Get in the Rink: Rollerderby!

Strap on your quads; We’re goin’ derby

By Aryn Henning Nichols . Photo by Studio J Photography

Photo by Studio J PhotographyBy day she’s the housewife. The attorney. The writer, the stylist, the chef. She moves with confidence, a fresh bruise merely a reminder of her latest battle, and like a rogue superhero, she can’t wait to pull on her fishnets and hot pants, slap on some red lipstick and get back in the rink to kick some derby ass. It’s just the way she rolls.

In a post-feminist era where romance is no longer a dirty word, but yes, the lady still just might want to mow the lawn, roller derby seems a natural fit. It rides a line between burlesque and brawn: the girls are sexy AND tough. They come together from all kinds of backgrounds and in all kinds of packages, united by their love of all things derby. Or they just like beating the crap out of each other while on old school quad skates. Either way, it’s not exactly your grandmother’s roller race.

Inducted in the 1930s by Chicago businessman Leo Seltzer, roller derby experienced a series of highs, lows, and evolutions over the decades until the 60s and 70s when the spectacle of it took precedent over the sport. Roller derby’s popularity fizzled out. Revival efforts didn’t take until 2001 when a group of Texas women pulled it out of its grave and gave it a whole new look.

The game goes like this: Two teams of five players are on the track, each with one jammer (she has a star on her helmet and is the one who scores) and four blockers (the blocker with a stripe on her helmet, the pivot, leads her blockers). For every opponent the jammer passes, her team scores a point. But short of throwing elbows or making human clotheslines, these girls are doing everything they can to keep the opposing jammer back and get their jammer through.

“One of the reasons roller derby is so popular is because of the explosive, fantastic combination of sport, entertainment, female aggression, and (dare I say it?) sex appeal,” says Decorah native Regan (Johnson) Jacobsen. “Let me be explicit – this is a real, full-contact sport.”

Jacobsen, aka Tammy Faye Undertakker or more often, TFU (a tribute to Ms. Tammy Faye Bakker, the late overly-made up televangelist), lives in Madison and has been skating with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls going on four years. For her, all it took was one bout. She wanted in.

“The second I walked in the door I was hooked. I just KNEW I had to do this,” she says. “I didn’t for a second consider the time, the money, the injuries, or the fact that the closest thing I ever played to a sport was marching band.”

The Mad Rollin’ Dolls (MRD), kicking off their sixth season the end of January 2010, were Midwestern pioneers of the sport alongside other leagues like the Minnesota Roller Girls (MNRG). Leagues like these frequently have thousands of people come to see them skate (at a recent MNRG bout, they had nearly 4,000 attendees!), but it definitely took a lot of work getting there. And as with most things, being a pioneer has its pros and cons.

Zara Danz, aka Candi Pain (“I picked my name because it seemed sweet and bad ass. The play on words thing is pretty big with derby names. Also I really like candy!”), has been with the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Roller Girls since day one. She says being one of the first Midwestern teams had some physical perks.

“I decided I wanted to be the one hitting the hardest, not the one getting knocked over. That motivated me,” Danz says. “I was lucky though, because at the point I started it was new to all of us. We were the first league to bring derby to Minnesota. Now when rookies start, they get pounded by seasoned vets.”

Jacobsen says MRD had to blaze a wide trail for leagues that would one day join the ranks.

“Madison didn’t have any blueprints, any mentors, or any limits. That’s been a challenge and also a great responsibility – to help the leagues that formed after us learn from our mistakes, improve on what we did right, and succeed where we have failed,” she says.

According to Jacobsen, everybody has a “fresh meat” story – “I was scared as hell when I started. The first time I went to a practice with ‘veteran’ skaters flying by me on the track on all sides, their wheels clacking up against my wheels… it was terrifying” – but teammates work hard to train new players.

“Derby is very ‘Three Musketeers’ in that regard,” Jacobsen explains. “Don’t get me wrong, we want everyone to improve so it’s more of a challenge to knock them down and more exciting to watch, but we want everyone to improve, regardless. It’s just not fun to knock down someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Ok, it is, but you don’t feel as accomplished.”

Closer to home, smaller cities like La Crosse are founding their own leagues. The La Crosse Skating Sirens, not even one year old yet, look to teams like MRD and MNRG for guidance and advice. Because starting a roller derby league isn’t easy: it’s a business. You need organization, recruits, money. Skating Sirens founder and president Melissa Larivee, aka Skin Kitty, is proud of how far they’ve come in just a few short months. They have great sponsors (“The people who back us, back us.”), skate all their home bouts at a great venue – the La Crosse Center – they have enough members for two teams on their league, and they’re improving on the track.

“We got our asses kicked at our first bout,” Larivee says. “But we’re getting better. We’re losing by less now.”

At the interview, Larivee’s left wrist is in a cast, and her nose is healing nicely after a dirty bout punch, she says.

“She’s our league clutz,” jokes Skating Sirens vice president Marghie Arttus, aka Hiss’n Kitten.

“No, I’m just aggressive,” Larivee retorts. The two agree they are complete opposites, but because of derby, they’re best friends.

“It’s all about the comraderie,” Larivee says. “We want women to have a place to go to be athletic and skate. Women can dominate this sport. It does take a certain kind of woman, you just don’t know who that is exactly. There isn’t a stereotype for it. You can have your basketball star and your Goth out there on the track together. But I think it’s popular because it’s all women – the guys are in the minority.”

So the fact that men’s leagues are starting to form across the nation naturally raises the derby dander a bit. Jacobsen explains.

“When I first heard about men’s derby leagues popping up, I was upset. I felt, “Can’t we just have one thing!?” because women have traditionally been so excluded from sports; and women’s sports and women athletes are not given the same clout or attention as men’s sports and male athletes. I was afraid men’s roller derby would surpass women’s derby in popularity and co-opt all the hard work derby leagues have done to popularize the sport and bring it into the mainstream.”

She continues, “But, then I saw men playing roller derby… let’s just say my fears were waylayed. It’s an entirely different animal than all-female derby. And also, derby is fun. I don’t want to discourage anyone from having fun, working out, and participating in a community. Seriously, though, have you ever seen a six-foot tall man with hairy legs in hot pants? Yikes.”

Beside men, the derby leagues all have their rivals. For Danz, it’s the Mad Rollin’ Dolls.

“As far as our Allstar traveling team, our biggest rivals would be Madison,” Danz says. “Madison has an amazing league! We have a fantastic fun-loving border battle with them.”

MNRG has four home teams that play each other, and Danz is the captain of the Dagger Dolls. “I think this year we’ll be the force to be reckoned with. We have some amazing rookies and killer vets!”

MRD has six teams in their league, and Jacobsen skates for the Unholy Rollers. She’s her own biggest rival (“I am constantly trying to improve my game”), followed by MRD’s Reservoir Dolls. (“There is no team I enjoy beating more than the Res Dolls.”)

The Skating Sirens are still figuring out their opponents. “We don’t have any real rivals yet,” Arttus says. “Although we’ve played some pretty dirty skaters, most everyone is having fun.”

Fun is the emphasis for skaters and attendees at derby bouts.

“Everyone goes to see derby,” Danz says. “There are bands, games, giveaways, food and delicious PBR! I think there is a serious cool and fun factor that nothing else out there has. I could go on and on. Roller derby fever is contagious!”

Perhaps it’s the short skirts and stockings. The racy names. Or the motley crew that is the roller derby norm. But it truly does seem to kick ass.

“Derby is like the Island of Misfit Toys for grown-ups,” Jacobsen says. “We’re all a little nutty, injured, socially inept, what have you, but we came together because no one else would accept us or no one else was doing what appealed to us. We accept each other for better or for worse, and together we make something phenomenal.”

Aryn Henning Nichols thinks it would be amazing to start a Decorah derby league. I mean, WTFDA rhymes with UFFDA…can you think of a better sign? Now…to find the time…

Interview with Artist Ashley Dull

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Ashley Dull Lindeman’s enthusiasm is infectious. She bustles through the door of a downtown Decorah coffee shop with arms full of paintings, at least one still mildly wet. We hug – I’ve known Ashley since she was seven and her sister and I were best friends in the fourth grade – and we both speak at once.

“I haven’t seen you since that time we talked about changing the world,” I say.

She laughs, “I’m still trying to change the world…somehow.”

This earnest mission is at the root of what inspires Ashley in her art. She’s not jaded. And, no, there isn’t supposed to be a “yet” on the end of that sentence. Maybe she’s naïve. But who cares? She’s definitely not cocky, especially for a 26-year-old who is actually making a living at art in the Twin Cities, a place loaded with talented artists and creative folk. No, Ashley is willing to admit she’s got a lot to learn

“I’m still trying to figure out this world – I don’t know enough about anything, really,” she says humbly.

She does know a thing or two around a canvas. If it weren’t for the amazing texture created by the carefully molded piles of still-wet paint, her nature-inspired pieces could be photos. Really dimensional photos, almost like you could walk right in.

“I want people to say, ‘I wanna touch that. I wanna be there,’” she says. “I will be out walking in the woods, touching everything, enjoying the peace that nature brings – I want to put that in my paintings. I want to make people feel good.”

Ashley’s upbringing on a small farm in between Postville and Decorah was full of the big skies, beautiful trees, and picturesque landscapes of the Driftless Region. A walk in the woods could inspire as many as three-dozen future paintings. Perhaps this is where the passion she’s had for art “since forever” began.

Nurtured by teachers with good foresight – Postville High School’s Rose Schutte and Luther College’s Doug Eckheart being two major mentors – Ashley took the encouragement they gave her, “You really have something here,” and ran with it. She graduated from Luther College in 2005 with a double major in health and art. And like many recent graduates, she wasn’t sure what was next.

“I thought, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’” she says. “But I did feel that it was possible to really do it, to be an artist.”

It certainly wasn’t a straight shot to galleries and commissions from there though. She moved to the Twin Cities to work as a personal trainer, painting in her free time. In 2007 she finally applied for her first art fair in Edina. And got in. During that show Ashley met her now “art agent” Jack McCauley. McCauley helped her put together her first gallery show in Roseville and it was a huge success. This was the affirmation Ashley needed to paint more, train less. McCauley continues to represent her work today.

Her pieces have since been shown in seven galleries – along with four shows in the next two months alone – and she landed a lengthy internship with nationally known Twin Cities artist Pamela Sukhum. Now, just two short years since Ashley’s first show, she’s armed with a wealth of new skills and information for her life both as an artist and as a self-employed business owner.

“It is still a business, and I need to make money,” Ashley says. “If art takes me there, then okay.”

She has learned it’s a lot of paperwork. And marketing. And networking. And while it’s fun to envision a future of grandeur, she’s not expecting it – perhaps doesn’t even want it.

“You know, I think it crossed my mind what I was younger, ‘Maybe I want to be this famous artist,’ but now – I could care less about fame. I want to bring peace and beauty to people’s lives,” she says, earnest once again.

She also wants to bring hope to people’s lives, and attempts this through a “giving back promise.” Ashley donates a small percentage of sales at her shows to an organization she’d like to support. The exhibits in the Twin Cities have been tied with non-profit organizations mainly dedicated to helping at-risk youth. For her Decorah show, running from October 1 through 31at The Perfect Edge on Washington Street, Ashley has, we’re humbled to say, chosen Inspire(d) Media as the organization she’d like to support.

“I believe in what you’re doing and want to help if I can,” Ashley writes in an email after informing us of her choice. She’s also really excited to have her paintings in the town of her alma mater.

“I always hoped – and sort of knew – I’d do a Decorah show,” she says. “So many of my paintings are Decorah landscapes.”

In addition to the giving back promise, Ashley has a few other traditions tied to her work: She always picks a theme – the current show is entitled “From Darkness to Light,” inspired by the prayer of St. Francis ­– and she always hides a bible verse somewhere in each painting. Don’t get worked up – she isn’t really a beater of said bible – she just relates many of the verses to her experiences in nature: feelings of calm, peace, love, joy, beauty, change, and new life. It’s by translating these experiences to her paintings that she plans to change the world.

“If I can help someone feel a connection to the world around us and a sense of purpose in this life,” she writes, “then I know I have done right by my talent.”

Aryn Henning Nichols truly believes you can change the world with passion (the good kind) and positive actions. When she was 21, she said this to someone and they told her she’d just wasn’t jaded yet. It’s been a happy seven years in the so-called land of bunnies and unicorns. She’s not planning on leaving any time soon.

For more information and to check out some of Ashley’s art, visit artbyashleydull.com

 

From Steam to Gasoline: The Tractor!


By Benji Nichols | Image above courtesy Randy Leffingwell, LA Times

There are few inventions in history that have literally changed the landscape like the modern tractor. Steam locomotives were being primitively built as early as the late 1700s in Europe and then America, but it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that steam technology was applied to “Locomobiles” or traction engines (tractor for short!). These early replacements for draft horses were incredible inventions, but also proved to be slow, heavy, and cumbersome. This is where the story of the tractor takes an interesting turn on a little road in Northeast Iowa.

John Froelich was born November 24, 1849 in Giard, Iowa. The first of nine children born to German settlers Johannes Heinrich (Henry) Froelich and Kathryn Gutheil, his life work went far beyond the typical farm – he operated a grain elevator near Froelich, Iowa and ran a threshing operation in Langford, South Dakota. As the story goes, John Froelich was fascinated by steam-driven machinery and farm implements. And not only that: he also worked on them and understood their weaknesses. In 1890 Froelich purchased a gasoline internal combustion engine from the Van Duzen Engine Works in Cincinnati, Ohio, to run his grain elevator. While working with the engine at his elevator he began to tinker with the idea of using the gasoline engine to power a traction engine.

In 1892 Froelich mounted a single-cylinder Van Duzen engine on a Robinson chassis with a traction system of his own design and thus created the very first internal combustion-powered tractor that moved forward and backward, and could also power a threshing machine. Froelich’s sidekick and assistant, William Mann, helped him transport the machine by rail to their South Dakota operation and proceeded to use it to power their J.I. Case threshing machine through 72,000 bushels of grain in 52 days.

On the heels of this accomplishment, a group of investors backed Froelich and formed the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in 1893. But unfortunately they only built four of Froelich’s tractors – two of which were returned by unsatisfied customers. In 1895 the company became the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company and went to work building small stationary gas engines for such uses as pumping water and powering grain elevators. Froelich soon left the company and the Waterloo Company changed hands more than once in the early 1900s, but eventually began to produce the “Waterloo Boy” gas engine farm tractors, a design much like the one John Froelich brought to the company more than a decade before. By 1918, Waterloo Boy had produced three models of the tractor including the LA, R, and N models with over 8,000 tractors sold.

In 1918, The John Deere Company in Moline made a bid of $2.2 million dollars to acquire the Waterloo Boy Tractor Company, thus taking on the most successful modern tractor company of its time, and all of this built off of John Froelich’s original design for the gasoline internal combustion traction engine. John Froelich went on from his early tractor-building endeavor to create engines at the Novelty Iron Work in Dubuque, and then worked with his brother Gottlieb in manufacturing before moving to St. Paul. He was a life-long inventor, credited with such things as a washing machine, dish washer and dryer, a mechanical corn picker, and the first air conditioner that later became the Carrier Air Conditioning Company. In the late 1920 Froelich caught some more bad luck working in the investment world. The great crash of 1929 wiped out much of his livelihood and savings and he spent the final years of his life with his daughter, Jenetie, in St. Paul where he passed away in 1933. He was never recognized for his inventions until decades later. Froelich was inducted into the Iowa Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991. To this day, his name sits on the sidelines in the history of the common farm tractor, but it was indeed his invention and tinkering with the old Van Duzen single cylinder engine that led to one of the world’s most important agricultural implements.

PHOTO COURTESY FROELICH FOUNDATION

Today the village of Froelich, Iowa sits perfectly captured and re-built as a still-shot from a century ago. A model of John Froelich’s tractor rests outside the refurbished general store. Once a year the village comes alive with action from all over the tri-state area for the annual “Fall-der-All.”

“Fall-der-All” is the annual celebration of the Froelich Tractor and attractions, including the Burlingame General Store Museum, Tractor Museum, one-room country school, blacksmith shop and more. It’s an opportunity for those that love vintage farm equipment to bring their collection in and show it off,” says Froelich foundation President Denny Eilers.

This year, the festival and fundraiser will take place September 26-26, with a variety of displays and activities suitable for the whole family.

The Froelich Foundation board-of-directors is an all-volunteer group that manages the museum, grounds, and historic preservation of Froelich.

“The town of Froelich is significant in agricultural history as it’s the birthplace of the modern farm tractor,” Eilers says. “The Froelich Tractor is the direct ancestor to today’s John Deere tractor division in Waterloo, Iowa, and around the world. There is a huge amount of history coming out of this small village, as historians credit the modern farm tractor as the key tool that helps American farmers create an abundant food supply for our country, plus produce enough to export to other countries. It’s a history we treasure, and the Froelich Foundation was started 21 years ago as a non-profit group of volunteers to preserve this history and pass it down to the next generation.”

You can find out more about the story of John Froelich, the village named after his family, and the annual Fall-der-All by visiting the Village of Froelich located on Highway 18 between Monona and McGregor, Iowa – open through September from 11 am to 5 pm daily except for Wednesdays, and weekends in October. More information and history at www.froelichtractor.com or by calling (563) 536-2841.

Benji Nichols has been fascinated with old tractors and single-piston-engines for as long as he can remember his Grandpa tinkering with them. He looks forward to the Froelich Fall-der-All and Hesper/Mabel Steam Engine days every fall and someday hopes to learn how to engineer steam tractors.