Green Acres – The Search Continues

Green acres is the place to be
Farm livin’ is the life for me
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just gimme the country side.

The rain, wind, and snow held off for the weekend so my wife and I continued our search looking for our retirement home near Laura Ingall’s stomping ground between Walnut Grove and the big city of Mankato, Minnesota. Specifically we looked at properties in and around, Trimont, St. James, and Comfrey, Minnesota.

Properties ranged in price between 62K and 102K. Some were farmsteads and others were in the city. (if you consider a town of less than 2000 to qualify as a city.) All of the homes had multiple bedrooms and had buildings that could accommodate a generous workshop. All properties had room for a generous garden, which would make Aunt Bea jealous.

Our host for the day, was our trusty real estate agent, James Olson of the Homestead Agency of Winnebago, Minnesota. This was James second attempt to help us find our utopia, but like Atlantis our goal appeared to be doomed.

The first farmstead we visited was located just outside of Trimont, on seven acres of trees and prairie. The property included a two pole sheds, a garage, and three silos. The house was a 1920’s story and a half that had been moved to the farm in the sixties after the original home was destroyed in a fire. The occupied building was left open for us by the owners so we could tour the properties, with instructions to our realtor to make sure the doors were closed when we left.

The main design feature of the home was the fake log siding attached to every wall of the main floor, reminding us of a night in an old Northwood’s cabin. Unfortunately the main scent of the place was of cat, not smoke and pine. There also appeared to be a home rewiring project going on, as part of the wiring on the exterior of the home was spliced together with electrical tape. For safety reasons, we moved on.

The next home was located in Trimont, and was a 1920’s two story with original wood trim. Entering the home we could see hardwood flooring in the entry leading to a carpeted living room and formal dining room. We believe the rug was covering more of the solid maple flooring. Unfortunately the house had a kitchen that had been not brought up to the later part of the century. The refrigerator was placed by itself on a diagonal, a good ten feet from the stove and sink. It was apparent that a kitchen rebuild was in order.

Right next to the kitchen was a half bath which led to a side deck. Obviously that allowed guest to wash up as they came in from the deck for meals.

Upstairs were three bedrooms and a full bath. The second floor was accessed via an ornate wooden staircase featuring a landing and a turn. Again there were hardwood floors throughout.

Outside was a new heated four car garage and an older two car garage. The four car garage would make any craftsman weep with joy as there was room and power aplenty for any type of project.

Even though the kitchen needed work, the property itself remains on our list for more consideration.

The next property James showed us was a farmstead near St. James. Sadly the home seemed as if the previous owner had said “enough” and hastily moved on, leaving a lifetime of junk and cats to fend for themselves. Again we moved on.

We traveled to Comfrey, where we had three houses to inspect.

The first home was an older story and a half with a large garage. The owner, a very nice lady who was unable to move, stayed in her recliner as we walked through the home. She was watching the noontime soap opera and our realtor stuck with her to watch as we checked out the house.

The home itself was small and suffered from a collection of “everything” that spanned decades. There were dolls and doily’s a plenty, mixed in with her son’s Budweiser supply stashed throughout the house and garage. The building was too small for our needs, so we thanked her for the hospitality and went back to our car.

It was nearing noon and since I had seen a bar and grill not far away, we convinced James to stop for lunch. We pulled into the ample parking lot of the Comfrey Bar & Grill, and even though it was noontime, there was plenty of room between the seasoned regulars. Today’s special was a hamburger with your choice of a side dish, which included French fries, skillet fried potatoes or onion rings. The portions were generous and the prices were reasonable, with us and the realtor fighting over the $17.00 lunch tab. He won, but I saved face by leaving the tip. To give you an idea of the Comfrey “ambience” attached is a “Youtube” presentation on this actual Bar & Grill.

With two homes yet to inspect in Comfrey, we moved on.

The next home was an early 1900 house that had been updated to within an inch of its life. Where ever possible an addition had occurred or a space had been converted. The end result was 2000 square feet of paneling and carpet held together with homemade and heart felt decorations. While I am sure the family had the money into the project, we could not see paying to support their craft.

The last home we visited was a 1950’s two story home, which had been tastefully maintained. The home would have easily appealed to the Brady Bunch both in size and décor. Even though I was still beginning to feel the effects of the noon meal, the home kept my interest.

The property was on a 70 by 200 lot that included and extra detached two bay garage that could easily be used as a private workshop. The lot itself had room for a garden and was near the edge of town bordering a field. The view out the front window was of the town’s carwash featuring a cleverly stenciled drawing of a very happy auto.

Unfortunately, a closer inspection of the sales brochure showed a yearly tax that would almost equal the house payment. Time to call it a day.

Our Continuing Search For Green Acres

My wife and I are continuing our search of a simplified retirement residence, that would include space for hobbies and gardening. This would contain some acreage along with a shop for my woodworking and electronic projects.

On Friday morning we left our home at 7:30 a.m. to begin a trip to the southern border of Minnesota. The drive would take approximately 3 hours and led us through much of the fall colors now in full bloom in Minnesota. On the way through the Minnesota River Valley we saw many Bald Eagles and Hawks searching for food. On a two lane paved road, near Amboy, Minnesota we stopped and watched an eagle resting in a field eating a small snake it had caught earlier, unfortunately as I went to grab my camera the eagle rose up flew father away in the pasture.

This week’s excursion in search of “Green Acres” included two nice properties and unfortunately also included one property that more closely resembled an episode of the “Little House on the Desolate Prairie”.

The first home we visited was located on five acres of land near Blue Earth, Minnesota, It was an older two story home built circa 1900 that included three out-buildings that included a metal tool shed, a small wooden shed and a small pony barn with stalls. The pony barn and the shed had obviously not been used in a number of years but seemed structurally sound, but would require a large amount of work to clean them out to make them usable.  The metal tool shed was large with a dirt floor that had been covered with old carpeting that served as flooring. To be used as a woodworking shop a concrete floor would have to be installed along with insulation in the ceiling and walls.

The home itself retained its original floor plan and was last updated in the 1970’s. the bedrooms and bath were located on the second floor and were quite small (10’ X 10’ at best). Some of the original woodwork was evident, but many of the doors were missing. The home was a good example of a budget homestead.

The most interesting part was we arrived in time to meet the older woman who owned the home. She informed us of that after out-living two husbands she was moving with her daughter to Arizona. Today she was taking the family dog to a new home with a young family who had volunteered to adopt him.  The old black Labrador was friendly and was contented to lick the hand I had offered him.  I could tell the old woman would miss him and today was a very sad day for her.

While the property itself was beautiful, with old growth trees that included cottonwoods, ash, apple and berry bushes, the building would require too much of an investment in time and money to bring the property back to its old glory. On my Green Acre Scale of potential retirement homes, I would have to score it three plums out of 5 fruit trees.

The next site we visited was a 1920 story and a half, two bedroom home, with a new detached two stall garage that included extra work space. The home stood by itself on the prairie, within sight of US Interstate 90 and was serenaded by the sounds of buzzing semi tires screaming by on the concrete runway. Near the house was a flat concrete pad that I was told once was covered by a garage that had blown down in a prior wind storm.

We entered the home and quickly noticed a 25 gallon black garbage bag that contained leftover pizza boxes and beer cans. On the wall were beer signs, gracefully nailed to the plaster. Next on the wall there that was a old sheet that was stretched across the bathroom door.Next was adjacent 8’ X10” bedroom with a mattress and bedding laying in the corner.  In a reminder of a departed woman’s touch, I spotted hand painted romantic quotations on the wall that no longer fit the context of the home. The one and one-half upstairs bedrooms were accessed by climbing a two foot wide stairway, that included challenging one foot stair risers. Luckily there was no railing on the wall to get in the way of the climb.

A quick inspection of the basement revealed cinderblock walls, a cracked concrete floor and 10-15 more garbage bags of beer cans that the owner was obviously collecting to fund his retirement. On my Green Acre Scale of potential retirement homes, I scored it a “half plum with a snake” out of 5 fruit trees.

The last home we visited was located near Bricelyn, Minnesota on a rural gravel highway overlooking a working gravel pit. The five acre site included a machine shed, a two car older garage, a small barn and a shed. The home itself was a nice 1950’s rambler style that had been updated in the mid 80’s. the home had new carpeting and maple flooring. The kitchen cabinets while functional had seen better days with the drawer slide bearings having been lost a number of years ago.

A potential problem was the containment pig farm located a mile down the road. As we drove to the farm we passed a tractor pulling two tanks of “liquid pig slurry” that was being applied to the surrounding farms. The realtor reassured us that only when the wind was out of the northwest would there be a potential problem with the odor.

On my Green Acre Scale of potential retirement homes, since I have no sense of smell after my stroke a few years ago, I scored it a “three apples and a clothes line clip” out of 5 fruit trees. My wife scored it a little lower.

That ended this week’s search for Green Acres. After thanking James Olson, our realtor from Homestead Realty of Wanamingo, Minnesota for his more than professional presentation of potential homes, we asked for a recommendation of a lunch location to finish our day. Jim suggested Maggie J’s in Mapleton, Minnesota. It opened recently and is a great spot for family meals and beer. My wife had the special of the day “Swedish meatballs with brown gravy and egg noodles” and I had grilled ham and cheese on a hoagie bun served with crispy French Fries.

The food was very good and together with the friendly atmosphere my wife and I easily rated it four out of five smiles (detracting points only because of they’re not labeling the men’s room door, causing me to search while under considerable pressure.)

We have already begun the search for homes to tour next week. Watch for further updates in our search for Green Acres.

Looking to Go Rural

My wife and I have been considering relocating to rural Midwest location.  We are interested in finding an older farmstead, with a smaller home on about 5 acres of land. We would need a garage and a free standing outbuilding where I can put my workshop.

This weekend we began our search in southern Minnesota in St. James in Watonwan County. A friend of mine recommended a Real Estate Agency to aid in the search. The agent, Gary Sturm, works for the aptly named Mayberry Realty and he spent part of his Saturday driving us around the town of about 11,000 people, that he so happens to serve as Mayor for.

During the drive through town, he pointed out places and persons of interest, including his wife on her way to football game and two of his children on their bicycles.

The town features a branch of the Mayo Hospital system, a school system with about 1200 students, parks and an adjacent lake.

Small town living includes eating at the HomeTown Cafe, featuring a hot beef sandwich heaped with potatoes and gravy, followed by the highly recommended homemade pie ala mode.

The town itself has undertaken a rebuilding of its city streets and utilities and the people pride themselves on their property and the city.

Gary showed us a number of homes ranging in price from $50,000 to $120,000. Unfortunately, lot size and the ability to have a shop knocked all of the locations out of contention. Gary promised to watch for homes in the rural area that would be a better match.

Overnight we stayed in a Days Inn at Austin, MN. I asked if they had a swimming pool or a hot tub for the guests and was informed that they did not. However the clerk stated that the Holiday Inn next door is owned by the same people and if we wanted to swim they would bring us over and get us in. (You just got to love rural hospitality!)

The next morning, we got up and drove through the Root River Area of Minnesota, which includes Preston, Chatfield, Eyota, and also features an Amish community near Harmony, MN. In Preston we stopped at the Preston Apple and Berry and bought some fresh Honeycrisp apples. Since it was noon time, I asked for a lunch recommendation and was steered to Estelle’s Eatery in Harmony, Minnesota. The restaurant was located in a classic 1900 small town bar with a wood and tin ceiling and original oak flooring that had been had sanded and refinished  with a dark stain to accent the patina.

The bar is owned by a young couple originally from the area. Their family’s provides home made produce and meats for the café. The cook/owner makes the most out of the fresh Angus and tops it with multiple types of cheese and strips of locally cured bacon. Top it off with spiced homemade fries and you have a meal you’ll remember.

After lunch we continued our tour of the area by heading down to Decorah, Iowa where one of my daughters attends school. With the fall color in bloom it is a perfect time to visit Dunnings Spring Park, near the campus. With the October temperature approaching nearly 85 degrees, it seemed everyone was out enjoying the day.

After eating a bowl of real ice cream at the Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor, we called it a weekend and headed back up Hwy 52 to Minneapolis.

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Taste of Minnesota Fall

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