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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Migrating north--Updated

Elk Investments is leaving town, heading for greener pastures in Demotte. The Rensselaer store will be closed.
 Today, February 28, is National Chili Day, and the Rensselaer Care Center celebrated with a chili cook off. The people who came to the event (entry fee: a donation to the Food Pantry of money or non-perishable food items) sampled the seven pots of chili entered by Rensselaer businesses or organizations. They then voted for their favorite and could eat a bowl of that chili.
The Care Center has celebrated this day in the past, but not every year. This year's attendance seemed to be pretty good. Some of the people had clear favorites, but not all were the same. I like all the chilies and could not really pick one that I thought stood out from the others, but then I am a lousy judge of things culinary. The Rensselaer Republican will have a story about the cook off tomorrow with information on which chilies won.

February 28 is also public sleeping day and rare disease day.

Update: As I was getting ready to make a link to this post on Facebook--(you have liked Rensselaer Adventures on Facebook, haven't you?)--I noticed this from the Embers Venue: "We are excited to announce that Bub's BBQ will be one of our exclusive caterers at eMbers....Also look forward to Bub's BBQ opening soon right across the street from us." That would be in the space that was the Doghouse occupied for a few years. This morning I saw that the front door had been removed but did not stop to ask what was going on.

Update 2: The SPAW is in the process of moving. A looking through the windows reveals bare walls--most of the furnishings are gone. Plus the photographer who had taken the office behind the SPAW seems to be gone--there is a "For Rent" sign in the window. So the Horton Building is mostly vacant.

After paying my cable bill today, I walked through the old Sears Building (now the Town Mall). It has a lot of vacant space, but it may not be any more than it has had for the past couple years.

Update 3: The photographer seems to be moving into the space formerly used by SPAW.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A gray week (Updated)

Winter is hanging on this week--the temperatures have been around freezing and a mix of rain and snow comes and goes. It is definitely not the kind of weather that makes one want to go outside and do things.

 I forced myself to go out today and found that digging has commenced for the new train station. The last of the old station--its floor-- is now gone.
On the other end of town, the sign for the new Louck Family Medicine building is in place.
On the bright side, there are a lot of community events coming up in the next few weeks. My sidebar calendar no longer is empty or nearly empty, as it was during most of January into February.

Update (Thursday)
I was surprised to see that there was concrete structure under the old depot--it was not just sitting on a slab. Did it have an actual basement? The concrete beneath the surface was thick enough so that a machine with a jackhammer on it had to be brought in to break it up.
From the train platform one can see the results of a fire that damaged a Harris Homes duplex on Tuesday morning. The Rensselaer Republican wrote about in in their Wednesday edition.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snow caves

When I saw this snow bank on Charles Street over the weekend, I could not help but think back to childhood. Some things do not change, like kids eagerness to build with snow.
We have so far escaped the big snows, which have gone to our north or south. The snow last week was only a couple of inches, but it was compacted so some of the snow piles in the parking lots are impressive.

I have only seen a couple snowmen this year and they were small. But we still have at least a month during which we can get a heavy snow.

Update: I forgot to mention that on Monday I saw my first flight of sandhill cranes this year. There were about fifty of them, and I would not have noticed them if they had not been noisy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tales from the porta-potties

Wandering aimlessly around town today getting some exercise, I found inspiration for this post from a porta-pottie.
 It is next to the Amshak but not accessible because it was inside a fence.

On the other end of the lot is a trailer. It may be that a hillbilly has squatted on the property, bring along an outhouse, but there was no snarling dog inside the fence so it is much more likely that we will soon see construction of a new train station. It has been rumored to be in the works for some time.
There were pink markings on the snow, so it may be that much of what is now there was put in place this morning.

I found a couple other porta-potties in front of the new TSC building. It appears that construction is complete, but until those porta potties leave, a casual observer cannot be sure. Since the last time I was there, the sign has been put on the building, the lights for the parking lot have been installed, and a pole for a sign along the highway has been erected. There is also merchandize in the fenced in yard to the east of the building. The opening date for the store's opening is March 15.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More destruction (Updated)

Wednesday morning I noticed a machine with an attached jackhammer sitting in front of Well House Number 1. I thought that they might be planning to take out the brine tank and thought I might hear the noise when they did. When I finally did hear some noise that sounded like jackhammering, it was late afternoon and the brine tank was a mess of broken concrete and mangled re-bar.
 The machine that had destroyed the old salt tank was busy behind the water treatment plant breaking up chunks of concrete.
The reason that the old brine tank was removed is that a new brine tank was constructed as part of the renovation of the water treatment plant.

 As I left, I checked out the skating pond. It has lost most of its water and the little that was there was not frozen solid. I think a problem that the ground under the rink is not frozen so heat from below keeps the bottom warm.
If the park could find a place where it could run some pipes for a heat pump under the rink, using the heat exchange to heat a building, it would keep ice on the rink much better than what happened this year. It would also help if the rink were shaded a bit more.

Update: I am glad that yesterday I got the picture of what was left of the brine pit. Today (Thursday) it was already filled in.
Workers were preparing the module south of the RCSC headquarters for a move. The skirting has been removed and the building split. Once the plastic sheets cover the open sides, they can be hauled away. 
If you are wondering why there have been no updates on Monnett demolition for a while, it is because there is no demolition taking place. Instead a crew has been on the site applying some kind of dark liquid to the floors, which they then scrape up. Today they were working the north wing. Maybe next week the last of the walls will come tumbling down.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lime and Portland cement mortars

Winter is visiting this week. I could not resist taking a picture of the stop sign below that had been coated with snow, which had then slipped a bit.
 Speaking of visiting, I visited the Jasper County Historical Society Museum last night (Tuesday) to attend their monthly business meeting. One of the announcements was that the historical society would be adding to its collection of buildings on the Fair Grounds. It will be a small addition, and it will be nonfunctional, but it will represent something that was an essential part of life in the early days of the county and because of its importance--pity the home without one--it deserves to be represented. Yup, there will be an outhouse added to the collection. As I said, it will be non-functional and locked to prevent anyone from trying to use it. Of course, most young people probably would not know how to use it. I remember that almost fifty years ago, when I was working a summer job at a camp that catered to rich kids from the northern suburbs of Chicago, that even then some of the kids were amazed when they saw a real outhouse. Far more kids today must be unaware of how bathroom needs used to be met.

The speaker for the evening was Dave Zeltwanger from Francesville who runs a business called DK & Sons, LLC. He does a lot of masonry construction and restoration and one of the projects he either has done or will do work for the Embers event hall. His basic message was that it is dangerous and foolhardy to combine old and new masonry techniques. Bricks made in the 19th century were fired at lower temperature than those today and absorb more water. (The only company that still makes bricks the old way is in Indiana, the Colonial Brick Company.) They were held together with lime mortar, a technology that goes back several thousand years. In the late 19th century Portland cement was invented and it works well with modern bricks, which are fired at a higher temperature and are less porous than the older bricks.

Mr Zeltwanger talked at some length about a renovation project gone bad at the Catholic church in North Judson. Twenty or thirty years ago a contractor repaired and renewed the exterior of the church by sandblasting the brick and replacing crumbling lime mortar with Portland cement mortar. The results looked great for about twenty years, but then the parishioners began to notice problems. Bricks were breaking. The problem was that the bricks absorbed water that was trapped because the new mortar was less permeable than the old, and the freeze-thaw cycles were cracking the bricks. There is really no easy remedy except to watch for problems and repair them as they occur.
Since repairs of this kind were not common until fairly recently and because inappropriate repairs can take decades to reveal themselves, the problems that mixing old and new masonry were not generally known back when the repairs in North Judson were done.

Did you know that Indiana limestone is the highest quality limestone in the U.S.? Weathering will remove about 1/16 of an inch per century. (There are buildings in St. Paul built from local limestone and they have weathered a lot more than 1/16 of an inch in a century. But in Minnesota the stone of choice is granite, such as Morton Gneiss, used in this building that was kitty-corner from my father's drug store in the 1950s.)

In other news from the meeting, the society is still looking for recipes and recipe-related stories of ancestors for a cook book that they want to publish this fall. They are also planning a Spring Tea.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents Day

I noticed that quite a few people put out garbage for trash collection and recycling for recycling pickup. It is Presidents Day and not only are federal offices and most financial institutions closed, but the city offices are also closed. And that includes garbage pick up and rcycling.

The holiday did not stop work on the bridge railing. A crew was drilling holes in the sidewalk to install the last of the railing.

At the Community Conversation earlier this year, there was a discussion about a need for a community calendar. The Chamber has begun to use the website to post events. When you go to the site, the site reads your location from your address and puts up events for that location. If you want to see another location, you can get it by entering the zip code. It seems to have fairly limited range so far. If a few other organizations would post events there, it might evolve into a community calendar.

If you want to keep up with the remodeling of the future Embers event hall, check out the Embers Venue Facebook page. Finally, Jasper County's first and only winery is getting ready to open. The Carpenter Creek Cellars has a Facebook page with lots of pictures.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Harbingers of spring

The days are getting long and the sun is not nearly so low in the sky. With the light snow this morning it may not have felt very spring-like, but spring is just around the corner. I saw three buzzards flying overhead yesterday and again today, and they prove that spring is not far off. (They may wait until March 15 to return to Hinckley, but they were impatient to get back to Rensselaer.)
The warmer weather yesterday gave the bridge guys a chance to work on the rail. I was hoping to see it finished this morning, but they only did the east side.
The heavy equipment has been quiet most of the week at Monnett. Instead there has been a crew of guys putting down some dark liquid and scraping it up. My only guess as to what they are doing is more asbestos remover. If that is not what they are doing, I have no clue as to what is going on there.

In sports news, the RCHS girls basketball team won their sectional but now faces Benton Central in the regional. BC demolished them during the regular season, so they will have to be both good and lucky to advance further.

Have a nice weekend and if you see the three buzzards overhead, smile and think that spring is on the way.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A visit to the jail

On Tuesday morning I visited the jail. I had never been in the building before. I missed the open house that they had when the building was completed because I had an important family event that took me out of town.
My visit was voluntary, and I did not actually see the jail itself. Rather I arrived a bit before 10:00 and waited with some other people in the lobby until a deputy arrived and escorted us up to the second or third floor for the monthly sheriff's sale.

I had no idea what to expect and was not even sure how a property got listed for a sheriff's sale. I found out that the sheriff's sale is part of the foreclosure process. If you stop paying your mortgage, the holder of the mortgage will go to court to get a judgement against you. In Indiana that will result in your house ending up at a sheriff's sale.

In the sale on Tuesday 26 properties had been listed, but the sale of 13 of them had been canceled because the person who owed on the house had reached some kind of agreement with the mortgage holder. In each of the thirteen properties that were put up for bid, a representative of the mortgage holder submitted the initial bid. I could not see any relationship between the bids and the amount of the mortgage that was listed on the sale flier. Sometimes the bid was a bit more than the mortgage amount and sometimes it was much less. For example, on one house the mortgage was listed at $227,966.73 but the bid was $108,000. Here the bid was less than half the mortgage amount. Another house had the mortgage listed as $64,135.14 but the bid was $67,928.08, more than the mortgage.

This last example illustrates one very weird thing about the auction. The opening bids were usually not nice round amounts like $108,000, but more often amount that went down to the penny, such as $96,698.87.

The auction was quick. For twelve of the properties, the opening bid from the representative of the mortgage holder was the only bid. Only in one case were there additional bids. On that property three people got into the bidding and raised the price about $4500 over the opening bid.

There were 13 other people at the auction and I am sure they all knew a lot more than I did or do. The sheriff had a big disclaimer saying that any bidder needed to do research to make sure that there were no liens on the house. In the past few years two properties that were purchased as these sales had unknown mortgages, and they resurfaced to cause problems for the persons who bought the houses.

Now I can cross "Attending a sheriff's sale" off my bucket list.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Groundbreaking news

Today was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Farm Credit Services building that will be built on Drexel Drive. There were a lot of people there.
Many people who were involved with Farm Credit Services were introduced and thanked as part of the ceremony. Then everyone was invited to Ricos for snacks and a chance to ask questions. They had an impressive cake there. (Too bad it was Ash Wednesday.)
 The building will be about 7000 square feet, about double the size of their present office. It will be brick and should harmonize with the Demotte State Bank. Farm Services has a corporate look that they want their offices to have, so it may look like this office. The floor plan of the office is shown below. It will have a conference room and two kinds of offices, one that is open (is that the same as a cubicle?) and one that it private, which must mean it has a door. They expect to be ready to move in this summer.
 The Farm Credit system goes back almost a century, but the handout they distributed said that it was not until 1985 that it joined the Rensselaer community. It began with four employees and has grown to 9. Their office volume is $153 million--I am not sure if that represents the outstanding loans that have been issued through the Rensselaer office or something else. As lenders, they must have a source of funds, and their source is AgriBank, which I recall as the Farm Credit Bank of St. Paul when I was a Minnesotan. If you want to try to make more sense of this institution, you can start on the Wikipedia page.

So expect to see a series of posts over the next few months following the construction of this building just as there were posts about another construction project on Drexel Drive, the medical building that from the outside seems to be pretty close to complete, though it might look quite different on the inside.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

20th Anniversary Regional High School Art Exhibition

The 20th Anniversary Regional High School Art Exhibition sponsored by Prairie Arts Council and Saint Joseph's College is on display in the lobby of the Core Building at SJC until March 1. It features student art from Rensselaer Central, West Central, Tri-County, South Newton, North Newton, and Kankakee Valley High Schools. There are a lot of drawings and paintings and at least one batik, shown below.
There are also some pottery items, these from South Newton students.
Something new for me was zentangle art. The name is trademarked, and it is a way of organizing doodles. The one below was done by a Rensselaer student.
There were several others on display by North Newton students.
There is always enough talent in the area high schools to make this exhibit interesting. The awards program for will be on Sunday, February 24 from 1:30 to 3:00.

The Fendig Gallery has its annual Limelight on Special Creations exhibit on display until March 8. It is sponsored by Prairie Arts Council and Cooperative School Services to celebrate Disability Awareness Month. Below is one that caught my attention.
It is pointillism done with letters.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coming soon (Updated)

This afternoon workers were erecting a "Coming Soon" sign on Drexel Parkway south of the Wal-Mart store, between NAPA and the Demotte State Bank.
What is coming soon? Farm Credit Mid America. The ground breaking ceremony will be Wednesday at 1:00. This is not a new business moving to Rensselaer but an existing business moving. They currently are located at 201 N Van Rensselaer St, in the same building as the Fifth Third Bank.

I hope to update this post later this week. Speaking of updates, there is a new update on Thursday's post on Demolishing Monnett.

Update: I stopped by the Farm Credit Services Office today (Tuesday) to ask why they are moving. They said their current quarters are too small for their nine or ten employees, that as a financial institution they thought that they should own their office, and that the current site has very low visibility, which they would like to change.

Farm Credit Services is a cooperative organization, which means it is neither owned by shareholders nor sponsored by the government. It gives loans to farmers for farm operations, but also will make loans to people living outside of the city limits for housing. If you live in Rensselaer you might qualify for loans if you have farm income.

While I was there, a lady, Jody, came in to pick up some fliers for the Rensselaer Community Garden and told me I could write about it. There will be a community garden this spring located north of Rensselaer along the east side of SR 231, south of the Harvest Baptist Fellowship. If you would like a plot, call Jody at 3711 or email her at her hotmail address, which is rcga13. For those who are new to gardening, there are three free classes coming up. On February 19 at the Purdue Extension Office there is a class on Seed Starting Basics. It is at 7 pm CST. On March 2 there is an Intro to Community Garden Workshop Day from 9AM to 12 PM at the Harvest Baptist Fellowship. And on March 14 at 7 PM there will be a class at the Purdue Extension Office on Planning Your Garden.

Then Jody told me I should give some publicity to the Rensselaer Spring Gala being held on March 9. The doors open at 6:30 at the Rensselaer Central High School. It is a fund raiser for Teen Mission Rensselaer, sponsored by four or five area churches. During July a group of teens spends a week doing community service jobs around Rensselaer. They live at the Bethany Church during that week. Among events at the Gala will be a silent auction and a talent show.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Science Olympiad 2013

I stopped by the Science Olympiad today to see if I could take an interesting picture. The best I could do was this one:
It was an event where the student had to build a robot arm and then control it. It had to pick up ping pong balls, pencils, nails(?) and wooden rods and place them into the containers.

The results, given in Excel files, are available here. In the high school competition, Munster had two teams and they finished first and second. (Only one can advance to state.) Marian was third, then Peru. Lake Central had two teams and they finished fifth and seventh. Winamac was sixth, South Newton eighth, Tri-County ninth, and North Judson-San Pierre tenth. The teams that were at the bottom had only partial teams. Given the way the scores are computed, it is better to field a bad team in an event than no team at all.

In the middle school competition, the order of finish was Wilbur Wright, Taft, Burris (two teams, third and sixth) Rensselaer, Winamac, KV, Hebron, South Newton, TriCounty, and North Judson-San Pierre.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The bridge has reopened

The clear panels have been installed in bowstring arch pedestrian bridge and it is now again open for foot traffic and bicycles.
You can see the deck of the bridge reflected in the panel. I think the little red things were padding to prevent the panes scratching one another during transport.

Demolishing Monnett continued (and updated)

Today, Thursday, the excavator was working on the last half of the north wing of the Monnett School. It did not have to go much further before it would get to the east wall.
 Below is the view of the school from the south. On the fence you can see the No Trespassing sign that was in a earlier picture, when the wall was still there. That was last Thursday.
I will probably be updating this post with picture for the next few days rather than putting them in separate posts.

Update Friday:
Today the excavator seemed to keep pretty busy loading up trucks with debris. The metal goes to the local scrap yard, Rensselaer Iron and Metal. I did not ask where the rest goes.
 This morning noticed that the wall of the furnace room was down and you could see two furnaces in depression.
 Later in the day the furnaces were gone and the excavator was working in what had been the furnace room. It tilted slightly when it entered the room.
 Not much later there was nothing left of the room.
I talked to one of the guys doing the work. He said that the north wing was not built the same way as the south wing. Does anyone remember it there was an addition to the school? It may have been built in 1957. There is a plaque in the administration building with this date, but no one is quite sure that if it is for original construction.

There is not much structure left to tear down, but there is a huge concrete pad on which the school set that will take some time to rip up.

Update: Monday Feb 11
When I went past the school this afternoon about 2:00, most of the northwest corner was gone, with just a bit of the wall left.
Coming back about an hour later, that last bit of wall was gone and the pad was being scraped clean. In the background you can see a truck being loaded with scrap metal.
 Much of the outside wall of the north wing is still standing, and you can see it above. There is a lot of debris that is within those walls that will have to be removed. Only the east corner of the south wing is left, the little bit with the elephant pictures.

Update Tuesday:

When I stopped by today there was no activity on the site. The north wing was full of debris that needs to be hauled away, but except for a little bit of wall on the east end, the south wing is gone.
Here is the view from the other side of the wall. Uranus and Neptune are missing.
 A bit of the concrete pad on the Southwest corner has been ripped up, exposing the sand below.
 I noticed that the ramp leading to the last of the modules was being taken apart. I believe that this module will end up near the football field. If you know more, please tell us in a comment.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Odds and ends, 02-06-2013

I have noticed lots of little things in the past few days, like a new transformer next to the power station. It is part of the 69K line installation.
I did not see any demolition on Monday or Tuesday when I stopped by the Monnett School, but this morning the excavator was chomping on the entrance to the school.
 It was separating the metal from the other building materials, so demolition was slow.
 Another excavator was busy at the Tractor Supply site. The city is installing the water supply for the building. The trench that they are working in is deep, so they have to use a metal cage to prevent wall collapse and they were busy pumping water, probably because the water table was above the bottom of the trench.
 Yesterday there were a lot of these ice chandeliers along the river. The icicles seem to form from the river water because they are just above the water level and every so often the water touches them.
I checked my Rensselaer Adventures e-mail recently. The lay minister at St. Peter's Episcopal Church wanted publicity a for Valentine Card Making Workshop on Saturday, Februrary 9 at 5:30 pm. The cost is $5 for supplies per 5 cards. This event will be taught by "Close to my Heart" consultant Anne-Marie Lessner.  All are welcome!

I had an exchange with Donna Wetzel and learned that she writes things at a website called Those who like Rensselaer history will enjoy her reminiscing about Joe Sheldon's Produce.

The Jasper Foundation is hosting another Community Conversation on March 7 at 8:30 am. They would like an RSVP for anyone who wants to attend. Call them at 5899 or respond to jasper at liljasper period com.

The Jasper County Economic Development Organization sent me their February newsletter. They have a new on-line guide to Jasper County that is full of information. Did you know that Jasper County is the leading agricultural producing county in the state with a market value of product sold in 2007 of almost $300 million? The publication has the 32 largest non-retail employers in the county. The top five are Jasper County Hospital, Kankakee Valley Schools, Advanced Auto Parts, NiIPSCO Schahfer Station, and Rensselaer Central Schools. To see where the other firms place, visit the JCEDO site at In 2011 the mean wage was $17.00.

It also had data on worker commuting patterns. Jasper County exports workers. 2549 people commute to work from Jasper to Lake County, 1009 to Porter County, 459 to Illinois, and 319 to Newton. 741 commute to Jasper County from Newton County, 338 from Porter, 313 from White, 254 from Pulaski, and 242 from Lake.

In other JCEDO news, Emily Gross, who for me has been the face of JCEDO, is leaving for a job at the Kankakee Iroquois Regional Planning Commission. I had not heard of this group before. It is headquartered in Monon, which is a bit strange since they are not in the Kankakee or Iroquois watershed. From their website it seems that they try to help local governments in Benton, Carroll, Jasper, Newton, Pulaski, Starke, Warren, and White Counties get grant funding for whatever projects that they are pursuing. They have a downloadable publication with lots of information on the region.