Archive for July, 2009

Rockford, Illinois — Home Sweet Home

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

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After several years absence, we have finally returned to Rockford, Illinois, Rick’s hometown, for a very brief visit

It is funny how you can breeze past things and years later, when you spot them, there is finally meaning in what you see.  A sign caught my eye as we drove passed a park on the SE part of town. It was a sign on a ticket booth for the Rockford Peaches, a girls professional baseball team that competed here from 1943 to 1954. The were depicted in the movie “A League of Their Own”.  (Click on Photo to enlarge sign.)


We moved to Rockford in 1953 when I was 7 years old. We never made it to any of the games.

Zipping through town we headed over to my childhood neighborhood.  On a corner of the block upon which we lived I spotted this plaque indicating that my old house,  was built upon part of the site of Camp Fuller, an encampment for Union soldiers during the Civil War.  Looks like they should have used brass bolts to keep the rust down.


This is the 1st house that I owned. I had it built in 1968.  Note the huge oak tree in the back yard. I planted it as a sapling when my first son Marc was born, in 1970.


The last house that I owned in Rockford was one that was built back in 1850.  I may have put the still decorated Christmas tree away in the attic at the end of one holiday season, but not even I would leave a Christmas wreath on the house at the end of July.


(That should drive our friend Karen, head of the X-MAS decoration police, to go have a drink.)

We had a wonderful dinner with an old friend at the famous Maria’s Italian Cafe. There were several old friends that happened by the restaurant that evening.  Most of them were contemporaries of my late brother Bob.  They remembered him fondly.

Just a final note regarding the condition of the Rockford Streets.  They are horribly maintained.  A little blacktop would do wonders.

The Quad Cities

Friday, July 24th, 2009

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We’ve thawed out from the record setting low temperatures in the Quad Cities to continue with our investigation of the area.  The Quad cities consist of Rock Island, Moline, Davenport and Bettendorf  which are in the states of IL and IA.  We saw a sign welcoming us to East Moline, IL. which claimed to be part of the quad cities, but what would it then be called, the Pent Cities?

On our way through the countryside heading in to town, we spotted a lot of corn and a windmill farm that appeared to be out of place.


Anyway, we wandered up and down the shore of the Mississippi on both sides.

We spotted a river boat, the Celebration Belle, that gives tours from Moline to as far away as southern Minnesota.


You can tell by the size of the paddle wheel that it is only for show.  As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even touch the water.


There are several bridges across the Mississippi in the area.  Most have very narrow lanes.


The bridge across the river near the Rock Island Arsenal is a multi-layered, multi-use structure.  The top level is for trains.


The lower level is for auto traffic.  It is not for claustrophobics, especially with a 3-engine freight train rumbling overhead.


While on the subject of bridges, here is a wooden bridge that is still being used for motorized traffic. There are no signs restricting the weight of the traffic.  We elected not to cross this one.


There is something about a river town that is unique. It’s great to see communities where all of the old buildings are still in use.


Having grown up in old houses and owned one myself that was built in 1850, I love to see these fantastic old homes.  These people are really into vines.  I don’t know what it has done to the mortar.


Some homes even have names.  This one is named Hillside.


The neighborhoods along the river are built on a fairly steep hill.


What do you think of their view of the river?


The graphic below demonstrates the 400-foot drop in elevation of the upper Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Louis. (Click on photo to enlarge)


The level is controlled by a series of locks and dams.  The largest drop is the one of 49 feet.

The lock system works on gravity, the lock is filled from water from upstream then released downstream to lower the level.


A group of barges on a downstream voyage wait for the water to fill the lock.


Once the water level above the dam has been reached, the gates open and the barges move into the lock.


Once in the lock, there are only a few feet one each side of the barges.


When the lower level is reached, the downstream gates are opened, the barges move out and the gates re-close.  The entire cycle can take as little as 20 minutes.


While in the area we checked out the Jumer’s Casino in Rock Island.


It wasn’t as profitable as the River Queen in St. Louis, but we at least broke even.  The lunch buffet was excellent and quite reasonable.

The Land of Lincoln

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

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Just a note about Illinois roads, they don’t always mark the clearance under the bridges.


So far, we noticed that they do post heights less than 15 feet.  When you’re rig is nearly 13 1/2 feet tall, the more information that you have, the better.  Also, be sure to slow down in the construction areas.  The fine for speeding is $375.00 and if you happen to hit a worker, 14 years in jail.  That would really mess up your trip.

The capital of Illinois is Springfield, a city of about 116,000 people located in central Illinois.  Their current Capitol building looks like most, with its large dome.  Here is a picture of the old Capitol building, with its weather worn columns, which we found a little more interesting.


Aside from governmental activities, Springfield is all things Lincoln.  You have the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Lincoln’s residence, Lincoln’s neighborhood, the Lincoln Museum, Lincoln’s church and I’m sure his outhouse is there somewhere.

Anyway, we went into the Lincoln Presidential Library, which is the newest of all presidential libraries, built in 2002.


Unless you are there to do research, there isn’t much to see. The library does, however, have a lot of online resources available for the public.

We crossed the street to the Lincoln Museum, which is a mirror image of the library.


Inside, and after a nominal charge, we sat through an interesting historical, holographic presentation and then started through the exhibits.

They had wax figures of many key figures of Abe’s life and times.  Here is the family in the central plaza of the museum.


Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four children, three of which died at an early age.  The fourth, Robert, lived until 1926 and died at the age of 82.  I’m not sure he was a favorite child, for he tried to have Mary committed to an asylum.

Depicted in wax, this is the White House death bed of one of the children, while State entertainment was taking place in another room of the mansion.


There were some great displays in the museum.  The old log cabin, the White House Years, the Civil War, the assassination, and many others.  The many documents and other treasures were all were very interesting.

A few blocks from the museum and across the street from the old Capitol building was Lincoln’s law office.


We ate lunch across the street at one of several sandwich shops along the way. Then headed to the old neighborhood.  Lincoln’s home and surrounding area have been restored to represent Abe’s neighborhood.


The last time we visited here, 20 years ago, archeologists were digging up the back yards of the neighborhood hunting up any relics of the period.


Because we had done it years earlier, we didn’t take a walking tour of the neighborhood.  If you haven’t done it, your time would be well spent to investigate the tour.

We headed on passed Lincoln’s family church …


Then we headed over to Best Buy to pick up a camera to hold us over until ours could be repaired. (See earlier camera story.)

Then it was on back to the Sangchris Lake State Park.   The park is nice and quiet, about 15 miles southeast of Springfield.  They offer campsites with 30 amp electric but no water or sewer.  We used our fresh water tank and dumped our sewer at the dump station they provided.

Here are the first two pictures with the new camera.



When in the Springfield area, be sure to take in some of the history.

Grayline Tour – Saint Louis (Part 2)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

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We don’t want to bore you with more pictures.  Oops, too late.

To continue with our Grayline Tour of Saint Louis, we had opted for the Anhauser Busch plant tour and as we arrived, we were amazed at the size of the place.  This is one of the bottling areas and was constructed in 1917.


I’ve never seen so many red brick buildings in my life.  At 6.5 bricks per square foot, one can only imaging how many they went through.  The landscaping was also fabulous throughout the entire complex.


The Clydesdale horses live better than most people.


Their stable is worth millions.


In the visitors center there are several shops and memorabilia which include a huge stein collection


and this BUD car.


The “Beechwood Aging” tanks are enormous.   If you drank a case a day, it would take approximately 125 years to empty one of these tanks. The temperature in the room is kept at 55 degrees.


Another process is mashing and is a cooking process performed in different steel tanks.


While looking at the mash tanks, you are standing next to a huge chandelier that reaches up another four floors.


Then comes the bottling room.  Each machine can bottle up to 1300 bottles per minute.


Then it was off to the tasting room where we were able to test two glasses of the beers of our choice.

One of the most interesting segments of the history of Saint Louis is that of their churches.  The city was settled by various ethnic groups.  Each group built their own church and each tried to do it on a grander scale than the others.  In the 1870’s planning was begun for the grandest of them all, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.


The construction was completed in 1914, seven years after the ground was cleared.  The church is magnificent as you look at it from the outside, but, amazing when you enter.


83,000 square feet of the interior  surfaces are covered with some of the most fantastic mosaic tile work.


Installation of the mosaics began in 1912 and continued through 3 or 4  generations of artisans and was completed in 1988.  That’s right, 76 years after the work began.


If you are in St Louis and only have time for one attraction,  you might want to consider the Cathedral Basilica for that one stop.

We feel that our day with the Grayline Tour was well worth the time and the moderate cost of $82.00 for two of us.

Grayline Tour – Saint Louis (Part 1)

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

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We’ve discovered that, when we are going to be in a city or location for a short time, we  rely on organized tours to give us an overview of the locale. In this case we opted for the services of the Grayline Tour folks.  The tour bus picked us up at the Cahokia RV Parque at about 8:45 AM for our spin around Saint Louis, MO.

Because we were the second couple picked up, we spent the greater part of the next  picking up other members of our group. That wasn’t a bad thing. We got to know our driver/tour guide and learned miscellaneous stuff along the way.

Our first stop was a little unscheduled because we were waiting for a couple to arrive.  We wandered inside the ornate old Union Railroad Station, portions of which had been turned into shops.  Due to camera problems, most of the shots inside the station were useless.  However I did get this one ofthe Tiffany stained glass window above the Station’s main entryway features three women representing the main U.S. train stations during the 1890s: New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.


One thing that made it interesting was that we were having our tour on All Star Baseball Day.   Many of the downtown roads were closed to traffic.  They even had this red carpet running for several blocks for a parade of the players.


Statues of all sorts and nationalities of dignitaries strewn the avenues.


We had the option of touring the Gateway Arch, the nation’s tallest monument, or Anheuser Busch factory, home of Budweiser Beer. Since we knew we’d be thirsty, we opted for the latter.

The Arch, however, is hard to miss when in the area.  You see it everywhere.  When you’re trying to take a picture of a church…….


Or in the reflection of other buildings.


Saint Louis was  the site of the 1904 World’s Fair.  Most of the buildings from the fair were torn down after the exhibition.  A few still remain. Here are a couple of examples.



At the site of the old fairgrounds, there is a park which houses several museums, gardens, golf courses, and beautiful homes. Here are a couple of examples.



The History Museum was one of our stops.  Notable exhibits were those of The 1904 World’s Fair and of Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis.


They even had a mock-up of the  plane’s cockpit.


They had a statue of Thomas Jefferson looking a lot like Abraham Lincoln.  He was president at the time of the Louisiana Purchase (Including Missouri) back in 1803.


We have a really lousy connection at the moment and will continue later.