Sunday, July 25, 2010

We All Scream for Ice Cream

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When we were young, we lived on a small farm several miles outside of Sun Prairie. Sometimes after haying was done, Mom and Dad would take us all to the Dairy Queen in Sun Prairie for a treat. We were always given the choice of a small cone or a Dilly Bar.

Vintage Dairy Queen Sign, Duluth, Minnesota

When Joann and I were in middle school, we moved to Lake Mills. They had an A&W Drive-in, which we were not familiar with at the time. We were delighted to find out that they had soft-serve root beer ice cream. And when you ordered a twist ice cream cone, the twist was vanilla and root beer! It was delicious and we ordered it often. Every time we stopped, we had either a root beer cone or a twist cone.

A&W - American Drive-in, Portage, Wisconsin

When we left home and visited our first A&W outside of Lake Mills, we were very disappointed to find out that a twist cone was vanilla and chocolate. When we inquired, we found that they had never heard of root beer ice cream. It had been the invention of the owner of the Lake Mills A&W and it had never been passed on or had never been accepted by the corporate office. How sad, since it was excellent.

A&W Root Bear, Iron River, Wisconsin

In our travels now, we come across many old ice cream stands. Some couldn’t compete in today’s market and have long since closed, as had this one in rural Noble County, Ohio. It looked like it was quite the place before modern life made it obsolete.

Burr Oak Kream Kone, Noble County, Ohio

In Sheldon, Iowa early one morning, we got a tip from a cop about an old drive-in when we asked if he knew of anything old or historic to photograph. If you read our post from July 2009 entitled, “Oh crap….not again!,” you’ll know that the cop was suspicious of what we were doing at 5:30 in the morning, but after his tip, we drove down the road to this old drive-in.

Dairy Dandy Drive-In, Sheldon, Iowa

On another trip to Iowa, we stopped in Decorah to photograph a mill, and then I asked Joann if she thought we could find the Whippy Dip. Decorah is rather large and I didn’t have an address. I typed the name into Irwin (our trusty GPS) but he didn’t have a listing for it.

The Whippy Dip, Decorah, Iowa

But I had a picture of it that someone had posted on the internet, so I took a magnifying glass and read the name of a small bicycle shop next door. And when I typed that name into Irwin he did have an address. When we pulled up across the street from the Whippy Dip, there was a large crowd waiting out front to order their food. It is so nice to see old places continue to survive.

The Whippy Dip, Decorah, Iowa

Often, when we hunt up old ice cream stands, even if they are still in business, we are there at the wrong time of the year or the wrong time of day and they are not open. In those cases, we content ourselves with taking a few pictures and remembering fondly the root beer cones of our youth.

S & K Dairy Cup, Highland County, Ohio

Just last month we took a trip to Minnesota and we managed to stop at several open ice cream stands for a treat. For once it was the right time of year for drive-ins, so on the way north, we stopped at a small local stand for root beer. It was excellent and it reminded us of the gallons of root beer we used to pick up from the Lake Mills A&W.

Later in the trip, on a hot day, Joann said if we passed some place that had ice cream cones, she was getting one. When we pulled up to get gas later in the afternoon, I looked down the street and saw an A&W Drive-In.

Old Fashioned A&W Restaurant, Iron River, Wisconsin

As we pulled under the canopy, Joann asked if I thought they would have root beer ice cream. I said she could ask, but she shouldn’t get her hopes up. We ordered chocolate cones, and they were very good, but they just didn’t compare to those root beer ice cream cones at the A&W in Lake Mills.

Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Shop, Sac County, Iowa

On the last day of the trip, we got up before daybreak to make it to a mill we have never been to in the early morning light. After a few more stops, we made our way to Black River Falls. After photographing several churches in town, we went to hunt up the Dairy Way Ice Cream stand that we had been told about.

Dairy Way Ice Cream Stand, Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Joann got out and took photos, and then as she came back to the car, she asked if we should get something. It was too early for lunch, but we decided “life is short – eat dessert first,” so we went to the window and ordered two root beer floats.

Dots Dario, McDowell County, North Carolina

Most of these little ice cream stands are open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. If you’re out shunpiking and you pull into a small town with a dairy stand, stop in. You’ll be supporting a small town tradition and helping to ensure that they will be around for years to come.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

‘Shrooms and Blooms

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal reported that “thanks to the warm and notably wet weather in southern Wisconsin, there are a gazillion mushrooms out there right now.”

Hunting for and eating edible mushrooms can be a bit of a risky venture, unless you really know what you’re doing. Photographing mushrooms isn’t as risky, but it also carries some risks, such as ending up with your clothes full of stick-tights, coming into contact with poison ivy, or picking up a tick along the way.

Mushrooms come in hundreds of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Some are easy to identify, while others take some detective work. I enjoy stumbling upon mushrooms that are very colorful, like the bright orange Jack O'Lantern mushrooms below that Ruth and I discovered in a park in Iowa when we stopped for a picnic lunch. I’m usually starving by the time we get a chance to stop for lunch, but I often get distracted before we even get from the car to the picnic table.

In addition to brightly colored mushrooms, I’m often entertained by the names given to some mushrooms. A few years ago, we stopped at a park in Vernon County, Wisconsin for a picnic lunch on a beautiful autumn day. On the way to the outhouse, I almost stepped on some mushrooms that were sticking up from the grass. As I was photographing them, Ruth pulled out one of the many field guides we carry with us and figured out that they were called Alcohol Inky Mushrooms. Since then, they’ve been one of my favorites. The Alcohol Inkies are members of the Inky Cap family. The Shaggy Mane Mushrooms shown below are also a part of this family.

A real bonus is when the mushrooms have interesting names, along with bright colors. A couple years ago, while doing some volunteer field work for the Aldo Leopold Foundation, Ruth and I discovered some bright orange fungus growing on the side of a tree. We later determined that this interesting mushroom is called Chicken of the Woods.

If you are tempted to hunt for edible mushrooms, please be very careful. Some of the mushrooms we have shown here are poisonous.

The best colors in nature, though, occur in the flowers we encounter on our backroads travels. Early in June this year, as we were on the last few stops of a volunteer birding activity in Green County, Wisconsin, we noticed some bright purple spiderwort on the side of the road. After completing the route, we went back so that I could capture this beautiful flower.

At the end of June, Ruth and I took a trip to northern Minnesota and were delighted to find lupine blooming everywhere along the roadsides. They were especially bountiful and colorful along Lake Superior’s North Shore Scenic Drive (Hwy 61).

South of Two Harbors is the old section of North Shore Drive (Old Hwy 61). At one point, this road runs right along Lake Superior, with no development between the road and the lake. Seeing the lake this close was beautiful, but the icing on the cake was a patch of lupine blooming between the road and the lake.

One other flower that we encountered in several different areas was the Ox-eye or common daisy. This flower is a favorite of my friend Desiree’s, so I was determined to capture a few shots for her. As we were hunting up an old house barn (where the house is attached to the barn), we discovered a big patch of daisies mixed with orange hawkweed. In spite of the fact that it was raining pretty steadily, I managed to capture a few good shots underneath my umbrella.

This is also a good time of year to see the beautiful periwinkle blue or purple color of the chicory that is growing along the roadsides.

Just keep your eyes open as you travel and you’ll surely see some beautiful wildflowers along the way.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Country Blacksmith

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The first blacksmith shop that I remember visiting was many years ago on a day trip with our family to Old Wade House historic site in Greenbush, Wisconsin. First there was a tour of the house, and then we got to go outside to the other buildings. That was much more interesting to me than the tour of the furnishings and the women doing rosemaling in the kitchen of the house.

Ted Sawle's Blacksmith Shop, Iowa County, Wisconsin

Years after that first visit to the blacksmith shop, Joann and I started our backroad explorations. One of our first spots to photograph was Hyde Mill in Iowa County, Wisconsin. On an old farm near the mill was a stone building next to the road and it was in bad shape. There was an old car, old farm equipment, and other farm junk piled around it, but we took photographs and wondered about what the building was. As we made periodic trips to the mill, we observed the old stone building deteriorating more with each passing year until on one trip, it was gone. Soon after that, we found out that it had been the Hyde Blacksmith Shop. We thought the pictures we had captured on film were all we would ever have of that building.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Iowa County, Wisconsin

Then a couple of years ago, an article appeared in the paper about the Hyde Blacksmith Shop and how it had been taken down stone by stone and rebuilt on a farm a short distance away. Now the blacksmith shop is open occasionally for visitors and demonstrations.

With the blacksmith trade having been largely eliminated by modern life, we are surprised by the number of blacksmith shops that can still be found. Many have been repurposed, but some stand as a testament to the old ways. We loved this red blacksmith shop we found one winter. The snow always makes the red of the buildings pop.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Green County, Wisconsin

I love the horse trough in front of this blacksmith shop we found in a historic town in Ohio. It is amazing when we find these buildings from such a long time ago largely or wholly intact.

Hyde Clifton Blacksmith Shop, Greene County, Ohio

From a historic listing, I had found an old stone hotel that we visited several times. The listing showed “hotel and blacksmith shop,” but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on me that there would be two separate buildings. Often buildings that have been around for over a century end up having been used for numerous purposes. In this case, the hotel building was now located on a farm and was being used by the farm family.

I took us past the old hotel again in 2008 and, as Joann was taking photos, it finally dawned on me that another building at the site might have been the blacksmith shop. Luckily, a young woman who lived on the farm was walking along the road and she stopped to chat. She told us some history about the hotel, and then Joann asked if the other building was the blacksmith shop. She confirmed that it had been a blacksmith shop and was originally located on the other side of the road.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Lafayette County, Wisconsin

In 2007, we visited northern Michigan, and at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula, is the restored logging village of Glen Haven. It includes a blacksmith shop, a general store, an old cannery, and an abandoned lifesaving station. We love it when we can find so much history to explore in one place.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Glen Haven Village Historic District, Leelanau County, Michigan

In 2006, on one of our barn hunting trips to Iowa, we were passing by a town where I had marked a blacksmith shop from a historic listing. Even though this wasn’t part of our agenda for the trip, we decided to stop. The shop wasn’t open, but we did get a couple of pictures and read the historic sign about the shop. It had been built by Matthew Edel in 1883. He manufactured, sharpened, and repaired items brought to him. He also did farrier (horseshoe) work and repaired wagons and wagon wheels.

Matthew Edel Blacksmith Shop (1883) and Auto Service Garage, Marshall County, Iowa

By the early 20th century, with the advent of the automobile, things were changing for the blacksmith, and with the decline in his business, Edel’s son attended automobile repair classes and they built a shop for him. By 1940, Matthew was in his 80’s and he closed his blacksmith shop permanently. He died shortly thereafter and his family left his shop exactly as he had left it when he closed it. In 1986, his family donated it to the state of Iowa.

Blacksmith Shop, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin

In our travels we also come across buildings that we suspect are blacksmith shops, but we sometimes can’t find anyone to tell us for sure. Occasionally we luck out, as we did one morning in October of 2007. We were photographing an old stone building when a gentleman pulled up and parked beside it. Joann struck up a conversation and found out that he was the owner and that it had been a blacksmith shop.

Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

If you’ve read our blog entitled “What Do You Suppose That Was?” from March 7, 2010, you know we had the same experience in Shawano County, Wisconsin. We found an old building and suspected it was a blacksmith shop, but didn’t see anyone around to ask. Sometimes we have this problem because it is too early on a weekend morning to knock on anyone’s door. Unlike us, most people don’t get up before dawn on the weekend.

Old Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Friends at work are also helpful sometimes to find interesting buildings that we didn’t know about. One day I mentioned that we had been out photographing over the weekend, and as I described where we had been, a coworker asked if we had taken a picture of the blacksmith shop. We had not, since I didn’t know it existed. We had driven right by, and even though the entire town consisted of only a handful of streets, we had not driven into town. We soon made it a point to return and we found an operating blacksmith shop. That particular blacksmith shop is still operating today making decorative ironwork, and in fact the shop has had to expand with a large newer building next to the original blacksmith shop.

Postville Blacksmith Shop, 1856, Green County, Wisconsin

And just a couple of weeks ago, on a short trip to northern Minnesota, we came upon a newly built blacksmith shop. It’s nice to see an old trade continue to exist.

Burton Forge Blacksmith Shop, Lake County, Minnesota

Visit some historic sites and you can see a blacksmith at work, and he might even be dressed in period attire. And if you end up in a small town, check out the architecture and see if you can spot what might be an old blacksmith shop – and then tell us about it!

Until next time, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rural Patriotism

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last week, we showed you a picture of one of our favorite blacksmith shops with a promise to expand on that topic this week. However, because we’re celebrating Independence Day this weekend, we have decided to share some displays of rural patriotism. We’ll return with the blacksmith shops next week.

The above photo was taken on a beautiful sunny day last autumn. It was displayed proudly on the front of a nicely painted red barn in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Earlier this week, on our way back from photographing in northern Minnesota, we passed a farm with a large pond and a white barn with an American flag on the side.

I snapped a couple of pictures from the road, but I had a feeling that, if I was standing in the right spot, the barn would be reflected in the pond. Luckily, it appeared that someone was home in the farmhouse, so we drove in and I got permission to walk down by the pond. It ended up being a bit too windy for a clear reflection, but the view from across the pond was still a nice one.

Last September, we visited a farm in northeastern Iowa that had a large American flag displayed on the end of the barn. We spent a couple of hours there, enjoying a number of whimsical animals, which we will blog about at some point. I believe the owners of this farm had a son in the military overseas.

In the spring of 2009, on our way back from photographing in the Ohio River Valley, we came upon a barn in Indiana whose entire roof was a large display of the stars and stripes. We desperately wanted to capture this barn, but we realized that it couldn’t be done. The barn was mostly hidden behind a wooded area and the only way to photograph it would have been to drive down the long driveway, which dropped steeply from the highway and then went through a large stream (in other words, there was no bridge or culvert for crossing).

If it had been a dry period, this would have been no problem, but the area had suffered some recent flooding and there was no way we could have driven through the rushing stream. We turned the car around and drove past it again trying to figure out how we could capture it. I considered parking the car off the busy highway, which would have been about a half mile away, and hiking down to the barn. Even that seemed a bit too dangerous because of the size and speed of the stream. So we had to forego one of the best rural patriotic displays we had ever encountered.

On our spring trip this year to North Carolina, shortly after we visited the Old Mill of Guilford (which we told you about a couple weeks ago), it began to rain heavily. As we passed through a small crossroads town, we saw a farm outbuilding that had three American flags displayed vertically on the door and windows at the front of the building. In spite of the rain, I couldn’t resist capturing this wonderful rural scene.

I think the most interesting patriotic scene we’ve encountered in recent years was last fall in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. We were looking for an old grist mill and as we pulled up to the mill, we noticed this humorous scene on the other side of the road. Imagine that, a patriotic snowman, in October no less.

Ruth and I hope you are enjoying a safe and happy 4th of July weekend. We’ll return next week with a story about blacksmith shops we have discovered in our travels – we promise!

Until then, Happy Shunpiking!

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