Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tracks Under the Lincoln Highway

Two Union Pacific tracks reach towards the west in 42N country in this snowy scene taken last week. Passing overhead is modern portion of the Lincoln Highway as it winds through Linn County, Iowa. The bridge from which this photo was taken is actually the original Lincoln Highway bridge built in 1915 in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

Not far from this spot is the seedling mile experiment site (just a few miles west of this location) where the benefits of a concrete highway were first demonstrated in Iowa on this highway. Up until this time the dirt roads were the norm and axle deep clay mud thwarted Model Ts as they tried their luck navigating the early highway road.

My high school French teacher once explained how some regional transportation paths developed. First the paths along waterways (rivers, creeks, streams) which were created by animal trails or local natives were discovered. Sometimes wagon trails widened these paths, then rail service was built along these paths - often with teletype wires overhead. Finally auto roads were built nearby, distances shortened and modifications were made.

This is why along some of the older roads in the country, such as pikes and former tollways you can see this pattern applied.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rocketing 42N Observations to Number One

42N blogging reached the one year milestone two days ago. Along the way a few technical enhancements have improved topic presentation. Several posts of note garnered attention by other blog/web sites while traffic from news organizations increased following the reporting of weather incidents, haunting stories, military convoys and Buddy Holly's last concert anniversary. Other high traffic getters were the two articles about artist Grant Wood's burial location and his Indian Creek painting.

Style wise the site falls somewhere between retail blogs, nocturnal neurotics fueled by liquid lunches of Red Bull and vodka blogs, "mommy" blogs and journal travel blogs. This site is closer to an educational, historical, travel and whatever else is on my mind blog. The 42N experiment continues. Know that.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Welcome Aboard the Pearl Button, Miss Turner

Take some fresh water mussels (clams) from the Mississippi River, discard the meat, wash the shells and you have the raw materials that helped put 42N city Muscatine, Iowa on the map in the mid-1800s. Clams were harvested, brought to shore, cleaned, shells drilled, blanks polished and packaged for the emerging American clothier market. The ride lasted until the 1960s when synthetic material (plastic) replaced organically produced pearl buttons.

At one time there were several factories in Muscatine that produced upwards of 1.3 million buttons a year. Surprisingly labor associated to make a single button involved up to 31 human touches per single fastener - that was extremely intensive. Above is a close up shot of thousands of mostly natural pearly colored buttons, some perfect and some with imperfections. The button process story is told well by the Muscatine History and Industry Museum. Know that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Late Autumn in Muscatine, Iowa

Along the ridge just a few blocks south of downtown Muscatine, Iowa (41.42N, 91.04W) sit an impressive collection of mansions overlooking the Mississippi River. These 42N area homes were once owned by the captains of industry in the river front town. Specifically the Weed Mansion and many other historic homes dating back to the mid-1800s are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (West Hill area.) The view this evening was one of a clear sunset low in the southwest. To complete the Muscatine profile is a steamboat sailing below and the shine from pearl button manufacturing. Know that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cup Full of 42N Cities

Enjoy a morning cup of 42N cities along with your favorite raspberry latte. These metal name plates were once used by NorthWestern Railroad personnel to display the stops along a particular route, here in 42N country. A map of the modern Chicago and NorthWestern lines can be seen above.

In years past passengers could glance at on onboard display in their rail car to see what city stops were coming up next. These days the various stop announcements on modern trains are done through a combination LED displays, audio reminders and sometimes braille. Know that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cirrus Over 42N Country

December 1st - no snow on the ground and temperatures nearing 50 degrees. Tomorrow starts the decline to more seasonable weather. Overhead floats a textbook cirrus cloud against a pure blue sky. Know that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Button Making from Mississippi River Clams

Nearly a hundred years ago the button industry flourished along the upper Mississippi River. Before the advent of plastic buttons, mother of pearl buttons were made from clams (mussels) harvested in the river.

One method used to collect clams involves a series of hooks that when lowered to the river floor would allow the clam to attach itself. After a period of time the harvester would pull the assembly up and detach the clam.

Once the meat was gathered the shell was sold to the button factories along the river. Using mechanical means the shells were cleaned, drilled for the button blank, cut, polished and packaged. The pearl button business declined in the 1960s with the availability of a cheaper to make material - plastic.

Drilled shells like the one above now in the at the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa can still be found today where button factories once stood. Try looking in Guttenburg, Iowa for button shells. Know that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Old Style Steerin' on the Mississippi River - Port of Dubuque

At the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in 42N country's Dubuque, Iowa there is much to see and do. The museum is divided into river history, biology, flood prevention, and an aquarium of fish, alligators, otters and other creatures that live in or along America's river. Outside you can find a retired steamboat to walk through along with other displays of ship engines from the Dubuque Boat Works.

One of the inside displays is a hands-on recreation of a steamboat pilot's wheel and bridge. This throwback display is not as flashy like the computer animated modern tow and barge counterpart located on the museum's second floor - where kids of all ages line up to pilot a 15 barge behemoth up river.

Yesterday's hand operated pilot wheel turns as you would expect a ship's wheel should turn - as seen in numerous old movies. Here's one thing that I noticed. To keep the wheel in the know of where center rudder is located a simple rope and wooden block device is positioned just ahead of the wheel That way the navigator knows how far the rudder is off center when turning the wheel. Ingenious yet simple. Know that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Greetings from Amana, Iowa

On the coldest day of the month we celebrate Thanksgiving with family in Amana, Iowa - part of 42N country (41.8N, 91.871W.) Here at the Lily Pond several canada geese, ducks and swans bob around in the still unfrozen water, thankful for not being turkeys today. Know that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beatles in a Box

On September 9, 2009 Capitol Records released the recordings of the Beatles remastered in mono (packaged in the white box) and stereo (black box.) This week the two sets are positioned at eye level in the local 42N Best Buy store just in time for the official holiday shopping period.

While these remastered albums are available in CD format with booklets and other packaged goods, digital downloads will apparently be available perhaps as early as 2010 per Paul McCartney's November 14th statement. You don't have to wait though. A form of digital downloads, available on a limited edition USB flash drive, can be found on the group's official store website.

As the trend for digital music format distribution continues, older versions of file storage (vinyl records, cassettes, 8-tracks and reel-to-reel tapes) fade quickly from popular use. Still, holding a 45 rpm piece of vinyl that was issued when the band still recorded at Abbey Road Studios provides a tangible reminder of the longevity of the Beatles' music and the generational remarketing as technology evolves. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Know that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Veterans Day 2009 Plus 7 Days

One more post to Veterans Day. Sheet music to George M. Cohan's 1917 song, Over There proclaims that "we won't come back till it's over Over there." Hear all three versions of the recorded song at this web site. Click the player at the top of the page to hear each artist.

In 1940 George Cohan was presented with a Congressional medal honoring him as the creator of "Over There." Cohan remains the only American composer to receive such an award. Know that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Veterans Day 2009 Plus 6 Days

For years I have looked at this statue, ultimately forging a memory. Recently I again remembered this soldier positioned on a corner, part of four military effigies chiseled into a stone monument. Perhaps Veterans Day six days ago jarred that distant impression or unearthed some mnemonic threads of location, time and place.

What seems appropriate is to tie the monument to those who served their countries. Lt. Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army wrote one of the most famous World War I poems, after experiencing war first hand at the battle of Ypres. His words became the catalyst to remember the war dead internationally and serves to symbolically link the thoughts by wearing a red poppy. Know that.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belle Plaine Iowa's Lincoln Cafe Status

42N country is bisected by a concrete ribbon - the Lincoln Highway. As the first transamerica highway the route is filled with support businesses of various kinds and ages - some as old as the route itself.

In Belle Plaine, Iowa the locally famous Lincoln Cafe operates. This diner has been feeding the travellers and town folk for generations. However this year something went terribly wrong. One of the cafe's co-owners was
murdered at his home.

The co-owner's common law wife, her son and his girl friend were all charged in July with the crime. Their trials begin in December and early 2010.

While Belle Plaine offers a peek at what small town USA looked like back in the 1920-30s with the Lincoln Highway, cafe and Preston's gas station (a very small museum to the Lincoln Highway and other area things) it would not be complete without a lunch stop at the Lincoln Cafe. Check first before planning a trip there as the cafe may or may not be open during the trial period.

If for no other reason Lincoln Highway enthusiasts should stop by and photograph the exterior of the landmark diner. Know that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Late Season Work for the Ed Renshaw Up Bound Near Port Byron, Illinois

This afternoon the thick overcast sky of mid-autumn signals the approach of snow. Tugs like the Ed Renshaw seen here about 4 pm today up bound on the upper Mississippi River pushing an empty barge will most likely continue to work until river traffic is halted for the season - perhaps in early January. The Illinois town of Port Byron is seen in the background.

Directly across from Port Byron is Le Claire, Iowa. The small town (located at 41.59N, 90.35W) was the home to river pilots back in the day and is the birthplace of William F. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill Cody. There are museums to both interests located in Le Claire.

The steamboat City of Baton Rouge, built in 1916 is now anchored in Le Claire (just right of the double stack boat (Twilight) above.) Boat traffic defines the history of this portion of 42N country on one of the greatest rivers in the world. Know that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Atop an Underwood

American Beat writer Jack Kerouac's early work is thought to have been written on an Underwood typewriter like this one above. Five million of these manual typewriters were manufactured by 1939. This one may have been made sometime in the 1920s according to

Last week's auction in 42N country included this model. The pallet made up of a mish-mash of items failed to generate any bids. The items are either kept for the next auction or are pitched if determined to be worthless. Know that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009: Thank You Over There From Over Here

Ninety-one years ago today the war to end all wars — ended. In 2009 we pause to honor all veterans who served our country and those who are actively defending our freedoms today.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 Germany signed the armistice with the Allied Powers — including the U.S., France, Britain, Japan and Italy — ending major hostilities and proclaiming the end to World War I. Know that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Final Days of the Palisades Hotel

Its hard to imagine the century-old Palisades Hotel, also known as Upper Palisades Hotel, Biderman Hotel, Cedar Springs Hotel, and the Old Dutch Inn will not be around long after Thursday, November 12th. That is the day when this digger will demolish the landmark structure which was substantially destroyed by the 2008 flood of the Cedar River. Hotel debris will be loaded and carried away to a local landfill by this dump truck.

A FEMA director told the 42N blogger that the paperwork is in order for Thursday's demolition. Following months of completing forms, contacting property owners and getting the necessary approvals, all parties recently received the green light to clean the area. The hotel is located near Palisades - Kepler State Park, just west of Mt. Vernon, Iowa (41.92N, 91.41W.)

An archaeologist is documenting the scene before and after the work of the crews as they tear down cabins and the hotel this week. He noted that the geological nature of the setting diminishes the potential for finding Indian relics. He said that the land sits on an alluvial deposit that tends to wash away with seasonal floods. Additionally the former quarry owners who originally built the Cedar Springs Hotel in the 1880s probably had the area plowed to make room for the railroad that moved rock out and later brought guests to the hotel.

When heavy machinery is not operating, just the sounds of the Cedar River and wind blowing through the nearly leafless trees is all that can be heard. It's not hard to imagine why this place attracted thousands of people every season including town folks from nearby Mt. Vernon, Lisbon and Cedar Rapids. The setting also welcomed celebrities such as the vaudevillian Cherry Sisters and poet, Carl Sandburg plus many others. Know that.

Update: The Palisades Hotel was demolished on May 5, 2010 when weather conditions and paperwork were all in order. See post from that date.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Coggon, Iowa's 2009 Fall Harvest: Here Comes the Propane

Its about iconic as it comes - Iowa farmers harvesting gain from fields and delivering crop to storage bins. This 42N scene is from just north of Coggon, Iowa (42.27N, 91.52 W) on Highway 13.

Yesterday (11/8/09) corn and soybeans fields north of Coggon teamed with harvesters, grain trucks and support crews. By taking advantage of the near summer-like conditions of the past two days, the area farmers hope to get a crop in before winter snow and other wet conditions prevent further harvest.

Today Iowa Governor Chet Culver authorized additional propane deliveries to Iowa so that grain can be dried to help prevent spoilage. Didn't know you needed a governor to authorize something for your own business. Know that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Delaplane Virginia's Historic Rail Station

Originally known as Piedmont Station, this small northern Virginia village now called Delaplane once provided rail transportation for the Confederate army's General Jackson's brigade in 1861. The claim to fame for this train station is that it was part of the first large scale use of mass transportation of land troops to a battlefield. Some 10,000 soldiers gathered in freight and cattle cars at the station (photo above) to move quickly to the nearby Manassas battlefield (also called Bull Run.) According to the historical marker this action of mass troop transportation led to victory for the confederate forces at this battle. General Jackson earned his 'Stonewall' nickname at this battle as a result of his defiant stance in opposition to overwhelming forces.

In this immediate area of Virginia you can find the sites of the French Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Preservation of these sites help teach the real history of this area and nation. Know that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Brick Work Ordered Again for West Freemason Street Historic District

On Columbus Day 2009, Norfolk, Virginia’s city workers were busy at the corners of West Freemason and Yarmouth Streets gently digging up the brick work that was laid the week before. According to a supervisor on the scene the brick pattern was not to the liking of someone at city hall despite the sign-off on the project at the time of installation. As a result the bricks were lifted by backhoe and piled for the bricklayers to redo the work.

The street supervisor told 42N that street bricks were most likely of African origin from the 1800s. The bricks served as ship ballast during the voyage and were eventually unloaded onto huge brick piles near the city’s docks during that period.

Norfolk, Virginia’s West Freemason Street Historic District is known for its visual chronology of residential architecture that represent over three centuries of styles dating from 1686. Surviving fires, floods, wars and the march of time, this area displays a progression of homes from the Federal style, Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts Classicism, Queen Anne, and Georgian Revival styles. The street was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Know that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fifes and Drums in Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, America's Revolutionary City, knows how to end an October 14th day. The Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg marches west along the Duke of Gloucester Street before turning north at the courthouse.

Following this march the band drums for the Virginia militia while we see a demonstration of rifle shooting, more parade marching and the setting off of a cannon. All of this happens in conjunction with a visit by General George Washington on horseback. The general addresses the gathered crowd - many of whom are from England. Huzzah! Know that.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Touring the USS Nitze During Fleet Week 2009

The guided missile destroyer, USS Nitze paid a visit to the Nauticus in downtown Norfolk, Virginia in mid-October. The occasion was to help celebrate the US Navy's 234th birthday by welcoming the public through tours of the active duty ship. This was the first visit in four years by a Navy ship to the facility for a public tour. Click here to see Norfolk's WAVY-television report of the ship's tour.

The crew assigned to the 42N group greeted each member and asked if there were any active or retired military in our group. An ex-navy guy and his family from the Norfolk area identified himself. The Nitze crew thanked him for his service and began the tour.

Our guide (the woman pictured above) explained the name of the ship and their ongoing mission. We toured the helicopter landing area and hanger, the ship's fire fighting team, the galley (which was filled with cooks and hungry sailors), and many tight passages. Part of the 'wow' factor was a walkthru of the ship's combat information center - a subdued lighting, computer screen filled room located directly below the bridge. It looks like what you see in the movies. Any sensitive data was scrubbed from the computer screens for these public visits.

Our tour continued upstairs to the bridge and then onto the forward deck to checkout the 5-inch gun and multiple hatches for the guided missile arsenal. An interesting feature of modern warships is the phased array radar systems. Two large flat radar panels are visible in the bottom photo behind the 5-inch gun control.

Our guide explained that she doesn't recommend standing anywhere near the 5-inch gun when it fires nor when the missiles start their climb out of the hatches. She said its pretty noisy. 42N thinks its probably worse to be on the receiving end of either of those two weapon systems.

The Commander of the USS Nitze, CDR Richard Brawley, wished us well at the end of the tour. He is proud of his ship and his people. So is 42N. Know that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Almost Cotton Pickin' Time at Shirley Plantation

During Columbus Day week last year this Shirley Plantation cotton field was already picked and ready for transport. This year the snow-like field awaits the mechanical harvest which had to be just days away from the October 14th summer-like day.

Near Hopewell and Charles City, Virginia Shirley Plantation is open to the public for tours and events. Part of the ongoing revenue for the plantation is the cash crops like cotton and soybeans. Cotton in full bloom adds that dimension of authenticity when visiting the oldest plantation in Virginia (1613.) More on the Shirley Plantation at a later post. Know that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Haunting of Colonial Williamsburg

Ghost tours are a popular events at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia especially in the fall when the conditions seem right to properly frame the stories. This week while the 42N blogger was in the 18th-century living-history park we heard two new reports of super natural sightings not part of the regular ghost tours in Colonial Williamsburg.

A Williamsburg worker told us that people can occasionally see small orb-shaped glowing clouds floating down the Duke of Gloucester Street at night. She described these clouds as the size of small children which move along the street and at times move from side to side in the street.

The second report came from a woman working the gift shop at the DeWitt Wallace Art Museum and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. The woman told us about encounters when she worked in the nearby Celebrations shop (110 S Henry St.) In the basement after Celebrations closed she would tidy the place up and organize it for the next day. In the morning she and others would find items moved from where they were placed the night before. She also reports hearing footsteps after all people were out of the building. She claims that this is a male entity who is just messing with them and is doing no harm. Our visit to Celebrations yielded no brushes with ghosts but we did talk to the sales people.

This week during our night strolls on the streets of Colonial Williamsburg we encountered no mysterious vapors but did observe the ever popular ghost tours in progress. Coincidentally, the Bruton Parish Church, located on the Colonial Williamsburg property, conducted an evening music performance which allowed for its cemetery grounds to be visited at night - another place of many reported sightings.

One thing is for certain, the interest in ghosts especially at such a historic place like Williamsburg is a big draw for the property and privately guided groups. People enjoy hearing a good ghost story, getting scared and trying their luck in seeing or capturing a photo of a colonial spirit. Know that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

USS Wisconsin Prepares for Navy's 234th Birthday

The USS Wisconsin, anchored in Norfolk, Virginia, is being decked out today in patriotic bunting in preparation for celebration of the US Navy's 234th birthday this week. The Iowa-class battleship entered World War II service and presently is a key attraction in the downtown waterfront area. The standout weaponry on these battleships are the nine 16-inch guns.

One remarkable feature of this decorated warship is the rebuilt bow. After a foggy collision with another navy ship during the 1950s, the damaged USS Wisconsin's bow was taken off and replaced with the bow section from the last Iowa class battleship under construction at the time, the USS Kentucky. The merger of the two ship parts is fondly referred to as the WIS-KY after the abbreviations for the two states.

While the USS Wisconsin was closed to tours on this Monday, the ship is readily accessible along the Cannonball trail - the extended sidewalk that allows spectacular views of the warship. Take time to read the various information displays along the walkway. Statues and monuments to other Norfolk-based personnel who gave their lives in defense of our country are located along the path. Know that.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rennes Le Chateau at 42N - Surely Just a Coincidence

42N country stretches around the world - as you would expect. While previous posts here concentrate around 42N and 92W, its time to expand the coverage. A quick look around for other interesting places located on the 42N meridian starts pretty much near the prime meridian or the rose line - the first prime meridian.

Located at 42°55'41" N, 2°15'46" E is a church, castle and french town connected closely with the work of Henry Lincoln, Richard Leigh and others -- Rennes Le Chateau. What better place to tie in previous 42N posts with masonic and other related references. Indeed a mysterious place and a mysterious story - enough to inspire author Dan Brown with the creation of The Da Vinci Code and become a tourist spot for decades. Know that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Biderman Hotel Nears the End Along Cedar River

Ironically the knockout blow to the continuing existence of what was the Biderman Hotel is the very reason that brought people out to the site - the river.

In the late 1890s the Cedar Springs Hotel was built along the northern banks of the Cedar River, adjoining present day Palisades - Kepler State Park in eastern Iowa (42N country) near Cedar Rapids. By 1914 the property was sold to Adolph Biderman who turned the hotel and grounds into a major destination place. Adolph's granddaughter Pat Biderman is the present owner of the property. Pat says the hotel's registration book is filled with names from all over the world.

On a September 2009 tour of the property Pat explained how the Cedar River's historic flood in June 2008 put an end to any plans of saving the structure. She started the demolition process of the wooden building noting that the paperwork is more tedious than the eventual bulldozing of the structure. At present Pat has no plans to rebuild on the site.

The hotel was known by the names, the Cedar Springs Hotel, Upper Palisades Hotel and the Biderman Hotel. The image above shows the hotel in the 1930s with many people formally dressed and positioned on the hotel's two porches. The bottom photo was taken in early September. The second story porch was removed many years ago.

In its present condition it is hard to imagine that on certain Independence Day celebrations upwards to a thousand people would come on to the grounds for enjoying nature, fireworks, hotel dinners, and the company of others.
Much more information exists on the property and will be the subject of a later blog entry. Know that.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Just One Word - Plastics"

What's more fun than a barrel of monkeys? Maybe it's the Graduate's classic movie line about plastics that comes to mind. Otherwise, this storage area for plastic barrels make for a great black & white composition.

Long ago when I started took up photography with a friend, we concentrated on black & white imagery as it was the easiest way to process and print photos in his basement darkroom. Later, courses in college emphasized both the news value and the art of black & white photography.

Today with online photo editors and other powerful image software it is a snap to shoot, edit and publish. Still, composition is the key for basic good photography. Look for lines, contrast, and the moment to capture the IT image. Know that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

House of the Rising Sun

Art of the mundane. Is this a commissioned metal sculpture? If you glance through this site you will notice the focus on the mundane as art. Featured above is a metal storm sewer cover in 42N country. Know that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Serious Snow Removal for Linn County

Ready for snow in 42N country? Linn County, Iowa is prepared for almost any snow accumulation. Huge snow drifts require big equipment. Linn County's secret weapon is the SNOGO snow plow. This two-stage auger plow can heave-ho 2,500 tons of the white stuff an hour. See if you can do that with your Toro.

Last winter's storms produced near record level of snow in the Midwest - almost a return to the levels from the 1970s. Back in 1974 Time magazine and other popular media proclaimed the eventual return of the ice age based on geologic records. Twenty years later other experts predict global warming and point to their data as evidence. A better theory is that politics entered the discussion, insisting that elected officials are the voice for nature. Gag where appropriate.

Regardless of which theory, if any, is correct the roads in these northern latitudes still need to be cleared in a timely fashion. Linn County is prepared for anything - just add snow and fuel.