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

Monday, January 30, 2012

A curmudgeon's look at the interstate intersection

A couple weeks ago I took a close look at the intersection of I-65 and SR 114 and I was not impressed. At the eastern end, quite a distance from the interchange itself, are three buildings, the Dairy Queen, an empty building that has housed a number of restaurants over the years, and the Knights Inn.
Over the little creek west of the Dairy Queen is a large, ugly parking lot with a tall, blank sign. The sign suggests that there was once something here, but I have vague and confused recollections of something here once. Was there ever anything in here?
On the south side of SR 114 there is nothing for more than a fifth of a mile. When I came to town, there was a burger place called Burger Chalet owned by Wayne Erickson there, but it shut shortly after McDonald's opened up across the street. Interstate intersections are no place for eateries that are not part of chains or franchises--brand recognition is everything.
Looking at who owns what in the area, I noticed that GasAmerica owns about an acre in here. I wonder why they have not built.

(According to a rumor I recently heard, there are plans for a large gas station to open up in what is now the parking lot of McDonald's. But rumors of possible openings usually are wishful thinking.)

The widening of the road may be where the access to Burger Chalet once was.
Crossing over I-65 gets us to the biggest eyesore of the area, the abandoned Grandma's restaurant. The part of the roof where the shingles have come off seems to have been recently painted--I remember it used to look much worse.
Behind Grandma's the old diesel pumps remain, though they have lost their shells. (I thought stations had to remove these when they were no longer in use. What are the rules?) The repair building behind them also seems empty.
Driving through the parking lot of Trail Tree Inn on the southwest side of the intersection brings you to what was once Biggs Catfish farm. It has not been a catfish farm for quite a few years. SJC has some mammoth or mastodon bones that were found here--they are sometimes on display in the display cases by the SJC Theater.
We may no longer have a catfish farm, but Benton County now has a shrimp farm.

More abandoned signs and trash are visible from the parking lot.
The interchange has stagnated and other interchanges in the area have grown. But none of our eyesores compare to the shuttered hotel or motel on the SR 43/I-65 interchange just north of Lafayette.

(More rumors--Newton County apparently is having some financial problems because the use of the landfill is down. It is not that people have stopped throwing things away, but that trash from Chicago has found someplace cheaper and closer. The county was getting about a million dollars per month from tipping fees, but is now only getting 75% of that. And I also heard a good rumor--the landfill in White County may only have another ten years of life. However, with the money involved, I would not be surprised if the people in White County find a way to extend that landfill. When it closes, SR 114 will be almost empty.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bricks and blocks

In a few more weeks there will be little new to see at school construction site on North Melville because the workers are finishing up the exterior. Below is the view from Merritt Street.
The brickwork on the sides seems finished and the plastic shielding has been move to the front. Below is the view from Melville.
The east end of the north wing has the blocks in place, but will probably be the last part of the building to get its bricks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A missing landmark

A couple weeks ago I noticed something missing, an old barn that was falling apart, along the little stretch of 600S (aka Kohley Road) just to the north of Donaldson's. Someone else noticed it as well, and wrote to me that it might be interesting to hear some history.  Below you can see what remains.
A couple days ago I asked the owner what had happened. He said that he had burned it. In order to burn a building in the country, you need to notify the fire department, the sheriff's department, and the Rensselaer police department. You also have to assure them that it is a controlled burn.

He waited for just the right day--a weekend so the burn would not interfere with the people using the parking lot at Donaldson's and a day with little or no wind. He got his perfect day after one of our December snows. The fire burned slowly and caused no problems at all.

At one time this barn was used for dairy and had stalls for ten cows. This was at a time when many farmers kept a few cows. Some of the milk could be sold in town, and for a while one buyer was Joe's Produce Mart or Market, a place originally near where Sprigz is now and later east on 114 (maybe where Precision Glass is now?). (Some people reading this blog will recall the places mentioned, and if I get them wrong, please provide the correct information in the comments.) Among other things, you could buy live chickens there. Later his family sold milk to a dairy in Momence, IL that sent a truck out to pick up the milk. The owner remembers the driver with awe because he could swing the eight or ten gallon milk can up onto the bed of the truck with one fluid lift.

He did not recall the old fairgrounds and racetrack that was just to the north of his residence, but said that recently some guys from Illinois came out with some expensive metal detectors and found some Indian head pennies and some silver coins. (If horse racing was hugely popular in our area more than a century ago, it would explain why one of the most famous races horses ever, Dan Patch, got his start in Oxford.)

There was a large red barn near the river at one time, part of a dairy farm. There was also an ice storage house in the area where the quarry now piles it stones. I was a bit surprised to hear two area natives recalling the ice business. The ice industry was a huge industry late in the 19th and early in the 20th century, but it melted away once electric refrigeration became available. Apparently the local ice store was near the current Century Link building. Anyone remember it?

There is a lot of history that has never been written down. If it does not get written down, it will disappear when those who remember it die.

Also in this neighborhood--ConAgra has announced that it is planning to expand it Rensselaer popcorn plant and add 24 new positions by 2014. 

And while playing around on the Internet while writing this, I noticed that Zillow now has property values for Rensselaer. (It has been a while since I have been on, and the last time I was there it did not have coverage of Rensselaer.) Just put in your address and you can find what your house is worth, and you can also get a map that lets you easily check out the neighbors. I was mildly disappointed to find that my house is the cheap house in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

19th annual elementary school art show

The 19th annual Regional Elementary Art Exhibition is on display in the Core Building lobby at Saint Joseph's College. It runs until February 3. Six schools are participating: Van Rensselaer & Monnett Elementary, St. Augustine's, South Newton Elementary, Tri-County Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, and Demotte Christian.
It is fun to see what kinds of art projects each school has assigned. At Lincoln Elementary the students learned that with the right tools (printing blocks), nice looking designs were possible.
This snowman looks worried.
The castle is the sort of thing some of my kids enjoyed drawing.
They also enjoyed dragons and monsters. Why can you be almost sure when you see a picture like this that the kid who did it is a boy?
I was disappointed that there were no tessellations this year. I have been thinking a lot about tessellations lately, and wanted to see what the kids would come up with. The closest thing to a tessellation pattern that I could find was the scale pattern on this very happy fish.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


As I was riding my bike along Sparling Avenue today, I noticed an excavator across the field. I went to check it out, following West Washington Street past the trailer court to its end, and was surprised to see that it was being used to lay pipes. The sewer construction project is not just out at the interstate intersection, but it is also on the south side of the river. A trip out Bunkum seemed in order. The preparations for the digging of the sewer line are underway. There are large culverts set out and piles of green pipe. It seems that the crossing of the river will be near the Iroquois Valley Church. There are orange markings and flags everywhere from there west, but none to the east.

It will be something to watch now that the power line project seems mostly done and the school construction project will soon finish the exterior. The power line people have erected a forest (I almost wrote "constructed a maze"--I have spent too much time thinking of mazes recently) of poles north and east of the power house. It will be interesting to see how so many poles in such a small area are going to be used.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What is it?

What is it and where was I?
Update: Comment 3 was on the money. It is the snow-covered scrap metal at Rensselaer Iron and Metal. I altered the color of the photo to sepia--it brought out the dark-white contrast that I thought was interesting.

Rensselaer Iron and Metal is constructing a new fence along Walnut. In their case, tall fences probably do make for good neighbors.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A wintry morning

Yesterday for the first day in a very long time I did not leave the house. I kept thinking that I should get out and get some exercise, but it just looked so miserable out there that I never made it. Instead I stayed inside and listened to how the commute from downtown Chicago to Ohara O'Hare Airport was two and a half hours.

This morning looked much more inviting with a blue sky and a bright sun. I find it hard to resist taking pictures of the shadows that the sun makes on a field covered with snow.
 The cemetery did not have its usual traffic of early morning walkers.
 Some flowers are very hardy, not suffering at all from the cold and snow.
Late on Thursday afternoon I walked across the Talbert Bridge (aka Bicentennial Park Pedestrian Bridge) and there were no tracks. I pulled out my camera to take some pictures of the way the cracks in the boards show through the snow and I got a "recharge battery" message. This morning my camera was working, so a couple days late, here is a picture of the snow on the bridge showing how the cracks show through the snow.
 The snow was light and fluffy and had a crunch to it. And when you walk across the bridge, that crunch gets amplified for some reason. Plus the bridge creaks and pops. You really need to check out the bridge when it is cold and snow covered--it is not the same as during good weather.

The picture below could be a scene from a wild area, but it is from the bridge.
 A bit downstream from the bridge there is an obstruction in the river that has created a bit of white water. (Do you want to go rafting?)
 If you have a snowmobile, today is a good day to get out and enjoy it. The forecast says that the snow will be melting next week.
 I have had enough snow. I am ready for spring. And it (or at least the equinox) will be here in only two months.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chilly morning

Cold, clear, windless mornings like the one we had today emphasize the steam clouds produced by two area facilities. Below is steam coming from the ethanol plant four or five miles east of Rensselaer in Pleasant Ridge.
Much bigger clouds are produced by NIPSCO's Schahfer generating plant east of Wheatfield, about twenty miles to our north.
It was cold this morning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bomber black

The black sealant coating has been completed on the under-construction elementary school on North Melville and the school looks like it has be decorated in one of the school corporation's colors, Bomber black. This new look will not last long because the masons are busy.
The brick facing is mostly completed on the west side of the building and the masons are gradually working their way to eastward. The picture below was taken about a week ago.  The workers are using a plastic enclosure that they move with them as they lay the bricks on various sections of the wall. (You can see it on the right side of the picture below.) With the warm temperatures and high winds today, they may be wishing it was not there.
Once the brick work is done, there should not be a lot of changes visible to people like me who watch from a distance.

Update: Below is a better view of the plastic enclosure that workers are using for construction.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Odds and ends for 1-16-12

I missed the big snow on Thursday because I had to leave Rensselaer. When I got up in the morning and looked at the radar, I got very motivated to get on the road as fast as I could. It was foggy and dark but not snowing until I got to Indianapolis. I was surprised at how much more snow Rensselaer got than Indianapolis got.

Did you know that Rensselaer has one of thirty road sensors in the state? I think you can see part of it on the south side of SR 114 as you cross I-65 from the east--it is just past the exit ramp coming from the south. You can find the data it is reporting on the Internet at In addition to giving you the temperature of the road, both surface and subsurface, it has air temperature, wind speed, humidity, and dew point. A few of the thirty sites also have cameras, but ours does not.

Each year Saint Joseph's College has a big program in celebration of Martin Luther King Day. This year their decisions attracted some attention from a couple of conservative Catholic blogs, here and here.

Blogging will continue to be erratic. I am working on a project (an adventure of sorts) that has been absorbing a lot of time and effort and it still has a ways to go. Until I am finished, blogging here has reduced priority.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Will they be there in 2013?

Earlier this week, before real winter arrived on Thursday, I took a few pictures of some buildings that have been discussed a bit recently. Below is the old Strip Joint on the corner of Austin and College. Presently the city owns it, and it will be demolished sometime in the future.
One plan is to replace it by moving the old pump house across College Ave. You can see the pump house on the right of the picture below. Some other people think a better site for the old pump house would be at  the Amtrak stop where it could serve as the train shelter. Other people think the best option is to demolish the old pump house. What do you think?
 This building has had other uses in the time I have been in Rensselaer and has also sat empty some of the time. I cannot remember what those other uses were and I do not know what the original use of the building was. Does anyone know?

Next door is a house that flooded a couple years ago and has not been inhabited since. It too is now owned by the city and will be demolished to become part of Austin Park.
The old Strip Joint building is starting to fall apart. If you like to take pictures of decaying buildings, check it out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dredging on a sunny afternoon

This afternoon a big machine arrived at Brookside Park so I went over to see what it was doing.
It was cleaning out mud from Brookside Creek. When workers cut down trees and removed the undergrowth from the west side of the creek just north of Bunkum Road about a year ago, I wondered why they were doing that. It seems they were planning ahead.

Are you enjoying our wonderful weather? There are kids playing on the playground equipment in the park. The temperatures may be spring-like, but the fields are still barren. The picture below was taken today just north of Rensselaer.
Days are getting a little longer. It is not completely dark at 5:00.

Monday, January 9, 2012

At the Fendig

The Prairie Arts Council has a new show until February 3 at the Fendig Gallery at the Carnegie Center. Titled "Triple Visions: Three Emerging Artists," it features work by two recent St. Joseph's College grads and one current SJC student.

One alum, Michael Crowthers, focused on the human body. I vaguely recall either this piece or something similar in a student exhibit a few years ago.

  A lot of what he did was in clay, but he also can work in wood.
He is currently curator of the permanant collection at the Anderson Center for the Arts in Anderson, Indiana.

On the wall behind the bust you can see pictures by Andrew Dudich, whose day job is director of the web and IT services for radio station WITY in Danville, IL. Most of the pictures he had in the exhibit were giclee prints, and I had to ask what that was. I felt much better about my ignorance when several people who know more than I do about art could not explain it.
Finally I asked the artist what it was and he was happy to explain that giclee (or giclée) printing is done with an expensive, high-quality printer that uses special inks that make the print look like an oil painting. Dudich gets the effects in his pictures by blending three different photos. In the picture above you can easily see the car, but there are other things also in the picture. In a way, he is doing a variety of digital collage and he gets some very interesting effects. You can see more of his work on his website. Or you can go to Fendig Gallery and take a look. It is an interesting show.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sewer construction?

I do not travel by the intersection of SR 114 and I-65 too often, but a couple weeks ago I noticed digging equipment there. On Friday the workers were working on something sewer. I assume that this is the start of the sewer-line extension project. If you know that I am wrong, please correct me in the comments.
This picture was taken from the parking lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken, looking north across SR 114.

The contractor is Grimmer Construction from Highland, Indiana.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A slow start to the year

I have not posted much lately because I have not seen a lot going on.

Today I discovered a bus stop behind city hall.
The stuff floating in the schoolhouse ditch east of Melville Street is not ice. It is sheets of insulation from the construction of the new elementary school. I suspect much of it blew in over the weekend when we had very strong winds.
 I tried to get some pictures showing how much of the back now has its brick facing, but the photos did not turn out well. I suspect that construction is significantly behind schedule--January is not a good month for doing exterior masonry.

The floor tiling in the entrance to the library appears to be completed. There still is some repair work needed on the walls.
Update: The library has started the new year with a new look to its website.

Work on the power line project has resumed. There have been poles positioned along Cullen for about a week and today the first of them was put up next to the city gas department. I thought I could get some action shots, but after they raised the pole to the extent that you can see in the picture below, they set it down again. Apparently something was not quite right. I had other things to do so I left, but later in the day I passed by again and the pole was up and the lines that are on the front-most pole in the picture below had been transferred to the new pole.
I see from Facebook that the Sister Act hair salon that is on Drexel Parkway will be closing at the end of the month.

What else is happening?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Highlights from 2011

I spent an hour or two looking back on posts from the past year to see what the highlights were from 2011, what items might be of future interest to people. Other people might make some other choices, but most of the things I thought were interesting and important involved construction.

The beginning of the year featured a number of posts about the new Amtrak platform. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)  In April the platform was dedicated with an official ribbon cutting.

There was construction and renovation at the hospital all year long, but I did not write much about it. Most of the outside work was done in 2010 and the work inside was hard to see for someone who does not work at the hospital. Posts include those here, here, and here.

Less important, but something I kept reporting, was the slow progress on the Talbert Bridge, which has an official name that I cannot remember. The main span was hoisted into place over the river in late 2010, and then it seemed like it took forever for the finishing touches to be applied. The bridge was open to traffic in late summer, and was officially dedicated in November. Some posts are here, here, here, here, and here.

More important was the construction of the new elementary school on North Melville. After groundbreaking, progress was very slow because of wet weather and a strike, and it was not until the fall that the building began to take shape. I found this frustrating to watch because a lot was happening but I could not get close enough to really see what the workers were doing. Some of the posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Not nearly as important, but fun to photograph, were several renovation projects at Saint Joseph's College. See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The city was busy with several projects this year. I enjoyed watching the work at the sewage lift station, though I never did get inside to get some pictures. See here and here. Another was work on the electrical systems. I did not know it at the time, but I started watching that early with some demolition (see here, here, and here.) After a few minor posts, I was lucky to watch the arrival of our largest utility pole.

One of my better posts this year was on the new offices of the Surveyor and Purdue Extension. Within a few weeks that area was in the news as a series of tiny tornadoes set down in our area in several different storms. I took the time to try to trace the paths of several. See here, here, here, and here.

Rensselaer had municipal elections. I started strong, but did not follow up well.

I had a few favorite posts. A reader tipped me off to the repair of the court house flag pole. I did not do much reporting on businesses, but my visit to Stunt Dawg was enjoyable and educational.

My weirdest adventure this year was not in Rensselaer but on the way back to Rensselaer: my day as a misconnect.

Here is hoping that lots of good things await us in 2012.