Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Wilton Candy Kitchen

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Ruth and I spent last weekend photographing in Iowa and we met so many friendly and interesting people who shared their property, their knowledge, and their sense of humor. One of my favorite experiences was our visit to the Candy Kitchen in the town of Wilton.

As usual, we began our day at 4:15 am and captured several historic structures in the East Village of Davenport. Then we worked our way over to Wilton where we captured the restored Wilton Depot and then ate our breakfast while enjoying the early morning and the view of this historic depot.

Around 7:00 am, we located the Candy Kitchen on Cedar Street and I began setting up my tripod. Then I noticed there was a man reading a newspaper on an outside staircase on the end of the Candy Kitchen building. When he looked up and realized that I was about to take a picture, he got up, saying he would get out of my way. And then he said, “What are you doing up this early in the morning?” I told him I had already been photographing for two hours and I apologized for disturbing his peaceful morning. He said he was just waiting for his friend to arrive.

The Wilton Candy Kitchen building was built in 1856. In 1860, R.A. McIntire, an Irish immigrant, founded the Confectionery Ice Cream Parlor Soda Fountain, which shared the building with the U.S. Post Office from 1877-1893. Today, it is called the Wilton Candy Kitchen Ice Cream Parlor and Soda Fountain. Its owners, George and Thelma Nopoulos, proudly proclaim that it is the “oldest ongoing ice cream parlor/soda fountain/confectionery in the world.”

As I photographed the Candy Kitchen, I noticed that the friend of the gentleman who had been reading the paper had arrived and they were just hanging out down the street. So I walked over and started talking to them. When I asked them a question about the Candy Kitchen, one of them said, “Oh, you’ll have to ask George about that. There he is now.” As he said this, a small white car pulled up in front of the Candy Kitchen and an elderly gentleman got out. As we joined George, the owner, I pointed to the Candy Kitchen and said, “This is amazing,” to which George replied, “My wife is the amazing one.”

As George opened the doors of the Candy Kitchen, I noticed a sign on the door that said, “Open at 7:45 a.m.” We followed George inside and he began to turn on the lights. I asked him if I could take a few photos of the soda fountain. He said, jokingly, “OK, but don’t get too carried away,” meaning that I shouldn’t take too many pictures of him.

George’s father, Gus, a Greek immigrant, came to America in 1907 and learned the art of making candy, chocolate, and ice cream at his uncle’s confectionery store in downtown Davenport, Iowa. In 1909, Gus visited the little town of Wilton Junction (as it was known then) and discovered the confectionery store, which had recently closed. Gus took over the business and reopened it on June 10, 1910. He later married and had two sons, George and Leo.

As George began getting things ready for the day, I set up my tripod to capture a shot of the old Tufts soda fountain and a long conversation unfolded. Unfortunately, I failed to get the names of the two gentlemen I had met outside, so I will refer to them as Gentleman 1 and Gentleman 2.

George: “Where are you from?”

Joann: “I’m from Wisconsin. “

George (smiling): “Oh, you’ve got a lot of cheese there.”

Gentleman 1: “They’ve also got a tavern at every crossroads.”

Gentleman 2: “Can you believe George is 91 and he still works seven days a week?”

The Candy Kitchen has been open seven days a week 365 days a year for the past 100 years. George started working there in 1926 at the age of six. His first job was to wind up the Brunswick record player which provided music for the Candy Kitchen customers. Thelma, George’s wife, began washing dishes there in 1941 at the age of ten.

Somehow, the Candy Kitchen survived the Great Depression, but the candy- and chocolate-making stopped during World War II when sugar and chocolate became scarce. Help was also scarce at the confectionery when George and Leo went off to serve their country. After the war ended, George returned to Wilton and purchased the Candy Kitchen from his father, Gus. In 1949, he and Thelma were married and they continued working at the confectionery. As their family grew, they and their four children all worked together in the famous Candy Kitchen.

Joann (to the gentlemen at the counter): What do you two gentlemen order at this time of the day?”

Gentleman 2: “We come here for coffee. It’s 75 cents a cup here and it’s $1.50 everywhere else.”

Joann (to George): “When are you going to retire?”

Gentleman 2: “He’ll never stop working. With the prices he charges, he can’t afford to retire.”

Just then, the phone began to ring.

Gentleman 2: “That’ll be another tour company asking if they can stop with a tour bus.”

Gentleman 1: “They used to accept tour buses, but they can’t handle that anymore, so he turns down 60-70 every year.”

Joann (looking at the long list of soda flavors): “Oh, you have vanilla coke? I haven’t had a vanilla coke in a really long time. I’m going to go get some money from the car.”

I put my camera and tripod in the car and asked Ruth if she would like something. She said that a cherry coke sounded really good. So I returned to the soda fountain with my money. I sat there watching George happily working behind the counter. Then he began to whistle the familiar tune, “He Walks With Me” as he went about his business.

Gentleman 2: “You’ll have to just tell him what you want or he won’t wait on you.”

Joann (jokingly, to George): “Are you going to get me a vanilla coke or not?”

George finished pouring cream into a cup of coffee and then, without a word, started making my vanilla coke. I told him to also make me a cherry coke for Ruth.

Gentleman 2: “You’re really going to like that. It’s the real deal.”

As I returned to the car, several more cars pulled up and everyone was heading into the Candy Kitchen. Even though it was still early in the morning, Ruth and I enjoyed our flavored cokes. I think they were especially good because they were made by the oldest (and happiest) soda jerk in the world.

If you’re ever in Muscatine County, Iowa, be sure to visit the Wilton Candy Kitchen. As the gentleman said, “It’s the real deal.”

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

“Irwin, You Butthead!”

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

I know Irwin (our faithful GPS) thinks we pick on him too much and we don’t give him enough credit. Sometimes the things he does are funny; sometimes if we followed his lead they would be dangerous; and sometimes he’s just being a butthead with his directions.

In the spring of 2009 on our trip to Ohio, we were looking for our motel in the dark. I think maybe you’ve heard this about us before – we never get to our motel until well after dark, it seems. Well, the motel where we had made a reservation was supposed to be located just off the interstate. As we came down the four-lane, divided highway, Irwin announced loudly that we should make a left turn.

Joann looked to her left, and there was a concrete divider and two more lanes of traffic in front of a tall fence. She went straight, and Irwin announced again that we should make a left turn immediately. As we were looking around in puzzlement, he then announced that we should drive a half mile and then make a U-turn. As we approached the half-mile point, we could see that there was a frontage road coming off of the highway, and that if we turned on the frontage road, we could get to our motel.

Even as we turned into the motel parking lot, Irwin was telling us to turn around and go back to the highway to get to our motel. As we shut him off for the night, all we could say was “Irwin, you butthead.”

A month or so ago, we finished up a short but fulfilling photography trip, and then wanted to head east to do some volunteer work for a couple of hours. I knew we had to go east, but I couldn’t decide on the best route, since many of the roads went north and south or northeast to southwest. I asked Joann if I should just give Irwin our desired destination and let him direct. We decided to see what he would do. The first few turns were exactly as I would have done. Then Irwin announced we should turn into the country club (at least that’s what it sounded like).

Joann: “What did he say?”

Ruth: “I don’t know, something about a country club.”

Joann (looking around in consternation): “Where do you think I’m supposed to turn?”

Ruth (checking the map): “Oh, I get it; he thinks CC stands for Country Club! Turn on County CC.”

On a recent photography trip, we were headed home in the late afternoon. We had pushed “Home” so that Irwin could direct us home from our last photo stop. As we entered a small town close to home, I read the name of one of the stores we were passing. Joann commented that she had meant to stop in and check them out, and asked if I would mind a short stop. I said I didn't mind and decided to wait in the car. We were parked on a side street and the car was off, but Irwin was impatient. After several minutes, he announced that we should drive one half mile and enter the roundabout. His directions were good, but we weren’t moving!

And then a couple of weekends ago, we had another volunteer activity to complete and we had to leave Joann’s house at 2:30 in the morning. When we reached the end of Joann’s driveway, we sat wondering which way would be the best way to go. Again, we turned to Irwin, and I programmed in the city where we would meet our sister, Peggy, before continuing to our final destination. Irwin thought about it for a minute and then announced the direction we should take. As we started to follow his directions, we began to wonder if he was taking us on the right roads. So I zoomed out on his map to see the route, and we decided that maybe he knew better than we did.

We wound our way south on quite a few backroads before we hit the main road north of New Glarus, Wisconsin. At this point, as he often does, Irwin announced that we should “turn right on Hwy 69, and then drive 23 miles on Main Street.” He likes to fool with us like that. He always uses street names rather than highway names. He would much rather say to “turn left on Columbus Ave” than to tell us to follow Hwy 22 to the left. (Sometimes I think he does it just so he can recalculate when we get lost!)

After completing our volunteer work, we were tired and just wanted to get home. So we punched "Home" and we thought Irwin would just reverse the route he had taken on the way there. But he took somewhat of a different route going home. At one point Joann commented that it was sort of fun taking different routes to and from our destination.

But then he tricked us again and we ended up taking a bunch of heavily traveled highways and going way out of our way to get back home. We might have caught on sooner, but we had just spent close to 11 hours on our volunteer work and we were too tired to argue with him. We cussed him all the way home in heavy traffic and tried to figure out why he would take us on the scenic backroads in the dark of night, and then direct us to main, heavily traveled roads during the light of day.

Some days, Irwin is just a butthead.

So if you’re out shunpiking with your trusty GPS, don’t believe everything it says. It might be just fooling with you!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is Your Trip Necssary?

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In February of this year, during a visit with our aunts and uncles (our dad’s brothers and sisters), somehow the subject of going to the outhouse came up. And, at one point, one of them began telling the story of how our Uncle George, one of our favorite uncles, had painted a funny message on their outhouse when he was a kid.

From 1942 to 1945, as the Second World War raged on, the United States government found it necessary to ration many things due to shortages in the supply of these items. The list of rationed items included coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, shoes, cars, tires, and gasoline. In 1943, the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation published a poster showing a train car overcrowded with passengers, many of them servicemen in uniform. The rest were civilians. In large letters at the top of the poster, it said, “IS YOUR TRIP NECESSARY?” At the bottom, it said, “NEEDLESS TRAVEL interferes with the War Effort.”

Even though Uncle George was just a kid at the time, he found humor in this serious message and decided to paint it on the side of the outhouse.

Speaking of uncles, another of our dad’s brothers, Uncle Vic, owned some vacation property when we were kids. This property had a cottage or cabin on it (which we called “Vic’s shack”), along with a two-seater outhouse.

We visited this property and stayed overnight once and Ruth and I couldn’t resist having our picture taken inside the outhouse. The following photo was scanned in from our collection of old family photographs, so the quality isn’t very good, but we wanted to share this humorous moment with you.

There’s an old schoolhouse in Richland County, Wisconsin that we have visited numerous times. Down the hill from the schoolhouse, an outhouse sits amidst some sumac, which turns red in the fall. On one of our more recent visits, I decided to check out the inside of the outhouse and I discovered that it was actually a three-seater to which modern toilet seats had been added.

Even more interesting than it being a three-seater outhouse, was the hand-written sign on the wall. It said the following:


Put the toilet paper back
in the coffee can. on

account of the mice!!


The way this note was written, with a period after the word “can,” it appeared as if the author had written the instruction to “put the toilet paper back in the coffee can” and then returned later to explain why.

Last fall, Ruth and I spent the day with our sister, Peggy, who lives near Beloit, Wisconsin. She took us to the Hanchett-Bartlett Homestead, an 1857 Victorian farmstead. In addition to the original stone house, stone barn, and restored one-room schoolhouse, there is a large outhouse. Since it was late in the fall, the homestead buildings were all locked, but when I peered in the window of the outhouse, it appeared to be a seven-seater. Talk about a family affair! We hope to visit the homestead in the near future during their open season and see for ourselves.

In the meantime, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

“Annie Annie Over!”

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Growing up on a farm involves a lot of hard work. But we found the best part was the games we played when we had some free time. Joann previously told of our Moonlight Starlight game (see her post from October 28, 2009) that we played for hours all summer long.

Another game we played often was ”Annie Annie Over,” which involved a ball, some kids, and a shed. This was a game that had to be played before it got dark.

The kids available were divided into two teams and each went to one side of the shed. One person on the team with the ball would yell “Annie Annie Over!” and try to throw the ball over the roof of the shed. If the ball didn’t make it over, they would yell “Pigtails!” and then they would get the ball and try again.

If the ball made it over the shed, the other team had to try to catch the ball. If they caught the ball, the members of that team came running around the shed. They would be trying to tag members of the throwing team, while the throwing team was trying to make it to the other side of the shed without getting tagged. Anyone who was tagged became a member of the other team.

The shed we played over was a machine shed with large doors on one side that opened to pull machinery inside. One day while playing the game, Joann and I were on the front side throwing the ball and our older siblings, Phyllis and David, were on the other side catching. Joann and I were younger, so we had a lot of “pigtails.”

The big doors of the shed were open, and David decided to sneak up and peak through the boards to see which way we were going to run around the shed. With him cheating like that, we didn’t stand a chance.

Farm kids are great at playing with what is available, so occasionally when dad had a wagon taken down to just the frame, we would use it as a group ride. It would take the whole pack of us, but we would push it up to the top of the driveway. Then we would all try to hold it there while David got the heavy hitch pulled up so he could steer. The hitch was very heavy and cumbersome, but when he was ready, he’d yell and everyone would hop on and he would steer us down the driveway.

On one such occasion, our cousin Danny was over. After riding down the driveway with David steering several times, he started to beg to steer. Finally David let him have a chance.

As we came down the driveway to the corner, Danny realized that he couldn’t turn the wagon, and David couldn’t help him in time. We ended up careening off of the driveway and right into the shed.

Because that poor old shed was wood and the frame of the wagon was steel, we broke one of the boards of the shed. Dad was not happy with us, and I don’t remember us riding on the wagon for fun after that.

When you’re out shunpiking and you drive past old farm buildings, imagine those buildings full of life with kids playing around them and inside of them. When we drive past the old buildings, we’re always sure that’s what the buildings are remembering.

Happy Shunpiking!