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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Depressing emptiness

We had a line of storms go through last night (which interrupted area football games) and another today, but it is still hot and humid. The weather forecast says that this last bit of summer should be over next week, when temperatures will be 20 degrees cooler. Earlier in August we had weather so cool that the swimming pool closed early because no one came to swim. Now that it is hot, the pool is closed and empty.
Next week no one will care.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Demolition day (Updated)

Today the old Boy Scout cabin in Iroquois Park became part of Rensselaer's history. This is what was left in the late morning.
 Across the street the same fate was meeting the building the I know as the old Strip Joint building. It was a pile of rubble. Next to be destroyed is the house to its south. Both flooded when the river was high. The lots will become part of Potawatomie Park.
Demolition was very quick for these buildings--a few hours.

Update (Friday) Yesterday the old Strip Joint building was demolished, but at the end of the day the house next to it was still untouched.
 This morning it was rubble. I was impressed with the ease with which the excavator was able to manipulate a the concrete block that had been stairs.
 With these two buildings demolished, Potawatomie Park opens up to Iroquois Park. They appear to be one park separated by a very busy street.

I met a wide load (on a slow Wednesday)

As I meandered my way toward Saint Joseph's College Wednesday morning, I met a wide load. It was stopped at the intersection of Washington and Front, and you can see the new street pavement. On the other side of the bridge is more new pavement, the section from the bridge to Grove Street that was done last week.
 I do not know what the cargo was. It looked a lot like the base of a wind turbine, but my guess is that is was farm related. Whatever it is, there is a special truck trailer designed for it.

I met a second one a little behind it. It had difficulty making the turn where the highway branches off from College Avenue. Look at all the wheels on the back end.
 If anyone knows what it is, leave a comment.

I have a small garden by the hoop house. I noticed a large sphinx moth on one of my garden stakes.
 I thought it might be the moth of the horned tomato worm so I contemplated killing it. I killed three of the larvae this summer, but not before they did a lot of damage to my tomato plants. I pulled the wings out a bit to get a better look and it did not fly away. Checking the Internet after I got home, I now doubt that it is the adult of the tomato worm. It looks a lot like a Waved Sphinx Moth.
 The day was hot and muggy so I thought it would be refreshing to relax by the pond at SJC and admire the scaffolding reflecting in the cool water.
I was shocked to see an almost waterless pond. The college will be doing some upgrade work on it, changing it so that the water recirculates. Until now the water from the fountain was fresh water from the water tower.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fall Festival (Part 2, the truck show)

On Saturday the Fall Festival had a truck show, which is like a car show but for trucks. It was held on the far north of the fair grounds, in what is normally part of the parking area for visitors. I was a bit confused when I got there because there were a number of trucks that looked like they had just pulled in from doing their runs--they did not look special. I was told that originally it was to be an antique truck show, but then it was opened up to any truck, so there were some trucks that were basically advertising their companies.

One of the modern trucks was a Ruan truck that I learned was part of the fleet of Fair Oak Farms trucks that hauls milk to Kentucky. It was outfitted with tanks for compressed natural gas.
 There were a number of older trucks there. This Mack truck was from 1971 and was next to another Mack truck that was from 1973.
A decade older was this nicely restored Mack truck from 1960.
 The Kenworth dumptruck from 1956 took a ride to the show.
 We're getting almost as old as I am with this 1951 Mack truck.
 One of the most interesting exhibits was a truck trailer, the first one built by Austin Talbert. It came with an explanatory plaque.
 Austin Talbert
Talbert Construction Equipment Company was founded in 1938 by Austin Talbert in Lyons, Illinois to provide crane rental and heavy hauling in the Chicago area.
Talbert, an experienced heavy hauler, began building trailers for his own use. Talbert became a pioneer in the development of innovative ideas. Talbert Trailers soon became widely knows as the industry leader, and trailer sales grew dramatically.
In 1957 Talbert manufacturing, Inc. was established here in Rensselaer, Indiana to meet the demand for these remarkable trailers. This plaque represents our dedication to continue the excellence set in motion by Austin Talbert over 60 year5s ago.
Dedicated September 14, 2000
The 1st Talbert Trailer
Dubbed the "Austin Carry-All" this 60 ton trailer was designed & built in 1938 by Austin Talbert in Lyons, Illinois.
The Trailer was purchased in October 1995 by the Arnold Braasch Family & refurbished at the Talbert repair facility in Francesville, Indiana.
The oldest truck I found at the truck show was this 1931 International A5 dump truck.
 There were no amenities in the cab and it did not appear that this truck has ever been restored.
However, the oldest truck at the festival was not in the truck show; it was in the Retired Iron building. The Fire Department's old engine from the 1920s was on display along with some tractors.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Convenient wildflowers

The little drainage area alongside College Avenue by the water treatment plant (where home plate of a ball field used to be) has been planted with wildflowers and many of them are blooming.
 Some of them I recognized, like the bright red Cardinal flower and the swamp milkweed. Swamp milkweed, shown below, does not have the familiar milkweed leaves, but the flowers are clearly milkweed flowers.
 There is some sneezeweed and some kind of blazing star. I have not figured out yet exactly which one it is.
I had to search to identify the cute little flower shown below. It is Monkey Flower, and after I found it, I realized that I had once before identified it. There are two species that look pretty much the same, Mimulus ringens and Mimulus alatus. My guess is that this is the former because the leaves do not have stems.
There was a striking white or pale pink flower on stalks that I had not seen before. A bit of searching identified it as Obedient Plant or False Dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana). This plant is often planted as an ornamental, and if it is in moist locations, it has a tendency to spread aggressively.
All the plants in this little catch pond are tolerant of wet conditions and all of them seem to be native plants. So if you need a wild flower fix every once in a while, stop by. You do not have to drive miles out into the country--there is a nice little garden in the center of Rensselaer.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves over the next couple of years. Some of these plants will thrive and spread while others may be crowded out. There are a few non-native weeds trying to take advantage of the disturbed conditions--will they do well or will they be crowded out? And since there are a number of plants that I cannot yet identify, there is the possibility of follow up posts.

I took some of these pictures on Monday when I was on my way to check out the status of road repairs on US 231. On Friday I had driven over it and it had been torn up to prepare it for resurfacing. I expected that resurfacing to happen Monday, but it was all done on Monday. The workers must have finished it on Saturday. Also over the weekend, the public library seal-coated its parking lot.

On Monday I saw my first and so far only Monarch butterfly. I tried to get a picture of it as it was visiting some wild sunflowers, but it flitted away before I could snap the photo.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fall Festival (Part 1)

I visited the Fall Festival on Saturday, entering via the south entrance, and the first activity I saw was in the horse arena. On my trips to the county fair this year, I never saw any of the horse activities of which there were many, so it was fun to see the horses in action. They were racing around barrels trying for the fastest time.
 One of the highlights of the festival are the acts on the free stage. The group NightShift, which is out of Monterey, IN was on stage when I arrived. It is a variety band that plays many styles of music. They did not have a big crowd sitting in front, but they were loud enough so that you could be some distance away and still hear fine. The hot sun discouraged sitting in front--only a few of the picnic tables had shade. I enjoyed what I heard from the group. (This Youtube video shows that they have played here before.)
 My impression was that there were more vendors this year. The main exhibit hall, shown below, was full of vendors, as was the Community Building next to it. The Commercial Tent or Hall to the south was also full.
South of the Commercial Tent area were a number of food vendors. I recognized a few from the County Fair, but I had not seen most of them before. One that I had not seen before was Texas Style Beef Brisket BBQ. However, I recognized the typeface, and I know the person who designed it. I was surprised that one of the people in the booth knew the name of the typeface.
 There was to be a tractor pull in what the schedule called the Lanai Area, but it was scheduled to start at 3:00 and I did not stay that long. You can see a couple of bouncy houses or slides from Party Time and a couple of entertainment booths in the background.
Near the show area was a petting zoo. It charged $3.00 for admission, but that included some food that your child could feed to the animals. Except the camel--it was on a restricted diet.
 If you wanted to take an animal home with you, all you had to do was toss a ping-pong ball into a goldfish bowl in a booth to the west of the petting zoo. If you won, you got a bunny. (I have not seen any bunnies in my yard lately--maybe they have moved to gardens with better bunny food.)

East of the petting zoo, in the sheep barn, a few people were playing bingo. Only those 18 and older were allowed to play. The show arena was set up for a cornhole tournament, which the schedule said had taken place before I arrived. (How widespread is the name cornhole? I saw mention of the same game in a town in Minnesota and there it was called a bean bag toss.)

Performing in the Rabbit Barn was ventriloquist Beth Sutton-Cummins. She had three puppets helping with her act, including this old fellow. She did a lot of ad-libbing and her characters also sang songs.
 She invited the kids to take a closer look at her talking moose, and some of them were a bit unsure of what to make of it.
 Near the Retired Iron building another threshing exhibition was starting. I wondered if the little tractor was a production model or hand made, but did not see anyone to ask.
There was a truck show at the north end of the fairgrounds, up along the highway, but I took enough pictures of it to justify a separate post.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A busy Friday evening

Friday evening was a busy night in Rensselaer. The Fall Festival opened, the high school football team hosted its rival from the north in a battle for the Cracker Barrel (Rensselaer beat KV 20-6 to reclaim the trophy), and the Fendig Gallery opened its 20th Anniversary Invitational Exhibition with a reception. Faced with all those choices, I went to a fish fry in Monticello that is a fundraiser for CDC Resources.

The event was catered by a company from Fort Wayne. I checked its web page and found that they do a lot of catering. (Check their schedule.) There is preliminary thought being given to having a fund-raising dinner in Rensselaer, probably in the spring. Time will tell if the event will materialize, but if it does, you can be sure you will read about it on this blog.
Three years ago I wrote about the old poor farm in Jasper County, and followed that up with mention of the poor farm in White County, which was for sale. I do not think I have ever put up a picture of it, though I remember taking some a couple of years ago. The building was sold but nothing has been done with it. It is adjacent to the CDC property, which originally was part of the poor farm holdings.
 A week ago, on Sunday August 17, another event aimed at helping people with developmental disabilities took place, this one at the Jasper County Fairgrounds. The days events included food and soft drinks, loud music with a deejay, games, sand art designing, and air brush painting on tee shirts, but highlight for most was a ride in a semi, a large dump truck, or on the back of a motorcycle.
This was the 29th year for the Expo for Special Persons. The organization was founded in Monon and began with giving semi rides to persons with disabilities. For a few years it was held at the White County Fairgrounds but in recent years it has been at the Jasper County Fairgrounds. The event is held the third Sunday in August and next year will be on August 17.

Friday, August 23, 2013


The tomatoes are ripening as are the peaches and the apples are breaking the branches of my tree. If posting here is short (like this) or erratic for the next few weeks, it may be because I am trying to deal with an avalanche of fruit.

This bunch of tomatoes was turned into 21 quarts of canned tomatoes (but not by me).
Yesterday I was frustrated by the rain that lasted most of the day but only gave us about .4 inches. I wanted to get out and do things but did not want to get wet. It was a good day to start school.

I noticed from a Facebook post from the Benton County Economic Development that Earl Park will be getting a new business, one that repairs rail cars. I was puzzled by the location. Earl Park is located along the tracks of the Kankakee, Beaverville, and Southern Railroad, which is a small regional line. However, the KBSR has connections to CSX and Norfolk Southern, which are two large eastern railroads, to the Union Pacific, which is one of the two large western railroads, and to the Canadian National Railroad.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ribbon cutting for the new Amtrak depot

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Amtrak building took place Tuesday at noon. Mayor Wood was master of ceremonies, and he had the members of the Rensselaer Central High School show choir introduce themselves. They sang three songs, finishing with the National Anthem.
 The main speaker was Marc Maglinai, an Amtrak official from Chicago. He mentioned that Rensselaer has had passenger rail service for 115 years, and that 30 years ago the city asked Amtrak if their trains that were traveling through Rensselaer could stop. Thus began local Amtrak service. He also mentioned that the government has spent a million dollars to build the platform and the depot. However, most of his talk was about why daily Amtrak service is a good thing for a community and should be preserved. The Hoosier State line that runs from Indianapolis to Chicago four days a week will not be able to continue if the State of Indiana does not subsidize it. (Three days a week the Cardinal line stops in Rensselaer. It originates on the East Coast.) After he talked, the official ribbon cutting took place.
 The sun was hot and the ceremony short. Afterwards a light lunch was served in the gas department building. Displayed next to the cake was the picture below, showing the Hosier [sic] Limited stopped at the old station. Based on the car, this photo must have been taken nearly a century ago.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A town hall meeting with Congressman Rokita

On Tuesday evening Congressman Todd Rokita had a town hall meeting in Rensselaer. I had never attended a town hall meeting so I thought it would be fun to go. Below is what I heard. Naturally, my account may not be identical to those of other people who attended.

The meeting was held at the Ritz Theater. I was surprised at how many people were there--my eyeball estimate was that a quarter of the seats were occupied. I like the Ritz as a movie theater--the pictures high on the walls are fun--but not for this kind of event. The theater is designed to be dark, and I prefer a setting that is lighter. On entering the theater, the web page from was being projected on the movie screen.

After some introductions and the reading of Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the main event, questions from those attending, began. A member of Rokita's staff handed a microphone to each person who had a question so everyone could hear.

The first question was about entitlements. What is an entitlement and is defunding Obamacare the right way to deal with it? Rokita pointed out that about 60% of federal expenditures are locked into place and that the budget process only affects about 40% of spending, what is called discretionary spending. The audience revealed that it did not like Obamacare. Rokita mentioned a factory in the district that was exporting its product and  had the demand to expand, but it would not go over 50 employees so it would not be subject to the employer mandate. He also said that it was trying to fill as many positions as possible with part-time employees working under 30 hours a week. I did not understand why they would do both--if you stay under 50 employees, what is the incentive to have part-timers?

The second citizen asked about the inheritance tax, which he did not like. Rokita shared his distaste for the inheritance tax.

I did not understand the next question, about critical access hospitals and a threat to them from changes in health care rules. Rokita did not know details and gave a general answer, saying he would like more transparency in medical pricing.

A question about immigration prompted a response that the problem was not just that the border was porous. 40% of illegal aliens came legally and overstayed their visa. There is a need for a reasonable program for guest and seasonal workers.

A person from Highland, which is not in our congressional district, asked about Common Core. Rokita has worked on legislation that passed the house that would replace the No Child Left Behind bill, which he said had outlived whatever usefulness it ever had. To a question on voter ID, Rokita pointed out that he had worked on Indiana's voter ID law when he was Indiana Secretary of State. In response to a question on the farm bill, he said that he supported the two bills that had come up in the house because he thought they were somewhat better than the current program.

He liked a question about the budget process. He explained how the system was supposed to work, with congress passing a budget that then became the framework for appropriation bills. However, that process has not been working because for several years the Senate would not pass a budget. This year they finally did. Funding for the discretionary programs is being done with continuing resolutions.

There was a question about some palliative care bills making their way through the legislative process. Rokita said that he was not familiar with those particular bills but, as he did when he did not have a full answer, he had a staff member get the name of the person asking the question and said his office would find out more. He said that he would not support the bills if they were asking for new spending, but probably would if they were redirecting spending from other purposes.

He also promised to get back to a vet who complained that the Veterans Administration does not pay for emergency care that is provided by regular hospitals. A questioner wanted followup on an answer earlier where Rokita had talked about a company that did not want to go above 50 employees. Was the company not currently offering health insurance and was it just trying to avoid adding this benefit? Rokita said that since they had talked about how much their health insurance costs were rising this year, they were currently offering health insurance. President Obama's assurance that if you like your current health insurance, you can keep it, turned out not to be true.

A person with Crohn's disease said that he could not afford the expensive co-pays for his medication. Rokita said that there was no good answer to some health care problems. Then a citizen had a rant about the IRS and other things. Rokita said that sometimes the problem is that Congress passes the buck, and instead of doing things that are politically unpopular, they give the task to the administration to write the rules. So part of the problem with administrative overreach is Congress.

The next citizen was outraged by President Obama's travel expenses and asked just how far can he go before people object. Rokita observed that elections have consequences. The voters re-elected Obama and if you are truly unhappy with the state of affairs, work harder next election.

To a question on the EPA, Rokita said he was skeptical of alarmist global warming theories. Another citizen voiced concern about the need to get something done about the farm bill because the present bill expires at the end of September.

A Rensselaerian said there was a dark side to the accountability movement in education. It had led to excessive testing and it was cutting into the ability of teachers to teach. There was also a sentiment expressed and applauded that Congress should be subject to the same provisions of Obamacare that it has imposed on the rest of us.

The subject of wasteful defense spending was the subject of a question that touched on unneeded M1 tanks and the lack of preparation for an EMP attack or event. Rokita said that politics trumps sound decisions because the Pentagon has its fingers in every district with some program that creates local jobs. He thought that the most inviting target of waste in the Pentagon was the oversized bureaucracies. He also acknowledged that the Republicans are more responsible for Defense Department waste than are the Democrats.

The penultimate question asked if the Washington Republicans understand where the base is on the issue of immigration. The final question was a rant against immigration, asking why illegal Mexicans get everything free. Rokita reject the facts of the rant and said that in the case of emergency medical care, free service was the compassionate choice.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some construction I missed and a correction

I have noticed the containers in the Walmart parking lot for several weeks, but I did not give them much thought. Today I asked a worker if there was going to be construction and he informed me that remodeling has been going on for several weeks inside of Walmart. It appears to be a pretty big project.
Because I was there, I took a picture of the Farm Credit Building. The exit on the Drexel Drive had just had a concrete pour. The exterior of the building is complete and the entire building is supposed to be ready for occupancy in less than a month.
 On Sunday I posted a picture of the scaffolding on the west bell tower of the SJC chapel and said that workers had been sandblasting the bricks. A couple commenters reacted with horror, so I went back today to see the actual work being done. The workers are not sandblasting the bricks. They are using grinders to grind out old mortar. In the picture below you can see the contrast between the areas that have been worked on and those that are untouched.
 Tonight I stopped by the Farmers Market briefly in hopes of getting some pictures of the pet parade. I did not because I wanted to go to another event that was at the same time. However, I did snap a picture of the work being done to install new drains on the corner of Van Rensselaer and Harrison.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Scaffolding on the SJC chapel

The scaffolding around the west bell tower of the SJC chapel looks like it is complete. The big window in front has a plastic sheet protecting it, probably from sandblasting. Part of the front near the scaffolding appears to have been cleaned with sandblasting.
Update: There is no sandblasting. The mortar is being ground out. See Tuesday's post.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Closed BP station on exit 205

The last few times I have driven past the interchange between Rensselaer and Remington, I noticed that the BP gas station was closed. Today I stopped to see if I could learn more.
 The shelves were empty, and the sign below was on the door. I do not know what it means or if it is the reason that the station is closed. It looks intimidating.
Behind the BP station is a long deserted station. I wrote a bit about it here, when I last visited this intersection.
The only open business at the interchange is the Crazy D gas station. There have been at least two other gas stations that have tried to make it at this interchange. Across the highway from the entrance to Crazy Ds is the foundation of what was once a small station. I stopped there often when it was open because it had low prices. I do not remember what it was called. The only business location that seems to have ever been south of the interchange has been empty for quite a while. I am pretty sure it was originally a gas station and then for a while it sold fireworks. The state of the lettering suggests that it has been empty for quite a while.
Someone must have done a study on why some interstate interchanges support thriving businesses while others are death traps for businesses. The Rensselaer-Remington interchange at mile 205 has seen lots of failure. Why? A few miles to the south, the Remington-Wolcott interchange is booming.

My guess is that one factor is what is sometimes called the network effect--an interchange with lots of businesses creates an environment for success. Each business makes the environment better for the other businesses.  I am reluctant to stop at an interchange with only one gas station or one eatery. Those interchanges that got big fast have in part generated their own success. The 205 interchange is sandwiched between two exits with a larger collection of businesses, and so it will never be able to grow much. But that is just a guess.