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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A visit to the Whistle Stop

It has been a while since I have visited the Whistle Stop Restaurant north of Monon (about three and a half years). A few days ago some visitors invited us to lunch there because a little boy had developed a fascination with trains and what better place to get a train fix than the Whistle Stop?

The museum is full of things that fascinate people who have a serious interest in the history of railroads. Our visitors were happy to examine the outside displays. There are three cabooses on display, one of which allows people inside. For our young visitors, it was the highlight of the collection. One of the others was recently added and I do not know if it was the one most visible from the road.
 Or the one that is near the back by the caboose that people can enter.
 In next to the caboose in front is a flat car with old farm equipment.
A great, great, great grandfather of of this boy was a section foreman and every day he and a worker would take a handcar like this to check the tracks. In the 19th century many tracks did not have a good base and track spreading was a problem. A section foreman was supposed to spot this problem and fix it. Another great, great, great grandfather of this boy was killed in a train derailment caused by spreading tracks. There were a lot of people killed in train accidents in the 19th century.
 Here is a closeup of one of the other handcars in the picture above. It is missing many of its pieces. It looks like it was motorized. Now the role of handcars is taken  by trucks that have rail wheels that drop down.
 Every station had carts similar to the one below. Many stations, including Rensselaer, had water towers to provide water for the steam engines. The W signs were common along the railroads even when I was young. I do not know if they are still used. They told the engineer that a road crossing was ahead and that he should sound the engine's whistle.
 The boards in the cart shown above have seen better days.
 The little depot building serves as a gift shop. It was not open when we were there.
 This crane is relatively new.
 A couple box cars at the back provide a scenic backdrop but do not seem to draw much attention from visitor.
 I liked the pattern of the metal grill that served as the platform of the caboose that people can enter. If you would like a technical analysis of its symmetry and tessellation type, go here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Business After Hours at the Rensselaer Republican

On Thursday evening the Rensselaer Republican hosted a Business After Hours event as a way to celebrate their 150th year anniversary. The attendance was much better than it has been at some of the recent Business After Hours events.

The Rensselaer Republican is part of a larger company that owns newspapers and magazines from the East Coast to Iowa. The division that the Republican is part of has three dailies (Rensselaer, Monticello, and Watseka) and eight weeklies, plus ten editions of Shopper News. All are printed in Watseka, Illinois. The advertising and news staff for the Republican work in Rensselaer and the paper is laid out here, then sent electronically to Watseka where an aluminum printing plate is made. The paper takes a bit more than an hour to print. It is then delivered to the post office in Rensselaer (and a few other places) so it can be delivered in the daily mail. The printing plant in Watseka prints the dailies overnight and everything else during the day.

I asked what happened to paper boys and girls. There are still a few places where the paper is delivered that way, but in large cities the threat of crime curtailed them and in the rest of the country the busy after school schedules of many students greatly limited the pool of kids available to deliver papers. Also, the density of the routes has declined. Thirty years ago about 70% of Rensselaer households subscribed to the paper. Now it is between 50 and 55%.

On Friday the Rensselaer Republican will publish a supplement with highlights from its first 150 years.

There are always interesting conversations to be had at the Business After Hours events.

Also Thursday evening a group of garden enthusiasts met to plan for next year's community garden. There will be one and it will be located south of the county annex that houses the Extension office and the Surveyor's office. (There was no community garden this past summer.) There are a lot of details to be worked out yet. One thing that will be different next year will be that gardeners will be allowed to sell their vegetables at the local farmers market. During its first two years the rules forbad sales. Signup will probably occur in January or February.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ribbon cutting RPJ Truck and Equipment Sales

Today a new business, RPJ Truck and Equipment Sales, had its Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting. It is located in the building just south of the John Deere dealership that previously housed MacAllister Equipment (before they moved to a new building east of the airport).
 I remember writing about this business many months ago when it was looking for a variance to open near Remington, but I cannot find that post. Plans for opening in Remington were abandoned and instead Rensselaer now has a heavy truck dealership.
 Most of the business is not local. The owner, Patience Taruwinga, teaches business at Saint Joseph's College and has for a number of years had an export business specializing in selling heavy equipment to Africa.  He now sells throughout the United States, with some of that local. The trucks in front are used and were once operated by Schilli. I learned today that if a semi is properly cared for, it can run for two million miles. (That is equivalent to four trips to the moon and back, or around the world about 80 times.)

The building does not have much in the front part other than a reception desk and a small side office. In the back there is space for truck repair and the business is searching for a mechanic. Currently repairs are being done across the highway at the Hopkins Trucking Company and if you look carefully at the first picture, you can see the owner of Hopkins Trucking on the left partially hidden behind in the second row.

Mr Taruwinga comes from Zimbabwe. The picture above includes his parents, wife and children, and a brother who I know from my association with CDC Resources. (I am on the board of directors.) Earlier this week CDC Resources had its annual meeting/banquet and at that banquet Sodexo Food Services of Saint Joseph's College won an Employer of the Year award for its efforts to hire people with developmental disabilities. The event was held in the gymnasium of the Reynolds School, and unfortunately I forgot my camera so I have no pictures. However, here is a picture of the crowd holding candles (a fun part of the evening) and of the featured speaker, who is president of  the ARC of Indiana, along with the executive director of CDC Resources and two of our local state representatives, Doug Gutwein and Don Lehe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Something a little unusual for a dark and dreary day

Last night as I was on my way to the City Council meeting, I noticed workers in what was Larry's Shoe Repair. Today I stopped to look through the window and saw that the inside was being remodeled into what appears to be an office.

Today I checked an e-mail to see what was going on this week at SJC and noticed that the football team was playing a school I had never heard of, The University of God's Chosen. Curious, I looked them up on the Internet. They are a new school, started on July 14, 2014. I could not find an address for the campus, if any exists. The first sentence on their home page is, "We are the University of God’s Chosen (UGC), a non-profit university dedicated to using sports to build relationships in multiple cultural settings." Checking their academics page, you read this, "Our goal is to improve our students academically and provide them the opportunity to play sports at the collegiate level. Students of UGC are required to be enrolled in an accredited online college to earn credits towards a degree." It seems to be kind of weird, but higher education is full of weirdness these days.

Something to brighten up an otherwise dark and dreary day as we get some rain from what is left of Hurricane Patricia.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Two short meetings

Tonight's City Council was very short--it was over in about 15 minutes. The most interesting bit was in the administrative comments with a discussion of the Internet/TV Cable outage on Saturday. (Must have been tough for people wanting to watch football.) The farmer farming a field at SJC cut the TV Cable feed. It was in the same trench as a city power line that is 30 inches below grade. The TV cable line had to be at least a foot away from that cable. It was less than 20 inches below grade, and apparently a lot less than 20 inches. The mayor said that TV Cable will probably have to do a separate trench so they can get their cable deeper.

A couple recommendations from the ad hoc insurance committee were approved. The Council chose a dental/vision insurance provider and opted to continue continue funding employee Health Savings Plans at $1500. The tax laws will not affect that until 2018. 

The water will be shut off in Weston Cemetery this week and the Street Department would like to remind residents to separate piles of leaves from piles of branches to make life easier for those picking up leaves and branches.

City elections are almost upon us. There are three contested elections.  Steve Wood and Russell Overton are running for mayor.  In Ward 3 George Cover is being challenged by Todd Luddington. In Ward 4 Ernest Watson is being challenged by Richard Comingore.  At-large Councilman Scott Barton and Ward 1 Councilman William Hollerman are unopposed, as is Rich Odle who is running to fill the Ward Two seat now held by Russell Overton. Frieda Bretzinger is unopposed for the Clerk-Treasure position.

Forty five minutes later the monthly BZA meeting convened in the Court House. The only item on the agenda was for a meteorological tower in Carpenter Township. It would assess wind resources for a possible wind farm. The project is in a very early development stage and, if I heard the presenter correctly, it is being considered by a group that has done one of the White County wind farms. It will be a temporary structure 298 feet tall and will have an expected life of 4 years. This duration caused some discussion by Board members because the county code only allows 18 months for a meteorological tower. The variance was approved but the Board noted that in 18 months the owners would need to come back and apply for an extension.

The Court House Tree on the second floor now has its Halloween decorations.
The Fall Sports season for RCHS came to a close this past weekend. The team that did the best was the band team (marching band), which placed 6th of 14 according to today's Rensselaer Republican. Last year they also made it to the state finals but finished 14 of 14. There are two classes in the state competition and obviously Rensselaer competed in the one for smaller bands/schools. (The band's Facebook page is here.)

Over the weekend I stopped by the quarry again and there is now very little equipment left at the bottom. A picture in this post show what used to be there.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Who do you call when 84,000 bags are misprinted?

Do you remember Morning Song, the company that for a while produced wild bird food in the building just south of the Amtrak station that Rensselaer's gas utility now occupies? They consolidated operations in Reynolds. Recently they had a batch of bags that had the wrong address printed on them. I suspect that the misaddress was caused by an acquisition. In March 2014 a company in Seattle, Washington bought the bird food businesses of Scott, and Morning Song was one of those businesses.

What do you do when you have 84,000 misprinted bags? Morning Song contacted CDC Resources, which specializes in doing labor intensive, repetitive tasks. The people in the sheltered workshops in both Rensselaer and Monticello are happy for the work because work means a paycheck. I think pay is determined by a piece rate, so some of the workers earn considerably more than others.

Below you see the back of the bag with the address as printed and the labels with the correct address. The task is to take a label off its backing and neatly apply it over the wrong address.


Here is the finished product. Few people will ever notice the patch.


The finished bags are packed in large boxes for delivery back to the customer.


As I was watching the people at the Rensselaer center applying patches, I noticed two working together. One had what appears to be cerebral palsy or something similar. He did not have the manual dexterity to remove and then place the labels, so he was helping by smoothing them and making sure there were no air bubbles. He could do that part of the task and so he did. I thought it was wonderful that everyone could contribute in whatever way they could.

CDC Resources has not previously had work from Morning Song. It is expecting a new job from Donaldsons, for whom they have worked in the past. Here is an old post that looks at some other things they have done.

CDC Resources has recently redesigned their website at www.cdcresources.org.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Moving to Drexel

The Division of Institutional Advancement at Saint Joseph's College has moved. The office is now located on the first floor of Drexel Hall, a bit distant from the rest of the campus. The previous occupant of the building, Rensselaer's Adult Learning Center, has moved to the Chapel Basement. The old offices of Institutional Advancement were in Xavier-McHale Hall.

Drexel Hall is the inverse of Dr Who's TARDIS. It looks bigger on the outside than on the inside.
 The building has an interior courtyard. The hallway follows the wall of the courtyard, so the building has only rooms on the outside walls and they are not deep rooms.
 On entering, there is a nice reception area. This space was not used by Adult Learning.
 The hallway in the front of the building is pretty much the same now as it was with Adult Learning. The windows on the left face the courtyard. Some of the classroom space that Adult Learning had is now subdivided into offices. One of the rooms is a fairly large conference room. Only the first floor of the building has been renovated. The upstairs remains a mess. (See the links at the end of the post.)
Below is a typical office. (Never shoot into the light when you can avoid it or else you get pictures like this one.) My guide through the building said that they have more space and it is nicer space than what they had previously. They are using the entire first floor; adult learning used most but not all of it. Also, Adult Learning used it for very limited hours. The relocations should make more efficient use of space. (I do not know what will go into their old space in Xavier-McHale Hall. However, the College will have to redo its map.)

Early this year the office was extremely short staffed as a number of long-time employees left and perhaps the interim president was reluctant to hire knowing that he was a temporary replacement. With a new person joining the department in the next week, the office should be back to a full staff.

Drexel Hall posts from several years ago are here, here, and here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Meanders Oct 2015

I have gotten out of town a few times in the last few weeks. On Tuesday I went east and saw the pile of corn being poured at the Pleasant Ridge elevator. It will not be as big this year as it has been in past years. Most of the fields seem to be already harvested.
 The last two times I have been on US 421 I have seen trucks with oversized loads and a fleet of vehicles traveling with them. There were six or eight cars and truck with this load and I thought it was interesting how the garbage truck gave the oversized load plenty of room. I am not sure what the loads are--they look a lot like wind turbines.
 I was surprised to see a structure across Melville from Columbia Park.  It must have gone up quickly.
 Next to it is a chainsaw sculpture that was the topic of a front page article in the Rensselaer Republican earlier this week. It has also drawn considerable attention on Facebook.
 I stopped to take one of my occasional pictures of the quarry and as I was leaving I heard voices.
 Some of the equipment was being moved. The conveyor belt that once raised the stone is completely gone. I will try to check back in a week or two and see how much more of the equipment is gone.
 Walmart is having heating or cooling equipment on its roof replaced. There is not much to see because the workers are only occasionally visible on the roof. Yesterday a concrete truck poured the floor for the storage units under construction at Vine and Cullen.
 Leaves are falling and the city's big green leaf vacuum has been roaming the streets. Below is a picture of Weston Cemetery from the pedestrian bridge. This part of the cemetery loses its leaves quite early.
Enjoy these pleasant days of autumn.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An evening with four meetings

The third Tuesday of most months has three public meetings that overlap, County Council, RCSC School Board, and Jasper County Historical Society. Yesterday there were four. The Prairie Arts Council had a writers' showcase. However, the school board meeting was moved earlier because its budget was on the agenda of the County Council. Normally I skip the School Board meeting in favor of the Council but last night I could attend both.

The school board meeting was the most interesting of the four. I got there a few minutes after it started and a citizen was appealing for a change in the policy regarding sports participation of children who are home schooled. Currently the RCSC requires that a person be enrolled at least half time in order to participate on an athletic team. The IHSAA requires that all persons on a school's athletic team be enrolled for at least one course but allows the schools to set requirements stricter than that, which Rensselaer has done. I did not sense any interest of those on the board to change this policy. There are 30 families in the school district that home school.

There was a presentation on testing and why it is good for the students. In addition to ISTEP there are other tests. The picture below (sorry for the poor quality) lists the tests by month and indicates which grades get them.

The Superintendent gave a brief overview of enrollment trends. In the past ten years enrollment in the district has dropped from about 1800 to a bit less than 1600, with almost all of the decline since 2009. Some of the surrounding school districts have seen even larger declines. High school classes tend to be bigger than grade school classes. All classes except second grade have between 100 and 150 students. Second grade fall just short of 100. The school district is not short of classrooms.

There followed a series of items that received board approval. The 2016 budget was approved with the note that the state would change it.  A winter drivers education course was approved, as were the donations. There was a change in the default provider of some retirement planning that I did not understand. Performance payments were approved, as was the purchase of a mini-van for $52,889. A technology upgrade involving new cabling for the high school, power back ups, and more wireless access points that has an estimated price tag of $227,000 was approved.

There will be an auction of surplus equipment. The items being sold will be on the school's website from Nov 2 until Nov 19. Bidding is by sealed bid and bids will be open on Nov 18. There are many items, big and small. The law requires that surplus items go through an auction before they can be thrown away or donated.

A spring  break trip to Europe for Spanish Classes for 2017 was approved and planning for trip can now begin. The Board accepted some updated bylaws for some consortium of schools that includes RCSC. A maternity leave was approved as was a new welding instructor--the high school is adding a welding course. Winter coaches were approved. The November meeting will revert back to a 7:00 starting time.

The meeting finished in about an hour. I was able to attend the business portion of the Historical Society meeting in which the members agreed that they needed higher dues.

Then it was off to the County Council meeting. After some additional appropriations and transfers, the Council approved the budgets of the RCSC, the Iroquois Conservancy District, the Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District, and the Jasper County Airport Authority. The Conservancy District will be clearing 41 log jams in the river this fall. The longest discussion was on the Airport Budget. When I went to the airport meeting in September the issue of hangar development was discussed but there were no clear plans. In the six weeks since plans have firmed up. The Airport Authority wants both private hangars (the airport would lease the land) and hangars built by the airport. There was a proposal for one nine unit hangar in the budget for next year. It would require bank financing.

After the Council meeting I stopped by the Carnegie Center expecting that the presentations of the Writers' Showcase would be finished. I found that only half of the scheduled speakers had spoken and that the presentations, expected to run from 7:00 to 8:00, would run until 9:00 and stop then only because the moderator cut off the last speaker, who seemed ready to go a lot longer. Some writers also enjoy speaking. There was a large crowd and I was told that it was much reduced from the start when poets from Van Rensselaer school recited their poems. Clearly the event was a success. Who knew Rensselaer had so many writers? (Update: Some pictures and more info here.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

First frost

I did not see any frost outside when I woke up this morning, but the leaves of my sweet potato plants (which flowered this year--that was the mystery flower on a post a month or so ago) showed that the temperature had dipped below freezing. These leaves will be black by tomorrow.

 It is supposed to be even colder tonight and then we will get a warm up.

I went to the presidential inauguration at SJC yesterday. I enjoyed seeing the academic procession under the blue sky with trees turning yellow and red in the background.
 There was a ceremony with music, readings, ritual, and speeches. The chapel was full. Many of the sports teams had all their members there.

After the ceremony there was a reception in the big tent shown in the last post. I talked to several people, including a former student who has done well since graduating about eight years ago. I was slightly embarrassed because I could not recall his name, something that happens to me frequently.
Enjoy the nice weather and the colorful leaves. Tempus fugit.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Presidential Inauguration week @ SJC

On Friday SJC will have an inauguration ceremony for its new president. I was informed tonight that it will be complete with academic procession (which I think was the case in the last three as well.) A large tent has been set up next to the Core Building for the reception.
 There have been a bunch of events on campus this week as part of inauguration week--a band/choral concert, a talent show, and a variety of events that would have happened anyway but have been labeled with the special presidential-inauguration label. There is an art show featuring work by art faculty and students in the Core Building lobby that is part of the week. One of the instructors likes beetles and bugs. He has a nice statement to accompany his pictures.
 Below is a work by the very talented artist who teaches stained glass and other glass techniques.
 The Fall Theater production has the presidential-inauguration label. This year it is a rewrite of an old 17th century play called "The Liar." It is in the very popular comedy genre of love triangles and mistaken identities. I really enjoyed it. It was well acted, and though the plot was fairly standard, the dialog was delightful. It was also in verse--pentameter. The viewer has to pay attention, but there are little comedic gems sprinkled throughout the dialog. I highly recommend it.
 What would one of these posts be without a meander, this time with a salamander? (I just came from the play.) When I lived in Minnesota the sight of salamanders crossing the road in the fall was fairly common. I found one earlier this week when I was on my way to SJC. I did not want it to get smashed by a car, so I picked up and moved it to the other side of the road. How do salamanders know where to go in the fall to hibernate?
In a bit of other SJC news, last week the college took delivery of another large boiler for the powerhouse. Last year the switchover from coal to gas heating had some problems. This year the extra boiler should provide the backup needed to prevent the problems of last year. I would have liked to have gone out and seen the delivery, but it was on one of the days when I did not feel like leaving the house.

Again, if you like live theater, check out the play at SJC. It runs Friday and Saturday nights.

Addendum: The art exhibit runs through Oct 29. The next two plays at SJC will be Picnic by William Inge (January 28, 28, 30) and Anything Goes (music by Cole Porter) (April 7, 8, 9)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Construction update 08-14-2015

I visited the I-65 interchange today to see how construction on two projects was going. There was not a lot to see with the water main project. If you do not know what a directional drilling machine is, you probably would not even notice the machine below. It does amazing things. (See here and here.) The blue plastic pipes in the picture below will become the water main. The reason for plastic is that the salt used on highways corrodes steel pipe, so the city opted for plastic on this route.
 The water main construction began this week.

A lot of progress is visible on the Comfort Suites since my last visit about three weeks ago. The third floor has been added and workers were busy on the roof.
 It looks like many of the windows have been installed already. The contractors should easily meet their goal of getting the building enclosed before the cold weather arrives.
 While I was there I decided to take a picture of the Holiday Inn Express. I have never been in the building.
I kept hoping to find some good autumn scenes and never did. We have had a very pleasant first half of October.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

City Council meeting 08-12-2015

There was not a lot on the agenda of the City Council meeting on Monday night. The first thing of significance was an ordinance on net metering. It was explained by the new manager of operations and engineering for the electrical utility, Trace Bowles. The groundwork for the ordinance had been prepared at the last council meeting by a representative from IMPA, the Indiana Municipal Power Association. The ordinance establishes the rules and regulations for anyone who wants to add an at-home generator--solar panels or wind turbine--and sell the surplus electricity back to the grid. No one does this yet in Rensselaer, but should someone want to, the rules and fees and regulations are now in an ordinance.

The budget for next year was adopted, a gas tracker of a two cent decrease per hundred cubic feet was approved, and insurance quotes were opened and then referred to a committee of Cover, Watson, and Bretzinger for a decision.

Health Savings Accounts were discussed. This is a benefit that the city gives employees and there is concern that they may make the city's health coverage a "Cadillac Plan" and subject to penalty under the rules of Obamacare. However, no one was quite sure when the rules were supposed to take effect, how big the penalties would be, or if the whole thing may be changed. The issue was referred to the committee established earlier to find out dates and amounts.

The Park and the Cemetery were given permission to seek quotes for new trucks. Councilman Barton asked if the city's stump grinder could be used on stumps in the cemetery and the parks. The electrical department said they would get on it.
One of the superintendents reported that equipment had been moved in to work on the water main project to I-65 and that work would begin on Tuesday (today).

Leaving the meeting, I took a picture of one of the bigger Halloween displays I have seen.
 This morning I noticed a second storage building is being constructed on the corner of Vine and Cullen. It appears that it will have the same floor plan as the first unit.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Columbus Day

Today some offices and businesses are closed because of Columbus Day and others are open.

A bit more than 500 years ago Columbus set out to find a shorter route to Asia because he seriously underestimated the size of the earth. His critics did not oppose him because they thought the earth was flat but because they knew it was round with a circumference of about 25000 miles. Hence, reaching Asia by sailing west would require a very, very long voyage. What no one in Spain knew was that a couple continents lay in the ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east cost of Asia. Columbus found some islands in the Caribbean and thought they were the East Indies and to his dying day believed he had found a route to Asia. His multiple mistakes changed everything. (If Columbus had not made his voyage, some other European would have found the Americas within a few decades. The results that we call the Columbian Exchange would have been pretty much the same, though none of us would be here.)

There are lots of signs of fall. Some of the trees have some color. The ash trees are losing their leaves and may of them are still green. I suspect this is not going to be a fall with a lot of color and I hope I am wrong.
 City elections are less than a month away. I have a neighbor who has a sure way of supporting the winning candidate.
Fall sports are wrapping up. RCHS hosted the cross country sectionals on Saturday and the Lady Bombers won their sectional. In soccer the Rensselaer boys team is the sectional champions. On Saturday I heard sirens and saw a fire truck escorting the high school band bus into town. I figured they had done something impressive. They qualified for a trip to the state finals in marching band. Congratulations to the band and the sectional champs.

I saw the escorted band bus as I was leaving Fountain Stone after seeing The Martian (and enjoying free popcorn in celebration of their tenth anniversary). I had read reviews that the science in it was unusually accurate--a contrast, I guess, to Gravity, which had some big errors. The thing I found unbelievable with The Martian was the idea that NASA and the US will ever launch a manned mission to Mars. In the 1950 and especially in the 1960s the US built a space program from nothing to one capable of landing a man on the moon. Then it developed the space shuttle to make sending men into space easier. Today that is all gone. We depend on the Russians to get our astronauts to the International Space Station. Finances and demography preclude any resumption of an ambitious manned space program.

I have not posted for several days because last week I caught a cold and it has limited what I have been able to do. Maybe it will clear up this week and I will be able to get more done.