Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 25, 2017

Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 25, 2017

Got a question for our veteran columnist? Ask away by clicking here.

We weren't able to get to a lot of mailbag questions this week because of the press of daily news. We'll attempt to address the backlog next week.

Still, the hard-working mailbag staff answered questions about the Kickapoo Rail Trail, which opens tonight, a spectacular cow named Illini Nellie, the recent history of baseball doubleheaders, resolving lot line issues, interstate highway signage, problems with spruce trees, News-Gazette changes, a recent local history item, Urbana street issues and the old Holiday Inn/Gateway Studios site in Champaign.

Kickapoo Trail questions

"When was the Big 4 Railroad, that the Kickapoo Rail Trail now occupies, abandoned and when was the last time those tracks were used. Also, where did the tracks go to the west?"

According to the website Abandoned Railroads of Illinois, the rail line officially was abandoned in 2012 although the tracks had been pulled up years before that.

Over a period of almost 150 years a succession of railroads operated the line, which in Illinois went from Danville to Pekin: the Danville, Urbana, Bloomington and Pekin Railroad (incorporated 1866); then the Peoria and Eastern Railway Company; then in 1890, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway Company (the Big Four) a subsidiary of The New York Central; then in 1968 the Penn Central Company; then in 1976, Conrail; and in 1999 the CSX.


"I'm curious about parking at the beginning of the Kickapoo Rail Trail in Urbana? The only parking available where it begins at High Cross Road and University Avenue is Walmart's parking lot. Not everyone using it will be riding a bicycle."

The Urbana Walmart, just south of the trail at Illinois 130 (High Cross Road) is making parking available in the outer westernmost section of its parking lot. There also is a bike rack at the northwest corner of the store, said Champaign County Forest Preserve District Executive Director Dan Olson.

Urbana street sealant

"Why did Urbana or Champaign County put down what looks like oil and sand on Windsor Road from Philo Road until High Cross Road? The sand is slick under the tires of a car. It looked at first like a spill and attempt at cleaning up but it is a lot more than just a spill."

Windsor Road and other select streets were recently sealed with an approved sealant to keep the "good roads good," said Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray.

"The process involves the application of the sealant (an oil-like product), application of a blotter material (sand) to soak any excess sealant, and sweeping up of the blotter material," Gray said. "Surface sealants help seal and waterproof the surface, delay the aging process, improve the durability of the asphalt wearing surface, reduce cracking and road fatigue. The surface sealant is typically applied one year following street resurfacing and another application is applied three to four years later."

News-Gazette changes

"Why did The News-Gazette move its printing operations to Peoria and why did you not inform your rural customers (those receiving the paper by mail) that they would no longer receive the weekend ads or Sunday comics? Your customer service and circulation staff were apparently not made aware either."

News-Gazette Publisher John Reed said the decision to change printing locations "was based largely on economics. The more modern, larger and faster press in Peoria offered the best value for our printed newspaper products."

"With respect to circulars in mailed copies, that decision was independent of the change in printing locations and driven by a combination of advertiser preferences and postage expense. We apologize for any errors or omissions in communicating this information to you."

Spruce tree problems

"Five years ago, I had a spruce tree die in what seemed less than a month. After that, I noticed many others around town appearing to disintegrate and turn brown from the bottom up and then die. It's been happening slowly over years, so I can't blame this dry summer, but what is happening to our trees? First the Emerald Ash Borer and now this."

"We have seen a number of problems on spruce. In particular Colorado Blue Spruce, found all over our landscapes," said Sandy Mason, the state Master Gardener coordinator at the University of Illinois Extension. "First they really hate heat and drought. The name Colorado should give us a clue they really aren't meant for Illinois climate."If people really want to know what is going on with individual trees, she said, "I would highly recommend the (University of Illinois) plant clinic."

It's at S-417 Turner Hall, 1102 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana.

A couple things to keep in mind as we wonder about trees, she said:

— "Certainly large scale environmental issues such as drought or flooding can affect different species so widespread problems with trees could indicate a major event has occurred but of course that is different as we travel. We have been dry here but northern and southern Illinois have had more regular rain. However infectious pests and diseases are generally pretty specific at least to species. So it is dangerous to assume it is some infectious thing happening to a bunch of different trees."

— "Also important to keep in mind with trees is that they can suffer for several years past a major environmental event such as drought. They don't just 'get over it' the next year. Also once they are stressed by environmental events they tend to be prone to insects, especially borers and diseases. Just like us. When we are run down we tend to be more susceptible to illness."

Illini Nellie

"Visited grave site of Illini Nellie yesterday. Any chance of replacing the present plaque which is showing its age? Our honored bovine deserves better."

Illini Nellie was a prolific Brown Swiss cow who put the University of Illinois on the dairy production map in the 1930s, setting world records for milk production.

She began giving milk in April 1930. And over the next 10 years until her death on Nov. 19, 1940, Nellie "averaged a daily output of 93.5 pints of milk; total milk production during her lifetime was 194,665.8 pounds. This high level of milk production is especially noteworthy as she lived in an era before dairy nutrition was carefully defined," according to a story about her at the UI Archives website.

In a 1998 column I called Nellie "the Michael Jordan of Brown Swiss cows."

That column reportedly led to a plaque being installed on a rock at the site where Nellie originally was laid to rest. It's just off South Lincoln Avenue at the UI's dairy barns.

Jennifer Shike, director of communications and marketing at the UI College of ACES, said that a new plaque will be placed on the rock although she is not certain who the donor is.

Vine and Illinois intersection

"Why does the city of Urbana not make a right turn lane on Vine Street headed south at Illinois Street? That lane ends just as it crosses Illinois Street going south. Although there is a sign after you cross Illinois Street that the right lane ends, everyday I see people hurrying to cut into the left lane there with people honking, shouting, giving the finger, etc."

The current southbound configuration on Vine Street at Illinois Street of a left turn lane, a through lane, and a through-right turn lane allows for vehicles to use the outside lane for turning right or proceeding through the intersection, said Bill Gray, Urbana Public Works director.

"The two to one lane merge for southbound traffic on Vine Street occurs downstream of Illinois Street. Making the outside lane an exclusive right turn lane would remove the downstream merge situation but it would combine what is now two lanes of through traffic into one lane which would stack traffic up heading southbound into one long lane," he said. "Typically when traffic is stacked into one long lane at an intersection the result is increased delays and the running of red lights which is not a desirable action."

Interstate exit sign

"Regarding the Olympian Drive exit signage on southbound I-57: An exit sign claims that the exit to Olympian Drive is in 1 / 2 mile. In reality, the exit is almost immediate following the sign, certainly less (seemingly far less) than 1 / 4 mile. This seems like a safety issue. Can't the sign be moved, or a more appropriate distance be indicated?"

If there is such a thing as an interstate highway engineering geek, this is a great question. And answer.

Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, admitted that the signage distances there "are in fact somewhat compressed due to the close proximity of the Interstate 74 interchange.

"Typical signage for non-interstate interchanges require a 1-mile and 1 / 2-mile advance guide sign, where interstate-to-interstate interchanges are viewed as more critical and require signage to begin at 2 miles out. The distances shown on the interstate exit signs are the approximate distances from the sign location to the gore area, or point of complete divergence of the ramp from the interstate mainline. The distance from the southbound Olympian Road 1 / 2-mile mile sign to the gore point is actually closer to 0.35 miles. Similarly, the 1-mile exit sign is actually around 0.86 miles from the gore point. For standardization reasons, the legends still remain at 1 / 2-mile intervals."

Garnett said the signs are planned for replacement over the next couple of years "and longitudinal adjustments will be coordinated with the upcoming reconstruction of the I-57/I-74 interchange."

Old Holiday Inn site

"Can it be so? The grass is mowed and I see small flag markers at 1505 N. Neil Street, the site of the old Gateway Studios. Please tell me that this eyesore will soon be the site of some new development."

Nothing's happening yet, said Larry Happ, supervisor of Champaign's building safety division.

"I noticed some activity there too," he said. "No building permit application has been submitted for this site yet."

History item

"In a recent 1917 local history item it said that 'Joe Brown of Greenup, Ky., was arrested in Ogden on Wednesday on the charge of being a slacker. Brown could not produce a registration card. The nature of further action is not known.' More detail available? What's a 'slacker?' What was a 'registration card?' Always enjoy the history section of the paper."

That one-paragraph item in the Aug. 22, 1917 Champaign Daily News lacked a lot of detail, but I believe the insinuation was that Brown was what later was called a "draft dodger."

World War I draft registrations were held in 1917 and 1918 (The first on June 5, 1917, was for all men 21 to 31 years old). Anyone who didn't register for the draft then was called a "slacker," which was an all-purpose insult for someone who didn't pull his weight or do his part.

Legal lot measurements

"After reading about the 'lot line' fracas recently I wonder just how a property owner finds out where their lot ends and starts?"

Champaign County Recorder of Deeds Mark Shelden said his office can provide some help, but that in the end a professional surveyor will be needed.

"All of the legal descriptions of the lots in Champaign County are essentially recorded here," he said, "but the problem is that at the end of the day they all have to be reconciled from monuments in the county by a surveyor. My office is helpful in a lot of ways but you're going to have to do a survey to come up with the correct answer."

Major League doubleheaders

"When was the last scheduled doubleheader in major league baseball (non makeup game)? For example, scheduled at the beginning of the season and purchase one ticket to see two games."

There was one this year — a Saturday, June 10 doubleheader in Tampa featuring the Ray and the Oakland A's. They split.

It was just the second time since 2004 that a team scheduled a single-admission doubleheader, according to this story in the New York Times ...

One cool nugget from the story: "The largest crowds at the original Yankee Stadium (81,841 on May 30, 1938) and Fenway Park (47,627 on Sept. 22, 1935) were for doubleheaders."

Sections (3):News, Local, Business
Topics (1):Tom's Mailbag

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
rsp wrote on August 25, 2017 at 11:08 pm

The MTD also goes out to the Urbana Walmart or in front of the Aldi's. Buses have a carrier on the front that can hold two bikes if people want a different option for getting to the trail.