St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

We Meet a Composer

Saturday, a cold windy wet day at the fair, Margo and I were finishing the swing shift at old red school house, the flow of people had just about quit and  it was time to go home—we had come at 8:30 am to make sure the morning shift were here and hung around for the day, alternately freezing and thawing.
Just as we were cleaning up, a very pretty young woman came in the door, sheaf of papers and a folder in her hands, “I need a piano.  They told me the only one at the fair is here in the school house.   I’m composing a song, and need to write down some music.”  
“Ours may be out of tune, but you’re welcome to use it,” I replied. 
“Doesn’t matter,” and she sat at the bench of the old upright piano, set up her hand written musical score and began playing a few notes, then writing the notes on a partially finished sheet of musical staff paper.
She wrote a few minutes, then played 20 seconds, and started writing.  Her playing was skilled—both hands playing a classical sounding segment.  We knew she was a serious musician.   We spent the next hour watching and listening. 
Meantime, Madd Hoss Jackson and his Country Western Band were blaring away in the background outside the door in the big tent.  Just outside the tractor pull went on with deafening roars as the tractors came to our end of the track.  During the lulls, the music  next door from the square dancers came through—but the composer heard none of it—just the music inside her head.
At 10 pm, she turned, noticed us sitting there, and asked “do you need to close?”
  “Are you done?”
  “No, but I can leave.”
  “We will close the door and lock it, and you can stay as late as you like—just lock up before you leave.”
“Would you like to hear the whole composition?”
And we heard wonderful music coming from the old piano.   After she finished, I asked her if it was alright that I had recorded some of her session with my camera on video mode—and offered to give the recording to her.  It was OK.   We asked, and she was Amy Johnson, from Amery, a High School student there who had been composing music for a year. 

 I passed the recording to her, and got permission to put a small excerpt of composing on my blog.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Polk County Fair--Buttering up the Judge

 We spent the morning today rushing to finish the baked goods, butter, maple syrup candy and other entries for the 2013 Polk County Fair.  Entry day was today.  

The historic red school house is cleaned, postered, and filled with the appropriate amount of junk (historic artifacts some would say) to be ready for the public.  The Cushing group, Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society is hosting it this year with Margo and me heavily involved.  

Friday at 10 am is maple syrup judging.  Chuck Adleman, Norman Anderson and I will judge 14 entries this year to choose the three top syrup samples. 

Margo wanted to stay around for the butter judging at 7 pm tonight.  She, her sister-in-law Connie, and Connie's kids and spouses are usually the only home made butter entries.  

Youngest brother, Byron, started the competition by taking butter to the fair.  Mom and he competed each year.  After he died in a motorcycle-deer accident in 2002, the rest of us got into the competition, really in memory of him and his county fair involvement (he was on the board).  

So, while she was waiting for the judge to show up a few minutes before 7, I wandered off and struck up a conversation with a friend who I know through the County historical Society, Carl Johnson from the Amery area.  We both are interested in local history. 

Pretty soon he said "I need to get over to the butter area--I've been judging it for several years now.   I used to be a buttermaker at the Volga creamery and up until 3 years ago was a field man for F&A Dairy in Dresser.  They asked me to judge butter for the fair."

I followed him over to where Margo was waiting, and introduced her, and told him about the family competition.  

He did the judging and Margo learned a few new things:
   --her outrageously expensive butter dish with the cut glass cow carved into the cover made no difference at all--only taste and color mattered. 
Margo watches Carl taste each sample of butter--worried that a fly might land on hers.  He lines them up as he judges, best better, good, OK, less OK etc. 
   --if butter has beads of moisture on the top, not good as that means the butter was not worked enough to get it out

Buttering up the judge didn't help!
   --butter should be 2% salt by weight--quite a bit of salt!
   --Carl tastes the butter, then spits it out and drinks cold water to cleanse his pallet 
Carl didn't notice Margo's fancy butter dish with a cow embossed on the top--gift from brother Everett--Blue ribbon went to a lowly plastic bowl
   --you can't butter up Carl--he judges it as he tastes and sees it!
Tomorrow this walkway will be teaming with people
The fair was quiet--although the Bone Lake Lutheran church had a few takers for Tuna Salad Potato Chip Hot Dish with Jello Salad

Monday, July 22, 2013

Polk County Fair

With Lucky Days over (served nearly 1000 aebleskivers and had about 400 visitors to the museum), Margo and I shift our volunteer help to the Polk County Fair Thursday-Sunday of this week.  
I was so busy, I forgot to take out my camera and take photos of the event!  I offered training for a PhD degree in Aebleskiver Rolling -- how to make and bake them for beginners.   About 10 degrees awarded (only $2 tuition, and credit for life experience--GI benefits not accepted).  Margo worked with many other volunteers working in the kitchen preparing these labor intensive pancake balls the Danish find so delicious.  

The Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society, headquartered in the Cushing Heights, is hosting the 160 year old Red School house on the Polk County Fair Grounds.  

That means--cleaning it, setting up several new displays (Town Baseball and Immigration themes), scheduling folks to volunteer to greet visitors (three 4-hour shifts each day), keeping the free ice water and cookies stocked, putting in the air conditioner, and so on.  We hope to have an old tractor or two from James Anderson outside the school house too. 

We have helped out many years--probably every year since 2006 since we retired and the last time the Cushing group hosted the museum.  We meet lots of our old friends and enjoy listening to their stories of the old one room school days. 
Checking maple syrup density at the Polk Co Fair

 The logistics include getting the people scheduled; getting and distributing free entry tickets for them; and of course setup and takedown.  But, as we devote the whole week to the fair, it is sort of a working vacation. 

Back in the 60s (or maybe 50s) as 4-H'ers, Everett, I and Byron and Marv through FFA, exhibited our projects at the fair.   Mom always entered many baked goods, butter and art work, so the fair was a family af-fair.  In later years, brother Byron was a fair board member and pulled the camper down to the fairgrounds and he and the family stayed there much of the time.  His tragic motor-cycle deer accident in July of 2002 took him away from us. 

So, today Margo goes to the fairgrounds to pick up the tickets for volunteers and if possible a key for the school house for the week.  Keys and tickets must be pried loose from the powers-that-be with delicacy, firmness, and luck.  Sometimes that seems like the most difficult part of the whole process.  We could put in a bill for hours covering the school house, but choose to cover it with volunteers, saving the fair society a lot of money--but free tickets are a pain--so Margo will use her skills to see what we can get this year!

Today, she heads to the fair while I spend my usual Monday afternoon at the Luck Museum in the newly opened Ravenholt Family History Research Center helping folks with genealogy.  This is the monthly meeting day for the Polk County Genealogical Society which includes a 10am-11:30 beginning genealogy class; help for drop in folks 1-4 pm and the PCGS meeting at 1 pm.  

Today, PCGS is discussing which records or information in Polk County are the most useful for us to photograph and organize to help folks with genealogy.   It is tricky, as there are copyright laws, government rules for access to records, organizations may choose to limit access to church or cemetery records and so on.  We have some funding from the Ravenholt grant to do this, have purchased the equipment (scanner and camera) and have already done some records.  

The Doc Squirt day Motorcycle Ralley in Cushing is coming up August 3rd.  Roy Henning, a local Cushingite, started a Harley Davidson Motorcycle dealership on the site of Suzy Q's, the north bar on main street, in 1911.  Suzy Q's commemorates this with the ralley.  The local history society sets up a stand with old Cushing Photos and information on Doc Squirt and Cushing in 1911 (the year the cement block creamery was built; 3 years before the bank opened, and when Cushing was thriving!). 

The biggest August event is Cushing Fun Days when the whole town celebrates.  This year the Cushing Rural Fire Department is 50 years old and is hosting a pancake breakfast ; the museum will be open along with a garden/craft/flea market at the Cushing Community center and biggest of all, the adult soap box derby where mainstreet is blocked off and dozens of derby entries coast down the hill competitively.  Probably the biggest single event in all of Polk County!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Making a $10 poster

Had to make a poster for the Polk County Fair maple syrup entry -- poster of maple syruping activity.  

In the past, I printed it in pieces and then used double-sided tape to put it together.  However, wanting to take advantage of the large print posters available at many copy shops and stores, I decided to go that route.  

First, after a survey of the sizes and costs, I determined Sam's Club near the Maplewood Mall in the Twin Cities was the lowest cost at about $9.25 for a 20x30 inch color poster on nice thick glossy paper.  Walmart had the same, but at about twice the cost and you had to order it and wait a few days for delivery (and postage to home added another $8 above the $18 cost).   Sam's would not mail, so a trip to the cities would be required. 

I created a account.  Sams is a membership card organization, and I already had that, so stuck in the card info and some basic details and created the photo account. 

Read the instructions:  they want a jpg or png image file either brought in on a camera card, disk or flash drive.  If you bring it in, the poster is ready in about an hour.  Tested uploading a photo and turning it into a poster and adding it to the shopping cart--all worked OK.  Then deleted the test. 

To actually make a poster made up of several photos, some text and graphics, you need a program to do the layout that will leave you with a jpg type image.  I like to work in MS Word, so went ahead and designed a poster using the page seutp size set to 8x12 inches (the same ratio as a 20x30 print).  

  I inserted photos; inserted text boxes, inserted a wordart headline; resized, fixed the contrast and color, and drug them around until the layout was what I liked.

Of course I then saved it as a Word document.  I have Word version 2010, which allows me to save a file as a pdf document too.  In earlier versions of Word where that was not possible, I had added a free "printer' called DOPDF that when you printed to it actually made a pdf file.  

I knew there were various programs to convert pdf to jpg and found a free online one at    I selected high resolution (300dpi), uploaded my pdf and 20 seconds later was able to download the jpg to my own computer.  

I then uploaded that to Sams, went through the ordering process to set up a 20x30 and order it through the Rochester MN store and had Margo pick it up last week and bring it up north on Saturday.  It looked fine. 

So this morning I did 9 more posters which were to be available for pickup at Maplewood at noon.  Got down there and the lady looked at my paper--you ordered them through Maple Grove not Maplewood (and of course I had made this mistake, so buzzed across town and got them at Maple Grove).  Luckily I hadn't gotten mixed up more and picked some town near Bemidji!   

The posters were fine!  I got some 20x30 styrofoam panels at $1.50 or so each and a can of 3M spray glue and plan to stick them down when the humidity is lower tomorrow morning.  

Now that I have the process down, it should be easy to do more.  Biggest problem--Sam's is too far away.  Closer options start at double the price and up.  

The cost to do 10 posters including gas would be about $15 each or $150.  I figure 10 at a time to be worth the 2 hours drive in and out of the city -- unless I have other errands to run too (usually true)
  These posters are just collections of old photos with a little text.  If someone were a little artistic or creative, could make things much more lively.  Any color background, border, frame, text, and so on.  Sadly, I am not that person!
 As an afterthought, I printed the same files in 4x6 format at Walmart with the immediate 28 cent route and they are actually quite readable and nice.  Would make great postcards. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Round Barn

My friend Jon, is a round barn enthusiast.  He invited a few of us to visit a round barn near Kennedy Park near Amery.  I took a few photos. 

Several round barns were built about 1913 in this neighborhood just east of Kennedy Park

Round barns used much less lumber according to the farm magazines of the day.

A very thick stone and concrete foundation.  The owner has filled the gutter with wooden rounds. 

A center silo, walkway and then feeding trough with the cows facing the center.  The joists above are half anchored to the silo and half to the post beams. 

The silo starts with a below floor pit, then concrete topped with wood staves.  Inside silos were easy to feed from but hard to fill and very slow to thaw out after the winter insulated with snow. 

Each of the roof boards spans only two rafters--so short poor quality lumber could be used.  However each had to be cut a different length and at an angle. 

The original vertical siding boards were never painted.  The roof was last replaced by an Amish owner in the late 1940s, with the current owner patching it and trying to keep it sound.  Very expensive to roof a barn!

A sunken manger in front of the cows. 

You can see the manure carrier track encircling the barn above.  
Round barns were popular from about 1905-1920.  They seem to have faded by the way after that.   
My great great uncle Sundsmo, a Norwegian carpenter in Maple Grove Township, Barron County WI, built a large round barn about the same time.  He said he did it to prove he could do it--if anyone wanted that style rather than the more traditional barns he usually built. 
   Dad thought the barn was inconvenient to use.  You had to drive the horses into the haymow to fill the silo or unload the hay.  That took up space that could otherwise be used for storage, and many horses were skittish about the whole process.  
   The silo filler had to be located near the silo, yet the belted engine had to be outside the barn.  They joked that if a calf got loose in the barn, you could never catch her as she just ran around and around--no corner to stop her in.  
   Some say the Shakers invented round barns so the Devil couldn't catch you in the corner either.  For whatever reason, the fad stalled by the 1920s and the few round barns left, are like barns in general, falling down from disuse and the expense of keeping us buildings no longer used.