Sunday, August 29, 2010

Iowa, the Land of Lincoln - Say What?

Illinois claims to be the "Land of Lincoln." His birth state Kentucky also celebrates its famous son. But 42N's Iowa can also claim a piece of Abraham Lincoln pie.

The future 16th President of the United States was awarded two land warrants in Iowa for his service in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Black Hawk War in 1832. These warrants were exercised for land in Crawford and Tama countries.

So what does this tract of land in Tama county look like? First of all there are signs posted on Iowa Highway 63 north of Toledo, Iowa to help get you about four miles north and two miles west of the highway. That puts you smack dab in Iowa's corn and soybean fields.

Lincoln's particular 40-acre tract is located atop a rolling hill and meadow. This season the land is in hay production, as is evidence by the round bales seen in these photos. In 1977 the Iowa State Historical Society and the Alpha PSI chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International created and paced an aluminum plaque on the property.

By several accounts Lincoln was reportedly proud of this track of land, even paid 75 cents tax on it, but never saw the property. Following his death, Mary Lincoln quick claimed the land to their son Robert. He later sold the property. 

Being present on this historic land for a short time, smelling the freshly baled hay, and watching waves of wind push over soybean fields adjacent to the field, its possible to imagine this tract then and now. Somehow if Abraham himself had worked the land before his presidency, it would look like this now. He would be pleased. Know that.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Office of the Governor - Information Technology

Who says technology has to look new, shiny and edgy? Just look at the Montana Capital Building in Helena to see how they handle bits and bytes in the 21st century. Inside the state house's front doors is the Office of the Governor - Information Technology, clad in oak, marble and faux classical painting. Not too shabby for something that was built in the late 1800s. Know that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gold in Virginia City, Montana - Tourist Dollars That Is

Virginia City, Montana is home to about 150 people year round. During the tourist season the town grows each day as hundreds visit this preserved 1860s gold mining spot. 

On August 14th the 42N team headed from Helena to corn country, about a three day drive. As the vehicle drove up a mountain to Virginia City then down a steep incline, the brakes began making thumping sounds. Having driven the car all summer in mountain conditions the junior member of 42N said this was the first time the brakes acted up.

So we took it easy going the rest of the few downhill miles to Virginia City, parked the car, and did a quick inspection of the brakes. Besides being hot, the brakes looked okay, no dripping hydraulic fluids and no flat tires. So we walked through the eight blocks of town looking at the shops, museums and chowing on lunch - allowing time for the brakes to cool in the 50 some degree temperature in August!

The town offers a lot for such a small place. Two teenagers were getting their old West photos taken as we passed by. The photographer instructed one subject to look happy and the other to look stern - must make for a great composition. The girls couldn't stop laughing. Besides small museums of city history, the town offers areas for local and regional artists to display and sell their creations. If you ever find yourself in Virginia City listen to these audio files while walking around the city (click here.) There may be instructions on those recordings on where to find a good brake mechanic. Maybe. Know that. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ridin' the Storm Out in Montana - Watch Out for Antelope Down the Road

Somewhere between Toston, Montana and Interstate 90 is this vista of flat grazing land with the Elkhorn Mountain range in the distance. A storm was approaching from the west on the morning of August 14th as the 42N team headed from Helena, Montana to HQ - a three day journey.

On this day we stopped the jam-packed vehicle a number of times to photograph what the land presented. Grain bins are a quite common site in 42N country but not so much in this general location. I am not sure what type of grain is contained here (corn, soy beans, wheat, others?)

The approaching storm only served to keep the air cool and provided just a few drops on the dusty and cracked windshield. In the afternoon we saw Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons long before ending up in Rock Springs, Wyoming via the infamous "antelope alley." Take heed when traveling that stretch of road between Pinedale and Rock Springs. We made it and a family from Wisconsin did too without smacking directly into pronghorns. Know that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Montana Rail Link's Locomotive No. 4300 - Latest Generation of the Iron Horse

At the Helena, Montana rail yard on August 13th the Montana Rail Link locomotive No. 4300 leaves early evening towards the continental divide’s Mullan Pass. I ran into a rail photographer at the road crossing by the station. He and I struck a conversation as I had not seen the line before nor had seen these types of locomotives on any of the 42N country rails.

Although I didn’t get his name he told me he lives nearby, walks the dog by the tracks and likes to photograph the trains leaving the station. As I began taking photos he filled me in on Montana Rail Link history and the probable mission of #4300 that evening.

He said most likely that the three locomotive formation (Nos. 4300, 4313 and 4310) was outward bound some 13 miles west of Helena to help with the transport of a train carrying coal back toward Helena.

Since the locomotives are there to assist loads coming up or down mountainous terrain the local photographer said to check out the sand sprayers located near the front and back set of steel wheels. Sand helps to provide the grit on the rails needed for better traction.

My host told me that five years ago, Montana Rail Link purchased locomotive number 4300, the first of 16 new locomotives. The purchase was intended to replace aging locomotives on trains crossing the Rocky Mountains over the continental divide at Mullan Pass and Bozeman Pass.

That's a lot of effort involved to move material. But without that effort the wheat, coal and other producers from this region would not have an affordable method to transport goods in bulk. Know that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pipestone Example in Montana - A Little Bit of Minnesota or Utah

The Montana Historical Society museum in Helena, Montana has many displays from natural history to various human habitation eras of the state. On display is a beautiful arrow shaped red pipe tip carved by Natives.

Red pipestone is also called, catlinite, an iron-rich, reddish, soft quartzite slate harvested from below groundwater level. According to the Wikipedia site for caitlin, "Red pipestone was used by the Eastern Tribes, Western and Great Basin Tribes, and the Plains Tribes, with sources of the stone in Tennessee (South Central), Minnesota (Pipestone), and Utah (Delta, Uinta). Sacred pipestone comes from Pipestone, Minnesota. The quarry itself is located just north of the town at the Pipestone National Monument. Today only people of Native American ancestry are allowed to quarry the pipestone from this quarry."

Given the Montana's proxitity to Utah this display item may be from there or Minnesota. From the Minnesota samples that I have seen in museums in Iowa and Minnesota it looks like this arrow shape pipestone matches Minnesota quarry features - basically the color and lighter colored speck patterns. Regardless of where this piece was gathered and later carved, it is quite fancy and probably was used during important times.

Pipestone can be found in 42N country. I have purchased a piece at an antique store a number of years ago. I also have found some small flakes near local creek beds, hills and rivers bottoms. Quite cool. Know that.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Discovering C.M. Russell in Montana

Western painter C.M. Russell's expansive volume of work is highly collected, exhibited and used to illustrate the old American West. In the place where Montana's past is celebrated, the painter's 1896 work, "Indians Discovering Lewis and Clark" is among the collection at the Montana Historical Society in Helena, Montana.

Russell drew a lot of subjects. He also was known to illustrate letters to friends. This two page letter from Russell, also exhibited at the Montana Historical Society shows a modern day hiking scene with an encounter with a mama grizzly bear.

While reading the letter from Russell I noticed its date - August 12, 1912. That was 98 years and 1 day before I saw it. Cosmic.

Today I found a book on paintings of the Old West in Muscatine, Iowa. It contained a chapter on C.M Russell which also highlighted the Discovery painting. Must be epic.

Russell is also celebrated in the nearby Montana Capitol building. In one of the chambers there is an enormous painting of his of the Lewis and Clark talking to Indians about navigating further west to the Pacific.

If you find yourself in Helena, go check out the Russell display and other pieces of Montana's past. Also saddle up to the Windbag Saloon for a burger - it used to be a bordello in downtown Helena. Then take a walk up Last Chance Gulch, stopping to visit the Bullwhacker statue. Lively. Know that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thistles At MacDonald Pass - Continental Divide

Last Friday I came across some kind of thistle blooming at MacDonald Pass 46°33.6N, 112°18.5W) near the Continental Divide at 6,325 feet above sea level. The view was spectacular, overlooking more mountains and the city of Helena, Montana to the east - about 17 miles away. Look closely at the photo and you'll see tens of thousands dead or dying pine trees that have succumbed to some type of pine boring inspect.

That afternoon's temperature dropped from 58 degrees at Helena to 51 degrees at the pass. 

Access to the observation area has two man-made components besides a road; one being the cell tower perched at the highest point and the second being a right of way for a gas pipeline. Cell phone reception at the Pass was great as you would expect. Still, the 360 degree view is outstanding giving more meaning to the notion of Montana's big sky country. Know that.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Guardian of the Gates of the Mountains

Greeting visitors to Montana's Gates of the Mountains is this sculpture of a man and dog. The metal work is centered in an area filled with explanatory displays of the Gates region. Located behind the sculpture is a valley with a water way (the Missouri River) surrounded by sheer cliffs - the Gates.

Lewis and Clark and company traveled through this region. On July 19, 1805 Caption Lewis described the area as "this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen. these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the hight of 1200 feet. ... the river appears to have forced its way through this immense body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 Miles ... I called it the gates of the rocky mountains."

Last Friday evening I was the only person at the sculpture park halfway between the interstate and water. Two hours earlier, the last boat ride had returned for the day so most visitors had already left. If you want to hear only the wind and birds (and occasional semi-truck on I-15 some 17 miles north of Helena, MT) seek this place out. Know that.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Bit of Iowa in Montana's Past

Last Friday while in Helena, Montana I sought education on Big Sky Country. Inside the Montana Historical Society is a collection of art, artifacts, maps, and educational displays depicting various elements of all things Montana.

One of the displays contained a curious item that originated just 25 miles from the 42N Observation HQ. A powder horn with the engraving, "Hank Lee Iowa City 1871" appears in a case of 19th century weapons. The item description says the horn was used by a wolfer in Montana in the 1880s. By wolfer, it means one who hunts wolves. 

Today the reintroduction of wolves (Canadians and grays) into mountain regions have rekindled the concerns of ranchers whose livestock herds are often the targets of free ranging wolf packs. One often hears the phrase "Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up" as a means of managing unwanted animal threat in the West. That was how this powder horn was used 130 years ago. Know that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bison Are Still Home on the Range - And Yellowstone

This past weekend I traveled to Helena, Montana (46°35N, 112°W) and later to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In these regions Bison are celebrated just four degrees north of the 42N latitude.

In Helena, I saw this sheet metal weather vane (now part of the Montana Historical Society) which was created in 1855 for Fort Benton's American Fur Company's trading post on the Missouri River. Apparently the vane was a favorite shooting target.

While the mammoth shaggy creature is celebrated as a food source and a cultural symbol they can be seen roaming Yellowstone in natural settings albeit with loads of tourists watching them watching us.On Saturday while treking from the west entrance (West Yellowstone, MT) to the south entrance (north of Jackson, WY) on National Park free access weekend we happened on a number of cars that had parked off road. About 30 people gathered to see a small herd of bison work their way down river eating grass. Two park rangers were present to make sure people didn't interfere with the bison migration.

Undaunted by the herd's enormously large bull buffalo sitting nearby in the grass behind the tree in this photo, a tourist approached the bull to get an extreme close photo opportunity. Fortunately the ranger stopped the photographer who was oblivious to the inherent danger to him, the herd and the rest of the guests. Know that.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Glamour, Ghosts and Grant in Galena

42N country's Galena, IL is a step back in time. Known as a home for Ulysses S. Grant, and a political stopover for a campaigning Abe Lincoln this NW Illinois town is now a shopper's destination. In one of the many, many shop windows is this colored wig display - a photographer's delight. Another distinction for the town was being a film location for Field of Dreams where Burt Lancaster and Kevin Costner appeared in the doctor's office scenes (Galena posed as Chisholm, Minnesota in that film.)

Nearby at the Desoto House Hotel previous guests include Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, and Steven Douglas. The hotel served as the presidential campaign headquarters for Ulysses S. Grant. In fact Lincoln, while running for a congressional seat gave a speech from the hotel balcony on July 23, 1856.

Today the hotel caters to the overnight travellers and weekenders, but also specializes in catering to small and large gatherings.

At the Green Street Tavern and Restaurant, one of three places to get a beverage and meal at the hotel, we were entertained by a young lady who took delight in describing the hotel, business and what to do and see in Galena.
She told us of the very popular ghost tours of downtown and nearby neighborhoods. Then she relayed stories of ghostly sightings featuring period dressed people seen in modern days at the hotel. While the bartender is studying for a business degree she may want to explore public relations. She is a natural. Know that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Times They Are a Changing - Slowly

Change is relative. Same tree, same landscape, same time of day, photographed one year and six days a part. Outside of lighting conditions there is not much to differentiate the passage of one year for this subject. Andy Warhol once said, "They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." Know that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Corn, Corn, Corn - Look a Tree!

August is corn growing time in 42N country. Above normal rains throughout the western cornbelt region have caused washout in some fields but has generally produced outstanding stands. Any trip along Midwest 42 north latitude will yield views of seemingly endless seas of cornfields.

Stands of corn, near Urbana, Iowa on Monday afternoon are dark green and nearly eight feet high. Land owner, Joel Schmitz said this is the best crop of corn that he has ever seen. Schmitz rents the fields around his farmhouse and operates a full service auction center from one of the buildings on the property.
Agriculturally, Iowa is known for producing corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle. This year its hard to argue any differently. Know that.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why Another Piece of Cedar Rapids History Bites the Dust

The iconic Wilson Packing smokestack in 42N country's Cedar Rapids fell this week after demolition debate concluded that the cost of preservation was not affordable. This flood recovery community continues to wrestle with saving remnants of the past while creating a base for new use.

Underneath the black and white painted, WILSON CO. lettering on the smokestack were raised bricks that spell out the original owner of the meatpacking plant, T.M. Sinclair. All of that came down this week with only an engraved cornerstone saved for the city's History Center.

Generation of immigrants, many from Bohemia (at the time) came to Cedar Rapids during the 1860s - 1920s to live near and work at this plant. Several business developed near the Sinclair property supporting the commerce and residential neighborhoods. Today the area adjacent to the plant's main gates have been revitalized as restaurants and bars on Third Street.

With demolition of the Sinclair smokestack and adjacent plant buildings perhaps future land use will incorporate something linking the site to historical contributions that the food producing factory offered a young city and nation. Know that.