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Racin’

July 17, 2011 3 comments

When I moved to Iowa in 2005, I landed in Knoxville, a small town about 40 miles south east of Des Moines. What I didn’t know until I arrived is that Knoxville is the Sprint Car Capital of the world. The Knoxville Raceway is home to the Knoxville Nationals, a week-long (more if you count the 360 Nationals the weekend before) racing event that draws fans, cars, and drivers from all over the world. Okay, mostly the U.S. and a strong Australian and New Zealand contingent. I had never seen dirt track racing until moving to Iowa, so this was a new experience. I did not turn into a die hard fan, but I went to a few races a year, often with some of my coworkers who were completely obsessed fans (one had moved to Knoxville because of the track, and looked for a job after he moved). I learned about slidejobs, why the fans always booed Danny Lasoski, and just how important the track was to Knoxville’s economy. When the town population goes from 7,000 to several tens of thousands for a week, that’s a pretty big deal.

I left Iowa for Illinois in late 2008, so it’s been nearly three years since I’ve been to a race. I finally fixed that last Saturday night, meeting my friend Beth at Wilmot Raceway for a night of mostly midget racing. Now, my dirt track racing experience has all been at Knoxville, which, as far as dirt tracks go, is a Big Deal. The local county fair race track up in Wilmot? Maybe not so much. So, for the first hour I was there, I got to watch this thing go round and round and round, trying to work the track into shape.

Eventually, they got the dirt under control, and cars came onto the track for warmup laps.

No, the tractor wasn't racing.

And we finally started racing.

There's a racing explanation for that visor tag, I'm sure.

Emergency response to a flipped car, no injuries.

I had my camera with me, obviously, with the 45-200 zoom lens. But the Panasonic G2 I have isn’t known for having great low-light performance or very fast autofocusing. And I was trying to shoot fast-moving race cars at night, under artificial light. So, the pictures are what they are. I had to get some shots of the pace car, though. Beth swears it’s an old Subaru BRAT, and when she was at the track a month ago watching sprint cars (bigger, faster cousins of the midgets we saw last night, and the type of cars I’m most familiar with), it nearly caused a pileup as it couldn’t stay ahead of the sprints.

We finished up sometime after 12:30, and I was tired enough by that point to skip a post-race bar visit, and just come home and crash. Well, maybe talking about crashing isn’t the best thing to do in a post about racing…In any case, I had a good time, and am looking forward to seeing sprints on this track at some point in the future, perhaps in August during the Kenosha County Fair.

View more photos at my Flickr account over here.

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Send Bureaucrats, Bicycles, and Beer

April 20, 2011 1 comment

I took a half day off of work, yesterday, as I didn’t feel like sitting in the office staring at the rain all day. I had things to do that I had been putting off for a couple of weeks. Jenne was up in Milwaukee, attending her mother’s retirement luncheon (I remain shocked that she’s actually, finally retiring), so it was just me for the afternoon.

After a leisurely lunch at home, first stop for the afternoon was the McHenry County Clerk’s office. After three years, I’m still used to Marion County, Iowa, where all the government offices you needed were in the small courthouse in the center of Knoxville. In McHenry County, the Clerk’s office is NOT in the County Government Building, with the imposing security guards and metal detectors, but rather in the County Administration Building, which is down the street and around the corner. Once I found the office, the Clerk herself signed my business license paperwork, I handed over the $5 fee, and was given more paperwork in return. One of those pieces of paper was a public notice which has to be run in a local newspaper for three weeks. This led me to the Woodstock Independant, where I put down an $85 (urrk) fee for the three week run. At least they mail the Clerk’s office confirmation for me. Sometime next month, I’ll get an official business license from the county for Maple Avenue Preserves.

Speaking of the jam business, we’re still taking tiny steps forward with it. We’ve looked at two kitchens, both of which turned out to be unsuitable for different reasons, despite willingness by the owners to rent to us. We have a couple more possibilities I need to follow up on this week. This remains our largest hurdle right now. Second largest hurdle will be county and state Health Department permits, but I can’t do those until I have a space to permit. I have some domain names purchased and I’m squatting on a Twitter name, but there’s nothing there, so no point in linking them, yet. Jenne’s working on some logo and label designs, and still playing with recipes. Not sure if we’ll be operating by strawberry season, but there’s still time.

After the newspaper, I hit Outdoor Recreation to pick up a bike helmet. Yes, I’ve been riding without a helmet. Now I’ll ride with a helmet, despite my grumblings. The owner of the bike shop apparently has one of those memories for faces, he remembered me and what bike I bought as soon as I walked in. I like him, and his store. I walked out with a reasonably-priced bike helmet ten minutes later.

According to my DailyMile profile, I’ve ridden 116 miles on the bike already. I can do a 12 mile ride without feeling too wiped out; my longest so far is about 14 miles. On a good day without nasty headwinds, I could probably do over 20 with some effort. I’m no speed demon; a 14mph average speed is pretty good for me, and I stop three or four times over the 12 miles to catch my breath.  But it’s fun, I feel good (if a bit wobbly-kneed) after rides, and between the biking and the elliptical workouts over the past few months, I’m actually losing weight. I started the year somewhere around 190 (didn’t actually have a scale until late February, when I weighed in at 185), and I’m down to 180, now. My pants are fitting looser, and I’m down to the last notch on my belt.

So I can say I’m pretty pleased with my bike purchase. Now if I can just keep up some semblance of weekly riding when I’m working my busy spring schedule…I may actually start biking to and from work a few days a week. That’ll amuse my coworkers. If the weather clears up this weekend, I will probably try for a 20 mile ride to prove to myself that I can do it.

After the bicycle store, it was a quick set of three more stops. Armanetti Liquors’ new store to get a couple packs  of beer (yeah, I still buy some despite homebrewing)–Great Lakes Brewing’s Doppelrock, and Tyranena’s Headless Man Amber Alt. Starbucks in downtown for a latte; I had intended to sit down and read the copy of the Independent I had picked up, but it was pretty busy, and had even worse seating arrangements than the location in McHenry I usually end up at. Finally, Jewel for a couple grocery items. I got home a little after 5pm, just in time to meet Jenne as she got back from Milwaukee.

A fun and productive afternoon off, despite 33 degree temperatures and rain. The day was capped off by a surprising Blackhawks victory over the Canucks. I’ll take it!

Categories: Personal Tags: ,

New Toys

March 16, 2011 1 comment

It’s been a week for new toys. I think I’ll start with the one that is directly mine.

That is a Trek 7300 bicycle. I picked it up last Friday. It isn’t the first Trek I’ve owned; I had a mountain bike a few years ago that I sold about a year before I moved back to Illinois. This bike is a  little different; they call it a hybrid. It has thinner, faster tires like a road bike, and the slightly more upright seating and mild front suspension of a mountain bike. It’s good for both bike path and recreational road riding, which is what I plan on doing. I live a couple blocks away from a bike path that gives me access to a pretty huge trail network. I also have a lot of very quiet, rural roads surrounding town. The trail is still very soft from snowmelt, and still snow and ice-covered in spots, so my first few rides have been on the roads around town. My first ride on Saturday, I made about 3.5 miles before my legs completely gave up. Two months on the elliptical has done great things for my cardiac endurance, but there’s some different muscles at work when actually biking.

As you can see, my ‘bike computer’ is a bit of overkill. It’s my iPhone running Cyclemeter. I also tried Runkeeper‘s app, but I found Cyclemeter a little better for what I wanted. It uses the iPhone’s GPS to both map my rides, and track my speed. I may add an actual bike computer in the future; the GPS is a little iffy for instant feedback on speed, although the ending average is pretty spot on. Cyclemeter also syncs with Dailymile, so I’m tracking my workouts over there. Feel free to spy on me.

The last two rides I’ve done have been just over 6.5 miles, which makes me feel like I’ve gone somewhere. I have friends who run further than that as a quick workout, though, so I have some work to do. That particular loop is a pretty fun one to ride, although the last mile and a half is mostly uphill on a gravel road. Ow. I should get a bit faster on that last mile once the road dries up and solidifies a bit more. I can add mileage pretty easily by taking a loop around the south of town for when I start blowing through the 6.5 miles. And, eventually, it’s a 32 mile roundtrip to McHenry via bike path…I think I’ll get there. Actually, I’m not worried about getting there. It’s the 16 miles back, and the fact that the return trip is mostly uphill. Eek.

So that’s my toy. Now, let’s look at my father’s toy that I plan on playing with this spring:

That is a 2010 Agco DT225B. This is the last model year of tractor that will have an Agco brand name on it. Dad wanted it, even though the tractor it is replacing was only a couple of years old. Agco is phasing out the orange paint, and consolidating brands. Moving forward, it’s red paint with the Massey Fergusuon brand name, or yellow paint with a Challenger brand name if you want to pay a bit more money for some fancier options. It’s a bit sad; Allis Chalmers orange was an iconic brand in the tractor industry, and it’ll be sad to see it finally go away completely.

My family has always had orange tractors; none of this red and green stuff everyone else talks about. The recent DT series has been absolutely excellent. I’ve driven recent models from all three major tractor lines, and these tractors take a back seat to none. Agco is putting a Continuously Variable Transmission (essentially, no shifting! No gears! 0-32mph in one smooth acceleration) in all of their large tractors, now, and it is light years ahead of anything CaseIH has, and much better than Deere’s IVT. The DT 220 that we’ve run the last two seasons had a CVT in it, and I loved driving it both for primary tillage, and running the grain cart in the fall. I’m really looking forward to running the new machine for NH3 application this spring. Need to arrange that around my work schedule at the coop, somehow.

One thing this tractor has that the DT220 didn’t is an autosteer system from Topcon. It’ll take some of the stress out of NH3 application and primary tillage. We were out at the dealership today to get a little training on both the autosteer  system and all the computerized tractor controls. The Topcon reminded me of some of the systems I’ve run from Trimble, but I think Dad was a bit overwhelmed. The tractor itself has a lot of complicated settings and capabilities, as well. I see a lot of manual reading in our future, and I’ll have to see if I can get over there some weekend after the machine is delivered to ‘play’ with it before we try to do any serious fieldwork.

The dealership had this sign on one of their buildings. I think it came off the old Allis Chalmers factory in Milwaukee. In any case, the only part of the AC brand left was the orange paint, and now that’s gone, too. But Dad’s got one of the last new orange tractors!

On a More Personal Note

March 7, 2011 2 comments

Lots of ag, not much life on the blog, lately. It’s been a long, sometimes difficult winter. I’m never in the best of moods during winter; it’s decidedly my least favorite season. Just ask Jenne about putting up with me through most of January. So I’m really, really looking forward to putting winter behind me, and moving into the part of the year where I actually accomplish things. That said, this winter wasn’t a complete letdown, I tried to lay the groundwork for a couple of things I really want to accomplish this year.

First, I started actually working on my personal fitness. It’s always been something I basically ignored, and tried to convince myself that walking around corn fields and throwing seed bags for a few months out of the year would keep me ‘in shape’. The fact is, that my weight has been creeping up over the last couple of years, and tossing 20 bags of seed got me winded a lot faster than it used to. My cholesterol levels in the blood test I took for life insurance last year showed the ‘bad’ stuff somewhat higher than it should be. When I go to meetings for work, many of my older colleagues are decidedly round, overweight, and look like they’d have trouble walking to their truck outside, much less a mile across a field of corn stubble. I don’t want to be that guy. So, I started to think about what to do to NOT be that guy.

I got lucky, and ended up with an unused elliptical machine from a couple of friends who were moving cross country, and didn’t want to take it with them. I’ve kept up a pretty regular schedule 3-4 times a week since mid-January on the machine. Aside from a brief flirtation with a gym membership a few years ago, I’ve never exercised regularly, so this is something of a breakthrough. I don’t know what I weighed when I started (didn’t own a scale until recently), but I currently weigh in at 185…I’ve been as high as 210 in the past, so anything under 190 makes me pretty happy. My endurance has increased a lot, and I think I just generally feel a bit better…I almost look forward to coming home from work and running. I should probably figure out something to do upper body-wise, but for getting the heart rate up, this has worked well.

I have a Trek 7300 bicycle on reserve as soon as I bother to get down to the bike store in Woodstock and pick it up. As soon as the weather warms up, I’ll be out on the bike path near my house, seeing if I can put on some mileage. I’ve set myself a few goals. I want to bike to work, occasionally. That’s 7 miles one way, all on the path except for the trip through town at the end. Once I can manage that, I want to make it to McHenry for coffee via The Prairie Trail. That’s 17 miles one way, and I’d have to do the return trip for a total of 34…maybe be a bit much to bite off right away. If that goes well, I might try the 50 mile route of the Harmon Hundred in September. Maybe. I know me…I sometimes have wild-eyed, lofty ideas that never quite get followed through on…but I think I’d like to do this.

Speaking of wild-eyed, crazy ideas, Jenne and I are still thinking about the jam-making business. I haven’t been as pro-active about this as I probably should have, I’ve been a bit despondent about actually finding a commercial kitchen to rent, and if I can’t find that, there’s little point in doing any of the other prep work. Jenne has continued to fiddle with recipes (we need to give away more jam. Anyone?), and I finally got the idea to talk to the county health inspector. We had a phone conversation last Friday, and he seemed to know where I was going with things. We have a meeting this coming Thursday, and I’m hoping he can help me make sense out of the confusing morass of regulations and statutes that I’ve been reading. And maybe give us a lead on kitchens.

And in the ‘oops’ category, I’ve blown my attempt at a 365 photo project. I made it almost all the way through February, which is actually farther than I thought I would make it. And although I can’t claim to have taken a picture every day this year, anymore, I’m still going to take a lot of photos on a lot of days. Here’s one of my favorite shots from the month, to close out with.

February 5

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Doing What You Love

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I wrote this last August for a different blog, one that I don’t use much, anymore. It seems appropriate for this one.

Wednesday afternoon turned out busier than I was expecting, and partway through it, my evening plans ended up being canceled. So, I was a bit bummed out as I drove home from north of Fontana, after a late afternoon AgriGold Seed meeting. When I was near home, I realized I was short a few ingredients for dinner, so I wheeled into John’s farmyard on my way past.

John is a former plumber, whose grandfather raised vegetables. John always had a dream of farming himself, and he had managed to make a bit of money plumbing, enough to buy an 80 acre chunk of ground east of Hebron, IL. He’s rented it out to a grain farming friend of his for several years, but last year, took back a few acres to start raising vegetables for roadside sales. It was a bit of a rough start; his entire tomato crop was wiped out by late blight, raising crops of any kind on the scale that he was doing it was new to him, and there’s always a learning curve starting a new business.

This year has gone better than last year for him. He’s more established, customers have increased, he can’t get enough chickens to lay eggs fast enough to keep up his egg business. And he has a tomato crop this year. We invested a bit of money into fungicide, and that made a huge difference from no tomato crop last year, to a good crop this year. The tomato failure had weighed pretty heavily on him all winter, and he was determined that wouldn’t happen to him again, this year. I hadn’t talked with John for a couple of weeks, so it was nice to stop in and see him packing tomatoes for sale, knowing that I had a small role in making that happen for him.

I admit, I didn’t just stop there to buy a few onions, peppers, and potatoes from him. John’s got a lot of enthusiasm for what he does. He’s really happy working his ass off raising vegetables. I drive by his place at least twice a day to and from work, sometimes more than that during the day, and I’ve seen him and his wife out in all weather, hoeing and spraying and picking and pruning. But he loves it. And it shows. Being around someone that happy with what he’s doing, that enthusiastic about making his small farming business grow, you can’t help but leave with a smile on your face. Along with a sack full of tasty vegetables to go into the stir fry. So I did. And the stir fry was really good.

John stopped in the grain elevator today, to buy some corn for his chicken flock. He has an expanding egg business, and is planting even more acres to veggies again, this coming year. Really looking forward to his fresh broccoli and fresh eggs.

Blizzard

February 2, 2011 2 comments

Here in northern Illinois, we just experienced the 3rd worst blizzard on record in terms of snowfall. The entire Chicagoland area was basically shut down today. We made the decision yesterday to close the office. I left the office early on Tuesday as well, just before the edge of the major storm hit us. We had been getting flurries all day, and the wind had picked up during the afternoon, so my drive home down State Route 173 looked like this at about 3pm Tuesday:

Fun Shit For Driving

It’s a short drive home, but  it still wasn’t very fun. Shortly after I got home, the snowfall rate increased dramatically, and the winds picked up even further.

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It was blowing so hard, my south windows began to fill with snow.

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By morning, my back porch was completely full of snow, and the front driveway was drifted in to depths approaching 3 feet. And the overnight snowplows left about 4 feet of snow at the end of the driveway.

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Snowmobilers were using 173 as a path…while it was well plowed in town, much of the road was actually closed to traffic, and it was drifting quite badly out in the country.

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It was quite a storm. After this, I think I’ve had my fill of snow for the year. We’re basically dug out, and I think the roads should be in good shape by tomorrow. We’re headed north to Wisconsin Dells for the Wisconsin Corn/Soy Expo in Wisconsin Dells, so I’m hoping things will be clear. After that, it’s on to Minneapolis for the weekend, where we’ll be seeing friends we rarely see, and taking lots of photos at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Here’s a few video clips of snow, snow shoveling, and snowmobiles:

February 2nd Blizzard Aftermath from Jim Doolittle on Vimeo.

Categories: Personal, Photography, Weather Tags: ,

Holidaze

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I had a very busy Christmas schedule this past weekend that capped off with hosting my in-laws for a Sunday evening dinner (for which I baked a pie). They departed late in the evening, and then promptly returned with a nearly flat tire. The aluminum rim was stuck tightly to the steel hub, and after hammering at it with a lightweight rubber mallet and prying at it with an inadequate crowbar, we finally gave up and dad-in-law called AAA. The truck driver brought a very hefty mallet with him, and had the tire off in no time. It was later still when they left for the second time. Jenne and I went to bed shortly afterwards, leaving mounds of dishes in the kitchen, and none of our usual weekend chores and rituals completed.

I woke up with absolutely no desire to go to work. So, I didn’t. I had vacation time to burn, no appointments scheduled, and my boss is really good about letting me run my own schedule within reason. It was definitely the right decision. I mentioned on Twitter earlier that I’m in a much better state of mind to deal with work tomorrow than I was this morning. Every now and then, you just need to take a sanity day. It does leave me with just a three day work week this week. Next week as well, since I’m taking Monday and Tuesday off to go to the Wisconsin Small Fruit and Vegetable Conference with Jenne.

I will mention one gift I received, as it will impact this blog. My parents were extremely generous this year, as they often are, and gifted me with a Panasonic Lumix G2 camera. Somewhat smaller and lighter than a full-on Nikon or Canon DSLR, this is still an extremely capable interchangeable lens camera with configuration settings for its configurations. It’s a pretty sweet piece of tech. I’m really looking forward to getting out and shooting with this and seeing what I can come up with. I’m already saving up to buy a 20mm fast prime lens.

So, definitely more photoblogging of an ag-related flavor to come, although we’ve got the winter to get through, first. We delivered 85 tons of starter fertilizer (fertilizer that farmers apply to the field at the same time they are planting seed) to a customer’s fertilizer storage last week; he joked that spring must be right around the corner. It’s a corner down a really long street, but I think I see it…

Speaking of future plans, I’m looking for content ideas for On the Stateline over the winter, when I can’t talk about the latest bug infestation or crop progress. I’ll be taking some notes at the winter agriculture conferences I’ll be attending over the next few weeks, and will continue to update the progress Jenne and I make (or don’t make!) in starting up a jam business. What else do you want to see?

Categories: Personal Tags: ,