Archive for April, 2012

2012 Corn Planting in Roosevelt Township, Pocahontas County, Iowa

April 29, 2012

The explanations and photos in this post about tillage and corn planting aren’t all that advanced, but they got me thinking and learning.

On April 25, 26 and 27, 2012, I was in northwest Iowa to experience tillage and corn planting in Sections 13 and 24 of Roosevelt Township, Pocahontas County, Iowa. My dad was born in Section 24; I was raised in Section 13.

I had a blast spending part of the time with Roger Allen as he tilled, and part of the time with Dan Allen as he planted. They add color commentary to remedial (due to my having so much to learn) explanations about farming. My resident consultant does the same.

The photos aren’t crystal clear. But…most of them were taken through a tractor cab window and during a bumpy (but still, pretty smooth for a tractor) ride.

To see the photos in slideshow view, click on the first thumbnail image. The captions are somewhat sequential. Depending upon the size of your device/monitor, in slideshow view the captions might get truncated. If so, return to the thumbnail view to read the captions in their entirety.


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Information about row cleaners is here and here.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)


Coal in Iowa — Part III: Of Local Interest

April 28, 2012

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover
(Part I is here. Part II is here.)

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From The Rolfe Arrow, April 24, 1924. (Click on image to magnify text.)

Several old Rolfe Arrows contain coal ads from J. T. Grant [Lumberyard].  On November 2, 1922, the ad played on the election theme with the headline, “We Are Candidates for Your Coal Business,” and said the company was selling several kinds of coal.  A 1924 ad [at right] identified J. T. Grant as “The Rolfe Coalumberman.”

The Pioneer History describes a coal famine from October 1880 to April 1881 when the temperatures were frigid and there were large amounts of snow.  Trains were sidetracked, and their coal unloaded.  Some schools were closed for the entire winter because they had no fuel.  The 1981 Pocahontas County History said coal was used in Rolfe as late as the 1930s and, “a fuel shortage in the severe winter of 1936 necessitated restricting hours and orders for coal.”  The February 20, 1936, Rolfe Arrow reported, “Mayor J. H. Brinkman commandeered part of a car of the M. & St. L. station coal to relieve fuel famine.”  “Two cars of coal came in Friday night and was rationed out in 500 lb. lots to those most in need.”  “Lou Bagley, en route home with a truckload of Missouri coal, was ‘held up’ in Audubon by authorities.  They took his coal – at one dollar a ton over the Rolfe market – and sent him back for more.”

Learning about the connections between coal mines and railroads made me think of how often in Omaha or during our drives in Iowa we see long coal trains delivering coal from Wyoming to power plants in the east.  Transporting coal seems to be a primary business of the Union Pacific Railroad.  In 2009, UPRR moved its 200,000th loaded coal train out of northeast Wyoming’s Powder River Basin—200,000th in 25 years.  That’s nearly 22 a day.  According to one Union Pacific web site, “Union Pacific’s 200,000 trains out of the SPRB have carried enough coal to power all the homes in the United States for 5 years.”

This April 6, 2010, photo is of coal being moved at a location immediately east of the Iowa State University Power Plant. (Click on image to enlarge.)

If we lived in Ames, we’d see coal trains every day.  The Iowa State University Power Plant has operated since the late 1880s.  Constructed in 1906-1909 and expanded several times, it uses 155,000 tons of coal from Illinois and Kentucky each year.  Does mention of the ISU Power Plant ring a bell?  Go to Louise’s 2010 posts on the plant, read her explanations, and look at Mother’s watercolor as well as the various photos (current and historic) of the plant.  Notice the large 1920s coal stockpile.

Our first house on the farm had a coal room connected to the basement.  I don’t recall anyone delivering coal or shoveling coal into the furnace.  By the early 1950s, a large oil tank in the east room of the basement supplied the fuel for our furnace.  I was only three when we moved to the farm in 1945 and don’t remember if we always had the oil tank or if we used coal for a while.

Hal remembers a coal room in the basement of his Sioux Falls house.  Coal was periodically delivered and deposited into the room from a ground level opening next to the driveway.  Hal’s father shoveled coal directly into the furnace and later into a stoker that carried the coal into the furnace.  One not-so-fun task was cleaning the clinkers out of the furnace and dumping them into a metal tub to be carried outdoors, where they were picked up by the garbage haulers.

In his book, Three to the Hill, John Wiegman listed the coal room as one of six rooms in the basement of the Rolfe house in which he grew up; however, he did not mention using coal.  I’ve asked friends what they remember about coal.  Several remember coal rooms but don’t remember using coal.  I’d like to hear from readers who remember having coal delivered and shoveling coal into the furnace—at home, in businesses or even at school.

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If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area.

A list of sources consulted for this three-part series about coal is here.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Coal in Iowa — Part II: Coal Mining

April 21, 2012

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover
(Part I is here.)

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Coal mines in Iowa?  Yes, indeed!  The High Trestle Trail Bridge is located in the area where several mine shafts had been worked by Italian immigrants in the late 1880s and continuing to the 1920s.  In fact, 15 different coal mines are listed on the Madrid, Iowa, site.

From the July 12, 1923, Rolfe Arrow. (Click on image to magnify text.)

Coal mining itself occurred from Webster and Boone counties south and southeast as far as the Missouri border, with the most mining seeming to occur in Polk, Marion, Mahaska, Monroe and Wapello counties.  Many of these small mining towns, once bustling with people, no longer exist.  Railroads often owned the coal mines and the coal-mining towns, rented houses to miners, expected miners to shop exclusively in the company’s general store, and sometimes operated the company school.

Because wood was not available, Iowa’s early settlers used coal for cooking food and heating.  Coal mining began in Iowa in the 1840s with small mines on the sides of hills where coal was exposed.  In the 1860s and 1870s, railroads spread throughout the state.  They leased land and operated mines that produced coal for their own use, including fueling their trains.  Over time, more than 5,500 underground mines existed in Iowa.  Although a few were large, most were small, local operations.  In 1896 there were more than 20 coal mines in Boone County.  The Boone County town of Angus no longer exists, but in the 1880s, it supposedly had a population of 3,500 and was the largest coal-mining town in the state.  By the 1920s, coal mining had all but disappeared from the state.  By that time many Iowa mines had exhausted their coal supply.  Railroads began buying coal from other states.  Iowans sought cleaner-burning coal from other states and converted to other sources of fuel: electricity, natural gas and oil.

Coal developed in Iowa 250-300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian geological era when Iowa had an abundance of vegetation.  Gradually this plant material became peat, which after great pressure and heat became coal.  It has been estimated that 20 feet of plant material compresses into three feet of peat, three of peat compresses into one foot of bituminous coal, and all that occurs over 3,000 years.  (One source said ten feet of peat compress into one foot of bituminous coal.)  Coal seams in southern Iowa varied in thickness; most were thin and not nearly as deep or as consistently widespread as in Pennsylvania or West Virginia, for example.  Iowa coal was mostly bituminous—soft, easily breakable, and contained impurities such as sulfur.  Its carbon content is only 60-80%.  By contrast, anthracite coal found in the Appalachian Mountains is harder, cleaner and denser with a carbon content of more than 90%.  The 1904 Pioneer History of Pocahontas County, Iowa, referred to the “soft coal” found in Iowa’s roughly 20,000 square miles of coal fields and stated, “The coal in this belt is of excellent quality and the supply inexhaustible.”

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Part III will follow.

If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Coal in Iowa — Part I: The Bridge

April 17, 2012

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover

Photo by Richard Thielen (Click on the image to magnify the detail of the bridge and reservoir.)

It all started one November Sunday morning as Hal and I drove from Ames to Omaha after an Iowa State football game.  We were talking so much that we missed the road to Luther.  We enjoy exploring different routes, so as we approached Madrid we decided to continue west on Highway 210 to Woodward.  Shortly after leaving Madrid, we could see a long bridge on tall pillars over the Des Moines River to the southwest.  From a distance, we also saw what appeared to be long metal pieces sticking up from the bridge at irregular intervals.  We had no idea about the purpose of the bridge or, because we’d never been on this road, how long the bridge had been there.  Our brother-in-law Bill Shimon said this was the recently completed High Trestle Trail Bridge that’s part of a paved recreation trail running through Polk, Dallas, Boone and Story counties.

Photo by Mary Pepper (Click on the photo to magnify the details, including the walkers on the bridge.)

I was so intrigued by the bridge that I Googled to learn more about it.  Indeed, the half-mile bridge is 130 feet above the wide Des Moines River Valley.  This new bridge opened in April 2011 and is built on top a former Milwaukee Road Railroad/Union Pacific Railroad trestle.  The tall concrete piers had been constructed in the 1970s to support the former trestle, originally built in 1912.  Two artistic features caught my eye.  Those metal pieces are actually 41 large, rectangular steel frames positioned at various angles to represent support cribs in an old coal mine.  At night these frames are outlined in blue light and from the end give one the impression of descending into a coal mine shaft.  In addition, at each entrance to the bridge are two 42-foot towers with black bands embedded to represent coal veins in the Madrid area.  The photos in the Raccoon River Valley Trail site show far more than I can explain.

A few weeks later as I talked with my dentist, who is familiar with Madrid because his mother had grown up in that area, I mentioned the High Trestle Trail Bridge.  He said one of his clients is from Rippey (about 20 miles west of Madrid), and the client’s father had worked in coal mines in the Rippey area.  I was hooked!  That night I e-mailed my dentist a web site for the High Trestle Trail Bridge along with other web sites about coal mining in Iowa.  In my research, I discovered Dorothy Schweider’s book on coal mining in Iowa.  I ordered two copies, kept one for myself and gave the other to my dentist who later told me his client’s father was mentioned in the book.

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Part II and Part III will follow.

If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Should prints be made of “Doll” watercolor?

April 15, 2012

This Doll watercolor by Mother (Marion Gunderson) is on short-term loan to me. Before I return it to its owners* in two weeks, I need to determine if prints will be made.

Taking Pre-Orders

Since I don’t have a good read on how well prints will sell, and to help defray printing expenses, I’m taking pre-orders. In a pre-order situation, payments go directly to printing expenses. If no pre-orders, no prints will be made.

IF prints are made, for any purchases of Doll prints beyond the pre-orders, payments will go directly to the Rolfe Public Library [Trust] where Mother worked  for 35 years. So far $4,100 has been given to the library as a result of the prints.

A larger image is at the bottom of this post.


Deadline for pre-orders:

Sunday, April 22

Pricing** and Approximate Sizes: 

Medium: 10″ W x 13.5″ H = $25

Grand: 16.5″ W x 22″ H = $50

Largest: ~18″ W x ~24″ H = $70

Contact Information for Pre-ordering and/or for Asking Questions:

Louise Gunderson Shimon




Clicking on the Doll image will enlarge it slightly.

*The owners are Bill and Jackie Hutchinson. Bill was the Rolfe school superintendent while I was in high school. My mom and dad had very high regard for Bill and Jackie.

**Shipping is additional. I oftentimes deliver.

Additional images/prints of watercolors by Mother may be seen at

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(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

St. Kitts — Part IX: Miscellaneous

April 13, 2012

These photos finish up my reporting on Bill’s and my February trip to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. If we had the opportunity to return, would we? Yes! The friendly residents of St. Kitts and the island provided entertainment, a variety of activities, beautiful sites, serenity, great food (including seafood) and a sense of safety.

To see the photos in slideshow view, click on one of the thumbnail photos.



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For “St. Kitts — Part I” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part II: Vervet Monkeys” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part III: Lobster” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part IV: Caribelle Batik at Romney Manor” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part V: Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part VI: Brimstone Hill Fortress” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part VII: The Beach(es)” click here.
For “St. Kitts — Part VIII: Plant Life” click here.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Choosing a Camera Lens: How to Read an MTF Chart

April 12, 2012

Trying to figure out which camera lens to purchase (or, if really expensive, put on a hope-for-someday wish list) poses confusion for me.

I know MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) charts are important to consider, but I wasn’t completely understanding what all the lines in them meant. This YouTube video (below) helped me out today. I’m still a little confused, but not as much as before I watched the video.



At  Canon’s site there is an MTF chart for each Canon lens listed, or at least for most of them. (Canon’s listing of lenses is here.) To navigate to the chart for the lens of interest: 1) get to the Canon page for the particular lens you want to investigate, 2) click on the “Overview” link and 3) scroll down a little ways. There you’ll see the MTF chart for that particular lens.

I assume Nikon and other major lens companies also have charts on their web sites.

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(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

“… and you shake it all about!”

April 7, 2012



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To enlarge this spring robin image, click on it once or twice. It’s not completely in focus, but … I like it!

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Rolfe’s Doc Ranney Pitches for Armstrong — in 1932

April 5, 2012

Pictured* are Dr. R.B. Ranney and his assistant, Erma (Hopkins) Lund. Dr. Ranney retired from his Rolfe, Iowa, dental practice in 1978. In 1986 he passed away at the age of 72. (Click on photo to enlarge; twice for further enlargement.)


Today, Major League Baseball’s 2012 opening day, I’m posting about Dr. Ranney (back row, far left in photo below). He was a high school pitcher playing for the 1932 Armstrong, Iowa, high school baseball championship team. He later became the dentist in my hometown of Rolfe, Iowa. Pictured above is Dr. Ranney with Erma (Hopkins) Lund. Off-and-on from approximately 1967 to 1978, Erma was Dr. Ranney’s assistant.


The caption to this 1932 photo** reads, "Here is the crack Armstrong High school baseball team which climaxed a great season by winning the state prep championship. The members are, back row, left to right: Ranney, E. Lorig, B. Lorig, Erickson, Gagestad, Olson, Coach Estel Thompson. Bottom row, left to right: Horswell, Fitzgibbons, Gaarde, Wilson, Ankrum, Nicoson." (The player with the last name of Nicoson was Mac Nicoson. He was the catcher on the team. He was also a brother to long-time Rolfe resident Sam Nicoson who married Geraldine, "Gerry." Mrs. Nicoson was my first grade teacher.) (Click on photo to enlarge.)



In 1976 my dad, Deane Gunderson, wrote in his weekly “Bubbles in the Wine” column about Dr. Ranney.


“Ranney Pitches”

Bubbles in the Wine (column) in the Rolfe Arrow

by Deane Gunderson

First published 36 years ago…May 13, 1976


Dr. T.D. Jones, 1934.*** (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Dr. R.B. Ranney is one of Rolfe’s best liked citizens and a very highly regarded professional. Russ graduated from dental school and came to Rolfe in 1940. I had looked in the old files of the Arrow for some account of his coming, but didn’t find any. Doc said he rather “snuck” in. That must have been the case. It’s understandable, in a way, because when he first came he worked on a commission basis for Dr. T.D. Jones who was in failing health. Three years later when Ranney bought Jones out, the local residents probably weren’t aware of much of a change. Who cared as long as the dental work was that good?

Doc and Maureen, who are two of our most solid citizens, reared a family of two boys while in Rolfe. They don’t brag much.

But did you know that Doc was the winning pitcher in the 1932 Iowa High School Baseball tournament, pitching hometown Armstrong to the state title with the school’s 23rd consecutive win? That little guy? (120 lbs. then) And who was the victim? North High of Des Moines, the 1931 state champs!

The intensity of the feeling in Armstrong must have begun to build up about May 12, 1932, when the Armstrong Journal headlined, “Baseball Team Will Enter State Tourney,” and continuing, “The Armstrong High School baseball team left this afternoon for the state tournament in Des Moines, having wiped the slate clean at the Spencer tournament last Saturday and Monday.

“They met the Spencer team in the first round and eliminated them 9 to 0. Monday morning they defeated Sanborn 8 to 1, and in the afternoon, played in the finals against Arnold’s Park, winning 6 to 1.

“Ranney pitched the first and last games.”

A week later the town must have been bustling with pride and excitement. Again from the Journal:

“Armstrong High School baseball team came home Saturday night with the State Championship, after having won three straight games in the tournament at Des Moines in Western League Baseball park. A crowd was waiting [for] them near the midnight hour at the Junction and formed a parade, marching up through Main Street led by the high school band. A tired and happy bunch of boys and Coach Thompson piled out of cars to play the game over among the fans who for two days had paced up and down main street anxiously waiting for a telephone call from Des Moines announcing the result of each game.

“Armstrong played their first game Friday afternoon against Moulton and defeated them 6 to 1. Ranney let the Moulton team down with three hits, while Armstrong batters hit 10 safe singles.

“Saturday morning Hamburg was the next to fall, 8 to 2. Horswell allowed five scattered hits, and Armstrong hit safely eight times.

The final game was played against North High, Des Moines, last year’s champions. This team was rated strong, especially their crack pitcher, Jim Iles, who had been played up in news reports. He met his downfall in a slugging match with 14 hits for Armstrong and 13 for North High. Ranney pitched this game and was nicked hard, this making his second full game in two days.

“The Score was tied at 9 in the fifth inning after each team had been ahead by as much as three. It was again tied at 11 in the 6th inning. Ranney allowed but three batters to face him in the seventh inning and Armstrong went to bat in the last half of the inning with a tie score. With one out Wilson walked, Ranney singled, Gaarde was purposely walked and the bases were full. B. Lorig crashed a single through the infield and Armstrong won the tournament.”

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See last year’s opening day post about the Chicago Cubs here.

*From the collection of Erma (Hopkins) Lund.

**From the collection of Richard (Dick) Ranney.

***From the Webb photo collection at the Rolfe Public Library.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)