Monday, August 27, 2012

Yaks Fly Freely Over Iowa

A growing drone of propeller planes came in from the east over Lake MacBride last Thursday, near North Liberty, Iowa. Then three WWII-era looking fighters roared westward. These didn't look like any planes from around the area. At first the planes resembled Japanese Zeros but the red star on the tail and slim fuselage didn't add up.

Turns out these are Soviet Yak 52TWs. The Yakovlev Yak-52 is a Soviet primary trainer aircraft. It first flew in 1976 and is still being produced in Romania. Since the early 1990s many Yak 52s have been exported to the west. The question is where did these planes go on Thursday? Perhaps to Ottumwa for the upcoming antique airplane show or maybe to Omaha's SAC base for last weekend's airshow. Or maybe they were testing Iowa air defense radar. If so, we failed to detect and intercept these fast moving aircraft.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong's Personal Impact

This afternoon I learned of the passing of Neil Armstrong. His last NASA mission was his finest - that of being the first to land and walk on the moon way back in July 1969. I like many millions of earth bound viewers watched the late evening EVA that took Armstrong and crewmate Buzz Aldrin onto the moon's surface. While the two astronauts bounced and strolled on the lunar surface the black and white television images beamed a new chapter of human achievement. This was a proud moment for the USA and the world.

Last night while arriving home after dinner and watching a concert in the park we pulled into the driveway in the dark. I had told our friends earlier that if the concert went longer we could see the International Space Station pass overhead. Not much interest was expressed. Then it appeared as if on command. The orbiting station some 230 miles above the earth traveled silently and as bright as magnitude 0.3 from west to east southeast before dimming to dark as it passed into earth's shadow.

The passion for space stuff still stirs my imagination. While I recall watching Gemini missions it was the Apollo moon missions that captured my attention. Neil Armstrong was a huge part of that imagination. He lived the dream.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Summer View of Toledo's Cow-Calf Sculpture

Earlier this year I came across a sculpture designed by the Iowa State Fair's Butter Cow lady and blogged about the site. Located near the northwest corner of Highways 63 and old Highway 30 in Toledo, Iowa (just behind the locally famous Big T Maid-Rite restaurant) the fiberglass sculpture of mother and child is positioned on a hill and framed by a giant burr oak. The tree has been recently trimmed to remove storm damaged limbs.
Last Sunday's weather conditions produced extremely small rain cells amid huge billowing white clouds. Hoping to photograph those condition while in Toledo, I ventured to the famous pairing. The contrast with the tree, sky and clouds didn't quite work out but I did capture closeups of the statue. 

With so much of Iowa in farm and livestock production it is a wonder why there are not more sculptures dedicated to the industry. The new Highway 30 Tama-Toledo bypass skirts south of the cow-calf. Take the Highway 63 exit and travel about a mile north. Its worth the stop to see this tribute.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Many Faces of Model-A Day at Amana, Iowa

The Model A Club exposition this year in Amana, Iowa drew many fans of the Ford car generally made from 1928 to 1932. Some 93 restorers and owners displayed old cars on an Amana street as they have done for the past three years. People come to see the cars, talk to the owners and listen to a variety of stories related to the versatile auto. This year the A-s came from Iowa (Hawkeye Model A Club,) Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota. One person said he would not trust any Model A to travel a hundred miles fearing engine or tire problems. That comment brought a response from an owner who testified that he drove a restored Model A to Iowa from Florida without problems.

Interestingly car owners and fans generally have bits of gray in their hair. Exceptions to that observation are many with young tots and solid color hair people walking among the sea of gray.

Many owners had parents or other relations who owned Model A-s. That memory inspired the new owners to obtain a vintage auto too.

Model A Day is not so much about vintage cars but about people who love them. Attend any car show in your area. Grab a camera and check it out. You will be entertained by their stories and may learn something of the past.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I See the Train a Comin'

Trains, old trains make fascinating photo subjects. Lighting is another matter. Fortunately these photos were clicked around 9 AM a few days ago. With a north-south orientation the old train offered interesting angles and shadows before harsh midday lighting. This front end view might be something to notice if you were crossing the tracks ahead of the moving engine. However since there is no cow catcher attached to the engine it may mean, sorry you are about to be history.

Powering this train, back in the day was steam produced by a coal fired boiler. Therefore the engine was basically a big tank of water which when boiled produced steam to move the pistons that cranked the eight wheels along the rails. As such there are plenty of hoses or lines running in and out of the tank. Makes you wonder how these giant iron horses were designed, manufactured and maintained. It took some knowledge to figure the physics and economies of railroad ownership.

This particular static, Illinois Central train consists of the engine, coal tender and a caboose. Take a close look at the metal's surface. You will find weathering, pitting and other signs of age. The historical society of Independence, Iowa maintains this train display and a former Rock Island passenger depot for kids of all ages to learn and enjoy a look at the past.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dan Patch Modern Master Marketer

Three days ago at an auction in Independence, Iowa a collection of old tins was presented. Among the multiple colored boxes a single tin stood out - a Dan Patch Cut Plug tobacco tin. In his day Dan Patch set the trotting world on fire. His 1 minute 55 second mile record in 1906 stood for 32 years. His owner, Marion Savage knew the value of a good thing. He licensed Dan Patch's likeness and name to a wide variety of merchants. And why not? Dan Patch's popularity during 1900-1909 was huge. His name and likeness on anything is generally regarded as the beginning of modern mass marketing. As evidence I have seen a Dan Patch clock, this tin and poster of three stallions. Dan Patch was stabled and trained in Savage, Minnesota south of the Twin Cities. Just 120 miles south of Savage is Mason City, Iowa, the home of composer Meredith Wilson. He wrote the song 'Ya Got Trouble' for the Music Man Broadway play and movie where you'll hear a reference to the famed horse. Dan Patch lives on.

Monday, August 13, 2012

1938 Chevrolet Coupe Sells For $5,100 at Independence, Iowa Auction

Last Saturday interest was high for the sale of a 1938 Chevrolet coupe at an estate auction in Independence, Iowa. Prior to the sale various groups looked over the car for reasons of curiosity or genuine interest in ownership.

One story that an old timer told me about his 1937 version of this Chevy included somehow being able to pile 11 high school buddies into the roomy car. The secret to accomplishing that feat apparently was to get people sitting on the floor both upfront and in the back, and then double stack more chums on the bench seats.

Another guy told me about his desire to buy this car and restore it to its original specs. Minutes later another prospective buyer told me that he would restore the car, add some fat tires on the back, and paint the faded metal a deep sparkle black, plus chrome it out. He also pointed that this model does not have a radio installed. It would have been an option back in 1938. He said he would install some huge sub-woofers in the spacious trunk to play a state of the art sound system.

Until this point the vast majority of onlookers and potential bidders were male. When auction time arrived for this car the action boiled down to the traditional restorer guy and a women who arrived late. In the end she won the auction and expressed her delight with a big smile. She quickly went back inside to the estate auction so I didn't hear what her plans are for the 74 year old car. The person who lost the bidding told me afterwards that he should have stayed in the game but felt his opponent was determined to win, and he didn't want to run the price up...too high, he chuckled.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Restoring Minneapolis Moline Tractors

Each year a group of Minneapolis Moline enthusiasts meet to exchange stories and parade their yellow tractors in area events. "Restoring tractors is half the fun of owning one," a guy on this tractor told me. He was trying to replace the steering wheel. His son grew impatient holding the wheel while his dad tried to unhinge the bolts.

When assembled and painted the restored farm tractors look like they did in 1929 and ending in the 1960s when they rolled off assembly lines. More examples of restored Minneapolis Moline tractors can be seen annually at the Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. From the grandstand and parade grounds you can experience a wide variety of American made tractor brands spanning steam to diesel power. This year the event is August 30th through September 3rd.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Another Wreck on Cottage Grove

Drizzle produces wet pavement. Nothing new there. Crazy drivers who must speed up or down Cottage Grove Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids, regardless of the road conditions eventually lose control of their vehicle and end up in this ditch. A police officer tells me that he regularly patrols this stretch of road to catch speeders. But despite his effort, turning road indicators and speed limit signs the situation repeats itself three or four times a year.

The scene was filled with emergency responders and neighbors. No word yet about the make of the vehicle and the condition of the driver or any passengers. That's all from this spot until next time...

Leaning Towers of the Midwest

Tilted stainless steel bins dot the American Midwest landscape. An effect of a wide angle camera lens produces the appearance of these huge grain bins leaning toward each other - however in reality the view is conventional.

Many grain belt towns are populated with storage structures like these designed to hold the local harvest. More elaborate and expansive bin systems can be found in towns closer to railroads or highways. These particular collection of bins are located in Delmar, Iowa and are a few blocks from a highway that runs 27 miles to the Mississippi River. Grain processing facilities in the river port of Clinton further distribute the grain to area businesses for ethanol production, livestock feed or to other buyers by rail, truck or river barge.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Delmar's New Veterans' Memorial

On May 26, 2012 town members of Delmar, Iowa dedicated a recently completed Veterans' Memorial on the Depot grounds. The memorial consists of an angled black wall with a list of our nation's conflicts, flags for each branch of military service, warrior statues both human and canine, and benches for reflection.

Ten figures representing US warriors through the years ring the angled wall. The latest figure represents a current US Army soldier who holding a small child.

On the opposite side of the black wall are six human figures saluting the flag with a canine. Up until today I have never seen any war memorial that included warrior dogs. To be even more poignant was the fact that this weekend the US flag was flown at half-staff in Iowa to honor Sgt. Michael Ristau, of Rockford, Ill with Iowa ties who was killed in Afghanistan on July 13th.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Crop Dusters and Dry Days at Amana Airport

The grass strip at the Amana, Iowa airport looks pretty crispy these days due to regional drought conditions. Not withstanding some area crop fields need spraying for pests, weeds or fertilizer control. Recent growing conditions brought two Grumman Ag Cat crop dusters to Amana's private airport. These types of fixed wing single engine airplanes typically travel regionally during summer months to provide timely and cost effective aerial applications for local farmers.

Onboard these Ag Cats are huge plastic tanks containing the control agent (pesticide, herbicide or fertilizer) in liquid form. The tank is located ahead of the pilot with a section extending into the cockpit. Visual inspection of the fluid levels tell the pilot when the spray mixture has been applied or is about empty.

A series of spray nozzles below the fuselage and wings deliver product to the fields. All of this is powered by huge Pratt & Whitney radial engines that provide tons of horsepower needed to perform steep dives and pull-ups associated with precise spraying. The FAA lists 303 of these Grumman made planes on its register, meaning that about 1/2 percent of entire national fleet can be currently seen at the Amana Airport.