Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Tale of the 1959 Winter Dance Party from Tipton, Iowa

Every town, large or small has stories to tell. This one comes from 42N’s Tipton, Iowa and connects the town to the early giants of the Rock’n’Roll era – fifty two years ago today!

Many people know the tragic story of the airplane crash on February 3, 1959 that ended the lives of musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and their pilot, Roger Peterson. A couple of movies have been produced about it (The Buddy Holly Story and La Bamba) and the song, American Pie by Don McLean speaks to the event about the day the music died. Annually, Clear Lake, Iowa’s Surf Ballroom, the site of the last Holly-Valens-Richardson concert, remembers the stars with music and dance.

In the days prior to the Surf Ballroom performance, the stars (Holly, Valens, Richardson, Dion, future star, Waylon Jennings and others) made their way to several concert locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa by bus. In these latitudes at this time of year winter conditions can be very cold. 1959 was no exception.

On Friday, January 30th after performing at the Capitol Ballroom in Davenport, Iowa the night before, the stars travel by bus for their next gig in Fort Dodge, Iowa some 250 miles away. Complicating the long road trip is the fact that the bus’ heating element is not working. The riders are miserable and the driver decides to stop in nearby Tipton for repairs.

While the heater issue is diagnosed and repairs made at the Gaul Motor Company for four hours, the Winter Dance Party band members go for a bite to eat at Al’s Meet and Eat Restaurant on the 300 block of Cedar Street. The band interacted with the town’s folks who didn’t appear to know who they are.

Some of the band members looked for warmer clothes at the T & M Clothes Store. In 1992 store owner George Tevis recalls that the band members were underdressed with lightweight coats and pants. They paid for new winter gear with lots of $100 bills, he said.

But at the Meet and Eat there was something a bit more interesting going on. Ritchie Valens and maybe others chatted up the wait staff at the tiny diner. Ritchie Valens asked waitress Ester Wenck if she wanted to hear the song he made famous. Wenck said yes and Valens went over to the diner’s juke box and played his hit, Donna. Wenck said that Valens then sang along with his record to her.

Al's Meet and Eat photos are courtesy of the Cedar County Genealogical Society in Tipton, Iowa. These photos represent the time period of the 1959 Winter Dance Party but do not show any of the band members.
A repair of the heater is completed and the band leaves for their Laramar Ballroom performance in Fort Dodge. There is speculation that the band may have discussed renting a plane while in Tipton to avoid the cold and long traveling times afforded by bus travel. The next day, Saturday, January 31st as they enter Duluth, Minnesota the bus breaks down again. A chartered plane is now in the works as something that Valens wants, but a replacement bus is found. On Sunday, February 1st the bus again breaks down again while traveling to Appleton, Wisconsin for a matinee, which is subsequently canceled. The band takes the train to Green Bay and plays at Riverside Ballroom that evening.

On Monday, February 2 the repaired bus picks the band up after the show and travels to their next stop – the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. After the performance at the Surf, shortly after midnight on February 3rd a chartered plane takes off from the Mason City, Iowa airport and crashes within minutes.

News reaches Tipton on Tuesday and those who had seen the band members were quite taken back since the stars had just around a few days prior. “All we know was they were very nice guys – just a bunch of nice boys,” said Bob McGregor, a Tipton Shell Station owner who later recounted the story in 1992.

J.P. Richardson’s son visited Tipton in the early 1990s. Many people who had firsthand accounts of the band’s brief stay in town met JP jr. and retold their stories. Ritchie Valens’ relatives have also visited the town. Today, a museum on Cedar Street downtown (Cedar County Genealogical Society) at a place called, Ms Molly’s is where you can find the Tipton version of the Winter Dance Party story and talk to people who remember. Know that.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bartender - Give Me a High Fructose Corn Syrup and Ethanol Special

This morning Iowa Interstate Railroad was busy pushing tanker and grain cars westward through 42N's Amana, Iowa. Many cars display markings from ADM and MCP.

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) acquired Minnesota Corn Processors (MCP) in 2002. At that time MCP was the second largest ethanol producer in the country behind...ADM. Therefore these older MCP tankers and cars date from nearly a decade ago and show the signs of wear.

In Cedar Rapids just a few miles from Amana is the location of the world's largest ethanol plant, which went on-line just a few years ago. In addition to the around the clock ethanol production, the ADM plant in Cedar Rapids produces corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup - as it has for many years.


Iowa Interstate Railroad plays an integral part of ADM product distribution. Last month the railroad announced plans to construct a huge locomotive service yard in nearby Homestead, Iowa. This shop will service the 4,400-horsepower General Electric locomotives just like the one seen in the top photo. That means more state of the art locomotives seen on 42N area tracks which translates into more photo opportunities while sipping HFCS diet cola. Know that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photo Study of the "Old" Lincoln Highway Bridge

In my last blog post two barn photographs were featured along a segment of the original Lincoln Highway route through Linn County, Iowa. A portion of that original route remains unpaved and runs from the present Lincoln Highway northward to Marion, Iowa, just a few miles away.

Today this original section is known as Bloomington Road, and is typical of Iowa gravel roads - and probably a step-up from the original gravel roads that constituted the Lincoln Highway. Coincidentally the county's first Seedling Mile (concrete poured section of the highway used to demonstrate the viability of hard surface roads) was located just a few miles from this bridge location. 

Bloomington Road crosses a creek via an old, rusting iron bridge. I haven't found much information about this bridge (yet) but it makes an interesting photography subject - especially during low sun angles. Seen in the middle image is the red barn featured in the last post. Both bridge and road remain in good shape considering their three phases of automotive use; the initial county gravel road, then part of a nationwide route known as the Lincoln Highway, and finally the present status of a simple road again long after the highway was straightened in Linn County.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Old and New Along Original Lincoln Highway in Linn County, Iowa

Along a portion of the original Lincoln Highway in Linn County, Iowa, where the old gravel road veers from today's paved Lincoln Highway motorway, is an iron bridge flanked by two farm buildings either side of it.

Sidenote: The original Lincoln Highway was not a straight line bisecting the county as it does today. Back in the day the highway took a northwest route shortly after traveling west from Mount Vernon. The old route went on to Marion then aimed southwestward toward Cedar Rapids. About a decade later this route was streamlined twice, finally settling on its current path. A story for another day. 

These two barns, separated by a pasture and creek, have something in common - metal roofing and exterior. The top barn is much newer than the white barn but each can boast a stainless steel skin that still looks pretty good today. If the sky is clear, around 4 PM local time the setting sun produces golden light (actually its quite stunning) that is ideal in capturing these structures.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lunar Smoke At First Quarter

Today the Moon reaches first quarter illumination as seen from these parts. Our nearest celestrial neighbor dodges fast moving smoke from the Heat Plant at Mt Vernon, Iowa's Cornell College. Full moon occurs next Wednesday, January 19th. Know that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Martha Visits Every Monday Just Stays Until Noon Period

Remember the mnemonic phrase to conjure up the order of our solar system's planets? Sure you do (read the blog's headline.) Much has changed since Astronomy 101 days and this phrase is no longer valid.

Our local solar system consists primarily of the Sun, planets, comets and asteroids. People in charge of keeping order between what-was-once-so and what-is-now decided the outer most planet, Pluto was not large enough to still be classified as a planet. Protest ensued. In the end the icy rock chunk named after the popular Disney character, was demoted to proto-planet status or something like that. About that same time a new ice rock called Sedna was discovered. This cold world is almost Pluto size and orbits further out than the former ninth planet. Today research continues in identifying more solar system member possibilities including the search for whatever still tugs on Neptune - could be the so called Planet X or other matter.

So where does that leave us in the quest to remember the solar system order? For now its just "Martha Visits Every Monday, Just Stays Until Noon" for the  Mercury-Venus-Earth-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn-Uranus-and Neptune alignment. No doubt more planet objects in our solar system will be identified beyond Neptune and the memory aid will be adjusted again. Stand by. Know that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Switching Time on the Canadian National Railway

Its just the beginning of 2011. After a few centuries of the railroad experience one expects new technologies in every aspect of railroad yard operation - making it run efficent and effortlessly - or so it would seem. This Canadian National locomotive (number 2400) slowly moves towards and past 42N near the rail yard in Waterloo, Iowa in preparation of switching tracks. 

Note the three engine configuration is on the track closest to the photographer. It is still moving slowly from right to left.


As the train stops, a man appears from the opposite side of the locomotive and approaches a green and red switch in the foreground.

The switch man says hello to the 42N team and then unlocks the device.

Our neon glow switch man then physically pulls a level arm up from the locked position and positions it 90 degrees to the switch post.

He then pulls the arm from left to right. Mechanically this action moves a portion of the double rail track that will direct the locomotives to the next line. 

After the switch is in place the CN locomotives move back towards the rail yard for its next task. In this last photo the train is in the middle of the cross over manuever as it moves left to right - made possible by a switched track physically moved by one person. Within the 21st century there is still plenty of physical work performed to keep the rails moving. Know that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Salvadore Dali vs. Grant Wood

Like an abstract long distance runner drawn by the master of artistic weirdness, Salvadore Dali, these stains adorn some type of black goo storage tank in 42N's Vinton, Iowa. This stuff looks like some type of asphalt topper or rooftop tar. Perhaps the master himself journeyed to Iowa to participate in an art throw-down with local master Regionalist, Grant Wood back in the day. Who knows? Know that.