Relocating Prairiehill Farm Observatory - Part 2
Taking the Observatory for a Spin

In Part 1 I shared my experiences with Bryan Healy and Larry Ashing as we prepared Prairiehill Observatory for its move west to my new home in Colfax, IA. If you recall, we successfully freed the building from its perch in Grinnell and secured it to a car trailer for transport to Colfax. The building and trailer stayed parked in the driveway for the next week while Bryan plotted the way west and I worried about silly things. Would the good weather hold so we would have hard gravel roads to travel and avoid getting stuck? Would my pickup be up to the task of hauling nearly 4000 lbs over the twisting turns and rolling hills of Iowa’s back roads? Would the building topple into a ditch and become a new Iowan countryside monument? Sigh...

The weather was perfect when Bryan met me in Grinnell on the big moving day. He had mapped out (and test driven) a back country route from Grinnell to Newton to Colfax. Best yet we would pass by his home where his wife Cindy had cookies waiting for us. Bryan reviewed the route on county plat maps and showed me his detailed (we would be traveling off the beaten path). We inspected the trailer load and hitching security and were ready to roll. Bryan said he memorized the entire route but still politely asked, “Would you like me to drive the load or follow you?” I quickly relinquished the keys, tuned the pickup’s radio to the Hawkeyes game and wished him good luck.

Bryan lead the way and I brought up the rear driving his pickup. He headed straight west on my gravel road. The observatory’s width concealed any sign of Bryan. I chuckled as the observatory appeared to be rolling itself down the road.

My one moment of terror occurred within 10 minutes of starting out. We soon entered an area of steep hills (really steep) between Grinnell and Kellog. Bryan was no more than 200 yards in front of me when the building appeared to fall off the Earth! The road ahead was suddenly empty. As I approached the “edge” all I could see was a plume of gravel road dust and brake lights as Bryan whooshed through a trough and climbed the hill on the far side of the nearly V-shaped valley. At times the building swung pendulum-like with the dips and banking turns of the road but it held fast. He made it and I realized how fortunate I was that he was driving instead of me. I started to relax a bit and enjoy the day.

We travelled through some impressive countryside and curious scenes. One I’ve passed by before and is worth noting. It is a towering sculpture of metal wagon wheels constructed by the then 90 year old L.J. Maasdam in 1993 (indicated by the adjoining plaque).

We passed cattle, goats, horses, and scurrying group of deer and always friendly waves and curious looks from those we passed by. Late fall harvesting activity was obvious every where. Fortunately our slow pace caused no delays for any big equipment. We even had one farmer pull his large tractor to the side of the road to let us pass safely.

On and on we went...Iowa is a big place. After nearly an hour I noticed we were passing south of the Iowa Speedway. Soon we were on Bryan’s road and enjoying a breather at his home nibbling on some delicious homemade cookies delivered to our roadside stop by Bryan's lovely wife Cindy.

Then we headed out north passing through a small town named Metz to cross I-80 west of Newton. A couple miles further north the road intersected my gravel road. We were still 7-10 miles east of my home but there we no more unknown turns to make. After some two hours of travel we finally arrived at our destination.

My driveway overlooks the new observatory location which slopes downhill to a creek valley to the north. The terrain isn’t obvious from photo below but the new location is inaccessible to a crane such as the one Larry Ashing wielded for us. In fact one operator I met with said he could get down there but very likely wouldn’t get back up without big equipment to pull his rig.

So Bryan and I plotted a steep but straight descent along a narrow lane on the west property line. (Left: My wife’s pony quickly lost interest when she realized we weren’t hauling hay.) Bryan drove downhill past the observatory location to a flat overgrown pasture and then headed back east and uphill to reach the final destination. I walked ahead guiding him along a somewhat mowed walking trail. He seemed a bit hesitant at times. I thought he was watching carefully for ruts. He later told me he worried the pickup’s hot exhaust pipe would ignite the tall dry pasture growth (and possibly the surrounding corn fields!). “Oh”, I responded and quickly checked the trail for tell tale signs of fire. Fortunately there were no unanticipated activities that afternoon.

So we had made it. We would spend a couple hours preparing for the next task. Little did we know at the time that we still had two full days of work ahead of us for the planning and actual extraction of the trailer from under the building. But that again is a tale for another day...

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