Saturday, June 30, 2007

Homesick Potato Chips

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It's sometimes hard to live far afield from the place you call home. When I lived in Texas I always felt like a fish out of water. The landscape, the food and the culture seemed alien to me. After time my deep appreciation for the United States of Texas grew and after moving back to Illinois I was suprised to find myself missing Texas.

The day that Garfields Farm's Barn Sale was featured here on the Farmers Wife, a reader from Florida had spotted a Jay's Potato Chip can among ALL THAT STUFF. Amazing what our eye and brain will make a connection with. It made her homesick and it's something we can all relate to. Just the sight of a potato chip can reminded her of home.

Jay's Chips have been made in Chicago since potatoes were invented. I'm too lazy right now to find a link but I'm sure they have information on their history.

So there's the can, soon to be on it's way to a new home in Florida.

This is just a taste of the barn sale. We'll be rushing out the door in a short while. The neighbors are having a big pig roast today.

There are two things you need to know about midwesterners:
1. We're not afraid of hard work.
2. We love food.

.....more later!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

the fields project

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For those of you who weren't along on last years adventure here's an explanation of the event. "The Fields Project is a unique art venue which brings together art and agriculture. Artists from around the world are invited to apply to be a part of the project. Those who are chosen live with host families on local farms and spent a week creating art with agriculture and nature as their inspiration.

In addition, three artists and one high school art class are chosen to design field art sculptures. Their designs are each carved into a 15 acre farm field. That means the artwork can only be viewed from the air. On Saturday and Sunday the tiny airport west of town offers plane rides to view the art, and an open air art show is held in town. To give you some perspective, those white dots above the fields are farms with huge barns and outbuildings.

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The tradition of combining art and agriculture was born in this area when Lorado Taft, in 1889, established the Eagle's Nest Art Colony on a cliff overlooking the Rock River. Taft's monumental statue of Chief Blackhawk still looks west from the cliff.

This year several of the designs were barely visible due to the fact that weather delayed the mowing and the vegetation didn't have a chance to turn brown, which provides the contrast. A design of this type contains problems that the artist must deal with.

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Anne Leuck Feldhaus designed the running dog, which is in my opinion one of the strongest images I've seen. Her strong graphic style translates well to an open field!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

take off

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As I mentioned last year at this time, here at the Farmers Wife we spare no expense to bring you the best in entertainment. That include renting airplanes!

By the luck of the draw we got the same pilot and plane that we flew in last year. Darryl Jensen has re-done the interior and replaced the windows in the interim and the view was great through the crystal clear new glass....or is it plexiglas?

A high wing airplane took off and we waited for awhile to give some breathing room and we headed out to Darryl's low wing four seater. I can't imagine anyone spending a long period of time in that back seat though.

Flying in small aircraft will give you the real experience of flying. Commercial jets are just big metal boxes that get you from point A to point B. Besides you can't watch out the cockpit window to watch take-off.

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If you fly at 1,800 to 2,000 feet you can actually watch the beautiful landscape as you pass over. Flying very high reduces everything to the "ant factor".

The farmer and I enjoyed flying in the Cessna Caravans in Central America. They are the workhorse of that part of the world.

Monday, June 25, 2007


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Don't say I never take you anywhere.

Over the next few days we will be embarking on an adventure. Long time readers will remember this adventure from last year. Those of you who are new to the farmers wife will enjoy the trip, I promise!

To start the adventure I'm going to offer a special surprise - a jar of wonderful honey from the nearby Heritage Prairie Market to the first person who can identify the gentleman in the photo above and how he figures into our adventure. Even newcomers can play because if you dig through the archives you'll find his name, think this time last year. If you examine the photo closely you'll see a few clues. Granted a jar of honey isn't exactly like winning the lottery, but it is very good honey.

This is, like many contests, a game of chance. So the person who happens onto the website at just the right time and finds the information will be the winner.

Good luck and be sure to come back tomorrow when our adventure "takes off".

Sunday, June 24, 2007

family owned

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There can't be many family owned shoes stores left in this country, but Geneva has two!

This is Mike and Joyce Elvebo, long time friends, who own Tender Footsie shoes on State Street. This week marked the celebration of Swedish Days which is Geneva's long running festival. The area was originally settled by a large Swedish population. Mike however is Norwegian, emigrating many years ago to northern Illinois.

Swedish Days means one thing to the Elvebo's - long hours working their annual sidewalk sale. Tender Footsie has been at this location for 18 years and they have a loyal customer base. This business is a true mom and pop, operated by husband and wife without employees.

There's a larger family owned shoe store, Giesche's, and they have the most wonderful handbags including my personal addiction - beautiful evening bags. It's encouraging to know that our relatively small communities can support not one, but two independent shoe stores.

I'm returning soon to Tender Footsie to get a pair of their butter soft moosehide Minnetonka moccasins!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

city barber

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The downtown areas of the local towns have been challenged with the development of large big-box shopping areas along Randall Road. I can't say the downtown businesses are not struggling, but I've seen places in this country where downtown areas are ghost towns. That is not the case here. The strength of our downtowns lie in the fact that they provide goods and services that are unusual and a cut above the "sameness" offered by retail corporate America. They are privately owned, many of them are mom and pop businesses without employees.

It's a surprise to some people that old fashioned barber shops are alive and well in northern Illinois. They are! Each of the local towns has a least one, sometimes two. This is the City Barber Shop in downtown Geneva, Illinois. What a breath of fresh air to step inside this place - accompanied by a flood of memories!

It's Swedish Days in Geneva - one of the many summertime festivals. It was hot on the day I took this photo and I ducked inside City Barber to cool off.

Sitting in the chair is Richard Wise, who is only one of the barbers at this location. He was kind enough to chat with me between haircuts. Richard served our country in the Korean War and studied at a barber college in Chicago after being discharged. He graduated in 1956 and has been working his trade ever since.

This shop is wonderfully maintained with beautiful chairs and a vintage black and white tile floor. Did you notice the vintage cash register? Stop by and check out City Barber Shop if you're in the area.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

save the date - BARN SALE!!

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OK - there's a first - the first time I've used capital letters in the post title. This event deserves CAPITALS!!

Save the date - June 30th - for Garfield Farm Museum's Barn Sale.
The sale will be held at the Mongerson Farm property complex - shown pictured above.
39W962 Route 38 - Elburn, Illinois
Mongerson Farm is 3 miles west of Randall Road on the north side of the road.
Look for the signs.
Open 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Food and beverage provided by Geneva's Inglenook Pantry will available the day of the sale.

If you are anywhere near northern Illinois make plans to attend this event. It's going to be a great sale with proceeds benefitting Garfield Farm. Donations of all kinds have arrived by the truckload and volunteers are busy sorting, arranging and pricing the merchandise. I snuck a peek in the barn and all I can say is WOW! There's lots of great treasures including books, seasonal items, furniture, antiques, cool vintage items and more. It's like a great garage sale on steroids. The first barn is full and items are spilling over into the dairy barn. I have my eye on the best items so if you want to get a chance at stealing them from under my nose you're going to need to get there right on time.

This will be a chance to get an up close look at the Mongerson Farm property and meet the wonderful people who keep Garfield running smoothly.

Here's a peek at the activity inside the barn, but remember this is just the tip of the iceberg as they are still unpacking!

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Get some friends together and make a day of it. After shopping the barn sale you can drive a mile to the east and visit HERITAGE PRAIRIE MARKET.

I'll be at the sale for part of the day. If you see me, introduce yourself. I'll have a camera around my neck and a special little gift for Farmers Wife readers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


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I've always loved this farm with it's well maintained barns and outbuildings. A couple years ago the farm was permanently marooned by approaching development. It stood at the intersection of two roads, one of which ran parallel to the rail line. The commuter train was scheduled to extend further west, making the railroad crossing very dangerous.

The roadbed was raised to allow the train to run underneath, and the auto traffic now rises up and over. But in the process the farm was marooned with the farmhouse tucked into a blind corner. It can still be reached by a small access road but it's only a matter of time until this block of land becomes a subdivision or ....dread of dreads - more shopping.

Friday, June 15, 2007


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I spotted these two amigos on the side of a fast food place in town. They are just a block or two away from the frantic redevelopment project. Just behind this spot there's a crane and a behemouth block-long three story retail/condo complex. The banks of the Fox River are being blanketed with someone's idea of what we need to revitalize the town.

The problem is that the development of nearby Randall Road has sucked all the business from the downtown area. I will admit that some of the properties were sorely in need of help - such as the building that housed a downtrodden residential hotel and crummy sports bar. But developers seem to create their next project in that fashion. Put a swanky shopping center a few miles from the older downtown and when business falls off in that location they convince the city fathers that the downtown needs to be redeveloped.

The saddest thing is to see places that have been in business for many, many years dropping like flies. They are replaced with more "tony" enterprises with prices and attitude to match. All of a sudden you feel uncomfortable and a stranger in your own community.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

br'er rabbit

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It's been many years since I kept a rabbit as a pet. In my memory it was a totally agreeable experience. Unlike the dog, the black rabbit known as Frodo did not bark, jump or otherwise cause any disturbance.

They are gentle creatures and I've been told that some can be litter trained. My rabbit lived outdoors though, in a nice custom-built rabbit hutch. One rabbit is nice but two is dicey unless you know the sex.

If you look at the photo you will notice a definite tension in the woman's hand which tells me that she's not relaxed but alert to the fact that the rabbit may make a break for it at any moment.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

lightning damage

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Longtime readers have visited Garfield Farm Inn and Museum through my photos many, many times. This photograph shows the damage caused by a lightning strike in August 2005. A passerby witnessed the strike and fire and quickly drove to the property to alert Thomas Hillier, asst. farm manager.

Water hoses were employed in an attempt to douse the flames until the fire department could arrive. As you can see there was considerable damage to the south peak of the barn.

Keep in mind that this is a small operation. There are three full-time staff members and an army of volunteers dedicated to saving this example of mid-nineteenth century example of an inn and farming operation. How do you get the word out when you're local preservationists passionate about your work? The internet does make it a little easier, but still, without the massive budgets of the "big guys" you are limited in scope.

Jerry Johnson, Garfield Farm Museum's Director is someone you should know. It is the vision and committment of Johnson, board members and volunteers for more than a quarter of a century that have preserved this property from the onslaught of development.

Author Barry Lopez has several themes running through his literary works. One is a storied relationship with a place and also living in ethical unity with a place. Johnson has attained both of these in his work developing his vision of what the property could be.

These people deserve support in their efforts. If you would like to read more visit the Garfield website here:

Garfield Farm Inn and Museum

Donations for the 1842 barn restoration can be send to:
P.O. Box 403 - La Fox, Illinois 60147

If you're local and want to volunteer weeding gardens or giving tours of the inn call Jerry and he'll be able to direct you.

Next week is Garfield's Barn Dance event and I would love nothing more than to have Jerry approach me and say that's he's received donations or words of encouragement from near and far on this planet.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

sad ending

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The collapse of the historic Teeple barn was preventable but saying that belies the immense effort and cost that would have been involved. There were many people who cared and worked very hard to avoid this tragedy. In the end time ran out and the elements took their toll. It must have been a crushing moment on Thursday evening March 24th when Lori Teeple realized what would come next. No one wants to see all their hard work come for naught, including family members who'd lived on the farm and preservationists who sought to save a piece of our community's history.

Why should we care about a slowly decaying old barn? I don't know if I can articulate the answer to that question. My feelings on this subject were galvanized at the age of 10, in 1957, when my family traveled to the east coast for summer vacation. One of the stops was Williamsburg, Virginia. I was mesmerized by the living history that surrounded me and the experience launched a lifelong appreciation of living history farms, museums and historical landmarks.

My children often joke that the only theme parks they visited as kids were battlefields and places like The Home Place in Kentucky (one of my favorites).

I've photographed hundreds of local barns that are falling quickly into oblivion. Can they all be saved and should the all be saved? No, of course not. They've passed their prime, farming has changed and their original purpose has disappeared. But we should strive to save the shining examples of the period. The Teeple barn was one of those exceptional examples.

If you care about history and preserving the past it's important to get involved, even in a small way. Is there a local preservation society or living history group in your area? Donate some time or talent to their cause. A hundred small gestures can make all the difference.

If there are no opportunities in your community I will provide you with a way to help another barn survive this fate. Tomorrow we'll discuss Garfield Farm Museum's effort to restore the barn that was struck by lightning and almost burned to the ground.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


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The thing that always astounds me when viewing a barn collapse is how inconsequential the materials appear, lying in a heap. The flattened lumber belies the huge volumes of space that the boards enclosed.

The Teeple barn was built circa 1885 and to view the interior was to marvel at the workmanship that was accomplished without benefit of power machinery. It was designed with huge proportions - 85 foot diameter and 85 feet tall. The balloon frame construction resulted in a veritable agricultural cathedral.

The barn was unusual and important enough to have been photographed by National Geographic. It was also certified as an official project of Save America's Treasures, a public/private partnership between the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation and immortalized in the book of the same name.

After a bid for millions of dollars to relocated the barn was turned down efforts were focused to do what could be done to stabilize the barn. Unfortunately, the task was huge, almost impossible without huge investments.

Serious problems developed and when the wind storm blew up on May 24th family member Lori Teeple, great-granddaughter of its builder Lester Teeple drove over to find that the barn had begun to split open. What a tremendously sad moment that must have been. Returning on Friday morning she was met with a scene of total devastation. The beautiful cupola was turned upside down, lying on top of the heap.

To give you a good idea of the scale of this barn, here's a photo of Teeple family members standing next to the west facing side of the barn.

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You can order the book Saving America's Treasures for as little as 12 cents at Go here to check it out:

Saving America's Treasures

Here's another photo of the Teeple family.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007


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After tons of hay had been removed from the barn it was a bit more stabilized, but problems still remained. At some point in the barns life lightning had struck and destroyed the cupola. At that time it was replaced with a simple cap.

The barn is a balloon frame construction. The vertical wall members are braced with lumber in an X configuration and the complex roof truss system sits directly on the walls. This provides a barn with open interior space, there are no huge supporting beams inside the building. The roof trusses curve upwards and are tied together by a compression ring. In early 1999 it was apparent the compression ring might fail and in an emergency measure it was replaced. At this time a cupola fashioned after the original was installed. This work cost upwards of $100,000.

Ag Tech, a not for profit organization, was formed when Matsushita purchased the property. This organization was established to raise funds to stabilize and rehabilitate the barn for public use. It was hoped that someday the barn would become an educational center.

At one one point they studied the feasibility of moving the barn to a more rural location but the cost (upwards of one million dollars) was prohibitive.

This photo was taken from the second floor of the barn (the lower level was for milking cows), looking upward at the compression ring and the beautiful interior of the cupola.

On each visit to the barn I marveled at the engineering and the beauty.

Monday, June 04, 2007

standing tall

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This photo was taken at one of the Teeple Barn events. As I mentioned yesterday many caring people worked hard to save this barn.

The unusual 16-sided balloon frame barn was built circa 1885 by Lester Teeple and lived it's working life as a dairy barn. Designed by a prominent Elgin architect W.W. Abell the farm remained in the Teeple family for over 100 years.

In 1978 the barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places which helped to save it from destruction a decade later. Civilization and development plowed west towards the farm. The barn faced Randall Road to the west. Once a two lane gravel road Randall is now a traffic clogged north-south artery. Just to the north of the barn Illinois built a toll-road, I-90, leading west from Chicago. The farm was sold to the Matsushita Corporation (Panasonic) in 1989 and with the construction of the Panasonic plant the Teeple barn was forever marooned on a small triangle of land.

One of the first acts to save the barn is an interesting story. At the time Matsushita acquired the property and built the plant the barn was still loaded with many tons of hay. The weight of the hay, over time, was causing the barn to lean and threatening a collapse. The Teeples and some others begged Matsushita to allow them to remove the hay, but fearing a disaster and liability issues the corporation declined.

The farmers decided to stage an act of civil disobedience. They gathered together their farm equipment and called the newspapers to meet them the next morning at the barn. Faced with the farmers and the press Matsushita relented and allowed the farmers to remove the hay.

Over the years many other efforts had been made to stabilize the building. More tomorrow on this interesting structure.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

all the kings horses

.....and all the kings men, can never put the barn together again.

The historic 122 year old Teeple Barn in Elgin succumbed to high winds and collapsed on Friday morning May 25th.

The huge walls curled themselves around the silo and the beautiful cupola lies upside down on the heap of what was once the only 16 sided barn in Illinois.

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It was the grandaddy of Illinois barns and the loss is incalculable. The Teeple family and hundreds of volunteers and preservationists worked for many years to attempt to preserve this unusual dairy barn.

I'll spend the next fews days posting pictures of the barn taken over the last few years and reviewing the history. Many hours were spent inside this imposing structure, taking photos and gazing in awe at the interior. It was rarely open for tours, maybe once or twice a year. The collapse of this barn was a tremendously sad day.