Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ernie’s Diamond Service Station – (Minnesota Blessing Number 4)

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Since our three-day autumn trip to Minnesota in 2009, I have shared what I consider to be several wonderful blessings of that trip. This is the fourth in that series of blessings.

Architecture/Gas-Stations/Ernie's Diamond Service Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

Years ago on a photography trip to Minnesota, we passed through a small town that had an old restored gas station. When we returned to the area last October, we decided to visit this quiet rural town again.

We came through the center of town, but didn’t find the old station, so we drove down one of the other few remaining streets and there it was. The good news was that the building was still well taken care of and the antique gas pumps were still there. The bad news was that there was a big new pickup truck parked right in front of the pumps, so there was no way to capture a nostalgic shot of the front of the building.

Architecture/Gas-Stations/Ernie's Diamond Service Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

It was around 7:00 am and the town was totally quiet at that time, so there was no one to even ask who owned the old station. I decided to take what photographs I could get of the antique advertising signs and other close-ups. As I was finishing up, I saw two gentlemen strolling down the street towards the station with coffee cups in hand.

Architecture/Gas-Stations/Old Wheels at Ernie's Diamond Service Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

As they approached, I struck up a conversation with them. They told me a bit about the town, that they had both grown up there, that “everybody knows everybody,” and that they were cousins. After we talked for a bit, I said, “One of you two wouldn’t be the owner of that pickup truck, would you?”

“Yes, I am,” one of them said. “You wouldn’t want me to move it, would you?” he said with a grin on his face.

“Do you own the gas station, too?” I asked.

“Yup, sure do,” he said.

“Then you must be Ernie.” A sign I had seen earlier on the front of the building said “Ernie’s Station.”

We exchanged cards and then he said, “Would you like to see the inside?”

Architecture/Gas-Stations/Door to Ernie's Diamond Service Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

Well, I certainly couldn’t pass up a chance like this, so I followed them to the front of the station. As Ernie approached the door, he noticed that the American flag hanging from the front of the station was a bit tangled around the pole.

“I’ll get that flag untangled for you so that your photos of the outside look better,” he kindly said as he unlocked the door.

I spent the next half hour with them as Ernie showed me his treasures. First he showed me an antique wooden phone booth (circa 1930) with a hand-crank telephone that had been down at the post office for many years.

Vintage/Miscellaneous-Vintage/Working Antique Telephone at an Old Filling Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

Then he showed me some of his antique gas pumps and antique signs. And then I took a look at the vehicles that were parked inside – ones that Ernie and his cousin were working on restoring. First, there was a turquoise-colored 1955 Ford Customline automobile. There it sat with its hood up and a rag (what used to be a red plaid shirt) draped over the front fender area. And next to it stood a 1936 Plymouth truck, also in the process of being restored.

Architecture/Gas-Stations/1955 Ford Customline at Ernie's Diamond Service Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

As I took my photographs, the two of them went about their business gathering things from the back. They continued to talk to me as they worked, explaining that they were heading out to chop wood so that they could heat the station and work on the vehicles throughout the coming winter. They could see that I was hurrying to photograph the inside because they were hurrying to leave. But instead of asking me to leave when they were ready to go, they told me to take my time and to make sure I closed the door when I left. And then they were gone.

Architecture/Gas-Stations/Ernie's Diamond Service Station, Filmore County, Minnesota

I finished enjoying the old-time feeling of that old garage and the wonder of being trusted again by people I had just met. Then I closed the door behind me, took a few more photos of the outside of that wonderful old filling station, and Ruth and I headed down the still-foggy road in search of a couple of abandoned mills.

Once again, we had been blessed by the kindness of strangers who quickly became friends. This is one of the great pleasures of driving the backroads.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Signs of Spring

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The calendar declares spring is officially here. Even though there are not many signs yet, we’ve been feeling it coming for several weeks. Warmer temperatures made everyone want to get outside after the long winter. And even though we awoke to snow covered grass yesterday, it melted quickly and reminded us that this is Wisconsin and the weather changes rapidly. Spring means new and green and that part can’t get here soon enough.

Not Yet Sign, Wright County, Iowa

Spring bulbs are starting to poke tender shoots out of the ground. The crocuses are flowering and the clusters of early daffodils are starting to bud out.

Spring Daffodil, Richland County, Wisconsin

Every day on the way to work, I check the pussy willow tree in the marsh for signs of its fuzzy buds. This week they were coming on strong, and next week the whole tree will be covered with them. And as I drive past the marsh each morning and evening, I scan the hay field for the pair of cranes that return each year to nest.

Sandhill Crane, Columbia County, Wisconsin

Early wildflowers can be found in the woods, but you have to look closely. Most of these early flowers are tiny, and they hide among the leaf litter. After our long winter, they are a welcome sight.

Rue Anemone, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Many birds that migrated are returning and you see robins hopping about on the grass and early returning bluebirds checking out nesting boxes.

Bluebird Feeding Young, Sauk County, Wisconsin

I just know the colors of spring are coming and yet it seems like it moves too slowly. The temperature rises and then abruptly falls only to return to higher temps in a few days. As these temperatures fluctuate, we wait in anticipation for the color to burst forth.

Almost Sign, Wright County, Iowa

Then the understory in the woods starts to green up and you can find many more wildflowers. If you’re lucky, you can find Jack-in-the-Pulpit. This wildflower takes 3 years from seed to its first flower.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Dane County, Wisconsin

As the trees in the woods begin to bud out, you can find carpets of wildflowers beneath them. Many woods have carpets of white trillium, Virginia bluebells or violets.

Great White Trillium, Dane County, Wisconsin

For the last few years, Joann and I have planned a spring photography trip to capture the magic in other parts of the country. Often we head south. We leave Wisconsin before all of the spring color has arrived and as we drive south on the first day, we pass from bare trees to the light green of spring.

Mail Pouch Barn and Redbud Tree, Lawrence County, Indiana

In those years when the route takes us through southern Indiana, we pass many redbud trees interspersed with the light green of other deciduous trees. The buds cover the branches and the woods are dotted with the bright pink of these early spring flowering trees.

Sheeks House at Spring Mill State Park, Lawrence County, Indiana

If you head far enough south, you can find dogwood trees mingled in with the redbud trees. Native dogwood trees are white, but you can find non-native pink flowering dogwood as well. A town we visited in Kentucky in 2006 gives away dogwood trees each year for its residents to plant. What a beautiful town that was!

Pink Dogwood, Oldham County, Kentucky

After we’ve worn ourselves out with a spring photography trip of long days, we return home to Wisconsin to find spring has finally arrived in the trees and flower beds at home.

Tulips and Dogwood, Clark County, Illinois

Then we can’t wait to hit the road in Wisconsin to take in more spring sights. We often head to the west to our favorite rolling countryside.

Spring Road Scene, Vernon County, Wisconsin

If our timing is right, we might find that the apple trees are heavy with blossoms. And we find apple trees along many of the back roads we drive.

Apple Blossoms, Richland County, Wisconsin

We also have a secret corner with a whole line of lilac bushes. You just have to stop and smell a lilac bush, don’t you?

Lilacs, Lampost, and Stone, Iowa County, Wisconsin

Enjoy the anticipation of spring color in all its glory. It is always worth the wait!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Making Friends - $10 + 9 Eggs = 1 Friendship

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Photographing on the backroads can elicit a wide variety of reactions from people. The reactions range from curiosity to suspicion, or even anger in some cases. Because I always use a tripod, I have been mistaken for a surveyor more times than I care to mention. As you can imagine, this causes a bit of angst for some people until they find out there aren’t any plans for a new road or a new subdivision. For example, last spring I was standing on the railroad tracks photographing the Old Feedmill in Mazomanie, Wisconsin, and I was asked what I was surveying for.

Having integrity and establishing trust are of the utmost importance in this work.
Over the years, I have encountered every kind of reaction imaginable and have gotten better at gaining trust. Often, I make friends in a matter of seconds, but other times it takes a little more finesse.

A few years ago, Ruth and I were on a mission to find an old stone barn that we had read about. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the exact location, so we drove up and down the road numerous times trying to find it and finally decided to give up for the time being. We drove through the nearby town and as we headed out the other side, we encountered some road construction and were forced to come to a stop….right in front of the stone barn we had been looking for on the other side of town. The stone barn in the picture above is similar to the one we located that day.

As we looked down the driveway, an old woman was walking across the yard with a pan in her hands for collecting eggs. I left the car parked at the end of the driveway and walked down to where the woman was now standing with a suspicious and scowling expression on her face. I introduced myself and asked her if I could take a picture of the stone barn.

Rather angrily, she said, “If you want to take a picture of my barn, you can pay me for it! You people just think you can come and take all the pictures you want and no one ever offers to pay me anything for it!”

“How much do you want?” I asked sincerely, which took her by surprise.

She thought about it for a few seconds and then said very firmly, “Ten dollars.”

As luck would have it, I had two five dollar bills in my pocket, which is rare for me because I usually have lens caps and other things stuffed in my pockets.

“That’s fair,” I responded as I pulled the ten dollars from my pocket and held it out to her.

She hesitated for a moment, as if she was thinking that was too easy and maybe she should have asked for more. Then she gingerly reached toward me with the egg pan and I dropped the ten dollars into the pan. As she was pulling it back, I asked her if she grew up on the farm. She replied that she did and then I asked her if her father or grandfather had built the barn. She replied that her grandfather had built it and then began to speak fondly of the old barn.

Then she hesitated again, looking at the money in the egg pan. Extending the pan towards me a second time, she said, “Maybe ten dollars is too much.”

“No,” I replied, “it’s worth it to me. You keep it.”

Then, quite unexpectedly, she let down her guard, and motioned for Ruth to drive the car down into the driveway. As I was taking my camera equipment out of the car, she said, “Do you like smokehouses? I have an old stone smokehouse that you can take a picture of. There’s also an outhouse behind the house if you’d like to take a picture of that. And don’t miss the stone shed out behind the barn.

I began photographing – first the beautiful limestone barn, which was built in 1865, followed by the stone shed and a large wooden tobacco barn that was built next to the road at a right angle to the stone barn. After that I photographed the stone smokehouse and the outhouse out back. In between, I photographed the rooster who was prancing around like he owned the place and a whole bunch of cats that were running around the farm. And as I photographed, we learned more about the farm and this woman’s life.

After spending almost two hours there, we started packing up to go and the old woman came back out of the house to say goodbye. In her hand was an egg carton, which she started to hand to me. As she did this, she said, “I want you to have these. I wish I could give you a whole dozen, but the chickens didn’t lay very many eggs today.”

“Oh, no,” I said, touched by her kindness. “We don’t need to take your eggs.” I knew from a comment she had made earlier that her son lived with her and the chickens only laid enough eggs for the two of them, so this was a big sacrifice for her.

“I want you to have them,” she insisted. “You know, maybe if I got down on my hands and knees in the chicken house, I could find three more eggs so you’d have a full dozen,” she said in earnest.

Not wanting to hurt her feelings, we accepted the fresh eggs (all nine of them) as we convinced her that three short of a dozen was perfectly fine. We thanked her for allowing us access to her property and all the wonderful farm buildings and then headed down the road. After the film was developed, we sent her copies of everything we had captured there and received a Christmas card in return.

Some day we will find the time and resources to digitize the photos we captured there. In the meantime, we remember that day and how an old woman’s anger and suspicion turned into extreme kindness as we showed a genuine interest in her life’s story.

Remember that as you journey through this life. Everyone has a story to share if you’ll take the time to listen.

Happy Shunpiking!

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

“What Do You Suppose That Was?”

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Here in Wisconsin, and in every state we have visited, we pass old buildings with interesting architecture. Usually, one of us will ask the other what that building might have been. Since our backgrounds are far removed from rural architecture, we are never sure, but often we have some sort of a guess.

Small Stone Building, LaFayette County, Wisconsin

On our trip to Ohio last April, we came upon several old buildings with long chains hanging down from the gables of the roof. We didn’t know what they were for, but we did wonder about it. Later on the trip, when we had time to read some information we had picked up about the National Road, we read that those chains were used by the local inns, taverns or stagecoach stops to alert the passing stage drivers that they had a package to pick up. They would lower a ball attached to the chain. If the ball was left high, the driver passed by without stopping. The chain in the photo is sort of hard to see, but it is hanging directly above the old front doors.

Front of Historic Building on the National Road, Henry County, Indiana

Several years ago we came upon an old stone building sitting tall at the edge of the road in Sauk County Wisconsin. As Joann photographed the building from the road, I tried to imagine what the building might have been. It resembled a mill, but we didn’t have any information about a mill in this area, and there was no water source nearby. Often the buildings we stumble on are not in any of the historic information I have found.

Old Stone Creamery, Sauk County, Wisconsin

On our most recent visit there, it was late enough in the day and we could see that people were home at the house across the road, so we stopped. They kindly told us that they own the building now and that it was the first creamery in Sauk County. We never would have guessed that it was a creamery. It sort of resembles an old stone hotel that we have visited, or an old mill, but now we know for sure. (And we know our guesses are often wrong.)

Window of Old Stone Creamery, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Another case of mistaken identity is an old building with a stone front in Green County Wisconsin. We have been taking photos of it for years. We first stumbled on it while searching for a stone barn on an unnamed road. As we sat looking at that building we decided it must have been a soddy or root cellar and that someone may have built it and lived in it prior to building their eventual dwelling. Imagine our surprise when this past spring we found out that it was actually an old cheese cellar. Whether it was a cheese cellar its whole life, we don’t know, but now we have to wonder about all of the other soddies and root cellars we have recorded in our logs.

Old Stone Cheese Cellar, Green County, Wisconsin

Often our logs contain entries where we have guessed the type of building we photographed, and the guess is indicated as a question mark after the description. Several years ago, in Shawano County Wisconsin, we came upon a gray building that was sort of barn-like, but set in an unusual location. It sat facing a small creek and we couldn’t imagine how the farmer could get grain or animals in and out of the barn. It also had some interesting overhangs for a barn and the doors didn’t make sense for animals. We studied it from several angles, and reasoned that it might be a mill.

Old Gray Barn, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Later we had the opportunity to visit with a representative of the Shawano County Historical Society. She said they had no information about anything historic in that town and when we showed her the pictures, she said it was a regular barn. We’re still not sure.

We also asked her about another building we had photographed years ago in Shawano County. It is a gorgeous old stone and wood building. Our guess was that it was a blacksmith shop, but again, she didn’t know of the building. I bought the county history booklet they had put together and read it from cover to cover. There was no mention of the town or the mysterious building. Searches of the National Historic Register and the state information I have gathered came up empty as well.

Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Last fall we visited the building again and were happy to see that it is still in pretty good shape. As Joann was finishing up photographing the building again, a man pulled up in a truck and she flagged him down to ask if he knew what the building had been. He confirmed that it was an old blacksmith shop. Finally, one point for us!

Last summer on a trip to Iowa, we couldn’t find a motel in any of the towns I thought would be central to our plans. We ended up going further south than planned. As we were on our way to our motel, we passed a building with very interesting architecture and I glanced at the name on the front of the building.

Old Filling Station, Calumet County, Wisconsin

Joann: “What do you suppose that was?”

Ruth: “I don’t know what it was, but it’s a Fashionable Styling Salon now,” (which was the name I thought I saw on the building).

Joann: (laughing) “It doesn’t look very fashionable to me.”

Ruth: (laughing too) “That’s not very nice.”

Old Filling Station, Cedar County, Iowa

We’re pretty sure the building was an old cottage style gas station repurposed as a beauty salon. We are always glad to see the old architecture saved, especially if the original building has not been changed too much. I don’t know why, but we didn’t stop to take a picture of that building. Perhaps we were laughing too hard.

Do you know the history of any of the old buildings you pass in your travels? Or is there an old building that fascinates you but you don’t know what the history is? If so, let us know.

Happy Shunpiking!