January 1, 2014 – New Year’s Meander

Even though it was a balmy 5 degrees today, we decided to get out for a while.

We returned to a small creek near its confluence with the Iowa River and brought Daisy along for the adventure.

It looked a bit different than a visit to the same place at the height of summer.

The trees adjacent to the river still show the marks from this spring’s highwater flood mark.  All in all, a brisk walk to start out the new year.

November 30, 2013 – Last Day for Christmas Tree Sales

We made one final trip to Wheatsfield Grocery in Ames to sell Christmas trees.  As in final-final.  When we planted our field windbreak years ago, we planted the trees 5 feet apart instead of the usual 20 feet apart to account for trees that might not mature or get thinned for Christmas trees.  The windbreak is now pretty much thinned and/or the remaining trees are too large.

It’s a great experience to have in December.  I sold trees as a college student, I sold them now as middle-aged, and with any luck I’ll be able to sell them again as an old man.

September 14, 2013 – Bluestem Bellow Bands Teaser

Martin had his first gig not playing a piano or trombone.  The accordion band he’s part of – the Bluestem Bellows Band had their debut public performance this weekend.

The played at the Green Hills Care Facility in Ames.  More next week as they are booked at the Ames Farmer’s Market next Saturday morning.  I’ll try to get some video of them at that time.

July 4, 2013 – Happy 4th (even to you in the U.K.)

Martin thought it would be good to line up a bunch of sparklers and see how many he could light.

After this, we decided than rather than driving some distance for fireworks, we’d try Melbourne and were pleasantly surprised.  We were close to the launch site (a baseball field away) and at that distance, the fireworks filled our range of vision.  Best yet, from the time the last fireworks exploded to home – five minutes!

June 16, 2013 – Musical Martin

Martin spent the week at Dorian Music Camp at Luther College in Decorah this week.

He enjoyed the jazz ensemble, directed by an excitable Cuban bandleader. He also played in a full concert band.

He stretched a bit and even tried choir – you can only imagine the joyous sound from so many young voices.  He also had some private lessons on trombone and did some keyboard work as well.  A full week of music and fun.

June 7, 2013 – Superior Good Bye

The last night before heading home.

We had a nice site on a small hill overlooking an arm of Bearskin Lake.

east bearskin lake

‘Twas a beautiful night, so beautiful in fact, it was one of the rare nights it was so beautiful that the fish were enjoying it with me and refused to bite.  But as a consolation we first heard, then saw a moose getting into the lake and sloshing around for a bit.

campfire

Aah, the campfire at the end of the day.  And look – bare legs so that means skeeters weren’t so bad.

Lake Superior Shore

One last stop on the big lake on the way home for lunch.

Lake Superior Pebbles

Superior pebbles.

Flat rocks, water, and a kid.  What else do you need?

June 6, 2013 – A Short Superior History Tour

Since Martin seemed captivated by the history of the quarry at Banning State Park, we decided to to some more history.  First stop today was the St. Louis County Historical Society’s exhibits in the old train depot in Duluth.  Among other exhibits was one room chronicling the immigrant experience.  It was interesting to me since both sides of my family immigrated in the turn-of-the-century timeframe. Perhaps in biggest contrast to today’s immigrants, there were huge dormitories built for incoming immigrants to have a safe place to stay for a few months until they earned enough to get a place of their own.

But the main attraction here is the collection of vintage local trains.  One of the most fascinating to me was this rail mail car. The attendant would reach out with a hook and grab a mail bag hung up at many locations along the route where the train did not stop.  The mail was sorted en route, and the cool part was if the mail was for a stop further down the track, the attendent would throw out the mail bag, which could have included mail picked up just hours ago!  Beat that Fed Ex!  Of course, if the mail was on a stop behind the train’s route, it wouldn’t get delivered that day.

How awesome is this snowplow train!

Here’s a fancy dining car from back in the day.

And here is the mother of all locomotives.  This coal-fired steam locomotive was 128 feet long!  Over half the length was the compartment to carry coal.  This monster burned one ton of coal every six minutes!  It could carry 28 tons of coal in its own coal bin.  It ran iron ore from the Iron Range down to Lake Superior and in its day was the most powerful locomotive in existence.  There were many other trains, including cranes, a rotary snowplow, and the first locomotive to arrive in Minnesota, via boat, of course, not rail.

Then it was off to Split Rock Lighthouse.

When the lighthouse was built in 1910, there were no roads, so all the building supplies were lifted up the cliff via a steam-powered hoist and derrick, including all the bricks necessary to built the lighthouse, foghouse, three keeper houses and barns, along with of course all the supplies and people for a number of years (if the lake was calm).  Five years after construction a tramway was built to make things a bit easier, but it was not until 1924 that a highway was built, allowing more reliable transport of goods.

Martin loved the new slogan of the Split Rock “Before GPS, there was a really big light.”  The lighthouse ceased operation in 1969.

Part of the lamp, with the reflecting glass engineered to produce a beam visible from the furthest distance from the kerosene lamp.

split rock lamp

Some of the mechanics of the apparatus used to spin the light.  On the very top of this photo you can see a green disk that contained 300 pounds of mercury to help keep the light level.

If you find yourself in the neighborhood – drop in.

June 4, 2013 – Itasca Day One

The next day we headed over to Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest and one of the biggest state parks.  An interesting story is about the nation’s first female park superintendent, Mary Gibbs. She was superintendent shortly after the park was formed, but before the lumber barons.  She had a showdown at gunpoint with the local logging boss regarding destruction of a dam at the headwaters, flooding the park, but making it easier to transport logs.  At the end of her life, she was just as fiesty, going on a hunger strike at the nursing home to protest being charged 75 cents extra to take her meal in her room instead of the dining hall.

Itasca State Park Sign

The north park entrance.

Itasca Cabin

Our cabin near the lake within the park.

Inside Itasca Cabin

The cabin is one of the gems built by the WPA in the 30′s. It had logs walls, wood floors, a sink, small fridge, sink, stove, but no oven, and bathroom without a shower.  But it was great timing to have the cabin over the 24 hours of rain on this segment of the trip.

Lake Itasca

One arm of Lake Itasca in the mist.

The light rain didn’t deter us from catching dinner.

rainbow on lake itasca

A rainbow was one reward for the rain.

It was an all white/yellow meal.  Fried fresh fish, rice side dish, applesauce, and with the leftover “Shore Lunch” fish brading, we breaded some onions for onion rings.

Lodge at Itasca State Park

After dinner, we toured the interpretive center and looked around the park.  This is the lodge for dining, with rooms on the 2nd floor, much like some of the classic park lodges in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.