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May 27, 2006


I'm back home in the Missouri hills after another two weeks on the road. Since the project I've been working on involved a large utility vehicle, I'm reminded of the Grateful Dead song Truckin'. And "what a long, strange trip it's been," indeed.

Luckily, we skipped the "Livin' on reds, vitamin C and cocaine" part of that song.

This (pop-up) image of me climbing down from the cab of the vehicle was taken at the start of the day near Wapella, Illiniois. The Panasonic Toughbook I was using is visible to the left of my head. I was very happy with the Toughbook's performance; it took a lot of rattling and bouncing around during the last month and it never faltered. And it's pretty snappy, to boot. If you ever need a ruggedized laptop, check out the Toughbook.

But the best news was that we had a great team. We had a lot of sharp eyes and level heads in our group, especially given the often frustrating circumstances. A big shout-out to Allen, Alan, Amy, Brian, Kyle, Sean, Stacy and Steve for keepin' it right.

This last two weeks saw us visiting several more rural locations in the Midwest. If you're up for more prattle about the prairie, as in my last post on this topic, then read on.

Since all the work we were trying to do on this project was - literally - in the field, we were subject to the weather. Rain was a Bad Thing if it occurred while, or just before, we planned to work. Since it was rainy in Monmouth when we reconvened after Mothers' Day, our client decided to take the show on the road.

Our first day out, we visited Newton, Iowa. Here's a view from the field we were working in, taken not long after sun-up.

Field at Newton

Since morning is my favorite time of day and since I like being outside, it was usually a treat to get out in the country early. The part I didn't like was the staying out there until 8 or 9 PM.

After an afternoon and most of a day at Newton, we spent an evening and a morning traveling to Kerkhoven, Minnesota. We had a long first day at Kerkhoven when we discovered a problem with one of the electrical subsystems late in the evening. So we were in the equipment shed until after 10 PM trying to troubleshoot it. Luckily, our client had the foresight to bring an ice chest full of frosty cold ones with him.

Don't be misled by the word shed. This "shed" is a fairly new Morton building: it's fully insulated, it has a full concrete floor with radiant heat and it has one of the most interesting doors I've seen.


This big door folds in the middle horizontally and the halves are pulled together by cables driven by an electric motor. When it's open, the doorway is tall (and wide) enough to admit a small airplane. The small doorway for people (at the left) will give you a sense of scale. It's quite a building, for an equipment shed.

This one was taken in mid-afternoon, the day we arrived at Kerkhoven.

Field at Kerkhoven

Kerkhoven looks a whole lot like Newton, doesn't it? Part of the reason for this is that the places we usually worked were the bottom lands that are good for agriculture. The other part is that there's a big old mess of prairie in the middle of North America: from eastern Colorado to western Pennsylvania (north of the Ohio river) and north from Oklahoma into the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. There's a reason they call it the Great Plains: there are thousands of square miles of mostly flat grasslands out there, with the occassional river valley.

The only other places I've heard of as large and flat as the North American prairies are the Russian steppes and the South American pampas.

When we left Kerkhoven, we traveled south to Mapleton, Minnesota where we worked last Saturday. Mapleton's not far south of Mankato, Minnesota. I don't have any photos of Mapleton, but by now you know you're not missing much. It looked much like the other photos above.

From Mapleton, we returned to Monmouth. Since we had equipment following us from Minnesota back to Illinois, I had some free time on Sunday to drive to Champaign-Urbana and visit my foster mother.

Alma Mater at Illinois
To her happy children of the future
those of the past send greetings

The statue of Alma Mater at Illinois was made by Loredo Taft, who was a well-known sculptor in his day but who doesn't even seem to rate a Wikipedia page these days. The university's motto is "Learning and Labor" and I believe that the other two figures in this statuary group are intended to represent those virtues.

It was a beautiful day in Urbana; bright and sunny with a temperature in the high 70s. The campus had that lazy, uncrowded summertime feel to it that I recalled from the summers when I lived in Urbana year-round.

The next week, we spent three days working in the Monmouth area. This is the Warren County courthouse which sits at the northwest corner of the Monmouth public square.

Warren County courthouse

Our final worksite was at Wapella, Illinois, where this post started. We spent most of a day there and then we headed home. Here's a picture, taken at Wapella, of some fellows loading a soybean planter before they start a day of planting.

Loading a planter

This particular machine will plant 23 rows of soybeans at a pass, with each pass being 28.75 feet wide. They can plant many acres of beans pretty quickly.

And, having just got back from Illinois, I believe I'll lock the front door because I got to sit down, take a rest on my porch, and look out my back door.

Posted by joke du jour at May 27, 2006 08:14 AM

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