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

Monday, January 31, 2011

A first glimpse

Progress has continued on the Amtrak railroad platform. Late last week the workers poured concrete, and over the weekend there were a couple of motors running supplying the curing concrete with heat. This morning the workers began to remove the forms, and when I stopped by, one corner had been uncovered.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dearly Departed--catch the last showing

If you have nothing planned for Saturday night, consider seeing the last performance of Dearly Departed at the Saint Joseph College theater. Admission is $5.00.

The play opens with an old woman reading a very funny letter to her husband. The scene ends when he falls off his chair, dead.
It's a comedy! In the rest of the play we meet the dysfunctional family. Below a son and his wife are on the way to the funeral, fighting in the car. I loved the set.
Plays are always more fun to watch when you know some of the people in them. The girl on the left (Jessie R) was one of my best students in introductory economics class last year, and I interviewed the other girl (Jessica R) last year for an admissions event. Jessica R played the role of a dorky young girl who does not talk because she is too busy eating. She was very funny.
Act two has the funeral service, which is as dysfunctional as the family. The people may not live happily ever after, but conflicts are resolved and people look forward to new challenges.
Again, I highly recommend it.

The next play at SJC will be the spring musical, Urinetown, The Musical on April 7, 8, and 9. It will be completely different from this play.

Time for some tax ranting

Yesterday's Rensselaer Republican had an article about a proposal to require building contractors who do work in or near Rensselaer to register. One of the justifications for the proposals was that it was a "way to collect funds without having to raise taxes or utilities." They can call it a fee if they want, but it still is a tax. It would be a fee if the contractor got something back for the money, but in this case it seems to be nothing but a forced transfer, which is a tax. This tax will discourage contractors from working in Rensselaer and will probably result in somewhat higher costs to those who hire contractors as the contractors pass the expense forward to buyers. Economists dislike narrow taxes of this sort because they cause more distortions in people's decisions than broader taxes.

Moving on to the county, Jasper County still has the second highest county income tax in the state for residents. (Pulaski County is the only one higher.) A Facebook friend posted that she was very happy to no longer be living in the county. If she were still a Jasper-County resident, she would owe $482 on her state taxes. But by moving to Boone County she will get a $433 refund. (I realize that I have already posted on this topic. A couple of past tax rants here and here.) Jasper County inverts Henry George, he of single tax fame. (If you are not an economist, you might not understand the fame part.) Economists have a fondness for taxes that do not change behavior, and a tax on land value is one of the few taxes that do not change behavior. (Taxes on improvements to land will change behavior, so the property tax is the same as a land tax, but it is as close as we are likely to get.) As far as I can tell, the higher income tax allows for very low property taxes. so it appears that the large landowners have a great deal of clout with the people running the county.

Illinois recently raised its income tax from 3% to 5% and Indiana and other surrounding states are telling Illinois businesses that they should relocate. I doubt if any will want to move to Jasper County. They might end up with a higher tax rate here.

Jasper County does not have the second-highest tax rate for nonresidents--quite a number of other counties tax nonresidents at a higher rate. So if you can, you should work here but live elsewhere--as most of the professors at SJC do.

Finally, you probably realize that you will not be getting federal tax forms in the mail this year. The federal government wants you to file electronically. Some of the forms are available at the library, but I have not found the instruction books there yet. Apparently printing was delayed because our genius congress decided to wait until the end of the year to make changes. They have done the same thing in the past. This kind of behavior is evidence of a legislature that is incompetent. We will see if the current crop can do better.

Even though the government wants you to file electronically, many people cannot do that without purchasing software from a private company. Wouldn't it be nice if the government itself would make the software that they want you to use available? On the other hand, I recall filling out FAFSA forms a few years ago on a government website that only worked properly if you were using Internet Explorer. Whoever they had create the site did not bother to make it standard-compliant so that it would allow any browser. So maybe we are better off having a private company provide the software rather than relying on the government to produce it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The city has demolished the house north of the power plant. Here was what was left on Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A favorite lawn decoration

Last week I saw a lawn ornament that I would like to have in my back yard.
I do not know if the neighbors would be happy if I actually put something like that in the back yard--they might not think it is as decorative as I think it is. They can relax because it will probably never happen--it would take work and effort.

I have a lot of pictures of interesting lawn decorations and ornaments I have seen around town. Some day I may dig them out and post some of them. Or maybe not--that would also take work and effort.

Monday, January 24, 2011

News from Facebook

Fair Oak Farms has a new promotional video up on youtube: They also have some new cow busses--black with white spots. (Ooops. The video shows that they are actually white with black spots.) I was tempted to ask if the insides of the busses were decorated to look like the insides of a cow, but resisted. And their best news is that they have a couple of free-admission days coming up--on Saturday, Feb. 5 and Monday, Feb. 14 they will offer individual free admission to their dairy adventure. That would be a cheap date for your Valentine.

Remington's Facebook page links to the Remington website announcement of three new openings at Advanced Auto Distribution Center. The interesting thing here is a note that "2011 is the year Advance Auto will begin hiring employees to get the facility fully functioning by the end of the year. " If that is correct, it should give our area an economic boost.

I stepped away from the computer this morning to go outside and shovel the inch or two of snow we got last night and saw a snow plow coming down the street. It sure has been a busy year for them.

Also--tonight is Brook's big night on national TV--the History Channel series "American Pickers" will air their visit-to-Brook episode tonight.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mystery Plaque

This week the Rensselaer Republican did not have a Mystery-Photo contest. I enjoy that feature and have won it a few times. I do not know if the paper is discontinuing the feature or is just skipping a week. If you miss the contest, here is one of the pictures that they could have used but never did. Do you know where this is? (No prize for whoever gets it right--sorry.)
If no one posts the answer in the comments, I will give the answer in an update next week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More moving stories

Last week I noticed that the storefront just north of the Smoke Shop in the College Mall was occupied. It had been vacant for well over a year. Today I stopped by to see what was there.
It is not something new, but something moved. Help at Home is a business that provides various medical-related services to the elderly and disabled. They get most of their funding from the state (I guess Medicare primarily). Until the end of December they had been in the Town Mall (the old Sears Building).
That building now has a lot of empty space, as the sign in front indicates. The building also has a leaking roof, as the bucket full of water in the hallway shows.

A move of a different sort is underway at Strack and van Til. Below is a picture of the entrance. It is all torn up and being remodeled. I like the crazy lights.
Inside new shelves are being installed and the food is being rearranged. If you think you know where things are in this store, you probably have not been there lately.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Update on the event hall

Ryan Musch has posted an update with many pictures on his planned event hall. (You can compare his photos to those here to see the progress he has made.)

Down already

I went by the burned-out house near St. Augustine's School this morning and was surprised to see that it had been completely taken down.
When I was by on Monday, it was still up except for the garage. I guess I should have wandered by yesterday.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Facebook and winter ramblings

I have added some Facebook links on the right. There is a lot of news that gets reported on Facebook, and these are sites that I have found useful. I have not included businesses that are using Facebook--should I? (Maybe Fair Oaks Farms qualifies as a business.)  What other area Facebook pages should I have found? Is there anything from Francesville, Medaryville, or Demotte?

I know that I do a poor job with the Rensselaer Adventures Facebook page. I probably do not post enough, but I think that is better than posting too much. What do you think? Some people take to Facebook naturally and some of us do not--I am in the latter group.

I have been trying to find a good weather picture and so far have not. I am ready for clear streets and a bit of warmer weather. However, Sunday afternoon I got a reminder that we have mild winters when a cousin who lives in North Dakota called. He said that they were having a real winter this year. I lived in central Minnesota for a number of years when I was young, and the winters there were much colder than any Indiana winter we have had. However, our cold Minnesota winters were not as severe as the North Dakota winters. Their real winter is four feet of snow on the ground, constant wind, and zero-degree temperatures as highs. The people there are worried that when their snow finally melts (which will be after I have started planting next summer's garden), they will have flooding.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New acquisition

I stopped by the Jasper County Historical Society Museum today and saw a new acquisition sitting on a table. The new county assessor--one of the new county officials who took office this January--found the campaign poster below while cleaning out the office, and rather than throw it away, decided it might be something that the Historical Society might be find interesting.
Neither of the ladies at the museum remembered Elizabeth Merritt. The picture on the poster suggests that this might be from the 1940s or 1950s. Does anyone reading this remember this lady? Please leave a comment if you can provide some history.

The Museum still has the "Childhood Toys" exhibit, and it has grown larger each time I have stopped by. There will be another exhibit soon, but they need to figure out what that exhibit will be before they can put it together.

By the way, if you are cleaning closets or attics and you find old pictures, advertisements, phone books, yearbooks, maps, or anything else that is related to the history of the area, before you throw the items into the trash, consider giving them to the Museum. They may throw them in the trash if they think they have no value, but some of those old things are worth preserving and other people would like to see them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Slated for demolition

Demolition has started on the house on Susan and Weston that burned a few months ago.
The Rensselaer Republican mentioned yesterday that the city had purchased the house north of the power plant and it was slated for demolition. It is fenced off and there is a demolition permit in the window. The homeowner next to this house wants the city to purchase his house too. I thought that was a bit strange until I noticed that he has a for-sale sign in front.
There is some construction. I stopped by to see what was happening at the train station. They were pouring rock fill into forms, and there was a lot of steel re-enforcing rod being assembled. I still cannot visualize what this will look like when it is completed.

It is rather sad that there seems to be more demolition to report than construction.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A new business

There is a new business in the back part of what was Rainbow International, a cleaning company that closed almost a year ago.
I called the number (869-5047) to find out more. Before Rainbow International, this was Gifford Racing Engine, and the building is still owned by the people who had that business. The front part is rented for housing and has nothing to do with the business in the back, MG Repair. The person who has that business has a day job and works on repairs at night, which is why if you need something, you will have to call.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Empty Office

In late December I mentioned that Birthright was moving from above the now-empty J&L Antiques and Things store to the office building between Larry's Shoe Repair and the city parking lot (that used to be Glazebrook Park). The bulk of the move took place on January 2 with about twenty people helping and took about an hour. However, the preparation for the move took a couple of weeks, and that is why the move of January 2 was only took about an hour.

Below are some after-the-move pictures. The first is of the office. The window at the right overlooks the staircase. My guess is that it was there to provide light to the stairwell.
A bit of office furniture was left behind because it was not needed. The picture below is of the same room, but taken from a different angle.
This was the room with the white wicker chairs.
This is room 8. It had maternity clothes and some other items for people who needed them.
In December we saw the door but did not go beyond it.
The mystery room (which was used for storage) has drapes that date back to the time when Murray owned the building.
Another door, but this one is locked. It would probably lead into the old photographer's office.
The locked door had some interesting decoration. It is the only door in the complex of rooms that has this decoration.
I doubt if this thermostat did anything. It was in the room that has no number next to the first room, the room that was used as an office.
At the bottom of the stairs there are still names of former tenants. Frank Fischer had an office there for many years.
Even after Murray's Department Store closed, Murray kept ownership of the building and had an office on the second floor. (It was the empty office from the December post.)
Who knows what or who will be in this building in the future.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stained Glass--Sacred Heart in Remington (part 2)

Last Sunday I started but did not finish a look at the stained glass windows in Remington's Sacred Heart Catholic Church. I did not get to the windows that line the main part of the church. Four of those windows have scenes or people illustrated on them. The one below is obviously St. Joseph holding the young Jesus. You can also see two of the stations of the cross in this picture. In older churches these fourteen statues are often quite detailed. Modern versions tend to be abstract and simplified.
You probably noticed that the names of the donors of the windows are prominently inscribed in the windows.

I am not sure to whom Jesus is appearing the window below.
The window below is probably of St Dominic because he is supposedly the person who introduced the rosary.  St. Mary's in Beaverville has a window with the same theme.
My guess is that this is St. John the Evangelist.
The Catholic Order of Foresters is still around, but now seems to be not a social organization but merely an insurance group. It began as a way of providing burial insurance to poor immigrants. (It is interesting how some organizations that had very modest beginnings or which were initially set up as charitable organizations eventually grew into large business or purely commercial organizations. Savings and loans, credit unions, and hospitals are examples.)

The other eight windows are simpler and feature patterns and symbols. I took pictures of four of them.  Grapes and wheat symbolize the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
The window below has the ark and the keys to the kingdom. I do not know why they are together, but I am sure there is a reason.
The window shows the headgear of bishops and the pope, but I am not sure why.

My guess is that these windows that are more abstract were much cheaper than the windows with scenes of people, and that the little parish could only afford to purchase four of the more expensive windows.
I cannot make out the picture on the left, but the right is the lamb of God, which symbolizes Jesus.
I am sorry I do not know more. Perhaps if a member of Sacred Heart reads this, he or she can give a fuller explanation of the windows.

(The day may eventually come when all of this information is available on the Internet. However, it takes time and dedication to get put together.  Until then, places like this blog will try to fill the void.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Liming the fields

I do not expect to see activity in the farm fields during winter, but on Thursday I heard equipment in the fields just west of Rensselaer. A crew was loading lime into trucks to spread on the fields.
Liming alters soil acidity (or pH), and that affects the ability of plants to absorb nutrients.

You can see that the sky is overcast, and within an hour of these pictures being taken, snow was falling. The field is now white, not from the lime but from the snow.
As I was leaving, a dump truck delivered another load of lime.
Whenever I talk to the farmers, I realize how little I know about the technology that grows our crops.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Mac App Store is open

The Mac App Store is now open. You might wonder why that is something to report on Rensselaer Adventures. One of my adventures before Christmas was beta-testing an application that is one of the thousand applications available at the store's grand opening. Below is the trailer:

I am not a gamer and I needed some help to finish, but I am pretty good at finding bugs in programs. If you do finish Light Quest, you should see my name in the credits as a beta-tester.

To download Light Quest from the apps store, you need a Macintosh running the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.6), which I currently do not have. There is a Windows version of the game, but the distribution of that version and another Macintosh version are not yet in place. When they are, I will tell you about them.

(If you are wondering why I was a beta=tester, one of the programmers and also the graphic designer for the game are close relatives of mine who grew up in Rensselaer.)

More info and links here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The ADA-compliant-ATR-concrete-platform project

About a week ago I noted that there was construction going on by the Amtrak station and promised updates.

Last Wednesday there were piles of metal pipes, some with strange "shields" on them.
These pipes were being screwed into the ground. If you look closely, you will notice that the "shields" form the thread of a screw.
The little station had been moved much closer to Cullen. It had a new concrete floor, a new concrete sidewalk to Cullen, and a new crushed stone parking lot.
On Thursday the workers were still installing the pipe-screws. When they were in the ground, they had a square metal top placed on them.

In the process of installing the pipes, some of the old brick walkways from the old station were disrupted. However, the foundation for the old water tank that used to be near the station was undisturbed.
Finally on Thursday a sign appeared that explained why a major construction project was being undertaken at our tiny and barely-used Amtrak station. It was being funded by the federal government as part of the the stimulus spending approved in the early weeks of the Obama Administration.
A little googling revealed that we are getting an ADA complaint ATR concrete platform. That is rather special, as only 23 stations are getting one, and no other stations in Indiana are on the list. (However, Whitefish, Montana, where my 100-year old Aunt Nonie lives, is also on the list.) I keep wondering how much this will cost--I am an economist and I think a lot about things like this. I wonder if it will cost as much as the ADA compliant ATR concrete platform that either has been built or is scheduled for Tomah, Wisconsin.

I think it is a safe bet that our train platform will soon be a match for the runway at the Jasper County International Airport.

The workers were off on Friday and Monday, but were back today (Tuesday). Two were cutting a black pipe, and there was a pile of plastic pipe, which you can see on the left of the picture above. I will have to check back to see if I can figure out what it is used for.
I think we will have this construction project here for a while, and since I enjoy taking pictures of construction, expect future updates. And if any of you can find more about the ADA compliant ATR concrete platforms, feel free to comment.

My link to the airport post reminds me that I did not do any year-end summaries. I apologize. I just could not get the motivation needed to do them this year.

Update: Wednesday's Rensselaer Republican had a front-page article on the new platform. It will cost as much as Tomah's, at $500,000, and there is also some funding ($11,000) for an information kiosk and ($9,000) for other improvements. The Rensselaer station has 1848 departures and arrivals per year, and the the Amtrak improvements nationally will total $1.3 billion.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Chistmas over?

Is Christmas over? Finished? Done for the year? The city says it is because they took down the street decorations today.
A few hours after I took the picture above, a truck came by and picked up all the wreaths.

There was also a truck by Milroy Park and I think it was taking the lights from the little redbud tree.
Walgreeens had 75% off their Christmas candy today. There was not much of a selection when I got there, and a bit less when I left. There were still plenty of candy canes, though.

I do not consider Christmas over until January 6, traditional epiphany. Why rush it? A longer Christmas season means less of the bleakness of January and February.

Tomorrow, by the way, is the latest sunrise. After tomorrow, the sun will begin to rise a bit earlier every day. The earliest sunset was December 9.