Sunday, February 26, 2012

Knock, Knock

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

As Ruth and I travel the back roads of this great country, one of my most favorite things to photograph is an old door. So when we first created our photo gallery website in 2009, what better “entry” into the galleries than an old door.

So I picked one of my favorite doors – one taken in Iowa when we were there photographing old barns. After viewing one of the barns and talking with the owner, we went back to the car and I noticed how beautiful the door was on an old vine-covered garage near where we had parked our car. Unfortunately, there were several cars parked right in front of this door. Hmmm, there has to be some way….let’s see, if I lean backwards against one of the bumpers, maybe….yes, I think I can get it.

A year after that image was taken, we made another visit to Iowa and this time, inside an old barn, I noticed a pair of old-fashioned barn boots sitting off to the side. They had the metal buckles on them and they were coated with manure, just like the ones we wore when we were kids working on the farm.

Then I saw an old door with faded paint and a lot of character, but I felt like it needed something more. Wait! I can “borrow” the manure boots. They’ll be perfect. So I took my shots and then put the boots back where I had found them.

Later that year, on a lonely gravel road in Vernon County, Wisconsin, we passed an old log cabin. Log cabins are not that common in our travels, but what struck us most about this one was the turquoise door.

One of the most interesting types of doors we see are the ones that are on the second floor of a building with no steps or porch. In other words, if someone tried to step out of them, they would plunge to the ground. We often wonder what these doors were used for or what the building looked like before it was modified, rendering the door unusable.

Last summer, while traveling the back roads of southern Wisconsin, we came through a small town and stopped for a minute to figure out where we would go next. There was a rather simple old building to the right of us, which I wasn’t drawn to photograph. However, I noticed an old door with rustic wooden steps and worn off paint, to which I WAS drawn to photograph.

In June of 2009, on one of our trips to Iowa, we passed a large tile corn crib, the kind you’ll see in Illinois or Iowa, but not in Wisconsin. I couldn’t help but notice the character in the bi-fold doors.

About a month ago, Ruth and I took a friend of mine along for a morning of photographing in the snow (of which there hasn’t been much this year). One of our first stops was in the town of Mazomanie. As I was photographing an old blacksmith shop, my friend wandered down the block and discovered an old stone church that I hadn’t photographed before.

The congregation of St. John’s Lutheran Church dates back to 1890, when services were held in what is now the Mazomanie Post Office. In 1920, they purchased this stone church, which was then the German Methodist Church.

Ruth and I are planning an upcoming photography trip to the Ohio River Valley, which reminds me of some of the historic homes we saw along the National Road in Ohio.

I’m also reminded of some of the interesting doors we saw on our 2008 spring trip to the Ozarks. When we visited the historic town of Kingston up in the mountains, I found this old blue and white door on the back of one of the buildings lining the town square.

We also visited an antiques store that was in an old stone building on the square. The owner of the store told me that the building was built in 1922 as a garage that worked on Model T and then Model A Ford automobiles.

From 1947 to 1979, it operated as a grocery store, as evidenced by the Colonial Bread sign on the screen door.

I’m not sure what it is about old doors that attracts me so. Maybe it’s just the handiwork and the peeling paint. Most likely, though, it’s that they beckon me to imagine what it used to be like and what went on inside in the old days.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bethel Chapel Revisited

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Last fall we wrote about Bethel Chapel and how, as hard as we tried, we couldn’t find any information about the history of the church. A wonderful reader posted a comment including a link to a small bit of historical information.

Now we knew a little about the church. The research was done by the archivist at the Brewer Library in Richland Center after a paperweight was brought to them in 1980 with a picture of a crude log church labeled “Bethel Methodist Church, Richland Center, Wisconsin”.

They gradually found bits of information about the church and its origins. The plot of land for the church had been purchased in 1880, and the original church was a small log building. The current building was built in 1912.

We had been waiting to photograph the church in the winter. It was one season in which we had not visited the little church. Then last month, we received a small snowstorm on a Friday. Joann and I talked that night and decided that we would wait for the roads to be cleared on Saturday and we would go out photographing on Sunday, with Bethel Chapel as our main goal.

We made multiple stops on the way to the church. There is always something we can think of that we haven’t photographed in the winter.

When we pulled up to the church, the hardest part was trying to figure out where to park the car. During other seasons of the year, there is an old tractor lane almost directly across from the church. In the winter, there is nowhere to park. Finally, Joann pulled over as far as she could and said she would be quick with her pictures. She turned on the flashers and jumped out with her equipment.

The steeple now appears to be leaning more towards the road than it was previously. It looks as though a brisk wind might topple it over onto the road at any time. We hope this is not the case, but we feel fortunate to have captured this historical church in different seasons. We know now that the building was disposed of by the Methodist Conference in 1969. There is no indication in the small bit of history we have as to whom the church was sold or if it was used for anything in particular once the Methodist Conference sold it.

Joann took quite a few photos and, the entire time, freezing drizzle was coming down, so we knew that we should be heading home.

In some ways the little church seems to be on its last legs, and yet it has stood for more than 40 years for the enjoyment of those passing by. How many more years might it stand before it topples on its own or is razed? We’ll continue to check on the church, and we will be so sad when it is no more.

Enjoy those things you pass along the backroads. You never know how long they will be there.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who'll Give Me a Hundred Dollar Bill?

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Over the past few years, Ruth and I have visited many farms in Iowa and we have often seen farm antiques proudly displayed on these farms. One of our favorite items is the old-fashioned milk can.

Our parents bought their first farm when I was two years old. Dad continued to work at Oscar Mayer while he slowly bought cattle and began to build up the herd. I have vague memories of the first milk cooler we had, which held two of the old-fashioned milk cans. Below is a photo of a very old cooler that we saw on an Iowa dairy farm.

Many years ago, when our grandmother got to the point of not being able to live on her own, an auction was held to sell off most of her and our grandfather’s possessions. Our grandfather had died many years earlier, but we still expected to find some of his things at the auction.

Grandpa had been a dairy farmer and we used to love visiting the farm. But he retired from farming when we were quite young and he and grandma built a new house and moved into town. When we would visit them at their new house, we would play in the basement where there was an old player piano and some toys.

One of the toys was a metal “blackbird pie” that worked like a jack-in-box. As you turned the crank, it played the tune, “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” which was an old English nursery rhyme set to music:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie…

When it got to the end of the tune, blackbirds would pop out of the pie. This was our favorite toy and, all those years later, we had hopes that this toy might make an appearance at the auction. Alas, it was nowhere to be seen and no one seemed to know what had happened to it.

We also hoped to find some of Grandpa’s cigar boxes and we were delighted to find stacks of them at the auction. We always knew when Grandpa was nearby because we could smell his cigar smoke. Ruth and I each bid on a stack of cigar boxes so that we had something to remind us of Grandpa.

As we walked around looking at what else had been put up for sale, we discovered a rusty old milk can. “This must have belonged to Grandpa when he was farming,” I said to Ruth. “I really want to have this.”

As we looked it over, I noticed a small metal plate attached to the can and covered with dust. I started to rub off the dust and realized that it had Grandpa’s name on it. It said, “Raw Milk, Edward Barman.” I couldn’t believe it. So I stopped rubbing off the dust in hopes that no one else would notice this nameplate.

Our cousin, David, whom we have mentioned before in this blog, was the auctioneer and he was working his way around the house, selling all the items that were displayed on the lawn. I headed over to my brother-in-law to ask for his advice about bidding on the old milk can.

Joann: “One of Grandpa’s milk cans is setting down by the garage. How much would you bid for that?”

Vern: “I’d only pay five bucks for something like that.”

Joann: “But it has Grandpa’s name on it. I was thinking I’d be willing to spend $50.

Vern: “Are you crazy?! The thing’s probably only worth five bucks.”

It seemed to take forever before David finally worked his way to the garage area and the old milk can. As he looked into the small crowd and noticed that I was interested in this item, he hollered in his best auctioneer voice, “Who’ll give me a hundred dollar bill for this antique milk can?”

I was shocked, and then he laughed and said, “Just kidding, who’ll give me a five dollar bill?” I raised my hand and then he tried to raise the bid, but no one else was interested.

“SOLD for a five dollar bill!” he said, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. My intention, of course, was to take it home and restore it to its former condition. However, it’s still sitting in my basement covered with rust. But it still displays my grandfather’s name and I still love it, rust and all!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On the Way to Ohio

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

As I plan our photography trips, I am always on the lookout for places to stop and take a break on the way. Illinois is usually on the list, since we can’t get to many places without venturing into Illinois.

In 2009, our planned destination was southern Ohio. That meant planning places to stop across Illinois and Indiana. We got a late start on this trip due to some unexpected early morning car trouble, but finally we got on the road around 11 AM (a very late start, if you know us at all).

Our first stop in rural Illinois was an old stone barn. Stone barns in this part of the country are hard to find, so whenever we have the chance to stop at one, we take it.

Another barn we’ve stopped at several times is a barn we had seen as we passed it on the interstate. Finding it on the backroads was a little harder, and the couple of times we hunted it up, we thought we must have taken a wrong turn until we finally stumbled upon it.

After the stop at the stone barn, we got back on the highway and headed east. At a small town called Mansfield, we saw a sign that advertised “General Store” and pointed off the highway. Never ones to pass up a general store, we veered off the highway and into town.

It was quiet on the downtown street with the general store, but luckily the store was open. The old door had several antique advertising signs on it, and the inside still had the old wooden floors and a vintage cooler section.

After chatting with the store’s owner and buying a couple of sodas for the road, we went back to the car and headed down the highway.

Another planned stop was a small town we had visited on a previous trip. The main highway runs along the edge of town and along the highway sits an old depot and an old farmstead with a Mail Pouch Tobacco barn.

The depot has many interesting details, and Joann spent some time photographing the doors and architectural details.

The depot is unpainted, and the wood is varying shades of brown, making all of the details of the building that much more interesting.

Hidden off the main highway is an old Bull Durham advertising sign. We had to ask a local to find out the location of the sign. When we know something is in town, but we aren’t sure where it is, we’re always glad to find someone who knows.

By now the sun was setting and we were getting tired. We had intended to get quite a ways into Indiana that first day but, due to our late start, we only made it just across the border. So we had to hunt up a motel in the dark. This is never the best situation, but we have to do what we have to do sometimes just to find a place to fall into bed.

Early the next morning, we hit the road. We decided to take the historic National Road. It would allow us to make pretty good time, yet keep us off of the interstate. We kept our eyes on the old buildings we passed for unique architectural details.

Joann loves old doorknobs and keyholes, so we always have to watch for old doors that may have possibilities. I keep my binoculars handy, so if we see a possibility, she can slow down or pull over and I can check out the door.

The old barns we find are almost always just stumbled on. There are very few sites that document old barns or give away their locations. We love old barns with interesting details, like this barn with unusual cupolas.

Right before we reached Ohio, we made one last stop at an abandoned farm, where I had a short conversation with a local cop.

No matter where we’re headed, we can always find interesting things along the way. On your next trip, pay close attention and see what you find.

Happy Shunpiking!