This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Undercover Boss comes to Rensselaer

The CBS show Undercover Boss was featuring one of the owners of White Castle, Dave Rife, tonight. It is a show where the boss, usually the CEO, goes out into the field anonymously to see what life is like in the trenches. Rife spent a bit of time at the Rensselaer White Castle bun factory, where he messed up a lot of buns as he was trying to pack them. His supervisor told him that all the rejected buns went to feed hogs, and he had fed the hogs well this week.

What I like about this series is that it shows bosses listening to people who know things that the bosses do not know even though the people are low in the corporate hierarchy. The most common failing in the poor leaders whom I have seen is the inability to listen.

Updated--the first video was made private.
Below is a youtube clip.

Stained glass at St. Joseph's Chapel (1 of 3)

The Saint Joseph's College Chapel has the most impressive stained glass windows in Rensselaer, and I long ago suggested that I might someday use them as the topic of Sunday posts.

Both the east and west sides of the chapel have five large windows. The largest on both sides is the first one. On the east side it shows the Sacrifice of Melchisedek, mentioned in Genesis 14: 18-20 and Psalm 110:4, which prefigures the Mass. The dedication of the window is "in memory of August J. Kistner May 23, 1909"
The second window on both sides is the shortest of the five windows. On the east it is St. Catherine of Alexander, who was martyred about 310. Very little is certain about her life but a great deal of legend grew up around her, and she was a tremendously popular saint in the medieval period. She is a patron of philosophers. The inscription on the window states that it was "donated by Rev. Ambrose Schumack." Under the window is a small plaque that states, "The restoration of this window was made possible by a gift from Michael G '79 and Christine Haws Burman '80 and family, June 2001." About ten years ago a freak windstorm did a tremendous amount of damage to the windows. The Fellows Program at the college raised almost $400,000 to restore them. Most of the windows have similar small plaques with donors. There were many other donors, and they are all listed on a document in the vestibule or foyer of the church.
The third window shows Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential of the early Church theologians and philosophers. The dedication in the windows states, "Donated by Rev. August. Seifert. C.P.P.S." Fr. Seifert was president of the college from 1902 until 1913. A residence hall is named for him, and there is a statue of him in front of the hall.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was the most famous of the Cisterians, and a tremendously busy man in the twelfth century. He died in 1153. There is no dedication in this window.
Below is a closeup of the face of St. Bernard.
The last of the windows on the east is St. Charles Borromeo, who died in 1584. This window also lacks a dedication.
The closeup of his face shows a fellow with a rather large nose. Other portraits have an even larger nose. Charles Borromeo was the archbishop of Milan in the years after the Protestant Reformation. He played a large role in the Council of Trent, and he was instrumental in founding seminaries to better prepare candidates for the priesthood. He also tried to reduce the ornate decorations of his cathedral, so he might have been happy with the extensive renovations of the college chapel that took place after the Second Vatican Council. Pictures of the chapel before that council show a far more decorated interior than what is there today.
The four smaller windows all feature saints who had something to do with education or scholarship. They earliest is nearest the altar, and as you move toward the entrance, they become more recent.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Visiting artist

This past week Saint Joseph's College hosted visiting artist Robin McBride Scott who gave a number of workshops both at Saint Joe's and at area schools.

Ms Scott has tried to recreate traditional Cherokee basketry. She bases her work on archeological finds and uses natural material such as river cane.
She made a quick visit and her recreations of tradition Cherokee basketry was only on display for two days.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gas meters

Yesterday we had a quick tour of the new headquarters of the city gas utility. While I was there, I received a very informative guided tour, and along the way I learned a lot about gas meters (and also gas regulators--the bit of equipment which lowers the pressure of the gas from the pressure in the pipeline to a much lower pressure for your home use.)

The gas meters are in the middle bay of the new gas building. The meter below is a model that is not longer used and has been kept as a historical artifact. Notice that to read it, you need read all the little dials. The more modern meters have dropped the dials in favor of a digital readout. And the really modern ones allow the meter reader to drive down the street and read the meters electronically--he never needs to get out of the car.
On the bottom are some really big meters that would be used by businesses that use a lot of natural gas. Above them on the right are the meters that are common for residential use. The big meters are no longer being installed for new users because they are obsolete, but they are kept in case one of the existing ones develops a problem.
The new meters that replace the huge meters are much smaller and work on a different principle. The older meters use a bellows principle to measure the flow of gas, while these small industrial meters are rotary meters.
I have never given gas meters much thought, but was quite surprised to learn that there has been constant technological improvement in them over the past thirty years.

The city gas department provides gas well beyond the city boundaries. There are gas lines as far west as the golf course, as far north as Antcliff, as far east as the old Marion School, and at least as far south as Houston's subdivision.

Did you go to the open house for the gas department? If you did, what did you learn?

Update: By the time I got to the open house, HoleyMoley, the mascot whose purpose is to publicize the 811 number, the number that you are supposed to call in Indiana before you dig so you will learn if there are any underground utilities, had left. I did take a survey that was intended to see if you knew about 811, and I think I gave wrong answers to every question.

The Rensselaer Republican reported on Friday that the gas department paid $272,000 for the building, which has approximately 20,000 square feet of space. The old building had 7,800 square feet.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gas department open house

On Wednesday the city gas utility had an open house for its new home, the building that until recently was the Rensselaer plant of Morning Song Bird Seed, and previous to that, had housed a beer distributorship. (Was anything there before the beer distributorship?) The city has been busy making changes in the building to get it ready for its new use. A very recent addition was the new sign in front of the building.
Upon entering the building, one could see that it consisted of three large areas with a small office area in front. Below you can see where the gas department was serving hot dogs and chips for those who attended the open house. Behind is the office area. The stairs lead to another room that may eventually be used as a conference room. Not visible in this picture, but to the right of the office area that is visible, the city installed partitions that create a couple of rooms that can be used for a variety of purposes.
Here is one of the offices. I could see the elevator across Cullen through the window when I clicked the shutter, but what the human eye saw and what the camera could see were not the same thing.
In the front bay was a truck that I do not recall seeing before, though I was told that the city has had it for about ten years.
It supports a jackhammer and can use a jet of water to clean out areas around in-ground meters.
By the time I arrived, only one vendor was actively presenting its product. This vendor produces a mapping database system that Rensselaer uses. It has an aerial photograph of Rensselaer as its ground layer, and this is very much like google maps or google earth. Overlayed on that are roads, gas lines, power lines, lot lines, and a variety of other things that the city wants included. Each lot can be queried and a variety of information about the lot, including the owner, pops up. When the gas department has to go on a service call, they can go prepared, knowing approximately where the underground gas lines are.
From the first bay we can see into a second bay which is lit by a different kind of light. The first bay had been cleaned out for the open house. It will normally be used to park the vehicles that the gas department uses. The second bay will be a work area.
Below is the view from the second bay back into the first bay.
Around the outside of the second bay were shelves full of pipes, fittings, meters, and all the hardware that the gas department needs to do its job. The yellow tubing is a plastic pipe that the city now uses for gas lines. Did you know that they were using something other than metal?
Finally there is a third bay. This part of the building seems to have been added some time after the other parts were constructed. When it was used by Morning Song, and perhaps when it was used by the beer distributorship, this area was filled with shelves, and the bolts holding the shelving to the floor are still visible, though they have been cut off level with the concrete. It is now used for storing vehicles and other large items. You can see the city street cleaner in the corner. Not shown but in the opposite corner was the Santa House that was in Milroy Park at Christmas time. The park department will use some of this area for storage, as will the waste-water treatment plant.
This new building gives the gas department about three times as much room as it had in its former building. The old gas department building, which is near the east end of Walnut across the street from the city recycling center, is now occupied by the city water department. It can put six trucks inside and can now store its equipment and supplies in less cramped quarters.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Little Indiana

I found this website that has some posts about Rensselaer and the area. Anyone know more about it? Her latest post was a review of Ayda's Restaurant. (By the way, I heard from two people that Ayda's might be moving. One person said to Remington, the other to Goodland. I hope it is not true.))

Update here.

The Rensselaer power house

The City of Rensselaer provides the electricity to the residents of Rensselaer. At one time the city electric utility also generated the power, but today it only rarely does. The power plant on North Van Rensselaer was rated as "outstanding" by the Jasper County Interim Report, which surprised me. I had never seen anything special about it.

The building as it exists today is the result of three separate construction projects, and its history is given on four stone or concrete plaques. Two of them are clearly visible above on either side of the main door in the picture above. The first reads:
Rensselaer Power Plant 1939
Incorporated as a municipal steam power plant in 1898
remodeled and enlarged in 1939
Chas S Chamberlin Superintendent Louis C Ramp Asst Superintendent J.W. Moore & Sons Consulting Engineers Howard S. Garnes Architect W. R. Dunkin & Son Inc Contractors

On the other side of the door the city officials got their names in stone:
Rensselaer Power Plant 1939 Conrad Kellner Mayor John P Merritt Clerk-Treasurer Robert Wright City Attorney Councilmen Chas P Benjamin Ross Rowen Harry Schwartzell Marion Irwin Albert Abbott
I now know where Kellner Street got its name.

As you go north along the building, you find the third inscription:
1949 Addition to Municipal Power Plant Rensselaer, Indiana
William H. Bahler Mayor
Joseph Critser Waldo Garrigues Howard Randle Russell Hadley Wendell Martin City Council
John R. Merritt City Clerk-Treasurer
W. A. Somers City Attorney
Louis C. Ramp Utilities Superintendent W. T. Wilcox Assistant Superintendent
W. R. Dunkin & Sons, Inc Contractor
Boyd E. Phelps, Inc. Architects Engineers
The final bit of the building was put into place 20 years later. All the parts have the same look, so unless one reads the signs, one might never realize that that entire building was not constructed in 1939. The final inscription reads:
1969 Addition to Municipal Power Plant Rensselaer Indiana Malcom W. Roth Mayor Denver M Tudor Clerk-Treasurer Robert Wright City Attorney Robert Randle City Attorney
Councilmen James Grandlund James Gwin William Hudson R Harold Lakin Ray Shoup
Edward Putman Plant Superintendent
Paul Richards Line Superintendent
James I. Barnes Construction Co Building Contractor
Carroll Dietle & Associates Inc. Consulting Engineers & Architect

The building is in the International Style. The 1939 building was built over the original building, which was then dismantled. "The international style in this building is characterized by a flat top roof without eves that terminates flush with the wall plane and large expanses of metal casement windows." (From the pamphlet, Guide to Historic Structures and Points of Interest in Jasper County, Historical Preservation Association of Jasper County, 2007)

Entry to the building is closed without permit, but you can look through the windows to see the turbines. Information about what is inside is on the city's website:
Peak shaving and emergency supply are the most important objectives for the power plant employees.  The plant was built in 1892 and purchased by the City of Rensselaer in 1897.  The plant houses six (6) engine/generators.  Four are powered by diesel fuel, one is dual fuel with the option of operating on diesel or natural gas and one is a straight natural gas engine.  The plant is capable of generating enough power to meet the needs of Rensselaer.
Some electricity is generated by plants that have low fuel costs but which take a long time to start up or shut down. The NIPSCO plant near Wheatfield is an example. The Rensselaer plant generates power at a higher cost, but it is very easy to start the generators up or shut them down. Hence, it is a peaking plant, and it operates only when there is stress on the grid. On one cold December morning plume of steam from the cooling towers said that it was generating. There was no smoke from the chimneys, so it probably was running using natural gas.
Here is a better look at the cooling tower.
Also in the back are four large tanks which contain diesel for the times when the diesel generators need to be fired up.

Most of the time we do not notice the power plant, and that is good. We want to be able to take electricity for granted, and when it works well, that is what we do.
Update: I found a similar post on the Power House here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I missed "drive your tractor to school day"

Today's Rensselaer Republican had pictures of tractors driven to Rensselaer Central High School this past Monday, part of Drive Your Tractor to School Day. I wanted to catch that, but the high school does a lousy job of publicizing what is going on there. Last time I looked, they did not have a decent calendar on their website.

On a distantly related topic, I have put a blog list on the side that gives updates from several blogs that have at least some tiny connection to Rensselaer. Do you know of any others that are in the area that you would like to see on the list?

Baskeball tournament

I was wrong a last week when I said that the last basketball game of the season had been played at SJC. The men's basketball team qualified for the GLVC tournament and will be hosting the first round and quarterfinal rounds at the Alumni Fieldhouse. Northern Kentucky University will play the University of Missouri Science and Technology at 1:00 PM on Saturday.  The Pumas will play the winner of Saturday's game on Sunday with tip-off at 1:00 PM. Ticket prices for adults (12-over) is $10.00. Five and under are free.

The women's team also qualified and will be playing at the University of Indianapolis on Saturday and perhaps on Sunday.

More carnivorous trees

Here are a couple more carnivorous trees, located on Melville south of the river.
I wonder if an iron fence post is tastier than another tree.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Photo stew for February

I have lots of photos that are mildly interesting but that do not seem to deserve a post of their own. So maybe if I mix them all together they will make a photo stew that will be filling enough to serve.

The sun is moving north. One morning the clouds were not too thin and not too thick, but just right to allow a picture of it through the tree branches.
The snows come and melt. After one of the heavier snowfalls, the snow piles at the College Avenue Mall were tall enough to hide the parking lot from the street.
The Christmas decorations have been removed from the Washington Street Bridge, but the old planters are still there from summer, and they remain decorative.
Next to the Melville Street bridge, water from the quarry enters the river. Someone has spent a lot of effort arranging rocks here. I would have enjoyed doing that when I was younger. Maybe I still would enjoy it--trying to control running water is fascinating.
A city crew was trimming trees along Milroy recently. I could not figure out why--the branches they were trimming did not seem to be a danger to the power line.
Other city workers were repairing the roof on old pump house number one. It looked as if there had been some leakage through the roof that had rotted some of the wood. (Is there anything that a backhoe cannot do?)
Do not forget--this Wednesday the city gas utility has an open house at their new building by the Amshak station. The hours are 11 to 5.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Church parking?

Last Thursday by chance someone told me that the house on the corner of Weston and Angelica behind the Methodist Church was being demolished. I had seen a salvage truck by the house several days earlier and wondered what was happening, but unfortunately I did not take a picture. The thought that the house might be slated for demolition never occurred to me.

The Methodist Church recently purchased this property and had decided to tear down the house, probably to use the site for a parking lot. I did arrive in time to take some pictures of the last part of the the demoliton.
The salvage crew spent several days removing the old woodwork from around doors and from one of the ceilings. I talked to a person who had been in the building before the demolition began and was told that they had tried to remove an old floor, but quit because the wood kept breaking. 

In the picture below you can see what the wallpaper in two of the upstairs rooms looked like. The paper with the big daisies was bold.
About a minute later the bucket of the excavator smashed through the wall.
Half an hour later not much of the house was left standing.
Two minutes after the picture above and only a bit of the lower floor was left. 
I tried to find this house in the Jasper County Interim Report. I think it is the one listed as a craftsman built around 1910.

By Saturday morning, all that was left was a hole and the old garage.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

SJC in the distance

The Saint Joseph's College skyline is dominated by three strutuces, the chapel, the water tower, and the powerhouse chimney. This was taken mid morning on a cold winter day, from West Kanne Lane.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Library display: Odd Fellows

The Rensselaer branch of the Jasper County Public Library has a display in its lobby of Odd Fellow paraphernalia--pictures, banners, some interpretive cards, and funny hats. One of the people who work in the library owns this material.
The Odd Fellows must at one time to have been pretty active in Rensselaer because one of the largest buildings downtown was their old lodge. They sold the building a while back, and now remaining Odd Fellows meet at a lodge in Monticello. 

The Odd Fellows has as their mission "to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan." For some reason groups like this (Masons, Knights of Columbus, etc.) also enjoy ceremony and funny regalia. Below you can see a couple of the funny hats. 
The Odd Fellows have been in decline for some time. One explanation is that the development of the welfare state has reduced the need for the private charitable activities that they sponsored. However, that leaves the question of why they could not have responded with an alteration of mission. For example, the March of Dimes was founded to fight polio. When that fight was suceeded with the development of the Salk vaccine, the March of Dimes did not die, but it changed its mission so that the organization could continue.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Milroy was here

On Tuesday night the Jasper County Historical Society had its monthly meeting, with a focus on General Milroy. The Fourth of July will be the centennial of the dedication of the General Milroy statue in Milroy Park, and the historical society has begun to plan a centennial celebration. The 4th will be on a Sunday, and they think something from about 2:00 until 4:00 will work. The mayor will attend and read a proclamation, and they have a number of other ideas that they are considering.

One of the items in the display case in the Historical Society museum is this postcard from a century ago publicizing the dedication of the statue. It must have worked very well, because an estimated 8,000 people attended. (I wonder who did that estimation. It seems very high to me.)
After discussing the centennial, the floor was open for people to tell anything they knew about Milroy. One lady read a letter from Milroy to his wife. Milroy did not suffer from a lack of self esteem. The letter indicated that he was full of himself.

Another person said that Milroy Avenue was originally named McCoy Street or Avenue. Sometime around the turn of the century, one of the McCoys, the one who built the large white four-square on Milroy Avenue, ended up owing a large amount of money to local people, and that money was never repaid. He fled town, but came back to get possessions from the house. An apparent misunderstanding, sort of like the story of Thomas Becket, led someone to put a stick of dynamite in the house, and it blew out part of a wall. The house was eventually repaired, but the citizens were then quite willing to rename the street to Milroy. (If I have any of these details wrong, or if anyone wants to fill in the gaps, feel free to comment.)

In other bits of news, there will be a traveling exhibit called the Faces of Lincoln at the Historical Society Museum during March. It tells the story of photography using Lincoln as the subject. You will be able to see it on Saturdays, March 6, 13, 20, and 27, from 10 am to 1 pm, and also on the open house on March 16 from 6pm to 8pm. This exhibit is provided by the Indiana Historical Society.

Finally, back to the centennial celebration. What would you like to see there? What would make this an event that you would enjoy attending? Some of the people in charge occasionally read this blog, so anything you write will get to them. (I intentionally left out some of the things they were considering because I thought it would be interesting to see what members of the community would suggest.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The balloons have left

Sue's Special Occasions, a shop selling cards and Mylar balloons for parties and special occasions, has closed. The building has both for-rent and for-sale signs on it. It had only been open since November. I am sad to see it go, but not really surprised.

Dwenger Hall

Dwenger Hall at Saint Joseph's College is easily recognized because, unlike all the other campus buildings, it is constructed of concrete blocks rather than bricks.
Dwenger Hall was completed in 1907. It was named after Joseph Dwenger, a bishop of the diocese of Fort Wayne and also a member of the order of the Precious Blood, the order which founded the college. He died in 1893. The building was designed and the construction supervised by Fr. Seifert, who was president of the college at the time.

There are a number of buildings in Rensselaer that were constructed of similar concrete blocks, and I think most of them were built in the early twentieth century. For example, there are three houses near Cullen and Oak made of similar blocks. Were these blocks produced in Rensselaer? There was some kind of concrete factory active long ago north of the railroad tracks.

A few of the blocks on the porch have a raised decorative design of grapes.
Dwenger Hall served primarily as a infirmary and health center until 1982. In the early days of the college, the dorm rooms were not like modern dorm rooms, small rooms occupied by one or two students. They were large rooms filled with beds. (In the 1960s these still existed--I lived in several.) So when a student got sick, he needed to be isolated from the rest of the population. (Again, I attended an educational institution in Minnesota that was probably quite similar to Saint Joseph's in those days, and I spent a few days in its infirmary.)

For about a decade after the infirmary closed, the building was used for faculty offices. In the 1960s, before I came to Rensselaer, faculty offices were in the main building that burned in the 1970s. Most faculty offices were then moved to Gaspar Hall for several years. For some reason Gasper was deemed an inappropriate office building, and they were moved out. (Gasper Hall was demolished in the 1990s.) Most went to Merlini, but a few ended up in Aquinas. After one year, they were then moved to Dwenger. Finally, the offices were moved to the new Core Building when it opened.

One person who had an office in Dwenger was David Osterfeld. You can see his old office window on the second floor above the porch--it is the one to the right. David was probably the most successful of all St. Joseph's College faculty in the arena of publication. His highpoint was the book Prosperity Versus Planning, published by the Oxford University Press in 1992. (He mentioned me in a favorable way in the preface to this book.) His work attracted the attention of some important scholars, and he spent a semester at one of the Washington think tanks (Heritage, I believe.) He died unexpectedly in the early 1990s.

I believe that students moved into Dwenger for a year or two after the faculty offices left. The last use of the building was for some student offices, such as for the student newspaper.  It has been empty since sometime in the 1990s. You might notice that all the windows have the curtains drawn. This is because the original windows did not look good, so they were all removed and the present windows are simply panes of Plexiglas with a black framing. They may look nice but they would not work as real windows if the building was reoccupied.
One of the peculiarities of the Dwenger Hall as an office building was that the sizes of the rooms varied greatly. The corner offices in the front were huge and the corner offices in the back of the building were quite large. The other offices were quite small. In contrast, all faculty offices in the new Core Building are almost identical in size.

There were several offices in the basement. The top floor was used a bit by the art department, such as it was at the time. It was one large room.

The current president of Saint Joseph's College has called Dwenger the white elephant in the middle of campus. He says that the college needs to either renovate it or tear it down. I would like to see it renovated, but I wonder if renovation can be justified on a costs-benefit basis. The floors and the staircase are made of wood, which probably is a problem from a fire-code point of view. The building would probably have to have the interior gutted. There is currently no need for additional space.

The Jasper County Interim Report does not mention Dwenger Hall. I suspect that its omission was a mistake.