Monday, December 31, 2012

Iowa's Birthday Near the End of Every Year

President James Polk signed a piece of paper proclaiming Iowa as the nation's 29th state on December 28, 1846. As today ends 2012, Iowa marks 166 years and three days old. Special flags have been erected on Old Capitol located at the site of the state's first capitol location in Iowa City. The building (built in 1840 as a territorial capitol) is the centerpiece of the University of Iowa and is generally used as the icon for the university. When the capitol moved to Des Moines in 1857 the building was deeded to the University of Iowa where it serves now as a museum and cultural center. Happy birthday Iowa.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kirkwood Beef - Out of the Cold

A growing college here in Cedar Rapids is named Kirkwood Community College. Part of their expansive curriculum is a two year degree in Agriculture Production Management. Several acres near campus house classrooms, conference rooms and protective shelter for about 300 head of cattle including heated concrete pads. At Kirkwood's Tippie Beef Education Center students learn the latest production methods and technology through hands-on learning at the student-run college farm. Many Kirkwood graduates take that knowledge back to family farms or continue their education in ag-sciences at other universities like Iowa State in Ames. Besides, the junior member of 42N is quick to point out that her photos of range cattle exceed those of the author - I beg to differ.

When to Put Away Christmas Decorations

As long as people have been decorating homes with Christmas themed ware the question exists - when to take it all down. Some people leave outdoor holiday bright lights up all year round. Others take down both their indoor and outdoor displays shortly after January 1st. Perhaps it really doesn't matter as long as you enjoy the decorations. However when the calendar goes into February the Christmas bulbs tend to look out of place. But worry not. November will be here in 11 months and you may display it all again - or wait until December.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Stroll Through Grapevine Antiques

Antique stores, like Grapevine Antiques in Amana, Iowa offer glimpses into the past and what is currently popular with collectors. For some collectors it may be certain glassware types, others want to recreate what they had as a child. Still others collect for resale if the price is right.

Another feature of local antiques stores is historical local items. At Grapevine the regional reach of material can span from the Amana area to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City plus other sections of the state. A recent stop in Davenport and Moline offered another element to the regional mix – that of the Mississippi River and local rail road headquarters.

Today Grapevine highlighted a ball and claw table foot for $35, a set of old time children’s books from the 1940s and ‘50s, and the ever popular pocket knives.

Collectors look for things to start or expand their collection. However sometimes an item sells because of an emotional connection with the purchaser, but not in all cases.

A few weeks ago a women came to the store looking for a 1940s era radio for her business’ new historical display. She mentioned that the radio did not have to be functioning because she would gut it and place modern speakers in the shell to broadcast the company’s history in the display she was creating. A quick search of the store turned up no radio candidates. 

My own collection of radios may have helped but I couldn't let a fully functioning tube radio become stripped for a display.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Pink Ripples on Indian Creek

A late afternoon photo of local Indian Creek produced this non-Photoshoped pink tint on the rippling water. Maybe it was a lens abbreviation or some sort of algae bloom. When the photo was taken I did not see any pinkish flashes. Regardless of the cause the effect is striking and unexpected.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Route of the Rockets Through Vinton, Iowa

What to do when winter arrives and weather turns cold? Go to Vinton, Iowa of course. The town’s non-functioning train station (except for special occasions) features a look of what rail transportation was like in eastern Iowa many decades ago. On property is a 1950s era Rock Island Line red caboose to inspect. The building in need of much repair also houses a historical society while the grounds host special events throughout the year including periodic special theme passenger rail service. 

Did Rock Island Rockets use the Vinton route? Perhaps, but I don’t know for sure. I bet the people of Vinton could answer that question plus point out the historical stop of the Ingalls family when young Mary and parents came to town to enroll in the Iowa School of the Blind. She was the sister of Laura who later wrote the Little House books. Mary's travels to Vinton and her stay at the school were also featured in the book series.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ducks on a Pond

Ducks, geese and swans on an artificial pond in Cedar Rapids, Iowa appear to huddle for warmth as their water freezes. Actually the pond is regulated with a filter and pump to allow the fowl to remain on site year round. Attempts to feed the flock were disregarded by the masses of ducks in return for bunching together. No amount of bread crumbs enticed the birds to venture near. There loss. Maybe the omni present squirrels will find the food.

Mysterious Objects Missing Among Upper Mississippi River Antique Stores

Stops along Mississippi River towns in the upper Midwest from Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota generally include visits to local antique stores. Its taken a while but a general observation made of these stores' inventories all exhibit the same missing items - riverboat and related industry items. Steam powered side- and stern-wheelers worked these waters from the mid-1800s to roughly the late 1920s. While you occasionally find illustrations (above) and books on river life, like Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, there are no authentic ship pieces to purchase. No ship's wheel, bells, ropes, dinner ware, doors, hinges, engine parts, planks, etc. are to be found. Several store owners when asked about the lack of steamboat pieces offer the explanation that the boats were salvaged for metal during the World Wars and the wood was generally burned. They suggest that the ship captains may have been offered or took the boat's service, nameplates, wheel and bells as tokens of their work. While some of these items may still be kept in the families through generations other pieces may have been released for sale and quickly purchased.

A recent stop in Clinton, Iowa offered the Delta Queen watercolor print for $32.50. You can generally find this particular print in several stores as it was mass produced near the 1976 Bicentennial when a resurgence in passenger boat interest surged. Other pieces of possible riverboat items can also be found such as wooden and metal pulleys and other work related equipment. While you cannot be sure whether it came off a boat or was used in factory, warehouse or farm you can assume it was used in the area. Just think all these mint condition soft drink bottles (that sell for about $7 each) were filled and distributed locally long after the boats disappeared. Maybe one day they too will be highly sought after beyond what they fetch currently. That will be no mystery.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Polar Express

Two old locomotives, two similar themes. Merry Christmas Polar Express style from Burlington (top) and Independence, Iowa (below.)

Clinton, Iowa's Ice Bound Mississippi River

On Sunday, December 23rd the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa moved ice flows south as air temperatures reached 23 F. The region's first major snow of the season closed the river to commercial traffic. A recent concern of barge owners and the U.S. Corp of Engineers is the river's channel depth. Drought  conditions over the past year have decreased the river's depth throughout the Upper Mississippi. Channel depth at the nearby Quad Cities measuring station indicated 9.86 feet today and dropping.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Got Snow?

Remember the milk campaign of a few years ago showing famous people with a white milk mustache? That was on my mind when in Clinton, Iowa today I spotted this sculpture of a catfish sporting remnants of Thursday's blizzard in its mouth. Each of this downtown block' s corners features different animals of the region - just a block from the Mississippi River. And yes the entire eastern Iowa region still is reeling from the storm that deposited the first measurable snow of Winter 2012-13 in this portion of the state.

Monday, December 17, 2012

40 Years Ago - Apollo 17’s Ron Evans Took a Walk in Space

Forty years ago today, the last NASA manned mission to the Moon was on its way home. At that time, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans made a one hour six minute space walk to retrieve film cassettes from Apollo 17’s exterior cameras. Those photos captured the crust beneath much of the lunar surface. In mission imagery this photo of Ron outside the service module bay was widely used. It also stands out as the furthest walk in deep space still on the books since no one has returned to the moon or ventured further since December 1972. Evans also holds the record for most time in lunar orbit.

Fifteen years later I wrote to Evans, than a retired astronaut busy with a variety of work. I asked him several questions that he answered and signed several magazine pages of the mission that I had sent him. Ron wrote this spacewalk was the highlight of the mission for him being near the moon’s vicinity on the return to earth. He told me on January 2, 1988 “what a ball this was” to walk in space. Ron Evans died of a heart attack on April 7, 1990.

In 1996 I met Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan when he came to town to help dedicate a portion of the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library. He signed a photo that I had brought him of a very tired looking mission commander inside the lunar module on the moon’s surface after EVA-3.

Apollo 17 also produced a very famous image of the full earth where the continents of Antarctica, Africa, Europe and parts of Asia can be seen. The photo was long used as the earth image from 1972 until perhaps a decade ago when more full earth images from satellites and interplanetary probes were released.

Evans said of the round earth image, “it is truly round.” He also shed some light on which crew member took that famous photo. He wrote me, “I took that one, but Jack (Schmitt) will also claim credit. Ha!”

Someday I will contact the third member of the Apollo 17 crew, Jack Schmitt and learn more firsthand about that mission and who took that famous photo.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Moline's Seasonal Rest

Warm autumn weather has given Iowa farmers time to finish the harvest and condition their fields. I found this older (some say antique) Moline-brand tractor and rusted pull plough positioned on a field's edge. Together they finished field preparation and await more warmer weather for beginning spring planting in about four months.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Black Hawk War Era Fort Stands at Sinsinawa Mound

You usually don’t associate the word “fort” with the American Midwest, let alone the upper Midwest. Sure they exist, even in Iowa; places like Fort Madison, Fort Atkinson and Fort Dodge. These fortified structures provided a place of safety, collection of a garrison and exerted regional control over the expanding territory as the United States pushed over the continent.

We learn about the major events in our country’s history in school but rarely does the material detail the Midwest’s fortified history. How many of us are better versed in forts associated with the American Colonies and Old West? Even here in Iowa the historical subject matter of westward expansion rarely mentions local forts (in school books) and their importance to the area.

So it’s little wonder that while traveling just outside of Iowa near Sinsinawa, Wisconsin (an unincorporated community just a few miles east of Dubuque, Iowa) that this structure sticks out oddly as does the mound it rests upon.

Extreme southwest Wisconsin consists of rolling prairie hills. Prominent at Sinsinawa is a conical hill that dramatically rises off the landscape and is topped off by a crown of trees.

Early settlers farmed and raised livestock in the area – much like the practices today. Lead was mined and smelted on the mound. When Sac (Sauk) and Fox factions threatened the well being of settlers a fort was constructed. Local resident, later one of the first two Iowa Senators, George Wallace Jones built this structure.

A display sign at the fort reads, “In the spring of 1832, at the outbreak of the Black Hawk War, I built a log fort or block house for the protection of my family…and neighbors.”

While I have not fully investigated the stone structure, it is obvious that the building was recently preserved with concrete flooring and column supports. The interior displays old lead mining equipment.

I have marked this as a subject to more fully explore. To make it even more fascinating is the fort’s assimilation with the buildings of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary. The site is motherhouse for 600 sisters who conduct educational training and spiritual relationships – just steps outside the fort.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Who is this U.S. Navy Sailor?

At a consignment store in Iowa City this afternoon a photo of a World War II era sailor was purchased. There is no information about him except for the Anamosa, Iowa photo studio name. Yesterday was the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Perhaps this sailor enlisted because of that event or was there himself, or served at another time. Maybe you can identify this person? Let me know. Read further about photo detective work with images found at antique stores, auctions, or consignment stores by going to the Forgotten Old Photos blog site.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Controlled Burn at Farm House Near Sandy Hook, WI

A controlled fire southeast of Sandy Hook, Wisconsin brought in several area fire departments in addition to people investigating the tower of smoke. The home was purposely set on fire while crews practiced various spraying methods of containment, then allowed the structure to completely burn. A portion of the second story of the old farmhouse can be seen falling on the left. This is yet another example of keeping a camera with you especially as you tour the 42N latitude.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

UFO Landed in Sinsinawa's Valley of the Dinosaurs

Travel over the Highway 151 bridge from Iowa to Wisconsin (over the Mississippi River) and take the first exit in the Badger State east to Highway 11. Along the scenic rolling hills near Sinsinawa is a massive tree topped mound which served as native, mining, Black Hawk war, and spiritual centers. Save all of that for a future 42N blog post.

Continue east of the mound about a mile and you will notice a slight rise of a hill on the highway. As you crest the hill (still east bound) you will plunge into an alien world of dinosaurs and an UFO. There’s about eight metal dino sculptures in a pasture greeting you unexpectedly. New to this mixture of creatures is this UFO craft complete with a green faced alien at the controls. 

While photographing these objects of art I parked along the shoulder of the busy highway. I walked outside of the guard rail to get closer to the dinosaurs. Not surprisingly the ground was littered with discarded containers of energy drinks, beer, fast food wrappers, and miscellaneous plastics, broken glass and paper. Oddly no cheese wrappers were found despite being within a few miles of curd central, Shullsburg. Friendly Wisconsinites even blew their horns as if I cared to look at them zipping by at 55 mph rather than observing the herd from Jurassic Park, plus one alien.