This is update #15 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
Sidonia and Fred arrived on Friday, September 9 at the Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottawa, just a couple of miles beyond the Marseilles lock on the Illinois River. A nice marina but a bit far from the city of Ottawa, which sits at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers. The couple really wanted to visit the downtown.
The city of almost 19,000 people was the site of the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas in 1858. Douglas was the leader of the Democratic Party at the time and was resolute in his accusations that Lincoln was secretly involved in efforts to abolish slavery.
Among other attributes that define Ottawa, it is well known for its high-quality sand which contributed to its increasingly important status in the sand and glass industry for over 100 years.
“We wanted to check out the town of Ottawa so on Saturday we moved the two miles down river and tied to the city’s wall. The Ottawa wall is only 100 feet long and not in great condition, but it is free to visitors, has electricity, and we were comfortable there.
“As we rode our bikes along the wall’s pathway on our way into town, Fred spotted a furry critter run into the bushes beside us. He later explained what he saw to a local man sitting nearby, who said it could be a groundhog. After looking at a picture of Punxsutawney Phil, we confirmed that Fred had indeed seen a groundhog.
“We rode past Washington Square, which is a very historical spot. Abraham Lincoln debated here in 1858 with Stephen Douglas.
It was the first of seven debates for the senatorial race which Lincoln ended up losing. Estimates about the number in attendance for this debate are between 10,000 and 12,000. The statues of Lincoln and Douglas are surrounded by a lovely fountain in the middle of the park.
There are also historic murals painted on some of the buildings in town.
“We had a very good lunch at B.A.S.H. Burger and Sushi House. Seemed like a very strange menu combination but the restaurant was very nice, had good food and every table was filled, inside and out.”
The next morning, as predicted, the rain started just before sunrise, accompanied by thunder and lightning. It rained steadily for two days, so the couple mostly stayed on the boat, only venturing out to visit a local pub for lunch and watch a football game between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. They also stopped to enjoy Thai food at a nearby restaurant. Otherwise, they stayed cozy inside the boat, watching movies, something they rarely do.
“The Ottawa wall is nearly underneath the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge. After being there for three days, Last Item was very dirty. Fred hosed the worst of it off and then we took off at 7:00. Starved Rock lock is about six miles from Ottawa, and we were about halfway there when we heard that we wouldn’t be able to get through the lock until at least 8:30.
“We slowed to a crawl and watched white pelicans, great egrets, and great blue herons standing in the shallows. When we got closer to the lock, we dropped our anchor at the side of the channel.
We passed by a huge BioUrja Renewables plant, the largest industrial facility we’ve seen on the trip. This corporate giant deals with a variety of commodities from fuel to animal feed.
“A towboat with a long load of barges sat at the entrance to the lock facing upriver. We did not understand why he was just sitting there, as it was almost 9:00, but then he started moving toward us. All the waiting Looper boats were well off to the side of the channel to stay out of its way. As we finally got under way, there were close to a dozen Loopers entering the locks, so we rafted with two other boats. Four boats immediately behind us were rafted together as were even more boats rafted behind them.
“We passed by Starved Rock State Park and would like to have been able to visit it as it is said to be very beautiful. There is a small marina there but there is no way to get into the interior of the park without a car. Back in the 1760s, as the story goes, the Illinois and Pottawatomie tribes were attending a native council. One of the Illinois braves killed Chief Pontiac of the Pottawatomie tribe, which caused a battle between them. The Illinois took refuge on a great rock here, which was then surrounded by the Pottawatomie, where the Illinois tribe held out until they died of starvation. In 1966, the park became a National Historic Landmark.
“It seems we’ve also entered bald eagle country. We saw lots of them today as well as many pelicans. The wading pelicans, herons, and gulls are clear signs that it is very shallow out of the channel. We saw many missing buoys which had likely been mowed down by barge traffic. Whenever we passed a barge in this area, we hugged its side to make sure we stayed inside the channel.”
Next stop for Last Item is Peoria, the largest city on the Illinois River. With a population of 113,000 people, it is a major trading and shipping center for many surrounding agricultural products grown in the area, including corn, soybean, and livestock. And it is also a manufacturing center for farm, building materials, and construction equipment. In fact, until 2018, Peoria was the national headquarters for Caterpillar.
And Peoria is known for its culture. The Peoria Symphony Orchestra is the 14th largest in the country, and there are well-known ballet companies and community and professional theaters in the area.
There is a great wealthy of talent, artistic expression, and manufacturing capability in the heartland of our country.
“We ran 65 miles today and arrived in Peoria at 1:30. We found the municipal dock is free, has power, but is not very well maintained. There were only two spaces that would accommodate our size boat and they were both taken. We went into one of the other slips, but our boat stuck out about five feet. Gator on ‘Side Tracked,’ who we met back in Trenton, was also there and his boat hung out about five feet as well. Gator came over to help us tie up and then we found we could not get off our boat very easily. Our stern hung out well beyond the slip and the finger pier was too low to allow us to easily (and safely) step off the side of the boat.
“We used a folding wooden chair as a step stool to get off the boat and then walked a few blocks into town. The museum and planetarium were closed and while the Caterpillar Visitors Center looked closed and empty, the doors were open. But the only room we could visit was the merchandise shop. Fred bought a Cat T-shirt since we have Caterpillar engines in our big boat back in Anacortes.
“We walked a little farther and came upon a Holocaust Memorial. There were eighteen star-shaped glass cases lining a pathway and each one was filled with buttons for a total of six million buttons. Each button represents one of the six million Jews who died in the holocaust. There were also five triangular glass cases also filled with another five million buttons representing those killed who were not Jewish.
“The sheer number of buttons had much greater impact than all the other times we’ve seen the numbers of those killed. The buttons were collected by children and other groups around the country. It was an extremely moving memorial.”
The next move was to continue south to Alton, Illinois, some 178 miles south of Peoria. It would make a good home base for several days so they could explore the surrounding area, including St. Louis, Missouri, a 22-mile drive away from the marina by car.
Once past the Peoria lock, there are not many marine services or marinas for quite a while, so they needed to fuel up before continuing south. They would likely need to spend at least one night anchored in the Illinois River before reaching Grafton, where the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers converge.
Grafton is best remembered as one of the sleepy little towns devastated by the Great Flood of 1993, when the riverbanks overflowed to record levels and the surrounding areas were flooded out from April to October. Grafton was above flood stage for 195 days, forcing most of the residents to leave. The waters rose an unbelievable 38.2 feet, fully 20+ feet above flood stage.
Alton, their planned destination, was also hit hard, as the Mississippi topped out at 42.7 feet above normal. It is hard to imagine such devastation.
“On Sunday, September 14, we found the only place we could buy fuel was back at the Illinois Yacht Club which we passed yesterday on our way to Peoria. We backtracked the four miles to get there and filled our tanks as there would be no more fuel stops for 168 miles.
“We were at the Peoria lock by 9:30 but had to wait for three hours for barges to get through. A former towboat operator later explained to us that when the load of barges is too long for the lock, the towboat pushes part (or half) the load to the riverside, secures it and then takes the other half though the lock and secures it to the shore there. Then the boat turns around, goes back through the lock and picks up the other half of the load, comes through and reattaches the two loads together. No wonder it takes two to three hours!
“Once we were in the lock, several more boats radioed the lockmaster that they were only about 20 minutes away and would he please wait until they got there? We finally got out of the lock at 1:00. We made pretty good time after that, slowing only to pass four big barges, an occasional fisherman, no-wake zones, and other pleasure boats. There are no marinas along this long stretch of the Illinois River so a little after 4:00pm, we anchored about a quarter of a mile upstream from the La Grange lock along the edge where the river was a little wider.
“We had been on the water for 7-1/2 hours, only underway 4-1/2 hours, and covered 76 miles.
“As far as we could see, there was nothing on shore but tree-lined river. It was so peaceful, the only sounds were cicadas in the trees and some birds singing. Through a break in the trees, we could see a berm, which prevented us from seeing anything beyond. We saw corn fields behind the trees in other spots along the river.
“We spent a lovely, peaceful night alone in the river. A little before 8:00 the next morning, Thursday, September 15, six Looper boats arrived at the lock so we made ready and we all locked through together with no waiting for barges. We passed an Army Corps of Engineers work boat dredging the edge of the river, its massive pump spewing dredged mud along the banks. Other than seeing some wild turkeys and passing several barges, the river was quiet.
“Almost all the houses we passed were on stilts. The river levels are low right now and it’s amazing to think that it could rise nearly as high as the floors of those houses.
“Several times along the Illinois River, we saw small open boats, usually in pairs with a net strung between them. When the fishermen pulled in the net we could see them tossing fish into the boats.
We assumed they were Asian carp, but today we pulled up close enough to talk with a couple of the fishermen. They told us they were fishing for buffalo. Since we had never heard of buffalo fish, we thought they were joking. But they do fish for buffalo fish and supply the local fish markets. It is a mild, white fish that some think tastes even better than catfish. The fishermen do catch some carp as a by-catch.
“Twice we saw small ferries along very long stretches of river where there are no bridges to connect the two sides.
“We left the Illinois River near Grafton and arrived in the Mississippi River. Almost immediately, we noticed the east side of the riverbank lined with pretty limestone/dolomite cliffs. The cliffs continued all the way to Alton, Illinois, where we arrived at the Alton Municipal Marina a little after noon.
Alton Marina is a good-sized marina and nearly all the slips are covered, which is great as we plan to stay here for at least six days, and the temperatures are expected to remain in the ‘90s. We will use Alton as a home base and rent a car to visit the St. Louis area. How lucky we were to choose this marina, as we found they have a ‘stay three nights and get three nights free’ deal.
“Even without the free nights, this is the least expensive marina we have been in. It has a swimming pool and the usual amenities, and a small cafe where you can get a burger, a BLT, or a hot dog. We went for the BLT with a side of some delicious chicken salad.”
Their itinerary included a lengthy visit to St. Louis, the second largest city in Missouri, located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Today it has a population of 300,000 people, which, from 1870 to 1920, was the fourth largest city in the U.S.
St. Louis is home to several Fortune 500 companies, such as Anheuser-Busch and Wells Fargo, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Among its many attractions, two stand out. The famous arch, the Gateway Arch, celebrates St. Louis as the gateway to the West, a tribute to the pioneers who headed westward and settled our country. Opened in 1965, the Gateway Arch is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. Over four million people visit it each year, and a million of those people take the trip up to the top of the monument.
The other remarkable must-see attraction is the St. Louis Zoo. The zoo is home for 14,000 animals, representing 500 species. It is a superb interpretation of the model zoo concept where the animals and people get to know each other in the most humane and sustainable way possible. It is no wonder some three million guests walk its grounds each year.
“This morning, September 16, we rented a car and drove 22 miles into St. Louis. It’s all about The Arch in this city, which is called The Gateway to the West. They built the Arch as a tribute to the expansion of the west. Lewis and Clark started their journey a few miles from here at Camp Dubois in Illinois, at the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
“We got our tickets to go to the top of the arch and just barely had time for a quick bite before our tour began. We were divided into eight groups of four people. We were #1. We stood on our #1 circle until it was time to enter tram door #1. The entry door is four feet high, so we crouched down and entered the tiny capsule which had five seats very close together. With four of us in the capsule it felt very crowded. This is not for a claustrophobic person.
“After everyone entered their respective numbered doors and seated, we started up the arch. For four minutes we jiggled our way to the top, ears popping all the way. Through a window in the door, we could see the inner workings of the arch, pipes, electrical cabling, and ventilation ductwork.
“We exited our capsule at the top of the arch, 630 feet in the air, and went to the little windows to look down on the city on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. We had about ten minutes to enjoy the view before going back down.
“Back on the ground, we walked through the very nice museum. Then it was our turn to go into the theater and see the movie about building the arch. Though the arch itself was fun to go inside, the movie was even more fascinating and impressed upon us what an amazing feat it was to engineer and build. Not a single worker lost his life during its construction, even though the initial casualty estimate had been up to 13.
“On the boat in Alton, thunder, lightning, and pouring rain woke us the next morning. Though we probably could have used the rain to wash the dust off, we stayed completely dry under our covered slip.
“We had a golf game scheduled for the afternoon and by then the rain was long gone. We played at Woodlands Golf Club, which was nice.
“At happy hour, we met with several other Loopers for docktails. There are quite a few of us here and more on the way. Most boats only stayed a night or two, but there were always more Loopers to take their place.
“The next day we drove back to St. Louis to visit the St. Louis Zoo, which is supposed to be one of the better zoos in the country.
The habitats are nicely done for the animals although sometimes that makes it difficult to see them. Our favorite exhibit was the penguin area because we could get so close to them. If allowed, we could have touched them.
“For dinner, we went to Fast Freddie’s. We had been told that it was THE place to go. We drove by it several times in our travels, and though it didn’t look like much from the outside, the parking lot was always jammed with cars. This night was no different. The area inside was lit up with neon beer and other signs. A band played in one area and the music was piped throughout the large restaurant.
“There are only five items on the menu, and you eat with your fingers. The food was very good, but not what you would call a balanced diet as there wasn’t one vegetable other than a grilled green pepper on our kabob.
“We drove back to the city the next day to visit the Anheuser-Busch plant. Its huge buildings take up several blocks.
The visitor center is quite nice and incorporates a small museum. Our tour took us to the original stable and the bottling area. The history of Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch was very much like that of Frederick Pabst of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Anheuser bought a brewing company having financial problems in 1860. His son-in-law, Adolphus Busch, worked for him. As Busch took on more of the workload, Anheuser renamed the company Anheuser-Busch.
“In the bottling building, we took escalators up to the sixth floor where windows overlook the plant floor. We could see hundreds and hundreds of brown bottles slowly moving along a conveyor belt where over a thousand are bottled in one minute. Farther back in the area were hundreds of cases of beer. It takes less than two hours from bottling to completed cases. At the end of the tour, we were given a can of beer.
“The second tour was to the original stable. This stable is not used much anymore as the horses live offsite on farms. We had already been through it on the first tour, but this was a more in-depth tour with a big perk at the end.
“In 1933, six Clydesdale draft horses were given to August Busch by his sons to commemorate the end of prohibition of beer. The company arranged to have a second hitch of six sent to New York, loaded with cases of beer. A case was given to former New York governor Alfred E. Smith in appreciation for his fight against prohibition.
“The stable is beautiful. A ring of stalls surrounds a central area with a stunning solid brass chandelier overhead. A separate room is lined with more than a dozen glass cases enclosing the tack from retired horses. Each horse is custom fitted with its own tack and it costs $100,000 to outfit a hitch of eight horses. The hitch drivers have extensive training and must be physically fit as they must endure the horses pulling the forty pounds of lines that they hold.
“The perk of this second tour is when one of the fabulous draft horses is brought out. Everyone on the tour can have a turn admiring, stroking, and talking to this beautiful animal and, of course, having their photo op. The horses are incredibly pampered, from their wonderful living quarters, special feed, and fancy traveling vehicles, to being thoroughly bathed, brushed, and combed from top to bottom.
“We all thought it would be rather nice to live life as a Budweiser Clydesdale.
“Back on the boat in Alton, the 90-degree weather continued along with the humidity. We did some grocery shopping and then returned our rental car. We filled up with fuel for the long run to our next stop.
“We spent the rest of Tuesday in the air-conditioned comfort of our Nimbus Coupe.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: Great Loop Trip Continues Into Illinois
Update #15: This Post
Update #16: Heading Into Tennessee
Update #17: Cruising In The Tenn-Tom
Update #18: On To The Gulf Of Mexico