Sunday, May 23, 2010

Slow Day At Mississippi River Lock and Dam No. 11

With temperatures approaching 90 degrees today many people looked for water-based entertainment this weekend.

Being the first really hot weekend of the season there was substantial recreational boat traffic on the Mississippi River at the Port of Dubuque, Iowa below Lock and Dam No. 11.

While a small group of river watchers gathered at the Lock's observation platform they were rewarded with views of people fishing on the Wisconsin side, flying pelicans and floating cormorants during the early afternoon.

A van load of adults from a special needs home departed after reporting no boats had transited the passage way for the hour and a half while they were enjoying a picnic lunch on the platform.

A short time later sirens blared, upriver gates closed, the pool dropped from 15 feet to 8 feet and the downriver gates opened. This allowed two recreational boats to enter the lock, approach the side wall and begin the
lift experience.

One boater knew the lock attendant and chatted him up about fixing his pickup truck. Three people in one boat and four in the second made the tally for this particular transit. 

"Taxpayer dollars at work," exclaimed one observer on the platform under her breath as the pool rose and gates opened upriver allowing the two craft to speed off. Know that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

USAF Transport Lands in Cedar Rapids Ahead of Vice President Visit

An USAF transport plane landed at the 42N's airport today along with a jet fighter escort. Most likely the transport is the advanced security support for Vice President Joe Biden's (D) visit to Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May 17th. The VP will be in town to join Iowa Governor Chet Culver's (D) re-election announcement tour of the state. The two politicians and other party officials will be at a ceremony in Green Square Park located in downtown Cedar Rapids. Most national politicians visit Iowa and Cedar Rapids in particular during the campaign season. June's 2010 primary also opens the 2012 presidential election season here in Iowa.

Its been well over a decade since the last airshow at the Eastern Iowa Airport. These political trips by high ranking officials allows chance sightings of one of the nation's finest military transport jets and the security detail that protects all. Know that.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Skylab's Shaky Start - 37 Years Ago

Unmanned Skylab 1 lifted off from Cape Kennedy, Florida 37 years ago on May 14, 1973. Within the first few minutes of launch the last Saturn V rocket configuration shook so much that the third stage laboratory (Skylab) began losing exterior components. Following the craft’s insertion into Earth orbit ground controllers discovered the loss of the micrometeor shield and one of two solar panels.

Without the shield and substantial loss of electrical generating capacity, Skylab began to heat up internally and posed a problem for the crew’s arrival in a few days. High temperatures inside the spacecraft, it was theorized could have produced poisonous toxins, and lead to loss of equipment and supplies.

Scientists, engineers, astronauts and management took ten days to study the problem, come up with a fix, and train the three man crew. The mission launch of astronauts Pete Conrad, Joe Kerwin and Paul Weitz took place on May 25th to repair the ailing station and begin a new chapter in extended earth orbit stay. Once in orbit the crew deployed a parasol to shade the lab’s exterior. The remaining stuck solar panel was dislodged by the crew after snipping a metal band that held the collapsed panel in place. Following the initial repair drama the crew stayed in orbit for 28 days setting endurance records.

Skylab’s launch was an exciting new chapter in the American space program following the close of the Apollo moon missions. After the last three-man crew vacated Skylab in early 1974 the US conducted the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project joint mission with the Soviets in 1975 utilizing the last remaining Saturn IB rocket.

Six years later NASA rolled out the Space Shuttle program to continue earth orbit exploration. The unmanned Skylab vehicle eventually fell out of orbit and was mostly destroyed during re-entry with some pieces surviving on July 11, 1979 - long enough to strike Australia. Years later Russia revealed that it had constructed its own space shuttle, the Buran to among other things capture the vacated Skylab and return it to the Soviet Union for analysis.

As the Space Shuttle program winds down there is much debate politically, economically and scientifically about the direction of American manned space exploration.

One thing is sure; Skylab’s contributions directly enhanced the International Space Station’s mission (along with the Soviet Mir program) and undoubtedly will lead to long range space exploration vehicles and living habitats – be it in earth orbit, the surface of the moon or one day on Mars. Know that.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

V-E Day Plus 65 Years

On May 8th, 1945 Germany surrendered to the Allies thus ending World War II in Europe. A few days earlier General George Patton and the U.S. Third Army halted his eastern advance at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.

Sixty-five years after the surrender let us not forget the sacrifice millions of soldiers and civilians made in defence of Europe during World War II. These people helped preserve freedom for millions today. We say thank you in our small way.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Palisades Hotel Comes to an End

On Monday, May 3, 2010 the century old plus Palisades Hotel (near Mount Vernon, Iowa) was no more than a memory. Demolition crews took down the aging structure in just three hours after months of planning. Officials from FEMA, Iowa DOT and the State Archaeological office were present to supervise the deconstruction.

The structure was built in the 1880s and was known as the Cedar Springs Hotel. Its original guests were railroad employees working on a nearby quarry. At the end of its existence the hotel's walls, floors, roof and interior material were trucked away to Site Number 1 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for an unceremonious burial in what is locally known as Mount Trashmore.

Property owner, Patrica Biderman, whose grandfather, Adoph Biderman purchased the hotel in 1914 was present to see the landmark come down. "I will miss the old lady. It was a fun place growing up."

About 30 minutes before the hotel was finally leveled, I went to get the Cedar River view of the property before it all came down. Pat sat on the seat of one of the swings to watch the activity. I suspect it was some place she used to play many years ago.

A cloud of demolition dust was temporarily lighted for a few seconds before disappearing - perhaps indicating a last dramatic visual before 120 years plus of history was plowed down.

At exactly 10:00 A.M. the Link-Belt excavator took down the last major structure of the hotel, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble where once a historic hotel stood. Special payload covered trucks hauled away debris Monday and Tuesday to finally complete the project save for the regrading of the site and access area.

Palisades Hotel was the place to go long before the convenience of getting there was possible. The hotel stood 20 years or so before the Lincoln Highway was built nearby and many more years before modern State Highway 30 came even closer. Better roads and more reliable cars made visiting other sites around the region more accessible, and eventually helped lead the hotel into retirement in the 1950s.

The demolition of the Palisades Hotel (aka Cedar Springs Hotel, Upper Palisades Hotel, Palisades Hotel, Biderman Hotel, and Old Dutch Inn) marks the end of an era when this site served as a gathering place for legions of students, families and relaxation seekers including poet Carl Sandburg and vaudevillians the Cherry Sisters nearly a hundred years ago. Know that.