Sunday, November 25, 2012

Autumn Shunpiking

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

This past summer, my friends, Julaine and Marlys, asked me if I would take them shunpiking on the backroads of Vernon County again this fall. I quickly agreed and, just as quickly, they picked a date in October and put it on their calendars.

At the end of September, they started counting the days until we would be meandering along the roads of Amish country and stopping at Amish farms, cheese factories, and bakeries. On October 11, we departed at 7:00 am and headed west. Our first planned stop was Wildcat Mountain State Park, where we enjoyed the scenic overlook.

After that, we shunpiked down in the valleys and up on the ridges on our way to the Amish cheese factory. First we passed an Amish farm where the corn had been harvested, leaving a field of old-fashioned corn shocks.

Just down the road from the corn shocks, we passed a home with an amusing autumn display where the male scarecrow was mooning towards the road. As we approached it to take pictures, the owner came out and told us that they had gotten bored with their traditional autumn display, so they decided to try something different. He said it was drawing lots of attention. It surely drew ours and we had a good laugh over it.

When I was planning our trip the night before, I had noticed a little cemetery on the map between Wildcat Mountain and the cheese factory. It had a name that was too interesting to ignore – the Bad Axe Cemetery. So we looked for it and as we pulled up to it, we noticed that the sheep from the pasture next to the cemetery had jumped the fence and were wandering around in the cemetery.

As we got out of the car to explore the cemetery, the sheep took on a guilty look as if to say, “Oh-oh, we’ve been caught in the act,” and quickly jumped back into the pasture. Now I know where the saying “looking sheepish” comes from.

There was a sign near the road that explained the history of the church that used to be next to the cemetery. As I read the sign, I heard the wonderful clip-clop of horse hooves as one Amish buggy after another passed by the Bad Axe Cemetery.

In 1867-68, Irish immigrants built a white frame church on this site and dedicated it to St. Patrick. Over the years, priests from various surrounding parishes served as pastors to St. Patrick’s. Unfortunately, in 1936, the church burned to the ground due to a lightning strike. The name Bad Axe comes from Vernon County’s original name and the cemetery is all that remains on the site today.

The Amish cheese factory was officially our second stop, but we were having quite a busy day before we got there. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at an Amish candy store and, although we all said we certainly didn’t need candy, each of us left with something sweet. We also passed an old gas tank with a smiley face that I couldn’t resist capturing.

Finally we reached the cheese factory and, just as we were purchasing our cheese, a tour bus full of people arrived and began unloading. So we made a quick exit and headed on down the road. Our next stop was a favorite Amish bakery. As we pulled into the farm, we discovered four Amish buggies parked next to the barn.

When we opened the door to the bakery, we were overwhelmed by the smell of freshly baked bread, pies, and….what’s this?...doughnuts?.....on a Thursday?! If you’re familiar with Amish bakeries in Wisconsin, you know that most of them are open only on Friday and Saturday. And if they are open other days, they only have doughnuts on Friday and Saturday. These doughnuts are such a treat to me because they are exactly like my mother used to make when we were kids. You know, the raised kind with the thin glaze on them. I usually don’t eat wheat, but I make an exception once or twice a year when I get the chance to have an old-fashioned raised doughnut from an Amish bakery.

There were two Amish women who were very busy working in the kitchen. When I told them I was surprised to find doughnuts on a Thursday, they said it was because there were two tour buses arriving soon and they were trying to make enough baked goods to satisfy the crowd. So, again, we hurried with our purchases and hit the road before the tour buses arrived.

Next we headed towards Westby where we planned to have lunch but, as it usually goes when we’re shunpiking, I had a couple of stops to make on the way.

Before we could even make those stops, however, we passed an Amish farm with a vegetable stand. So we drove down the driveway and bought a pumpkin and some vegetables. Standing near the vegetable stand was a horse and buggy.

Ruth had told me about a couple of one-room schools, so we tried to find them. The first one was a bust, so I think I didn’t quite have the right location. But we did manage to find the second one, which is called Rognstad School.

I don’t know much about this school other than it is a one-room schoolhouse with a front gable and clapboard siding. There is an old outhouse in the back.

The best part of shunpiking is enjoying it with others. So before leaving the school, I put my camera on my tripod and set the timer so that we could have a picture of the three of us to remember this wonderful trip.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, 2012!

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

As I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this coming Thursday, I am reminded of how truly blessed I am in so many areas of my life. There is much we take for granted in this great country of ours and in our day to day lives. Each day brings opportunities to experience joy, love, laughter, beauty, kindness, hope, optimism, ease, and simplicity, especially in the little things. I will keep this blog post simple and just share the final autumn photos I was fortunate to capture this year at Owen Park on Madison’s west side. May you enjoy a blessed, peaceful Thanksgiving Day!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Neon!

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Georges Claude was a French engineer and chemist who created the first neon lamp circa 1902. Eight years later, he displayed his first neon sign consisting of two 38-foot long tubes at the Parish Expo.

In 1912, Jaques Fonseque, an associate of Claude’s, sold the first commercial neon sign to a barber in Paris.

It took until 1923 for Georges Claude to introduce his neon signs to the United States. The first two neon signs were sold to a Packard Car dealership in Los Angeles. The dealership was owned by Earle C. Anthony. The two signs, reading “Packard” cost Anthony $24,000.

Neon signs made people stop and stare, and the brilliant red of the neon tubes was called “liquid fire.” During the 1920’s and 1930’s, many elaborate signs were created and neon signs spread across the United States from New York to California.

The heyday of neon signs was the 1950’s. Neon signs for diners and motels lit up the highways.

The 1960’s saw a steep decline in the use of neon. Municipal sign codes and public interest changed. The choice of neon was being replaced with cheaper alternatives.

From the 60’s through the 80’s, neon fell out of favor but, in 1999, the Route 66 Corridor Restoration Act helped in preserving some of the iconic Retro-Neon signs and monuments of the past.

It’s interesting to note that true neon usually only illuminates red, orange and amber. Other colors used in signs are usually “argon” gas-filled tubes. Normally, everyone refers to both gas-filled tubes as “neon.” Today, using neon and argon, more than 150 colors can be produced.

Recently, neon and argon signs have enjoyed a revival, and many photographers, us included, have made it a point to capture the old neon signs before they fade away. As businesses are closed, many of the neon signs are removed or left without maintenance.

Unfortunately, we came late to the game. In our travels, we drove past many signs before we realized that some of the signs we had taken for granted were disappearing from the landscape.

Now, some municipalities are passing rules against moving historic signs, including neon signs. And due to vandalism, some historic neon signs are being covered with plastic to protect the tubes.

For these reasons, we’ll be stopping at any cool neon sign we find. And in your travels, as you pass old neon, enjoy the sight. There’s no telling how long a sign will remain.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

There Once Was a Town

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Shortly before 5:00 AM on the morning of October 6 of this year, Joann and I left her house to drive an hour and a half north on our second trip of the fall season. We were on our way to our “first light” stop.

It was a cold morning, and we arrived while it was still too dark to start photographing -- so dark, in fact, that Joann waited for a few minutes in the car until it just began to get light. Then she pulled on her gloves and winter scarf to block the wind, got out her equipment, and began photographing.

We were at a small crossroads that once was the town of Orange Mill. All that remains now is an old grist mill, a schoolhouse, and several houses.

Our first visit to this little crossroads was in the fall of 2001 after I discovered it on a list of mills that had been standing in the 1970’s. There have been many mills from that list that we tried to find and couldn’t, so imagine our surprise on our first visit when we discovered that the mill was still standing. And, as a bonus, the old one-room school stood across the street with its outhouses back in the shrubs.

The township of Orange was organized in 1857. The first settlers were immigrants from Northern Ireland. Within the township, the first school and church were located at Orange Mill. Orange Mill was built along the railroad, but when the railroad chose nearby Camp Douglas Junction for its stop, Orange Mill started to decline. By the 1950’s, all that was left was the grist mill, the Orange Mill School-District 1, and an old general store.

Even on our first visit, the store was mostly gone. The building ruins were among the shrubs along the road on our first visit, but now all that remains is a small pile of rubble.

The mill was built about two miles away from the Little Lemonweir River, so a canal was dug from the river to the mill. The canal was lined with rock walls to keep the banks from caving in. The mill was also unique for the Midwest in that it had an underslung waterwheel. The waterwheel was mounted lying down under the mill. A gate was opened to let water in from the canal, which drove the wheel. The water then left through the foundation and back to the canal.

On our first visits to the school, there was still an old water pump and playground equipment on the lawn. Whenever we find these old schools with playground equipment, it brings back memories of our own early education at a four-room school with the same kind of equipment on the playground.

We’ve continued to stop at the school and mill whenever we’re passing by and we have time to stop. Today the mill stands in a very dilapidated state. With every visit, the mill looks a little worse for the years of Wisconsin weather it has endured.

We’ll continue to visit until the mill and school are gone. Every time we leave the highway and head towards Orange Mill, we wonder if this will be the time that the buildings are no longer there.

After the buildings are gone, we’ll remember, there once was a town.

Happy Shunpiking!