Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Snake Aly

Much like the historic river towns along the Des Moines river are on my normal itinerary for visitors, the street named Snake Aly in Burlington is as well. Looking to create a short cut from Heritage Hill to the business district, an architect, engineer and a paving contractor got together in 1894 and built the "crookedest street in the world" according to those folks of Ripley's Believe It or Not. The bricks are all laid at an angle to allow horses better footing down the five half-curves and two quarter-curves in a mere 275 linear feet and 58.3 vertical feet. If you notice in the picture, the technique of laying the bricks the way the did allows for the steepest grade to be on the outsides of the curves.

According to local lore, the fire department used this alley as their testing grounds for new engines, i.e. horses. If a horse could gallop up the alley and still be breathing when it reached the top, it was qualified to pull the fire wagons.

As always, the best part about visiting this place is actually driving down the alley. (It is now one-way and driving up is restricted.) It is quite thrilling to drive down it in a modern vehicle with big disc brakes and I image that would be tame to doing it in a horse drawn wagon. In fact, perhaps suicidal would a more apt description. The picture above was actually taken on my second trip to the alley within twelve hours. By the time we ate our horseshoes in Springfield and got here, it was dark the first time we descended (with these particular visitors). Fortunately for them, I broke a fitting on my filtered water pressure tank that necessitated a trip to Burlington to buy the correct piece to fix it. They couldn't resist making the journey again to see Snake Aly in the light of day.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Can You Guess Whose House I Stopped In At?

I found the bed above in Springfield and it wasn't as long as I might have imagined.

The same house also contained this desk which I thought would be quite nice for writing proclamations.

They were both in this house which if you didn't gather from the hints above belonged to a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln before he became President of the United States. The desk is the real McCoy but the bed is a reproduction. Still it was neat visiting the house of a president especially to see how things were "back-in-the-day." For the most part, the house would still be very functional in mainstream society if provided with plumbing and electricity though the kitchen lacked a lot to be desired. It was somewhere between cooking over a fire while camping and what we consider a must in today's kitchens though much closer towards the former end.

Probably the neatest thing about the entire experience is that not only the house is preserved but the entire neighborhood in a one block radius. It allowed you to walk around and scope out who the neighbors of the Lincolns were.

This was just an ordinary trunk in the maid's quarters but I loved it. I took a picture of it for someday when I am retired and working in my shop full time, I might build a version.

Due to the frequent comings and goings of visitors and the lack of concrete, sidewalks were made from timber and this one is in the Lincoln's backyard and is original. I felt awed to walk on the same planks as Abe.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Treading Water

I'm sure you are all tired of reading about the rain we keep getting here. In fact, I'm sure some of you would be happy to take some of our rain if you could and let it be known, I would be happy to give you all that you wanted. But I can't, unfortunately.

I opted to mow the lawn on Tuesday evening, less than eight hours after a torrential downpour, leaving tracks through the muddier part of my lawn even though they were forecasting no rain for the next 48 hours. I just didn't trust the forecaster. So we pretty much received torrential downpours on Wednesday morning and an even larger downpour on Wednesday afternoon. If you poured water from a 55 gallon barrel right on top of your head, it would have seemed mild compared to the storm we got Wednesday afternoon for fifteen minutes.

It let off right as I was heading home for the day so that was nice but as it turned out, I was a long ways from home. My normal five minute commute, if I get stopped at the one stoplight, turned into over a half hour. Every where I drove here in town, water was over the road at depths of several feet. I had to splash through six to eight inches of water in the parking lot just to get to my car. Driving home became a lesson in geography remembering, i.e. which way kept me on high ground. It involved driving up on curbs, going through parking lots and even driving through a car wash backwards.

About half way as I was parked at one of the shallower intersections with only ten inches of water, which by the way is floorboard level in my twelve year old Civic, I got hit by a wave from a large truck. I almost immediately lost one cylinder out of the four and wasn't sure I could keep it from stalling all together. But I did and limped towards the daycare on three cylinders, possibly with another cylinder sporadically firing judging by the loudness of my spare change jumping in the plastic alcove I toss it in. My daughter and I made it back home but both of us were a little bit high on the fumes from all the unburnt fuel blowing out the exhaust pipe.

All told, we only received 1.12 inches during that downpour but on already saturated ground, it might as well been 12 inches. So according to a nifty sight that I found at our state university, the numbers from the beginning of the year are now:

161 - Number of rain events we have had out of a total possible 176 days.
27.27 - Number of inches of rainfall we have received
15.98 - Our average rainfall we are supposed to receive
11.29 - Doing the math, the number of inches of excess rainfall that you should have kept

If you just look at June so far:

22 - Number of rain events we have had out of a total possible 25 days.
11.06 - Number of inches of rainfall we have received
3.58 - Our average rainfall we are supposed to receive
7.48 - Doing the math, the number of inches of excess rainfall that you should have kept

The positive spin on this whole thing is that my parents have missed much of these last few rains on the farm though the chances of them getting a crop planted this year are still less than 50%. It will either happen in the next two weeks or not at all and it will take at least half that time to simply dry out. The other good point is that the seven-day forecast has only one day where rain is predicted and that is just a 30% chance, completely opposite of what it has looked like for the entire month of June.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Eating Horseshoes

On our way back from St. Louis on our recent vacation, we took the scenic way home via south-central Illinois, home of the horseshoe. I had heard about horseshoes and the concept sounded good but I wanted to experience the full artery clogging affair by actually eating one. So at an out of the way diner in Springfield, I ordered my first horseshoe.

A horseshoe is a piece of toasted bread with a hamburger patty on top. A layer of french fries is put on top of that and the whole thing is doused in liquid yellow cheese. The version above was the Philly cheese steak which had sliced steak instead of the hamburger and a generous amount of onions and mushrooms on top. I figured the vegetables were worth a few points in reducing the arterial damage.

Not really sure how the horseshoe got to be called the horseshoe, I asked our young waitress who told me that it was lucky I had asked her because she had done a thesis on the subject just last semester in college. According to her, a local eatery had wanted to cater to the cowboys and give them something that they might recognize. So they took a plate which resembles an anvil, put a thick slice of bread on it to represent the hoof, placed some ham in the shape of a horseshoe with some nails or french fries on top and cheese sauce. No word was given or at least my memory fails is one was on the meaning of the cheese sauce. Perhaps to represent the glue that is made from horses?

Anyway, I ended up getting the white sauce version of the dish which was a mistake. The yellow sauce on my wife's plate was much better. But the whole thing was still delicious and it is safe to say that I'm still kicking nearly a month after I ate the thing so perhaps there is a chance that I'll live awhile longer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Bakers Chicken

It was only three and a half months ago when I posted an article about a relative of mine who changed his name from Charles Webster Chicken back to his birth name of Charles Webster Baker and then mused that I would probably only learn why he adopted the name of Chicken with the use of some future time machine. Well as it turned out, all I needed was some spare time and dumb luck.

While broadening a newspaper article search on his mother, the wife of Joseph Baker,whom I have spent much print on this blog writing about and summed up recently here and here, and whom remarried after Joseph's untimely death to a man named Thomas Heppenstall, when I came across an article that stated in entirety:

Mrs. Heppenstall who had been visiting her son Rob. Chicken and family at Hawkeye returned home to Cedar Falls Saturday.

What the heck? Another Chicken in the family? I quickly switched tack and found numerous articles on Robert Chicken from West Union, the same town that several more article already state that my 2nd great uncle Robert Baker lived most of his life. I also found several articles of various visits Robert Chicken made to see his mother Mrs. Heppenstall.

I have just one census record for Robert Baker soon after he was born when his father Joseph Baker was still alive in 1880. After that, he just disappeared and numerous attempts to track him down in census records and record inquiries to Fayette county where West Union is located turned up nothing. But a quick search of census records reveals a complete track of Robert Baker/Chicken. Soon after his father died in 1882, Robert and his brother Charles can be found living in the house of Robert Sr. and Prudence Chicken in the same county in 1885. They are listed as also having the last name of Chicken. In 1880, Robert Sr. and Prudence Chicken had just two older daughters but no listing of Robert Jr. or Charles though had they been with the family, both should have been listed. I also found an obit for Robert Sr. that only lists two daughters as survivors, the same two daughters in the 1880 census. Charles would change his name back to Baker soon after he was on his own but Robert Jr. would keep his last name as Chicken until he died in 1938. I have an article announcing his death but no obituary as yet.

So it appears as the two Bakers were adopted by the Chicken family and there wasn't some cockfighting story buried in the family as I had hoped. If I can find an obituary for Robert, I am hoping to find more information about his parents which was my whole reason for spending all this time trying to find him.

But that isn't all as they say. For years, I have known that Robert and Charles Chicken Baker's mother Frances was born in Wisconsin and going by name and date, I theorized that an 1850 census identified her as living with an older sister Salina and widowed mother Mary Bolton in Willow Springs, Wisconsin. Never had any proof but I couldn't find any other matches. In one of the many articles I turned up of Robert Chicken's life including a drunk driving arrest and being a victim of an armed robbery while being a good Samaritan, I also have the obituary of his wife Viola H. Proctor who was born in 1883 in Willow Springs, Wisconsin. Coincidence? My head is spinning with all this information and I am still digesting it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Best Free Zoo Around

Little Abbey is of the age where anyplace we go seems to include a stop at the local zoo. In this case, we hit up the St. Louis Zoo which as it turns out is completely free. Although the free zoos that I have visited over the years have been good for kids, they generally only have a small variety of animals, the enclosures are small and stark, and the overall park lacks amenities such as shady benches here and there to rest the weary feet while we contemplate the animals before us. The St. Louis Zoo is an exception in every way.

We arrived on the hottest day of the year down there so far just after lunch and as we sat with the car running eating our lunches before entering, I wasn't looking forward to the walk across the black asphalt parking lot to the entrance. I have to report that it was just as hot of a walk as it looked and by the time we reached the entrance I was already sweating bullets.

The first odd thing to strike me was upon entering the gate right by the souvenir shop, I immediately started looking for the ticket booth and reaching for my wallet. It took a few moments for it to soak in that this was indeed a free zoo (thanks to the taxpayers of St. Louis or perhaps all of Missouri) and that I could simply just walk in. We picked up our free map and hit the trails.

Being a weekday with school in session and a hot one at that, I thought we might have the place to ourselves but evidently the word was out because there were people everywhere. I can't imagine what it looks like on a summer Saturday afternoon but I would guess the place is a zoo. (Pun intended.)

Never the less, as I alluded to above, there were lots of shady benches here and there so when the walking got to hot for the three Filipina's that were with me, we had plenty of places to rest our feet. You would think that coming from a tropical country right near the equator they could handle the heat better than me but that certainly wasn't the case.

The "cages" for the animals were some of the largest I have seen giving the animals plenty of opportunity to roam around which made it hard at times to capture them on "film" even with a telephoto lens on but I didn't mind. I still felt I was right there in the cage most of the time. We spent all afternoon there and still only managed to get through a little over half of the zoo. I guess we will have to save the rest for next time.

The only disappointment was that the dolphin show was closed during the weekdays so I couldn't take my daughter to see one but that was still only a small disappointment. My daughter and myself included were thrilled in every other way. So if you are in St. Louis, you can't beat the going to the zoo for the afternoon for entertainment and you certainly can't beat the price.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rain Update: By the Numbers

Average Precipitation by June 6th: 14.6 inches
Precipitation Received By June 6th: 22 inches
Precipitation Received Since June 6th: 6+ inches
Average Yearly Precipitation: 36 inches
Weather Right Now: Pouring Rain

Monday, June 14, 2010


My father is a farmer. His father was a farmer. My family roots as far back as I can trace have been farmers. Perhaps the original immigrants who first came across the sea from where abouts still unknown to me were farmers. I tell people I was born with dirt beneath my finger nails and that my favorite smell of spring is that of freshly turned dirt. Some people suspect that dirt is what runs in my veins. Yet a few ask why I am an engineer and I have no ready answer other than I happened to grow up during one of the worst decades to be a farmer here in the Midwest. Some call that decade the Farm Crisis of the 80's. Yet this year is another reason that I chose to leave farming behind. I couldn't deal with the uncertainty.

It is just barely past four in the morning as I begin this post, my wife has just left for her day in residency in the urban jungle and my daughter is still in bed and will be for another three hours. Yet I am awake and can't get back to sleep because of the sound of what seems like the eternal rain. My rain gauge is broke, victim of another cheap plastic part that just wasn't meant to sit outside in the sun for very long and yet has weathered through three or four seasons replacing the last cheap plastic part that broke the same way. I have yet to device a holder out of something metal that will last my lifetime and so the rain gauge itself lays on the piano in the back room. Long story short, I don't know how much rain we have received this last three days but it is safe to say that feet might be the better way to measure it. You wouldn't have to count so high.

This is the third year in a row, that we have had an exceptionally wet spring.

My parents planted the corn crop in good shape earlier this spring. It was too early to plant the soybeans and so they waited but not for long. The rains came and essentially have never stopped. That was two months ago. Since that time, they had about one week of dry weather in which they were able to replant over 5oo acres of their corn that had been drowned out by the rain and put in 700 acres of soybeans, still a few hundred acres short of a full crop. Then the rains came again. Those 500 acres of corn and most of the 700 acres of soybeans went the way of the others which is to say they drowned. Now here it is just shy of midway through June, it is now 4:30 in the morning and it is raining. In fact, the ten day forecast is nothing but rain. Give four or five days to get things dried out once it stops raining and suddenly we are now in July and there is still no crop in the ground. What little has been planted and happened to be on hillsides where it didn't get drowned out, it sickly and yellow and way behind schedule. At best, it will make a half crop but even that is reducing with every inch of rain.

My parents are taking it well. They built a tree house of sorts for my daughter whenever she visits the farm. It is really nothing more than a platform on a decapitated Chinese Elm stump some ten feet in the air in the side yard. There, they have spent many an evening, in-between rains, watching the western horizon and sipping some wine. There isn't much else to do. As I mentioned in the comments of I believe Beau's blog, I much prefer a drought to a wet year. In a drought, you can do things while your crop suffers without moisture and you may end up with a fraction of a crop but you still have a lot of other things done around the farm. It a wet year like the last three, especially this year, you have nothing but acres of mud. You can't do anything because you get stuck or you simply get exhausted of trying to lift your feet and you still get a fraction of a crop or perhaps none as this year is shaping up.

So back to my original point. I'm an engineer. I was more than a student of the farm crisis in the 1980's. I hate uncertainty. I gave up farming and instead decided that a job in manufacturing was more certain than farming. I've lost two jobs to a migration of manufacturing to foreign countries but thankfully, still have one during the worst recessions in almost a century. So thus far, I can still go to work everyday, just like today, rain or shine. I'm thankful for that. But a large part of my heart is still buried in the mud on a farm less than an hour's drive from here and it feels like it keeps getting buried deeper with every deluge we get. To quote a song from John Prine, "I'm praying for some sunny countryside."

It is currently pouring rain.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Quest For the Holy Grail of BBQ Continues

Blogs are great for many things but the written record they leave behind has helped me on more than one occasion. A while back, I wrote another post on my quest for the holy grail of BBQ and Mr. Sherman, as he has done a time or two before, left in the comments the name of another place I should try out. Although my memory wasn't good enough to remember that fact, my wife's memory was and so I searched out and found the comment to officially put Phil's BBQ of St. Louis on our itinerary during our recent mini-vacation. I'm glad I did though for reasons other than the food.

The food was excellent though not in the running under my definition of what the holy grail of BBQ would taste like. Despite the picture of my plate above, I won't go into detail about it though I would recommend it to others who happen to be in the area along with Pappy's Smokehouse which is the top runner in my quest so far. Rather I would like to expound upon the dinning experience which was unlike any I have ever had.

By design, we pulled into the parking lot around 1:30 on a weekday so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We found a seat in a corner booth up front and soon an old lady came over to pass out menus and take our drink order. By take, I mean she pointed her pencil at each one of us in turn until we told her what we wanted to drink. She never said one word.

After she left, my wife and I exchanged glances over the encounter and we were both in agreement that the old waitress had seemed incredibly rude. There wasn't a greeting of any sort, nor a smile, just a stabbing gesture with her pencil. She soon came back with our drinks and it was then when I began to suspect that I had made a serious error in judgement. This time she was smiling, especially at my daughter, as she gave us our drinks. She then proceeded to take our orders in a similar manner as our drinks. However, it was soon clear when someone asked her a question that she couldn't speak. So I quickly took over and asked our guests dining with us the questions I knew from experience the old waitress was wanting to ask but couldn't. She smiled with appreciation and walked off to hand our ticket to the cooks.

The meal went smoothly though there were a couple rounds of an abbreviated form of twenty questions with the old waitress at a couple of points. The owner of the restaurant came over to talk with us and he turned out to be Phil's son and was happy to learn that we came clear from Iowa just to eat at his place because it had been recommended to us. After that, I probably could have asked for a 5 gallon bucket of BBQ for the road and he would have given it to me free of charge. The old waitress, I'm assuming was Phil's wife and the mother of the owner, came over once more to give my daughter a sucker our of a big jar which really made my daughter happy though my daughter inquired later why she couldn't speak. I told her that it was because she'd had a bad daughter who had caused her to scream so much she lost her voice. It made an impression because later my daughter said she would always be a good girl so I don't lose my voice too.

This was my first experience around a mute waitress and whenever I talk with the owners telling them that I came from a long way on a recommendation, the stop is always memorable. I'm glad I stopped in and I probably will do so again in the future when I'm in the area. Until then, the quest for the holy grail of barbecue lives on.

My Wife's Plate

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How to Build a Dinosaur

This is one of those rare cases where I actually bought the book because of its cover and without knowing anything it. Imagine standing there watching an egg hatch and seeing a dinosaur claw sticking out. Would you run away screaming in horror thinking of the book/movie Jurassic Park or their sequels? I thought of all these things as I paid for the book and brought it home.

Jack Horner's book was above my head at points because my background in dinosaurs and biology is slim and what little I have has been limited to high school text books. But I was fascinated with this book the entire way through and feel I have a pretty good handle on the future of paleontology. It's can be a quick read, coming it at only 216 pages, but I chose to read it just a few pages at a time, absorbing the material as I went.

Horner's book starts out with a mind blowing suggestion of turning a chicken into a dinosaur and how fairly simply it would be. If you were to look at the skeleton of a modern chicken and that of a t-rex, you would see little difference besides scale. Sure one has teeth, a tail and hands instead of wings but did you know that chicken have already been modified to grow teeth? Chickens already have tails and hands during early embryonic stages but genetic coding prevents the tail from forming completely and the hands merge into wings. With a few tweaks, you could end up with a miniature t-rex and with one additional tweak, a full scale version.

Having set the hook with those assertions, Horner steps back and give a brief history of paleontology as it has progressed through the years. It began with the comparison of dinosaur bones and trying to make estimates of evolution by comparing them along the length of the fossil record to the modern more scientific approach of labs and microscopes where we can now identify if that particular dinosaur was pregnant by just looking microscopically at the inside of the bones. Already, they have been able to identify cells, veins, proteins and other structures within the bones that are shedding light into the age of dinosaurs.

Actually saying dinosaurs are extinct is not correct. Dinosaurs still live around us in forms of birds, reptiles and even mammals. Ninety percent of all species that used to live on this planet are extinct and 25 more go extinct every single day. These extinctions of single species merely allows the remaining species to thrive in different ways. Mammals were around with the dinosaurs but when many of them went extinct, they were able to multiply and thrive so now, we are the dominate species, while other dinosaurs like birds, crocodiles, turtles and such remain in the background.

Much of the book is spent on the T-Rex which was actually a bird and not a reptile as I would have guessed. Horner spends a lot of time laying out evolution not in terms of the classical tree we are all familiar with where a particular species begat numerous other species, but in an entirely different manner. His preferred method of laying out evolution is in terms of anatomical features. How has the feather developed over the years, the tail, the teeth, etc. By laying these out, we get a more accurate picture of evolution and don't waste effort searching for a fossil that may or may not ever be found to prove the original ancestor of many branches of the classic tree. Scientists used evolutionary development or evo-devo of the ordinary feather to determine that there was an ancestor of modern birds that simply contained hollow tube like structures that were the precursor to the classic feather development. Sure enough, somewhere in China less than a decade ago, a fossil record of just such an animal was found proving the method.

This method of evolution development provides the backbone for the second half of the book and the backing for Horner's desired experiment, to build a dinosaur. Rather than take a page from Hollywood and trying to find DNA that has survived hundreds of millions of year, something Horner feels is not likely to happen, Horner thinks more can be gained by taking the ordinary chicken and rewinding evolution to the point where a dinosaur can happen but in a very scientific manner. He stresses that this is not gene manipulation or engineering since the dinosaur, if ever created, will still have the identical gene set of the ordinary chicken. Instead, they will control what proteins are exposed to specific genes at specific times and in specific levels to allow the gene to function as it would have hundreds of millions of years ago when creating a dinosaur. Research has already created teeth in chickens and are close to creating a tail. Horner seems to imply that within our lifetimes, they will have the information necessary to create a dinosaur.

This brings me and Horner's book to the ethical dilemma of creating a dinosaur. Horner points out that by using chickens, billions of which are raised and killed for our consumption every year, that scientists would have the same ethical concerns as say the supplier for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mainstream society has already accepted genetically modifying mice for testing purposes for everything from cancer to schizophrenia and his method of creating a dinosaur wouldn't even be nearly as radical since he isn't modifying genes. If such a dinosaur were created, it wouldn't pose any threat if it were to reproduce with another chicken because with its chicken genes, it would merely produce more chickens. Even if a whole family of these chicken built dinosaurs were to escape into the wild, all they would produce for offspring is our average, ordinary, everyday, chicken. The biggest hurdle would be perhaps our personal safety with a full sized T-Rex (albeit with the genes of a chicken) roaming around but a solution to containment is a fairly easy hurdle to jump.

I do think Horner places too much faith in rational thinking of the American people and perhaps more importantly the American press when it comes to the ethical issues. Though I agree with his argument that what he proposes is no less ethical than what we already do in the chicken industry, I don't think the bulk of the American public (disregarding my highly rational thinking readers of this blog) would feel the same. I think all we would see are continuous headlines along the lines of "Genetically Engineering Dinosaurs" which would be a flat out lie.

After reading this book, I feel that there will be a huge future in using lab science to rewind evolution in a provable way. I also think that a chicken dinosaur will probably occur in my lifetime, if not done here in America, somewhere else in the world. When it happens, I don't think I will be afraid for our future as I might have been had I not read this book and only read the media reports after the fact. Instead, I will be one of those who will be marveling at how far our understanding of science has come to allow us to do such a thing and wonder how many problems or diseases we might be able to solve with this knowledge to allow our species to not go extinct anytime soon. But perhaps curing diseases is playing God?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Iron & Lace

... And if you come all this way just to see an old rusty bridge, you simply can't go without walking across the street for a visit to Iron & Lace. Bill & Betty Printy are the artists of the store and though I don't see them there often, I do see them from time to time, especially during local celebrations. I first became familiar with the store due to the classic example of Betty's pottery shown in the picture above. She uses Queen Anne's Lace to make those intricate designs and my mom owns a set of those in the shade of blue shown above. If you ever need to buy a gift for me, stop in at the store and just about anything will work.

But at the top of my wish list right now is the wine rack above that Bill fashioned in his blacksmith shop in the other half of the Iron & Lace building. His ability to turn wrought iron into works of art astound me and make me somewhat envious. I have always wanted to build a house someday and when I do, I will design around the wine rack above. I rarely even drink wine so that gives you some idea at how much I admire his work.

Although this isn't my favorite wine rack in the store, I thought the picture was a good example of both of their specialties side by side.

New to me the last time I stopped at the store during my past vacation was that Betty is evidently branching out to make other things out of pottery. In the past, all I remember were sets of kitchen pottery but on this trip, there were only a couple sets of those and most of the other space was devoted to things like the Nativity set above. I'm guessing some of that was due to a local festival going on the very next weekend. People are much more likely to shell out a few bucks for a figurine or knick-knack than the many hundred bucks it would take to get a set of the fancier pieces of kitchen type pottery.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Anti-Theft Devices Only Deter Me From Buying Said Devices

A year or so ago, I opted to sell my wife's car in favor of something that was all wheel drive since she was going to be doing a lot more driving in bad road conditions at all hours of the night. It was a peace of mind thing for me. I decided to try a new method of purchasing this vehicle by buying it used off Ebay but I thus limited what options I could get to those that were on the car that met my price and proximity budgets. So I ended up successfully winning a bid for a 2001 Honda CR-V in Chicago that had a Special Edition trim package and more than I would normally go for had I bought the vehicle new. One of those features is a theft deterrent system.

It actually had two theft deterrent systems, one that is an aftermarket device installed so that anytime someone touches your car in a manner not becoming of someone with the key or fob, it sounds an abrasive alarm and another one that is part of the factory radio. I hate both. The first one is absolutely worthless because nobody pays attention to them anymore anyway. I've seen so many people standing next to cars fumbling around in their pockets for what I presume it their keys that could actually be people looking for their screwdriver to break the steering wheel lock and have kept on walking. I'm not the only one. I also know that the alarm on my wife's car has gone off more than a time or two when I accidentally went to open it without unlocking it and not one person has ever asked me if I were breaking into it. Another quirk of the alarm on my wife's car is its ability to arm the alarm without actually locking the doors so I can go up and open the door setting off the alarm even though I have the key. I would have ripped the system out long ago except for two reasons. I bought the car second hand and don't have a manual or know how to disarm the sucker and two, it is tied in with the key less entry and remote start features which I do like, especially when I have full arms or a cold car on an even colder winter day. In the end, I disconnected the auxiliary horn that was installed on it so now when the security is breached by me, it is as silent as a church mouse. My wife has discovered that if you hit the car lock button on the fob more than twice, it sets off the alarm via the factory horn but this is a more rare event. I can live with that.

But it is the anti-theft system that is tied into the car radio that I wish to elaborate on for this blog post. My wife accidentally left her headlights on for 36 hours while on call at the hospital in the urban jungle and ran the battery completely dead. Although it randomly set off her car alarm (before it was permanently disabled) when the car was running with the key in the ignition which created some embarrassing situations for her until the battery charged up enough to prevent that from happening, the most annoying thing was that it killed the radio. In a 2001 CR-V, whenever the battery is disconnected or run completely flat, the radio locks itself requiring a code to use it again. Googling has revealed that if we had bought the car new, our manual would contain a page with a sticker on it that we could stick in some undisclosed location on the car and refer to it in times of need, namely every time the battery was replaced, disconnected or run flat. However, we didn't receive said manual when we bought the vehicle and I was forced to hunt for that undisclosed location.

More Googling told me that the most common (dealer placed) undisclosed locations were the bottom of the ashtray or cup holder, side of the glove box or inside of one of the three fuse box covers. None were the case in my situation along with the visors, vanity mirrors, every compartment lid throughout the vehicle, door same, under the seat, or any other surface large enough for a small sticker that I could think about and search. In frustration, I tried a few obvious codes like 11111 or 12345 but the radio went from asking for the code to err1 to err2. I decided not to press my luck for fear of reaching some unknown limit that might cause the radio to self destruct instead of remain locked for use.

Back to doing some more Googling and later by calling the nearest dealer some 70 miles away, I learned that the only way to retrieve the code when you don't know the code it to give the dealer the serial number of the radio which is located on the same sticker as the code or a different sticker on the body of the radio. As I can't locate the former sticker, I am left with reading the latter sticker which means I have to remove the glove box and right lower dash, the lower left dash, the lower center console, remove the five screws holding the center radio console to the car body, slide the center radio console out to access the screws holding the radio to the center console, slide the radio out and read the serial number. Then I have to put everything back together in reverse order, call my closest dealer and then and only then will they give me the code to my radio.

Why on earth would the only information necessary to unlock the anti-theft feature on a radio be located on the radio itself, the very same object of desire by some would be thief, is unfathomable to me and thus the reason why I asked my local dealer when I had him on the phone. His reply? Honda has realized the stupidity of this and thus on 2002 and higher models had made it so that if you push the one and the six preset buttons simultaneously and then hit the power button, the radio would display the serial number. I don't think he gathered from my dumbfounded silence at the other end of the phone that they still hadn't answered my question. So I had to tear apart the dash of my wife's car to retrieve a number to help me get the code to listen to the radio once again. I haven't but have thought that someday soon I should etch it into the face of said radio so that it can't be missed in time of future need or by some thief wishing to have my radio. Perhaps by saving them a phone call to give a dealer the serial number they will respond by doing less damage to my car in their attempt to liberate my nearly decade old factory radio. They already know that they don't have to worry about the car siren that will mostly might have blared out while they went about their theft. Nobody would have paid any attention.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Bridge Over River Des Moines

Bridge Over River Des Moines

If you ever come to visit me for a few days and want to see some of the local scenery, you will inevitably see the bridge pictured above and walk across it. Although I was not yet old enough to drive when it closed down to automobile traffic when the new bridge north of town was completed, I was old enough to remember riding in my dad's car over that bridge several times and always wondering if we would make it to the other side. The subtle changes in the car direction to stay on the boards laid in the direction of travel for each tire, were enough to cause the whole thing to sway back and forth. Driving off the boards were sure to send the car tires through the bridge planking and causing the car to get hung up by its frame with wheels dangling above the river below until pulled out and the bridge patched up. In short, I can understand why the bridge was replaced.

Fortunately a group of industrious people got together and rather than tear down the bridge as they could have easily done, decided to preserve the bridge for historical purposes long before doing so was the "in" thing to do. The re-planked an area a few feet wide down the middle of the bridge and installed railings to prevent the absent minded pedestrian from walking across the original planking which is now fragile enough that a person might fall through and being smaller than an automobile frame, that person might not be as fortunate to get hung up before falling into the river.

The result is that you have a nifty pedestrian bridge between two towns on opposite banks of the river that just begs to be photographed whenever you walk across it. I have yet to walk across it without taking at least a couple dozen photographs here and there. There are a few places across the bridge where the new planking has been expanded to the full width of the bridge to allow for bump-outs with benches and better views of the river below. I have it on good authority, since I actually attended one, that those bump-outs make a great place to get married.

So during my vacation which coincided with a visit from a couple of my wife's relatives, I found myself on the bridge with camera in hand and now have a couple dozen new photographs on my computer hard drive, some of which I share with you here.

There are a few dents here and there...

... some missing planks and vegetation growing where it shouldn't...

... but oh so scenic...

... and the plants do like it there.

The path frequently taken.