Ravaged Road to Big Lake and a Pastel

July 17, 2010

The buildings at Big Lake were mainly accessed by a private dirt road.  Frequently, after times of flooding by the Illinois River, loads of rock by trucks would have to be brought in to shore up the road and fill in areas washed out by the flood waters.  Arrangements would also have to be made to have the road leveled by a road grader.  But until those things could be done, the road would have to be traveled as best that could be.

At different times, Monte would chain large, wooden planks in a cross like manner to both rear tires of a farming tractor to aid in traction to travel the flood damaged Big Lake road.  During these times, Monte also possessed older model, four-wheel drive Jeeps.  Often, the four-wheel drive capabilities of these Jeeps were unable to be used due to rust-frozen hubs.

Below are two photographs from 1975 that capture how badly floods of the Illinois River would damage the dirt road.

From time to time, environmental conditions would make it very hard to stay at the Big Lake site.  One winter during the flooding of the Illinois River and when the Monte Ellis family could not stay at the site, Monte had to walk in to the site to check on the structures at Big Lake.

In writings left behind by Monte after his passing, this particular trip is described in vivid detail.  Water beneath river bottom ice can be deceiving, especially when it involves receding water.  Large trees and saplings can provide support for the ice and cause the ice appear to be level and safe to walk on, when in fact, the water may be lower than the ice surface and give way when walked upon.

In Monte’s writings, he describes mad scrambles from tree to tree, while watching the ice give way behind him.  In one passage he writes of grasping on to a tree while wildly searching for a safe path to continue.   He also wrote about how not only was it unsafe going into the Big Lake site on this day, but that he also had to return.

Below is a pastel by Monte that depicts a small mountain of ice shards that were not uncommon to see down in the Illinois River Bottoms surrounding Big Lake.

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