Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Countdown to Christmas

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

It’s just 3 days until Christmas, but looking out the door in southern Wisconsin, there is no hint of snow. We’ve had several snows, but after each one, warm weather returned and any snow we received has melted.

It’s a little easier to believe it’s almost Christmas if you go out at night and look at the Christmas lights around town. Many larger cities have a light display in a park that you can drive or walk through. They’ll usually have Christmas music playing to help bring on Christmas cheer.

According to the weather forecast, there is little chance of a white Christmas in our area of the country, in fact, in most of the eastern United States. (Most people know I don’t put all that much faith in the weather people, but in this case, I fear they are correct.)

The good news is, any driving people will be doing will be over clear roads. The bad news for us is we probably won’t get many, if any, new Christmas photos this year. We’ll just keep adding to our list of places we want to go in a year when we do get Christmas snow.

We’re sure to get some snow eventually, but for now, you can do other things to get into the Christmas spirit. Watch some favorite Christmas movies, listen to your favorite Christmas music, bake some of your family’s favorite cookies and candy, or get a group of friends together and go caroling in your neighborhood.

Whatever you do, we hope your Christmas is filled with joy and happiness, and that you spend time with family and friends.

Merry Christmas and Happy Shunpiking!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Happy 75th Anniversary Dairy Queen

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The first Dairy Queen opened in Joliet, Illinois in 1940. The story really began 2 years earlier when an unnamed product was introduced with a 10-cent sale at a walk-in ice cream store in Kankakee, Illinois. Within 2 hours, 1600 servings of the new dessert had been sold. The soft serve ice cream product had been in testing by a father and son team in Green River, Illinois.

The older Dairy Queens were small walk-up buildings that were open seasonally. The original signs were horizontal neon featuring a neon cone. We haven’t visited many locations with this type of sign, but we hope to find more.

In the 1950’s the National Animated Sign Co. sold or donated a Curly the Clown sign to the Dairy Queen in Shelbyville, Indiana. They were making a pitch for Curly to become the national symbol of Dairy Queen. This never happened, and there are only a couple of clowns still in existence. We were lucky enough to find this sign on our way to Ohio in 2012.

In the late 1950’s, the red ellipse Dairy Queen sign was adopted. We can still find this on many locations.

In Illinois we found a Dairy Queen in a building shaped a lot like a barn with a different version of the ellipse sign. It included a cone and a blue and white striped section of the sign.

In 1957, the Brazier name was introduced. It often was on another ellipse sign like the one we found in Elwood Indiana in 2013. In 1993, the Brazier name was already being phased out.

In the 60’s, Little Miss Dairy Queen was introduced. She was on top of the building and she was dressed as a Little Dutch Girl. She first appeared in Pennsylvania. Joann and I were lucky enough to find one on a Dairy Queen in northern Wisconsin.

Dairy Queen has some unusual signs and some unusual building designs. Unlike some companies that require certain styles of buildings and old logos to be removed if the company redesigns their logo, Dairy Queen seems to allow individual stores to make that decision.

If you travel around your state or across the country, check out the local Dairy Queens and see what kind of old signs you can find.

Happy Shunpiking!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rhyme Time – Thank You, God!

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Thank you, God, for the food we eat,

Thank you, God, for our pets, so sweet,

Thank you, God, for the colors we see,

Thank you, God, for our history.

Thank you, God for the winter snows,

Thank you, God, for the moon that glows,

Thank you, God, for the blossoms in spring,

Thank you, God, for everything!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and as always, Happy Shunpiking!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Honoring America’s Civil War Veterans

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, which began on April 12, 1861 when Confederate troops opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina and officially ended on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. However, it took weeks before word of this surrender was received across the country, so the last battle took place on May 13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch in Texas.

There are many causes for the Civil War. While the Northern regions became more and more industrialized, the Southern regions remained primarily agricultural. This caused different political beliefs and social cultures to develop, leading to disagreements about taxes, tariffs, and states’ rights.

The most divisive issue, however, appears to have been the dispute over whether the national government had the power to prohibit slavery in territories that were not yet states. When Abraham Lincoln pledged to prevent slavery from being established in the territories, seven deep South states seceded, forming a new nation called the Confederate States of America.

When the war started, the combined population of the Northern states was about 22 million, while the combined population of the Southern states was about 9 million. Thus, there were roughly twice as many Union soldiers as Confederate soldiers. The average age of the Union soldiers was about 25 and the average age of the Confederate soldiers is unknown, but towards the end of the war, young boys and old men were being pressed into service.

As battles were waged across the nation, families found themselves in the middle of battlefields, often seeking safety in their cellars when the fighting closed in on their homes.

In Arkansas, during the Battle of Prairie Grove in December, 1862, the conflict developed so quickly that families living near the battlefield had no time to flee. So they took shelter in cellars like this one, which has been preserved at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. Although this battle ended in one day, there were about 2,700 total Union and Confederate casualties.

Other families were forced to give up their homes to serve as field hospitals or battle headquarters. During the spring of 1865, in the final days of the Civil War, the North Carolina farmhouse of the John and Amy Harper family was taken over by Union soldiers on the first day of the Battle of Bentonville.

The downstairs rooms were converted into a field hospital and the Harpers were told they could either stay upstairs or leave their home altogether. At first, they chose to stay upstairs, but later they helped nurse wounded soldiers from both sides of the war.

Prior to their home being taken over by the Union Army, the war had already touched the Harper family. In September of 1862, their 16-year-old son Martin, who had joined the Confederate Army, was wounded in Maryland.

The Battle of Bentonville involved roughly 80,000 men (60,000 Union troops and 20,000 Confederate troops). When the intense three-day battle was over, more than 1,500 Union soldiers and 2,600 Confederate soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing. The makeshift hospital at the Harper House treated over 500 wounded soldiers, including 45 Confederates.

It is estimated that during the four years’ duration of the Civil War, there were 1.5 million Union soldiers and 1.2 million Confederate soldiers. And records reveal that at least 600,000 were killed in action or died of disease. The field of medicine was not very advanced at this time and modern antiseptics, which could have reduced disease and the spread of bacteria, did not exist. This resulted in more soldiers dying of disease than being killed in action.

Very often, after battles ended, soldiers were buried on the battlefield where they fought and died. If they died in field hospitals, such as the Harper House, they were buried near the hospital. At the Bentonville Civil War Battlefield in North Carolina, close to the Harper House, there is a Confederate Monument marking the mass grave of approximately 360 Confederates who died in the Battle of Bentonville.

Sometimes, the bodies of soldiers were later exhumed and moved to National or Confederate cemeteries. However, due to the sheer number of dead soldiers and the effort involved in moving their remains, undoubtedly thousands of Civil War soldiers are still buried in unknown battlefield graves.

A year after the Civil War ended, a medical doctor from Springfield, Illinois, and a small group of friends formed a plan for a fraternal organization of Union veterans for the benefit of its members and for their widows and orphans. On April 6, 1866, the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic was established in Decatur, Illinois. This organization played a major part in the establishment of the Memorial Day holiday. More importantly, they lobbied to secure pensions for Union veterans.

In the South, there were many local veterans associations, which became a part of the United Confederate Veterans association formed in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 10, 1889.

There are those who feel strongly that Confederate flags should not be flown and that monuments dedicated to Confederate soldiers should be destroyed. Others feel that all soldiers serve out of a great sense of duty to their country and they should be honored.

The inscription on the Confederate monument below sums this up beautifully: “Here, off duty till the last reveille, rest the Southern soldiers, few in number, who were slain in this and in the adjoining counties, during the war of secession. They fell among strangers, unknown, unfriended, yet not unhonored; for strangers hands have gathered their ashes here and placed this shaft above them, that constancy, valor, sacrifice of self, though displayed in fruitless enterprise, may not be unremembered.”

Wednesday, November 11, is Veterans Day. Please take a moment to honor all the veterans who have served our country, especially those who bravely fought and died.

Happy Shunpiking!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Minnie Mouse Surprise

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In late May of this year, Joann and I took a drive to the east. Our days always start very early, and that day was no different. By mid-afternoon, we were nearing Fond du Lac. We had photographed an old schoolhouse, and were getting onto Highway 151 to buzz around the city of Fond du Lac when something caught my eye.

I thought I saw Minnie Mouse on a mailbox. Did I really? Immediately I told Joann that I just saw Minnie Mouse. She asked if we should turn around. I never know what to say to that question. I saw enough to recognize Minnie Mouse, but what was the setting? Could we get any good photos?

But then I thought, how often do you see Minnie Mouse along the side of the road? So I said yes, we should turn around. Joann found a spot that allowed us to cross the highway, and then another so we could cross back to the side we had been on.

And there was Minnie Mouse, and she was driving a tractor mailbox! I’m glad we turned around, because she was too cute to pass up.

Happy Shunpiking, and always keep your eyes open for unexpected things along the roads!


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Halloween Ride

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Several years ago I found a picture of an old red truck with the back stacked with glowing jack-o-’lanterns. The picture had been taken on Halloween night and the only location mentioned was the name of a town in southern Wisconsin. I sent the photo to Joann but told her I didn’t really know where it was. Then I stumbled on a second photo. That one named a different town as the location. Same county, but different town. I tried to find out the real location, and even asked our brother-in-law who lives down that way. He couldn’t remember ever seeing it.

Last year, on the day before Halloween, I was home and began wondering about the truck. I took out the gazetteer and started to study the roads between the two towns that had been mentioned as locations. There didn’t seem to be that many roads, and I thought that I could drive down and see if I could find the truck. Wouldn’t Joann be surprise if I found it!

I took the gazetteer along and drove south. When I got to the first town mentioned, I turned onto the first road that would take me between the two towns. Imagine my surprise when I had only travelled a short distance and came upon the truck. I drove far enough to get turned around, and returned to the truck. I parked across from it and snapped a photo with my phone. Then I attached it to an email and sent it to Joann at work.

She replied almost immediately and asked me how I had figured out the location. I replied that I was sitting in front of it and the photo was from my phone. I told her about my dumb luck of picking the right starting point for my search. She was very excited and we immediately made plans to go the following night to take photos.

The next night, Halloween night, I met Joann right after work and we drove south. We wanted to look at the truck in the daylight so she could check out the background for the truck images before dusk. Then we drove around town taking a few other photos.

The trick or treaters were out and we saw princesses, a dinosaur and other creatures along the sidewalks. We also spent some time in the town cemetery, but made sure to be done and back at the truck before dusk.

When we got back to the truck, we were happy to see that the pumpkins were already lit for the evening. Joann knew she had a short period of time to get as many shots as possible, so she worked quickly moving around the truck taking as many angles as she could.

When it was too dark to continue photographing, the owner came down the driveway and chatted with Joann for a bit. He said that he had been doing the truck for a few years but didn’t know how much longer he would continue. It’s a lot of pumpkins to carve, and he needs to find family help each year for all of the carving.

Now that we’ve found the truck, we’re hoping to make a return trip this Halloween. We hope the owner can continue his tradition for many years to come!

Happy Halloween and Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Update: First Estonian Church in America

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Four years ago, at the end of September, Ruth and I made an unforgettable visit to the Estonian Ev. Martin Luther Church in Lincoln County, Wisconsin. In November of that year, I posted a story about this church – the First Estonian Church in America.

Two years later, Bill Rebane, owner and great nephew of the founding pastor of this church, discovered our blog story and sent us an email saying, “Absolutely wonderful photography. With these, there may be new hope for the Estonian Ev. Martin Luther Church. What must we do to use them to promote the restoration? Some devoted Estonians from Chicago have joined in the effort to begin restoration in the coming spring. Would love to communicate with you.”

We responded with this: “Thank you so much for contacting us about using these photos for the purpose of promoting the restoration of your wonderfully historic church. Our main purpose in photographing old structures is to make people aware of the historical value in the hopes that some of them can and will be saved.” We then gave him permission to use the photos in his fund-raising efforts.

A short time later, Mr. Rebane set up a GoFundMe website with a goal of raising $40,000 and he used a couple of our photos on that site. He explained that the most pressing need at that time was for electric service and water for the restoration efforts. It stated: “Our hopes and wishes are relatively small: To restore the structure to its original state and to maintain the cemetery with 11 resting places.”

In June of 2014, a group of Estonians from Chicago volunteered their time to begin the restoration efforts. They stabilized the church foundation and began working on clearing brush from the cemetery to expose the gravestones. And in July of this year, volunteers worked to adjust the frame of the church and install windows and doors. The volunteer weekend ended with a benefit concert on the grounds of the church to raise money for construction materials. It featured two well-known Estonian musicians.

The concert website stated that “the first Estonian church is a monument to early Estonian immigration to America and the liberty and freedom they were seeking.” And the Facebook page for this historic church states that “the Estonian Embassy in Washington D.C. through its cultural attaché has expressed interest in making the church property a cultural information site of Estonian life, history and the arts.”

We are grateful that this historic structure will be saved from the ravages of time and we wish the Estonians good luck in their continued restoration efforts.

Happy Shunpiking!

Friday, October 9, 2015

2015 Farm/Art DTour

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

On Monday, Ruth and I drove the 50-mile self-guided Farm/Art DTour in Sauk County, Wisconsin. We had such an enjoyable day, so I thought I would share some of our photos right away.

We left home very early so that we would be at the first stop, just outside Reedsburg, at first light. This first artwork is called “Lucky 13: Elephant in the Room” and it was created by Erika Nelson of Lucas, Kansas. It celebrates Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s announcement that they are retiring the last 13 performing elephants by 2018.

Our next stop was an amazing piece of art called “Monday is Wash Day” and it was created by Brenda Baker of Madison, Wisconsin.

When we first pulled up to the beginning of the clothesline, I thought it was just a short display of clothes hanging on the line. But as I walked down the road, I realized that the clothesline went on and on. Later, a local farmer told me he had heard that it was three-quarters of a mile long.

One of the fun things along the route is discovering farm art that isn’t on the tour map, like these Minions whose message is: “There’s nothing wrong with growing up country.”

And if you pay attention, you will stumble on what’s known as “rogue installations.” Early in the morning, we saw this sign urging us to take a little “detour from the DTour.”

Well, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see this rogue spider, especially since it was only “1 mile…ish” off the main route.

We also saw eight installations of some intriguing artwork called “A Mutual Curiosity” by artist Thomas Ferrella of Madison, Wisconsin. None of these were marked on the map, so it was fun to discover them along the route. All of them were eyes of people or animals. One of our favorites was this dog peering out from an old corn crib.

And, speaking of dogs, we also saw this unexpected sculpture of a person walking their dog.

And we were entertained by the sight of an antique red upright piano sitting on a tiny stage at the edge of the woods. It was called the “Red Piano Project.” Upright pianos used to be an important part of family entertainment. We had one in our farmhouse when we were kids and we used to play it all the time. It made for some great duets and some hysterical sessions of musical chairs.

There was also a very large alfalfa field that had been turned into “Field Billiards” by the Wilkinson and Ramsey Families.

This billiards scene included a monstrous pool cue made from a utility pole.

There were also some cute calves at the edge of the “pool table” that were getting their share of petting and pictures that day.

In addition to being an entertaining day, it was also very educational. There are signs along the route called “Field Notes” and they teach you about the land, the soil, wetlands, the dairy industry, etc. Here’s one about corn.

And I also learned quite a bit about antique tractors and other farm equipment.

One of my most favorite creations from the day was at the entrance to a FarmForm called Farmhenge, which was created by Harlan Ferstl and the McCluskey Brothers. It was a parody of the famous Grant Wood painting called “American Gothic.” But this artwork was made of gourds and it was called “American Gourdthic.” The farm couple was named Gourdon and Gourdenia and they made me smile.

The 2015 Farm/Art DTour runs through Sunday, October 11, so if you’re in the area and don’t already have your weekend booked, give the Farm/Art DTour a try. You’re guaranteed to have a good time and learn something in the process.

Happy Shunpiking!

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