Words matter

“Words are sacred, they deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world.”

Tom Stoppard (1937-  ) – Playwright, screenwriter

Unfortunately, that coin has two sides; when someone consistently twists words and cynically uses them with disrespect, well, they can nudge the world toward the dark side.

Settings #11 – Trader’s Island: Canoes to towboats

Trader’s Island is a nearly 600-acre island (about a mile-and-a-half long and a half-mile wide) in the Mississippi River near the Iowa shore, several miles west of Lee’s Landing.

It got its name because it was where white traders in the late 1700s and early 1800s put their canoes ashore to meet with local Native Americans to trade goods like cooking pots, axes, blankets, steel knives, traps, rifles, tobacco and whiskey for fur pelts. It was once heavily wooded, with open meadows where the Native Americans would set-up their camps for trading.

However, because the main channel of the Mississippi River in the area favors the Iowa side, it became a spot where steamboats and later towboats and barges would tie-up and load and unload. In fact, today’s island is cluttered with dozens of buildings and warehouses − some as big as half a football field, others like the large pole buildings you see on farms − parking areas, docks and storage and loading yards. There is a maze of roadways that often dead -end at buildings or rails spurs, or jog right or left around fenced storage yards.

Entrance to the island is at either end from River Road via combined railroad and roadway bridges.

The island is officially owned by the U.S. Government through the Army Corps of Engineers, with the occupants all paying long-term lease fees. However, because the Corps has only a very small police force, whose main job is to check campers in corps developed campgrounds up and down the river, they have contracted with the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement on Trader’s Island.

In effect, the government contract reimburses the county for a part-time deputy who is supposed to patrol the area occasionally and respond to calls when necessary.

In the early Ro Delahanty novels the island is part of Ro’s regular assigned patrol area, the western third of the county.

But I have the kernel of an idea for a future Ro novel in which Trader’s Island would play a significant role. Stay tuned…

Next: We’re taking a holiday break; the next Settings post will be January 2nd

© 2018 Dave Lager


My apologies to you, Mr. Green, but I somehow incorrectly added three decades to your age in yesterday’s post of your writer’s quote – your actual birth year is 1977, not 1948. I honestly don’t know where I came up with that other date.

And thanks, Sandra Schehl for giving me a heads-up on this…

Settings #10 – Fort Defiance Institute: The “new” police academy

The first time Ro Delahanty went to Fort Defiance Institute of Law Enforcement and Tactical Sciences – an accurate, if cumbersome name that was always shortened to a simpler “Fort Defiance” – was in early 2003 for her eight-week police academy training before being sworn-in as a deputy.

She was back in the fall of 2005 for the two-week SWAT basic training and a follow-up weeklong designated marksman (sniper) specialization. Her third time was early in 2006 for a one-week armorer school, while the fourth was in the fall later that year for the one-week SWAT advanced training.

And each time it looked and felt to her more and more like a college campus.

Ro had loved earning her bachelor’s in law enforcement online, working in her own study according to her own schedule and pace. And while she hadn’t missed the on-campus experience for that program, she found she very much enjoyed the on-campus atmosphere of Fort Defiance. It was for her like the best of both worlds; the academic, learning side, but with all cops and para-military types, in other words, her people.

In fact, while she’d shared with a few folks that maybe in ten years or so she might go for her master’s in law enforcement, what she hadn’t shared, because it was still only a vague idea on her part, was that she might someday teach at Fort Defiance.

Fort Defiance was, in fact, a college, or more precisely, a private, for-profit, technical school providing basic, advanced and specialized coursework for law enforcement and tactical personnel like private contractors and security-types; private citizens could also sign-up for selected classes / workshops.

In the 1990s two opposite forces converged that led to schools like Fort Defiance.

One was an increasing emphasis on professionalism in police work; it was no longer acceptable just to send somebody to a few weeks of police academy, hand them a gun and send them out on the street. In other words, there was a growing need for more specialized law enforcement skill training.

The second was that for budgetary reasons many states, including Iowa, closed their state sponsored police academy programs – usually run by the state police – a job Fort Defiance and its counterparts were more than happy to take on.

Fort Defiance was opened in 2002; Ro’s was part of the school’s third police academy class.

Located on 450-acre campus near Estherville in north central Iowa, it was named after an abandoned Civil War fort that had been in the area. Their logo was crossed AR-style rifles over a silhouette of a fort’s blockhouse with “Fort Defiance Institute” surrounding the graphics. A gift shop in the main administrative building offered a variety of logo-festooned products – hats, sweatshirts, T-shirts, coffee mugs, duffle bags. By the mid-2000s, Fort Defiance coffee mugs in police department coffee rooms and T-shirts or ballcaps on off-duty cops were a common sight.

Fort Defiance was, in fact, designed to look much like a traditional college campus, with buildings set in expansive lawns around curved driveways, connected by a network of paved paths; there was even a large manmade lake, really the borrow pit for the earthen berm surrounding the outdoor shooting ranges.

When Ro attended her police academy the campus included:

– A central admin building, with the gift shop.
– A pair of single-story classroom buildings.
– A two-story dorm with two wings off a common lounge – seating area, TV, billiard table, vending machines – with a capacity to house a hundred students. The dormitories were like most college dorms, two-person rooms with central bathroom and shower facilities on each floor. The rooms had a pair of single beds, two closet / drawer combinations and two desks. Each dorm floor was single sex; any sexual contact on campus was not allowed, similarly, alcohol was strictly forbidden.
– A stand-alone cafeteria serving three meals a day.
– A standard twenty-five-yard indoor pistol shooting range, with sophisticated computerized target simulator system, and a fifty-yard outdoor pistol range.
– Both indoor and outdoor tactical operations simulators.
– A nine-hundred yard (half-mile) outdoor rifle/sniper shooting range.
– A half-mile outdoor running track and physical training fields.

Three years later, when Ro attended her armorer school:

– Another two-wing dorm had been built and a third one was under construction.
– There were two more classroom buildings.
– A recreation building – gym, basketball and handball/racquetball courts – had been built.
– The cafeteria had been expanded, including a coffee shop.
– Both the indoor and outdoor tactical operations simulators had been expanded.
– And they were building an addition to the administration building, with a two-bed medical/emergency clinic.

© 2018 Dave Lager

Settings #9 – Rickett’s Ridge: Spectacular sunsets and glorious sunrises

According to a book on local geology Ro found at the Lee’s Landing Library, the little over two-mile long “hill” in the northwestern part of the county known to locals as Rickett’s Ridge was really a long, narrow mound of gravel and boulders called as an esker left over from some long-gone glacier.

A topographic map, which she also looked up at the library, confirmed it was the highest point in the county.

And it was one of her favorite spots when on patrol.

County Road G ran north to south along the ridge’s crest; while to the west the slope was fairly gentle, to the east the nearly hundred-foot drop-off was quite sharp.

So that, depending on which shift she was patrolling, Rickett’s Ridge presented either views of spectacular sunsets to the west or glorious sunrises to the east. And during daylight hours you could see great swaths of the county’s orderly crop fields dotted with farmsteads.

But her favorite was to make a brief stop at night when she could see all the way to U.S. 68, six miles to the east, and Interstate 82, some seven miles off to her right, with their endless streams of tiny white headlights and even tinier red taillights crawling along.

However, her stops were always infrequent and brief because she didn’t want to establish too much of a pattern in her patrol routes, so that bad guys might be able to predict where she would be and contemplate some mischief elsewhere.

In 2007 she was disappointed, but not surprised, when the view to the west – thank heaven the slope to the east was too steep! – was marred by a new hundred-foot stick antenna built by the State of Iowa to facilitate radio communication with state police cars and other state vehicles in the eastern counties. Fort Armstrong County was allowed to hang its own repeater on the tower not far from the top and several cellphone providers wrapped their antennae around it as well, in fact, their rental fees turned the tower into a small profit center for the state.

Next: Fort Defiance Institute

© 2018 Dave Lager

Another favorite inspirational quote

“He has learned nothing and will never do anything properly.”

– Herr Albrechtsberger in 1794 concerning his music student Ludwig von Beethoven

This after Beethoven already had a reputation as a marvelous improviser, was regularly welcomed in the salons of Vienna as a prodigy piano soloist and had written one, and possibly two piano concertos. Whether you’re a composer, performer, writer or artist, never sell yourself short!

Settings #8 – Witness Tree Rod and Gun Club

Ro Delahanty is a championship shooter and could possibly have been a world-class shooter if her path had taken her in that direction. And it all started with Mike and Witness Tree Rod and Gun Club.

She started accompanying her father out to the club’s skeet shooting range on Saturday mornings when she was ten. They would have breakfast in the club’s lodge, then she’d watch as Big Mike and his friends would plunk away at clay pigeons, competing with one another as to who was the best shot.

It didn’t take Ro long — just a few months — to ask her father if she could learn to shoot like him. So, he dug out his old Stevens .410, which was the gun his father had given him to learn to shoot on and passed it on to a third generation. Within a year she was winning ribbons and trophies in junior division skeet competitions.

When she was fifteen she was among the first to sign up for the target shooting classes when the club built a fixed target pistol range next to the skeet area, figuring it was surely a skill she needed if she really wanted to be a cop.

As a seventeen-year-old she attended a workshop at the club by a professional shooter named Johnna Mack about a new sport shooting competition that involved having to differentiate threatening and non-threatening pop-up targets and then drawing and accurately firing from a concealed-carry position on only the threatening ones. Not quite four-years later she won the Iowa championship.

Originally called the Witness Tree Shooting Club, its history dated back to the 1920s, when well-to-do gentleman – no women allowed then – purchased several hundred acres along Perty Creek to use for skeet shooting and hunting.

The name derived from a great poplar that supposedly delineated – “witnessed” – the corner of a section line that marked the edge of their original property. The tree was heavily damaged by high winds in the 1950s and had to be cut down, but a foot-thick by nearly eight-foot across slab from the trunk adorns the wall of the clubhouse entrance foyer. A ring count determined the tree was just over a hundred-and-fifty-years old when it came down.

The club’s main entrance is located off County Road Q in the eastern part of Fort Armstrong County, although there is a “back gate” entrance from Witness Tree Road at the west end of the property. Over the years tracts were added so that it now encompasses fifteen-hundred acres.

When Perty Creek was dammed-up in the mid-60s to create a two-hundred-and-fifty-acre stocked lake for fishing, the name was changed to the Witness Tree Rod and Gun Club.

The central lodge near the main entrance has a coffee shop/restaurant and shop where you can rent boats, buy bait and fishing gear, and some limited shooting supplies and ammo, including a consignment shop for used guns.

A two-hundred-yard rifle range was added in the late 90s.

Next: Rickett’s Ridge, one of Ro’s favorite places in the county

© 2018 Dave Lager

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