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

Monday, July 30, 2018

Moving the highway

Rock the Arts was the biggest of several events happening last weekend. I have nothing to report because I was out of town visiting family this past weekend.

On the way out of town I noticed that work on US 231 at the Mount Calvary Road had begun. There is a little stretch of the highway that was not resurfaced a couple years ago because the plans were to move the highway a few feet to the east, improving visibility of traffic crossing or entering the highway from the west. On Monday work continued and while I was there a couple dump trucks dropped loads of crushed stone to build up a base for the moved road.
 Stone was already in place to the south of Mt. Calvary road.
 I also noticed piles of windmill blades north of Tri-County School. They will be used for turbines in either White or Benton County.

The Japanese beetles have been terrible this year. Basswood trees are one of their favorite foods. Below is a picture of a basswood in Potawatomie Park showing how damaging the beetles are to this tree.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

More long meetings, part two

After the BZA meeting on Monday ended, the Plan Commission meeting opened. It had five items on its agenda. First up was a case of a tenant living in Barkley Township who wanted to stop paying rent and purchase the home she was living in. However, the house is on a 15 acre lot of land, most of which is tillable, and the owner did not want to sell the whole lot nor did the tenant want to purchase it. The decision was to have a one acre lot carved out and rezoned R1. However, R1 lots are not supposed to be adjacent to A1 lots. If the rezone would have been a request for an A2 classification, the minimum lot size would, according to the code, be two acres. So there was a brief discussion and eventually the Commission decided that there would be no harm done with the rezone and there were benefits, so they passed the request, which now goes to the Commissioners for final approval. What was a bit unusual about this item is that the house is directly south and less than half a mile from a large dairy.

The second item was a carry-over from the last meeting, a request for approval of a four-lot subdivision in Wheatfield township. The land had been subdivided three years ago and the Code says land can only be subdivided every five years, so the petitioners will have to wait two more years. The third item on the agenda did not get published correctly so will be delayed until the next meeting. There were a number of neighbors from Union Township who were concerned enough to be at the meeting, but some of their questions were answered before the meeting proceeded to the fourth item.

The fourth item was from Carpenter Township, a request to rezone a six-acre lot from A1 to A2 so a second house can be built on it. It was approved, though again the County Commissioners have final say. Unusual about this is that the new house would be on a carved out lot with the larger parcel surrounding it on three sides. The requirement for a house on A2 is that it have a frontage of at least 250 feet. The larger lot, containing the existing house, would have 300 feet, but it would be split in two parts.

The final item on the agenda was an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance regarding setbacks for confined feeding operations. In the previous meeting the Commission had considered a recommendation from the Commissioners, but decided that the setbacks to property lines were too short, so had changed the proposal. The Commissioners did not like their new setbacks, so had suggested a new number as well as a few minor changes. The Plan Commission's attorney said that they could either accept the new recommendations from the County Commissioners or reject them but could not change them. So the motion was made to reject them with the anticipation that the County Commissioners would at their next meeting pass the ordinance with the wording that the Plan Commission was rejecting. The meeting finally adjourned at 9:45.

On Tuesday I was able to swing by the Farmers Market and see the crowd that Kids' Night had brought out.
I had a commitment on Tuesday afternoon that made me miss the joint Commissioners-Council meeting and made me late to the County Council meeting. When I arrived, the Council was finishing up approving tax abatements. They approved the last year of a Monsanto abatement and an abatement for Remington seeds. They then moved on to additional appropriations and in dollar terms, passed a huge amount. There was a small appropriation for the Sheriff's Department. The department has turnover, especially among part-time employees. The entire staff of Court House Security has turned over in the past year and the sheriff noted that it was hard to keep lower-paid employees when Advance Auto is paying $17 an hour plus benefits. The County Highway Department requested an appropriation of $2 million that is needed to match a $2 million grant from the State for road improvements. The Commissioners budget was given an additional appropriation to pay the State Board of Accounts for their examination of the County's records. The Coroner has been doing a lot of autopsies and now has new state reporting regulations (but not new state funding to pay for those reports) and needed an extra $6,000. Finally an expenditure of $1.1 million from the rainy-day fund was approved to pay for Court House renovations.

Finally the Council reached the topic that the standing-room-only crowd was waiting for, the discussion of approving a donation from the innkeepers' tax fund for the Rensselaer Parks for People campaign. At the previous meeting the Council had approved a donation of $10,000 but told the Director of Economic Development that he could put the item back on the agenda. The presentation began with a video and then a presentation by Stace Pickering. One thing that surprised me was mention that the kiddie pool at Brookside would be replaced with a splash pad. (The kiddie pool has been out of operation for several weeks this summer and is currently drained.)

After the presentation and some discussion,  Gerrit DeVries said that the original purpose of the inn keepers tax was to help fund festivals and that he did not think the large sum requested ($175,000) should be given to one project. He suggested that $25,000 be given to the parks in Rensselaer but the same amount given to the parks in DeMotte, Wheatfield, and Remington. A motion was made to approve a contribution of an additional $100,000 to the Parks for People campaign. There was discussion of what precedent this would set. In the past few years the Tourism Commission gave DeMotte parks $10,000 as part of a $200,000 campaign, or 5% of the total. The donation of $110,000 is 7.33% of the campaign goal of $1.5 million. When in the future the Tourism Commission will be approached by other communities and groups to fund capital improvements, these percentages will be used to judge what a reasonable donation will be and the Council will almost certainly look back at these percentages when they approve or disapprove of these donations. The motion then passed with one opposed.

With that settled, most of the audience left. The Council then approved a long, legalese ordinance that allows the drainage board to set up a revolving line of credit to pay for drainage projects. The loans will be backed by funds in the County's rainy-day fund. The Council also voted to make no changes in the local income tax (LIT) or the distributions from that tax for the next year.

One more meeting is worth mentioning. The group that is planning the Weston Cemetery Walk for September 22 met on Monday. The price of tickets will be $10 for adults and $5 for children. The Walk will highlight eight graves/markers in the eastern part of the Cemetery using costumed reenactors. Many little items that need to be decided to make this event a reality. If you have ever been part of a group planning an event, you know how many little decisions have to be made to make an event happen. Members of the Historical Society have been talking about doing a cemetery walk for at least four years and this year will be the year it finally happens. Their goal is to make this an annual event.

This weekend Carnegie players have the first performance of Annie Get Your Gun and the Rock the Arts Festival will bring crowds to Potawatomie Park.

One more picture: inverters. The solar panels have been installed at the new solar park on the north edge of town and now the equipment needed to make the electricity generated by the panels compatible with the grid must be installed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Van Nationals

At the end of Tuesdays County Council meeting (the subject of a future post), Steve Jordan mentioned that the Fairgrounds was almost as busy this week as it was last week. There is a national van convention that has rented the facility. Several Council members encouraged me to go out and see what was happening. They said that my blogger credentials would make me welcome.

 I took their advice. No cars are allowed in the event, so I used a two-wheeled vehicle. I stopped at the registration check point and asked it if would be OK if I rode around and took pictures for a blog and received permission. I also could not resist asking if the reason the convention came to Rensselaer was because our town was named after VAN Rensselaer.
 This is the 46th annual convention and each year it is held in a different part of the nation. Next year it will be in New England. The Jasper County Fairgrounds was not the first choice of venue for this year. The group was negotiating with another fairgrounds but decided that the price was too high. The Midwestern group of vanners (can I call them that?) has annually met at the Jasper County Fairgrounds in May (Memorial Day weekend), and they told the national group that our fairgrounds would be ideal. So VAN Rensselaer had nothing to do with the selection.

There were not as many vendor booths as there are during fair week, but I was impressed with the number that were there.
 I rode around the campgrounds looking for interesting vans.
 New Jersey was represented. I was told that there were several people from Europe attending. They rent vans after flying to the U.S. I do not know what the 2% refers to but saw it in several signs.
 I have a hard time believing that this van was driven from Texas.
 More vans.
 The carnival people still had not removed all of their equipment as of Wednesday morning.
 A group from Pittsburg had their sign up.
 Someone who owns a van is a fan of the Wizard of Oz.
 I did not meet the Bad Girls from New York.
 I would have liked to have heard the Long Story.
 This van looks like it began as a pick-up truck.
 There were port-a-potties scattered throughout the campgrounds. Many campsites had children and I saw two pools for the kids.
 The Diamondback van had sleeping quarters in the back. One of the people I talked to said the feel of the encampment was much like a hippy event from the 1960s.
On Saturday the public is invited to come out to a van show from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Vans on display will in the parking area near the highway and from the way it was described, not all the vans will be from those attending the convention. The one person who seemed to know what was happening with the event said that visitors are encouraged to bring a donation of dog or cat food and that entry and parking will be not at the main gate but at the gate to the east. The dog and cat food will go to two different groups.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

More long meetings

Monday's City Council meeting lasted an hour. There was only one really important item, a review of a grant application that the City is making to the Rural Development, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The City will be asking for $5,211,500 for sewer improvements. The largest part of the project will be a new lift station just to the east of Weston Cemetery. The existing plant (shown below) was built in the early 1960s and it is beyond its useful life. The grant application notes that sewer gases including hydrogen sulfide and methane can permeate the entire building, causing both a safety hazard and degrading electrical equipment. In addition, the project will extend sewer service to 41 new customers, 20 on the Owen Street line, nine on West Washington, and 12 along Clark.
The City has a combined storm sewer system where storm water from the streets goes into the sewer system Heavy rains overwhelm the system causing sewage to be dumped into the river. The State is monitoring the progress the City is making in separating the storm sewers from the sewage system, and in recent years the Melville project and the high rate treatment plant have been undertaken to meet State requirements. The reason for moving on this project now is that Rural Development has extra money this year and that means that the project has an excellent chance of being funded. The deadline for getting the application in is August 1.

In other business the Council wrote off some bad debt and closed an account fund. I did not understand exactly what this was about but it seems to be related to new software that utility billing is using. The Council decided to change the meal allowances from set maximums for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to a daily per-diem maximum. They established a tipping policy for reimbursing employees traveling on City business; the tip cannot exceed 20% the cost of the service. (The City auditors had said that without a tipping policy the City cannot reimburse tips.) There was also a discussion of whether City employees should be able to charge expenses of spouses traveling with them to the City credit card and reimburse the City later. The City attorney was asked to find if there were State regulations on this issue.

The Police Department will be doing a big move to their new offices next week. The parking lot at the new building may not drain properly so will be fixed so water will drain to Harrison Street. Plans from Autumn Trace, the company that plans to build an assisted living complex south of Fountain Stone, will have a technical review Thursday and the company should break ground in the next month. Walnut Street from Cullen to McKinley will be repaved by Town and Country for a bid of $21,695.

The meeting adjourned at 7:00 and I hurried across the street to get to the BZA meeting at the Court House. I arrived as the Board was in the process of approving the minutes and I found a seat in the packed room. The first item on the agenda was a variance for Interstate Farms for setbacks. This item had been on the agenda in the June meeting but a tie vote on a finding of fact had brought consideration to a close. The attorney for the Board had researched the law to see what the next step would be. The opinion of an attorney representing a group opposing the CAFO was that a tie vote ended the matter and the next step for the applicant was to go to court. However, the BZA's attorney said he could find no case law supporting that and other case law suggested otherwise. Further, the matter had never been closed with a final vote. So his opinion was that proceeding with rehearing the matter was appropriate now that all members of the BZA were present.

Don Shelman again made the case for the variance. He noted that State law requires that actions of the BZA needs majority approval and that had not happened at the previous meeting. He made essentially the same presentation that had been made in a special June meeting for the Planning Commission in seeking the rezone from A1 to A3 and at the BZA in June seeking a special exception and a variance. He did note that on July 17 the hog farm had received a permit from IDEM, so the variance was the last remaining regulatory hurdle to overcome.

The variance was for setbacks from property lines. The current regulation requires setbacks of 1000 feet to adjoining A1 properties. Mr Shelman noted that all property owners except one on the Northwest supported the project and that the closest residence was almost a mile away. A representative of Carpenter Creek Winery again expressed his opposition, arguing that the hog farms had the potential to seriously injure his business. However, when the votes were taken, two of the findings of fact passed 3 to 1 and the other, the one that had had the tie vote, passed 4 to 0. (At this meeting the Chairman did not vote, which is why there were not five votes.) The variance was granted by a 3-to-1 vote.

The second item on the agenda was a request for a use variance from Von Excavating for 3.68 acres of a 65 acre parcel in Kankakee Township on SR 49. The land in question is being used for storage of materials and may in the future be used for retail sales of those materials. The question that immediately arose is why they were not requesting a rezone and the answer as that none of the zoning categories seemed to fit. After discussion, a motion was made and passed that consideration on the matter be delayed until the petitioner discovers what the State requires for them to access the site from SR49.

The BZA adjourned at 8:45 and the Plan Commission began its meeting. However, this post is long enough so an account of that meeting will have to wait for another post.

Friday, July 20, 2018

More pictures from the fair

The weather this year for the county fair has been ideal. We have not had the extreme heat of some past fairs.

Their rides are different this year. My guess is that there is a new carnival ride company.
 I always check out the old tractors. My interest is probably mostly due to family. My grandfather and his two sons both were in the farm implement business and my grandfather and one uncle sold John Deere tractors for many years. They probably sold tractors like this model A tractor, which was one of the oldest tractors in the retired iron building. They must have been disappointed that I had no interest in things mechanical because that was their life. My uncle bought and restored old farm steam engines and once made a miniature steam engine that worked. (There is a picture of a steam engine on my uncle's farm on the Internet. I cannot be sure that it was one he owned.)
Showing animals is one of the main activities at the fair.
 I did not understand the raffle of a demolition-derby car.
There were more food booths this year than I remember from the past.  I recognized this food booth as the booth that had been Martin's. Although the owners of Martin's Restaurant sold the restaurant, they kept the booth. I asked why and was told that the return on effort was higher for the booth than for the restaurant.
 South of the Commercial Building there were many storage buildings and gazebos for sale. I do not recall that from past fairs.
 While in the Commercial Building I asked the lady at the Ivy Tech booth if there was any possibility that Ivy Tech might be expanding to Rensselaer. She said, "No." The booming economy has cut community college enrollments so there are no thoughts of opening anything new at this time. Community college enrollment rises when the economy is bad and drops when it is good.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights were rodeo nights at the Grandstand. This year there are eight nights of grandstand entertainment. In some previous years the Fair Board booked a big name entertainer but did not this year. I heard that they found that the big name entertainment brought very few additional people to the fair.
 The free stage is always fun. The quality of acts varies. In the past I have seen both very poor acts/music and some very good musicians.
This year the fair has added an extra day. In the past the fair ran Saturday to Friday, with the next Saturday the day that entries were released and everything closed down. This year parts of the fair will run through Saturday. Also this year the Jasper County Fair and the Newton County Fair were in the same week. In the past the Newton County Fair was always the week before the Jasper County Fair. Next year the Jasper County Fair will start on the 20th, a week later than this year.

The County Fair is the big festival for the County. We still have a number of other festivals/events on the calendar for this year. Rock the Arts will be later this month. The Touch of Dutch festival is in August. Little Cousin Jasper and Oktoberfest are in September. New this year is a Cemetery Walk planned for Weston Cemetery on September 22. It will feature actors portraying a few of the many interesting people buried there. It will be both entertaining and educational--mark your calendar. If you would like to see how this format works in other places, check here, here, here, here, or here.

We need rain. The river has little water in it but the grass has not turned totally brown.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The play and the fair

The Children's Summer Theater put on its 43rd production this past week. The play, Newsies, had a huge cast, moveable sets, and a lot of choreography.
 Even the ceiling was decorated. The setting of the play was New York City at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th when laundry was hung outside in porches or between buildings.
 I attended on the last performance and was surprised to see many empty seats. In the past productions have usually sold out.

Rensselaer's next play production will be the Carnegie Players production of Annie Get Your Gun. It will have four showings, on July 27, August 2, 3 and 4, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. each evening in the RCHS auditorium.

The County Fair had a large crowd on Sunday night.

There seem to be even more food booths this year. Many are old favorites but quite a few seem to be new.

There is always something going on. On Sunday there were musical performances both on the free stage and in the Community Building.
There were no events going on at the horse arena but these two little guys were fascinated watching riders and horses practice.
 The air was definitely warmer on the other side of the curtain.
While the musicians played and sang in the Community Building, people could watch a lady make little animals from rods of glass.

I do not attend many Tourism Board meetings, which may be a mistake because it seems a lot happens at them. I did attend the July meeting. Touch of Dutch requested and was granted some additional money to increase advertising. Their festival was cited as one that has been growing and developing. There was a follow up report on a car show and the Vietnam Wall memorial. About 4000 people signed the guest books at the Wall and probably at least that many did not sign.

The Board discussed their proposed donation to the Parks for People campaign. At the June County Council meeting only a $10,000 donation was approved and the item will be on the agenda again this month at the meeting on the 24th. The Board members reaffirmed their belief that good parks are an important determinant of quality of life that both attracts people to an area and helps retain them.

They mentioned a change in state law that allows out-of-county residents to serve on tourism boards if they own or are senior management in a county business related to tourism. South Shore is rebuilding the County's tourism website. A new Tourism Director will begin work on August 1.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


The Fendig Gallery at the Carnegie Center has a new exhibit that will be on display until August 25. It is called "Collections" and as you might expect, it has paintings.
 It also has some sculpture. The exhibit honors Bob & Helen Lewis and these are from their collection. The late Bob Lewis was one of the organizers of the Prairie Arts Council.

However, the exhibit has some things you might not expect in an art exhibit, such as a collection of toys from old Cracker Jack boxes. (Younger visitors might not understand this one. At one time there was a prize in every Cracker Jack box.)
 Another unusual collection was of old cameras.
 A working phonograph that used cylinders was on display. These were considered outdated when I was a kid more than half a century ago.
 The opening reception for the exhibit was on Friday. Also on Friday Fenwick Farms was celebrating the completion of their outdoor seating area. The sidewalk in front has a plaque with their name. Fenwick Farms has done a lot to revitalize the south end of downtown.
 A number of summer activities have finished, including the summer swim team, which won its fifth consecutive league title. Tonight the Children's Summer Theater will have its final performance of Newsies. Other activities, however, are starting. Runners are gathering at Brookside Park in the mornings to get into shape for the coming school year.
The Fair has opened. Newton County Fair was this past week and it had its carnival rides canceled. I hope that they had a penalty clause in the contract with the ride company.

Finally, people in Rensselaer have been hearing the crop dusters this week.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Short agenda

The City Council had an unusually short agenda on Monday evening. It approved a gas tracker decrease of 16¢ per hundred cubic feet for the month of July and also approved changes in job titles for apprentice linesmen. What were Apprentice Linesmen A, B, C, and D will become First Year Apprentice Linesman, Second Year Apprentice Linesman, etc.

The Cemetery superintendent received approval to accept a bid to reseal roads. The inside of the new Police Station is almost finished. The Department is expected to have full possession  on July 20th and to transfer dispatch to the new location on August 1. There were no major incidents with Cruise Night.

And then the meeting adjourned.

Below is a picture of the new police station after Monday's meeting.  The concrete for the sidewalks had been poured and signage was up on the building. The rest of the concrete has been poured since then.

For something completely different. I have always been fascinated with scams and the Internet has made them easier than ever. Below is one that I have found twice in my spam folder for one of my mail accounts. I suspect it is more effective than the usual Nigerian scam.


You do not know me and you're probably thinking why you're getting this e-mail, right? 

In fact, I placed a malware on the adult vids (porn material) web site and guess what, you visited this site to experience fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching videos, your internet browser started operating as a RDP (Remote control Desktop) with a keylogger which provided me with accessibility to your screen as well as webcam. Immediately after that, my software gathered your entire contacts from your Messenger, FB, and email. 

What exactly did I do? 

I created a double-screen video. 1st part shows the video you were viewing (you've got a fine taste omg), and next part displays the recording of your web cam. 

What should you do? 

Well, in my opinion, $1900 is a reasonable price for our little secret. You will make the payment by Bitcoin (if you do not know this, search "how to buy bitcoin" in Google). 

BTC Address: -----------------------(deleted)-------------------
(It is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it) 


You have one day in order to make the payment. (I have a specific pixel in this email, and right now I know that you have read through this email). If I do not get the BitCoins, I will send your video to all of your contacts including members of your family, co-workers, and many others. Nonetheless, if I receive the payment, I will erase the video immidiately. If you want to have evidence, reply with "Yes!" and I will send out your video to your 14 contacts. It is a non-negotiable offer, and thus please do not waste my personal time and yours by replying to this email message.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Busy Saturday

July is full of events and one of the busiest days of the month is the Saturday after the Fourth. I began by skipping the things happening in Rensselaer and drove north to pick blueberries. Lots of other people had the same idea, including two groups that I recognized from Rensselaer.

When I got back I headed to Brookside Park to wander the car show. I always enjoy seeing cars older than I am.

This green vehicle made a tremendous amount of noise as it drove into place.
The car show had a lot of cars on display and a lot of people checking out the cars. The weather was ideal for the event.

Next I headed for the airport and the fly-in, with a stop at the Jasper County Fairgrounds. There was some kind of event going on in the horse arena/horse barn area, but I did not stop to see what it was. The food stand for one of the churches (I think from DeMotte) was being renovated with a lot of people helping out. This booth is just to the east of the Commercial Building.
Workers were putting a new roof on the Community Building. I was told that the old roof was almost 40 years old.
Though the Fair does not open to the public until this coming Saturday, parts of the fair will begin this week. 4H entries will begin arriving on Tuesday and will be judged before the Fair opens. Dogs and cats have their judging before Saturday. And last week the new Fair Queen and her Court were selected.

Across the highway the Jasper County Airport recently put up a new sign. You can read more about it on the airport website.
When I was there the fly-in seemed to be pretty quiet.
In the evening the annual Cruise Night began. The weather was ideal and there were hundreds of people lining the route. Below you can see a few of them sitting by Flat Iron Park.

Not everyone had lawn chairs. A monster truck provided a vantage point for some onlookers. Is it more fun to watch the cruise or drive in it?
There were many onlookers in Milroy Park.
I saw this old car with a golf cart that mimicked a car in the Save-A-Lot parking lot. I wonder if either vehicle or both took part in the Cruise.

On Friday I noticed what may have been the last bit of landscaping work for the Sparling Avenue sidewalk. (I guess the work will not be officially over until the port-potty further south on the sidewalk is removed.)
The little bit of trail that connects the loop in Potawatomie Park to College Avenue is now finished.
Only a few more days until the County's biggest festival, the County Fair, opens.