Sunday, June 27, 2010

This week, just a tease...

We are taking a short break before posting our next story about blacksmith shops we have found in our travels.

Blacksmith shops can be small and unassuming or large and imposing. Sometimes there is signage so you know that is what you are looking at, and sometimes there is nothing to indicate the type of building. In our travels, we have seen all of these.

Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Next week, we'll talk about some of our adventures hunting up blacksmith shops. In the meantime, enjoy this photo of one of our favorite blacksmith shops.

Until then, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Small Town America

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Years ago, in the early days of our backroads photography, Ruth and I spent all of our time meandering on country roads as far away from the city as we could get. We even tended to avoid small towns, especially after spending “a week in Burlington one day,” which I’ll explain in a minute. This story will feature photos from various small towns we have photographed (none of which are from Burlington because we were so busy trying to find our way out of town that we didn't stop to take any pictures).

Downtown Baraboo, Sauk County, Wisconsin

There are three reasons for us to venture into town. The first reason is to find a restroom. We often joke about how much easier men have it in that department. The second is to fill the car up with gas. The third reason, and this only applies in the winter or when there is a long-lasting torrential downpour, is to get something to eat. Most times, we have lunch in a park, eating food out of our cooler.

Downtown Greenup, Cumberland County, Illinois

Anyway, we headed into the town of Burlington, Wisconsin one day, probably to find a restroom. When we were ready to leave town, we tried to find a particular highway that would take us back out into the country. But we ended up going around and around and couldn’t find our way out of town.

Downtown Baraboo, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Burlington, by the way, had a population of maybe 10,000 people, so you would think it would have been easy to find our way. But there are several things that complicated the situation. The Fox River runs through the center of town and there is a star pattern of highways that all converge near the river. And, if my memory serves me right, there were one-way streets that prevented us from going in the direction we thought we should go.

Downtown Baraboo, Sauk County, Wisconsin

After passing the same ice cream stand several times, we decided to soothe our frustrations with a cool ice cream treat and try to figure out what to do next. One thought that crossed our minds was that we should have tried harder to find a country park with a restroom. Looking back on it now, it’s very funny to us, but it wasn’t funny then.

Main Street, West Branch, Cedar County, Iowa

Now that we have “Irwin,” our trusty GPS companion, we make it a point to travel through the small towns. Often, we’re in search of any historical gems that have been taken care of over the years. Small towns have netted us some great subjects, such as old-fashioned theaters, hardware stores, general stores, feed mills, Coca Cola and Bull Durham signs, soda fountains, bank buildings with burglar alarms, etc.

Downtown Sheldon, O'Brien County, Iowa

One thing we try to do, if possible, is to explore small towns at the break of day when there are few parked cars in front of these old subjects and we can take advantage of the best lighting of the day. It is also, unfortunately, a good time to be viewed suspiciously by the police, especially when I am crouched or even lying in the street trying to get the angle I need for the best photograph.

Downtown Baraboo, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Thankfully, we don’t arouse suspicion too often, and we end up with some very nice small town images. Last fall at first light on a Sunday morning, we explored the town square of Baraboo, Wisconsin. Baraboo is the home of the Ringling Brothers Circus and the historic Al. Ringling Theater, which has been described as “America’s Prettiest Playhouse.” This theater has been painstakingly restored, along with the “Mighty Barton Organ,” featuring 597 pipes, plus drums, bells, bird calls, and thunder.

Downtown Baraboo and the Historic Al. Ringling Theater, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Next time you take a road trip, wander off the main highway and check out a small town or two. You never know what treasures you’ll find if you take the time to look around.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Old Mill of Guilford

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When Joann and I decided to make North Carolina our photography destination this spring, I knew this old mill in Guilford County had to be on our list of stops. I had stopped at the mill on my first trip to North Carolina in 2003 and I knew that Joann would enjoy it.

At the time of my stop, the late Charlie Parnell was still running the mill. When I entered the mill, he was hard at work, covered in the white flour dust that also covers about every inch of the mill. For some reason, he reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Past

Today the mill is owned by Amy Klug and she continues to keep the mil open seven days a week from 9 to 5, which was lucky for us because our route took us past the mill just after 9 AM on a Sunday morning. As we pulled into the parking lot, Joann jumped out to get her camera equipment, and I went for money I knew I would be spending at the mill store. Then we walked around the site taking pictures of the various mill buildings.

There was another mill that had been a feed mill, an old tobacco barn with a bread oven on the back of it, and a stone addition on the mill that housed the store.

When Joann said that she was going to go up onto the highway for more pictures of the mill and waterwheel, she told me I could go into the mill and check it out. So I went over to the porch of the mill and looked at the old log furniture, the history of the mill, and humorous postings tacked up on the side of the mill.

Finally, I ventured inside to the stacks of flour and grain bags, and a young woman working diligently in the back packing up phone orders. We said hello, and then I told her that Joann was up on the highway taking pictures from that angle. She said something along the lines of “Oh, she’s taking her life into her hands; that’s one busy highway,” and I agreed.

I told her I thought it had been too busy seven years ago, and that there was so much more development around the mill now than there was back then. Not only is the highway busy, but there is no shoulder and no pedestrian walkway across the bridge.

Eventually Joann came into the mill and the woman continued the conversation about the difficulties of getting to the other side of Beaver Creek. She said that some photographers want to go to the other side, but since the field is very uneven, the mill’s owner asks the photographers to sign a waiver before going over there. Then they tell the photographers that they can get there on the old rickety swinging bridge or the highway, but they suggest the rickety swinging bridge. The photo below shows the bridge on the right-hand side. It doesn’t look very safe to me, but to them, this was the safer choice.

As we chatted, she told us that their mill cat, Toby, hadn’t been feeling well lately, but he was better today and had joined her in the mill. As we talked, he napped behind her. She also told us that the order she was filling was from someone who told her how much they wanted her to spend and to choose the items herself. She said it was fun to shop with someone else’s money.

Then Joann and I went into the store to check out all of the flours and mixes that were for sale. There were regular flours, specialty flours, and scone, muffin and biscuit mixes. We bought gifts for several people and I picked out some for myself.

The mill site dates back to 1753 and several types of mills have been on or near this site. The Old Mill of Guilford, founded in 1767, is believed to be the longest continuously operating water-powered grist mill in the nation. At one time, after several wooden waterwheels were worn out, the mill was changed to a roller mill using turbines, but in 1954 the mill was returned to water power and has remained that way to this day.

If you ever have the opportunity to stop at an operating grist mill, do so! You can buy yourself some mixes for muffins, scones, hush puppies, and cornbread, or many other products. There is nothing like getting it directly from the miller.

Happy Shunpiking!

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!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Do You Know Uneeda Biscuit?

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

A few years ago, on a trip to photograph in Iowa, we noticed a Bull Durham sign on the side of a building as we drove on the highway past Dubuque. We ended up seeing it on several more trips to Iowa. Finally, we decided that we’d better photograph it before it faded away.

Bull Durham - The Old Reliable Standard of the World, Dubuque, Iowa

Seeing an advertising mural from far away or in someone else’s photograph is one thing, but getting to the appropriate location to photograph it yourself is another. As we drove up and down the streets of Dubuque trying to find the best location to capture the Bull Durham sign, we noticed a Uneeda Biscuit advertising mural on the side of a nearby building.

Uneeda Biscuit - The National Soda Cracker, Dubuque, Iowa

Although the Uneeda Biscuit scene wasn’t particularly picturesque, we decided to photograph it because we hadn’t seen one of these before and didn’t know anything about the product. This year, in researching for our recent trip to North Carolina, Ruth learned of a picturesque advertising mural for the National Biscuit Company, the makers of Uneeda Biscuit.

C.W. Burleson General Store with Advertising Mural for National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), Avery County, North Carolina

The mural was located on the side of an old general store known as the C.W. Burleson Store in Avery County, North Carolina. It consisted of four panels; three of them advertising for the National Biscuit Company, and one containing the names of three other businesses.

C.W. Burleson General Store with Advertising Mural for National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), Avery County, North Carolina

The first National Biscuit Company panel advertised Graham Crackers. The second panel advertised Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. For any of our readers who enjoy the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” little 5-year-old Zuzu Bailey’s name came from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. Toward the end of the movie, George Bailey says, “Zuzu, my little ginger snap.”

C.W. Burleson General Store with Advertising Mural for National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), Avery County, North Carolina

The third panel advertised Uneeda Biscuit. The National Biscuit Company was formed in 1898 through the merger of three large biscuit manufacturing companies. Prior to that time, crackers were delivered to general stores in unbranded wooden barrels. Mothers would send their sons to the store to buy crackers, which were scooped from the open barrel into a paper sack. These crackers were fairly fresh if they were purchased immediately after the barrel was opened. Soon, however, the quality deteriorated due to the crackers taking on humidity and becoming broken.

C.W. Burleson General Store with Advertising Mural for National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), Avery County, North Carolina

Around 1900, the National Biscuit Company came up with a lighter and flakier cracker. They also developed a revolutionary packaging system called the In-Er Seal package that would “seal the freshness” of the crackers in small packages made of wax paper and cardboard. Then they developed an advertising campaign sequence to get the public’s attention: Uneeda Biscuit. Do you know Uneeda Biscuit? Of course Uneeda Biscuit. These slogans were accompanied by one of the most famous advertising icons in history, the Uneeda Biscuit Boy, wearing a yellow rain slicker and hat and carrying a box of Uneeda Biscuit. This was to signify that mothers could send their sons to the store for crackers and they would stay dry and fresh, even in the rain.

National Biscuit Company Uneeda Biscuit Sign, Lexington, Kentucky

On our way back from North Carolina and West Virginia, we had planned to spend our last full day of photographing on the backroads of Kentucky. Unfortunately, it had begun raining the night before and the heavy rains continued throughout that day. Around mid-morning, we drove down some flooded roads and decided it wasn’t safe to remain on the backroads. We then headed to Lexington to hunt up a couple more Uneeda Biscuit signs that we knew were in downtown Lexington.

National Biscuit Company Uneeda Biscuit Sign, Lexington, Kentucky

Because we didn’t know exactly where the signs were, it took some serious hunting and neck-craning to locate the signs. And, not only did the rain continue to pour down, but lightning and thunder moved in making for a dangerous situation. Not wanting to leave Lexington until we had captured the Uneeda Biscuit signs, I took my chances with the thunderstorm and managed to get the photographs. I also managed to get completely soaked even though I was wearing a rain suit. This was due to reaching into my pockets for filters and lens caps and sloshing through deep puddles. In other words, I wasn’t doing as good of a job as the Uneeda Biscuit Boy in keeping things dry and fresh.

C.W. Burleson General Store with Advertising Mural for National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), Avery County, North Carolina

In 1971, the National Biscuit Company officially changed its corporate name to Nabisco. If, after reading this blog post, you feel like Uneeda Biscuit, you’ll have to settle for one of Nabisco’s other brands. Sadly, I have to report that the Uneeda Biscuit brand was discontinued in 2009 after 110 years on the market.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of biscuit history and, as always, Happy Shunpiking!