Monday, November 30, 2009

Button Making from Mississippi River Clams

Nearly a hundred years ago the button industry flourished along the upper Mississippi River. Before the advent of plastic buttons, mother of pearl buttons were made from clams (mussels) harvested in the river.

One method used to collect clams involves a series of hooks that when lowered to the river floor would allow the clam to attach itself. After a period of time the harvester would pull the assembly up and detach the clam.

Once the meat was gathered the shell was sold to the button factories along the river. Using mechanical means the shells were cleaned, drilled for the button blank, cut, polished and packaged. The pearl button business declined in the 1960s with the availability of a cheaper to make material - plastic.

Drilled shells like the one above now in the at the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa can still be found today where button factories once stood. Try looking in Guttenburg, Iowa for button shells. Know that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Old Style Steerin' on the Mississippi River - Port of Dubuque

At the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in 42N country's Dubuque, Iowa there is much to see and do. The museum is divided into river history, biology, flood prevention, and an aquarium of fish, alligators, otters and other creatures that live in or along America's river. Outside you can find a retired steamboat to walk through along with other displays of ship engines from the Dubuque Boat Works.

One of the inside displays is a hands-on recreation of a steamboat pilot's wheel and bridge. This throwback display is not as flashy like the computer animated modern tow and barge counterpart located on the museum's second floor - where kids of all ages line up to pilot a 15 barge behemoth up river.

Yesterday's hand operated pilot wheel turns as you would expect a ship's wheel should turn - as seen in numerous old movies. Here's one thing that I noticed. To keep the wheel in the know of where center rudder is located a simple rope and wooden block device is positioned just ahead of the wheel That way the navigator knows how far the rudder is off center when turning the wheel. Ingenious yet simple. Know that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Greetings from Amana, Iowa

On the coldest day of the month we celebrate Thanksgiving with family in Amana, Iowa - part of 42N country (41.8N, 91.871W.) Here at the Lily Pond several canada geese, ducks and swans bob around in the still unfrozen water, thankful for not being turkeys today. Know that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beatles in a Box

On September 9, 2009 Capitol Records released the recordings of the Beatles remastered in mono (packaged in the white box) and stereo (black box.) This week the two sets are positioned at eye level in the local 42N Best Buy store just in time for the official holiday shopping period.

While these remastered albums are available in CD format with booklets and other packaged goods, digital downloads will apparently be available perhaps as early as 2010 per Paul McCartney's November 14th statement. You don't have to wait though. A form of digital downloads, available on a limited edition USB flash drive, can be found on the group's official store website.

As the trend for digital music format distribution continues, older versions of file storage (vinyl records, cassettes, 8-tracks and reel-to-reel tapes) fade quickly from popular use. Still, holding a 45 rpm piece of vinyl that was issued when the band still recorded at Abbey Road Studios provides a tangible reminder of the longevity of the Beatles' music and the generational remarketing as technology evolves. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Know that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Veterans Day 2009 Plus 7 Days

One more post to Veterans Day. Sheet music to George M. Cohan's 1917 song, Over There proclaims that "we won't come back till it's over Over there." Hear all three versions of the recorded song at this web site. Click the player at the top of the page to hear each artist.

In 1940 George Cohan was presented with a Congressional medal honoring him as the creator of "Over There." Cohan remains the only American composer to receive such an award. Know that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Veterans Day 2009 Plus 6 Days

For years I have looked at this statue, ultimately forging a memory. Recently I again remembered this soldier positioned on a corner, part of four military effigies chiseled into a stone monument. Perhaps Veterans Day six days ago jarred that distant impression or unearthed some mnemonic threads of location, time and place.

What seems appropriate is to tie the monument to those who served their countries. Lt. Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army wrote one of the most famous World War I poems, after experiencing war first hand at the battle of Ypres. His words became the catalyst to remember the war dead internationally and serves to symbolically link the thoughts by wearing a red poppy. Know that.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belle Plaine Iowa's Lincoln Cafe Status

42N country is bisected by a concrete ribbon - the Lincoln Highway. As the first transamerica highway the route is filled with support businesses of various kinds and ages - some as old as the route itself.

In Belle Plaine, Iowa the locally famous Lincoln Cafe operates. This diner has been feeding the travellers and town folk for generations. However this year something went terribly wrong. One of the cafe's co-owners was
murdered at his home.

The co-owner's common law wife, her son and his girl friend were all charged in July with the crime. Their trials begin in December and early 2010.

While Belle Plaine offers a peek at what small town USA looked like back in the 1920-30s with the Lincoln Highway, cafe and Preston's gas station (a very small museum to the Lincoln Highway and other area things) it would not be complete without a lunch stop at the Lincoln Cafe. Check first before planning a trip there as the cafe may or may not be open during the trial period.

If for no other reason Lincoln Highway enthusiasts should stop by and photograph the exterior of the landmark diner. Know that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Late Season Work for the Ed Renshaw Up Bound Near Port Byron, Illinois

This afternoon the thick overcast sky of mid-autumn signals the approach of snow. Tugs like the Ed Renshaw seen here about 4 pm today up bound on the upper Mississippi River pushing an empty barge will most likely continue to work until river traffic is halted for the season - perhaps in early January. The Illinois town of Port Byron is seen in the background.

Directly across from Port Byron is Le Claire, Iowa. The small town (located at 41.59N, 90.35W) was the home to river pilots back in the day and is the birthplace of William F. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill Cody. There are museums to both interests located in Le Claire.

The steamboat City of Baton Rouge, built in 1916 is now anchored in Le Claire (just right of the double stack boat (Twilight) above.) Boat traffic defines the history of this portion of 42N country on one of the greatest rivers in the world. Know that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Atop an Underwood

American Beat writer Jack Kerouac's early work is thought to have been written on an Underwood typewriter like this one above. Five million of these manual typewriters were manufactured by 1939. This one may have been made sometime in the 1920s according to

Last week's auction in 42N country included this model. The pallet made up of a mish-mash of items failed to generate any bids. The items are either kept for the next auction or are pitched if determined to be worthless. Know that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009: Thank You Over There From Over Here

Ninety-one years ago today the war to end all wars — ended. In 2009 we pause to honor all veterans who served our country and those who are actively defending our freedoms today.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 Germany signed the armistice with the Allied Powers — including the U.S., France, Britain, Japan and Italy — ending major hostilities and proclaiming the end to World War I. Know that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Final Days of the Palisades Hotel

Its hard to imagine the century-old Palisades Hotel, also known as Upper Palisades Hotel, Biderman Hotel, Cedar Springs Hotel, and the Old Dutch Inn will not be around long after Thursday, November 12th. That is the day when this digger will demolish the landmark structure which was substantially destroyed by the 2008 flood of the Cedar River. Hotel debris will be loaded and carried away to a local landfill by this dump truck.

A FEMA director told the 42N blogger that the paperwork is in order for Thursday's demolition. Following months of completing forms, contacting property owners and getting the necessary approvals, all parties recently received the green light to clean the area. The hotel is located near Palisades - Kepler State Park, just west of Mt. Vernon, Iowa (41.92N, 91.41W.)

An archaeologist is documenting the scene before and after the work of the crews as they tear down cabins and the hotel this week. He noted that the geological nature of the setting diminishes the potential for finding Indian relics. He said that the land sits on an alluvial deposit that tends to wash away with seasonal floods. Additionally the former quarry owners who originally built the Cedar Springs Hotel in the 1880s probably had the area plowed to make room for the railroad that moved rock out and later brought guests to the hotel.

When heavy machinery is not operating, just the sounds of the Cedar River and wind blowing through the nearly leafless trees is all that can be heard. It's not hard to imagine why this place attracted thousands of people every season including town folks from nearby Mt. Vernon, Lisbon and Cedar Rapids. The setting also welcomed celebrities such as the vaudevillian Cherry Sisters and poet, Carl Sandburg plus many others. Know that.

Update: The Palisades Hotel was demolished on May 5, 2010 when weather conditions and paperwork were all in order. See post from that date.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Coggon, Iowa's 2009 Fall Harvest: Here Comes the Propane

Its about iconic as it comes - Iowa farmers harvesting gain from fields and delivering crop to storage bins. This 42N scene is from just north of Coggon, Iowa (42.27N, 91.52 W) on Highway 13.

Yesterday (11/8/09) corn and soybeans fields north of Coggon teamed with harvesters, grain trucks and support crews. By taking advantage of the near summer-like conditions of the past two days, the area farmers hope to get a crop in before winter snow and other wet conditions prevent further harvest.

Today Iowa Governor Chet Culver authorized additional propane deliveries to Iowa so that grain can be dried to help prevent spoilage. Didn't know you needed a governor to authorize something for your own business. Know that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Delaplane Virginia's Historic Rail Station

Originally known as Piedmont Station, this small northern Virginia village now called Delaplane once provided rail transportation for the Confederate army's General Jackson's brigade in 1861. The claim to fame for this train station is that it was part of the first large scale use of mass transportation of land troops to a battlefield. Some 10,000 soldiers gathered in freight and cattle cars at the station (photo above) to move quickly to the nearby Manassas battlefield (also called Bull Run.) According to the historical marker this action of mass troop transportation led to victory for the confederate forces at this battle. General Jackson earned his 'Stonewall' nickname at this battle as a result of his defiant stance in opposition to overwhelming forces.

In this immediate area of Virginia you can find the sites of the French Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Preservation of these sites help teach the real history of this area and nation. Know that.