Adventures on the Other Side

It was delightful to use the johnboat to speed up river when I needed something from town. I crossed under the historic Crescent railroad bridge and the beautiful Centennial Bridge (soon to be replaced).

Centennial Bridge between Davenport Iowa and Rock Island Illinois

The Rock Island Illinois riverfront not only had beautiful new docks, but a well-used park built at the river’s edge, where children played until after the sun went down. It was nice to see such a diverse population. I heard kids yelling in English, Arabic, and Spanish.


The fountain at the waterfront park in Rock Island was well-used by dozens of kids running and playing

In Rock Island, I quickly discovered the delightful Mama Compton’s and Theos Java Club where I worked for hours. I had only one negative interaction at the Rock Island Brewing Company.

Terry Tilka owner of RIBCO is not pleased I’m taking his photo for my potential ADA lawsuit

Owner Terry Tilka refused to let me enter with my service animal and then called the police on me when I went in anyway. To their credit, the police looked up the ADA regulations and told Terry that no, he couldn’t refuse me service. Rather than apologetic, he was still aggressive and hostile. The officers looked sheepish and apologized.

Rock River at low water was calm and peaceful

One morning I went up the Rock River just a bit downriver from Rock Island to get to the little town of Milan. The river was low, but the water was beautiful and calm. When Mr Johnson started hitting the bottom, we rowed ashore and took to bicycle. It was a deadly hot day and we almost gave up crossing the highway bridge to Milan over the Rock River and the historic Hennepin Cannel, but we prevailed.

Another afternoon I visited the slough behind the Rock Island Arsenal, nearly a thousand acres on Arsenal Island. According to Wikipedia, “The Arsenal is the only active U.S. Army foundry, and manufactures ordnance and equipment, including artillery, gun mounts, recoil mechanisms, small arms, aircraft weapons sub-systems, grenade launchers, weapons simulators, and a host of associated components.”

Dam at Sylvan Island between Moline and Rock Island

I was told that nearby Sylvan Island was beautiful and post-apocalyptic. I skirted the shoreline, but didn’t explore the island with the sun going down.

Mary Costello crossed and drew every highway and railroad bridge that crossed the Mississippi River from the gulf to the source

I talked with Mary Costello, a spunky 90-year old artist who had published a book of drawings and stories of every single bridge crossing the Mississippi River. That included not just the big ones crossing the main channel, but the tiny ones crossing backwaters and sloughs.


Paddler and river angel Jo Mason

I also interviewed Jo Mason, canoe and kayak paddler who grew up in Rock Island between the Rock and Mississippi Rivers. She is “river angel” for many people traveling down the Mississippi River. She arrived at the shantyboat with a care package in the form of a large box, that included vodka and gin that had run low on the boat. She took me out for meals twice and force fed me milkshakes from Whitey’s. She seemed surprised that I would be interested in her stories for the archive, but we talked for hours about a wide range of topics.


Crescent Bridge over the Mississippi at Rock Island

The last night I was in the Quad Cities, I went to the Crescent Railroad Bridge to smoke a cigar and watch the city lights. I ran into one of the bridge keepers coming off shift. We talked for a long time about the bridge and being responsible for turning it open and closed. Surprising facts: The bridge is well over a hundred years old. If it is windy, they don’t open it. An operator got stuck out there with the bridge open once for 20 hours when something malfunctioned. Only train signals control the trains that cross it, so if a train misses a signal they could conceivably dump a train into the river at the open bridge. If a barge and a train come, the barge gets the right of way and the train has to wait.


Crescent Bridge over the Mississippi at Rock Island, open across the main channel

When I got back one afternoon, I found this note. It reminded me of Terry Krause‘s boat Living The Dream.

Living the dream





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