Thursday, December 4, 2008

Winter Wheeling

I recently said the heck with taking the city bus to work and, instead, dusted off my "winter bike" and rode it the 2.5 miles from my home to work in downtown La Crosse. Was fun and, even better, it was faster and cheaper than the bus. I've found that one of the keys to winter biking (in addition to riding a bike with wide tires and fenders) is to ride on little used side streets (in this case, South Sixth Street) where auto traffic is light. And, of course, having lights on the bike when riding in the dark.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trail Hogs

This photo I snapped recently shows one of my pet peeves when riding my bike on La Crosse's marsh trail: people who hog the trail while walking on it, giving little room for bicyclists to pass by. When I approach such walkers from behind I have to ring my bike's bell or sing out, "Passing on your left." The reaction I often get is a hard glare and frown from the walkers as if I have intruded on their own private walkway. Go figure.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Childhood Memory Maker

This old billboard for Sunbeam Bread (featuring "Little Miss Sunbeam") on the side of a building in downtown La Crosse affords me memories of my childhood as the bread was a common sight on my family's kitchen counter during my boyhood days in the 1950s. Erickson Bakery was a well-known bakery in La Crosse for many years, operating from the late 19th Century to 1989 though I only recall its Sunbeam Bread being sold locally from the 1950s to early 1970s. Though it's been a long time since I tasted Sunbeam bread, I don't recall it being anything special . . . just a bland, white bread that was much inferior to my grandmother's tasty homemade bread which she made nearly every morning most of her adult life. Who does that anymore? Few I would suspect.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Horse Tale

When passing by Bakalars Sausage Co. at 2219 South Ave. in La Crosse, some sharp-eyed people may have noticed a marred emblem located behind the firm's sign (see photos). What is/was it? It's all that is left of a plaster relief of a horse's head . . . part of the building's decoration when it was built in 1902 as a horse stable for La Crosse's Gund Brewery. When Bakalars purchased the building in late 1961 they chiseled the horse head off (leaving just part of the mane which still can be seen) because they didn't want their customers thinking that the firm sold horse meat. Maybe it's just me but but it's too bad Bakalars could not have been more classy and covered the horse's head up in some tasteful way instead of chiseling it off in a half-ass manner and leaving a scar behind. In protest, I have never spent one penny at Bakalars . . . though that's not hard to do since I'm a vegetarian. Ha!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pelican Pilgrimage

Yesterday while on a bike ride for the first time in my life I had the fortune and pleasure of seeing hundreds and hundreds of American White Pelicans flying north along the Mississippi River at La Crosse. Most of them were flying very high and out of camera range but one group was flying lower for some reason and I was able to snap a photo (see above) of the lead birds in the group as they passed overhead. Out of curiosity I checked the Web when I got home to learn about the migration habits of American White Pelicans and discovered they spent the winter along the Gulf of Mexico from Mexico to Florida. In March they begin to head north along the Mississippi - usually spending three weeks in the Illinois area before continuing north in late March or early April to their nesting grounds in northern Wisconsin/Minnesota and southern Canada. Cool. I never knew that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ghost Business

The other day I happened to notice an old Pepsi Cola warehouse being razed in the 1800 block of West Avenue South in La Crosse. In the razing process a false facade on the building was removed, exposing the building's original front and a sign for the Miller Broom Company (see photo). I did some checking in local history files and discovered this building was erected in 1919 for the Miller Broom Company which occupied the structure until the early 1960s. There is not a lot of available information about this broom firm but I did find this interesting account from 1904 in "La Crosse, Wisconsin: The Gateway City: A City of Great Enterprises, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Agricultural Resources Unsurpassed" when the business was located in downtown La Crosse:

AUGUST MILLER, Manufacturer of Fine Brooms, 111 South Front Street. In 1882 Mr. August Miller established his present business and since that time has been enjoying a steadily increasing accession of patronage. He is manufacturer of fine brooms and whisks and his reputation for making a first-class article is well known. Twenty hands (17 men and three boys) are employed, 13 machines operated and about 50 dozen brooms and whisks are turned out per day. The factory occupies two floors and basement of a building 20 x 100 feet and they ship their goods to California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, these states being thoroughly canvassed by four traveling men. Mr. Miller is the originator of the famous "Little Daisy," which is the most popular broom in the northwest. He is a good business man, a faithful citizen and well liked by all who know him.

Makes me wonder if a "Little Daisy" broom could still be found in some broken down shed in Montana. Guess I need to go on a road trip someday.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Going, Going . . . Gone!

While on a recent bike ride I came across this old house being razed at 215-217 Ferry Street (not far from downtown La Crosse). A check of local building records shows the house was built in 1886 by John Dryer as a double unit (a replica of this unit shown being razed was located just to the left and had already been razed by the time I arrived on the scene). Dryer, who was listed as a carpenter in early 1880 La Crosse city directories, must have died shortly after the house was constructed because the 1888 City Directory lists "Dora Dyer, widow of John" as one of the occupants of the house along with her two daughters, Mary and Phena, in addition to George Barry, laborer; Henry Barry, teamster; Martha Parker, widow of Levi; and William E. Parker, Burlington Railroad worker. All lost to history as their old abode . . . which was razed to make way for a new car parking lot.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Return of the Eagles

Another sign that spring is just around the corner: After being absent most of the winter due to area rivers and lakes being froze over, American Bald Eagles have recently returned to the La Crosse area while on their way to nesting areas farther north. I took the above photo on March 14 as three eagles rested on an ice floe in the Mississippi River off Riverside Park in La Crosse . . . providing an easier than usual view of them as they tend to keep in the distance by perching in treetops or circling high in the sky.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hurray! Back On My Bicycle!

On Tuesday, March 11, after two months of using the city bus service to get to and from work I was finally able to use my bicycle again. It sure felt good to “be in the saddle” and the streets were clear and dry (see attached photo looking north on Sixth Street from Division Street) so safety was not an issue. January and February were not bicycle friendly in La Crosse due to what seemed an endless cycle of snow and subzero temperatures, turning the city’s side streets (where I ride 99 percent of the time to escape annoying auto traffic) into narrow ice skating rinks. Not owning a car by choice (Egad! How unAmerican!) I’m glad I have the option of city bus service when the weather is too crappy for bicycling but the bus takes me twice as long (30 minutes) to get to work compared to bicycling. The added time is due to having to wait for the bus followed by its indirect route to the downtown area. None of that with my bicycle as there is no waiting involved and I can make a beeline for downtown. Plus, the exercise of pedaling has to be better for me compared to sitting in a bus seat. And not to bash the bus service further but bicycling also allows me to come and go when I want without paying attention to the bus schedule . . . especially in the evening when the buses run on a hourly schedule. In short, I am one happy camper now that spring is just around the corner with the promise of decent bicycling conditions. Oh, I forgot to mention that besides saving time, bicycling also saves me $2.50 in daily bus fare . . . money that I can now spend on candy and comics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Singing the Winter Blues

It's been a long time since I've experienced a winter like the current one. It seems like we've been in one endless cycle of snow and zero temps since December 1. The photo with this blog was taken this past Sunday of my neighbor lady shoveling her sidewalk during whiteout conditions as Mother Nature dumped more snow on La Crosse. Now everywhere I look I see nothing but white, white, white due to huge piles of snow smothering the landscape. I want spring with temps above 50-degrees, green trees and chirping birds. Speaking of birds, I've rarely seen a bird in the past couple weeks and want to feast my eyes on a Robin soon to give me hope that spring is just around the corner. Yes, wonderful spring: when I can ride my bike again and not have to dress like Nanook of the North when I venture outside. Hope "springs" eternal.

Friday, February 8, 2008

From Auction Block to City Block

Last summer I went to the Harry Viner auction in La Crosse and while looking at the various items to be sold off I spotted a Peerless Beer sign for Ed's Cigar Store (see photo at left). Peerless Beer was the signature brew made by La Crosse Breweries (the former Michel Brewery) which closed in 1956. A check of La Crosse city directories found that Ed's Cigar Store was run by Edward Langhofer from about 1954 to 1958 at 323 Main St. in downtown La Crosse. I thought the sign was cool in relation to La Crosse's business history so I snapped a photo of it and went on my way, not giving it much more thought. Several months later I was surprised to see what had to be the same sign (see photo at right) gracing Shooter's Bar at 120 Third St. S. in downtown La Crosse with Shooter's replacing the Ed's Cigar Store part of the sign. I find it somewhat odd to use a beer that was last made over 50 years ago to advertise one's business but I suppose Shooter's owner is a history or brew buff and wanted to bring the sign back to life. Being a local history buff myself, I tip my hat his way for showcasing a bygone part of La Crosse's history and not letting it collect dust in storage as it had been doing.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


While riding a city bus to work this week I overheard the following exchange between a "special needs" man about 30-years-old and the bus driver:

Man: "My Mom wants to commit me to a hospital but she still loves me, right?"
Driver: "Yes, I'm sure she stills loves you."
Man: "That's good to hear. Thanks."

I don't know if the driver knew the man but I thought it was nice of him to give the guy positive feedback on a touchy subject.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Old Wards Auto Center Being Razed

Razing began this week of the old Montgomery Wards auto center building on the northeast corner of Third and Vine streets in downtown La Crosse. Erected in 1965, the one-story brick building (0f ho-hum architectural value) served as Wards auto center until 1986 when Wards packed its bags and left La Crosse. In more recent years the building has served as the Huber Center for La Crosse County and is being removed to make room for a $29 million La Crosse County Jail expansion. Hard to imagine now but during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century this site was home to a Northwestern Railroad passenger depot with steam trains chugging in and out of La Crosse. Unfortunately, there are very few photos of the depot and the train activity once common on this corner.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

All Day Fog

On Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008, La Crosse experienced an all-day fog, a rare occurrence in my memory. The city will often have foggy mornings with the fog burning off by 9 or 10 a.m. but an all-day fog is very unusual. I took a walk in the fog with my camera and enjoyed it much as the misty conditions gave the city a surreal appearance and feeling (see photo for example) as if La Crosse had been dropped into Bavaria. Even better, the fog muted sounds - especially that of traffic so walking near busy streets was not nearly annoying as it normally is.