Monday, June 7, 2010

Bridges of Winona County (IV)

Originally posted August, 2008

I knew I was having a great time on my trip to Minnesota last month. The MERLOT 2008 conference in Minneapolis was excellent; my presentation was well received, and I brought back a lot of promising ideas about "blended learning" to try out on my Classical Mythology students this semester. I got to spend a fair amount of time in Winona, as well. Finally, I managed to take a few locomotive pictures here and there.

However, it's only now starting to dawn on me what a great time I had. As much as I missed my beloved wife and our puppy dogs (by the way, Anubis is starting to be Lisa's dog too), it was fun to be by my own bad self - driving around the old family stomping grounds or walking the streets of downtown Minneapolis, or listening to other computer nerds talk about teaching people stuff. I'm glad to be back home, too, with Lisa and the pupsters. I'm happy to be back teaching again. Even so, I believe a certain part of my heart is still there in Winona: probably always has been, probably always will be.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Highway 43 Bridge between Winona and Trempealeau County, WI, which was temporarily closed for repairs this summer. The first picture was taken from Levee Park in Winona; the second is looking due north as you enter the bridge from the Winona side. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bridges of Winona County (III)

Originally posted June, 2008

The new background of my home page comes from a postcard picture of Winona, produced circa 1905. Beautiful, no?

The view is looking north (the Mississippi runs from west to east as it passes Winona) not from the Wisconsin shore, but from Island No. 72, which belongs to Minnesota and is also known as Latsch Island. In the foreground is the 1891 High Wagon Bridge, dismantled for scrap after the current highway bridge was finished in 1941. Behind the High Wagon Bridge is the Chicago and Northwestern's 1872 railroad bridge, a segment of which still survives.

What looks like a smokestack at left is actually a 210' standpipe - a sort of water tower - fed by wells. Apparently the good people of Winona didn't drink from the Mississippi even back then, the lovely blue water notwithstanding. But then, the sun doesn't rise in the North either. The artist who tinted this picture may have been handy with oils and watercolors, but had obviously never been to Winona.

Strangely enough, this doesn't detract one bit from my enjoyment of the postcard picture. When I was up in Winona last week, the postcard picture kept popping up in my mind. I even considered driving down to Latsch Island to take a photograph from its vantage point. But I thought better of it. I took lots of pictures in Winona this time, the way I always do. But some images are best left in the back of one's mind.

The metaphor of life as a road was well trodden even when Gilgamesh was a pup, but still, I could think of no better place for the end of my road. A river. A rising sun. And on the horizon, Winona. I could walk over the wagon bridge even though Dad warned me he was afraid to do it as a kid. Or I could take a Northwestern passenger train, or hop a Green Bay and Western freight like Grandpa Bambenek did. The choice I find most appealing, though, is the boat. I could walk aboard, introduce myself to the ferryman and shake his big blue-gray paw before beginning my leisurely ride into Heaven.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How John C. Bambenek Met Laura Pellowski

Originally posted June, 2008

At left is a picture of my maternal grandfather, standing on the Minnesota side of the Burlington Route/Green Bay & Western Winona bridge some time in the 1930s.

Some time before World War One, my great-grandfather Charles Bambenek had the job of delivering a steam saw to a sawmill in Dodge, Wisconsin. He was also tasked with teaching the sawmill's owner, Jacob Pellowski, how to use it. He brought his oldest son John along for company; Jake Pellowski had brought his daughter Laura along to keep him company as he waited for his new saw. The two young ones hit it off, and pretty soon John was hopping trains across the bridge on Fridays, to spend weekends on the Pellowski farm in Dodge - helping with the chores and courting his future wife. In 1914 they were married at Sacred Heart Parish in Pine Creek, Wisconsin.

At right is a picture of yours truly in basically the same place, taken in 1994 by my beloved wife. According to, the bridge's middle span burned in 1989 and it was demolished in 1990. It was hard to believe then that I was standing in the same place where my grandfather had hopped trains to go courting my grandmother. It is hard to believe now that the picture of me standing by the Winona railroad bridge is itself now fourteen years old.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bridges of Winona County (I)

Originally posted June, 2008

I've been fascinated by bridges as long as I can remember. I suspect this comes from all the trips my family took to my parents' home town when we were kids. Not that long after I was born - as soon as Mom felt up to it, no doubt - my parents packed me up and drove me up to Winona, Minnesota to meet the extended family. The Highway 43 Bridge, which connects Winona to the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River,appeared at the end of our trip to tell us that we were finally there. It was also the scariest part of the trip - high, and, long, and narrow, it seemed to defy gravity as it rose over the River. What if it suddenly fell into the River? While we were on it? I don't recall ever cowering on the floor of the car, like somebody used to do, but I definitely held my breath.

Today the Highway 43 Bridge was closed down due to corroded gusset plates. Winona is as sleepy a little river town as one could imagine, but one might as well roll up the sidewalks too. Shoppers and commuters from Wisconsin will have now have to cross the River at Red Wing (roughly 30 miles northwest) or La Crescent (roughly 30 miles southeast). Winona hasn't been isolated in this way since 1892, and it will be really interesting to see how the people of the area will cope. I also hope they get it patched up before I get up to Winona in August!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

In Memoriam

Originally posted May, 2008

In May 1945, Alex and Anna Pellowski of rural Dodge, Wisconsin learned that their son, PFC Lawrence J. Pellowski, had been killed in action on Okinawa on April 20th. Alex Pellowski was the younger brother of my maternal grandmother, Leocadia (Laura) Pellowski Bambenek. This meant that Lawrence was my mom's first cousin.

Mom did not remember Lawrence very well - he was ten years Mom's senior; a serious young man who seldom bothered with silly little girl cousins (and I'm sure Mom was very silly even by little girl standards). When Lawrence graduated from high school on 1941, he moved to Seattle to work in the shipbuilding industry. Something big was about to happen and he didn't want to be deep in the Trempealeau County hills when it started. Mom was far closer to Lawrence's sister Anna Rose, a studious girl exactly her own age who eventually became her high school classmate. Even so, Mom remembered for the rest of her life her shock upon learning of Lawrence's death.. She had only been four when her grandmother and both of her grandfathers died - too young to know them very well and far too young to comprehend what had happened. Dealing with the news that Lawrence would never play tricks on his city slicker cousins from Winona again - that was another matter.
"Lora Mae" and "Anna Rose" went on to long and well-lived lives. Laura Mae Bambenek went to work as a telephone operator; she met and married a railroader from Winona named Ray Hughes and moved with him to Racine, Wisconsin, where they started their family. Their older son is a college professor, their younger son is a school superintendent, and their daughter is a pharmacist. Anne Pellowski (who is still, happily, alive and well and active) studied at Columbia and in Munich and, after that, worked as an administrator at UNICEF. She has published five books in a series, chronicling farm life in Wisconsin as seen through the eyes of five generations of Polish-American farm girls. Although they are written primarily for children, I personally know they make wonderful reading regardless of one's age - or gender or ethnic background or affinity for farm life.

PFC Lawrence Pellowski lies buried near his parents in Sacred Heart Cemetery, in Pine Creek, Wisconsin. He only lived to be twenty-one. Though his life could (and should) have been much longer and happier, it was certainly no less well lived. He was one of hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who fought and gave their lives so that their fellow Americans could live in freedom and security. Simply put, accomplishments like his make all of our accomplishments possible. We Americans owe our war dead and our veterans and our serving military a great debt - not just on Veteran's Day but 365 days a year.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

That's How I Roll

Both sides of my mom's family came to the United States from Kaszubia, in what is now Poland. In the mid nineteenth century, Kaszubia was part of the Prussian province of Pomerania. The Prussians were doing their damnedest (which was very damned indeed) to Germanize my ancestors, so my ancestors got out. The Bambeneks - that is, my maternal grandfather's family - settled in the budding metropolis of Winona while the Pellowskis - my mother's mother's family - farmed across the river in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin.

I recently stumbled across a partially digitized version of Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge's 1917 History of Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. Thank you very much, WiGenWeb! The section on Dodge Township closes with this intriguing paragraph:

Above Dodge one of the first settlers was John Latsch, afterward a prominent wholesale grocer of Winona. He came here in 1856 and settled near a creek at the mouth of the valley that now bears his name. In 1865 Frank Pellowski settled in the same valley, and in the next five years there arrived so many settlers from Hungary that the valley came to be called Hungary Valley. The name of Latsch Valley is being gradually resumed, especially for that part of the valley near its mouth.
Frank Pelowski (1829-1910) was my great-great grandfather. He lies buried alongside my great-great grandmother, Anna Kicrer Pelowska (1837-1895) at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Pine Creek, WI.

I am reasonably sure that Frank and Anna were not Hungarians at all, but Kaszubian Poles. Family tradition has it that they spent their first winter in the Valley in a dugout Frank carved, literally, out of the valley. If, in fact, the Pelowski family did this in 1865, they must have wandered about the States for a while; my great-grandfather Jacob Pellowski (1859-1937) was born on the boat to America. Thanks to Larry Reski at Poland to Pine Creek, I have learned that the boat in question was the Donau, which arrived in New York on August 25, 1859.

More about that later. Much more. Before I go, though, I'd like to share another interesting tidbit I found in the History of Trempealeau County. Emphasis mine.
Although they, the early settlers, mostly all came from the German Empire, they came from different provinces. Those living near Pine Creek came mostly from the Province of Posen and Pomerania, and those near Arcadia and Burnside came from the Province of Silesia. They all speak the Polish language, but the dialect is decidedly different. The great majority of them are of the Catholic faith. One of the strong characteristics of the race is they are cheerful givers to churches. Another is that they are hard losers and do not readily forget when some harm has been done them, and they frequently carry their animosities to their death bed.
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