Monday, September 28, 2015

Uncovered in Ackley

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When Joann and I were discussing what route to take on our long weekend in Iowa this summer, I mentioned to her that she had wanted to return to the town of Ackley. She told me she didn’t remember that and that she thought we had gotten everything we needed in that town.

Huh, I was stumped. I knew that after we got home last time, she had sent me an email showing something we had missed. But could I find her email? No. I knew there was an old window decal that we had missed last time, but I didn’t think that was it. Still, something was nagging at me that we should return.

Since I’m in charge of the route, I directed us to Ackley on the second day of our long weekend. We came into town from the south, and as we turned onto Main Street, we were both flabbergasted to see an advertising mural for Bull Durham that hadn’t been there the last time we were in town. It was not a new ad. It was an ad that had been uncovered when the building right next to it had been taken down. No one in the town had known it was there.

Joann got her equipment out and headed to the sign to take photos. I grabbed my phone to search the Internet. What I found was an article from the Ackley World Journal dated December 2, 2014 describing how the sign was uncovered when the garage next to Grumpy’s Bar was demolished.

I hadn’t consciously known about the sign, but the Universe must have been poking me about going to see it. An old flour sign had been uncovered in Madison, Wisconsin recently, and by the time we found out about it, construction had already covered over the sign. That process took less than a month, so we felt really blessed that this sign was still visible.

Bull Durham Tobacco was manufactured in Durham, North Carolina, from 1874 to 1957. By the turn of the century, it is believed that the Bull Durham Tobacco Company was the largest tobacco company in the world. During World War I, the U.S. government bought most, if not all, Bull Durham Tobacco to send to the war effort.

Bull Durham salesmen went around the country scouting places to place the advertisements. The advertising and marketing for Bull Durham Tobacco was second to none. The signs were found on the outfield fences of most major and minor league baseball stadiums.

We still find old faded Bull Durham advertising signs in many of the towns we travel through today. Often they are on a building that had other advertising signs painted over and around them.

After getting enough pictures of the sign, in case something happens to it before we return, we continued down Main Street to the old drugstore to get some pictures of the entrance and the old Kool decal on the door.

We made a circle through town, but didn’t see anything else that we had missed on our prior trip. I guess sometimes the Universe just knows, and gives you a kick in the pants. Next time we’ll have to trust this sort of “sign” and go with it.

If you get a feeling about something, go with it! You never know what great thing the Universe is trying to share with you.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Year of the Goat

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Beginning on February 18, 2015, and continuing until February 7, 2016, it is The Year of the Goat in the Chinese Zodiac. It is alternately known as The Year of the Sheep or Ram. The picture in the traditional zodiac is clearly a goat, but the word in Chinese refers to goat, sheep, or ram, and the Chinese are not bothered by the discrepancy.

Each new year begins on a new moon sometime between late January and mid-to-late February. While researching for this blog post, I discovered that Joann was born in the Year of the Goat.

People born in the year of the goat, which occurs every 12 years, are said to be calm, gentle mild-mannered people who have strong creativity and perseverance. They prefer to be in groups, but do not want to be the center of attention.

According to ancient Chinese superstition, in your birth sign year (every 12 years), you will offend the God of Age, and will have bad luck during that year. The best way to avoid this bad luck is by wearing something red given by an elderly relative. It can be socks or underwear, or a bracelet or anklet.

In our backroads travels, we often see farm animals. In the spring, we find pastures with young animals, which is always a favorite. But, in my opinion, one of our best experiences with goats was in autumn on a dead end road leading to the back side of a Nature Conservancy property.

We probably wouldn’t have driven down the road since there is only one farm on it, but we knew the Nature Conservancy property was down there. The farm was a goat farm, and the goats were not fenced in.

There was a defined pasture with large round bales of hay, and probably at one time there had been a fence, but the goats were running free. We drove down the road to check out the natural area and once we got turned around and started back, the goats were all running down the road. It was feeding time and their owner was trying to call them home.

They were running back and forth along the road, and we stopped the car so Joann could get out and take photos of them as they ran.

Their feed was spread around the round bales in the pasture, and they circled it and climbed over and around the bales. Often, one would stop right on top as if they were playing the children’s game King of the Hill.

We stayed for a while watching the goats run around, and finally all moving over to the feeding area. It was a beautiful fall day, and watching them only added to the experience.

I hope you’re having a good Year of the Goat (or Sheep if you prefer).

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Conductor

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

The word “conductor,” as defined by, is “one who conducts, especially, one who is in charge of a railroad train or one who directs an orchestra.”

The job of a music conductor is to direct a musical performance, using gestures and sometimes a baton. The job of a railroad conductor is not only to collect tickets, but also to ensure that the train operates safely, stays on schedule, and picks up and drops off cars and cargo properly. It is also the conductor’s job to guide the coupling and uncoupling of train cars.

A few days ago, I posted a story about some modern-day hobos riding the rails. As I was preparing the photos for that story, I came across several photos I took in February, 2014, of a train conductor at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

As I snapped these photos in 2014, the conductor was helping the engineer couple the engine to the first passenger car. He was motioning to the engineer as the engineer backed the engine toward the passenger car.

I didn’t notice anything unusual about this activity until I reviewed the photos in preparation for my hobo story. As I looked at these photos, I realized that, if you put a baton in the train conductor’s hand, he would look like he was directing an orchestra.

No wonder they call him a conductor. Now all we need is some music to complete the scene.

And, in case you think he has an easy job, take a look at how hard he works to make sure the connection of the engine and passenger car is successful.

If you live in Wisconsin and are interested in riding an old-fashioned passenger train, visit the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom.

Happy Shunpiking!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Real Live Hobo

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In June of this year, Ruth and I took an extended weekend photography trip to Iowa. On Sunday morning, we were in Mason City and we passed a dog grooming place that had a large pink dog sculpture in front of it. It was made out of barrels and pipes and was rather cute, so I pulled into the parking lot of the shopping center next to it and parked the car. Then I grabbed my camera and tripod and walked back to the dog sculpture.

As I started to photograph it, I saw a young man walk past on the other side of the street. He had a dog on a leash and a backpack on his back. He sat down on the grass in the shade of a building.

Soon another young man, also with a backpack, came walking down the sidewalk and started talking with the first young man. A minute later, a young woman with a very large backpack and a dog on a leash came walking past and I said to myself, “What’s with all the backpacks?”

I went back to capturing a couple images of the dog sculpture and then someone said, “Excuse me, can you tell me where the nearest gas station is?” I looked up and realized it was one of the guys from across the street. I told him I wasn’t from Iowa, but that we had passed a gas station a block or two down the street. And then we shook hands as we introduced ourselves.

He said his name was Roy and he was a hobo.

“You’re a hobo?!” I exclaimed. “Wow, I’ve never met a real live hobo.”

Roy told me that he had been living the life of a hobo for the past eight years. He was headed to Sioux City, Iowa, to see his father, whom he hadn’t seen in six years. He told me that he and his friends ride the rails, stopping along the way and working to earn some money.

I told him I was from Madison, Wisconsin, and he replied that he only knew one town in Wisconsin and that was Madison. He said he had been to State Street once.

Roy said he loved being a hobo because it was allowing him to see this great country in a way that others don’t and to see things others will never see. I asked him how he and his friends were treated by the railroad people. He said that they were pretty nice in small towns, letting them ride without too much trouble, but they were not as friendly in the bigger cities. After seeing his father, he was going to Kansas City where he would meet up with his friends.

I asked Roy to wait a minute while I took one more shot of the dog sculpture. Then we would walk back to the car so Ruth could look up the exact location of the gas station. He said that would be really nice.

As we walked back, I told Roy that I had read about hobos riding the rails in search of work during the Great Depression, but I didn’t know there were still hobos in this day and age. He smiled.

When we reached the car, I introduced Roy to Ruth: “This is Roy and he’s a real live hobo!”

Ruth smiled and then I turned to Roy and said, “Is that offensive?”

“No,” he said, “It’s actually very nice.”

Roy asked if our photos were on the Internet. So I gave him a business card and explained what “shunpiking” means.

“That’s great!” he said. “You guys are doing kind of the same thing I’m doing. Seeing the country like no one else! I think I’ll start using that word.”

And with that, he headed back to his friends.

I was really impressed by the gentleness and friendliness of this young man, so I told Ruth that I wanted a picture of them if they would allow it. I grabbed my camera and headed across the street to where they were sitting.

I first introduced myself to Roy’s friends and then asked them if I could take their picture. They said that would be fine. I wanted to remember this day when a complete stranger (one whose lifestyle was a surprise to me) opened my eyes and earned a place in my heart.

I wished them well and then Roy said, “Thanks, safe travels!”

“Same to you!”

Happy Shunpiking!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Quick Pic - Back to School

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

This morning, I was greeted on Facebook with photos of my great niece and nephews who were proudly posing in front of the camera on their first day of the school year. It reminded me of all the great old-fashioned one-room schoolhouses we have in our photo collection that have yet to be processed.

It also reminded me that autumn is just around the corner and, although we are currently suffering through some intense heat and humidity, I am getting excited for the cool fall weather. I am also eager to hit the backroads with my camera to capture some of the beautiful Wisconsin fall color. And because Ruth and I both love the variety of autumn sumac that colors our images, I decided to share a couple of photos of an old school surrounded by orange sumac.

To all the children returning to school, have a great school year. And to all the drivers out there, slow down where children are present.

Happy Shunpiking!