Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March is National Flour Month

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When we were growing up, our mother baked a lot. She made muffins, homemade donuts, cream puffs and cakes from scratch. Every other Saturday we made bread or cookies. Joann made the white bread, and our brother David made the raisin bread. Kneading was a good way to take out any aggressions that were built up. On the other weekends, we made Pride of Wisconsin Cookies (known to us as “Daddy’s cookies” since those were his favorite), and peanut butter cookies for us kids.

March is National Flour Month, and I have to admit, I haven’t baked a thing. I do have some bananas that are past the stage that I want to eat them, so they may need to be turned into banana bread.

As Joann and I drive around on our photography outings, we are always looking at all the old brick buildings, seeing if we can spot an old advertisement. These today are called ghost signs, since they are often very faded. Many have been around for 100 years or so. Unless they have been repainted, they are often so faded it takes us a while to make out what the advertisement is for.

Often what we find are old signs for flour. They were often on the side of old store buildings. The store carried the brand of flour, and advertised with their store name, and the brand of flour on the side.

On a trip to Iowa in 2008, we found a very faded Ceresota flour sign on an old brick building. We haven’t been able to find anything but very faded ads for this brand, but I do have some restored ads marked for us to visit. So many ads, so little time.

Locally, there is a pretty famous advertising sign for King Midas Flour on the side of a historic grocery store in a historic neighborhood. The King Midas Brand began in the early 1900’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Millbourne Mills. In 1912, they bought the Gardner Mill in Hastings, Minnesota, and renamed it the King Midas Mill. The brand exists today.

Gold Medal is one of the old flour ads that we find most often. The name of Gold Medal Flour was chosen after the Washburn Crosby Company entered their finest flours in the First Millers International Exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1880 and won the Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

In Iowa in 2011, we found a Gold Medal Flour ghost sign that had been painted over with a new ad. It must have been an old store that later became a drugstore and a new ad for the drugstore products was painted over the Gold Medal ad. The new ad showed “Headache Tablets, Cold Tablets, Kidney Tablets.” The “Easy to Bake” from the Gold Medal flour advertising slogan had been repainted as Easy to Take. Now the Gold Medal is showing through, but the words below still show Easy to Take.

Then in the late spring of 2013, on a long day trip to eastern Wisconsin, we passed a small crossroads town that had a restored Gold Medal Flour sign painted on the end of a barn. We had to stop to get a few pictures. This sign had Easy to Bake painted at the bottom, but for some reason, the painter had spelled “easy” as “eazy.” The original ads on buildings and in magazines, used the correct spelling of Easy.

We had never heard of the brand Duluth Universal Flour until we found an advertisement on the side of an old brick building in northern Minnesota. Duluth used to be home to many very large flour mills right along Lake Superior. All of the mills are gone now, but we were lucky enough to find this advertisement.

On the way to Missouri last spring, we planned to detour a little out of the way to find an old general store with a restored Occident Flour sign painted on the side of the whole building. Because this flour was milled in what was then the extreme western area of wheat production, the word Occident, which means “out of the West”, was chosen as the brand name.

On that same trip, we found a full wall ad for a brand called “Aristos Flour”. The ad features a little girl feeding a red turkey. This image was chosen because Red Turkey Wheat was used for the flour. The wheat was originally brought from Russia to Kansas by the Mennonites in the 1880’s.

We actually stopped at the town twice on the trip. The first time, there was the dark shadow of a basketball hoop on the ad. We waited around for a while, but there were few clouds in the sky, and the shadow was too dark to make a good picture.

Late the next day as we were heading back east, I mentioned to Joann that we were passing the little town again. I mentioned it too late for us to pull in, but just down the road, we swung into a little parking lot and turned around. The sky had more clouds, so Joann thought maybe we could get a good picture without the basketball hoop shadow. It was good thinking since we didn’t have to wait too long for the clouds to cover the sun and obscure the shadow. Sometimes I don’t consciously know why we end up on the same road on our trips, but usually there ends up being a good reason.

One of the flour ads we found in Wisconsin that we hadn’t heard of before was for Big Jo Flour. Big Jo Flour was manufactured in Wabasha, Minnesota. The mill was established in 1877. I’m not sure when the mill was shut down, but the mill was demolished in 2001. Sadly, we didn’t know about the mill, so we have no photos to document the large flour mill and the Big Jo Flour advertising on the storage silos.

Another brand of flour that was new to us was Wingold Flour which we came across in La Crosse County. The first Wingold Flour was milled March 18, 1899 in Winona, Minnesota. Bay State’s Winona Mill is still operational, now offering other types of flour and some organic flours.

We’ve learned in our travels that you have to look closely at all sides of brick buildings, and you have to look up. Even close to home, we’ve passed a lot of buildings over and over again, and when we finally look up, we see something we’ve never seen before. We’ll share more of those in the future.

Until then, Happy Shunpiking!

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Boyfriend in Bonaparte

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last year, on our spring photography trip, Ruth and I visited the town of Bonaparte, Iowa, which has a large riverfront historic district along the Des Moines River. Because many of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, I decided to just walk the district with my camera and tripod. I started in the center of the district, photographing the brick post office building, which was originally the Bonaparte State Bank and Masonic Lodge #73.

This building had something I always love to see on old brick buildings: a decorative star-shaped anchor plate. Anchor plates, also called wall washers, are connected to tie rods for the purpose of reinforcing the structure of masonry buildings.

I continued east on First Street, which runs parallel to the river. Most of the buildings on this street are on the National Register, such as this old-fashioned hardware store.

The Whiteley Opera House, built circa 1894, is also on the National Register. It was rebuilt after the original Haney Opera House was destroyed by fire. Seating capacity was 600.

At the end of that street, on the edge of town, was Bonaparte Pottery. This building is not only on the National Register, but it is also a National Historic Archaeological Site. It began as Parker & Hanback Pottery in 1866 and was later known as Hanback & Wilson. At its peak, the business produced over 125,000 gallons of pottery per year as well as drain pipe, flower pots, and fire-proof bricks.

There were many more historic buildings that I photographed and more I would like to have explored with my camera lens. However, it was getting late and Ruth was urging me to wrap things up so we could continue on our route. So we pulled over on a quiet street to get our logs updated with all the subjects I had captured on my walk through town.

I had the back door of the car open and I was scrolling through photos telling Ruth what to record when I was suddenly startled by a man who had come up behind me and started talking. He was wearing bib overalls, needed a shave, and was missing one of his front teeth. He said he had seen me taking photographs earlier and he asked where we were from. There was a tile blacksmith shop across the street, so I asked him if he was the blacksmith. He said he was and that he had grown up in Bonaparte in the 1950s. His name was Maurice Cummings.

He told me that his grandfather, Clarence Cummings, had moved the blacksmith shop from the neighboring town of Bentonsport in the 1920s by hauling it in pieces using horses and mules. Then he asked if I had taken a picture of their public library just down the street from where we were standing. He said his parents had owned the building and had donated it to the city. It was originally a residence for the Green family and was converted to the Aunty Green Hotel in 1855 to accommodate railroad personnel.

Maurice said that the hotel, which had a picturesque second-story porch, had quite a history. He hesitated for a minute and then asked, “Are you guys religious?” I said, “Are we religious? Well, we like to say we’re recovering Catholics.” He laughed and said, “Okay, then I’ll tell you the real history.”

“The Aunty Green Hotel used to be a whorehouse. I’ve got pictures of the whores hanging out on the porch. People don’t like to hear that, so I’m careful who I say that to.” I laughed and then he said, “I wish I could buy you two a drink, but the bar’s not open.” I said, “That’s okay, we have to get going anyway.” Then I shook his hand and said, “Nice meeting you, Maurice Cummings. Thanks for the ‘real’ history of the hotel.” He returned to his blacksmith shop and Ruth and I went back to updating our logs.

Before we could finish our updates, Maurice, who was standing in front of his blacksmith shop, started talking to me again. I told him I had to finish my log updates. He waited patiently while we finished and then struck up a conversation again. After several minutes of small talk, I told him that we really had to get going because we had a lot to photograph yet that day. I said goodbye and he lingered outside his shop until we drove away.

As we passed an old grocery store that had a ghost sign for “General Merchandise & Geyserite Soap,” and the blacksmith shop began to fade in the rearview mirror, Ruth smirked and said, “Joann’s got a boyfriend! Joann’s got a boyfriend in Bonaparte!”

And what could I do, but laugh!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Many Hands to Serve You

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

On a Sunday morning in early August of 2012, Joann and I decided to photograph around Madison. We had seen several things disappear recently and thought we should capture things we took for granted, and had never stopped to photograph.

Our first stop at dawn was the Octopus Car Wash on University Avenue. For as long as we could remember, the blue-green “Ozzie” the Octopus had been visible whenever we drove down University Avenue. He was a Madison landmark.

We made our way around town photographing various signs and buildings on our list, but we made sure to capture each of the three Octopus statues in town.

Then came the news in December of 2015 that the iconic octopus sculptures were coming down. The three Madison locations, along with the two Rockford, Illinois locations had been sold, and the new owners were removing the old signage in preparation for their own.

Wow! We breathed a sigh of relief that we had actually taken the time to capture each of the octopus sculptures. We often take things for granted that have just “been there forever,” but we continue to learn that things disappear at an alarming rate and we need to pay attention and photograph them now rather than to wait. If we wait, it might become too late.

The Ozzie sculptures were 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The original Ozzie was created at a Wisconsin factory around 1965. There were approximately 25 statues created. Ozzie had a smiling face with big eyes. His many arms held cleaning instruments for the car wash: sponges, towels, sprays, buckets, squeegees, and for most locations, a vacuum cleaner.

Of the Madison locations, only the Park Street location was a little different. His front arm curled back rather than forward holding a vacuum.

If you live in Wisconsin and you need to see Ozzie again, you can travel to the north side of Milwaukee and visit the Octopus Car Wash location which is independent of the chain and was not part of the deal when the Madison and Rockford locations were sold.

We haven’t found and photographed that location yet, but he’s on our list. Knowing how these things go, we hope to capture another octopus before he, too, is gone.

Happy Shunpiking!


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Restroom Humor

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In October, 2011, Ruth and I decided to take a three-day photography trip to our neighboring state, Minnesota. On the second day, we left our motel before dawn and spent the morning photographing two old general stores, three country churches, several metal bridges, and numerous old barns along the backroads of Winona and Filmore Counties.

Because we had spent the entire morning on the backroads, we hadn’t had the opportunity to find a restroom. It was nearing lunchtime and I told Ruth I was going to wet my pants if we didn’t find a restroom soon. She told me that we were close to Lanesboro and we could find a restroom there. However, as we approached Lanesboro, Ruth told me that there was an old metal bridge on that side of town that we should capture first because we would be heading out on the opposite side of town.

I pulled into a gravel parking area next to the bridge and told Ruth that I would take a quick picture and then we had to get to a restroom. As I said this, we noticed a porta-potty on wheels that was sitting at the edge of the parking area. And then the jokes began about how we should hook a porta-potty to the back of our car so we would never have to worry about finding a restroom when we’re on the backroads. And the more we talked about it, the more we laughed…..and the more I thought I would wet my pants. Unfortunately, the porta-potty on wheels wasn’t usable. So I snapped one shot of the bridge and we headed toward town.

As fate would have it, we passed a little bait and tackle shop that was too cute to pass up. So I again said I would take a quick shot and then we really had to get into town.

But then, I discovered that the sign said “Canoe Rental” on the other side and there were canoes stacked next to the little building. So I had to get photos from both sides.

Now I really needed to find a restroom, but then the owner of the Bait and Tackle shop came out and we got into a long conversation about his business.

Finally, we made a mad dash into town and located a restroom. And when we got back to the car, I said, “Maybe we should give some serious thought to that porta-potty on wheels!"

Happy Shunpiking!