Saturday, April 23, 2011

Then & Now: 2001 vs. 2011

These photos — taken 10 years apart on April 18, 2001 (left) and April 18, 2011 (right) in the same location at Riverside Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin — show the difference in a Mississippi River flood level of 16.4 feet in 2001 and 13.1 feet in 2011. Interesting how little has changed at this location in 10 years . . . except for the addition of a new bridge in the distance.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

La Crosse Street Life Often Dull & Dead

On a recent sunny summer morning I decided to wander around downtown La Crosse with my camera in hopes of capturing some of the city's street life. Much to my disappointment, I found little "life" in the area even though all its stores, businesses and restaurants were open. I would plant myself at a spot with the idea of taking photos of passing pedestrians but, alas, 10 to 15 minutes would pass and not one person would wander by. But, no surprise, there were plenty of stupid cars passing by. It seems as if most people in La Crosse are either in their cars, at home or work or at the mall. I think I need to travel to Europe or Asia someday where street life is still lively and vibrant . . . or maybe New York or San Francisco closer to home.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bicycle Names Past & Present

Recently while browsing around an antique store in La Crosse I saw an old bicycle (see photo) dating from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It was called the "Roadmaster Skyrider" and its name got me to thinking how bicycle names in the "olden days" were generally more fun and catchy than most names given to bikes today. For example, a quick check of the Web found the following names for some current Trek bikes: Allant, Valencia, Soho and Lime; and also the following for some current Schwinn models: Willy, Jenny, Sierra and Collegiate. Compare those to these bicycle names from the 1950s-1960s: Fleetwing Cruiser, Flightliner, Skoot, Skybolt, Rambler 500, Eldorado and Breeze. I think the older names have more flare but I must admit it's funny how many of them are in reference to a sky vehicle . . . as if the bikes would be zooming around in the clouds. In some ways, sky related names seem more suited for small, private planes rather than land-hugging bicycles but such a name given to a bike increases its cool factor in my book. All I know is that I wish my current bicycle, a Redline R530 had been named a Redline Skyrider, Redline Skyliner, Redline Rambler or Redline Roadcruiser. Anything but R530. No class with that.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Remembering Mr. Wizard

I recently purchased a Time magazine from Nov. 19, 1951, because I found its full-page ads interesting . . . but while paging through the magazine I was pleasantly surprised to discover an article about Mr. Wizard (Don Herbert) who had ties to my hometown of La Crosse. As a kid in the 1950s, I can remember watching Mr. Wizard on TV and regarding his science experiments as fun and cool . . . unlike my drab science classes in school. Herbert was born in Waconia, Minn., but his family later moved to La Crosse and he graduated from La Crosse Central High School in 1935 and La Crosse Teachers College in 1940. Attached below is a reprint of the 1951 Time article which included the above photo. Herbert died of bone cancer at age 89 on June 12, 2007, at his home in Bell Canyon, Calif.

The Truant Teacher
(Reprinted from the Nov. 19, 1951, Time magazine)
Though he is a teacher at heart, Don Herbert hates the dry stuffiness of a classroom as much as any truant schoolboy. On Mr. Wizard, his popular science show for kids (Sat. 5 p.m. NBC-TV), he uses brief, ad lib comment instead of hectoring lectures, everyday objects like balloons and tumblers instead of beakers and fractionating columns, and he would rather conduct his experiments with a potato or a spinning top than with test tubes and Bunsen burners.
Herbert's object is to show his audience (estimated at 850,000) what goes on in the world — why the wind blows, what makes a cake rise, how water comes out of a kitchen tap. To explain rain, he boils water in a coffee pot, compares the steam to clouds, and shows how “rain” will condense on the sides of a glass held over the spout. He demonstrates static electricity with a charged rubber comb, lets it pick up a cluster of cork filings and then release them in a miniature snowstorm the moment they are oppositely charged. Using an infrared ray, he pops pop corn without burning the cellophane container. Last week, Herbert explained the importance of air speed to a pilot, by tying a paper plane to an electric fan and showing how it rose and fell in relation to the speed of the fan.
A graduate of La Crosse (Wis.) State Teachers College in 1940, Herbert soon found himself piloting a B-24 in Italy instead of teaching in a U.S. high school. After the war he was sidetracked once again, became a freelance radio writer and actor in Chicago, helped create the memorable It's Your Life series of documentaries. Last March, he got the idea for Mr. Wizard, sold it to NBC and hired 12-year-old Bruce Lindgren as his helper and sometimes skeptical stooge. Bruce now knows more about the basic principles of sound, air pressure, oxidation and leverage than the run of high school graduates.
Though Mr. Wizard has a sponsor (the Cereal Institute), NBC thinks enough of it as a public service program to furnish the time free of charge and none of the 54 TV stations carrying the 30-minute show gets any money for it. Chicago's Federated Advertising Club was so impressed it created an award especially for Mr. Wizard. But the most surprising tribute came from the Voice of America; it entered a standing order for recorded transcripts of each show.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Winter Wheeling

I recently said the heck with taking the city bus to work and, instead, dusted off my "winter bike" and rode it the 2.5 miles from my home to work in downtown La Crosse. Was fun and, even better, it was faster and cheaper than the bus. I've found that one of the keys to winter biking (in addition to riding a bike with wide tires and fenders) is to ride on little used side streets (in this case, South Sixth Street) where auto traffic is light. And, of course, having lights on the bike when riding in the dark.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trail Hogs

This photo I snapped recently shows one of my pet peeves when riding my bike on La Crosse's marsh trail: people who hog the trail while walking on it, giving little room for bicyclists to pass by. When I approach such walkers from behind I have to ring my bike's bell or sing out, "Passing on your left." The reaction I often get is a hard glare and frown from the walkers as if I have intruded on their own private walkway. Go figure.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Childhood Memory Maker

This old billboard for Sunbeam Bread (featuring "Little Miss Sunbeam") on the side of a building in downtown La Crosse affords me memories of my childhood as the bread was a common sight on my family's kitchen counter during my boyhood days in the 1950s. Erickson Bakery was a well-known bakery in La Crosse for many years, operating from the late 19th Century to 1989 though I only recall its Sunbeam Bread being sold locally from the 1950s to early 1970s. Though it's been a long time since I tasted Sunbeam bread, I don't recall it being anything special . . . just a bland, white bread that was much inferior to my grandmother's tasty homemade bread which she made nearly every morning most of her adult life. Who does that anymore? Few I would suspect.