Posts Tagged With: Racine County Fair

A Sweet Reminder of Our Plank Road Stories

On this fourth day of Christmas I spent the morning writing thank-you notes and eating holiday treats, including shortbread from Emily. Baked in a decorative pan, this traditional Christmas gift is as beautiful as it is delicious.  At our family celebration in Wisconsin, I admired the designs produced by Emily’s new pan. According to manufacturer Brown Bag Designs, “In the early years of our country, farm wives decorated their home-made butter by stamping it with carved wooden images. This shortbread pan reinterprets nine of these antiques designs to decorate shortbread – the best butter cookie of all.”

Plank Road shortbread pan

Emily’s “Plank Road” shortbread pan, officially titled American Butter Art by Brown Bag Designs

The nineteenth-century Yorkville families may well have used wooden butter stamps featuring images such as these.

At our Christmas celebration Emily and I conducted our own reinterpretation of the nine designs. We offer our list to readers:

  1. The fruit basket featuring an apple reminds us of Will McEachron’s orchard

2.  The pineapple, symbol of hospitality, reminds us of Vin Mather’s welcoming guests to the Mather Inn

3.  The acorns and oak leaves remind us of the oak grove near Gran Mather’s cabin and the lone oak on the Doanes’ front forty

4.  The horse reminds us of the race between Big Jim Doane’s chestnut stallion and David Banvard’s sorrel mare

5.  The eagle reminds us of Old Abe, famous Civil War mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin infantry and later emblem of J. I. Case Equipment in Racine

6.  The cow reminds us of livestock exhibited at the Racine County Fair and the Plank Road families’ new dairying venture

7.  The wild rose reminds us of the flowers in Grace Caswell’s Midsummer wreath and the hedgerows alongside the Yorkville settlers’ graveyard

8.  The sheaf of wheat reminds us of harvest time in Yorkville and farm wagons traveling the plank road to the Racine harbor

9.  The heart reminds us of the Plank Road community’s love and care for family, neighbors, and strangers

Categories: county fair, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fair Days

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Fifteen years ago when my ten year-old daughter Katrina began showing 4-H lambs at the Porter County Fair in Northwest Indiana, her nine year-old cousin David came to visit from suburban Chicago.   City boy David swept the aisles between the animal pens so faithfully that the sheep barn won the Cleanest Barn contest.

When we were not at the fairgrounds, David’s mother Emily and I worked on an idea for a book we called “Girls of the Plank Road,” a story of pioneer Wisconsin featuring the first Racine County Fair.   We had fond memories of our own county fair days, and my daughter’s Hampshire lamb was descended from the sheep that Emily and our brothers and sisters and I had shown in the 1970’s as members of the Yorkville 4-H Club.

Back then, the sheep and many of the other animals were exhibited in tents, but today the fairgrounds features an extensive array of permanent structures, including a long row of livestock barns.   The Plank Road families of the nineteenth century would be amazed to see what enormous enterprises the county fairs of the Midwest have become.

The Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fairs took place in the 1850s.

Today the Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fair took place in the 1850s.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Racine County | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly Competition at the Fair

IMG_4697IMG_4699The county fair is home to such competitions as cattle shows, tractor pulls, demolition derbies, pie auctions, and goat-milking contests.  I admit that my sister author Hilda rose victorious when we battled one another last weekend in the goat-milking competition at the Racine County Fair.  Oh, the humiliation we authors must suffer in search of publicity for our books.   Other than being soundly defeated in the competition, I had a lovely day at the fair.  

Our book tent featured an antique drum carder which fairgoers could crank to card wool for bookmark tassels.  We also had live music–our own fiddler Matt Lutze, Hilda on penny whistle, and editor Phil Martin on accordion.   We saw familiar faces and met new readers as people stopped by to purchase a book or find out more about Plank Road Summer.    Even the Fair Royalty visited our booth to add planks to the road we were building.

During every summer of our childhood Hilda and I spent five days at the Racine County Fair.   During the weeks prior to the fair we practiced showing our sheep, refinished furniture, sewed clothes, or worked on whatever other 4-H projects were to be entered into competition.  In our day, we could hardly take five steps at the fair without seeing someone we knew.   The fair was a community celebration, and everyone wanted to be part of it.

In Plank Road Summer this is the spirit we hope to communicate in our depiction of the first Racine County Fair.   I confess that after my defeat in the goat-milking contest, I am feeling a bit like the loser of the horse race.   But strike up the music– in a true community celebration, no matter who wins or loses, everyone can join in the dance.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Joining the Dance: the Joys of Community Life

Yesterday the Hoosier Recruits provided old-time music for another Plank Road Summer book event, this one at the Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso, Indiana.  My table was placed so that when I wasn’t signing books, I could turn my chair around and play the piano, thus spending the afternoon as both writer and musician.

“I’m going to be a writer and a musician”–That’s what I told a reporter back when I was a senior in high school.   Back then I imagined myself living in my Wisconsin hometown writing articles for the Westine Report and playing the organ at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

I planned to write novels, too, of course, but I never imagined anything like the rejoicing of the Yorkville community in the publication of Plank Road Summer.  I never imagined hundreds of people–everybody from my first-grade teacher to my high school principal, from elementary school classmates to old college friends–standing in line for a book signing at Yorkville School.  I never imagined my own contra dance band traveling all the way from Indiana to celebrate a book launch.

I first learned about contra dancing as a member of the Hoosier Recruits, the house band of the Valparaiso Oldtime Dance Society.  Soon afterward, Emily and I rewrote passages of our manuscript to reflect our new understanding of old-time dance traditions, such as the practice of choosing a new partner for each dance or the freedom of women to ask men to dance.

Like the dancers at the Racine County Fair in the closing chapter of Plank Road Summer, the dancers at the Yorkville book launch included “young and old, native and foreign-born, townspeople and country folk.”   Although my chair at the signing table was far from the stage where my band was playing, I rejoiced in my good fortune, not only as a writer and a musician but as a member of the warm and welcoming community of Yorkville, Wisconsin.

Categories: Plank Road Summer book, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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