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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Selling the farm

On Monday the long awaited auctions of the land that SJC turned over to Farm Credit took place at the Fairgrounds. In the afternoon 14 lots east of Walmart were sold. I had never been to a land auction featuring many lots of land and was amused and amazed at how it was conducted.

First the auctioneer got bids on each of the parcels. The bids he got ranged from $2000 to $7500 and the total was $55,500. Then he asked if anyone wanted to bid on the complete set of parcels. Someone did and that bid was $62,000.  That is where I would have expected the bidding to stop, but instead that was just the start of the fun.
 Next the auctioneer invited the bidders to form any combination of lots that they wanted and give a bid. They did, and adjacent lots were combined in a single bid. There were several combinations that people suggested, and because the combination with the highest total bids would win, people were bidding not just against others interested in the lot they wanted, but against the people in other combinations. Over the course of more than an hour, various combinations competed with each other and the total bid slowly rose because bid increments were usually only $1000 (and sometimes only $500). Unfortunately I forgot my camera for this session, but I did record the results of the winning combination:
Lots 1-3: $38,000
Lots 4-5: $22,000
Lots 6-8: $32,500
Lots 9-11: $30,000
Lot 12: $14,500
Lots 13-14: $49,000
The total was $186,000.

Acreage in 1-3 is about 7.5 acres, in 4&5 about 2.3, in 6-8 3 acres, 7 & 8 about 2, 9-11 about 3.2, 12 1 acre, and 13-14 a bit less than 3 acres for a total of about 22 acres. Each of those six groups went to different bidders.

In the afternoon session there were about 30 people present. The evening auction of farm land attracted a much bigger audience. Some it is shown below and there were others behind me when I took the picture. You can see the three screens on which the current bidding would be displayed.
The structure of the auction was the same as in the morning session. First each parcel was bid and then a bid was accepted for the entire property. The bid for the whole thing was $4.7 million and it took a very long time before any combination got higher than that even though the bid increments for the farm land was $5000. The whole auction lasted about two hours.

 Here is a map of the 11 parcels that were up for bids.
 At the end of the auction, this is what the three screens looked like. The farthest screen with the orange above and next to a combination shows the winning combination.
The middle screen had a couple of combinations that did not win.
 The final screen shows the winning combination with a total of $5,165,000. Parcels 1 & 2 were sold as one lot as were parcels 8 & 11. Seven different bidders will now own the land.
One winning bidder bid over the Internet. That was bidder 201. I was surprised that the two small lots that had no farm land, lots 5 and 7, sold for the highest per-acre prices.

If you missed the auctions, you can hear them on youtube here and here. The results of the auction are on Halderman web pages here and here.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Chief Industries open house

On Saturday Chief Industries had an open house at its Rensselaer plant located on East Maple Street. I went not knowing what to expect but there was a promise of tours and I love plant tours.
Upon entering we could not miss the bounce houses. It seemed that a lot of families of the people who work there had come to the open house. Chief Industries employs about 110 people in Rensselaer in two shifts. The headquarters for the company is in Grand Island, Nebraska.
We quickly found an employee who gave us a guided tour. We started with the line that produces metal roofing panels. The panels start as a roll of steel.
They are shaped by these rollers (I am sure there is a technical term for them).
Then end up with the shape shown below. The panels interlock and there is a some kind of gunk injected under one edge by the machine shown in the picture below that makes the joint waterproof. Wall panels are formed on a similar line.
There are overhead cranes everywhere. During the open house kids were allowed to guide a crane, trying to drop a bucket of water into a target square. I do not know if the ones who were really good were given employment applications. However, Chief was using the open house to attract potential employees.
Every week Chief uses hundreds of tons of steel. Their business is producing the parts—wall panels, roofing, and i-beams—needed to construct metal buildings. The designer sends them the plans and they manufacture the parts that the plans calls for. These rolls will become wall panels.
I was trying to get a picture of how long the building is but this picture does not really give an impression of just how long it is. It is 700 feet long, the length of more than two football fields.
The building has two sections. The east section produces i-beams and items that are thicker than the wall and ceiling panels. Some of the steel arrives in large sheets.
Those large sheets can be cut with a plasma cutter. See here for what a plasma cutter is.
The Rensselaer plant has two plasma cutters. One of them had a metal sheet on it with many parts already cut out but a few still on the cutter.  Plasma cutters are computer guided, so the details of the part are entered into the computer and a human does not try to guide the cutting. In the picture below you can see that the cutting goes through the sheet and cuts the metal supports. These supports must be replaced periodically. They work best if they have some rust on them so the melted metal does not stick to them.
Some of the steel is destined to become i-beams.
The first step in forming an i-beam is to position the three pieces of steel. They are lifted into place by electromagnets. Then one end is given a small weld, which you can see at the bottom in the picture below. Notice that the back end is disconnected.

These pieces then go through a welding machine that welds the pieces together.
Below are the controls to the welding machine. It takes about a month of training to operate this machine competently.
The last step in producing the beams is to paint them, The painting is done with high tech methods that I do not understand.
Here is the finished product. The holes were cut with a plasma cutter.
The open house offered visitors lunch and a free Halloween lawn decoration. These were cut with the plasma cutters.
At one time the Rensselaer Chief plant produced grain bins. That production line is now in Nebraska. The building parts that the Rensselaer plant produces are shipped throughout the eastern United States.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Franciscan Rensselaer

On Thursday afternoon Franciscan Rensselaer hosted a media day and invited me. Others who attended were Nick from the Rensselaer Republican, Russ from the local radio stations, and a young woman from several Valparaiso radio stations.

The Jasper County Hospital opened on January 19, 1917 with 16 beds. It was located east southeast of the court house where today the County has a parking lot. The building at the current location was opened in January of 1965 and in 1975 an addition increased its capacity to 86 beds. Franciscan Alliance took over the operation of the hospital in September 2015.

Franciscan Rensselaer is a Critical Access Hospital and what that means is explained here. The hospital has an emergency room with a doctor present around the clock. Many of the admissions to the hospital are through the emergency room, though a local doctor can admit directly if he or she has a patient that needs to be in the hospital. However, the local doctors do not care for their patients once they are in the hospital. Instead the hospital has specialized doctors called hospitalists. (See here for more information about hospitalists.) As a result, local doctors no longer do hospital rounds, making their schedules less strenuous. This change is part of a national trend. The hospital also provides the swing-bed program; see here for what that means.

Almost all the doctors who work out of the hospital travel to Rensselaer a day or two a week. This allows the hospital to offer many specialized services that would otherwise not be available if it relied on only local doctors. The vast majority of the patients who visit the hospital do not stay overnight. Most procedures are for outpatients or in the emergency room. On average there are only about 6 patients in the hospital, but it fluctuates and occasionally gets as high as 16 or 17, which is about the maximum that the nursing staff can handle. (This does not include the people in Alternacare.) Patients needing more care than can be provided locally are transferred, usually to Lafayette, but if they need more than Lafayette can handle, they usually go to Indianapolis.

In October of 2016 Franciscan Alliance acquired what was previously Louck Family Medicine. They have worked hard to increase the number of physicians and nurse practitioners working from this office. They said that there are currently 5½ doctors or nurse practitioners working from this office, including a ob-gyn who is there one day a week and an new, young MD who arrived in August. Franciscan Alliance also staffs health facilities in Brook and Wheatfield as well as the Working Well office near the hospital.

The hospital is spending $350,000 this year on improvements or repairs, including replacing a roof from 1983. It has upgraded the computer systems to match that of the other Franciscan hospitals (and much of the rest of the hospital world). It can use the Internet to provide access to off-site specialists and also to provide translation services if a patient arrives who speaks no English. (It was useful recently for a person from the country of Georgia who arrived because of an accident on I-65.) Coming soon is advance wound care, which is treatment for wounds that do not heal well, most often a problem for people with diabetes.

The hospital takes seriously its patient satisfaction scores and has a 3 star rating, which is a number assigned by Medicare. (See here and here.) The website for Franciscan Rensselaer is here.

I do not have any pictures from the hospital but do have one of construction of the shelter at the dog park. The labor is donated by Shanley Construction and the lumber by Kem's Hardware. (For more pictures, here.)

I had not heard anything about this new business in Jasper County. (See here.) It has a plant that each day turns 945 tons of cow manure into fuel. It is connected to NIPSCOs natural gas pipeline. Some info on the company is here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Final October meetings 2018

On the way to Monday's City Council meeting, I saw the nearly full moon rising next to the Court House. I stopped and took a picture.
The meeting was largely uneventful. It began with a discussion of an amendment to the salary ordinance that involved payment for off-system work. The issue came up because three City linemen went to Tallahassee, Florida to help restore power. They will be paid by the City of Tallahassee and then the City of Tallahassee will be reimbursed by FEMA. The City Clerk-Treasurer said that the auditors noted that any payment needs to be in the salary ordinance. There was a discussion of technical details that was over my head but the City Attorney said that he did not think the ordinance was needed. Eventually Scott Barton moved to accept the ordinance but no one seconded, so the item died.

Next some routine items were handled. There was a transfer of funds to pay for a new heating/AC unit for the mayor's office. The Council approved some special program available to municipalities to purchase natural gas. It should give the City lower gas prices. The Council passed a permission to bid 2019 supplies, something that is done every year. It approved funds to update the electronics on the City-owned Ditch Witch directional drilling machine.

The next Council meeting will be held on November 13, not November 12. Sunday is Veteran's Day and City workers have the Monday (the 12th) off. By the way, this is a special Veteran's Day. It marks the centenary of the end of WWI. The armistice took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

There were two 20-year service awards, which is a clock. They went to Police Chief Matt Anderson and Utility Office manager Heather Smart. Pictures are in the Rensselaer Republican.

Trick or Treat hours are 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm on Sunday, the 28th. The Trunk or Treat hours at the Fairgrounds will be 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm. There was a quick report on Public Power Week, which went well and a report on the City's aid to Tallahassee. Pretty much all of Tallahassee lost power. Utilities from 16 states responded. The Fire Department has had a busy couple of weeks. The Sparling Avenue water well may be finished and ready for testing by the end of the week.

Also on Monday evening the Jasper County BZA met. Von Excavating had a request for a use variance that has been on the agenda at past meetings and when no one from Von Excavating showed, the BZA dismissed the case.

The next item was a request for a renewal for the special exception given a meteorological tower. These towers measure wind speed and are the first step in planning for a wind farm. The exception was given in August, 2016. It was quickly pointed out the the current exception expired in February and that the County had notified the company (RES) that it had expired. After some discussion and comments from the audience, the Board denied the request for a renewal. They then discussed what a reasonable time for removal would be and decided that it should be removed before Jan 1, 2019. They then discussed how that could be enforced and the answer is that it requires the County to go to court, which is expensive.

Have you noticed that RES is no longer placing ads in the Rensselaer Republican? I suspect that they have realized that it will not be possible at this time to build a wind farm in Jasper County.

The Plan Commission met next. The first item on their agenda was approval of a two lot subdivision, which is the legal way that the County is handling a case in which a person who owns a small amount of agricultural land will be able to sell the house on the land to the people currently renting it. The owner was not in the audience, so the matter was delayed. He eventually showed as the meeting drew to a close. He had come late and been locked out of the Court House. Apparently when the security officer leaves, she locks the door. The Commission approved the request.

There were two items on the agenda that could not be addressed because the public notice had not appeared in the paper in time. (Notice must be ten days before the meeting.) They were both amendments to the UDO. One was a flood plain ordinance that comes from the DNR and FEMA. The County needs the language in its UDO to meet state and federal requirements.

A special technical committee that has met to review the wind farm ordinance reported that they had made good progress but needed to meet again. The item may be on the agenda of the November 26 meeting. They decided that the December meeting would be the third Monday, Dec 17, and thought that next year they would move the meetings to the third Monday rather than keep it on the fourth Monday.

The November meeting may also have a proposed solar farm ordinance on the agenda. It comes from the planning and development office and is based on what other counties have done. There is interest in placing solar farms near the NIPSCO plant.

For those who did not recognize the historic building in the last post, a building that everyone is supposed to remember, here is a picture of the front of the building. The pictures in the last post showed the back of the building.
Last Thursday the Parks hosted a Fall Fest. It included a Riley Read.
There were lots of pumpkins at the Fall Fest. I did not stay long enough to see how the turnout was. I decided to go to the Thirsty Thursday event that the Jasper/Newton Foundation was hosting at Fenwicks. The topic was health care.
 The leaves are finally displaying fall colors.
I think the Autumn Trace apartments will have a slab floor. The workers are now putting in all the pipes that will be under the floor. They still have a ways to go before walls start going up.
It is hard to get an exciting picture of the moving of dirt that is going at the old Monnett School site. The piles have been leveled. Eventually it should all be smooth.
The Horton Building was sold earlier this month and work is being done on its exterior.
When I was out of town over the weekend, I had my first Uber ride. I have been told that there is an Uber driver in Rensselaer and that he is fairly busy.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Out of town

I missed everything that happened over the weekend in Rensselaer. I was out of town.

We drove up to Midway Airport early Friday morning. I could not believe how many trucks and how much traffic was on I-65 at 4:00 am. It did appear that the expansion to three lanes from Crown Point to Lowell is mostly done, but perhaps daylight would tell a different story.

A few hours later we touched down at our destination. The trip was for a family event.
 I was struck by how many of these little scooters littered the sidewalks. They were everywhere and there were quite a few people using them.
 I think they may have killed this business.
 We stayed in a modern hotel. It was not this one, which no longer serves as a hotel.
 Our destination was very touristy. It had a river walk.
 People could get the water experience. On the water with water in the air.
 This was a marquis for a business along the water.
 I was not impressed with some of the service we got in restaurants, but this one was the exception. It had perhaps the best waiter I have ever witnessed.
 Sightseeing we visited one of America's most famous sites.
Here is a better picture of the building.

Some of the vegetation was quite different from Indiana vegetation.
Tourism is a big business.
 We visited a park that had this cat.
 It also had a very simple splash pad.
 Another historic structure was this old church.
 As we were leaving, we visited these gardens.
 These grackles are different from ours. They are a lot noisier, especially in the evening.
It is good to be back in Rensselaer. I like being other places but do not like the process of getting there and back.

Addendum: I was surprised to see that gas prices in Chicago were about 30¢ lower than prices in Rensselaer.