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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Highlights from 2013

In 2013 this blog had over 250 posts. What were the highlights?

There were a number of new businesses that opened, including Tractor Supply (also here), Family Auto Sales, Bently's, eMbers (also here), Farm Credit (also here and here and several other places), Lending Hand, Louck Family Medicine, Bub's BBQ, Dales Steak House (also here and here), Home Sweet Home (and here), the Pig Adventure, R&R Auto Repair, 24/7 Fitness (and here), Mid-State Bolt and Nut Company, Kids Corner/Unique Things (and here), and Rensselaer Upholstery. I probably missed a few.

There were also businesses that closed, such as the JC Penney Catalog Store, the gas station next to Jordan's Floral, Elk Investments, Home Town Bargains, Bazz's Eat-N-Sip, Ricos Restaurant and Dr. Pellicore's medical practice, the This and That store and Novedades Maru, and Unique Threads. Businesses often close quietly, so there were undoubtedly closings that went unnoticed.

The old Monnett grade school was torn down, as were the old Boy Scout cabin in Iroquois Park and the old Strip Joint by Bicentennial Park.

The big construction project in 2013 was the Amtrak depot, which I posted on frequently. (See here, here, here, here and here.) The Bowstring bridge was put in place in 2012, but the dedication did not take place until May. Throughout the year there was progress on electrical substations at the power plant and on Melville, but there was not a lot to see.

There was more renovation than construction, including that of Steinke's Funeral Home (and here and here), the high school gymnasium floor (and here and here), new school administration offices, Walmart (and here), McDonalds by the Interstate (and here with mention of Dairy Queen), the SJC chapel, Riverside BP (and here and here), the McKinley Street railroad crossing, the bridge in Weston Cemetery that was demolished and replaced, the Water Treatment Plant, and the reorganization of the Jasper County Youth Center.

The weather made its way into occasional posts, including what was probably the most viewed post of the year.

There was much more, but not everything can be a highlight.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Desparately seeking strikes

My holiday guests are not the sort that want to sit around in the evening and chat. They want to do things. One of them really wanted to go bowling, so it was off to the local bowling emporium, The Strike Zone.
I had not been in the Strike Zone for several years--I do not recall the last time I was there. You enter in the back and after going through a corridor of lockers, you emerge in an area where you can rent shoes, play pool, or buy snacks. There is also a doorway leading to a room where alcohol is served.
 The Strike Zone is the current name of the bowling alley. The building was built, according to the current owner, in 1951 and was named Maple Leaf Lanes (or something similar). It has had other names during its history, including the Collegeville Bowl. In the 1970s or perhaps the very early 1980s it was remodeled. The front part of the building was made into an office for a bank. (I think it was the State Bank of Remington but I may be wrong. The Remington State Bank was merged out of business when prices of farm land collapsed in the 1980s.) There was a lawsuit about opening a branch bank at the location--at the time branch banking was tightly restricted. The local banks argued that since Rensselaer already had banks serving it, a new branch could not come in. The Remington bank argued that they were locating not in Rensselaer, but in Collegeville, and there were no banks serving Collegeville. The bank was allowed to open the branch.

As part of the renovation at that time, the lanes were flipped. Originally the pins were to the west, now they are to the east. The part of the building that currently has the shoe rental, snack bar, etc. was originally a motorcycle shop. (I do not remember it.)

There are cute cartoon characters on the walls. I wonder how many of the young bowlers can recognize them.
One of my guests had a hard time lifting the ball. Some of her efforts stopped before they got to the pins.
Bowling is a sport that has been losing popularity in recent years. The Strike Zone lost one league last year and will probably lose another next year. They have a Facebook page with information about their hours.

When we started bowling the lights were dimmed, which may have been a good thing because our party threw a lot of gutter balls. (Or maybe the dimmed lights caused the gutter balls.) On the second round of games, scores improved a lot.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holiday adventures

What do you do when you have visitors from out of town and you want to entertain them? One answer is to take them to Fair Oaks Farms, which is likely to give them an experience unlike any they have had before.

The Visitors' Center had a Christmas theme.
Of limited interest to my guests was the construction progress on the restaurant that will open in mid 2014.
We toured the dairy farm first. It provides a welcoming environment for migrating birds--abundant food, open water, and shelter. There were thousands of them and the farms do not know how to get them to continue on the migration south.
Back at the Visitors' Center, the boy from another blog had a lot of fun conquering the climbing wall. 
Every time I have been to the Pig Adventure I see something new and learn a bit more. This time AI was the featured attraction. That is not AI as in Artificial Intelligence. Two boars were attached to the Boarbots to stimulate the gilts or sows. Those that would "stand"-- ears erect and front feet firmly planted--were given some special attention. The whole procedure is quite interesting--when you visit the Pig Adventure, ask about it. You will be given all the details that may not be appropriate for a family friendly blog.
In the parking lot we saw a strange vehicle that I would not have noticed, but one of my guests did. Can you identify the make and model of this car?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Two meetings

The County Commissioners met for their final meeting of 2013 on Monday morning (December 23). Most of the agenda was for routine items: approving the payment of bills, signing documents, and authorizing hiring to fill vacant positions. The Commissioners have the authority to appoint people to a long list of boards and commissions, and part of the meeting was devoted to mostly continuing on people already on those boards, things like Alcohol Beverage Commission, Animal Control Board, Airport Authority, Zoning Appeals Board, Community Corrections Advisory Board, Fair Board, Health Board, Hospital Board, Hospital Association Building Authority, Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission, Development Committee, Redevelopment Committee, Tourism Commission, Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District, Plan Commission, Kankakee River Basin Commission, Rensselaer Community Disability Commission, Review Board for Common Nuisance, Workforce Development Board, DeMotte Planning Commission, and several more that I did not catch. (Some of the above titles may not be correct.)

Opening of bids was scheduled for 10:00, and the meeting was paused for about half an hour to allow that schedule to be met. I wandered around and took a picture of the open staircase, which is a striking feature of the court house.
When the meeting resumed, bids for five categories were opened: tires and tire repair; stone; sand and other fill materials; hauling; and equipment rental. There were two or three bids to provide some of the items. All bids were approved, which I think means is that the county will be able to purchase from any of the vendors who submitted bids.

The public was represented by a reporter from the paper, one concerned citizen from the DeMotte area who attends a lot of these meetings, and me.

In the afternoon the Rensselaer City Council held its last meeting of the year. It was short (about 20 minutes), with a number of housekeeping items that had to be dealt with. I thought there were three interesting things in the meeting. First, there was an update on the problems with the firehouse, which has a void under much of its floor. The problem exists because the building was built over rubble and the rubble has settled over the years and continues to settle. The problem with the floor is not a new one; twice since the building was built it has had concrete pumped in to fill voids. The remedy of pumping again will likely cost $15,000 to $20,000. At present the heavy firetrucks cannot be left in the firehouse--they are parked in the gas department building. The proposal to pump again subject to money being available passed unanimously. The long range solution is to build a new firehouse but that will probably take four or five years.

Second was a motion to establish an economic revitalization area for the Indiana Municipal Power Association, which wants to build a solar panel power facility at the east end of Maple Street. (Preliminary construction has already begun, apparently because some funding depended on it starting in 2013.) The purpose of this motion is to set the stage for tax abatement. IMPA owns an eleven acre parcel, of which eight acres are usable. (The parcel has a ditch on two sides.)

Finally, there was a bit of discussion of potholes. I noticed them on US 231 in the south part of town, but apparently the weather has been conducive to their formation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Got talent?

I do not check my rensselaeradventures mail every day because usually there is nothing new in it. However, every once in a while something unusual appears there. Like this:

My name is Marianne and I am an Associate Producer for America's Got Talent Season 9. I am trying to get the word out that we are headed to Indianapolis on January 25th & 26th for open auditions. I came across your blog and I was wondering if you would like to help us spread this information by writing about it.

We accept any age and are looking for a wide variety of talent, and I think your readers would be a great group to reach out to.
I have an electronic flyer that I can send you along with more details of the auditions if you are interested in doing a write up about it.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Have a wonderful day.
If you want more information, go to

Several years ago when I was still at SJC, one of my students went to the auditions that they held in Chicago. He said that he got through the first screening, but was cut in the second level. If anyone who reads this goes to the auditions, I would love to report your experiences on this blog.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Where and what? (Updated)

Do you know where this picture was taken and what it is showing? It was taken yesterday (Thursday) and today most of that snow would be gone after above-freezing temperatures and rain.
I will update with an answer tomorrow.

Benton County Economic Development put a promotional video on Youtube. I thought it was interesting. (The video mentions the Teays River, which two million years ago drained much of what is now the eastern US.)

Update: The scene is from the east end of Maple Street, east of the state highway garage and north of National Gypsum. It will be the future home of a solar panel farm. The placement of the culvert allows machinery access to the field, a necessary first step. I expect to be making frequent visits in 2014 to document the progress of the project.

Today (Saturday) is the winter solstice. That means that the days will start getting longer, though it may not be until the end of January that most of us will be able to see the lengthening.

It looks like I was wrong a week ago when I predicted a white Christmas. The weather forecasters did not predict the rain that we have had this weekend which is melting most of the snow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

And they have snow, too

How could I not stop and take a picture of this sign?
A lot of places have ice. A walk through a downtown alley revealed some impressive icicles.
However, the river has been losing ice even though it was very cold last night. My computer said it was 12 degrees this morning.
Shadows are key in taking pictures of snow, otherwise it is just white. With no real place to sled, kids use the tiny hills by the swimming pool. It is too bad that Rensselaer does not have a real hill in one of its parks. (Speaking of shadows, can you see my shadow in the picture above?)
The weather forecast says we will lose some of the snow and ice tomorrow and Friday as temperatures get above freezing, but we may get it back with interest over the weekend.

On to other things.

I enjoyed the JCEDO open house tonight (Wednesday). I met a number of people I did not know, including the state senator for northern Rensselaer, Ed Charbonneau. I live two blocks south of his district that includes Pulaski County and parts of four other counties. The Rensselaer Republican took a couple pictures of the event and I tried to stay out of them. I heard a lot of interesting conversations and even contributed to a few. One of the fun parts of this blog is that it gives me an excuse to go to meetings like this.

A friend shared a link with an interesting organization with a branch in DeMotte. The group makes hand powered carts for the disabled in third-world nations. I had not seen anything about them before.

Last week I saw in the distance the construction on the Magnetation plant near Reynolds. I was traveling south on US 421 in White County, but turned on CR 375 N which is the back way to get to Indiana Beach and other places north of Monticello. The plant looked like it was a couple miles further south on US 421. I was tempted to go further so I could take some pictures, but resisted.

Fowler may be getting a new bottling plant. I heard through the grapevine that someone wants to bottle MudLavia water. The MudLavia Hotel in Warren County was once a popular health spa. It burned in 1920 and changes in fashion discouraged its rebuilding. I had never heard of it until a month or so ago.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A bit more about the water treatment plant

Below are a few more pictures from the Water Treatment Plant open house from last week. The white building between the old pump house #1 and the water treatment plant was built in 1958 and may have been the first water treatment plant. The large concrete structure by the river may have been part of this plant--it does not seem to do anything now. It is interesting seeing the names of the people involved back then.
I had not noticed this plaque before because it was in the fenced area around the facility and not normally a place where the public would go. There was also a plaque on the new building, but I was told that it had been removed during renovation. It will be put back up sometime. I wonder if it will be located in a place so that no one will ever see it.

With the many pumps that the water treatment plant has, there are electrical lines running everywhere. Because it is an industrial facility, there is no attempt to hide them.
 Below is another view of the pipes and the water softeners. Not all the water that comes out of your tap goes through the softeners. Water that is completely softened (with all the calcium and magnesium salts taken out) is corrosive, so before the water leaves the plant, the softened water is blended with a bit of the filtered but unsoftened water.
 The biggest challenge in renovating the water treatment plant was keeping it operating while the changes were made. There was about one month during which the water softening was shut down., but otherwise treatment continued throughout the construction.

One of the control panels shows the daily statistics. You can see how much water has passed through the plant, how much each of the two water wells that Rensselaer uses has pumped, and how much water has been softened. I do not know why the totals of softened plus blended do not equal the finished.
 The old wells out on Bunkum are disconnected from the water system. The pump house that is west of the water treatment plant can still pump water, but the water contains an unwanted chemical.

A final picture--the pit. When the water filters are cleaned, the water that is run through them to clean them is dumped into a pit at the east end of the building.
The civic calendars will be mostly empty for the next month because people will be traveling. As a result of the empty calendars and real winter this year, blogging will be light for the next month.

One other thing of note--the Rensselaer Republican reported that I-65 will be widened to six lanes in the Lafayette area. Every time I drive by Lafayette on I-65 I mutter to myself that the road should be three lanes in each direction. Apparently lots of other people think the same thing as they drive that stretch of road.

Monday, December 16, 2013

from Fair Oaks Farms

I have got nothing today and it is too cold to go out and find out something. However, Fair Oaks Farms posted the picture below on their Facebook page with the following comment:
Since Fair Oaks Farms began construction of its new restaurant this past month, visitors have asked what it will look like? When will it open? What will it be called? What will be served? Well to answer a few of the questions — the restaurant will open June 1; we will serve great sit-down restaurant steakhouse food and take a look below to see what it will be called and what it will look like! We hope to see you there when it opens! Mooo, oink and woo hoo!
 Fair Oaks Farms has 17990 likes. If you do not like them yet, you might be able to be the 18.000th fan.

Over the weekend I figured out how to embed a Facebook feed on a website. Now I just need to find someplace to use that bit of knowledge.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gaudete Sunday

Happy Gaudete Sunday. Only one more candle to go on the Advent Wreath.
Advent--a good time for Christians to reflect on their debt to Judaism.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

We will have a white Christmas

Because the weather forecast put us in the middle of the heaviest band of snow from this weekend's winter storm, one of the television stations from Chicago sent a news team to Rensselaer to find out how we were coping. The snow is expected to stop this afternoon. The forecast is for continued cold weather for the next couple weeks, so we are pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas.

The snow did not deter runners from participating in the annual Rudolph Run this morning. You can tell who the serious runners were by what they did not wear.
Amtrak was late and crossed the race course before the runners finished. Some of them beat the train and others did not. I did not hear if any were actually delayed. Below you see the first two finishers who were the first male and first female finishers. The girl is the runner who led Twin Lakes to a twelfth place finish in the state cross country meet this year. 
A day or two ago I took the picture below from the Talbert Bridge showing the extent of icing on the Iroquois river. There was no open water looking downstream, but there was some on the other side of the bridge.
The same view is prettier this morning with the fresh snow in the trees.
It is a good day to stay at home.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Open house, water treatment plant

The water treatment plant next to Iroquois Park had an open house on Thursday to let the public see what the renovation of the plant had accomplished. Over the past few years I have occasionally mentioned the treatment the water gets in Rensselaer as well as a few posts about the renovation. However, most of the work was done inside and so did not lend itself to pictures by a curious citizen.

I was eager to see what had been done inside, and the first stop on the tour was the chlorine room. Chlorine is the active ingredient in bleach, but household bleach is about 95% water. The chlorine in the tanks is 100% chlorine. Its purpose is to kill any microbes that are in the water. The presence of chlorine in the water makes it taste bad, so if you do not like tap water, it is probably because of the chlorine. (However, it you put a bottle of tap water in the refrigerator for a day, the chlorine oxidizes out and you no longer have the bad taste. It is a lot cheaper than buying bottled water.)
The next stop on the tour was the room the contained a barrel of fluoride, an additive that hardens tooth enamel. (I suspect that a reason that I ended up with as many fillings as I did was because I grew up before adding fluoride was routine.)
There is also a small laboratory for testing the water.
At the end of the hallway are two brine pumps. The brine pool is outside of the building and its construction was one of the few parts of the project that was visible to the public. The two metal boxes are dehumidifiers. One of the improvements of the project was better control of humidity, which will reduce corrosion of pipes and equipment.
Then it was time to go upstairs. The old plant had a large pool that looked like an indoor swimming pool. This was a sedimentation pond that allowed sand to settle out. The old pump houses produced water with a lot of sand. The two new pump houses, which draw the water from a deeper depth extend into bedrock, do not produce much sand, so the sedimentation ponds were no longer needed. The space that they formerly occupied is now used for other purposes. On the upper level the space is used for an office. However, the noise from the equipment makes the space less than ideal for office use, and the desks may end up in different locations.

The entire water pumping and treatment system is automated and it can be monitored and controlled from the office. The two water towers that Rensselaer has store water and maintain water pressure. The newer one south of town has a capacity of 400,000 gallons and the older one has a capacity of 200,000 gallons. The level of water in the older water tower controls the pumps in the water treatment plant.
Another screen shows a schematic of the entire system.
Here is a summary of how the system works. When the water in the water tower falls below a certain level, it triggers the start up of a pump in the water treatment plant. That pump takes water from one of the two clear wells, which are storage tanks under on the east end of the treatment plant that hold about 400,000 gallons of water, and forces it through a filter system and a water softener and into the water pipes leading to the water towers. When the water in the clear wells falls below a certain level, the pumps at the pump houses are turned on and water flows to the water treatment plant. It enters through an aerator on the roof of the west end of the building and then flows into one of the clear wells. The purpose of the aerator is to remove the hydrogen sulfide from the water. With the new wells there is not much hydrogen sulfide in our water, but the old wells produced water that had a lot.

A small room on the second floor is full of electrical circuit boxes and controls. The box below contains a lot of the wiring that allows the whole system to work automatically.
The second floor room on the east end of the building contains most of the equipment that treats the water. Notice that the pipes have three different colors. The green pipes contain water that is fresh from the clear wells. (I had to ask about the term "clear well." It simply refers a reservoir of water.) After if goes through the filtration system, on the right of the picture, it comes out in the light blue pipes. It then enters the water softeners and it emerges from them in the darker blue pipes. The tan pipe on the right is used to flush the water filters--it is the way that they are cleaned. They drain into a pit at the end if the building.
The filtering tanks are mostly outside of the building and can be seen on the south side. However, you will not normally get this view--the public is not supposed to be here except on special occasions like an open house. During the renovation, these tanks were cut open and cleaned, and then welded back together.
On west end of the treatment hall is equipment to regulate humidity and temperature, something that was lacking.
This is a peek into one of the clear wells. There is water down there somewhere.
These are the pumps that push water through the treatment equipment and out into the water distribution pipes. They can operate a variable speeds, which saves electricity.
After the tour I stopped by the building next to the treatment plant, a building that used to be part of the treatment system to enjoy some snacks and to talk to people. Notice the picture displays. They contained a complete explanation of what had been done. I hope that they can be shown at some other venues for people who did not get a chance to visit the plant today. I got to talk to a representative from the engineering firm that designed the plant and asked how other communities treated their water. She said that it varied a lot from community to community. Some places get water from lakes or rivers, and their treatment is completely different. The filtration takes out iron and manganese and if Rensselaer had slightly lower iron levels, we could do without the filtration. The water softening is not necessary but is an option the community has chosen. If the city did not soften water, many households would do it instead. The city eliminates the need for households to soften their own water.
The Donna C brought out the guest book from the open house that the water treatment plant had when it opened in 1979. I was able to find my name in it and added my name again on the pages for the 2013 open house.

I missed the ribbon cutting because I had to be somewhere else this morning. I am glad I was able to attend the open house.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Steinke Funeral Home open house

On Wednesday Steinke Funeral Home had a ribbon cutting and open house to celebrate the renovations that have taken most of the past year. I missed the ribbon cutting because I had a prior commitment, but I was back in town in time to take a tour of the facility. The room that everyone sees is the room where the family greets visitors.
 A bit further down the hall was some comfortable seating. The TV monitor was showing pictures of the renovation. For funerals the monitors can show pictures from the life of the deceased.
If you go through the door in the picture above you get to a lounge area where during a funeral the family can gather away from those that are coming to pay their respects. It had snacks available for those coming to the open house, and I did not take a picture because there were too many people there. I did, however, get a picture of the women's restroom, which was completely new as was the men's restroom.
There are parts of Steinke's that well wishers do not see. The room below is a conference room where the family of the deceased meets with funeral home personnel to plan the funeral. There are lots of details that have to be worked out, but once the family makes its choices, the funeral home people carry them out.
 One decision is cremation or burial. I forgot to ask where cremations take place.
 If the family chooses burial, they have to decide what kind of casket and vault they want.
One room that only the florists see is a tiny room for flowers. The local florists have a code so they can deliver flowers anytime, day or night. They only can get into this small room that is next to the parking lot.
No funeral home is complete without a preparation room, where embalming and preparation of the body takes place.
Steinke Funeral Home has a Facebook page that has frequent posts. Over the past year they posted many pictures showing the stages of the renovation.

Update: Here is a picture of the ribbon cutting.