Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Oh crap....not again!"

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In April of this year, on our way to shunpiking in the Ohio River Valley, we stopped to take some pictures along the National Road in Indiana. The road was rather busy, so we turned onto a side road and pulled over on a large gravel shoulder. Joann grabbed her gear and headed down the road.

As usual, my head was down as I studied the map for a route around a large city we were approaching. The next thing I knew, there were flashing lights reflecting off the side mirror. Looking up, I saw a female police officer approaching the driver’s side window. She smiled at me and asked me if we were all right. I said, “We’re fine, my sister is off photographing.” She said “Ok, have a nice day,” went back to her car, turned off the flashing lights, and drove away.

When Joann came back to the car, I could tell that she hadn’t even seen the flashing lights. All she said was, “Check out this cool granary shot I just took.” So I said, “The cops are really nice here.” She said, “Oh, oh….were the cops here?” She does get in her zone when she’s photographing.

In June, we took a weekend photographing trip to western Iowa. (We were so far west that we could have dipped our toes into South Dakota!) On Saturday evening, we heard about a replica 1932 Phillips 66 gas station that was on a main highway along the way to our motel. When we found the gas station, there was a nice big shoulder directly across the road, so Joann pulled over and parked the car. She grabbed her gear and went across the road to photograph.

With my head down, studying the map, I was surprised to see flashing lights in the side mirror and a police car pulling up. The police officer came up to the window and said in a not so friendly tone that we’d have to move the car over to a side road. As Joann started the car, I noticed a sign a little ways ahead of us that said “Absolutely no parking”. It was nice of him to ask us to move instead of giving us a ticket, and I can only assume a lot of people miss that little sign.

But the pictures were worth it. By the time we moved the car, the clouds had shifted and the lighting was better for the rest of the photographs.

The following morning, we got up very early and headed out to photograph a couple of things in the downtown area before there was any traffic. It was just starting to get light when Joann captured the first images for the day. Then, as she crossed the street with her tripod in tow, a police car went by. She watched as it turned and pulled up behind the car. “Oh crap….not again!” she said as she put the tripod in the car.

As she tried to explain what we were doing, the police officer just stared at her. This is often the response we get, particularly when anyone in their right mind would still be snuggled up under the covers. But, as it turned out, he was trying to think of other things we might want to photograph. He ended up telling us about this old brick depot that was down by the railroad tracks.

As Joann attempted to explain her “innocence” to that cop, all I could do was smile because, for once, it was she who had to do the explaining. Some day, though, I’m going to be carted off in a police car and she probably won’t even notice until she comes back to the car and there is no one to navigate!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Simple Ways of the Amish

by Joann M. Ringelstetter

The unseasonably cool weather of the past few days reminds me that my favorite time of year, autumn, is just around the corner. Last year, on the last Sunday of September, Ruth and I spent the day photographing in Vernon County, Wisconsin. Our favorite part of Vernon County is the Amish area, which we love to visit every year, especially in the fall.

As I stood on the gravel road in the waning daylight photographing an old red school house, I heard the clip-clop of horses’ hooves in the distance. As the Amish horse and buggy approached, it slowed to a stop and the young Amish man said, “Good evening.” The two young girls, one on each side of him, nodded and smiled. I have always found the Amish to be very polite, and often a bit shy, but very enjoyable to talk with. We conversed for a few minutes and then with a “Giddy up!” they continued down the road.

There are lots of “signs” to tell you when you’ve entered an Amish area. The easiest ones are the yellow signs displaying a silhouette of an Amish horse and buggy, the buggy tracks on the road (both gravel and pavement), and, of course, the tell-tale horse apples along the road.

Also look for hand-painted signs offering things like quilts, furniture, harnesses, baked goods, candy, honey, vegetables, and night crawlers. The give-away on these signs is “No Sunday Sales,” because the Amish are firm in their opposition to doing business on the Lord’s Day.

Finally look for farms with old fashioned windmills and no electric wires, pastures filled with draft horses, and horse-drawn farm machinery, like the red corn binder in this photo.

The corn binder is used to cut corn stalks near the ground, which are then hand-gathered by the hundreds, stacked vertically into a tepee-shaped structure, and bound into shocks that are maybe five or six feet in diameter at the base. This allows the corn to dry in the fields while the farm family tends to more pressing needs, such as cutting wood for the long winter or planting winter wheat. It also allows the shucking to be postponed until the less busy winter days.

When you decide to go shunpiking on the backroads of Amish country, remember these things: Drive slowly and watch for buggies on the road, be mindful of “No Sunday Sales,” and respect the fact that the Amish do not want their picture taken if their face is visible.

Happy Shunpiking!

Monday, July 13, 2009

“What was that? Can we go back?”

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Those words or something very similar are often the beginning of a conversation when Joann and I are out on the backroads. Recently, after completing a volunteer bird survey in Green County, we decided to finally capture some images of a little spring house that we have been passing for years on our way home from this activity.

As I studied the map to figure out approximately where it was, I caught sight of a building out of the corner of my eye. While my brain was processing what I had seen, we continued down the road. And then those words came out of my mouth – “What was that? Can we go back?”

Because Joann had been watching the road, she hadn’t seen the building and had no idea what I was talking about. So the conversation continued like this:

Joann: “It was small, like a squirrel or something.”

Ruth: “What?”

Joann: “The road kill – it was something small, about the size of a squirrel.”

Ruth (looking puzzled): “Huh?”

Joann (starting to giggle): "Well, I know it wasn't an armadillo!"

Ruth (laughing): “No, I saw a building… maybe it’s not worth it, but can we go back?”

It’s a darn good thing Joann’s car loves U-turns, Y-turns, and “asterisk turns” (which is our term for having to maneuver the car in the shape of an asterisk in order to get turned around on a narrow road). A day on the backroads is full of these turns because often my brain takes a while to catch up with my eyes. We have seen many spring houses in our backroads travel, but on this day, our U-turn resulted in our first two-story spring house.

A spring house is a small building that was built over a spring and used to keep food cool and fresh before the age of refrigeration. Milk, butter, eggs, or anything the family wanted to keep cool was placed in the cold water from the spring. Below is a picture of a trough of spring water inside a spring house.

And remember, keep your eyes open along the backroads, and don’t be afraid to turn around and go back for a second look. You might just find yourself a spring house.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

In Honor of the Laugh-in Cows

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.

Happy Shunpiking!