Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bridging 2011 and 2012

On the last day of 2011, snow remains non-existent in the local 42N area - but for how long? The new year for this longitude is about four hours away. Once crossing into the new year, like transversing this bridge, we have decisions to make for 2012. Let's hope they are as simple as taking the road to the right once over the span. Know that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sunnyside Barn

So far the 2011-12 winter has produced zero snow fall at this location west of Norway, Iowa - the daily temperatures are too warm for snow. As this is being written the jet stream is probably maneuvering to bring some Pacific Canadian blast this way next week. That's okay because the 42N snow blower is ready.

This photo was snapped on Christmas Eve during a ride in the country to find interesting scenes. In addition to barns and windmills, the 42N photo staff clicked images of cattle - a subject that the youngest member now photographs professionally out West. Know that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Search for Iowa Arrowheads

A new park in eastern Iowa has it all, high canyon walls, a river, caves and bountiful animals. With all of that in place including ample amounts of chert (flint,) hard rocks and minerals, one would think the discovery of native arrowheads would be higher than normal.

Well not so today. A look around on this gravel and sand bed on the river's bend resulted in zero spearpoints. So where are they? Any tips out there from arrowhead hunters as to where to look for the ancient artifacts in situations like this? Know that.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Iowa Native Beadwork Vest

Museums showcase many things. In between the pottery, spear points and ceremonial pipes crafted by Iowa natives (Chippewa, Mesquakie and Ioway) is this portion of a vest. It is displayed at the University of Iowa's MacBride Hall Museum of Natural History among the shoes and other outer wear.

This section of the museum is easily overlooked by students because it does not compare to the replica giant sloth (named Rusty) or display of geologic fossils. However the vest is worthy of the same scrutiny of any piece of art. Look at the design and work effort required to assemble the vest. Rusty might be able to draw the crowds of kids, but the museum's diverse display of early Iowa culture will keep them coming back for decades. Know that.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Things from Christmas Past

Take a stroll through Grapevine Antiques in Amana, Iowa during December and you will find lots of things that people once used to celebrate Christmas.

Large colorful lights once used to decorate indoor Christmas trees now fill a white porcelain pan. A box of red ball ornaments from the 1950s sits nearby.

A toy helicopter without its main rotor blade, stands out among the Santas, old tinsel and nativity scenes. This small item once symbolized fascination with the Santa delivery concept, the emergence of Rudolf, and an ideal of plentiful gift giving of a particular era. Today the copter with a few photographic modifications can still draw the imagination of a once small child. Know that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roll Out the Wagon

In one of South Amana's town barns, next to the barn museum, sits this working wagon. Perhaps stereotypical of a journalist's recent essay. Know that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Observations on Stephen Bloom's Essay

Grain elevators near the Union Pacific rail lines at Norway, Iowa. 

This week Stephen G. Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa published an essay in The Atlantic about his 20 years of living in Iowa. (Read his work here.) His essay is a raw look at the Hawkeye state as it nears the first in the nation presidential caucus season in a few weeks.

Many readers who live in the 42N tall corn state reacted predicatively with outrage. Outside of his right to publish his observations and being critical of his employer (the State of Iowa) there are other issues of balance and context that the author chose not to address.

Bloom, a transplant from New Jersey via San Francisco who landed in Iowa City, enjoys a tenured position at a state university. His essay in a popular culture online magazine is based on a negative image of Iowa and its residents. Are some things true in his observations? Yes. The state's small and aging population coupled with a rural heritage makes easy pickings for dissecting Iowa's current culture as compared to metropolitan living. In his article Iowa's attributes become the basis for why the 29th state to join the Union is allowed to play an important role in the selection of presidential candidates.

What's the difference between this Iowa hit piece from others? Simple, the timing in the publication is directed squarely at the caucus season. Every four years discussion about how this process is structured is vetted. This time it included slashes upon middle America. Secondly, the attitude of the writer is one of projected large city know it all versus the perceived agrian salt of the upper Midwest.

It would be easy to describe New Jersey or San Francisco in terms of deviancy, aloofness, counter culture and other criteria using Bloom's template. But that is not what Iowans or constructive writers do.

Look, each state or region of the country has good and bad issues with all sorts of things like the weather, employment, population, immigration, economy, quality of living, education, etc. But look around. We collectively have the best of many worlds right here in the USA. Sure Iowa is agriculturally based. We provide some of the best corn, soy beans, and livestock to feed the world. And our technology helps many non-farm businesses also from avionics to telecommunications to medical advancements. 

Iowa has much more to offer, just like all other states. So what if our mid-continent, land locked state population isn't considered hip or cutting edge. Aren't we all in this together?

Iowans can take the criticism. Iowans can strive to fix what is broke. And, Iowans can highlight the positive qualities of living in such a great country.

For many, Professor Bloom's thought piece is a call to defend our freedoms and way of life between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Can we be better? Sure, that idea is what always made America strong.

Iowa's state motto is, "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain." It is a concept relevant to Iowans and to all Americans. In under three weeks we will exercise our Liberty and select qualified candidates for the highest office in the government. Know that.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hitchin' a Ride

A horse is a horse of course unless its a hitching post. Check them out in South Amana. Know that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Low Water Fishing at Iowa's Palisades State Park

Late season fishing on the Cedar River within the Palisades State Park means fewer crowds, fewer bugs and sometimes lower water levels. These two anglers came up empty while I was visiting the sand bar.

A lower river level at the park means that the exposed dolomite walls can be more readily explored - if you can get across the river. Not many people can traverse the water from this vantage point so these small caves tend to be less disturbed.

On this day the progression of the Cedar's lowering water can be observed in a series of braided pebble debris and sand lines. Despite the lower water level rock hunters can find all sorts of chert, coral fossils, and glacial debris on the ever changing sand bars. Know that.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Corn Crib and Barn

Near Ely, Iowa across from a public golf course is an old, but still active farm. On the property is a wooden barn and wire mesh corn crib. In the past, the cribs were used to dry and store corn. Modern versions of on property corn storage are generally large, round galvanized bins that sometimes have propane dryers attached. This particular farm didn't display any signs of livestock so the need to store grain on site may be moot. Know that.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Late Season Field Work Moves Along the Road

Just ten days ago these scenes were typical of area rural roads around 42N country. I was going to use the intro, "You know you are in Iowa when you see..." but I'm guessing this happens all around the northern US and Canada while the weather is still good. What I observed on this day was a combination of corn harvest and distribution plus some field preparation for next season.
Obviously when tooling around in your latest version of the Model A, be on the lookout for these giant field machines. Sometimes a caravan of vehicles accompany these slow movers from one field to another. Usually the slow moving tractors don't travel long distances and will try to help you navigate around them. Field preparation and harvest season may be finished for the season with many fields cleared and snowy weather predicted soon. Know that. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lisbon House Fire Contained By Multiple Community Firefighters

Yesterday while in Mount Vernon, Iowa one, two, then three fire trucks rolled by. A few minutes later a fourth one sped off to the east towards Lisbon. Camera in hand, it was time to go to see what was happening.

Lisbon is located just a few miles east of Mount Vernon along the Lincoln Highway. Downtown was filled with smoke when we arrived. A house just a block south of Main Street was on fire. 

We arrived on South Jackson Street to see several fire and rescue vehicles trying to contain a one house fire. Many people including some local firefighters from Lisbon were in transit to the UNI dome in Cedar Falls for their local high school football championship game.

As a precaution other town fire departments were recruited to fill in if needed. On this dry, cold and windy day the help was needed.

While the fire remains under investigation the newly remodeled section of the house was the area that received the most damage. The family was away from the home when fire broke out but were onsite during the emergency. Their pet dog did not survive.

Local media present at the scene included KGRG television and the Gazette. Watch and read more about the story here.

Firefighters from Lisbon, Mount Vernon, Mechanicsville and Solon were on the scene - and maybe more. The duration and characteristics of the fire meant that the fire personnel rotated in and out of the house, changed oxygen tanks often and answered to many chiefs. Their combined effort fortunately limited damage to one house. We as a society don't pay these firefighters enough to do what they do.

Soon after the fire was contained, the multiple town crews began to transition into a cleanup and monitor mode. This firefighter had his outfit sprayed to wash off blackened soot. Later in the afternoon the home was secured.

Having the camera present during various times allows for recording some great images. Sometimes the opportunities are simple, like photographing a dragonfly's wings, other times the subjects are more dramatic. Know that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Decoding the Handshake Tombstone

A weathered handshake symbol on a local 42N cemetery headstone is a fairly common site on older markers. This particular headstone is made of white marble and shows the effects from years of temperature extremes and freeze/thaw cycles - plus organic visitors. Granite seems to stand the test of time better than marble around here.

So what does the handshake symbol signify? Two answers. The first is the depiction of a greeting of the departed to a more heavenly existence. The other answer appears commonly when a married couple is buried together. Cuffs sometimes show masculine and feminine characteristics. There may be other answers. Let me know. Know that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Swaying in the Autumn Winds

At this time of the season in 42N latitudes, most leaves have fallen and many of the formerly green plants are now yellow or brown. Still there is beauty that can be found in the final phases of autumn. Here the tall grasses of a county fairgrounds sway in the breeze. We received the first snow of the season last week which later melted that day. Its surely a prelude of what's coming in the weeks ahead. Know that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Military Artwork of American Legion Post No.137

The American Legion Post in Dyersville, Iowa knows how to make use of space by creating an impactual message. On the roadside face of an ordinary building an artist has created elements of the American military in action from World Wars I & II, Korea and Vietnam. The unifying graphic theme is that of the foot soldier in each vignette with nods to the other branches of service. I believe the panels were started in 2008 with the WWII graphic (see story here.) After visiting the "Field of Dreams" movie site a few miles away come by the north end of town by following the railroad tracks. There you will find this one of kind mural. Know that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011: Remembering Orian G. Owens

Tech Sergeant Orian G. Owens, WWII
Today through the power of the Internet and firsthand research brings into focus the special story of a fallen veteran from the 42N area.

Three weeks ago a stack of papers bought at auction in Coggon, Iowa yielded among other things, a small booklet called the Lisbon High School Alumni Directory 1880 – 1952. In the booklet are very brief updates of the then living or deceased high school classmates. I flipped through the pages, and stopped on one entry for the class of 1935. There among the time period of World War II was a six sentence description of a graduate who served in the Army Air Corps, was shot down, hid by the Belgium Underground and later shot by the Germans.

I was intrigued with this particular listing and went into research mode to find more information about Tech Sergeant Orian G. Owens and what happened to him. Here is his story for Veterans Day:

Following his Lisbon High School graduation in 1935 Orian George Owens (born Jan. 22, 1915), a farm boy, moved to the West Liberty, Iowa area in Muscatine County. Orian’s brother Harold graduated from Lisbon a few years later.

In 1942 Orian became one of 61 Muscatine county men who passed their physical examinations at the Camp Dodge (near Des Moines) induction center. On Aug. 27th Orian left Muscatine for the U. S. Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was assigned various duties.

Due to his farm machinery background Orian was assigned to the Army Air Corps and trained at the Shephard Field, California, Panama City, Florida and Salt Lake City, Utah. He became assigned to the 469th Air Force Bomber Squadron at Dallas, Texas where he became a First Engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17F Bomber. During a training exercise the landing gear jammed and Orian had to squeeze himself through the wing to manually lower the gear.

After training, Orian was sent to England and based at Thurleigh. His B-17F (tail number 42-30782) Bomber was nicknamed, "Rationed Passion." On January 11, 1944 the plane was part of 663 heavy bombers of the 306th Bomb Group. The target for Orian's tenth mission was a manufacturing plant in Halberstadt, Germany.

On the return trip, the plane was hit by flak and crashed in Holland. At that time the Germans occupied Holland, Belgium and France. Orian was injured when his parachute opened and then broke a rib upon hitting the frozen ground.

Orian and other crew members were picked up by the Dutch Resistance. Orian was hidden in a potato cellar with two other crew members. He was later escorted to various homes, barns and other shelters along with the other crew members. Still later the Dutch and Belgium Underground picked up the "Rationed Passion" crew and other downed airmen and moved them to the woods near Chimay and Saint Remy, Belgium, close to the French border.

On January 28th the Muscatine newspaper reported that Orian’s father had received notice that Orian was declared missing in action. At this same time Orian’s brother Harold was a POW under Italian control.

The group of ten U.S. airmen, including Orian waited for conditions to improve for them to be moved to France, then Spain and finally England. In the mean time the Germans closed the routes and the ten airmen had to wait for new escape routes to be established. Two men decided to escape on their own and later were successful.

Orian’s group of eight airmen had just concluded breakfast at 8 AM on April 22, 1944 when the sound of rifle fire came nearby. Nearly 1500 German SS soldiers flooded the area looking for the protected airmen and members of the underground. Orian’s group left the wooded area and was taken into German custody in Chimay. They were interrogated, stripped of their dog tags, false papers and money. After a three hour interrogation the men were loaded onto a truck with guards and headed back to the woods.

Once in the woods the airmen were escorted by two German soldiers each to a certain spot where they were lined up with their hands tied behind their backs. Then the group was separated with each airmen going in a different direction with two soldiers. A signal was given and the Germans shot the airmen in the back of their heads. The bodies were buried in a mass grave near Gosserlie’s airfield. Much later the grave was discovered and the bodies were transported to the military cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands.

The eight airmen killed that day were from three different aircraft.

George Eike, B-17G “Susan Ruth”, Rochester, NY
Robert Benniger, B-17G “Susan Ruth”, Pittsburgh, PA
John Pindroch, B-17G “Susan Ruth”, Cleveland, OH
Vincent Reese, B-17G “Women’s Home Companion”, Philadelphia, PA
Orian Owens, B-17F “Rationed Passion”, Lisbon, IA
John Gramborsky, B-17F “Rationed Passion”, Chicago, IL
Charlie Nichola, B-17F “Rationed Passion”, Stockton, CA
Billy Huisch, Douglas, AZ

Five months later, the U.S. Army declared Orian as Killed in Action since no one had seen him since the capture. Again his father, George received word of the matter from the War Department. Orian’s brother, Harold, once held as POW was able to escape and rejoin his unit after a 500 mile journey.

After the war, Belgian military authorities tried the main culprits who carried out what is now known as the Massacre of St. Remy. In 1947 four men were sentenced to death while another two served jail time as a result of their complicity in the matter.

The crash of Orian’s B-17 ten member bomber resulted in five KIAs, three POWs and two airmen who evaded capture. In 1948 Orian’s body and other fallen veterans was recovered from Margarten cemetery for transport back to the United States. Flag draped caskets, coming from the war theaters were brought to America at intervals throughout 1948. Last honors were accorded to the serviceman at funeral and burial rites. Final interment was in the cemetery chosen by his next of kin.

Orian’s father George requested that his son be buried next to his mother at a cemetery in Lisbon, Iowa. A military funeral for T/Sgt. Owens was held on November 4th, 1948 at the Federated Church in Lisbon. Orian was awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal and the Oak Leaf Cluster posthumously.

The town of Lisbon continues to honor its war dead. A new monument to the fallen veterans of Lisbon contains Orian’s name among the list of war dead. Periodically the Lisbon History Center conducts cemetery walks called, “Walk Through the Past” so that stories like Orian’s continue to be told. Know that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

WWII Discharge Button

During Veterans' Day week while researching a veteran's story I found this symbol that was used during World War II. Its called a Discharge Button. The button (or pin version) was issued to all honorably discharged American military personnel of World War II. The button was issued free of charge to the veteran upon discharge. If the button was lost or destroyed the veteran could purchase a replacement, at cost for seven cents, from the nearest Quartermaster Supply Officer upon presenting proper discharge papers. Today you can more commonly see symbol on metal plaques of American WWII veteran's graves. Know that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Constellation of Amana Veteran Stars

This week celebrates American veterans. Recently on a visit to a small eastern Iowa cemetery within the Amana Colonies, I discovered an assortment of metal grave markers depicting conflicts where Americans fought. This particular photo representation features the Civil War (Grand Army of the Republic), World War II (Indochina Theater) and Vietnam. Other metal markers for the Spanish-American War, World War I and Korea are also present. For such a very small cemetery, this mostly German immigrant region of Iowa substantially represented itself in all major conflicts of the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their dedication to defend our country is an important tenant of who they were and of what we have become. Know that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Salute to Iowa's Buffalo Heritage

A staple of the prairie. American Bison roamed grasslands of the Midwest for years. Today bison herds can be found in Iowa at a few fenced ranches and zoos. This rusty sculpture located in the Amanas recalls the days when these large creatures roamed the endless grass prairies. Know that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Eight Point Star Used in Iron and Wood Truss Bridge

A well maintained county bridge in 42N country was recently reinforced with a few new planks of wood and tightened iron supports. A brilliant orange-red color was applied to the metal portions of the bridge without regard for masking resulting in overspray.

Along the outside of the truss supports are eight pointed star designs. Early astronomers used the eight points, like a compass to mark the four main directions and solstices. The symbol is also connected to ancient Middle East religions. So this bridge, built in the 1880s (old by Iowa standards) is accented architecturally with a symbol that has protected the structure for over a hundred years. Quite the accomplishment. Know that.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Clear Cut Glass Mystery

A fancy glass stopper fits this utilitarian bottle but whether the two match is a different question. Experts on Early American Pressed Glass will have to weigh in on this mystery. Maybe it is Iowa City glass, or Jamestown or even Corning? Maybe you know. Know that.

Breaking Prairie Sod in the Fall

A common sight in past autumns was the cultivation of soybean or corn stubble after harvest. This was accomplished with disk cultivators (like this one) plowing the ground under with the organic material deposited a few inches below the surface while exposing new soil to air and water. Resultant organic recycling leads to a superior seed bed preparation with the side benefit of cleaner looking fields.

But in the late 1980s this practice was phased out for better methods of soil management. Up until that time precious topsoil was often eroded by wind or water which did no one any good. Today fields are generally chisel planted as to be minimally impactual on soil. However there are times when it is necessary to till, such as when soil compaction is discovered, for optimized planting.

These rusting disks show remnants of some of the best soil in America for grain production. Proper soil management is as important as the annual harvest itself. Many farmers already know that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Harvest Done For Some

The fall harvest of soy beans (left field) and corn (right field) is complete for some farmers along the 42N region - in this case near Mount Auburn, Iowa. Many grain farmers are working into the night to complete their harvest while conditions favor the movement of heavy machinery to and from fields without rain and mud delays. Other considerations for late night harvests are the availabilities of equipment (combines, grain trucks and crews.) With near perfect weather conditions in the region for several weeks now, storage bins are filling to capacity. Know that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Changing Roles of Corn Cribs

Use to be that a full corn crib was all you needed to feed livestock. Now shiney stainless steel bins dot the Iowa landscape in addition to conventional silos. During this harvest season much of the corn is either sold directly to market, stored on property for a later sale or stored for livestock feed. Corn cribs now are more likely to be used as equipment storage sheds rather than feed bunkers. Times have changed. Know that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Field of Dreams: Post it and They Will Come

The 1989 movie, The Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster and others was filmed in Iowa (also in Illinois and Massachusetts.)  Just a few miles northeast of Dyersville, Iowa is the farm setting for the movie complete with baseball diamond, lights and of course the magical corn fields. Today the site was visited by the 42N team (our fifth or sixth) and a few photos were taken during a warm October day.

In the movie Ray (Kevin Costner) carves this heart into the top bleacher seat. Its still there 22 years later, weather beaten but still there.

People visiting the site today were from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Visitors take to the field, hit a few balls and run the bases. But the big thrill for most is to walk through the gigantic corn stalks that ring the outfield, then try disappearing like in the movie.

The other big thing are hard core baseball fans paying homage to the field and movie. This NY Yankees fan was wondering around taking photos with his cell phone. Since I was there I offered to take his photo with his camera. Afterwards he sent them to his list of baseball buddies. Build it and they will come. How true it continues to be. Know that.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Payphone Watcher

They are disappearing. Payphones, which were available everywhere a decade ago, are now almost gone. Replaced by cell phones, the humble payphone can still be found working in a few surprising places - like Amana, Iowa. Near the airport a working payphone, which might be the last one in the community, is now guarded by a squirrel. Go ahead and try making a 25 cent call. You might have your conversation monitored or head pounced on by the bushy tailed security. Know that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Twilight Riverboat Recalls Olden Days on the Mississippi

The Riverboat Twilight runs a two-day excursion out of Le Claire, Iowa to Dubuque and back. Along the way the boat passes upriver at Lock and Dam #12 at Bellevue. This was the site on Sunday, October 9th. Details of the cruise can be found here.

The 166 mile route is some of the prettiest scenery found anywhere on the Mississippi River. Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin's common borders lay within the Mississippi River's valley. Large hills on either side of the river can be readily seen. On this day note the past water level on the Dam's rocky support behind the Riverboat Twilight. It appears to be down several feet.

As the Riverboat Twilight travels north to the Port of Dubuque for an overnight stay at the Grand Harbor Resort, passengers soak up some the near 80 degree weather for mid October. Upon the return to the home port at Le Claire, be sure to stop at the American Pickers (The History Channel) shop just a few blocks away. At times Danielle can be found there setting up the next trip for Frank and Mike. Know that.