Day 4 of a virtual journey through Iowa
Next morning , we spend some time over breakfast talking about where we want to go next. So far we’ve been to Council Bluffs , Des Moines , Iowa City, Amana and Cedar Rapids . We had planned to go to Dubuque next but it doesn’t seem worth it . It’s a 75 mile drive from Cedar Rapids to Dubuque and the only two things of interest are the Crystal Lake Cave and the Fenelon Place Elevator Co. The Crystal Lake Caves don’t seem that impressive to us who have been to the Luray Caverns in Virginia and the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand. As for the Fenelon Place Elevator Co , it’s a funicular railway and we’ve experienced it in Pittsburgh and also near Sydney , Australia . The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium sounds interesting but we will be seeing the real Mississippi later in our travels . Why go to a museum ? There’s also the Old Shot Tower at the corner of River and Tower Streets . A 140 f t high tower , it used to produce three tons of shot daily during the Civil War. Molten lead produced on the ninth floor was dropped trough screens into water the bottom as finished shot. Interesting but … Scratch Dubuque.
Keokuk has a lot going for it : The Keokuk Dam, Lock 19 ,and the Keokuk River Museum . Unfortunately , Keokuk is at the south-eastern tip of the state and it would add almost 200 miles to our trip. Regretfully, we decide to pass on Keokuk. Because of the distance involved , we also decide against seeing the Effigy Mounds near Marquette in northeast Iowa.
The route we finally agree on is Cedar Rapids — Waterloo/ Cedar Falls – – Fort Dodge — West Bend — Sioux City. We plan to do it in two days .
The route finalized , we set out for Waterloo , 55 miles away. We take I-380 north and in less than an hour reach our destination . Interstates may not be scenic but they sure are fast and convenient. In Waterloo, we make a beeline for the John Deere works and we arrive well in time for the 10 AM tour. John Deere manufactures tractors and engines at separate locations and the tours are 90 minutes each. We chose to visit the tractor works( 3500 East Donald St.) and the 90 minute tour is both interesting and informative . We are surprised and impressed to know that the John Deere co. has been in business for 175 years . The company was founded by John Deere , a blacksmith in Grand Detour , IL. and his first invention was a steel plow which he fabricated from a broken steel sawmill blade. Today John Deere’s green colored tractors ,and harvesters are famous all over America for their quality and dependability. The factory tour done , we stop at a nearby diner for a sandwich and a Coke and push on to Cedar Falls , a town contiguous to Waterloo. We are there to see the Icehouse Museum .
Ice houses were buildings used to store ice throughout the year, and were commonly used prior to the invention of refrigerators. Some were underground chambers, usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice but many were buildings with various types of insulation. During the winter, ice and snow would be taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust.. It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. The main application of the ice was the storage of perishable foods, but it could also be used simply to cool drinks, or prepare ice-cream. I had thought that icehouses were in use only in the New England States but apparently they were built in other states with very cold winters .
The Icehouse Museum in Cedar Falls is a circular building built in 1921 and it stored between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of ice cut from the frozen Cedar River. On display are items used in cutting, harvesting, storing, selling and the use of natural ice. Blocks of “ice” are stacked as they would have been in the ice house with the tools used by the men who delivered ice to homes and businesses throughout the area.Life-sized photos of two early ice men along with several different types of ice-boxes, a large two-horse ice wagon, original photos and an information panel that explains the process of cutting ice, help visitors to understand this unusual industry that existed in almost every town in America in the last half of the 1800′s and early 1900′s. Visitors can test their strength by lifting blocks of ice and imagine the chill of working on the frozen river.The kitchen highlights an ice box with an “outside” door for ice deliveries, a coal range, pie safe, and cistern pump. An outhouse and other “conveniences” of that time show what life was in the early days of the 20th century. Very interesting and we’re glad we put it in our itenerary.
We have a fair distance to drive in the afternoon so we search for a place where we can eat light . Not having eaten Chinese on this trip , we stop at the New Century Buffet on University Ave . It is an old-fashioned joint and has a typical Cantonese menu with some unexpected additions : French Fries , Onion Rings and Fried Biscuits !! We stick to the Chinese food and split a pair of egg rolls , Shrimp Almond Ding and Moo Goo Gai Pan . The last two dishes used to be Chinese restaurant staples but they have virtually disappeared from restaurants back east ; diners want Hunan and Szechuan dishes on the menu and owners try to oblige . The visit to the Icehouse Museum has put us in a nostalgic mood and the food at the New Century Buffet adds to it.
It’s a hundred miles to Fort Dodge and we intend to take it easy once we get there so we dawdle over lunch before finally getting on the road. We mosey along Us 20 W and talk about our trip and the sights we have seen and those that we have missed. Compared to our home state of New Jersey , these mid Western states are large and the distances between attractions are considerable . Consequently , we’ve had to scratch some stops because of the driving involved . Keokuk is one such town and Marquette ( with the Effigy Mounds) is another. Had they not been so far out of our path we might have given them a shot . Other attractions have been discarded because either they are similar to those we’ve already seen or because they seem to live to be over- hyped. We tell ourselves we are going to be very selective with our sightseeing in the future.
Someone had commented on the number of anti- abortion billboards on Iowa highways . He’s right ; there are more than a few. We also can’t help noticing the number of signs for colleges , most of which we have never heard of. We’ve seen this not just in Iowa but in many other states as well. I wonder what the graduates from these colleges can look forward to. How will the ever tightening job market regard their degrees , particularly if they are in liberal arts or theology ? Sometimes , I think education is just a business like any other . Perhaps MOOCs and online instruction are the way to go .
Caught up in the conversation , we don’t notice the miles fly past . Before we know it , we are in Fort Dodge .
When checking out the attractions of Fort Dodge , there was nothing that particularly appealed to us . The Blanden Art Museum is reputed to be a great small museum but we have already seen our share of museums . Instead, after checking into our hotel , we walk all over the town and a pleasant little town it is . There are those who complain that American towns are all the same , that they are boring. Maybe so , but I enjoyed our walk through Fort Dodge. Perhaps its charm lies in the fact that it hasn’t changed much over the decades , that it is at once familiar and comforting. We stop for a while at the Oleson Park with its Music Pavilion but the heat soon drives us indoors . We have an early dinner at our hotel and plan for the morrow , our last day in Iowa.