Monday, July 30, 2012

Northern Corn Belt - Looks Good But It's Not

A casual eye on this corn field would likely determine the crop to be in excellent condition. But curling leaves give away the real condition. These plants are thirsty. This particular field may be professionally scored as 'good' in the state's monthly crop assessment. But not even a hundred miles south of this northern Iowa location the corn crop is in big trouble. Stands in many fields are short, yellow and drying in unrelenting heat. Read more about the condition of the Iowa corn crop here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Prop Out of Water

This summer's temperatures and lack of substantial rain has been brutal on these latitudes. So to find an outboard motor prop resting idly when it could be twirling through a spring-fed lake is almost unthinkable. However in the owner's defense this prop looks quite used. I must have caught it during a forced time out. Still if it were up to me, that prop, engine and boat would have been skimming the waves enjoying a summer day.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Prairie Flowers in Late July

Black-eyed Susans dot the prairie landscape in northern Iowa. Re-seeded native plantings began as test projects for state parks and roadways in the 1970s. Several years later the combination of tall grasses and wildflowers brought back scenes that pioneers have historically described. Incorporation of these native plantings reduced the need for frequent park and roadway mowing, attracted additional wildlife, and have enriched the soil. Plus they are nice to see.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On a Clear Day You Can See...Clear Lake!

Behold Clear Lake, Iowa, one of a few glacier formed lakes gifted to the Hawkeye State courtesy of the last ice age. Located in extreme northern Iowa, Clear Lake is rimmed by lakeside houses and businesses. Being a large, natural lake by Iowa standards (seven miles long, half mile wide,) it draws many people throughout the year. Last Saturday under nearly 100F temperatures the lake was understandably saturated with sailboats, power boats, and kayaks. I spotted only a few people fishing while the majority of boaters took part in nautical cruising.

In the background (looking south) is a portion of a tens of miles long wind farm that makes use of mid-continent climate and topography to produce electricity. Directly behind me is the famous Surf Ballroom. But the big question the lake really clear? Yes it is, due to being spring-fed. Come visit and see for yourself.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tires of a B-29 Superfortress

B-29 nose gear comes to rest on the Eastern Iowa airport tarmac in Cedar Rapids last week (see previous posts.) Nicknamed Fifi, this B-29 is the only flying Superfortress remaining worldwide. Fifi spends months each year touring the USA. That means lots of flying cycles (take off and landings) with wear and tear on all six tires supporting the WWII bomber. These nose tires display more traction grabbing characteristics employing a diamond pattern tread compared to the four tires supporting the wings.

On Fifi's port side two tires support engines and wing. This inner tire has no pattern tread, just long smooth grooves - probably for stability. Four of these tires support the plane, two each side of the fuselage. Boeing engineers during the 1940s correctly calculated the design of the long range bomber's landing gear. That attention to engineering and manufacturing details allow this last flyable B-29 to demonstrate its American aviation heritage some 67 years after being placed into service.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Buddy Holly Barn Charm

A huge pair of iconic Buddy Holly eye glasses frame a Clear Lake, Iowa barn and farmland. Holly's glasses mark a trail from the gravel road to the site of the February 3rd, 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Holly, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and pilot Roger Peterson. A dirt path follows the fence line for about a half mile to the place where Holly's plane came to rest just a few miles north of Clear Lake. Memorials to the singers and pilot are placed at the site.   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Visit to Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens/Big Bopper's Crash Site

You know the story of "The Day the Music Died." In the American Pie song it is the date that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson died in a plane crash following their concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959. Today's trip was to see the crash site and a few of the places tied to the story.

Several people were present while I visited the crash site for the first time. The young and old hailed from California, Minnesota, Georgia, Nebraska and Iowa. A memorial has been put together over the years consisting of laser cut plaques, money, candles, flowers, toys, photos, clothing, a windmill, many eye glasses and printed material placed in Ziplock bags. A man in a white shirt brought three people. He is somehow connected to the Surf Ballroom and showed where Big Bopper's son had visited the site about a decade or so ago. Bopper Jr. crossed the wire fence, lit a Marlborough cigarette and said, "this is where my daddy died."

The memorial also consists of three 45 record replicas of the songs made famous by the trio. Access to the crash site is just a few miles north of Clear Lake, Iowa. Once you park along a gravel road, a giant pair of iconic Buddy Holly glasses mark the trail's entrance. Be prepared to walk along the fence line about a half mile into a working cornfield. 

Several miles away is the Mason City airport where the music legends rented a plane and took off after their show at the Surf. 

Today the Surf Ballroom still packs crowds in to see national acts along the shore of Clear Lake. Each February 3rd there are well attended Rock and Roll shows recalling the Winter Dance Tour that Buddy and company were a part of in 1959.

Looks like on Tuesday, July 24th the Surf will host Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson to its famous stage. White shirt guy says they try annually to get Paul McCartney to perform at the Surf. The famous ex-Beatle owns the publishing rights to Holly's music and often talks about getting to Clear Lake. White shirt guy thinks that Paul may show up privately someday, sing a few Buddy songs and leave without drawing  thousands of people. That'll be the day!

Friday, July 20, 2012

B-29 (Fifi) Tail Section Explained at Cedar Rapids CID

Yesterday at the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID,) a crew member of Fifi, a World War II B-29 bomber explained to me about the tail gun section of the 67 year plane. My late uncle once told me that he was a tail gunner aboard a B-29 during WWII and may have been a gunner on other stations of the craft. Since the bomber was pressurized unlike the open B-17, the gunner traveled to his location from the forward crew compartment. He crawled through a tunnel the length of the plane until he reached a hatch. 

While at Fifi's static display at the airport the crew member climbed ahead of me into the rear of the plane. He allowed me to peek in the tail section to see the open hatch where the tail gunner would enter. The crew member explained that the gunner would then stand and operate optical instruments that fed data to a weapons computer. He explained that my uncle would have engaged the computer and then pulled the trigger to fire the 50 caliber machine guns. It was an interesting tour of the B-29 and it permitted me to see how a tail gunner would operate equipment under combat situations. Fifi flies next to Oshkosh on Saturday morning to attend the EAA airshow.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Day With a B-29 (Fifi) at the Cedar Rapids Airport CID

Make no mistake, this was a rare day for aviation enthusiasts to see, hear and experience the rumblings of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress. "Fifi" entered service in May 1945 just a few months ahead of the end of World War II and now tours the country. Yesterday the massive four prop bomber arrived at the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a couple of days of static display and to provide rides for those with cash. The plane will move on to Oshkosh, Wisconsin on Saturday for the annual EAA show.

The line to climb into the cockpit was long but a wind was blowing, the humidity was down and the shade from the right wing provided great relief from the summer sun. Standing in line you meet people and hear stories related to B-29s. The guy next to me just returned from Alaska via Seattle where he visited the Boeing plant there and toured the last manufactured B-17 bomber made.

While in line you can also chat with the flight crew. Here two Fifi mechanics unscrew the face plate of one of the massive engines to determine where oil was leaking. The obvious answer is that these engines constantly leak oil all over - perhaps by design. The boys made sure all the rivets were replaced.

And finally after 45 minutes you climb up a ladder in the forward bomb bay section to enter the pressurized flight deck. Here is where the majority of the crew is seated during missions. A tail gunner would crawl in a tube from this area rearward to the 50 caliber machine guns in the tail. Note how the glass nose looks very much like Star Wars' Millennium Falcon's front view area. Hans Solo and Chewbaca would fit right in. 

The tour continues with an exit down another ladder to the nose wheels. After emerging from the wheel door you are greeted by a view of the nose window.

Hours later the 67 year old B-29, which is the only remaining flying Superfortress, started its four engines and rolled down the taxi area in preparation for flight. Fifi provided two flights today and will do so tomorrow (Friday) before leaving on Saturday for the land of beer and cheese.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

B-29 "Fifi" Lands At Eastern Iowa Airport Cedar Rapids CID

The only flying B-29, named Fifi, landed about 2 PM today at the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID.) After circling the airport twice the World War II bomber landed then taxied to the PS Air terminal. To get perspective of the bomber's size, I photographed Fifi and an United jet in the same frame. The dust above the B-29 came from construction activities on the north-south runway area.

Fifi is based in Addison, Texas (north of Dallas.) It makes several appearances throughout the year offering tours and rides. Locally an aerospace communications company, Rockwell Collins made the B-29's original radio equipment. Some of the company's retirees are expected to visit the plane during the three day visit.

During World War II, my uncle served on a B-29 as a tail gunner in the Pacific. He talked passionately about the plane and crew but often discussed how his compartment was pressurized due to the altitude. He said it was hard to sit in that area and do his job. I'll be touring the plane in the next few days and will find out exactly what that experience was like.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Amish Barn Charm Version 2.0

Amish farmers near Kalona, Iowa looked to replace a family's barn in the 1990s. When my in-laws were selling their farm properties near Cedar Rapids, Iowa a deal was struck. The Amish would hire a driver, vans and wagons, come some 40 miles north, tear down the barn and reassemble it a few miles northeast of Kalona. The tear down phase took just a few days and involved a small army of Amish men. They drew a schematic of the barn, labeled everything (in pencil) including the oak pegs that held wooden beams together. Today the barn (center in photo,) originally built in 1916 by a relative, sits on a rise overlooking corn and hay fields. The new owners who have had the barn now for around 15 years have improved the structure by adding a new roof and updating some of the side walls. Hundred year old barns don't always come on the market. In fact the Amish are currently building a new barn just right of the photo on a neighbor's property.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sky of Blue and Sea of Green

For those who live outside of America's corn belt here is a typical scene of a summertime sea of green. A trip to the country throughout the Midwest yields views of mostly corn, soybeans, hay or other grain crops. But make no mistake corn is king around these parts. This field is located just north of Cambridge, Illinois on the way to Geneseo. Localized rains make some fields look great while others are appear withering. In recent years so much corn has been planted to meet the demands of human and livestock feed, starch materials, and for ethanol production. In these mid-latitudes it is common to see fields stretching horizon to horizon filled with corn. All we need is more rain.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Grain Bin Tower Communications or Something Else

Want to talk about grain and the 2012 summer's lack of rain? Then you need a big tower to get the word out to the masses. Not all is as it appears. Grain bins are located in the background of the tower. Three tracks of the Union Pacific railroad are just this side of the tower. As it turns out this tower is a relay tower for UP communications to its trains. Now you know.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cave Visitors Look for Signs of Horses

Horse Thief Cave in eastern Iowa was recently visited by the 42N staff. The large entrance, shallow interior cave is located at Wapsipinicon State Park in Anamosa, Iowa. It is worth visiting if you are in the area but it doesn't extend too far back - so you may be disappointed. But perhaps the cave is actually larger. You never know if other entrances or extensions are present although hidden on purpose or naturally. Get your helmet, mud clothes and flashlight and explore. A more expansive cave system is located 40 miles from this location at Maquoketa.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Early Iowan was Clovis Hunter

A visit to a local museum brings you face to face with a replica of early hunters in Iowa. What has been found over the years are Clovis points. These chiseled stone tools, named for a site in New Mexico have been found all over North America including Iowa. The distinctive white stone is called Burlington chert. Clovis points found in Iowa are estimated to be from the era 10,000 to 9,000 years BC. They represent the earliest known occupiers of Iowa and coincide with the retreat of the last glacier event through these parts. The exhibit can be seen along with other points of interest at the Museum of Natural History, MacBride Hall, University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Drama Continues at CID Today with Delta N324US

Earlier today, the President and Air Force One were present at the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa - see prior post. Just a few hours after the multi-blue colored 747 carrying the President left eastern Iowa, another drama event occurred - this time it was one that potentially was bad.

This Delta Airbus A320 (N324US) lost power to one engine (of two) in route from Minneapolis to St. Louis. The decision to bring the 150 people down quickly was made and the airport was alerted. See flight path below. 

The Airbus landed safely and the passengers exited. A maintenance team evaluated the engines this evening as I went back to the airport for a second time today. No word as to the nature of the problem or how Delta locally handled the passengers' travel. Stay tuned for more CID-rated news...

Surprise, Air Force One Visits CID - Again!

Its only been 2-1/2 months since Air Force One visited 42N's tarmac at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Campaigning season is intensifying and Iowa's six electoral votes are considered essential for either candidate to win the presidency. As one person noted today, internal polling must indicate the closeness of the race, that's why the president visited - and its only July - and before the conventions! 

Local news crews covered the arrival, speech and departure. Since Air Force One was parked behind a wall of baggage containers near a chain link fence it was hard to get a clean look at the plane. Television reporters climbed atop their news vans and filed live reports at noon. On the left is Waterloo NBC affiliate KWWL. On the right is Cedar Rapids' CBS/FOX affiliate KGAN. The ABC affiliate, KCRG was present but reported a half hour earlier per their format.  

The president talked to people at the plane's base, then moved to a group by the bunting, and then left for a home visit followed by a speech at Kirkwood Community College. He stopped downtown for an ice cream cone (mint chocolate chip) before returning to the plane mid-afternoon.

Making everything run smoothly for a presidential visit requires considerable coordination. One huge element of planning is special convoy vehicles. Those vehicles are transported the night before Air Force One's arrival via a C-17A Globemaster. The giant plane parked today away from Air Force One.

While the election is still months away the likelihood that these components will be visiting Cedar Rapids again and again and possibly again is quite high.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Swisher Blacktop Barn Charm

The road between Swisher, Iowa and Amana is called the Swisher blacktop even though it is made of concrete. About halfway between those two towns is this modern vivid red barn. Four horses may be stabled there along with their food - on this day they sought shade beneath the trees. This week's 42N barn charm offering is more recent in construction, complete with metal walls and roofing but utilizes classic barn design elements.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Touching Iowa's Glacial Past

Iowa is a land shaped by glaciers that receded some 13,000 years ago. Two of the more unique examples of what glaciers influence can be found at MacBride Hall's Natural History Museum on the University of Iowa campus in downtown Iowa City. One item is a hunk of native copper that was glacially transported here from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin or Canada. The other artifact is glacial grooved limestone where parallel scratches made from pressure and movement can be seen and felt. These items provide an ongoing opportunity for anyone to touch something created by glacial forces long ago. 

The copper and limestone are positioned side by side as part of a short narrative slideshow. Yes, an old fashion, 35mm slideshow complete with tray and audio components. This particular display has been present for some thirty years and seems positively glacier-like in its ability to tell a story compared to modern audio-visual aids. Still, you get the message and can feel the history.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vivid Green in Soaring Temperatures

During this time of little moisture and near 100 degree days for the past week or so, it is surprising to find a green oasis. Saved by a tree canopy this forest bottom is covered with all shades of green near limestone caves. Inside Ice and Horse Thief caves at Wapsipinicon State Park near Anamosa, Iowa, the walls sweated and the ceiling dripped. And as you might expect the temperature was markedly less than in the open sun.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Red, White and Stearman

Two Boeing Stearman participated in static display at the 2012 Marion Airport Fly-In a few days ago in Marion, Iowa. Stearman biplanes were manufactured during the 1930s and 40s. These remarkably sturdy planes served as pilot training platforms for American aviators during World War II. This silver colored Stearman, according to its pilot was built in 1940 and painted in 1942 training colors. The aircraft served in St. Louis, Missouri during the war as a trainer for naval aviators. The pilot says the plane is on its second engine after overhauls retired the first. Both planes appear to be in excellent condition with fabric or composite material making up the wings and fuselage. Both planes also drew substantial attention from the crowd, helping to make this year's run-up to Independence Day just a bit more patriotic.

Monday, July 2, 2012

American Gothic Barn Charm

Local regionist artist, Grant Wood painted what became a cultural icon, American Gothic in 1930. It hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood ventured to Eldon, Iowa to paint AG using the simple house which still stands today. The farmer was Wood's dentist and the farmer's daughter was Nan Wood, Grant's sister. This barn is painted with Iowa and Midwestern scenes and is located a few hundred feet east of the Palisades-Kepler State Park near Mount Vernon, Iowa along Highway 30. Many highway travelers slow down when they near the larger than life portrait of an American classic. Some jump out of their vehicle and try to strike the classic pose for a snapshot. Welcome to Iowa.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Student Made Electric Racing Cars Draw Attention at Fly-In

Making a promotional stop at today's Marion Fly-In were several high school students and teacher. The Cougar Electric Car Company, part of Cedar Rapids' Kennedy High School is a program designed for students to experience design, manufacturing, promotion and racing electric cars. In the number 50 car today was incoming junior, Wyatt. His experience through this program includes racing this and the other student made electric cars in competitions at tracks in Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan. He is investigating programs offered through General Motors for his post high school education.

Wyatt related racing stories as well as design and fabrication tales. His passion for the program is apparent in telling how various batteries perform and then easily slips into a discussion of how to win races. During one race he described brake failure during a pit stop. Wyatt's solution was to stop the car by pressing his gloved hand to the rotating wheel, squeezing and wishing for the best. His action resulted in first, second and third degree burns to his fingers including the extraction of rubber tire fragments from his hand by medical professionals. He now jokes that he doesn't have finger prints on three fingers.

Other members of the Cougar team discussed how the cars work, where they race this summer and what they are learning in the process. Another driver mentions his best finish was fourth in a recent race. Barry Wilson, the academic adviser to the program challenged the driver to do better, figure out how to get more power out of his car and how to drive more strategically to win a first place trophy. And still another team member, who is also a driver talked about her diving skills in the pool. She is excited to do more racing this summer and contribute to the design of future electric racing cars.