Vanished Places

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment


I have started several posts this week, however none have been completed to my satisfaction.  I have been searching for images to go with one of the posts.  In that search I found one image that relates to my post earlier in the week about the importance of drainage tile.  The image above is a drawing of the Bernard Youngman Tile Factory in Pesotum Illinois.  I would imagine that much of the tile that was used here was made at this factory.  The Tile Factory also made bricks, however I don’t think that they sold many bricks since there are not many brick buildings in this area.  I can’t say for sure, however I would guess that this factory went out of business in the 1900’s.  Demand for tile had declined by then and it is likely that they could not compete with the larger brick factories like Danville Brick in Danville Illinois.  Whenever the factory did go out of business there is almost nothing that remains of it today.  The only possible remnant is a small brick building that I have been told was once part of the tile factory. 

For some reason the idea of a place that was once a place of vital activity in a community disappearing is fascinating to me.  There are a couple of other places like that in Pesotum.  The one I remember best is the grain elevator that used to be between the highway and the railroad.  For decades it was a center of activity during the fall harvest.  Because it was on a narrow strip of land and also very close to the Pesotum lumberyard you had to turn very sharply as you came down the ramp that exited the elevator.  In the late sixties a newer elevator was built at the edge of town and that eventually lead to the closing of the old elevator.  As I mentioned next to the elevator there was a lumberyard.  Like a lot of small town businesses the lumberyard was past its prime by the time I came along.  About the only thing I remember about it is my father telling me that his family once purchased their coal there and that the coal came in bags.  I believe that the fate of this lumberyard was to burn down in the late 70’s.  The fate of the elevator was to be torn down when the highway was widened in the 1980’s.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the old elevator.  It was a fairly substantial building being made of at least three concrete silos that could be seen for miles.  When it was gone it did leave a whole in the local skyline.  Now there is only a strip of grass between the highway and the railroad.  I imagine that it will not be long before it is forgotten that such a large and important building was there. 


The above picture is of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad Shops in Villa Grove Illinois.  The Photo is probably from sometime shortly after 1904 when the shops came to Villa Grove.  The C&EI shops were built to service steam engines and employed a lot of people in Villa Grove.  When diesel trains took over from the steam trains in the 1950’s the shops were closed.  Today the roundhouse pictured here along with the building to the left are still standing.  They were used for many years by an agricultural supply business, however they appear to have received little maintenance. 


Anyway it is interesting how often places that where once important vanish or fall into ruin.  Wish I could put all that together and reach a profound conclusion of some sort, however for now all I have is the observation.

Categories: history, image, Images, Places

Farmers Continue to have Trouble with Wet Weather

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment


I took this picture to show how wet it is here again.  After a two week break from the rain it has rained most of the day.  Even more rain is forecast for tomorrow.  I imagine it will be some time before farmers in Central Illinois will be able to get back in the fields.  Farmers in this part of Illinois have been battling wet fields every since they first came here. 

Central Illinois is well-known for being flat.  This whole area was underneath a large glacier as recently as 15,000 years ago.  That is so recent in geological time that the ground is still rising from when it was compressed by the glacier.  The glacier destroyed the natural drainage here so that this area was once a large wetland. The difficulties with drainage here made Central Illinois the last part of Illinois to be settled by Europeans.  It wasn’t until the 1850’s when the Illinois Central Railroad was built that large numbers came here to try to make farms.

Where I live I have heard that many of the original settlers came from a part of Germany that also had drainage problems.  So they had some expertise in draining land.   It appears that they would dig channels where the lay of the land would cause water to flow more quickly to the few rivers in the area.  These waterways look like small creeks, however most people here call them drainage ditches.  The next step was to lay clay tile underneath their fields to send water from the fields to the drainage ditches.  They needed a lot of clay tile and that made the making of these tiles into a major industry in the 19th century.  Most every town in the area had a factory that made clay tile and bricks.  By the start of the 20th century the land here had been provided with a new system of drainage that helped make this one of the most productive areas for agriculture in the World.

When I was a child the draining of our wetlands was presented as another of man’s victories over nature.  Nobody had any love for wetlands.  As I got older and learned more about wetlands it came to seem like a sad thing that such a large ecosystem was destroyed so thoroughly that today there are only very small remnants.

I did when I was a child consider myself fortunate that one of these drainage ditches was so close to my house.   We did give our drainage ditch the dignity of calling it a creek.  There was a lot of good clay along the creek and I spent a lot of time building miniature cities.  Sometimes the cities would have a harbor that I made wooden boats for.  I suppose it was my own way of joining in the reshaping nature that was so much considered one of the glories of that time. 

Categories: farm, image, Images, musing

Changes in Farming and Harvest Update

November 14, 2009 1 comment


Most of the fields are starting to look like the one in the picture.  I would guess that here in Central Illinois that almost all the soybeans have been harvested along with 70 percent of the corn. The weather has been dry for the past two weeks.  If it were not for the grain elevators not being able to keep up with handling the corn harvest would probably be over by now.  Yesterday the local elevator only stayed open until noon.  Tomorrow we may be in for another spell of wet weather.  At least it looks like there is a chance for rain each day for the next several days. 

After the fields are clear farmers don’t have as much to do as they once did.  Now I am not a farmer, however I still live in a farm area.  My best knowledge of farming comes from when I was growing up on a farm in the 60’s and 70’s. At that time I actually did some farm work.  My current knowledge comes from having a father who is still somewhat involved in farming and from observation. 

Two things that farmers do after harvest is apply fertilizer and add soil amendments like lime.  The vast majority of farmers do not do this themselves. Instead the companies that sell these products also apply them.  These companies are fairly big employers in rural areas.  Many kids who grew up on farms, but who cannot find a place in farming go to work for these companies.  My understanding of why some farmers apply fertilizer in the Fall is to save some time in the spring in that it may allow them to plant sooner.  The disadvantage is that the fertilizer can wash off during the winter.  This runoff accounts for some of the high nitrate levels which are found in the water in places that rely on surface water. 

Fall tillage is the main post harvest task for farmers.  And it is in the area of tillage where farming has changed a great deal.   Once a major task for everyone was fall plowing.  This involved turning the soil over so that it was exposed in big chunks.  During the winter the freezing and thawing cycle would break these chunks up so that they could be more easily tilled in the Spring.  The trouble with this fall plowing is that it left the bare soil exposed to the elements all winter.  And bare soil generally will erode at a great rate.  It took some time for farmers to admit that this was a problem.  And it was mostly the incentives in various government farm programs that lead farmers to practice the minimal tillage of today.  Once my father plowed all of his fields in the fall.  Now he just disks the corn fields to break up the stalks and he does nothing to the soybean fields.  Most farmers take a similar approach. It has been a long time since I have seen a plowed field.

If you could take a farmer from thirty years ago and bring him into the present in say January or so, the first thing he would notice is that none of the fields are plowed.  If you could do the same for some farm kids of that time they would notice that there is no source for dirt clod fights.  A dirt clod fight is when we would go out into a plowed field with the lids from metal garbage cans for shields and throw dirt clods at each other.  We usually did this in the late winter when the soil had broken up.  Generally it was considered bad form to not hit the other guys shield, however it did happen.  Still I don’t remember anyone ever being seriously hurt. Mostly it was just a way to get outside and burn off some energy after a cold winter.  And most farm boys, myself included, back in those days very much liked to throw things.

Categories: farm, history, image, Images, Seasons

Thank a Conscientious Objector

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment

They do perform a service to their country even though their efforts are often belittled.  And such a belief might serve every country well if it were widely followed.  I imagine that many would think it naive or worse to think that such a thing could ever happen.  Still there are examples of where individuals have refused to take part in war even at great personal cost.  So the will to reject war as a solution is within the parameters of human potential.  And what some people have been able to do others can do also if they make the choice to do so.

To me the total rejection of the use of war seems similar to the need for an addict to reject drugs in order to recover.  I imagine that to most this seems extremely unrealistic.  Still with the human capacity to rationalize there may be some truth in that total abstinence from war is the only solution.

I got to thinking about this yesterday on Veteran’s Day.  It seems like for thousands of years we have been thanking and even glorifying warriors.  And yet the things that their wars were meant to prevent keep happening and often one war plants the seeds for a more terrible war to follow.   To me it seems like we have been in a pretty futile cycle for a long time.  Maybe the example of the conscientious objector offers a way to break that cycle.  And maybe if this world one day does become a much saner place to live we will have a day to thank the conscientious objector.

Categories: musing, Opinion

He Named His Son After Adolf Hitler

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Where I grew up there was a couple who gave their first son the first name of Adolf and the middle-name Hitler.  The father had been in the German army in WWII and came to Illinois after the war.  During the war he served with Hitler and must have admired him.  The child was born shortly after the war before Hitler was known for anything other than what he had done in the war.  The father was named Emil.

How Emil ended up coming to the United States and marrying a woman whose family provided him with a small farm I don’t know.  I can remember going to his farm when I was younger.  He was one of the last farmers who still grew almost all of his food.  The inside of his house looked like it had not changed in decades.  I imagine that he could have been sent back in time a hundred years without knowing the difference.

As it is in a small community everyone knew that Emil’s son had been named for someone that he knew while in the army. Early on nobody had heard of the namesake.  All I know of what happened later is that by the time we were at war with Germany that the son’s name was changed to Larry.  I never did meet Larry because he was killed early in the Korean War.  When I was a child I can remember going to church on Veteran’s Day with my father who had been in Korea.  After mass an honor guard would fire a salute to those who had died in a war and were buried in the cemetery next to the church.  These are the only times that I saw my father take part in something connected to the military since he held a low opinion of the army and of war in general.  I think the only reason that he went was because of Larry, who he had been friends with since childhood.

Now as is apparent I only know the barest outlines of this story.  And that small knowledge only came out in bits and pieces over many years.  I know that I do wonder what Emil must have thought to have once known and admired someone who turned out to be one of the worst monsters in history.  Yet he has been dead for many years and probably wouldn’t have answered when he was alive.  I do remember getting the sense when I was a child that this was a topic so shameful that it wasn’t to be talked about.  I never heard that he defended Hitler in anyway and I imagine that if he had people would have remembered.  And I am fairly certain that he probably would have preferred not to have been maybe the only man in the United States to have named his son Hitler.

I thought of this story because yesterday I was out riding my bike and a dog started chasing me.  Once I got done out-running the dog I stopped to catch my breath.  As I looked about I noticed that I was at the spot where Emil’s farm once stood.  All that is there now is a short driveway and a small machine shed.

Categories: history Tags: ,

I learned what I needed to in 8 days

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment

I set out a week ago to make a post each day for the month of November.  After just 8 days I have decided that it is a pointless exercise.  I think that the main motive for setting such a goal was that after not having posted for several days I could see myself once again giving up on blogging.  So I figured that posting daily might help me to regain the newly formed habit of regular posting.  I do think just this short week has helped in that area, however it has also shown me that by and large I don’t care to make posts because of some goal that the part of me that aspires to some discipline sets.  So I am going to rebel against myself and just post whenever I feel like it.

I do believe that I have caught the blogging bug enough that I will have plenty of motivation to keep it up.  I have made some posts that I learned something from. Especially once I had posted enough to see some patterns.  I also have learned maybe as much by posts that I have started and not finished.  Maybe you have had the experience of starting a post that you thought you cared a lot about or maybe had something important to say and then found out in writing that it actually didn’t mean that much to you.  I have and found it a worthwhile experience.

I suppose one thing I did learn from the thirty day experiment is how I do tend to impose extreme measures on myself when I see some shortcoming.  Then eventually I rebel against my own tyranny.

Categories: Blogging, musing Tags: ,

Harvest in Central Illinois

November 7, 2009 Leave a comment


More than likely you are not aware of the news of the late harvest in Central Illinois.  In October it rained 21 days out of 30 keeping the farmers out of the fields most of the time.  Usually the harvest is mostly complete by early October.  This year it is hard to tell when it might be finished.  In the past week the weather has dried up and today the temperatures are in the 70’s with fairly strong winds.  That is good weather for drying the corn out which is good, however it can be harmful to any remaining soybeans because if they get too dry the pods may shatter.  Farmers lose yield on soybeans if the pods shatter since then the beans fall on the ground and cannot be harvested.  Fortunately most of the soybeans have been harvested so this should not be much of a problem.

With the corn the problem is that the crop still has a fairly high moisture level.  To store properly corn needs be dried to a certain moisture level.  Most years a lot of this drying takes place in the fields.  The rest is either done by the grain elevator or by the farmer himself.  With the corn being more moist this year the drying process takes longer.  That seems to have created a backlog of wet corn waiting to go into long-term storage.  At this time in my area the local elevator is only taking corn every other day.  So while farmers are able to get into the fields unless they have their own drying capacity they are not able to harvest every day.  And that is my Saturday farm update.

Categories: farm Tags:

Walking Onions

November 6, 2009 1 comment


The unusual thing about these onions is that they form little onion bulbs at the top of their growth.  They also are perennial and very easy to grow.  All you have to do is to get some of the bulbs and plant them like you would an onion set.  The thing I like best about these onions is that in the Spring and again in the Fall you you can cut the stems and use them like you would any other green onion.  You can also do that once the weather gets warmer, however the taste becomes very hot and strong then.   I have read that you can also use the bulblets, however I have never done that.

I think they are called walking onions because they do spread somewhat.  These came from a patch that was growing on an abandoned farm.  Some people call them tree onions.  If you like onions and have space for a patch they are rewarding to grow.  Once you get some started you will have a nice supply each Spring and Fall.



These are American Persimmons.  I believe they are what people used to mean when they were talking about a sugar plum.  You do have to pick these when they are very ripe.  Otherwise they are very astringent.  If you bite a unripe persimmon you likely will never forget the experience.  I mostly eat these off the tree.  It is a ritual of Fall for me.  Once in a while if I am ambitious I make persimmon pudding.  The need for ambition comes from the fact that it is a lot of work to get enough pulp.  At least so far all the persimmons that I have encountered have a lot of seeds and it is difficult to separate the pulp from the seeds.

I like that both the walking onion and the persimmons are strongly tied to a season.  Now, it seems like most foods can be had any time of year.  While I do enjoy that at times, there also is a pleasure to only being able to have something for a short time and only during its season.

Thinking in pictures

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment

I heard someone mention on the radio today that he heard a doctor speak who was born autistic, however because of the efforts of her parents she is able to do well in the regular world.  She said that she did her initial thinking in pictures and had to learn to move from the pictures to words.  When I heard that I realized that I also tend to think in pictures.  Mostly when I am writing I have an image first and then I use words to convey that image as best I can.  Usually when I appear to be deep in thought I am looking at some images in my mind.

One thing that originally got me to thinking about being visually oriented is when I noticed that I have posted pictures regularly on Flickr for years while I have never been able to post regularly to a blog.  And I had my first blog back in 1998.  That one got as far as coming up with a name for the blog.  If I remember right I called it Aluminum Tree Man because I was on ICQ when I was setting the blog up with a friend who was disparaging my aluminum Christmas tree.  With Flickr I have posted several images a week for over three years.

One interesting thing about images is that I can usually look at a picture and remember the day I took it.  Whatever thoughts and feelings I was having at that time come back to me.  I suppose in a way they are a journal that only I can read.

Another thought I had today is how amazing an image creator the brain is.  I have dreams sometime where I will see someone who I haven’t seen in years and my brain is able to make a 3-D animated talking image of that person.  And then there are the fantastic landscapes and cities that I see many times in dreams.  Some of these places are like nothing I remember seeing before.  I suppose because like most of us these dream images have been with me all my life that I take them for granted.  It was only today when I was thinking about images for this post that I realized what an incredible ability our brain has to make images.

Categories: Images, musing Tags: , ,

Stuck in Halloween Mode

November 4, 2009 Leave a comment

At least I seem to be stuck for material to make my goal of posting each day this month of November.  So I figure I will get one last Halloween story out of my head and maybe that will clear my mind for writing something different.

As far as I can remember my father only told a ghost story one time.  The story was about a house that was about two miles from where our farm is.  One Saturday night a farmer was sick and asked for his children to stay with him instead of go to a dance that night in Pesotum.  His children decided to go to the dance.  As they were leaving he told them that if he died while they were gone that no one would ever sleep peacefully in his room again.  Well, I suppose it comes as no surprise that the farmer did die and that afterward anyone who tried to sleep in his room was bothered by a ghost all night.  He would do things like pull the blankets off and make his eyes glow while he stated at you from the foot of the bed.  After a while people got the message and stayed out of the room.

At some point another family came to live in the house and had the same experiences with the haunted bedroom. No one would spend the night in there.  The farmer who lived there had a daughter who was seeing a young man.  He heard the story about the haunted room and to prove his bravery said he would spend the night there.  He took his gun with him and before going to sleep he put it on the nightstand.  The young man did have some trouble sleeping, however until he looked at the foot of the bed and saw what seemed like glowing eyes everything had been quiet.  Now why he thought he could shoot  a ghost I don’t know, however he did grab his pistol and fired a shot at the glowing eyes.  The family in the house heard the shot followed by a scream.  When they came into the bedroom they saw the young man holding his foot.  It turned out that he had seen the reflection of the moon on his big toenail and had shoot himself in the foot.  Now I cannot swear that this actually happened.  Although it is certainly within the range of human stupidity.

I think this story has stayed with me for all these years because my father is not a big story-teller.  He may only say two sentences in a row on verbose days.  Still there does seem to have been something funny about that house.  I remember even though it looked like a livable nice house that nobody lived in it for several years and then it was torn down.  In the way that kids do I could sense that adults were afraid of something about that house.  And most seemed to believe that odd things did happen there.   In addition to the ghost another story was that the Virgin Mary sometimes appeared in that room.  Since I was pretty young it didn’t occur to me to question why in an area where most people were Catholic why they would be afraid of an appearance by the Virgin Mary.

So like I said the house was torn down and the land where it stood is now a farm field.  The only thing to mark this place where likely at one time a lot of drama happened is a clump of peonies that once grew at the start of the driveway.  They come up every year in the strip of grass between the field and the ditch along the road.

Categories: farm, history, Scary Tags: , , ,