Sunday, August 30, 2009

All Aboard the Pearl Button in Muscatine, Iowa

Mississippi River excursion boating returned to Muscatine, Iowa (41.42N, 91.04W) with the operation of the Pearl Button sidewheeler. In July 2009, the new owners of the boat combined a water cruise experience with a land-based restaurant (Button Factory Woodfire Grille) and horse drawn carriage rides. The boat's name is derived from the pearl button industry that flourished in the river city nearly a century ago.

Most recently the cruiser ran excursion trips from Stillwater, Minnesota and was relocated downriver last October to her new home in Muscatine. Currently, Sunday excursions are offered from 1:15 pm - 3:15 pm. The passenger boat is powered by 2 - 85 hp diesels and an auxiliary on the stern. The carriage ride is powered by two horses who reportedly are brothers. Know that.

Aftermath of 8/27 Indian Creek Flood

Indian Creek in 42N country flash flooded after 7.07 inches of rain came down on August 27, 2009. Annually the creek floods (usually in late May or June but not always) despite flood control improvements up creek in northern Linn County, Iowa. The protection of the homes in the area above will require more structural improvements to the flood plain including a dike or series of berms plus more aggressive upstream flood controls.

On Saturday, August 29th the creek had receded to its banks and left clear indications of the force of the Thursday rising water. Typical of the any flood on this creek are flattened grasses, new sand bar deposits, and uprooted trees. This flash flood was no exception to the pattern. Know that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tiger Dams Fail on Indian Creek - Cedar Rapids, Iowa

After 7.07 inches of rain fell in a 36-hour period, 42N country's Indian Creek flooded southeast side neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This event occurred only 14 months after the historic 2008 flood of the Cedar River and Indian Creek in Cedar Rapids. Today's flash flood was significant for a couple of reasons. For the first time the city deployed Tiger Dams, a removable bladder-like series of tubes that fill with water, tether together and stack to form a barrier. These dams were assembled the day before as part of a training exercise (see video). The other reason this flood was significant was that the muddy colored waters crept a bit closer to the 42N command center than in years' previous.

Today's rainfall sent the creek rising much faster and higher than anticipated. The swollen creek circumvented the 200 feet run of the temporary dam and began to back fill behind the structure. City crews raced to the scene and positioned sandbags in an attempt to shore up the Tiger Dams. Due to several factors (water pressure, positioning, join strength, current velocity, debris and who knows what), the Tiger Dams failed around 7:30 pm. Upon their collapse water was sent up the streets and into homes. The crew quickly approached the sewer lines and began pumping to relieve the water pressure. When the first location failed the crew went a half block up the street to repeat the pressure fix. This time their actions were successful. Waters began to slowly recede around 9:10 pm and by morning the creek was near its banks again.

Local ABC-TV affiliate KCRG (Channel 9) arrived around 8 pm and interviewed the residents about the Tiger Dams' effectiveness. Station reporter and producer Alyson Hunt conducted the interview. Her report was actually the lead story for the 10 pm news. Know that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Crown Jewels Still Sparkle Over Iowa Countryside

High above the prairie, glass and porcelain insulators still shine from some telephone pole masts. In 42N country these artifacts, sometimes referred to as crown jewels, can be found near railroad lines. While many poles with insulators have largely disappeared over the years, weathered remnants like this (above) remain intact or laying on the ground close to where they once overlooked.

Thrift stores, auctions and garage sales are good places to find and start collecting insulators. Many times the cost of basic insulators is cheap and an easy way to begin a hobby. If you get the insulator collecting bug consider joining clubs like the National Insulator Association and connect with other insulator enthusiasts. Another good resource site is the Glass Insulators Collectors Reference site. One simple way to get started is to collect glass insulators of different colors and shapes -- like the top row in the photo above. Know that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Grain Gain in Jesup, Iowa

Along most of 42N latitude and just a quarter turn of the globe west from London, England lies the grain producing regions of the American Midwest. Within the harvest-to-market system there are thousands of grain bins like these along railroads and major river systems.

Here in
Jesup, Iowa (42.47N, 92.06W) these bins await the upcoming corn and soybean crop harvest in just a few months. Grain collected from Jesup area farms is transported to corporate customers for further processing via the Illinois Central Railroad which runs along the base of bins. Jesup's concrete multiple bins were built in the 1960s. More recently constructed bins are composed of stainless steel and strengthened by retention rings. These working bins are a sign of a healthy agricultural economy on the prairie. Know that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Steam Drills Get the Lead of Out of Platteville - Literally!

In the late 1600s European traders on the upper Mississippi River began bartering with the natives. One of the more valuable traded assets was lead ore mined near Dubuque, Iowa. Later, more lead was discovered in nearby limestone deposits. One of these locations was in present day Platteville, Wisconsin. Here the lead mining business was centered for many years from the late 1800s through mid-1900s.

A relic from the lead mining heyday is this steam powered rock drill pictured above. It was made by the Ingersoll Drilling Company and is on display in front of Wisconsin's first state normal school (a college for teachers.) In 1905 the building was the home to the Wisconsin Mining Trade School.

Platteville's extensive mining history is visible throughout the town. An extensive Mining Museum complete with a gas-powered train (ore carts) and a portion of an actual lead mine can be toured. There you can observe the transition from pick and axe mining to steam powered rock drilling that helped get the lead out (and zinc) of the Platteville area. Know that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summertime in Urbana, Iowa...Going Once, Twice, Sold

Mid- to late summer in 42N country means billowing clouds in late afternoon. These tend to lead to thunderstorms and perhaps more severe weather. This particular afternoon a crowd gathered at a weekly auction north of Urbana, Iowa on a farm. The auctioneer (in the red hat and stripped shirt) conducts the outside portion of the sale first then moves indoors. His sale includes about eight hay racks full of miscellaneous household/farm items that generally sell cheaply -- like that white chair seen in the foreground. It now resides in my backyard. Besides the sale of material that you would expect from any auction this is also a time to talk to people and see the countryside. There are stories out there. Know that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bill Mundt and the Oelwein Railyard

It is not necessarily the extensive railroad artifacts found at the Oelwein Railroad Museum (also known as Hub City Heritage Corporation) that impresses a visitor. It is the enthusiasm and knowledge of the museum’s president Bill Mundt (top photo.) On a recent stop at one of 42N country’s largest collection of railroad cars and gear, Bill provided a personal one-hour tour of the various buildings and rail cards, including a look inside this 1950 diesel locomotive (seen above) located in Oelwein, Iowa.

Annually in mid-August Oelwein celebrates railroad days. This year the museum volunteers are refurbishing a wooden Rock Island Railroad caboose for display, one of only two of this type known to be in existence. Seek out Bill or one of the other volunteers to give you an informative peek at the not too distant past. Know that.