Category Archives: iowa

Cars of Crude: Transporting Oil in the 21st Century

Cars of Crude: Transporting Oil in the 21st Century

Sometimes there are things happening out in the word and, even though you know they’re there, you don’t really pay attention to them. Then one day something happens and your interest is piqued. Such is the case with my interest in the way we transport crude oil in America. In the parlance of so many action movies, this time it’s personal.

It started with a news story on Friday morning. I saw a headline on my morning news roundup about a train derailment near Galena, Illinois. Galena happens to be part of the route we take from the city out to the house. I clicked on the news story with selfish interest. We were going to be driving to the house Friday night so I was wondering whether this derailment would have any impact on our trip.

According to the Yahoo news story about the Galena derailment, this particular train was pulling 103 cars of crude oil, plus 2 cars filled with sand. Let that sink in a moment. 105 train cars! That’s a mighty long train! Fortunately only 21 of those cars derailed in Friday’s accident. Unfortunately, those cars still burst into flames and created ginormous explosions. Also quite fortunately, this accident occurred in a sparsely populated region of the midwest. Imagine if this derailment had occurred closer to the town of Galena or if it had occurred during the height of the summer tourism season, when more people would be in the region.

A freight train pulling hundreds of cars of crude oil

Not all of these concerns occurred to me when I read the story about the Galena derailment Friday morning. Again, I was first looking at the story from a selfish standpoint. Would the crash affect me in my trip out to the house? Later that night, however, as we made that trek to the house for the weekend, we listened to an episode of Fresh Air about the risks of transporting oil by train. Fresh Air guest host Dave Davies interviews Marcus Stern in this episode and it was truly an eye opening interview. Not only are these train accidents becoming more common, thanks in large part to he Bakken region’s oil surplus, but it seems to be just a matter of time before a derailment occurs in a more densely populated city. While the trains start their journey in a very rural region of the Dakotas, they inevitably make their way through city centers along the way.

Take into consideration the fact that the train that derailed in Galena would have travelled through Chicago on its way to refineries on the East Coast. Can you imagine the devastation that would be caused by a series of rail cars exploding in a city with a population of more than 2.5 million people?

As we listened to the Fresh Air story (not coincidentally while driving through Galena) we started thinking about the freight rail line that runs through out little town. The romantic in me has always enjoyed the echoing of the train’s horn as it lumbers down the tracks less than two blocks from our house. I had assumed that these trains were carrying corn and soybeans and other farm products. Now, knowing that the trains are pulling highly explosive materials as they snake their way through town makes me a little wary of the romance of the rails.

And then Saturday morning, as I crossed the Mississippi to pick up groceries at Piggy Wiggly in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, I spied the train that’s pictured above. There, sitting on the tracks along the Mississippi River, were cars of crude. I was standing near what I assume was the middle of the train. Looking left and looking right, there were rail cars as far as my eye could see. More than a hundred of them, I’m sure. This is literally getting a little too close to home.

So what’s the solution? Pipelines? Maybe. But pipelines are expensive and, really, aren’t very safe either. Stop using so much damned oil? Well, yes, that’s the most obvious solution but it’s not very practical, is it? I mean, we still have to heat our homes and drive our cars. Frankly, I don’t know what the solution is. All I know is that I am now aware of the problem. And it scares the hell out of me.

Images: This American House

Our Winter Excursion to the Stockman House
And the Discovery of a Scale Model of our American System Built Home

Stockman House, Mason City, Iowa

Since buying our American System Built house in Northeast Iowa last year, we’ve been planning to visit all of the other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in the state. There was talk over the summer of taking a weekend trek to Mason City to tour the Stockman House and the Historic Park Inn, both of which were under construction a few years before our house was built. As it turns out, our own house projects trumped any plans for a road trip this summer.

We finally had the occasion to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Mason City last week. And while the extremely cold temperatures kept us from fully appreciating all that Mason City has to offer, we did get to tour the Stockman house. We’ve been particularly interested in seeing the Stockman House because it is very similar in design to our own home. Built in 1909, the Stockman is based on Wright’s fireproof home designs, which is a style that the architect relied heavily on when he was designing the American System homes.

We were hoping to glean some tips on the restoration of our own home by visiting the Stockman house. And while we did get a few ideas from our tour, the real treat of the trip was stumbling upon a scale model of our own home.

Scale model of the Delbert Meier House

We had just walked into the Architectural Interpretive Center adjacent to the Stockman house and were trying to warm up when the docent asked us about our connection to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Oh,” The Mister replied, “we actually own one of his American System Built homes here in Iowa.”

“You mean this one?” the docent asked as she pointed toward a little house made of balsa wood.Scale model of the Delbert Meier House at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City, Iowa

“Mister!” he called from across the room. “They have our house!”

The fact that there is a scale model of our house is not a total surprise. We knew through a previous email exchange with a professor of architecture that models had been created of all of the Wright homes in Iowa, including our American System Built home. We did not, however, know that the models still existed. And we certainly had no idea that the model of our house was on display in Mason City. What a wonderful surprise!

Scale model of Delbert Meier House

The model was built by Raymond Gandayuwana and Derek Quang and is a very accurate depiction not only of the house but the landscape surrounding it. From the windows to the trim and even down to the gradient in the landscaping, the model is an amazing representation of our home as it would have looked before the front facade was altered. There is one window missing from the second floor of the model house, but why quibble over small details?

MORE WRIGHT IN IOWA INFORMATION:

Images: This American House