The Astral Log

3 November 2015

Reason Fest Day 7: Finishing Touches

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, License Plates, River City Reason Fest — Andrew T. @ 18:49

For a ways through Wisconsin, I wound up drafting behind the creaky promotional vehicle of a California longboard purveyor. Not sure where they were heading to (it turned north at Tomah and I never saw it again), but they got my attention.

Shortly afterward, a minivan barreled by in the passing lane...and I scarcely could believe what I saw on the back. It was a Yukon Territory license plate: A rare reminder of Canada's remote and distant Arctic north, with a population of barely 33,000 and separated from the present place by thousands of km. This is the only one I have ever seen on the road in my life.

The rest of the last leg of the drive was fairly uneventful. I did manage to stop the car to shoot one final kitchy roadside sight: An upended truck and trailer mounted to a pole near Mauston, Wisconsin. In case you're skeptical, that is a real truck, and it even had a license plate on the back...a really ratty semi trailer issue from the late 1980s, if you're really curious. The sign used to look even more bizarre, with a repurposed Amoco torch-topped signframe at the very top: This was replaced by a more prosaic rectangle in the recent past.

Dusk fell and an hour later I drove into Madison, where everything was more or less the same as it was when I left it. Home sweet home; such as it is.

Was the excursion to Manitoba worth it? Yes. I met great people, heard great messages, had great experiences, and saw great scenes both there and along the way...even if not every part of the trip was great. Winnipeg in particular had the feel of a very diverse and humane city, and I hope to go back there someday.

Since I returned, Canada underwent a federal election and managed to elect the Liberal Party to a 184-seat majority government with Pierre's son as Prime Minister. While Trudeau wouldn't have been my first choice, he's helluva lot better than the "Republican north" leadership of Stephen Harper that's reduced Canada to a terror-milking, Kyoto-withdrawing, voter-suppressing laughingstock over the last ten years. One USA on this continent is more than enough.

2 November 2015

Reason Fest Day 7: Old Brewing Artifacts

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, River City Reason Fest — Andrew T. @ 08:08

Across the Mississippi river from the Minnesota shore lies the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin...and La Crosse's best-known industrial artifacts are the premises of the G. Heileman Brewing Company, onetime home of Old Style beer.

The history of the brewery dates back to 1854, when John Gund opened a small operation at the corner of Front and Division Streets. Gund expanded into a partnership with Gottlieb Heileman four years later, who eventually took over the business outright and branded it under his name. Heileman spent the 1960s and 1970s buying up other breweries, stumbled in the 1980s fending off competition and corporate raiders, and spent the 1990s in a state of sporadic bankruptcy. By 1999 Heileman had ceased to exist as an independent company and the brewery closed, with Pabst walking off with the trademarks. The premises didn't stay quiet for long, however, for they were sold to investors who promptly reopened them under the City Brewing name.

The oldest portion of the property is the Gottlieb and Johanna Heileman family mansion, which adjoins the brewery and dates back to 1875.

Today, the brewery's primary purpose of existence is to produce beers (and non-beer beverages) under contract for other firms. City Brewing does however produce its own La Cross Lager for local distribution, which is allegedly the real Old Style recipe while the Old Style currently in stores is an imposter. (Not that it matters...most beers of a certain color and consistency taste a lot alike, and I doubt a pack of sweaty Cubs fans would tell the difference if their life depended on it.)

Old Style labelscar is still discernable in a number of places.

Decorated storage tanks (dubbed the "world's largest six pack") were added by Heileman in the 1960s. Although impressive, the graphics on the tanks are starting to look a little worse for wear and fading...and in fact, the wrap-up had separated on one tank entirely, revealing the Old Style logo.

1 November 2015

Reason Fest Day 7: More Miles of Minnesota

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, River City Reason Fest, US-Minnesota — Andrew T. @ 21:42

My seventh day began under the influence of the same lumpy mattress and same deafening air conditioner I had endured the night before. Not for long, though: I checked out as fast as I could. While on the way, I found a sign on the premises that appeared to have the words "Quality Inn" covered over by tape, reflective of a franchise change. Quality, it wasn't...but it wasn't quite the Budget Host of nightmares, either.

For lack of anything better to do, I wandered to the Crossroads Center mall. It wasn't quite ten o'clock; so while the interior corridor was open, the stores weren't. Were there any interesting relics to be found of retailers past? Yes, in the singular: The south anchor was a two-story JCPenney store that was disturbingly similar to the one at Dixie Square...right down to the vertical channels in the facade. There wasn't much else, though: The mall reportedly opened in 1966, but it had been expanded and renovated so severely and so often over the years that nothing else even the slightest bit original remained. The interior did feature a loop-shaped corridor that left about a third of the stores "mall-locked" in the middle, which was a bit unusual.

More roadside artifacts in and around St. Cloud: A vaguely Bavarian-styled service garage with a pegasus indicating a past existence as a Mobil station. Surprisingly, the business has its own website with a history page, which notes the construction year as 1927.

Moments later on U.S. 10, I stumbled upon a barn-style Dairy Queen with a 1960s mascot statue on the roof...worth a few points in rarity, if nothing else. (The picture also turned out as proof that my digital camera is brimming with dust, as splotches appear on any frame taken with the optical zoom on a sunny day.)

Sadly, I scarcely got to see any more of Minneapolis and St. Paul on the last day of the trip than I did at the beginning. After realizing that half the day was gone and I hadn't even gotten out of Minnesota's 6th congressional district yet, I drove...and drove, and drove, and drove, until all traces of traffic congestion and city life were left behind. I didn't catch a break until I was in Winona, where I got a bite to eat (promptly discovering both a price error on the menu board and a cent from 1930 in my change) and wound up with one more JCPenney picture for my collection...this time in the form of a bizarre construct split with a Fastenel industrial warehouse at the other end and a whole lot of nothing in the middle. Evidently an Econo Foods supermarket was housed here until 2005, but I really wonder what the full story behind this place was.

27 October 2015

Reason Fest Day 6: Miles of Minnesota

After making my exit from the clutches of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, I drove as fast as I could into Minnesota to put some distance between bad experiences and I. From that point on, the drive was pleasant but uneventful: Occasionally a freakishly alien piece of farm equipment two lanes wide would appear over the horizon, but otherwise for mile after mile there was no excitement nor any relic of civilization to see but for the road itself.

Eventually I came to the town of Thief River Falls, where I happened upon a strange, non-taxpaying reuse of what appeared to be an old Conoco station. The less said about their doctrine, the better: Near as I can tell, their members think they're deluged in original sin and are salivating for the rapture to arrive.

Thief River Falls was also home to my single best "roadside artifact find" of the trip: A downtown JCPenney store of 1950s or very early 1960s vintage, bearing no fewer than three generations of signage on the building...including the incredibly-rare "funky P" symbol of 50 years ago.

Another random Minnesota observation: License plates on passenger cars are replaced every 7 years, but license plates on other types of vehicles may never get replaced at all. As if to prove the point, here was a Recreational Vehicle plate in the pre-1987 graphic style with a current 2016 sticker.

I couldn't stay put for long, though. Minutes later I was back on the road, trying to cover as much ground south and east as I could...when I heard the single most satisfying news of the entire trip. Governor Voldemort was ending his presidential campaign (no, I'm not going to use his real name...hearing it is enough to make me smash my fist into the wall), and the United States had escaped a bullet from the foremost source of my life's anxiety and fear.

Dusk fell somewhere in Otter Tail County (how did they name these things?), and I started idly looking for a motel. Accommodations were a little tough to find, though, and I didn't finally stop for the night until I had driven all the way to Saint Cloud...and acquainted myself with the lumpiest mattress and the noisiest air conditioner I had ever endured.

It was luxury.

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