A Dam Good Show

Thursday, October 20, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 7:  Dubuque, IA to Rochester, MN.   We set out this morning to find three letterboxes at Eagle Point Park in Dubuque, expecting to be on the road toward Minnesota no later than mid-morning.  Then we got locked away and didn't leave town until much later.
Here's what happened.  We located letterbox number one readily enough but before we could return to our car to drive to another part of the park to search for the other boxes, we were distracted by the sight below the bluff we were on — the mighty Mississippi River and Lock and Dam Number 11!  Officially, it's General Zebulon Pike Lock and Dam #11.
Not only was there a barge inside the lock, another sizable tow (three across, four deep) was waiting its turn to lock through.  As much as we love to look for tupperware in the woods, we can do that most any day, anywhere.  An opportunity to view such a feat of engineering doesn't come along so often.
Neil N. Diehl tow waits its turn
So we forgot about the other letterboxes we intended to find and took our posts at the observation point in the park high above the lock.  Though the temperature hovered around 40º, the high winds off the river buffeted us and sent the wind chill down to freezing or below.  We couldn't be bothered with the cold.  There was a show to see— even more of one than we anticipated.
The tow enters the lock.
We watched with fascination as the towboat pilot guided his tow into the narrow lock.  Lock #11 is 110 feet wide by 600 feet long.  We're guessing these barges were the standard size of 35 feet by 200.  That left a whopping two feet or so of clearance on either side of the tow as it maneuvered into the lock.
Tight quarters
Of course,we didn't have all these facts and figures as we were standing on the bluff watching.  Otherwise we would have realized that this would not be a simple lockage.  This tow was what is known as a "double," meaning the tow and barges were too long to lock through as one unit.
Too looooonnnngggg
Due to the size of this lock, no more than three rows of barges can fit in the lock.  As we learned by observing, the procedure was for the tow to enter and secure the front barges in the lock and then cut them loose.
Backing out
Then the tow backed out of the lock with the aft section of barges attached.  The lock gates closed and the orphaned barges were lowered to the downstream level.
Orphans locked in
Since the unlashed barges had no power, a cable winch at the end of the lock had to give them a pull to move the barges out of the lock.  Once the lock gates were closed and the water level rose to upstream level, the tow and aft barges were locked through.
Coming through
Then it was time for the tow to reconnect with the forward barges.  As the towboat maintained forward thrust, the crew scurried to mate the two barge sections back together again.
Together again
Reunited with all 12 barges, the Neil N. Diehl pushed its load out of the lock and continued downstream.  The entire process took about an hour and a half.  What a show!  And we paid the whopping sum of $1.00 entrance fee for Eagle Point Park.
If this sounds boring to you with all the time waiting for the lock level to rise and lower (which really didn't take that long), there was a bit of a side show going on also.  To lend authenticity to the park's name, a bald eagle began flying over the river during the lockage and perched in a tree across the river.  Though we didn't have a camera lens to capture this part of the entertainment, our excellent Nikon 10x36 binoculars enabled us to spy on this majestic raptor and his mate about a half mile away.
Library-To-Go:  Don't have time to drop by the local library to pick up a book?  The Dubuque Public Library can help.  They have partnered with a local grocery chain to make picking up the latest best seller more convenient than ever with the use of a library vending lending machine.  One swipe of your library card and you can take home the new James Patterson with that gallon of milk.
Pining for Accuracy:  A rose is a rose, but is a pine a pine?  Two days, two states, two letterboxers, and two cedar trees referred to as pines in the clues for letterboxes we were searching for.  We looked behind a dozen or more pines before locating the first one.  The second time, we realized it was one of those cedar pines and went straight to the correct tree.
    US-52, the Amish Byway
Buggy Lane:  After crossing into Minnesota this afternoon, we began to see lots of Amish buggies and businesses around the towns of Prosper and Harmony.  The main highway had extra wide shoulders to accommodate these slower forms of transportation as well as farm vehicles.
  • Started in; Dubuque, IA
  • Ended in:  Rochester, MN
  • Miles driven:  207
  • States:  2 (IA, MN)
  • Letterboxes:  5 found
  • Gas:  $3.359 (Luxemburg, IA)
  • Barges:  18
  • Bald eagles:  2
  • Time spent watching boats move 620 feet:  1.5 hours
  • Silos:  372
  • Acres of cornfields:  803,482
  • Corn stalks:  457,230,881,902

Dubuque County Courthouse
Part of an Iowa soybean harvest