Sunday, April 24, 2011

Smithville, Ontario in April

On a windy Monday we picked up a 35 ft. Sightseer motor home in Forest City and thankfully, only had to drive it as far as the Prairie. It was a “two hands” on the steering wheel day!

Early Tuesday morning, with a tail wind and 23 degrees we headed east into a beautiful sunrise over the Iowa Mountains!! (There was a long north south cloud bank on the horizon that resembled a range of mountains in the distance. The only mountains we would have in Iowa!)

Nice to see green grass with no snow banks! Temp climbed to 37 degrees under a sunny blue sky by the time we reached Cedar Rapids. Over the Mississippi River, which was back in its banks, into Illinois? A few of the thousands of acres of farmland had been tilled and ready to plant. Through Chicago, into Indiana, on I-94 into Michigan.

Back to late winter, very early spring landscape with no green grass and trees with bare branches

As we drive along the edge of Lake Michigan through low tree covered hills dotted with small towns, businesses and commercial buildings the sky is full of large white clouds. Turning east toward Detroit the Interstate is lined with acres of irrigated farm land, grapevines, fruit trees, Christmas tree farms and occasional wineries.

Thanking the Lord for a safe, clean place to stay TA Truck stop.

Started early AM through Detroit to the Ambassador Bridge. Found it even in the rain. Did manage to get in the wrong lane—not a cash lane. Thankfully it was very early morning and not a lot of traffic. Found some help, paid our toll and we were on our way. Every time we have driven over it there has been lane closures and construction. This time there were huge potholes and not much space to maneuver a “dodge!” Later we read some articles in the local papers telling that there is a controversy over the building of another bridge. The private owners are planning to build a “twin” toll bridge beside this one, but there is a group trying to get government money from Canada and US to build one in a different area.

Through customs and truck inspection which consisted of looking at our log book, checking lights, and asking questions. On the road headed east in the rain driving parallel to the Lake Erie coastline all the way to Smithville.

Acres of flat brown wet farmland. Past Leamington which is known as the “tomato capital of the world!” Just brown stalks left in the fields today.

All signs are in English and then in French. Definitely a language learning experience as we drive along. Km instead of miles. Gas sold in liters instead of gallons. We paid about $4.63 a gal. Most towns have a sport center that includes an ice arena for hockey.

Near London we spotted the first remnants of snow in the ditch with fog ahead. The fog turned out to be snow! Very wet snow that was accumulating on the ground. Small pine trees are wrapped in brown cloth and tied with twine both along the highway and around private homes. We think this is protecting them from being eaten by the deer.

Smooth delivery with rain stopping while we unhooked and unloaded the unit. Back on the road in heavy rain/snow. Over the Ambassador Bridge and a motel in Detroit for the evening.

We found out that the Comfort Inn motel in Dearborn/Taylor had a special that allowed a voucher for admittance and free parking at the Ford Museum. Since the outside exhibits were not open for the season we will wait for another time to visit.

The next morning we headed west on a cloudy, cool day, but thankfully no rain. Into Indiana & through Chicago. Turned off the interstate onto Hwy 6 to Seneca, IL. Acres of farm ground having fertilizer applied. As we get closer to the river the bluffs form a tall line on one side of the road.

Seneca, Illinois

We have wanted to stop and see the old grain elevator in this town. Why? Because managing a grain elevator is on Jim’s resume! We could not get inside today, but it was an awesome sight. The crib like attached building indicated that they also stored large amounts of ear corn. It sits beside the remains of a canal that led to the Illinois River.

The M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator is the oldest remaining grain elevator built along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The elevator, constructed in 1861-1862 allowed local farmers to ship their grain in bulk to Chicago markets via the canal, as opposed to transporting each load by horse and wagon.

Each day farmers delivered hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain. As many as 400 wagon loads which were weighed, sorted and transported by canal boat pulled by mules.

Throughout history water has been the best way to transport people and goods. From 1673 on, explorers, politicians, investors, travelers and farmers alike saw the advantages of building a canal near Chicago that would link the waters of Lake Michigan with those of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, thus providing a water passage all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1825, when the Erie Canal opened as a link between the Great Lakes and Eastern seaboard, the proposed Illinois canal gained impetus because its construction would provide a continuous water highway stretching from New York to New Orleans.

After years of planning, the Canal Commissioners began building the I&M Canal in 1836, but faced numerous hurdles including a shortage of workers, and a national financial panic in 1837. Irish, as well as German, Swedish and other immigrants, attracted by the promise of abundant jobs, flocked to Illinois to begin the arduous work of digging the 96 mile canal by hand. Jeremiah Crotty, an Irish immigrant, contracted to build 11 miles of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which bisects the Village. Today there is a recreational trail running along the edge of the abandoned canal.

The town is an interesting mix of old buildings and homes and new. The bluffs create an interesting challenge for building and streets!

Seneca was also well known for the Shipyard, which built Navy warships called LST's or Landing Ship Tanks. The Shipyard was in operation from 1942 to 1945 with a final production of 157 LST's built. The shipyards played an important role in World War II because they helped people by providing money and many jobs to our community. There is a memorial in the park dedicated to the 27.000 employees who worked at this factory and to the service men who served on the LST.

LeClaire, Iowa

This little town next to the Mississippi River has some interesting history. Lewis and Clark camped here, first settlers came in 1834, from 1848 to 1880 it is said that 350 rivermen lived here all at the same time. They included inventors, clericals, builders, captains, pilots, engineers, cooks, firemen, raft hands, deck hands and mates, dredge hands and lock tenders. Others helped with the construction of dams or worked on shore supporting the river work. Buffalo Bill, the great scout, Indian fighter and showman is perhaps the most famous to claim LeClaire their home.

The Buffalo Bill Museum was closed for the day, but we could see the full-sized riverboat through the windows. Many interesting shops are located along Main Street and a guide showing the names of the riverboat captains that owned the houses built along the river is available at the Welcome Center. Our Super 8 was on a bluff overlooking the river. We sat at a booth beside windows overlooking the river at Happy Joes Pizza & Ice Cream restaurant enjoying both pizza and ice cream while it rained! It was too early in the season to see any barges moving up or down the river.

Hoover Museum

“My grandparents and my parents came here in a covered wagon. In this community they toiled and worshiped God…The most formative years of my boyhood were spent here. My roots are in this soil….” Herbert Hoover

Today the buildings of the town of West Branch and site help recall that historic setting. The birthplace cottage, blacksmith shop, Friends Meetinghouse, and schoolhouse are all open to the public. The town itself seemed to be a quiet, peaceful place on the day we were there.

The museum contained information both about the Hoovers and the history that helped form the decisions they made both for themselves and the country. Herbert was the second of three children born to Jessie and his wife, Hulda. His father, Jessie, was a blacksmith. He sold his blacksmith shop and opened a farm implement business in 1879. One of the ads he posted for his business stated, “Having bought my goods early, I can sell you at reasonable prices anything in my line from a sewing machine needle to a steam engine.” Jessie died of a heart attack in December 1880 leaving his wife with the responsibility of raising their 3 children.

By taking in sewing and economizing, Hulda was able to save the money from Jesse’s insurance policy for her children’s education. One of the items in the museum was a metal pattern maker consisting of 4 pieces that could be moved and shaped to fit person and style. I’d seen parts of them before, but never a whole set complete with the instruction book titled, Drafting and Cutting for Dresses, Basques, Sacques, Coats, Etc. I admire their ability to use this simple method compared to my files of paper patterns upstairs in my closet!!

She was a noted speaker in the Quaker Community and often called to nearby Meetings. On one trip in 1884 she caught a cold that developed into pneumonia and then typhoid fever which caused her death leaving the Herbert and his sister and brother orphans.

The children were sent to live with various relatives. Herbert, 9 years old, went to his Aunt and Uncle on a farm near West Branch. As a boy he fished in the creek with a willow pole, butcher string line and patience instilled by the Quaker discipline. Fishing became a life long passion as did the Quaker tenants of emotional self-containment and a commitment to worldly success matched by obligation to others. Later in life he wrote the following poem about fishing:


Tis’ the chance to wash my soul with pure air,

With the rush of the brook or with the shine of the sun on the blue water,

It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature,

Charity toward tackle makers,

Patience toward fish,

A mockery of profits and egos,

A quieting of hate,

A rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week!

And it is discipline in the equality of men----

For all men are equal before fish!

When Herbert was 11, he was sent to Oregon to live with his mother’s brother who owned a land company. In a geology lab at college he met Lou Henry, a banker’s daughter born in Waterloo, Iowa. She was the first girl to take geology! They corresponded after graduation and during his job with British Company as a mining engineer in Australia. He found gold, but wrote back this description of Australia—“A country of dust, black flies, and white heat!”

He and Lou were married and went to China to develop coal mines, survived the Boxer Rebellion, had 2 sons, traveled with his family all over the globe working for a company known as the “doctor of sick mines” until he established his own firm of engineering consultants based in London. Herbert & Lou translated a 16th century treatise on mining, published it and it remains a standard reference work to this day!

The Quaker traditions of being humane and generous to others set him on a course of public service for the rest of his life.

Interesting Highlights from the Museum:

  • Hoover administrated the ARA (American Relief Administration) to feed the refugees in countries in Europe during WWI. Flour in cotton sacks was distributed, but carefully monitored as to who received them because the Germans needed cotton to manufacture ammunition. The empty sacks were distributed to schools, sewing workrooms and individual artists for their use. Some were embellished with exquisite embroidery & artwork transforming them for resale. They were also made into functional bags, boxes, pillows or clothing.

  • Before the ARA undertook to feed the Russian people they were eating “famine” bread made out of clay, manure, weeds and straw!

  • During this time the American people were asked to have “meatless Monday” and “wheatless Wednesday” in order to have more food to ship overseas to the refugees. The slogan was: “Go back to simple food, simple clothes, and simple pleasures. Pray hard, Work hard, Sleep hard, and Play hard. Do it all courageously and cheerfully. We have a victory to win!”

  • A valentine from this era stated: “To My Valentine. I can Hooverize on dinners, on lights and on fuel, too. But I’ll never learn to Hooverize when it comes to loving you!”

  • As Secretary of Commerce he used his engineering skills to “standardize” many manufactured products. He also built the Hoover Dam as a flood relief project and power source.

Most people only remember him as President Hoover during the depression. We found that there was a lot more to his life and service. Definitely worth a few hours of your time.

At the Visitor Center was a display showing the Underground Railroad activity in Iowa. Many of the homes are still intact and the hiding places have been found by the new owners.

Yes, Iowa has played a big part in America’s history over the years. We thank the Lord for those who have spent time investigating facts and setting up displays to teach us of our heritage!

Back on I-80 headed to Des Moines and meeting our new great-granddaughter, attending a grand-daughter’s concert and some time with family. Our personal heritage!

Thank you for traveling with us,

Prairie Schooners

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