other days, they only have doughnuts on Friday and Saturday. These doughnuts are such a treat to me because they are exactly like my mother used to make when we were kids. You know, the raised kind with the thin glaze on them. I usually don’t eat wheat, but I make an exception once or twice a year when I get the chance to have an old-fashioned raised doughnut from an Amish bakery.
There were two Amish women who were very busy working in the kitchen. When I told them I was surprised to find doughnuts on a Thursday, they said it was because there were two tour buses arriving soon and they were trying to make enough baked goods to satisfy the crowd. So, again, we hurried with our purchases and hit the road before the tour buses arrived.
Next we headed towards Westby where we planned to have lunch but, as it usually goes when we’re shunpiking, I had a couple of stops to make on the way.
Before we could even make those stops, however, we passed an Amish farm with a vegetable stand. So we drove down the driveway and bought a pumpkin and some vegetables. Standing near the vegetable stand was a horse and buggy.
Ruth had told me about a couple of one-room schools, so we tried to find them. The first one was a bust, so I think I didn’t quite have the right location. But we did manage to find the second one, which is called Rognstad School.
I don’t know much about this school other than it is a one-room schoolhouse with a front gable and clapboard siding. There is an old outhouse in the back.
The best part of shunpiking is enjoying it with others. So before leaving the school, I put my camera on my tripod and set the timer so that we could have a picture of the three of us to remember this wonderful trip.