Thursday, July 20, 2017

Riding the Bus with Wanda

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

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As I said in my Father’s Day blog, during the school year our main farm duty was milking. Dad didn’t believe in sleeping in and he wanted the milking done before we left for school. This meant we had to be in the barn by 4:30 in the morning.


Our barn held 80 cows, and sometimes we had to turn a few out after they were milked to bring in the rest of the cows. There was no fooling around, since we were supposed to have the milking done before we headed off to school.


The second the last cow was milked, we made a mad dash for the house. We usually had about 10 minutes to shower if possible, grab some breakfast and our books, and make another mad dash out the door, and across the lawn to the farm driveway for the bus to pick us up.


If we weren’t standing at the side of the road when the bus pulled up, there was no waiting for us. Our bus driver was named Wanda, and, to put it mildly, she was not a nice or happy person.


Most of the kids on the bus would be sitting quietly, probably still half asleep, but not us. By the time we got on the bus, we had already been up for hours, so we laughed and talked as we rode along. I think Wanda preferred the quiet, almost catatonic kids to us because she would glare at us in the mirror at every opportunity when we were talking, but especially when we were laughing.

One morning as we rode along, Joann and I were sitting together, and started to laugh about something. She glared at us in the mirror, and then said “Too much feather soup this morning, girls?”


I guess she thought we had feather soup for breakfast which tickled our throats and caused our giggling. Too bad for her. Even though we were working very hard on the farm, we were still very happy kids!


Our place was about in the middle of her route, which meant there were a lot of kids to pick up after us in the morning, and a lot of kids to drop off before us in the afternoon. One of the older boys, who rode the bus occasionally, got on the bus one afternoon with a can of Pepsi.


As usual, Wanda just glared at him. And she continued to glare at him at every stop as kids left the bus. But miles before his stop, and ours which was right after his, she stopped the bus to let some kids off. After they crossed the road and went into their house, she just sat, staring into the mirror. This went on for several minutes, her just sitting there, and cars going around the bus. Finally she told him to get rid of the Pepsi. And he told her he wasn’t done with it.


They had a staredown for a while – her looking at him in the mirror and him staring back, slowly drinking his Pepsi. Finally, he sighed and said “Well, if I had known we were going to spend the night, I would have brought my pajamas!” And with that, she opened the bus door and said ‘GET OFF!”. He took his Pepsi, walked slowly to the front of the bus, and got off. And she drove away!


We had nicknamed her “Wanda the Witch,” and every year before the school year started, we waited for the bus schedule to come. There was another bus that came right past our house. We would have gotten on later, and gotten off earlier, but we were never on that route. Every year the schedule had the same time, and ”Wanda the Witch” as the driver. Dang!


But then one morning, our brother Paul got on the bus with what we thought was his lunch. It was in one of those little brown bags that we all used to carry our lunch in. But it wasn’t lunch, and a short ways down the road, he held the bag down by the floor of the bus, and out came a salamander. It was a couple of minutes before the commotion started. Other kids started to notice, and then Wanda noticed, especially when some of the kids started screaming.


It was funny, but we thought we were dead. She was going to tell on us and we’d get kicked off the bus system. I’m sure there was a call to Mom, but we don’t remember getting reprimanded at home. Maybe Mom kept it to herself, since all they did was change our bus. We finally ended up on the other bus that passed right by our house.


It was driven by the head bus driver, and he was a very nice, happy man! From then on, we got on the bus a few minutes later and, if we hurried with the milking, that gave us a few more minutes to get ready. And in the afternoon, we got home a few minutes earlier which gave us a few minutes to grab a snack before we went out to the barn to milk again.

We worked very hard as farm kids, but we did always manage to have fun. I hope everyone has as many great childhood memories as we do!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Happy Shunpiking!
Ruth

Sunday, July 9, 2017

American Pickers

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes. Just click on the desired photo and look for the blue “BUY” button.

In April, 2015, on the first day of a photography trip to northern Missouri, Ruth and I passed through the town of Savanna, Illinois. Our goal was to capture a few photos of the Pulford Opera House building without cars parked in front of it. This historic building was built in 1892 and housed Pulford’s Drug Store and Miller’s Clothing Store on the first floor and an attorney’s office and the telephone company offices on the second floor. Unfortunately, the opera house auditorium was never finished.


Today, it houses the Pulford Opera House Antique Mall, where Frank Fritz, co-star of the History Channel’s American Pickers show, has a booth called Frank Fritz Finds. High above the ground floor is an organ grinder monkey on a vintage high wheel bicycle.


It was mid-day when we arrived and it was raining lightly. As we came down Main Street, we were delighted to see that there were no vehicles parked in front of the opera house. I parked the car across the street and quickly grabbed my camera equipment and umbrella. Photographing in the rain while holding an umbrella over my equipment is difficult and time-consuming, so I said a quick prayer that I could get my photos taken before a vehicle parked in the middle of my scene.


The door that gets you to the antique mall is actually the door to the Hawg Dog Bar & Grill. There was a white van parked in front of the bar, so I kept making sure the back of the van didn’t get in any of my photos. But, as I worked, someone kept entering the left side of my scene, pushing a dolly into the bar. I figured it was some kind of delivery to the bar.


After successfully capturing the opera house block, I started walking back to the car. Suddenly it dawned on me that the white van belonged to Frank Fritz and it was he who was hauling things into the bar for his antiques booth. He came out one more time without the dolly and stopped to converse with someone he knew. I snapped a quick photo from down the street and then they went inside the building.


Thinking that Frank might be getting ready to leave, I quickly put my camera equipment back in the car and asked Ruth what I could take to get Frank’s autograph. Neither of us had a good idea, so I grabbed a small notebook and made a mad dash for the antique mall. I found Frank just inside the door, so I introduced myself and asked him if I could have his autograph. He kindly obliged.


Frank and I went back outside where he showed me that he still had quite a few things to unload from the back of his van. He said that he had just returned from driving thousands of miles to Texas and back, “picking” for antiques. According to his website, his interests are “old motorcycles, old toys, old cars, and anything that is old and unusual.”


If you watch the American Pickers show, you know that Frank often negotiates with sellers on vintage oil cans.


And Frank and his co-star and picking partner, Mike Wolfe, often purchase vintage gasoline and motor oil signs.


They also love old gas pumps.


In early September, 2015, a little over four months after I met Frank Fritz in Savanna, Illinois, I received a request from an archivist from the American Pickers Show. She said they were interested in using a photo I took on Route 66 of some 1924 Fry Guaranteed Measure “Mae West” visible gas pumps.


The episode was called “Can’t Catch a Break” and it aired on October 21, 2015. Unfortunately, my photo didn’t make the final cut. But I was pleased to get a credit at the end of the show.


Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe say that they travel the backroads of America telling its history. So do we!

Happy Shunpiking!
Joann

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Shunpiking to Heaven

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes. Just click on the desired photo and look for the blue “BUY” button.

About a week ago, Ruth and I looked at the extended weather forecast and decided we would take advantage of the cooler than normal weather pattern by hitting the backroads. On Sunday, June 25, we left fairly early in the morning and headed to southwest Wisconsin. We photographed a bit in Dane and Iowa Counties and then crossed into Lafayette County.


The day started out clear and sunny, so we “put in our order” for a blue sky with puffy white clouds. By 8:45 a.m., clouds were beginning to form in the sky. Around 9:15 a.m., we turned onto a quiet country road and, as we rounded a bend, we saw a unique flag at the end of a driveway. I drove quite a ways past the flag before I stopped the car so that we wouldn’t be in danger if another car came around the bend. And then I walked back to capture a photo of the flag.


I snapped one photo, which was all that was needed, and suddenly something went “Woosh! Flap-Flap-Flap!” fairly close to my head. I looked up and saw the back of a bald eagle, flying low to the ground, and carrying a small animal in its talons. I had my camera settings way too slow to capture this type of movement, and I knew that I would miss the amazing beauty of this huge bird if I tried to change the camera settings, so I just watched in awe. Surprisingly, the eagle stayed low to the ground as it passed the car and continued down the long road. Luckily, Ruth didn’t have her eyes on the map, so she enjoyed this beautiful bird of prey, too.


Our next stop was actually the reason we had come down this country road. Ruth knew there were cow sculptures in a farm pasture. They were next to a long straight stretch of road, but there was no shoulder as is often the case on country roads, so I stopped the car on the road, got my equipment out, and started photographing these whimsical sculptures.


I probably spent about 20 minutes walking up and down the road and into the ditch and up to the fence to capture different angles. As I did this, I could hear the bugs and see the beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds (just as we had ordered). At times like this, an absolute peace washes over me and I am reminded why I love shunpiking on the backroads so much. I returned to the car and commented to Ruth that this was heaven and it was why I named this business Shunpiking to Heaven.


We spent the day enjoying the beauty of the rolling countryside in Lafayette and Grant Counties, finally returning home at 10:00 p.m. It had been a long but satisfying day and I fell into bed thanking God for all the blessings of the day.


Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Happy Shunpiking!
Joann

Saturday, June 17, 2017

For our Father on Father’s Day

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes. Just click on the desired photo and look for the blue “BUY” button.

I was born the year our father decided to become his own boss and return to farming. He knew the hard work and long hours that would be involved, since he had grown up on a farm in the Plain, Wisconsin area. Back then he worked the land with a team of horses and horse-drawn equipment.


After he left his parents’ farm, he had several jobs working for other people. Two of those jobs were working at implement companies setting up farm equipment for farmers after their purchase.


He was working at Oscar Mayer in Madison when he bought his first farm and he continued to work there for a short time, working the farm when he got home from his day job.


Maybe it was during his implement days working with the different brands of equipment, and maybe it was talking with the farmers who bought equipment, but he became a life-long John Deere man.


When the state came through and took land on that first farm to expand Highway 151 north of Sun Prairie, Dad hunted for a new farm. He found one outside of Lake Mills -- a much bigger farm where we kids would have to really step up and help.

During the school year, the biggest farm job the kids had was helping with morning and evening milking, but during the summer we also had to help with the harvesting. The biggest part of that was making hay.


After Phyllis and David, our oldest siblings, left the farm, I became the hay mower and raker. I only remember mowing with the sickle mower a couple of times, and I didn’t like it. All of those little blades really worried me, and I was glad when dad bought a combination mower/conditioner.


I think most times we don’t realize how smart our parents are, but once I started mowing hay, it became very clear to me that Dad was awfully smart. Weather forecasts back in those days were nothing like they are today, where they can predict weather by the hour.


And as a farmer, you had to know when to cut hay and when to hold off until after rain. The cycle was to cut hay on day 1 and let it dry, rake it on day 2 and let it dry again, then bale it up on day 3. Other than the first year on the Lake Mills farm, when it rained almost every single day all summer, our hay rarely got rained on.

Dad would always open up fields, which included cutting the outside edges, and, depending on the size of the field, cutting a swath or two in the middle. Then he would move on to other chores and I would cut the field. One day, as I was sitting on the fender, and he was opening up the field, I asked him how he cut straight lines through the middle of the field.


I was asking because he almost always cut dead-on straight lines, but on this day, he was driving very crooked. He told me that he picked something at the far end of the field to focus on, like a fence post or a tree, and drove toward it. The field we were in was sloped, so at the start of the field, you couldn’t see the other end.


I asked what he was focusing on that day, and he told me he was focused on a cloud. Then he turned around and looked behind him. He had a big laugh about how crooked the cut was, since the cloud was moving across the sky and he was following it. The he told me that I would have to work hard to straighten out the rows in those sections as I continued mowing.


There was a lot of field work that Dad did himself or with the help of one other person. We didn’t have to help with the planting, with chopping hay or corn for silage, or with picking corn. During those times of the year, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in the field long after we finished milking. He tried to get done before dark, but sometimes, especially during planting, he wouldn’t come in until way past dark. And yet, he would be up before dawn the next morning for milking. And when it was light enough, he was right back in the fields.


During the winter, you would think it would be a time of rest, but there was always a full day of work for him. He maintained all of the equipment and farm buildings himself as well as the two houses (for three families) on that Lake Mills farm.


I won’t lie and say that farm life was wonderful, but we learned a lot from Dad and we all learned the value of hard work. We learned to always do our best no matter the task.


And even now, when Joann and I are out shunpiking, we have a special fondness for John Deere tractors and freshly mowed hay fields. Sometimes, we even slow down, and put the windows down just to get a whiff of that nostalgic smell.

Next month Dad will be gone for three years, but he lives on in us and in our memories.

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

So to all the fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day, and Happy Shunpiking!

Ruth

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Barnstorming Iowa

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes. Just click on the desired photo and look for the blue “BUY” button.

In the early fall of 2006, just after Joann bought her first digital camera, we planned a 3-day trip to Iowa. We had stumbled on some information about barn tours in the state, and decided that since you could tour the inside of barns, rather than just taking all photographs from the road, we would go and see what the tours were like.


The tour was state-wide, so we decided that we would leave on Friday, photographing our way to the area where we were going to visit some of the barns on the tour. We would tour barns on Saturday and Sunday when the barns were open, then photograph on the way home.


You probably already have an idea of how this went! We had only been to Iowa photographing a couple of times before this, so every area we went to was new to us. Iowa has many counties with Quilt Barn Trails, and we ended up chasing quite a few of those barns.


Barns on the tour open at 9:00 A.M., but we like to get out early, so we had to find something else to do until the barns opened. On the second morning, we left our motel and headed to the historic Fields stone barn outside of Cedar Falls.


This historic limestone barn was built in 1875 by William and Charles Fields, and once housed prized stallions. By the time I found out about the barn, it was already starting to crumble in the back, and I knew we had to visit at our first opportunity.


There were rumors of a tunnel from the barn to the farmhouse, which was reported to be a stop on the Underground Railroad, but no tunnel was ever found.


Sadly, the barn continued to deteriorate, and even though locals tried to find funding to repair the barn, it was demolished in December of 2008.


We made our way to Story County and visited the Handsaker barn. Finally we were at a barn on the tour! It was a square barn built in 1875. A table in the downstairs of the barn was covered with many containers of cookies and bars. The treats were baked by the barn owner, who was getting up in age, and didn’t come out to the barn. Her family members were answering questions about the barn and offering the treats.


The barn also had a barn bridge leading to the second story. These are less common than the traditional bank barn with an earthen ramp.


We stayed Saturday night in Pella, and the following morning, we didn’t have a set destination for our starting point, so I picked a road heading east and we took off.


We were lucky enough to stumble on this old feed store. It had such a unique front on it, and all of the windows were still there.


We had the location on our wish list to return to, but by 2010, all of the windows were boarded up with plywood. Recent pictures from 2015 show the building still standing, and still boarded up. Again, we were so very lucky to have found the place with the windows and doors intact.


We did manage to visit a couple more barns on the tour as we headed towards home. We also discussed our approach to these trips and decided we should try to make it to as many barns on the tours as possible on our trips.


For several years, that’s exactly what we did. And then we figured out that we were driving too many miles and passing up other opportunities. So, we’ve come full circle, and we pick an area, try to fit in as many barn tour barns as we can, but also stop at other interesting things while we’re in the area.

If you’re interested in the barn tours, you can find information at the Iowa Barn Foundation website. The spring/summer tour is this weekend, June 10 & 11. If you don’t mind hot and humid, and have no weekend plans, you could go and check them out. (We had planned to go, but we both hate hot and humid!) These are some of the only barn tours we’ve found that are self-guided rather than paying a fee and riding a bus to the barns. This way you can stay as much or as little time as you would like at each barn.

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Happy Shunpiking!
Ruth