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The History of the Near Normal Grotto

By Jim Jacobs

I must admit that when I got home from work that fateful day, I was a bitrushed. I had just enough time to throw down a sandwich, change clothes and getto wherever it was that I was rushing off to (probably to a bowling alley).Marty mentioned that we had a phone call from someone named John Walther, whohad found our names in the NNS Members Manual. He wanted to know if we wereinterested in starting a grotto? I thought, "Nice idea, but there can't beenough people around HERE who are interested in caving to make it work."Marty and I were enthusiastic novices who hardly knew a cave from a hole in theground. I so doubted that the idea had any merit, that I didn't get around toanswering John's call till a few days later. However, after my first dubiousreaction, I realized that I did know one person who caved, Clay Johnson, and Ihad also heard of another, Dr. Ted Century. John and I made arrangements tomeet for coffee in a few days, in the meantime, we would keep prospecting formembers. The call I made to Clay Johnson was golden! Not only was heinterested, but he gave me the names and numbers of the friends that he cavedwith; Kevin Rasmus, Walt Rudy, and Tim Mikesell. They were all interested, butonly Kevin was able to make it to our planning meetings. Ted Century alsoindicated his willingness to help. At our first planning meeting, October 21,we decided to have the organizational meeting on November 18 at the NormalPublic Library, and we split up the publicity duties. I volunteered to do anewsletter (little did I know...) and draft a Constitution and By-laws. We heldone more meeting on November 11th to iron out those last-minute details.

Marty and I had seen the newspaper article on Don Coons' upcoming trip toChina. Finding his phone number in the Members Manual, we decided to take achance and give him a call. He thought that the idea of starting a new grottoin central Illinois was a great one! Not only that, but he would put on a slideshow. Further, he had met Jeannie and Bob Lawrence, whom he thought would alsobe interested. This was getting better and better! Little did we know.......

Following is a brief history of the NNG, gleaned from the pages of the NNN.The first issue's cover featured some original computer art? by yours truly.The events leading up to the forming of the grotto were recounted and theNovember 18th meeting that marked the founding of the NNG was described. Thefounding members were: John Walther, Jim Jacobs, Marty Jacobs, Ted Century, DonCoons, Clay Johnson, David Korn, Tom Korn, Greg Kwasny, Bob Lawrence, JeannieLawrence, Kevin Rasmus, and Debra Smith. Since we had to be out of the Libraryby 9:00, Marty and I hosted the after- meeting get-together. Don presented aslide show covering his trip to Chicobul Cave in Belize. The first grotto tripwas planned. Kevin Rasmus would lead a trip to Wayne's Lost, in Indiana.

The cover of the second NNN (February, 1992) featured more computer art,(bats flying over a town), but the picture was borrowed from a clip-artprogram. The NNG's official designation by the NSS as grotto #363 wascelebrated. New member T.J. Forman was welcomed. I wrote a report about ourfirst trip to Illinois Caverns, and a return trip was planned for February 22.Three French exchange students, cavers all, visited the February 10th meeting.The idea of a grotto logo arm patch was first advanced by Jeannie.

The April, 1992 issue was also adorned with Jim's computer cave art. Newmembers Tim Mikesell, Jim Rogers, Tim Sickbert, Saad El- Zanati and JohnMarquart were welcomed. Not only was the February trip to Illinois Caverns wellattended, but a reporter and photographer from the Pantagraph went with us. Weearned a page and a half story in the Sunday paper, complete with pictures.Kevin Rasmus reported on a March 14 trip to Doghill/Donahue. At the lastmeeting, Kevin and Walt Rudy gave a demonstration of their ascending gear.

Another computer art picture, this time a lady caver demonstrating the"frog" ascending system graced the cover of the May, 1992 issue. Newmembers: Dale Walker, Larry Avery. Jeannie Lawrence and Marty Jacobs passed therappelling class at ISU. Since all meetings since the first one had been heldat Jim and Marty's house, Deb Smith volunteered to offer her house foralternate meetings. Don Coons reported that he had made initial inquiries foraccess to the Blackball Mine for a survey project. Jeannie attended the MVOR andwrote a trip report on Mystery Cave. Another trip to Illinois Caverns, thistime with a reporter from the Peoria Journal Star. The Memorial day weekendtrip to Cave River Valley, and another trip to Wayne's Lost were announced.

July, 1992 featured our first photographic cover, a Steve Smedley photo ofArmon Krueger leaning on the "Take nothing but pictures...etc." signoutside of Illinois Caverns. Don Coons wrote a article detailing our progressto date at Blackball, along with a description of the mine and the techniquesused to excavate it. Our first grotto equipment purchase was okayed, two B& B headlights for guests. Kevin gave a slide presentation on cave mappingtechniques. The trip to Cave River Valley was described, which featured visitsto Endless, Lamplighter (Sleazy, Greasy crawlway) and Flowstone caves. Jim alsoreported on the trip to Wayne's Lost. This was Ted Century's last meetingbefore he retired and moved to Idaho. New member, Tim Shaffer. Fittingly, thecover of the November, 1992 issue was a birthday cake with one blazing candle.Kevin announced that he would lead a vertical trip to Freeman's Pit and ShaftCave (Indiana). (Note: Only Kevin and I went. We never did find the pit. We gotseparated while looking for it, and I got lost in the woods for over an hour.We did have a great time doing Shaft, though.) New member, Bruce Andersonsubmitted a trip report on a week at Mammoth Cave National Park with a group of20 teenage girls from their church group. Marty and I attended our first MVOR.When the computer line plots came back from our Blackball survey, Don and Idiscovered that my headlight bracket had been deflecting the compass whenever Iwas on instrument. We had to go back and re- shoot about 40 readings. TheNovember meeting was our first in the community room of the First of AmericaBank. We just got too big for home meetings. Don Coons resumes his worldtravels, this time to China and Mexico.

The January, 1993 NNN signaled the beginning of a new era. New member BrianBraye did the cover on his MAC, scanning in a picture he had taken of BruceAnderson silhouetted in the entrance of Hamilton Cave, MO. The rest of theissue was done on Jim's old PC and Newsmaster program, but this was to be thelast use of the old gear. Starting with the next issue, the entire NNN would beproduced on the MAC. New members from November included Brian, Valerie Winston,Jason Forman, Ben Smith and David Carson. Brian has some ideas for a grottologo, and agrees to head the committee to explore getting patches produced. Welearn that the cat track that we had found in Blackball was identified by theSmithsonian as being that of a cougar! A number of members purchased copies ofthe plaster cast of the track. Brian Braye contributes his first trip report, ofcaves in Meremac State Park, MO. This issue also featured two Buckner's tripreports. The first was mine, detailing my first wild cave trip a few years ago.The second was written by Val Winston. Buckner's was also her first wild cave.Her article communicated beautifully the awe and wonder most of us felt on ourfirst trip, the one that "hooked" us.

March, 1993, the first issue produced entirely on the MAC. Brian Brayebecomes Co-editor of the NNN. The cover was a photo of me and my brother,Larry, covered with mud after exiting Buckner's the only time I've been therethat the crawlway was wet. The NNN's first advertising appears. It's from MadDog's Cave Supply, and features a super buy on pre-moistened carbide. Newmembers, Van Furrh, and Norm Rogers. The "frozen" trip to Wayne'sLost was described. Brian Braye's grotto logo design is voted the best. He,Bruce and Jim form a committee to check out production costs for patches orT-shirts. Norm Rogers reported on a previous trip he had taken to Wayne's, andBrian described our recent trip there, emphasizing three words; fatigue,fatigue, and fatigue. (I would have chosen br-r-r-r-r) Kevin began a series ofarticles on vertical caving. Alan Winston is finally shamed into going cavingand writing a trip report. He liked it! A real milestone is reached when theNNG runs two trips on the same day, one having 15 participants, the other, 14.

May, 1993. A scanned photo of Micki Voorhees in Wayne's Lost. The trip toMystery Cave was finally planned. Jim reported on the MVOR, and howunsuccessful he and Marty were in trying to "run the gauntlet" atvendor's row. Bob gets me every time. Norm Rogers, who runs the week-long NSSField Camp at Mammoth Cave every summer, renewed his invitation to NNG'rs totake part. He also reported on a trip to Keller cave. New members; Dan Vorhees,Dean Hastings, Mary Denicus, Mike Goodwin.

The cover of the July, 1993 issue had three photos of Berome Cave, MO. TheExecutive Committee approved a $50.00 repayment to John Marquart for thepurchase of recording thermometers for the Blackball project. Donations frommembers made up the difference. To this date we had made $67.28 on the sale ofgrotto logo T- shirts. Jim wrote two trip reports, one to Teufelshohle, aGerman commercial cave, the other of the long-awaited trip to Mystery Cave.John Marquart and Jim announce a trip to Buddah Cave (IN) in July. Kevinpresented part two of his Vertical series. Brian reported that he and BruceAnderson had led their church's young men's group on a caving, canoeing,rapelling and camping trip to Missouri.

The September, 1993 issue was dominated by an historic occasion, the rescuein Floyd Collins' Crystal Cave, Kentucky. This was certainly the BIG news ofthe year, and seldom, if ever has a cave rescue been so thoroughly documented,both in writing and by photographs. I have finally put my photo album in order.Combining my pictures with John's and Brian's, I have a complete photo recordof the week in Kentucky, and of the rescue, from beginning to end. It will beon display at the upcoming meeting. The trip to Buddah was chronicled by JohnMarquart, complete with pictures and new member Sara Goeking reported on ourtrip to Monroe County, IL caves, including Lemonade Cave. New members; Sara,Eli Rodemaker, Chad Carter, Reid Siebert.

The cover of the November, 1993 issue featured two views of the large shaftwhich connects the two levels of the Blackball Mine. Inside, Tim Shafferreported on his participation in a weekend restoration camp at Mammoth Cave.Our grotto meetings were moved from monday evenings to fridays, to the greatrelief of our out- of-town contingent, which comprises the largest portion ofour membership. John Marquart, who would become the NNN's Science Editor,published a treatise on the chemistry of carbide in the NNN, which would bereprinted in many other venues, as far away as England. It garnered muchpraise, and provoked a lot of discussion. There was an update on the BlackballMine project, and Dave Mahon provided a log of the Mark Twain Grotto'sactivities for the year.

An excellent multi-flash photo of Illinois Caverns by Brian Braye adornedthe January, 1994 issue. Elected officers were: Norm Rogers, president; JohnMarquart, vice-president; Brian Braye, secretary; Jim Jacobs, treasurer; DonCoons, member-at- large. An article about caving on the internet by JohnMarquart led off the issue. Kevin Rasmus provided part three of his series onvertical caving. Jim Jacobs reported on a trip to Illinois Caverns that he ledfor a group of Boy Scouts and dads. Bruce Anderson described a "dads anddaughters" trip, with photos by Brian Braye.

The cover of the March issue was a close-up of the glowing face of VladimirPolevoy in Camp's Gulf Cave, taken by Eli Rodemaker. New members Julie Angeland Dave Mahon were welcomed. Julie immediately felt the excruciating pain ofhaving her arm twisted by the editor, and provided a fine report of our trip toHunter's Cave. Whew! It's a good thing that nobody warns new members that thisis part of the initiation ceremony! Nobody would join! Don Coons was part of agroup which traveled to Hawaii and rappelled into an extinct volcano, whichestablished a new record for a United States deep pit, nearly 900 feet. NormRogers described a trip to Roppel Cave, KY.

On the cover of the May issue was a white crawdad that Norm photographed inRoppel Cave. John Marquart gave a talk to the Peoria Sierra Club, which waswell received. Oral reports were delivered at the meeting to Mushroom Cave,Fisher Cave, Running Bull Cave, Mystery Cave, Grapevine Cave and Tom Moorecave. John Marquart speculated on the possibility of caves on other planets.Dave Mahon provided information on the Telephone Information Briefing Service,which can be accessed before entering a flood- prone cave. Jim Jacobs describedthe problems involved putting together a basic first aid kit to carry into acave. Norm Rogers examines his motives for caving in his article, "WhyCave?". Mammoth Cave Park Historian, Bob Ward was shown on the July issuesupervising cavers busily removing graffiti from the walls at Mammoth Cave.(Note: It was later deemed a waste of time to remove writing from the walls inthe passage from the Historic Entrance to the Rotunda. Since tourists wanderunsupervised through that area, blank spaces on the wall are filled in nearlyas fast as you can clean them off). Dave Mahon wrote about the Mark TwainGrotto's project to survey caves and springs threatened by a planned expansionof highway 61 in northeast Missouri. Tim Shaffer described his survey trip toLinefork Cave, KY with friends from the Pine Mountain Survey. Jim Jacobsreported on a weekend which included a trip through Keller Cave, IL, andvertical practice down at Cove Hollow.

The September cover showed Jim Jacobs negotiating the "TurtleHurdles" in the B-Crawl in the historic area of Mammoth Cave. Brian Brayereported on the NSS Restoration Camp at Mammoth Cave, noting that the SnowballRoom looked really great after last year's cleaning. John Marquart authored areport on the endangered Indiana Bat, which received many reprint requests fromother grottos. The U.S.A long cave list was reprinted. It was noted thatFoglepole/Lemonade/Keller is #38, Illinois Caverns #97. Julie Angel detailedher first trip to Wayne's Lost. Jim Jacobs reported on this year's NSS FieldCamp and Mammoth Cave, and on his 9 1/2 hr. trip through historic areas of thecave. Tim Shaffer recounted his trip through Keller Cave.

A photo of Tim Shaffer "on rope" at Cove Hollow graced theNovember cover. New members Brian and Mark Valentine, Rich and Chris Bell, andPat and Kathy O'Connell were welcomed to the NNG. The membership voted to allowa grotto president to serve two consecutive terms in office rather than beinglimited to one. John Marquart summarized our progress at Blackball Mine. TimShaffer talked about looking for caves in Perry County, and also reported onthe fall MVOR. Mark Valentine described our vertical training trip to CoveHollow. Norm Rogers told the story of how he and a group of cavers found LucyCox's lost dam in Great Onyx Cave in 1991. Julie Angel and Tonja Horn describedthe "rookie trip" to Illinois Caverns.

Pat O'Connell peered through the mist of Crystal Showcase Cave, IN, on theJanuary, 1995 cover. He also appeared within the pages, with his report of ourtrip to Buddha Cave and Crystal Showcase. Norm Rogers checked in with"Great Onyx Cave pt. 2". Dave Mahon tells us how to repair split boottoes with Shoe Goo, if they have been down too many crawlways, and Jim Jacobswonders, "Why Do I Cave?"

An ecstatic Lara Storm shows how she negotiates the Buckner's Cave crawlwayfor March, 1995. The editor's column described how the February meeting hadbeen enlivened by a homemade cave designed by Bruce Anderson, which ended withD.C. Young's notorious "portable" crawlway. (As in,"anything'sportable if you're strong enough"). The column also included a descriptionof the grotto trip to Buckner's Cave. New member, Tonja Fraser described thetrip through Buckner's from a rookie caver's point of view. John Marquartdescribed his meetings with Bat Conservation International, and Norm Rogers andJim Jacobs debated the pros and cons of Beanie-Weenies in crawlways. The Mayissue showed Tonja crouching by a waterfall deep in Smittle Cave. Rescuereports in Trapdoor and Salamander Caves, IN were related by Anmar Mirza andBruce Bowman. Jim Jacobs described the marvelous weekend that many of us sharedwith the Mark Twain Grotto at Smittle Cave.

Julie Angel and Jim Jacobs tended to an "injured" Chris House onthe July cover, as part of the Nation Cave Rescue Commission training weekendat Illinois Caverns. John Marquart reported on his participation as ourrepresentative to the newly formed Illinois Speleological Survey.

On the cover of the September issue were NNG'rs Carol Rogers, Julie Angel,and Beth Reinke at the bottom of a pit in Indian Cave, KY. Norm Rogers and JimJacobs related the events at the NNS Field Camp and Mammoth Cave, and Jim wroteabout the great weekend we had in Missouri with the Mark Twain Grotto. Caving,camping and canoeing, and a good time was had by all.

You hold the November issue in your hand. We're now four years old, going onfive, and I find it hard to remember when there wasn't a Near Normal Grotto.There've been so many good times, that the previous pages just scratch thesurface. We plan a grotto trip, and fifteen or twenty people join in. We'vemade a lot of good friends, and seen some amazing sights. Here's to more of thesame. (clink!)

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