Going up, up, up
History of Osgood tower inventor shared

Bilby Tower

Last week several US Coast and Navy employees and guests came to Osgood to erect the BilbyTower at the Osgood Trails. It’s the last steel tower of its kind and invented by a former Osgood resident. Several people were fascinated by the process.

Cathy May

Osgood played host to a large number of travelers from across the country on October 9 through Oct. 12. The visitors, employees and retired staff of the United States/National Coast and Geodetic Survey, came to town to erect the last known Bilby Tower.

The Bilby Tower, named after its inventor, the late Jasper S. Bilby, formerly of Osgood, was used by Coast and Geodetic Survey crews to map the country from 1927 to 1984. The Tower allowed geodetic surveyors to visually see over trees, buildings and hills, and assemble the most precise maps ever. When an area was completed, the tower was disassembled and re-used at the next necessary location. Because of the time saved, it is estimated the Bibly Tower saved the U.S. government more than three million in Depression-Era dollars.

About Bilby
Bilby was born near Rushville on July 16, 1864, but later moved with his family to Osgood. When a Coast and Geodetic Survey party was working on his farm south of town in 1884, he was hired as a member of the ground crew. They were using wooden towers at this time. It took weeks to cut and build each tower. His design enabled the crew to assemble the tower in a day and unassemble in a half day, saving valuable time and money. He served the country until his retirement in 1937.

He had four children: Mercy, Walter, William, and Martha. Mercy later married Henry Humphrey. They were the parents of Jim Humphrey and Emma Lou Michel of Osgood; also grandparents of Janine Stratton (Holton), Jamie Stratton (Lafayette), Carole Michel (Osgood), and Jenny Schwipps (Milan).

In his career, Bilby was elevated to the highest rank of chief signalman for the Coast and Geodetic Survey. He was honored by Herbert Hoover, while Hoover was serving as Secretary of Commerce and also as President of the United States. Bilby was responsible for recruiting many Osgood area men to work for the survey over the years. Osgood is believed to have had the second highest number of employees, per capita, in the Coast and Geodetic Survey across the entire country.

Search for towers
The last survey crew was disbanded in 1984 with the oncoming of the black box, now known as GPS. Most of the towers were seen as junk and destroyed. In 1993 the Surveyors Historical Society and a number of retired Coast and Geodetic Surveyors began a search for a remaining tower. Seventeen years later, after many false leads, a tower was found near Barataria Wildlife Preserve, approximately 40 miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana, on Couba Island. The tower had withstood over 18 hurricanes and was still stable. It was left on the island because of the difficulty removing it. In the end, it was used to observe flight patterns of migratory birds passing through the area.

Jeff French, Sue French, Doug Thayer, and Roger Woodfill participated in the discovery and acquisition of the tower. It was donated by the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Commission and later brought to Osgood and restored by the Reynolds Foundation. The Town of Osgood has allowed the tower to be constructed and placed on the Osgood Walking Trails Park located on County Road 300 North. It will be formally dedicated in June of 2014.

The 35 visitors, who came to town to permanently erect the 64-foot tall tower, traveled from Maine, Oklahoma, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa, South Carolina, and Georgia. Many had worked and travelled together across the country on survey crews beginning after World War II. Survey parties of approximately 30 members, plus families, would travel across the country and live in RVs or trailers where they would be stationed in small communities for up to six months while working. They typically mapped northern states in the summer and fall, and southern states in the winter and spring. Entire families travelled and worked in this way. Family members, who were not part if the field crew, often worked as clerks, notekeepers and cooks. All staff were employees of the Coast and Geodetic Survey or commissioned officers of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). These old friendships were rekindled and the feeling of a family reunion took place as they relived the past as “tower builders.”

The Humphrey and Michel families hosted workers and watchers to a home-cooked mea,l after the first day's work was completed, giving each one the opportunity to share stories and laughs. Everyone stated that they were anxious to return for the formal dedication later next year.


Farmer’s Almanac
Fall foliage to peak this week in state

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this week is peak season for leaf viewing in southern Indiana. The Almanac states that from Oct. 19-29 the colors will be most vivid in these areas throughout the country: Arkansas (Ozarks), California (northern), Connecticut, Illinois (southern), Indiana (southern), Kentucky (western), Maryland (inland), Massachusetts (coastal), Missouri (southern), New Jersey (inland), North Carolina (inland), Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia (inland), Washington.

The fall foliage for northern Indiana, Ohio and Eastern Kentucky peak is just about over. New York should last until Oct. 29. Then from Oct. 26-Nov. 5: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia (northern), Maryland (coastal), Mississippi (northern), New Jersey (coastal), North Carolina (coastal), South Carolina, Virginia (coastal).

What causes the pigment change? The book states the colors change because with shorter, cooler days, the process of making food within the leaves ceases. As this occurs, the leaves use the food they’ve stored throughout the summer. This causes the leaves’ green pigment to become less dominant and gives other colors an opportunity to be displayed.

Weather affects both the leaves’ color intensity and duration. Ideal conditions for spectacular coloring are a warm, dry summer followed by a rainy autumn. In autumn, warm, sunny days with cool nights trigger brilliant color formations. An early frost lessens the intensity of red. Rainy or overcast days intensify the brilliancy of color. A cool, clear day is always best for viewing.

Enjoy the colors while you can…Tri-state meteorologists say there is a 50 percent chance of rain and snow mix midweek.

Pick up this week's edition of the Osgood Journal for the stories below and more local news. Subscribe by clicking the subscribe link or call 812-689-6364.

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