Lucky, lucky me

Posted by | Filed under Iowa | Jun 29, 2011 | 2 Comments

I am just one lucky traveling gal.
A couple of days ago when I was traveling from West Bend to Charles City, Iowa I ran into a farmer, figuratively speaking. I just caught a glimpse of corn

Filling truck with corn

being loaded into a big truck, something I had never seen before; after all, I am a city girl. I had to turn around. I pulled up next to the grain silos where the farmer was standing. I asked if he would mind if I take some photos of the process, not at all. He told me the corn was for ethanol production and we got talking. During the thirty minutes it took for the truck to fill-up we talked about the misconception of ethanol production, hog farming, corn harvest, the difference between sweet corn (for human consumption) and feed corn (for livestock feed and ethanol production) the floods and travel. He pretty much

Ethanol plant - unloading corn

echoed what I had heard during a conversation I had with the nice owners of the Wolverine Wash back in West Bend. Big Oil vs. ethanol. I had always heard that one needs ¾ of a gallon fuel to produce one gallon of ethanol. What I had not heard, and you might not have either, is that ethanol production creates a byproduct called Dried Distiller Grains (DDG) which is used for livestock feed. It fattens up livestock faster than corn itself. So, one bushel of corn (56 lbs) produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol and roughly 17 pounds of nutrient dense livestock feed. The industry has also become more efficient in the last couple of

fermentation tanks

years. At the end of my conversation with the farmer (sorry, we never exchanged names) he asked if I would like to come to the ethanol plant with him. Too bad, he was going north and I was headed east. Iowa is one of five ethanol producing states (Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota are the others) and this conversation made me curious and I figured there had to be more plants around and maybe I could just visit one on my own. I was in luck; there is a plant in Charles City, the town I was staying in. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky when I asked if I could take a peak inside. The answer was simply Nope, no can do. No explanation, just no, too bad.

Fermentation tanks

By now you must be asking yourself: “Why is she calling herself lucky?” Well, on the next leg of my trip I saw some trucks loaded with corn pulling off the highway into what looked like an ethanol plant, yup Homeland Energy Solutions (HES). Let’s give it another shot. I pulled right in behind some trucks and headed for the office. When I stepped out of my truck I was greeted by this sweet smell of yeast (used in the corn fermentation process). Did I stand in front of a bakery or an ethanol plant? I don’t think you ask yourself that question when you stand in front of an oil refinery.

Ethanol bins

Once inside, the reception was different as well. “Sure, not a problem. We’ll be happy to give you a tour.” Kevin, the plant manager at HES, first answered some of my questions and then gave me an hour long tour from start to finish of the process. I even was allowed to take photos! Starting with the unloading

Loading dried distiller grains

of the trucks, what takes thirty minutes to load only takes three minutes to unload. The corn gets ground into fine grains, fermented, the byproduct gets dried resulting in DDG, ethanol – shipping out to oil refineries via train to be added to the gasoline, DDG shipped out by train or truck. This is the CliffsNotes version of the tour. The whole thing was very impressive and the numbers were staggering. I didn’t take notes, but if you are interested in more detailed information go to the HES website and watch the video. Buffering takes a little bit be patient.
Thank you Kevin for taking the time and thank you for the education!
My hopes for the day had been to make it to McGregor at the Mississippi River. However, I only made it to McGregor Street, really, in Clermont, Iowa. Due to the unexpected ethanol tour it had gotten late in the day and I knew I wouldn’t make it to my planned campsite. When I drove through Clermont my first

Clermont - old public school

reaction was, I want to stay here and take a closer look. I turned into a side street and asked a mother and daughter duo walking down the street if there are any overnight parking places. Yes, there is a campground just outside of town. I had kind of seen the place, but didn’t feel like spending money for the night. After a little debating I just pulled into a parking spot down the street. The duo was kind enough to talk with the lady who lived in the house I parked in front of. Not a problem. Turns out that Arlene is also the town historian and she told me about the town’s brick making history and the State governor Larrabee who built the school in town back in 1912. The next morning Arlene gave me a tour of the school. Built entirely out of brick with three foot walls, no flammable materials were used on the inside, just metal, tile and brick. If that wasn’t enough, Arlene gave me some yummy Amish friendship bread. When you bake it you are supposed to give away a loaf or two. Usually, I only get to drive through a town and have to make up my own story about its history, this was a real treat to hear the actual story behind a town. Thank you Arlene.

Downtown McGregor

I was headed to the Yellow River campground in the woods near McGregor. I was ready for some dry camping. The campground is located several miles outside of town and I figured I might as well check out the town before I continue to the campground. The “turn here” sign appeared too quickly and I couldn’t make the turn, darn. I continued down the road looking for a good place to turn. I saw a recreational area sign and turned. Look at that, there is a campground here. It was a county campground right outside of town. Same amenities or lack there of as the campground I was headed for, just much closer.
Saturday was another of my laundry days, you see I still have to take care of the same chores everyone else has. Unfortunately, the laundromat in McGregor was a dump. On the bright side I met James, who lives in the apartment behind the laundromat. We chatted for a while; he was wondering what on earth I

Traveling the backroads

was doing in McGregor. He was not anywhere as interested in nature and her beauty as I was. He disappeared back into his apartment just to come out a few minutes later with a little ceramic lighthouse. You know those souvenirs you buy when you are in a coastal town. He gave it to me, just like that. He collects lighthouses he told me. He wanted to give me also a large wooden lighthouse, but I told him it was too big for my little space. I thought it was really sweet of him.

Now you know why I consider myself lucky.

A little Iowa trivia. Did you know that Iowa has ski resorts? The temperatures during the winter drop well below 0 F (-16 C) ranging between -10 and -20 F (-20 to -30C) with lots of snow. Who knew?

Mississippi River and Blackhawk Bridge, Iowa & Wisconsin

The western part of the state is pretty much all agriculture with gently and sometimes steep rolling hills. The east, however, has forests and beautiful bluffs along the Mississippi River.

2 Responses to “Lucky, lucky me”

  • Carol FOELL says:

    Hi Jicky
    Thank You So Much for the wonderful commentary, and the gorgeous Photos
    I can’t decide what I like most / best,
    So, I’ll just buy the book, and get it autographed !!
    Happy trails
    See You when, . . .


  • Jicky says:

    Hi Carol,
    good to hear from you. You might have to wait a bit until the book from this trip is available. Still have to edit 16,000 photos!
    See ya,
    P.S. Having fun at the Liberty games?