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!

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!


  1. I am glad you found the donkey train and your Fall Color pictures were wonderful.

  2. Cool story about Bernice, Olga and Bob! You are right about shunpiking which we did a lot of on our Route 66 trip. We saw lots of great sites and met lots of interesting people! We highly recommend shunpiking just like you!