Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Halloween Once More

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

The ghosts and goblins prowl about
The ghouls and gremlins scream and shout

The spooks come out at half past four,
It’s Halloween once more.

The Jack-o-lanterns gleam and glow,
The ghosts are lined up in a row,

And Frankenstein comes to the door,
It’s Halloween once more.

The zombies rise and begin to stumble,
The mummies stir and start to mumble,

And someone’s tapping on death’s door,
It’s Halloween once more.

Last Sunday, Ruth and I photographed our way to Delafield, Wisconsin. Our mission was to see the illuminated pumpkin display in front of an old church building known as “The Steeple.” The night before, Delafield held their “Grand Pumpkin Illumination” where over 300 pumpkins were illuminated.

These pumpkins were carved by children from the following local elementary schools: Cushing Elementary School, Lake Country School, Prairie Hill Waldorf, and St. Joan of Arc School. We arrived shortly before dusk so that I could snap a few shots in the waning daylight.

Then we waited for darkness to begin to descend over the scene. While we waited, we examined the carved pumpkins more closely. There were some very creative carvings and many of them made us smile.

Some of them showed signs of struggle to carve the face or whatever else the kids were aiming to create. Others looked like the carving had gotten out of control and most of the pumpkin was carved away, leaving us to imagine what they might have been trying to create.

As we photographed this whimsical scene, cars pulled up and people walked past to enjoy the lighted display. And one little girl came with her mother, peering into the sea of pumpkins in an attempt to locate the pumpkin she had carved so that her mother could take a picture of it. It was quite an enjoyable way to end our afternoon of photographing.

When creatures emerge from the Black Lagoon,
And werewolves howl at the moon,

When vampires show up at the door,
It’s Halloween once more.

When people plan for tricks and treats,
And costumed children hit the streets,

And pumpkins shine from shore to shore,
It’s Halloween once more.

Happy Halloween and Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Barbershop Quartet

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The most famous television barber was probably Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show. In the fictional town of Mayberry, Floyd’s Barber Shop was the gathering place where the men would read comics, play checkers, and discuss current events, along with getting a haircut.

On the old Hee Haw television show, Archie Campbell played the barber and he and his customer would often perform a skit called “That’s Good, That’s Bad.” Archie would tell the customer about something that had happened. If the customer said, “Oh, that’s good,” Archie would respond, “No, that’s bad” and then he would explain further. Then the customer would say, “Oh, that’s bad,” and Archie would respond with “No, that’s good!” Archie also told comical fairytales in “spoonerism” form to the people in the barber shop (switching the first letters of words for comic effect). His fairytales such as Beeping Sleauty and Rindercella were always our favorites.

The first barber shops that Joann and I noticed were on our trip to Northern Michigan in 2007. One was a small red building with old Coca Cola ads painted on the sides. The sign proclaimed it to be Mike’s Barber Shop but it was late in the day and the shop was closed.

The next day as we started our homeward trek, we found another small barber shop. This one was permanently closed, but was in a very unique little building. The sign above the door stated that it was the Colonial Barber Shop and this time there was a barber pole attached to the building.

Then in January of 2011, a small article appeared in the local paper that Barber Bill Groff was retiring and selling his one-chair barber shop after 38 years. Joann and I made a note that we should visit the shop before the signage was changed.

In early September we finally made a trip around Madison in the early morning hours and the signage was still there.

It’s a small shop in a residential neighborhood. The outside of the building had been changed from red to blue, but the name remained.

As we drive through towns, I am always on the lookout for barber poles. Many of the barber shops we find now don’t have the traditional pole out front.

Before 1950, there were four manufacturers of barber poles in the United States. By 2010, there was only one company still making barber poles. The company is the William Marvy Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. They have sold over 80,000 since 1950 when they began. They now sell only about 500 poles per year compared to over 5,000 per year in the 1960’s.

As you travel along the backroads and through small towns, look around for the small barber shops and see if you can spot a barber pole out front. They’re getting harder and harder to find.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not a Mule

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

A couple weeks ago, Ruth and I left home early Sunday morning and photographed our way over to the Mississippi River, attempting to add some good photos to our autumn collection. Unfortunately, it was extremely sunny and warm on both Sunday and Monday, and the lighting was harsh, which doesn’t make for good photography. But we spent both days photographing anyway.

I think we’ve told you this before, but when we find a subject we really like, we tend to visit it again and again. This day was no different. As the sun came over the horizon Sunday morning, we stopped at one of our favorite churches, the Dayton Corners Church, which was built in 1895.

When we left the church and cemetery, we headed down a country road that began with a “Squiggly Road” sign and some beautiful fall color. The sun was already high in the sky, but we managed to capture some of the intensity of the yellow tree and the red sumac.

Later that afternoon, as we traveled down a narrow gravel road, we came upon a small tile barn. It sat by itself right beside the road, with no other farm buildings to keep it company. As I photographed it, I heard meowing and then two friendly cats circled my legs and the car until we left.

The following morning, we were blessed with some early morning fog, but it disappeared rapidly after the sun came up. Luckily, we had seen some rolling farmland the night before and we hurried back to the ridge to capture the scene as the fog lifted.

Unfortunately, Monday turned out to be even sunnier than Sunday, and we had a hard time coming up with good photographs for most of the day. Around the middle of the afternoon, we were in Richland County and we decided to take Highway 56 and head towards home. We passed an old garage that had some bright orange sumac next to it and some interesting doors, so I pulled the car over on a side road and hiked down the highway to the garage.

This highway has basically no shoulders and there is quite a bit of traffic, so I had to be careful. As vehicles passed me from both directions, I felt that I was a bit too close to the road and almost landed on my butt in the ditch when I tried to step further out of the way.

You’re probably wondering why this story is called, “Not a Mule.” Well, I’m about to tell you. After photographing the garage, we left the side road and returned to Highway 56. A little ways down the road past the garage, we came upon a man driving two horses and a small covered wagon, right there on Highway 56. As I told you, there aren’t any shoulders on this highway, so the line of cars was growing behind this little covered wagon. I would like to have pulled over and taken a picture of this strange and amusing scene, but there was no place to safely stop. So we continued on our way.

When we reached Highway 80, we turned south towards Richland Center and then we saw another strange scene: a man driving what looked like two mules and a shiny metal wagon or cart of some sort.

Fortunately, Highway 80 has very large shoulders, so this man was driving totally on the shoulder, and I had a place to pull over…which I did. I grabbed my camera, fired off a few shots, and then darted across Hwy 80 to see if he would stop and talk to me…which he did. We introduced ourselves and he told me that his name was Bob Erickson. We had a nice conversation, which went something like this:

Joann: “We saw another guy going down Hwy 56 in a covered wagon. What are you guys doing?”

Bob: “We’re camping. We drove our teams from Westby to Arena for Plow and Plant Days. Now we’re driving them back to Westby…Bernice, get up there” (to the mule who was stepping back).

Joann, realizing that the tack on the side of the “mule” said, “Not a Mule.”: “Not a Mule?”

Bob: “I put that on there because people kept calling them mules.”

Joann: “They’re not mules? What are they, then?”

Bob (smirking a bit): “They’re big Texas jackrabbits!... No, they’re donkeys.”

Joann: “What kind of donkeys?”

Bob (laughing): “Big, brown ones. Their names are Bernice and Olga.”

Joann: “What do you call this vehicle…a wagon?”

Bob: “It’s a camper. I have everything I need right here – a bed, my bedroll, and I even have a breakfast nook” (as he pulled up a fold-out shelf in front of him).

Then Bob told me that he and his donkeys would be featured in Mischka Press’s 2012 Donkey Calendar.
I told him I would look for the calendar, thanked him for allowing me to take some pictures of them, and let them be on their way.

That’s the thing we love about shunpiking: you never know what you might see or whom you might meet.

Happy Shunpiking!

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Fence Post

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Growing up, the fences we were familiar with were barbed wire and electric. They were made to keep the cattle inside, and there was nothing aesthetic about them. We still see those barbed wire fences as we drive around, but now we’re looking for a way to turn them into a good picture. The flowers next to the fence below, definitely improved this functional fence.

When we were young we also had snow fences on the farm, made to keep the snow from drifting too badly in certain spots. They were put up every fall after the crops were harvested and didn’t come down until planting time the following spring. We still see snow fences as we travel the backroads today, but often it is an ugly bright orange plastic mesh. Sometimes, though, we can find the old-fashioned wooden type that we remember from our youth.

When we’re on the backroads and we hunt up rural cemeteries, my favorites are those that are surrounded by old wrought iron fences. Times were hard in the early days of this country, but it’s interesting to see the care people took in honoring their dead with fences built around the cemeteries where their loved ones were buried.

At Antioch Church and Cemetery in Iowa, the church sat at the top of a hill and the fence followed the line of the hill down along the front of the church and past the cemetery. We spent a lot of time at the church viewing it from every angle and taking a lot of photographs. Several times we started to drive away only to find another angle and stop for more photos.

Sometimes the cemeteries we find are surrounded by stone fences, and we marvel at the time spent to lay the stone. Often these cemeteries were built in farming communities, and the local farmers would have had to do this labor after their farming chores were done.

Some of the fences we come across are small decorative fences like this one we found last fall with a line of pumpkins in front of it. The orange of the pumpkins against the gray wood of the fence was a nice contrast with the brick walkways. You know we had to stop and take a few photographs.

And once in a while we’re lucky enough to stumble on a whimsical fence made by someone with a love of the subject of their fence. In southern Wisconsin one morning, we came down a road and saw this fence made of old bicycles.

But one of our most interesting fences was found just this September on our rainy trip to northern Wisconsin. In the pouring rain we visited a barn with a cobblestone fence along the perimeter of the property. As we stood under our umbrellas so Joann could photograph, we still took the time to marvel at the construction.

We walked around the barn and brick silo photographing the fence from several angles. This is one fence we’ll go back to revisit in the future. Now that we’ve found it, we’ll make a point of returning whenever we find ourselves in the area.

When you’re out on the backroads, watch the roadsides for different types of fences and see how many you can find.

Happy Shunpiking!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Whatever the Weather

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last weekend was the beginning of fall photographing for us. We wait all year for the crisp autumn air and the changing of the leaves to brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. Before we leave on a trip to capture fall colors, we usually put in our request to the Universe to provide us with the perfect weather.

Overcast days bring out vivid colors, which is great for close-ups, but then we also want some character in the sky for shooting landscapes. Sunny days don’t work well at all, unless they’re accompanied by blue skies with puffy white clouds. And if it rains, we're OK with that, unless it rains hard or it’s mixed with wind. (We don’t want much, do we!?)

Fog makes for some great photographs, too, unless it’s so thick that you can barely see anything. Last Saturday, we left my house an hour or so before first light and the fog was fairly thick most of the way. Our first stop was a country church that was engulfed in the fog. Just down the road a bit was the cemetery, which is always a great subject in the fog. As I got out of the car to photograph the cemetery, I noticed a horse quietly grazing in the pasture across the road.

We had hoped that the fog would stay around for a while, but the sunrise came quickly, prompting us to start wishing for blue skies with puffy white clouds. Fairly quickly, the blue skies showed up, and we stopped at an old depot in Oxford, Wisconsin. Ruth got our breakfast ready as I captured a few shots of the depot.

Around 9:30 a.m., there were a few wispy white clouds close to the horizon and Ruth said, “Look, some baby clouds. It won’t be long.” At 10:00, the sky was beginning to fill with big white clouds and we stopped to capture a small arched roof fieldstone barn.

By 11:00 a.m., however, the sky was entirely filled with clouds and they were gray rather than white. We continued working our way toward Tomahawk, Wisconsin, as the skies became more ominous. Around 1:30 p.m., it began to rain lightly, so I got out my umbrella. About an hour later, a steady rain began and Ruth was kind enough to leave the car and hold the umbrella for me so that I could work more easily. As the afternoon wore on, the rain became heavier and heavier, and I was getting disappointed over not being able to find a good fall color scene.

As we drove in the rain down a gravel road, I saw a colorful scene off in the distance, but there were some shrubs near the road that prevented me from getting the photo I wanted. So I told Ruth I was going to hike in past the shrubs to get my shot. She said, “You’re kidding, right?”

The ditch was washed out, deep, and muddy, but I was not to be deterred. So I took my equipment and umbrella and hiked down the road past the washed out section. Then I crossed over to the prairie and hiked back. As I hiked, the grasses became thicker and taller, but I continued my quest. Needless to say, it took me quite a while to get back far enough to get my shot, and the lower half of my body was absolutely soaked by the time I returned to the car. The good news is that it was well past the time we should have been at our motel, so we headed straight there and I got out of my wet clothes.

We both went to bed that night praying for better weather on Sunday, but it was not to be. It turned out to be a very gloomy day and it rained for most of the day. The only really eventful thing that happened that day was a bad choice we made to take a gravel road that looked like it might have some good fall color. It was a residential area at the start, but quickly turned into a narrow, rocky road that went for miles. Had we known what we were in for, we would have turned around. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

Again that night, we went to bed thinking it just had to be better weather the next day, but Monday turned out to be the worst weather of the trip. The minute we left our motel that morning, it began to rain and the wind began to blow. We tried to make the best of it, but it got worse as the morning progressed. We don’t often visit this area and we had never seen the Dells of the Eau Claire River, so we headed to the park. And when we arrived there, a driving rain began.

I didn’t want to leave without getting at least a few shots, so we waited until it let up a bit. The parking lot is a long hike from the dells, so Ruth dropped me off as close to the dells as we could get. I told her to come back in 20 minutes to see if I was ready to be picked up. It continued to rain and the rocks were slippery. Maneuvering them without carrying anything would be hard enough in the rain, but I was carrying a tripod, camera, backpack, and umbrella. I decided not to take too many chances, but it was still very dangerous and I was worried about losing my camera to the rocks below me. I worked as quickly as I could and was just finishing when Ruth drove up to check on me. Whew!

A short time later, we passed a “haunted” house and we couldn’t resist trying to capture it, but it was still raining hard and the wind was now gusting with a vengeance. As I attempted to capture the scene, my umbrella turned inside out and I wasn’t sure I even managed to get a useable shot. We’ve told you before that we always eat lunch out of our cooler, but we had to make an exception on this particular day. So we stopped at an old fashioned A&W restaurant in the charming town of Wittenberg, Wisconsin, where we had a good meal with old fashioned customer service.

We continued to photograph in the rain and the wind that afternoon and, when it was time to make a beeline for home, the rain finally stopped for a while. Wouldn’t you know it! But Ruth always has plenty for us to see and she told me she had a surprise for me before we headed to the highway. So she directed me down a quiet country road that was canopied with trees.

We drove quite a ways and she said, “I don’t understand, I thought it would be here.” I finally asked her what we were looking for and she told me it was an old school. We continued to drive for a long ways and soon we noticed that we were coming to the end of the road. But suddenly our disappointment turned to satisfaction as we found the Rhinehardt School.

As we left the school, Ruth mentioned that there was also an old church in the area, but she wasn’t sure exactly where it was and we probably didn’t have time to look for it. As we approached the stop sign at the end of the road, we discovered that the old church was right in front of us. Indeed, we are truly blessed.

The beauty of autumn comes and goes in three or four weeks here in Wisconsin and the colors peak in many areas the first week in October. So, grab your camera and hit the backroads!

Happy Shunpiking!