I told them that roof would fall down!


The fallen-in roof, located in the original kitchen section of the Hutmacher Farmhouse.


I told them that roof would fall down!

These prophetic words from Marv came true sometime this summer. Marv, cousin to the second-generation Hutmachers, remembers visiting Aunt Veronica and Uncle Frank’s house when he was a kid. He would not step inside the building, sure that the dirt roof would tumble down and crush them all. He was so certain, that he never took a meal inside; his mom or aunt or cousins would bring his plate outside.

Well, it took 50 years, but Marv’s prediction came true.


A missing section of roof, as visible from the northeast corner of the house.


You can only imagine our dismay to find the Hutmacher house in this condition. Since 2005 and 2006, Preservation North Dakota and hundreds of volunteers and NDSU service learning students have contributed sweat equity to rebuild, restore, and preserve the Hutmacher Farmstead. A Save America’s Treasures grant helped to fund the project, as did individual donations of money and materials. The property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts the best and perhaps only extant collection of farm buildings built in the traditional ways brought to this country by the Germans from Russia.

The Hutmacher House, as it appeared in all its glory the last time we saw it in April.


It was a dreary, rainy day last Saturday as our volunteer crew drove onto the Hutmacher grounds. We’d received a call two days before, so we knew to dread what we might find, but we figured that the advance notice was better than driving up to the site unknowingly. The ugly scene confirmed our nightmarish imaginings.

Facing the newest kitchen area from the older, our vision transected by the failed ridgepole.


Sad view from the south side. The living room (original kitchen) window has popped out, rafters and ridgepole reach for the sky, while all the clay and sand roof has fallen to the ground.


The bedroom roof has tumbled in, even though before the storms, this was one of the best-roofed sections of the house.


While we can’t confirm the exact date and time of the damage, we know (and the sheriff’s deputy confirmed) that vandals were not involved. It was the weather that undid our labors. In a story picked up by the Associated Press, we learned that storms in early July “packed heavy rain and winds up to 80 mph, which damaged trees, houses, farm buildings, campers and power poles throughout the region… ‘It sounded like a north wind in the winter,’ rural Halliday resident Muffin McLoud told the Tribune. ‘It just howled…I’ve never heard anything like that in July.’”

For us, the worse damage came as three ridgepoles split and broke, two in the house—affecting a bedroom and the original kitchen—and one in the garage, which hasn’t fallen yet but surely will. The granary isn’t looking too good either, as it and the garage have developed a serious sway-back look to their once-gorgeous ridges.

Sample dangerous break. This cracked pole is in the garage, a purloin parallel to the ridgepole.


Our group of volunteers, joined by PND President Susan Quinnell and led by professors Tom Isern and Suzzanne Kelley, met in the granary while a cool wind and rain taunted us from outside, reminding us just how fragile a homestead on the plains can be. We discussed options and how we might proceed.


Our decision?

What else could we do but pick up our shovels and rakes, flex our muscles, and dig in.

We worked all Saturday afternoon, watching the sky shift from gray to blue, a match to the shift in our spirits as we cleared away debris and even made a new discovery! Digging down to the wooden flooring, which we didn’t even know was beneath years of caked-on dirt all along, were telltale orange floorboards. We’d wondered why such a traditionally constructed building, with turquoise- and pink-painted walls, did not have typical orange flooring—but there it was, right beneath our feet all the time and invisible to us but for this otherwise calamitous event.


Orange wood flooring peeks through the swept-away dirt.

Interior wall with sample paint colors from over the years.

We returned on Sunday to see how much more clean-up we might accomplish, when unexpected guests arrived. Marv and his sister and various spouses and kids had gotten the bug to come out today and see the old place. What a joyful walk on the grounds it was to hear stories from this family, their recollections of having come out years ago to partake of Veronica’s chicken noodle soup and borscht, to walk the hills and help retrieve the cows at the end of day, to note the shady spot at the west end of the house where Uncle Frank and Alex would rest in the after-lunch shade, and to see Marv shake his head at the tumbled down roofs and walls and exclaim, “I told them that roof would fall down.”



Yes, the roof fell down. We will build it up again.

Date Night: Page, North Dakota

It’s Saturday night in Page, and folks are lined up in the streets–because that’s how they park here–ready to take in a show.

No curbside parking here. Everyone lines up right down the middle of the street.


We’ve been planning all week to get back to Page, where we know that every Saturday night the Page Cafe is serving all-you-can-eat bbq ribs (just $10.95). And they mean it, too, although my first serving really was all I could eat. The cafe is open every day until 8pm, with a different dinner special every day–Sunday is Seafood Night–but only the Saturday special is all you can eat.

Page Cafe


Tom decided he needed a second serving of fall-off-the-bone meaty ribs. (And as I write, I’m kind of wishing I’d gone back for seconds, too!)


As we moved our forks from ribs to pecan pie and lemon cheesecake, I overheard the woman in the next booth ask a fellow if he was “doing the projection thing tonight?” He replied with a yes, and she said she was looking forward to it, but she “might miss that intermission in the middle.” Just about a month ago, the Page theater made the shift from reel-to-reel film to digital movie viewing. Not a small enterprise for a small town to undertake, but necessary as the film industry moved to digital distribution, final by the end of this year. See “Small-town movie theaters threatened by shift to digital cinema” for the gory details.

Page has an active Community Club, which results in the community cafe and the community theater, entities maintained by the community for the pleasure of the community and for wanderers like us.


Page Theater. Doors are open, popcorn’s popping, and the Community Club volunteers (and their kids) are ready for customers.


Gone are the days of old when a certificate like this, displayed in the Page Theater projection room, demonstrated that the holder had some pretty specific skills.

Motion Picture Machine Operator’s License, issued by The State Board of Electricians to Lloyd E. Kelly, 1941.


Now, empty reels are used for decoration.

Lobby seats at the Page Theater


And the projection room looks a lot different without reel-to-reel equipment.



But the view of the projection light from a theater seat still looks the same.



And the interior of the theater looks much as I expect it always has, although the seats are “new” (brought in from OMWICK Theater of Valley City).


View from the back of the Page Theater. To my right, there is also a “crying room,” or wait, isn’t that the “make-out room”? Altogether, the theater seats close to 200 people with plenty of legroom between the rows.


We watched Man of Steel—a modern take on Superman in this wonderful, old theater. The Page Theater shows movies Saturday and Sunday nights.

Tickets are a bargain ($6.50) and the concessions are a steal ($3 for popcorn and a bottle of soda), but the best part is meeting the Community Club folks (and their kids). The ticket booth was “manned” by a mom and her son, who later appeared behind the concession counter, learning to make change (which is fast becoming a lost art!) with his dad. Date Night in Page turned out to be a great deal, and we even received a “thanks for coming to Page!” farewell as we departed from the theater into the night for a pleasant ride home.

To get from Fargo to Page, head west on I-94 and take the Buffalo exit, which puts you onto Hwy 38. It’s just about 17 miles north from the exit to Page.

Here are some more pics from Page, taken by Tom Isern: Center for Heritage Renewal on flickr





The Girl Next Door

Her hula-hoop went round and round as we unpacked our hire car. She’s about my height but slender, although her true form was hidden under a shapeless, sleeveless knee-length dress. The hoop bounced off her tummy, her back, her sides, giving hints to the size of her waist and every now and then accentuating a slight tummy. I guessed her age to be late thirties or more. Her hair is straight and tinted brownish-red, and her Asian face is covered in freckles. She deigned not a look our way, concentrating on keeping her hoop going full circle, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses and her thoughts who knows where.

It wasn’t a regular hula hoop, being of larger-than-normal circumference from what the toy stores sell. It seems to be built of segments that can be added or removed. Each segment has two tiny, quarter-sized metal weights embedded. Our neighbor at the Desert Rose Inn was out for her exercise, standing in the parking spot reserved for her room.

Alice Springs is kind of a quiet town, and as we unloaded our suitcases and tucked clothes and toiletries into small cabinets and on the bathroom windowsill, we listened to the Central Australian crows and gulahs break the silence of the hotel parking lot. The neighbor in the apartments across the way hung her wet clothes over her second-floor railing to dry, a young woman passed by on her bicycle, her tires whirring, and the wife of our hotel proprietor walked by with a couple of spare light bulbs, calling now and then to an old German Shepherd with ancient hips that kept her company.

Desert Rose Inn, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia


Our neighbor had company, too. As it turns out, on a regular basis. The visits seem short—about half an hour, as indicated by at least one chap who rode up on a bicycle last night while I was sitting in the communal lounge. Their visit must have been pleasant, for he was grinning when he left, even as she sort of shoved him out the sliding door with a cheery farewell.

Prostitution is legal in Australia. The newspapers carry ads in the classified in numbers that speak to the availability. The ads are a bit cheesy, but always brief. “APPLE flower in bloom. Friendly, pretty face. Unforgettable g/f service. Anything you want. In/out.” Or, “COCO 100% Pretty young spirited gal on holiday. Dream body, more fun, no rush. CBD. In/out calls.” And “LIYA. 100% new overseas uni [university] student, very pretty, naughty & looking for fun, very friendly service.” Each ad names the temptress, describes her assets, and is followed by a phone number. I’m not sure of the coding, but I guess “in/out” refers to where the transaction takes place—in a hotel room or someplace designated by the buyer.

In a recent Sunday issue of Territorian, the Northern Territory newspaper, Natasha Bita penned an article called, “Skilled sex work visa call.” Bita informs us that “foreign prostitutes are demanding the right to work in Australia as ‘skilled workers’  on 457 visas.” Work visas, I think, are valid for two years, and include “skilled occupations” such as gardeners, cooks, fashion designers, entertainers, dancers, horse riding instructors, etc., to the tune of 624 different kinds of jobs. The Scarlet Alliance (I couldn’t discern their mission from the article) asserted to the Senate inquiry into the visa applications that “sex work is no less skilled than other occupations” on the skills shortage list. Some of the skills listed by the Alliance include “working with condoms and dams, negotiating prices and services, performing sexually transmitted infection checks, making risk assessments and establishing boundaries.” The Immigration Department holds firm in its decision not to allow the visas, noting that there is no degree or diploma awarded to confirm a skilled status. The Australia unions concur, on the grounds that some employers will “pay less and exploit people.”

Our girl next door is quiet and unobtrusive, although a curiosity. In between appointments, she wears a fluffy pink robe patterned with panda bears. She comes to the communal kitchen in this attire, talking to no one unless she’s carrying a cell phone, and then she returns to her room after warming up her supper. Sometimes her curtains—which for all of the apartments cover a full sliding-door & window arrangement about eight feet in length—are mostly closed. If she doesn’t have a client, then the curtain is opened to an angle, showcasing her profile as she reclines on her bed, a knee and thigh peeking from her panda robe, while she watches movies.

I only saw her smile once. She was talking on her phone, her face at the window glass although she wasn’t looking at anything in our parking lot. Was she talking to a girlfriend? A lover? Does she have a child? In that moment, she looked like a teen-aged girl next door.

Incoming Passengers

Overseas travel requires serious paperwork, one of the most important being the  Incoming Passenger Card, which everyone must present when arriving in Australia.

Incoming Passenger Documentation (part 1)

The flight attendants pass out the cards as a preliminary announcement that your plane ride is just about over. This slip of paperwork identifies you to the Customs officer, describes your country of origin, your job, your purpose for being in Australia, how long you’ll stay and where you can be reached, who to contact if plans go awry (if a spider bites you or you step on a snake), the airship you came in on, and your passport number.

Incoming Passenger Documentation (part 2)

Your signature verifies that you have no illegal intentions and that you are not bringing into the country anything you should not, including dairy, parts of animals, or any dirt clinging to your hiking boots. For this trip, the agent seemed somewhat bored with his work, slouched in his chair and tersely noting that Tom must remove his hat. The Agent asked me whether I had visited Africa, South or Central America, or the Caribbean in the last six days. (Oops. I forgot to fill out that part of the card.) Customs Agent questions are generally easy enough, but they can also seem random. Once, the agent wanted to know why Tom wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, while I was. The answer was simple (he’d misplaced it before we left Fargo), but I was glad that I carry a copy of our wedding certificate in my backpack when we travel out-of-country. Only straight-forward answers are accepted here, as warned in the sign that said: “Think before you speak,” followed by a caution to NOT make jokes with the Customs Agents.

Clearing Customs in Australia is an easy enough process if you dot your i’s and cross all your t’s and if you do not take any photos in the airport—they will be instantly confiscated (or deleted from your digital camera) and you will be chastised soundly. Sometimes it is not so easy to clear Customs upon return to the United States, particularly if you are arriving in Los Angeles. In the past, the process of lining up has been dramatic, with officers—stationed at various points around a large receiving room—yelling for people to line up here or there, depending upon your passport status (US Citizen or Not), long and slow-moving lines, and heated tempers. Once, a woman’s little girl ran out of the queue and under the straps that held our lines together. As soon as the mom took chase, she also became chased. Two officers raced into the crowd, yelling Stop! They saw only the woman and not the child running through the airport. It was a tense moment, heads turned, and the shouting alarmed everyone else into silence. I believe the officers were as relieved as anyone else when the situation was sorted out and no one had to be tackled.

Happy traveler, getting ready to leave the plane as we arrive in Sydney.

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Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase

Last night I began my Christmas shopping foray. After dinner we put on comfy shoes and headed for the Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase. Pride of Dakota is a place to shop local–sort of, if local counts a whole state. The event is located at the Fargo Civic Center, continuing today (9-5) and tomorrow (11-4).


Ticket prices are nominal–$2 to get in, but if you bring your own green bag, the entry fee is just $1. Your ticket price gets you a Pride of Dakota tote bag (which I managed to fill) and a Passport. Get your passport stamped at three locations by visiting the Auditorium, Centennial Hall, and the Lower Level, and you might win $250 in Pride of Dakota Bucks. I’m kind of counting on being the winner.



I managed to get to all of the shopping rooms, not just shopping, but visiting with some fine folks who have been busy preparing to share their wares. Here’s but a small sample of the offerings, and perhaps some clues to my shopping stops.

Beautiful quilted pieces (from potholders to wall hangings) at Material Things

Sweets for the sweet (and even the not-so-sweet) from Sweet Dreams Confections. True confessions: I have a neat little box of Divinity, Chocolate Walnut, and Chocolate Amaretto.

One of my favorite stops was with the ranching storyteller, Ryan Taylor. Here he displays painting prints by Elizabeth Taylor–you might not have known she was an artist, author, fiddle player, and trapper! Liz, as she was known by family and friends, painted images of remembered days–just the kind of paintings I spent years studying for my dissertation, Preserving an Era and a Place: Memory Painters of the Plains and Prairies. I’ll be visiting more with Ryan about his mama’s work.


Don’t forget to stop at Whittier Decoys of North Dakota for your “swim tested working spear fishing decoys.” One fellow I stood next to at this display was having the hardest time selecting from the many offerings. He had been–reportedly–back to the table three times to check out the carvings in the past two hours.


Elegant pens carved from wood and horn at LHS’s Crafts.





Farmers’ Market at Dike East Park

Last week I had to buy a cabbage.

Nobody made me buy it; I just wanted it and we had none left in the garden.

I revel in the seasons we enjoy, but I’m not good at saying goodbye to any of them. Light freezes, wilted roses, and cooking already with pumpkin are the gentle reminders that summer is out, autumn is here, and before long the snow will fall and stay.

Another reminder comes today from the Farmers’ Market at Dike East Park, here in Fargo, as they tell us there are only 7 market days left for the 2012 season. They tout a list of “squashes, potatoes, onions, jams, jellies, and more,” but the picture (see below) they posted looks like some of the sad photos I’ve seen of late on my friends’ Facebook page, where they’ve brought in the last bits of bounty.

Photo: Happy Monday! We just want to remind everyone that there are only 7 market days left for the 2012 season...stop down and stock up on squashes, potatoes, onions, jams, jellies and more! Pictured is the Week 18 Full Share from the Bill Erbes Farms CSA. If you're interested in becoming a member, send us a message or stop by our stand at the market.

Still, as we move into winter weather and bring out our heavy coats, I’ll think of these days earlier this summer when I made my first trips to Dike East market.

These folks were pawing through the corn just like I would have been if I weren’t taking their pictures!

So, really, HOW MANY carrots are enough?

Oh, the tomatoes and cucumbers! For a time I thought we’d never run out.

I brought this stalk of brussel sprouts home. How well I remember snapping off each head, and the marvelous taste of them steamed and then stirred into butter and sour cream and salt and pepper. What, that’s not how you eat them? You should!

And the glorious dill.

As I sit and write, wearing a thermal long-sleeved shirt and thinking about the root crops still to come in from the garden, I pine just a little for the season now past.


To stay current with what’s happening at the Farmers’ Market at Dike East Park, check out their Facebook page:




Rain Taxi Twin Cities Book Festival

Yesterday I drove 8 hours–4 to St. Paul, leaving the house at 5:20 a.m., and 4 more to get home. The drive was with good company–Emilee and Karl–and for good cause: exhibiting New Rivers Press books and authors at the 12th annual Rain Taxi Twin Cities Book Festival.

Emilee Ruhland and I prepare to meet and greet, not at all ashamed to attract customers with homemade oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. Photo by Al Davis.


The very first book festival I ever attended was on the Capitol lawn in Austin, Texas, promoted by First Lady Laura Bush. It was one of those life-changing events. I met authors face-to-face, chatted with them as though we were equals, and then realized that, hey!–we are equals! Well, except for the part that they have published books. This might sound odd, but knowing that authors are often just regular folks with the distinction of being disciplined writers who work at their craft somehow opened vistas of possibility.

Insert: Gratuitous photo of Laura and me. (photo by White House photographer in Sims, North Dakota)


This year’s Rain Taxi Twin Cities Book Festival was relocated from its normal downtown spot to The Historic Progress Center at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, my first-ever visit to this place outside my normal beaten path. In fact, there are about 320 acres with historic buildings and new bandstands to see. We got our bearings on Dan Patch Avenue, named for the Minnesota racing horse of world fame. Dan Patch, harnessed to a sulkie, never lost a race, and in 1906 even beat his own record! Check out this MN State Fair Walking Tour Brochure: http://visitmnhistory.org/sites/visitmnhistory.org.statefair/files/2012StateFair_WalkingTourBrochure.pdf

We met in the Historic Progress Center, with high vaulted ceilings, huge windows, and lots of space for the featured authors, panels & showcases, and about 100 press and author and bookselling exhibitors (really, it seemed like more!)      Historic photo nabbed from http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en&sa=X&biw=1394&bih=907&tbm=isch&tbnid=y54Bve3MZLFCXM:&imgrefurl=http://visitmnhistory.org/statefair/stops/5&docid=rZrsy6vtM0vY9M&imgurl=http://visitmnhistory.org/statefair/sites/visitmnhistory.org.statefair/files/imagecache/640x/MSFIMAGE2009_1709jjj.jpg&w=640&h=508&ei=CeV6UJjON6LD2QWm4oGwDQ&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=180&vpy=465&dur=1081&hovh=200&hovw=252&tx=153&ty=152&sig=109408778231766546925&page=1&tbnh=139&tbnw=171&start=0&ndsp=32&ved=1t:429,r:13,s:0,i:108


Since I was representing New Rivers Press (it’s where I work), I’ll show you some of our famous authors:

Here’s Tim Nolan, holding his newest collection of poetry with us, And Then. Obviously, the paparazzi were busy!


Had to take this photo twice–Tim was having such a good time, he forgot to hold up his book!


Nick Healy signed some copies of his award-winning collection of short stories, It Takes You Over, for these complete strangers. (Okay, really, they’re his mom and dad.)

Jamee Larson and Nick met each other for the first time this day, even though they worked together for about four months. Jamee, along with two other New Rivers Press-MSUM Certificate in Publishing students, co-edited and prepared marketing materials for It Takes You Over. Here, Jamee is picking up some compliments for the book team from Nick AND her autographed copy.

Our day wasn’t all work and no play. Emilee took a few moments to spin the wheel and win a prize. What was she hoping for? Not the free tickets to the Guthrie Theater (too far to get to from Fargo); she wanted a bookmark! Way to go, true reading fan.

‘Round and ’round and ’round it goes—where it stops, nobody . . . What?! Emilee won a bookmark!

We weren’t alone on the job: Karl Bakkum (left) and Alan Davis took turns behind the desk, although we do note that many of our cookies disappeared during their period of service.

The day wasn’t just about New Rivers Press. There were sessions to attend, like this one: QUEER MINNESOTA: THE STATE OF LGBT WRITING, where local authors across genre discussed the ups and downs of writing and publishing as an LGBT artist; moderated by Harvard University professor Stephen Burt. There were multiple session topics and featured authors, and at the end of the day we saw a long line of people waiting to hear from Cheryl Strayed, of WILD fame–author of a travel narrative/memoir. The historic venue was good for crowd traffic and table locations, but I’m afraid there were too many distractions in the session areas–noises from the exhibit floor, poor acoustics, and a glorious (albeit gray) view out the windows.

Although I didn’t get home until about 10:40 last night, it was a trip well worth the while. Rain Taxi  is already planning on events for 2013, and I plan to be there, too.


Some related online sites of interest:




Whitemud Clay Studio, Eastend, Saskatchewan

Do you remember from your little-kid art classes the way a lump of clay feels in your hand? How it can be mashed and pulled and pressed and made to conform, and how it leaves a residue that dries in the whorls of your fingertips?

Most of us haven’t played with clay in years, but Shon squeezes clay on a daily basis. It is her work. It is her play. She keeps her clay in a chest freezer, set to the perfect temp for keeping the clay close to malleable. Pulling out a chunk, she warms it with her hands, mashing, pulling, pressing with her strong fingers until she’s molded it into the desired shape.

I met Shon Profit and her partner Stephen Girard when we were shopping for pottery at the Whitemud Clay Studio in Eastend, Saskatchewan. She is the artist, and he is the scientist and harvester that makes the clay work possible.



The moment I walked into the pottery shop I was drawn to this triptych: three equal-sized squares of blue and yellow-tan, textured to show windrows under the prairie sky. This is the same landscape that surrounded me all summer as we drove north from Texas to Oklahoma and Kansas and Nebraska and then again as we made our way up into Alberta and Saskatchewan. I was smitten with the colors and textures and even the uneven cut of the edges of this fired clay sample. I wanted to touch and to have. And that was even before I knew its story.


This mural-in-progress shows the same windrows I admired on the section of three tiles, but also the larger sky and some geese flying by. You have to tilt your head sideways to see the layout.


When I expressed interest in the three tiles, Shon described them as test pieces for a much larger project, which much to my delight, was spread out on a table in the next room. She was happy to share the masterpiece she and Stephen were making in their studio. Over their worktable lay 246 square tiles, much like the 3 that I found in the front entry, a piece-by-piece depiction of the Saskatchewan prairie landscape and sky. When all the tiles have been fired, the vibrant colors will pop out and each piece will be attached to the exterior wall of the Swift Current Museum.

Grid drawing to depict each of the tile segments and how they fit with the whole.

Shon holds up a stack of pages, each representing a single tile.

Shon shows us the back-up plans–a set of pages that illustrate the design for each individual tile. These pages are referred to just in case a tile, or all of the tiles, have to be replaced. Unfortunately, the back-up plan was called into action when the clay tiles failed to fire properly due to an unfortunate mix in the clay.

Each square is labeled according to the grid drawing. If a tile has to be replaced or reworked, Shon will refer to the grid–along with the back-up-plan pages–to make a new identical tile.

Sometimes Shon has to have a bit of distance from her work, so she climbs her ladder for a birds-eye view.

Before firing, each tile is flipped over (gently) so that Shon can remove slabs of the clay, making each piece just a little bit lighter than it would be otherwise. There are about 3000 pounds of clay in this project, so removing some here and there will make each tile easier to handle.

Stephen Girard, native of Eastend and the Frenchman River valley where he harvests–or “wins”–the clay from the hills. Here he holds special stones that he uses when firing clay to keep track of the temperatures.

None of this might be possible without the scientist behind the scenes. Stephen Girard, a potter in his own right (I bought a beautiful pitcher and six tumblers from him about 10 years ago.) harvests the clay himself, and then refines it by screening, blunging, and plugging, making the mud ready for shaping. The clay is pressed through a pug mill, which extrudes the air out of the clay and presses it into the tile-size thickness, ready for storing in the fridge. Stephen makes good use of his degree in chemistry, and when he’s not working on the technical and materials aspects of harvesting and refining, he produces the colors that will appear in the firing process.

Stephen’s kiln, made of local clay. The “floor” of the kiln can be rolled out so that clay pieces can be stacked, and then the whole floor is rolled back in before the firing starts.

I was amazed to learn that Stephen even made his own kiln! His friends in Moose Jaw provided Stephen with 1400 bricks, each painstakingly cleaned of the dirt from when they were used as paving stones, and then over a period of five months made into this fabulous, downdraft kiln for high temperature stoneware firing.

A close-up view of the kiln arch.

A peek at the rear of the kiln, where the hot air is vented outside.

Shon and Stephen gave a great tour, which they’re willing to do by appointment for their summer visitors at Whitemud Clay Studio in Eastend, SK.  An appointment is a good idea if you want to see behind the scenes, but the shop is open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week from June through September, with fewer hours during the winter months. If you feel the same as I do about their work, the colors and texture of kiln-fired clay will catch your eye and tug at your heart.

Whitemud Clay Studio is located conveniently on Pottery Street!





Stinky Stanley & the Lustron Homes, Great Bend, KS

As a 5th-grade teacher, I took as much delight in reading Stinky Stanley books to my students as they took in hearing the stories. Of course, there’s a lot to appeal to a 5th grader. Stinky Stanley was just a blob of protoplasm until he was struck by lightning, instantly becoming a clone of the last person to touch the blob, ten-year-old Sam. Sam was kind of a normal kid, but Stanley–who lots of people mistook for Sam–was anything but normal. He eats his own earwax (and yes, I’m afraid he eats his boogers, too), “burps like a horse and smells like a toxic waste dump.” Mostly Sam is able to keep Stinky Stanley a secret, but of course, not always.


Stinky Stanley, by Ann Hodgman, author of My Babysitter is a Vampire and two Stinky Stanley sequels.


In the third Stinky Stanley book, Stinky Stanley Superhero, Stanley is kidnapped by the evil scientist, Dr. Wermer, who wants to conduct a few experiments on the boy-clone. Wermer lives in sleek metal house. I found that house in Great Bend.


Lustron Home, Barton County Historical Museum, Great Bend, KS


Okay, so Dr. Wermer’s house was black and looked like a camera with its little windows. Not at all like this Lustron Home, which is the real deal. A metal home. In fact, according to the literature at the Barton County Historical Museum, in the 1940s Lustron was “The House America’s been Waiting For.”



Metal walls, can you imagine? When the house gets dirty, you just hose it down. No repainting, and since the trim and the awnings are all metal, too, clean-up is a breeze.

Returning World War II GIs had difficulty finding affordable housing, but post Depression and WWII had the veterans finding civilian jobs and going to college. Suddenly there was a demand for single family homes. The Lustron Home fit the bill.


Interior of Lustron Home


Notice the magnetic alphabet letters on the wall? Yep. Even the interior is metal–metal walls, metal built-in cabinets, metal vanity . . . it goes on and on. Keep your spray bottle of Fantastik on hand, and hand smears are gone in a flash. Oh, wait–I guess you’d need a bucket of sudsy Ivory Snow or your Old Dutch Cleanser (No Fantastik back then.).

Hanging photos was probably a little bit tricky, unless you use magnets.



As described in the Historical Society literature, the Lustron–“luster on steel”–Homes “were embraced, appreciated and understood by forward looking customers. These homes were made for people who built and flew the mighty super fortress–the B-29.”

Mass produced prefabricated porcelain enamel became part of post-war architectural history. A family could place its order for a house, and then just wait in excited anticipation for delivery of their two- or three-bedroom home.



Even though everything is metal, even the standard vanity dresses up nicely with splashes of color.

Many Lustron homes are still standing and occupied today. Eighteen houses and their owners are located in Great Bend, “The Lustron Home Capital of Kansas.” Dr. Wermer doesn’t live in any of them.

In addition to this lovely example of a Lustron Home (made possible with a generous gift from the Marion Weeks family of Hoisington), The Barton County Historical Museum collection and its interpretive materials are worth perusing. We had a great time moseying through the museum proper–with lots of terrific artifacts, including a super exhibit about iron lungs, the Luster Home, and even the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, where my husband’s parents married. I recommend you take a look, too, and then take a ride on the old-fashioned gunny-sack swing. (I did. It was fun.)


Barton County Historical Society
85 South Highway 281, Post Office Box 1091
Great Bend, KS 67530


The Wrecks of the Zephyr and the Commodore, Taranaki, New Zealand

Hunting up shipwrecks is fun to do, especially on New Zealand beaches where access is open and respect for the wreck expected.


Following a brief note in our guidebook and not-very-helpful road signage, we located the wreck of the Zephyr on the North Island of NZ in Taranaki, the 10th largest populated town in NZ, named for the nearby volcanic Mount Taranaki. With the air somewhat misty and unsettled from a recent rain, I carefully stepped over rounded stones to capture images of the remains.


The Wreck of the Zephyr


Puddled water against the blue sky frames the Zephyr ruins. On the 11th of September 1864, this top-sail schooner, built of blue gums thirteen years earlier in Hobart Town, was set to unload a cargo of timber. The ship-hands moved some of the timber by raft the day before, but with three loads left, the endeavor was incomplete due to the high waters along shore. The next day, Sunday, a sudden squall from the north interrupted plans for continuing to send the timber ashore.


 After the squall, according to the captain’s statement, “the sea fell dead calm.”

The calm was not reassuring; rather it was indication of danger. As evening neared, the captain’s barometer readings dropped and a new heavy swell entered from the northwest. The captain ordered that the anchors be dropped, but when an even heavier squall blew in, the schooner began to drag the anchors just 15 minutes after they’d been set. By 8:30pm the fate of the Zephyr was irreversible.


From the captain’s report: There being not the slightest chance of saving the vessel, she being firmly embedded in the rocks, and every probability of her breaking up next tide, I felt it my duty to abandon her in order to save the lives of the crew. Accordingly ordered them into the boat, and afterwards followed myself.”



Although the Zephyr had maintained insurance for more than a year, it had expired three days before the grounding. On Monday, the vessel completely broke up. The pieces–including chains, cable, and rigging–sold for a total of £69 9s, 6d. The recoverable timber sold for £22 10s.


In another, less calamatous wreck on the same beach, we experienced our own grounding on the shore of Taranaki: The Wreck of the Commodore.


Our rented vessel: The Commodore, the Australian version of General Motor's 241-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 sedan with a four-speed automatic.


The Commodore was no more meant to be beached on the Taranaki than the Zephyr, but there we sat. The lack of signage and the free access led us to believe that we could drive along this beach as we had in other ports on the same voyage. Wrong. The Commodore, with about a 2-inch clearance and its teeny tires, does not respond the same as the 4-wheel-drive trucks we rented for outback driving Down Under or even my little Jeep to get around North Dakota. As you can see I avoided the puddle, but I sunk the car into a quicksand pit of sandy gloop.

No matter how much we scooped out the wet sand, sweeping it away with our travel guide books, we could not budge the car. Instead it sank up to the axle. That’s when we learned about sand fleas. They didn’t bother us as we scouted around the ruins, but once we were high-centered and desperate, they delighted in pestering and biting. Hard.

With no choices left and no assistance nearby, we walked out to the main road and hiked to a not-so-nearby house for help. The story ends well for us, with a chap giving us a ride in his 4WD and then dragging loose the Commodore. We’re not so sure the story ended well for him–he wasn’t where he was supposed to be when his wife squeezed us into her pickup truck and went looking for him on our behalf. But there’s not room here for the story of a third wreck . . .



The captain’s statement may be found here:

“The Wreck of the Schooner Zephyr,” Taranaki Herald, 17 September 1864, found at paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/ where it is repeated in the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 22 Mahuru 1864, p. 2


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