Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Christmas Message

As time marches on and the years seem to come and go at such a rapid pace, I feel that it is more important than ever, for me at least, to focus on what matters. There will always be a Christmas rush, with people hurrying to complete their Christmas shopping. But Christmas should be more about being with the people we love (in whatever form that takes) and doing things for them rather than the material things we give and get.

Grand gestures are sometimes nice but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the little things that mean the most. And what seems like a little thing can sometimes be very significant. Listening and recognizing the feelings behind the words can be profound. Anticipating and meeting another’s needs without them speaking a word shows the kind of respect we seem to be lacking these days. And valuing others for their differences, rather than tolerating them or, worse yet, persecuting them, certainly makes the world a better place.

With each passing day, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the entire year, I realize how important it is to be grateful for so many things, especially those we take for granted. For example, the gift of eyesight to view all the beauty in this world, like wildlife or silently falling snow.

Or the gift of hearing birds gently welcoming the dawn or the almost deafening rush of a huge waterfall.

There is a lot of turmoil in our world right now, but I choose to focus on all of the gifts we’ve been given by God or the Universe or however you choose to explain some of the most beautiful and unexplainable wonders in this world. Beauty is all around us. All you have to do is let it in. This Christmas, I wish you the inspiration to do just that.

Merry Christmas and Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Hiding in Plain Sight

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

We’ve known for many years about the tobacco advertising on the buildings around the railroad tracks in Edgerton, Wisconsin. Edgerton became the center of tobacco growing in Southern Wisconsin when dozens of warehouses were built in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

On Labor Day, 2011, we decided to spend the day photographing locally. Our first photos were of things on our list around Madison, Wisconsin. Often, we do this when we read in the paper that some historic business is closing or is in danger of being torn down. Such was the case on this day. But we finished in town early and decided to hit the highway and head for tobacco country to the south.

As we cruised down Highway 51 towards Stoughton, I was looking down at my notebook and the map, as I am often doing, trying to formulate a plan. And suddenly, Joann braked hard and told me to “hold on.” She was going to take the first opportunity to make a U-turn, but she didn’t tell me why. When I asked what I had missed, she told me that she had seen the word “CHEW” on the end of an old tobacco barn.

Well! All these years we had been discussing how odd it was that we didn’t find any tobacco ads on barns around southern Wisconsin, especially considering it had been the state's center of tobacco growing. And now, here was one that had been hiding for years beneath a coat of white paint. And it was along a state highway, which is where we had found them in our travels in other states.

We took a few photos and then continued on our way. As we drove the highway, we discussed that we should get the photos processed soon and report this find to the Mail Pouch Barnstormers group, which tracks all the Mail Pouch signs and their locations across the country.

For some reason, Joann didn’t get around to processing the photos and we didn’t revisit this barn until March 2017 when we were running an errand to Stoughton. Even though it wasn’t our normal route, we decided to take the highway again to check on the barn and snap a few photos.

After we finished our errand in Stoughton, we talked about taking a different route home, but something made us decide to go back up the highway. And boy, are we ever glad we did!

As we approached the location of the barn, we saw what we had missed driving south -- a large Mail Pouch ad painted on the long side of the barn. In the years since our last visit, more of the paint had flaked off all sides of the barn and this sign could be plainly seen. Again, we discussed that we really needed to report this to the Mail Pouch Barnstormers. But somehow, life always seems to get in the way.

We visited the barn again in January 2019 to check on its status and to get some pictures in the snow. Luckily, the barn has a relatively new roof, but hadn’t been repainted to cover up the signs. We took more photos of both the end of the barn, which had the words “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” and the long side of the barn, which had the words “Mail Pouch” in large letters.

We feel the need to get as many photos as possible in case something happens to the barn. It might get torn down since it doesn’t appear to be used, or it might get painted over and the sign would again be hidden as it had been for many years.

This also makes us feel like we should travel more of the highways around the tobacco towns in southern Wisconsin. What if there are other barns like this one? We usually try to stick to the backroads in our travels because highways are getting so dangerous and wide shoulders often aren’t available, but this sign definitely piqued our interest.

We know tobacco was grown in many counties of southern Wisconsin, so as you travel around on Wisconsin highways, keep an eye out for Mail Pouch advertising signs bleeding through on any old barns or buildings. If you find one, please let us know. And now that we finally have all the photos of this barn processed, we’ll be sure to let the Barnstormers know.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

How did a young woman born in Virginia become a Confederate spy in the Civil War at the tender age of 17? And how did she end up buried in a cemetery in Wisconsin? After visiting her grave in October 2014, we knew we had to find out.

Maria Isabella "Belle" Boyd was born on May 9, 1844 in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) in the Shenandoah Valley. She was a tomboy in her early years, climbing trees, running through the woods, and riding her horse. She was the oldest child and dominated her younger siblings. At age 12 she was sent to Baltimore’s Mount Washington Female College. She graduated at age 16 and returned to Martinsburg.

At the start of the Civil War, many residents of Martinsburg supported the Union, but Belle’s father was sympathetic to the Confederates. Belle was just 17 at the start of the war, but she decided to do anything she could to assist the Confederate cause.

Belle started out as an informal spy. She flirted with Union officers, garnering information and writing it in letters which she delivered to the Confederate side with the help of her slave or a young neighbor. When one of her deliveries was intercepted, she got off with a warning because she was so young.

After this, she decided to make her work more official and became a courier, delivering information and medical supplies. By the time she was 18, she was somewhat of a celebrity and was known by several names including “Cleopatra of the Secession,” “La Belle Rebelle," the “Siren of the Shenandoah" and the “Rebel Joan of Arc." This celebrity soon led to her first arrest. She was only held for a week, and immediately upon her release she returned to her work.

On one occasion while she and her mother were staying at a hotel in Virginia, she eavesdropped (through a keyhole or knothole) on Union soldiers in the room next door and delivered the information to Confederate officers. She is said to have received a personal note from Stonewall Jackson thanking her for her immense service.

During the war, she was arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice. In 1862, a warrant was issued for her arrest. She was captured and taken to Old Capitol Prison. While there, she continued her exploits. She waved Confederate flags from her window, sang Rebel songs, and sewed messages with information she gleaned from the guards into rubber balls which she tossed out the window.

Belle lived for a time in England where she wrote her life story in a book she titled “Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison.” She was married three times, two of those to ex-Union officers. In late 1866, she returned to the United States after President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty proclamation.

Needing to support her family, Belle took to the stage, giving lectures and performing her own story. On June 11, 1900, she was on tour in Kilbourn, Wisconsin (now Wisconsin Dells), when she had a massive heart attack and died. She was 56.

She was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery and, for a time, her grave had just a simple marker until an anonymous southern man donated a gravestone which reads “BELLE BOYD, CONFEDERATE SPY, BORN IN VIRGINIA, DIED IN WISCONSIN, ERECTED BY A COMRADE.”

Apparently, at one point, some Virginians decided it would be a good idea to remove her remains from Wisconsin and move them to Virginia. To prevent that, a concrete cap was placed over the grave. Stones from every state of the old Confederacy were embedded in the cap. Before the cap was placed, soil from Virginia was sprinkled over the grave by the Daughters of the Confederacy.

I must admit, every source I consulted in my research gave mostly the same story, but small details were different in each. I also had many questions for which I found no answers. For instance, I couldn’t find out what happened to her third husband or her children. And, for whatever reason, she was buried in Wisconsin where she died. Visit her grave if you have the chance. It’s an interesting piece of history!

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My Favorite Season

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

When I was a kid, winter was my favorite season, probably because, unlike recent winters, there was a lot of snow most of the winter and we went sledding and ice skating, built snowmen and snow forts, and played games in the snow like Fox and Geese. As an adult, however, autumn has been my favorite season and I look forward to the fall colors all year.

In late September of 2012, we spent six days in Northern Wisconsin and the colors were stunning. We found ourselves saying, “Wow!” over and over as we found amazing color around every bend. It was definitely food for the soul! On the morning of September 30, we were in the Turtle-Flambeau Scenic Waters Area in Iron County at dawn. There was a light fog over the wetlands and an unmatched serenity as I stood soaking in the misty fall colors which were reflected in the water.

In 2017, we found some beautiful sumac in late October at Indian Lake County Park in Dane County, Wisconsin. The sumac colors are often finished by that time, so it was a pleasant surprise. It was foggy that morning, too, and the grass was wet. Still, I climbed up a steep embankment to get above the color. Getting up that high allowed me to capture Halfway Prairie Wildlife Area, with the Matz Farmstead stone ruins, in the background.

This fall, it was a challenge to find the expected fall color, which didn’t appear at the usual time. We headed out a couple of times in late September and early October, only to be disappointed by the lack of color. Finally, around October 18, the color showed up in Sauk County so we hit the backroads in search of a few scenes. A short distance from my house, we realized that it was going to be a beautiful sunrise, so we discussed our options quickly and headed down the road about a mile to capture a farm silhouetted against the blazing orange and yellow sky. This wasn’t the type of fall color I was looking for, but it was an awesome start to the day.

Our first stop in Sauk County was near Ski-Hi Orchard. There, a rusty old Studebaker truck sat among the fall grasses. We had seen it a couple days earlier and had planned to photograph it after capturing a historic log cabin, but then had forgotten. After that, I ran into Ski-Hi for some apple cider. And, no, I didn’t buy any apple cider donuts or caramel apples. But don’t credit me with willpower because it was only 8:00 a.m. so those weren’t available yet.

From there, we headed over to Durward’s Glen, a very special wooded retreat that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The trail that begins across from the parking lot immediately forks. First, I took the left fork and headed to the glen. I was grateful for the overcast lighting, which avoided harsh shadows on this beautiful place.

After hiking several trails in that direction, I backtracked toward the parking lot and took the right fork. This trail takes you past the Stations of the Cross on the way to St. Mary’s of the Pines, a stone chapel built in 1866. There is also a cemetery behind the church. The fall color on this trail was wonderful.

We left there and headed over to one of our favorite churches, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. But when we got there, a car was parked in the short driveway and a photographer was taking pictures. We decided to drive past and look at a few other things and then return. I made a mental note of the cornfield to make sure that I captured that view when we came back.

While stalling around to give that other photographer time to finish, we stumbled on a fall harvest scene with a long row of grain wagons parked along the edge of the cornfield. The farmers are having a hard time with their harvests due to all the rain, which resulted in very muddy fields.

We’ve learned not to question the Universe when it delays or reroutes us. In this case, we returned to the church from a direction that was different from our usual approach. This allowed me to spot a very nice composition from a hill that we usually drove in the opposite direction. And the fall color in the Baraboo Hills beyond the church was lovely. There is a sign above the church doors that is in German. It says, “Ev. Luth. St. Pauli Kirche, 1878.”

We decided to have our lunch while we sat in the peaceful surroundings of this historic church. The weather forecast had called for brief rain showers that would move through quickly starting around noon. Just as we finished our lunch, it started to rain. We moved on, counting on the rain to do the same. We drove to Seeley Lake to capture the dam and, hopefully, some fall color. But the rain began to increase and showed no sign of stopping. So, out came the umbrella for this shot.

Still hoping that the rain would pass through as predicted, we moved on, but it continued to rain heavily for the next hour, so we worked our way home. One of the last things I captured, also under an umbrella, was this Halloween display. I hope you got out there to enjoy the fall colors such as they were this year. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Another Day in Amish Country

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Joann and I so look forward to any time we can spend in Amish country. The pace of life just seems slower in those areas for the most part. We always look forward to hearing the clip clop of horses' hooves even before a buggy comes into view.

One of our favorite things about visiting Amish country is getting old fashioned raised donuts at the bakery, just like the ones our mother made when we were kids. You have to plan your visit because many of the bakeries are only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and some only make their famous donuts on Saturdays.

This past Friday, we decided to take a day trip to the Amish area of Columbia and Green Lake counties. Our plan was to arrive at the bakery around the time they opened so we could have donuts for breakfast at a reasonable time and try to avoid the crowds. Fall can bring tour buses to the area and the bakery is small. Often the line goes out the door and up the sidewalk to the parking area. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that we failed in our quest.

As anyone who knows us is aware, we’re easily distracted and, since we were driving in the daylight, we were noticing things in small towns along our route that we hadn’t noticed before. We just had to stop and capture what we saw.

When we finally made it to the bakery entrance, several cars were just turning in from the other direction and, as Joann turned in behind them, we saw a big line of cars coming. And even though the parking lot was relatively empty, people were driving crazily, like if they didn’t speed and swerve around, they wouldn’t get a space. They seemed to be playing demolition derby.

There are a lot of Amish businesses in the area and traffic is always worse near those. But if you get away from those roads, traffic gets better and you can enjoy the quiet as you pass Amish farms and schools. You can also hear the buggies coming down the road.

One of our stops was at an Amish school in the area. The Amish are very resourceful and will reuse what we, the “English,” no longer use. In the case of this school, they have re-used old playground equipment that those of us who are older played on but which is no longer considered safe.

Across from one of the Amish stores in the area were these Texas Longhorn cattle. It took a little while for Joann to get a picture because most animals don’t understand posing and do exactly as they please. This mother and baby finally cooperated.

After breakfast at the bakery and a stop to check out fall produce, we headed out into the country. The sky for the whole day was amazing and we had to take advantage of it.

We found only one farm with corn shocks already in the field, but knowing that crops were planted very late this year because of spring rains, we weren’t really surprised. We’re just hoping that the weather starts cooperating so that fields dry a little and farmers are able to harvest.

We ended our day later than we had planned but, as I said, the sky had excellent character all day long and we had to take advantage of it.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Delta Diner

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In 2010, less than two months after having spent 13 days on an exhausting late-April photography trip to North Carolina, Ruth and I decided to spend five long days photographing in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We were both working stressful Information Technology jobs at the time and all I can say now is, “What were we thinking?!” We worked hard, but we came home with photos of so many incredible places, including the Delta Diner, which is in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

We usually try to start photographing at first light but, having worked the day before, we didn’t leave home until late Friday morning. We took the highways about two hours northwest and then turned north, shunpiking and photographing our way along the backroads to Superior, Wisconsin. We ended that day photographing Wisconsin Point Light on Lake Superior. It was extremely windy and the lake water was brown due to previous storms.

We spent the next two days exploring on the backroads of several Minnesota counties in the northeast section of Minnesota, going as far north as Grand Marais, which is close to the Canadian border. We began heading south on Highway 61, late on the third day of our trip. Highway 61 runs along the Lake Superior shoreline. We ended that day having a picnic supper at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The next morning, we were at Gooseberry Falls at dawn, in a fairly heavy rainfall. And I must express my gratitude to Ruth, who hiked with me to the falls and held the umbrella over my camera equipment while I photographed.

By the time we left Gooseberry Falls, the rain had let up and we explored a few sights along the rest of Highway 61. Then we returned to Wisconsin, crossing Douglas County and entering Bayfield County, traveling Hwy 13, which runs along beautiful Lake Superior. After taking a few photographs in the small town of Port Wing, we headed south through Iron River and on to the Northwoods town of Delta. There, “in the middle of nowhere,” on the site of the former historic Delta Store, sits the Delta Diner, a restored 1940 Silk City Diner.

The Delta Store, built in 1923 in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest, was the center of activity for the town of Delta until it was destroyed by fire in 1972. During that time, you could do most of your business in one location – buy goods or mail a letter at the post office housed in the store, quench your thirst or satisfy your hunger at the bar or restaurant, or fill your car with gas from Standard Oil.

In the early 1990s, Todd and Nina Bucher left their corporate jobs in Chicago and moved to Iron River, Wisconsin, in the hopes of creating a better life for themselves. Todd had grown up, attended college, and worked in Wisconsin. After their move, Todd spent time fishing in the Delta area and often drove past the spot where the Delta Store used to stand. He was drawn to the old Standard Oil sign and small dilapidated stone building, both of which survived long after the store was gone.

In 2002, the Buchers purchased the property where the store once stood. Todd had been in love with old diners since a boyhood visit to an authentic railroad-car-style diner in Pennsylvania had sparked his interest. It had a stainless-steel exterior and an interior filled with colorful tiles and a long counter with stools.

Since that visit, he had sought out these classic diners whenever he traveled. After some quick but extensive research into their options, Todd and Nina decided to contract for the restoration of a 1940 Silk City Diner, which was delivered (with the last 10% of the restoration to be finished on-site) in October 2003. The Delta Diner officially opened less than three weeks later.

The Delta Diner was closed the day we visited. Little did we know, Nina was inside working in the kitchen. As I stood in the parking lot snapping a few photos, Nina came out of the diner and invited us in. She said that the diner was her husband’s business and that she had a small business herself, producing jars of “Jalepena Nina’s Spicy Pickled Garlic.” She graciously allowed me to take some photos of the inside of the diner.

In researching for this blog post, I now feel Nina was way too modest in saying that the diner was her husband’s business. One of the articles said that Todd provided construction and marketing skills and Nina took care of the books, the Diner Store (which was set up in the restored stone building), and some of the recipes for the diner meals. And in reviewing their website, I can see that they have worked hard over the years to expand their business.

Their Taste Budz Diner Store is now serving handcrafted Wisconsin ice cream from Purple Door Ice Cream and house-made waffle cones. They also sell coffee, drinks, and diner gear. And this summer, they opened a new seasonal Jamaican-style restaurant and bar next to the diner with a goal of serving the overflow of summer customers. It’s called the Chicken Shack and Tin Tap House. The restaurant serves jerk chicken and the tap house serves craft beer from Superior’s Earth Rider Brewery.

If you’re ever in the Northwoods near Delta, make sure to visit the wonderful and authentic Delta Diner “in the middle of nowhere.”

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!