Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Klinger Store, Readlyn, Iowa

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Five years ago, in June, we spent three days photographing on the backroads and in the small towns of a dozen counties in northeastern Iowa. On the morning of the third day, we took a few photos in the small town of Readlyn and then headed to an old general store. Klinger Store sits at a country crossroads about five minutes south of Readlyn. The main road past the front of the store was paved, but the road crossing it was gravel.

There was nothing fancy about the outside. In fact, the only things pointing to it being a store were the modern Pepsi machine on the porch of the store and a small hand-painted sign above the porch saying, “Klinger Store.” This store is truly an old-fashioned general store, sparsely stocked with necessities and a few non-essential things. One set of shelves held baking ingredients, charcoal, and paper towels. Across the aisle were light bulbs, batteries, and leather gloves. At the end of the aisle in the back of the store sat a small supply of paint, and some garden hoses. Hanging on the wall above the back door were replacement shovel handles.

In the middle of the store was a deli case with meat and cheese. On top of the deli case were cans of Pik-Nik shoestring potatoes and a basket of yellow onions. Beside the case was a scale and behind the case was a meat slicer and a rack with rolls of butcher paper. Above the deli case was a wooden sign that listed, on the left side, the meats and cheeses that were available:

Cold Meats:
Cooked Ham $4.25/lb
Jumbo S S KRMR All Beef $5.50/lb
(There was a sign below the board that said Kramer’s German Brand Beef Summer Sausage)

Mini Horn and Long Horn $4.75/lb
Hot Pepper $4.50/lb
Swiss-Amer $4.40/lb
Salami $4.50/lb
American $4.25/lb
C Jack $4.75/lb
Caraway $4.50/lb

On the right side of the board, it said “Misc Items” and three kinds of water softener salt were listed below. The prices seemed very reasonable to me.

As I walked the old wooden floor towards the back of the store, which was dedicated to hardware, there were boxes and bins of nuts and bolts, screws, electrical supplies, and other hardware items next to the canned goods and below the cleaning supplies. Beyond that were galvanized pails and funnels, heavy-duty electrical cords hanging from the ceiling, a stand of Redi-Bolt steel rods, and a red tie-down strap suspended from the shelf. Hanging on the back wall were putty knives, clamps, ropes, and chains. A 6-foot step-ladder leaned in front of the merchandise.

One wall of the store was filled with shelves that held blue jeans and bib overalls. On a nearby rack were three T-shirts, two plaid long-sleeved shirts, and a yellow raincoat.

There was also an area devoted to shoes, boots, and work gloves. Packages of Hanes underwear were around the corner.

Klinger Store is owned and operated by Arlin and Patricia Poock, who seemed quiet but friendly, and they were gracious enough to allow me to take some photos of their store. As I walked around the store, I chatted with the Poocks. Arlin told me that the building was built in 1888 and that his grandfather had originally purchased the store. According to obituaries posted on the Find A Grave website, his maternal grandfather, Jacob Herman, operated the store from 1909 until 1916, and in 1946, his father, Theodore Poock, purchased the store and ran it until his unexpected death in 1959. The following year, Arlin, who had worked for his father since graduating from high school in 1947, purchased the store and he and his wife have run it ever since. In the black and white photo below, Arlin and Patricia stand behind the deli case discussing the day’s business.

In 2010, the owner of Burmester’s Grocery in Loganville, Wisconsin had told me that he was trying to keep his store open, but suppliers didn’t want to deal with him because his store was too small. So I asked Arlin and Patricia if they struggled with the same issues. They told me it was a major struggle to get suppliers to work with them. Most suppliers wanted a huge minimum order every month or they weren’t willing to do business. And even the suppliers who were driving past on their way to larger stores weren’t willing to make a stop at Klinger Store.

This struggle to stock merchandise was evidenced by the sparse offerings at the store and by the number of refrigerated cases that were sitting empty. They also face the struggles of limited clientele. As I walked past one large refrigerated case, the contents made me stop and think about how much I take for granted every day. The dairy options consisted of one gallon of 2% milk and one half-gallon of chocolate milk, four packages of cream cheese, two packages of cheese slices, a couple pounds of real butter, two kinds of butter substitutes, and a box of Velveeta processed cheese. The produce options consisted of two heads of iceberg lettuce, one head of cabbage, three bags of carrots, and a few Red Delicious apples.

As far as I can tell, Arlin and Patricia are still in business and still managing to keep Klinger Store open. When you’re out and about in the small rural communities of our country and you pass an old general store, please stop in and support these hard-working folks. You might just come away with a newfound appreciation for what you have.

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!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Walls of Wittenberg

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In April 2011, I started a new job and became friends with a coworker who told me she was from Wittenberg, Wisconsin. I didn’t know anything about Wittenberg or even where it was, but when she told me the town was filled with murals, I knew I had to pay a visit to the town. This mural, entitled "ALL ABOARD! ALL ABOARD!", was painted in 2008 by Artist Andy Goretski of Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Unfortunately (for me, anyway), the railroad tracks and depot have been gone for a long time, but this mural portrays what it was like in the days when the Chicago & Northwestern steam trains passed through Wittenberg.

In September 2011, Ruth and I took a 3-day trip, photographing in nine counties in central and north central Wisconsin. It was an overcast and often rainy trip, but the rain came and went, and I managed to get some really good photos. If it isn’t pouring for hours, I’m okay with occasionally photographing underneath an umbrella. On the third day, as we began driving south toward home, we headed into Wittenberg to see and photograph the murals. But just as we pulled into town, it started raining hard, so we decided to have lunch while we waited for the rain to move through. Since our picnic lunch was a washout, we stopped at the local A&W Restaurant.

As soon as there was a break in the rain, we headed to our first mural, which was located on the side of the True Value Hardware store. This one, entitled "The Nuts & Bolts of It", is another mural by Artist Andy Goretski, and it was completed in 2010. It depicts the local hardware store around 1910 when the pioneer days were waning and the industrial revolution was taking off. Hardware stores served the needs of towns and villages in the same way as general stores. It was a place to get tools, equipment, and other household items, but it was also a gathering place where folks caught up on the local news (and gossip). Unfortunately, the brief break in the rain was already over and I had to photograph this mural in the rain.

Next, I photographed a turn-of-the-century saloon scene on the 1896 Village Inn Tavern. Saloons were also gathering places where people could see friends, have a drink, shoot a game of pool, or play cards. This mural, entitled "Wittenberg Welcomes You", was painted in 2007 by Artist Reynaldo Hernandez of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The rain had let up for a few seconds while I was standing in front of the saloon scene, but then some lightning streaked across the sky. Since it’s not a good idea to be standing with a metal tripod in a lightning storm, I jumped back into the car and we talked about what to do next. We decided to go and check out Nueske’s, internationally known for their applewood smoked meats. On the grounds of their company store is a vintage stone smokehouse.

We hung out in Nueske’s for a while and then I photographed the stone smokehouse in a light rain. Next to Nueske’s is the first schoolhouse of Wittenberg, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1882 and used as the village hall beginning around 1920 when a back room with a primitive jail cell was added. According to District No. 3 Antiques, which is now located in the schoolhouse, "The jail cell is still housed in the building today. The building was destined to be demolished, but instead was moved to its present location in 1992 and was extensively refurbished.” As it continued to rain and the skies continued to darken, we decided to head home and come back another time to photograph the murals.

It took another seven years before we returned to Wittenberg. In July 2018, we decided to head three hours north to visit the sunflower fields of Bergsbaken Farms. And, since Wittenberg is only about 45 minutes west of there, we could return to photograph the murals. We left home around 4:00 a.m. and photographed our way to the sunflower farm, arriving there in mid-afternoon.

The morning had been very sunny and then the afternoon was filled with filtered sunlight. After a couple hours at the farm, we headed to Wittenberg, arriving around 4:45 p.m. I set up my tripod to photograph "Help is on the Way", a Volunteer Firefighter & EMT Mural created in 2008 by Artist Alicia Rheal of Madison, Wisconsin. Before I could even take my first shot, a huge black cloud seemed to come out of nowhere and it rolled overhead. “Not again!” I said out loud, wishing we had come to town earlier in the day.

From there, we headed back to the saloon scene on the Village Inn because I couldn’t remember if I had gotten any good shots of this mural on the first trip. There, we met the nicest bartender who came out to see where we were from. We told her we had come to photograph the murals and then she told us that we should look carefully at each mural because there was something hidden in most of them. And then she pointed to a small circle on the barrels I was photographing. It might be hard to see it, but it looks almost like a knot hole in the middle of the front barrel.

She explained that each mural artist was asked to put a picture of the town’s founder, Reverend E. J. Homme, somewhere in the scene. That small circle contained his face. She told me to remember to look for his face in other murals. One of my favorite murals was just down the street from the tavern. It was a 4th of July fireworks mural on a former funeral home building, entitled, "Ka-Boom!!!". It was created in 2017 by Artist Carole Bersin of Sandstone, Minnesota, with flags by Andy Goretski.

After photographing the whole mural, I began to walk away and then realized that I had already forgotten to look for the reverend’s face. So, I turned around and saw what I hadn’t noticed before. Reverend Homme was watching the crowd of people who were watching the fireworks. Do you see his face in the window?

For the next hour, I worked quickly to photograph as many murals as I could in between rain showers (and a bit of lightning). We also went back to the hardware store mural (the third photo in this story) because I wanted to look at that extensive scene to see if I could find the reverend’s face. It took me a while, but I finally found him on the small shovel that hung on the back wall of the hardware store.

Reverend E.J. Homme founded Wittenberg (which now has a population of roughly 1,300) in 1879. He also established a home for the aged and an orphanage. According to the website for the Village of Wittenberg, “The Homme Home for the Aged and Homme Youth and Family Programs are still growing and thriving today in Wittenberg.” The Homme Home features a rare outdoor fresco on its north wall completed in 2006 by Artist Ram Rojas of Door County, Wisconsin. Part of this mural features the Reverend and Mrs. Homme.

Other parts of this outdoor fresco, entitled "Foundations of Faith", depict an angel more than two stories high on one panel and current and past churches of Wittenberg on another. There are hidden pictures of the birds and animals of the area throughout the fresco.

There were numerous other murals that we enjoyed as I worked to beat the storms. There was an elaborate multi-scene mural entitled, "A Tribute to Gus & Ann", completed in 2007 by Artist Ram Rojas. One of my favorite parts of it was this husky lounging on a stone bench.

There was a long, elaborate mural of a pastoral scene of the Wisconsin countryside surrounding Wittenberg. Here’s a small section of "Love Letter to Wittenberg", completed in 2018 by Artist Carole Bersin.

And it took us quite a while to find this one because it was on the back side of a warming house in the park. But it was worth the search because it reminds me so much of when we were kids and our small Catholic school of St. Joseph’s in East Bristol, Wisconsin, would flood the playground to make a skating pond for the kids. Note Reverend Homme’s face in the snow in the lower right corner of this mural entitled, "WHEEE!!!!", completed in 2012 by Artist Diane Haupt-Wilke of Gillett, Wisconsin.

As the sky turned darker and darker due to storm clouds looming overhead, we had one last mural we wanted to capture. It was a school mural called "Razed But Not Forgotten!!!", created in 2016 by Artists Brad and Kit Bandow of Elkhorn, Wisconsin. This mural was located on the side of the middle school, which was set back from the street we were on. As I got ready to grab my camera, the storm grew worse, so I ran with only my camera (no time for a tripod) and snapped one shot before returning to the safety of the car.

As soon as we hit the road, the storms grew fierce and the two-and-a-half-hour drive home turned into something more like 5 hours. It was raining and blowing so hard that I pulled off numerous times, but it never let up and we couldn’t seem to drive out of it. Needless to say, we were lucky to get home that night and I was absolutely exhausted from more than a full day of photography and then such a long, harrowing drive home. But at least we finally captured most of the “Walls of Wittenberg!” For a detailed list of all the Wittenberg murals and a downloadable tour map, visit the Walls of Wittenberg website.

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!