GNRHS 2001 St. Paul Convention and other stuff
"Minnesota - It's not just the heat, it's the humidity"
Saturday, July 15:
Took the early morning flight from Sea-Tac to MSP.
Arrived early at MSP, but then sat on the tarmac for
20 minutes "because our gate is still occupied".
Northworst Airlines really likes to sit on the ground at MSP
as I was to discover on my return flight.
Picked up my "all-terrain" rental car (all-terrain because you
can park without looking and use the trunk as an ice
and blasted out of the airport for the nearby Target store at
Bloomington for supplies (water, film, etc.). Stepping
out of the air-conditioned car, the parking lot heat
hit me like a blast furnace. A bank temperature sign
confirmed it. 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next stop was clear across town to the "Como Shops"
railroad book store in St. Paul. Wow. Tremendous
assortment of old, out-of-print railroad tomes'.
Picked up several old Burlington Northern Annuals
which completed my 1971-1980 collection.
It was still early, so I scoped out the location of
the Jackson Street Roundhouse, home of the Hustle
Muscle (ex-GN #400 SD45) owned by the GNRHS. Finally,
off to the convention itself. The main street to the
hotel was all torn up and after a rather circular detour
found myself at the Radisson Riverfront in Saint Paul.
Parked my car in the garage ($12.95 a day) and checked
into my room, a rather small, dingy affair on the 8th
floor. It turns out this Radisson was an older
Sheraton they bought and featured only 3 elevators for
the 22 floors...and no...coffee...shop... yikes!
I registered for the convention and then headed off in
search of the "Minnesota Club" where the GNRHS Board of
Directors was meeting. Downtown St. Paul is connected
by a very practical series of skywalks...corridors which
allow moving from building to building without having
to brave those Minnesota winters. Using the helpful maps along the
skywalk, I shortly located the Minnesota Club a couple
I found the board meeting on the 4th floor of the
historic old building. It was like stepping into
a sauna. Those poor guys were sitting at a long table
with no A/C, windows sealed or painted shut and a small
fan ineffectively blowing hot air around. I had planned
to ask a question of the board, but left after 5 minutes.
It was brutally hot and I felt sorry for the lot of them.
It was amazing they could conduct any business at all.
I headed back to my room and then after wandering around
the lobby saying hello to fellow members, I ran across
Scott Tanner, a fellow Lines West guy from the Seattle
area. We retired to the lobby bar for a couple brewskis.
Afterwards we wandered back to the Minnesota Club for
dinner ($28) and one more brewski. Mercifully, the dinner
was on the 2nd floor and the A/C worked.
Hobnobbed for a bit with fellow GNRHS members and then
Scott introduced me to a couple younger guys who were
putting together a professional video on James J. Hill
who built the Great Northern Railway and was nicknamed,
"The Empire Builder". They had produced a 4 minute
sample of what will be a one hour video and it looked
really slick. The two of them sat at our table at dinner
and peppered the GNRHS crowd with questions about the GNR.
Back to my hotel room early because tomorrow we had to get
up at the crack of dawn.
Sunday, July 16:
Steam train ride today behind CMStP&P 261 and GN 400
"Hustle Muscle". The buses left the hotel at 6am. I
was on the third bus of 3. As we headed off down the
street, several people burst from the lobby waving
their arms violently. Such drama for so early in the
morning! We stopped and let them on. This proved to
be fateful because in doing so, we lost sight of
the other 2 buses.
We drove over towards Minneapolis and then onto city
streets. It quickly became apparent the bus driver
didn't know where he was going. The bus captain later
told me he was telling the driver where to turn, but
he wasn't listening. At one point, we made a complete
circle around the block. Finally, after crossing the
Mississippi several times we spotted the smoke of 261.
More precious minutes ticked by as we tried to find
the entrance. We eventually rolled up to the train...
with 10 minutes to spare before departure!
Hastily, I trotted up to the head end to take some shots
of 261 and Hustle Muscle. With minutes to spare, I
boarded the rear part of the train and found my seat.
They had told us there would be box breakfasts either
on the train or on the bus ride over. There was nothing.
Faced with going without food until the noon lunch stop
at Carlton, many people tried the baggage car where there
was free pop and chips (breakfast of champions).
Ran into Scott again and about 8am we wandered to the rear
car of the train, "Gritty Palace" a heavyweight, 6 axle
lounge/sleeper with an observation platform on the rear.
We finally talked our way into the first class car and
behold...they had food! I had a bagel with cream cheese,
danish pastry and juice. Ahhh...much better. Eventually,
all the GNRHS board members showed up and we rode back there
for about an hour and a half. Very posh.
Returning to our seats, Scott and I discovered we could sit
together as many people were at the vestibules taking pictures
or the baggage car leaning out through the doors. It sure
helped to have someone to shoot the breeze with! We were on
the train for 15 hours. Heading north toward Carlton (west
of Duluth) we passed through this incredible rainstorm which
luckily stopped as we made our lunch stop. The Society had
set up this huge tent and we had a delicious barbeque lunch
with hotdogs, burgers, corn and baked beans (toot..tooooott!!).
At Carlton, I was able to get a few passable shots of the
261 steam engine and Hustle Muscle. Also walked the entire
train outside and got shots of the one GN car on the train
(an EB-clad coach) and Gritty Palace on the rear end. The
train itself was around 15 cars long with the front half
opened to the general public with both coach and first class
(dome car). The baggage car was in the center of the train
and effectively separated the front public section from the rear
7 cars used by GNRHS and NPRHA members.
After Carlton, the train headed west for Staples, MN where we
would join the busy BNSF west-east mainline between the Twin
Cities and Seattle. Naptime. Minnesota is pretty with its
forests and lakes but this was a loooonnng ride. As we passed
through Brainerd, MN, site of the former NP car shops, we saw
some incredible buildings still standing. That place must have
been sprawling in its heyday.
Arriving at Staples, we curved onto the ex-NP line, finally pointed
in the direction of Minneapolis. We overtook a couple freights on
sidings and then our train went into the hole. Scanners are
illegal in Minnesota, but there was no shortage of them on our
train. Soon there was buzzing that we were about to be
overtaken by a "Z Train", one of BNSF's hottest intermodals.
I headed to the baggage car to watch. Soon we heard the faint
air horn of the Z. The two engines blasted by us at 70 per and
then as the trailers passed we heard only a very quiet "tick,
tick, tick" from the cars. Very smooth. Easy to see how a train
can sneak up on the unwary. Awesome display of hot railroading.
Once the Z train passed, 261 pulled out of the siding in
pursuit. We really started to move, chasing the hot
intermodal. Several people clocked us at 70mph and it
felt faster than that as we hurtled through the Minnesota
dusk. As darkness started to fall, we had quite a motorcade
following us on paralleling US 10.
We got back to Minneapolis Jct. at 10pm (75 minutes off
the advertised, not bad for a 400 mile fan trip) and
home to the hotel at 11pm. The lineup to use the 3
elevators was so long, Scott and I walked up the 8
flights of stairs to our rooms. We discovered they
had put us in adjacent rooms (818 and 819)! Twilight
Monday, July 17:
Today is "Rail Fare" day. The largest "mostly-GN" swap
meet in the world. I had told Scott I would help him
set up his table and watch his stuff while he scurried
around looking for bargains. The doors were opened at
6:30am for the vendors and 8:00am for everyone else. This
gave the vendors a chance to get ready and wheel/deal
amongst themselves. In fact, the buying/selling amongst
just the vendors was quite frantic, a side of the swap
meet I had never seen.
Once the swap meet opened, I went around with everyone
else and looked for "stuff for the web page". I found
some very nice items and will add them to my site over
the next few months. I also got Dave Hickcox's
autograph on the very first GN book I ever purchased,
Dave's "GN Color Guide to Freight & Passenger Equipment"
which I brought with me from Seattle for just this purpose.
Quite a few folks stopped by Scott's table to say, "Hi"
including Ben Ringnalda of The Netherlands who also has
a Great Northern website! I was lucky enough to sit
at the same table as Ben during Wednesday night's banquet
and get a photo of the two GN webmasters.
By 10am, I was pretty much done with the Rail Fare. I
headed over to the James J. Hill library a few blocks
from our hotel. As I stood on a street corner waiting
for the light to change, a fellow sauntered up and
cracked a joke. It broke me up laughing. I looked
over and it was none other than Bob Downing,
former GN Executive V.P.
It turned out he was headed to the Hill library too.
What a treasure trove of knowledge that guy is! I just
kept my mouth shut and listened with a question or two
to keep him going. It turns out he started in the
GN engineering department in something like 1935 or 37
and he is still sharp as a tack. Mr. D is a "regular
guy", no pretentiousness and with a very dry sense
So we got over to the Hill library and the exterior
was just beautiful. They must have power-washed
the marble recently because it was spotless from top
to bottom. In the lobby, we met Eileen McCormick
who is a curator at the museum. She took us downstairs
to "the vaults". One of the vaults contains all the
personal papers of James J. Hill and the other, larger vault
contains Louis Hill's papers. It was fascinating to
paw through actual ledgers listing every expense and
paycheck from 1890-something. We saw typewritten letters
signed by Hill and long, 9 page letters written in
his own hand. Apparently, he was a very prolific
writer for his entire life.
Afterwards, I walked back to the hotel and then
via Skyway to the downtown for an early lunch at
McDonald's. I helped Scott "close up shop" in the
early afternoon and then we headed downtown around
3:30 for an early dinner and brewskis at a local pub.
After that, we went back to the hotel, got my rental
car and drove out to Como Shops so Scott could get
a look at their selection of new & used books. We
got back to the hotel just in time for Scott to
attend to yet another board meeting, this one at
the top of the hotel in the "Carousel" mega-expensive
restaurant. I hung around at the start of the meeting
to get pictures of some board members for the GNRHS
website, then went downstairs to watch Scott Thompson's
talk on modeling GN freight cars. I'm no modeler, but
I have all 3 of Scott's books and a section of my website
talks about his modeling philosophy.
I enjoyed his talk a great deal and was amazed at the
accuracy he has put into his models.
After Scott's presentation, was the Annual Business
Meeting with GNRHS rank-and-file able to ask questions
of the president, make suggestions, that sort of thing.
I stuck around long enough to take more pictures for
Tuesday, July 17:
Today was the bus tour of the Minneapolis side of the
Twin Cities. I was up at the crack of dawn to find
a decent breakfast place. As I told Scott, "I haven't
tasted an egg since I left Seattle". I found a cafe
called Benjamin's just 3 blocks from the hotel. After
a substantial omelet, I was ready to go. I was taking
no more chances on no food until lunchtime.
Scott and I got on the first bus. Our first stop was
to be the Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis.
This bridge was built by James J. Hill in 1883 to link
the Twin Cities and is the only structure/object he allowed
his name to appear on. The bus headed into downtown
Minneapolis. We rolled towards the park at the east
end of the bridge....and the road was closed! Under
Construction, it said. I will say this for Minnesota,
they don't screw around. When they work on a road, they
close the entire thing down. No pussyfooting around.
Anyway, the bus driver somehow got us reasonably close and
we walked out on the bridge deck. It originally carried
two tracks of the "Minneapolis Union Railway", but is now
part of a walking and biking trail. It is a beautiful
structure with something like 17 or 18 graceful arches of
cut stone across the Mississippi.
We just reached the other side when they hustled us back
on the bus. Gotta make time! Next stop was way, way out
in the western fringes of Minneapolis at a place called
Excelsior on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Here we boarded
this funky little steam boat which tooled around the lake
for a while and then brought us back to shore. So much
cooler out on the lake! Nice breeze and a very pleasant
Back onto the bus, we headed clear around the lake to
Mound, MN which had some sort of depot (not sure depot of
what...I believe it was moved from somewhere else). Anyway,
we got our box lunch here and along with the 200 others
tried to use the one, available bathroom. Recalling the
days of my parent's cross-country car trips, I held it.
It was really getting HOT outside. Even in the shade.
We sat, or rather stood, on our bus to avoid the infernal
heat at the back (near the engine...city bus) and waited
for about an hour for the unfortunate ones to finish in the
bathroom line. Mercifully, the air conditioning on our
bus was still working.
Finally, around Lake Minnetonka some more to Wayzata on
the old GN mainline to Breckinridge (former route of
the Empire Builder). Nice depot here. We got off into
the stifling heat and took a few shots.
Last stop was the Como-Harriet streetcar which, as the name
implies, is a short streetcar line between these two lakes
in Minneapolis. I managed to take a few shots of the PCC
car we rode and an older streetcar, but by now I was getting
a bit apathetic. The heat was just too much. Saw a temperature
gauge along the road that said 96 degrees.
Scott and I got back on the bus and watched as people
dragged themselves back on. We waited. Finally word
came that one of our 5 buses had no air conditioning and
the bus sent to relieve it was stuck in traffic. We boarded
as many standees from the other buses as we could hold
and headed back to the hotel.
On the way back, I told Scott that no way would I ride a
bus on tomorrow's tour. I suggested we take my rental car
and follow one of the buses. He agreed. When we got back
to the hotel, we grabbed Bill Sornsin - another Seattle guy
and we hiked across town to a tavern for some brewskis and
excellent hamburgers. That really hit the spot. We spoke
of our plan to Bill and he agreed to join us on Wednesday.
That night, Bill, Scott and I had a conference in the lobby
bar (yes, more beverages). There we mapped out our game plan
for Wednesday on a cocktail napkin.
Wednesday, July 18:
The five stops for today's bus tour were Minnesota Historical
Society, James J. Hill library, James J. Hill house, Jackson
Street Roundhouse and Como Shops with a noon stop for a box lunch.
We modified that itinerary slightly, using the flexibility of
an "all-terrain rental car". First off, we didn't have to leave as
early as the buses since we weren't going to all the spots. So,
Lindsay trotted over to his Benjamin's cafe for Eggs Benedict and
then we got ready to leave around 8:45. As we pulled out of
the parking garage, Bill and Scott started making loud noises
about wanting their Starbucks coffee. I agreed to drop them
off and then circle the block until they came back.
What happened next was a total stunt. Scott got in the car
and then Bill got in the car and I started off...not realizing
Bill was still only halfway inside. After yelling some choice
profanities, we got Bill all the way inside the car and buckled
up, only slight the worse-for-wear.
First stop was Como Shops. It wouldn't open until 10am, so
we backtracked about one mile and visited this incredible
hobby store in a basement on Lexington Avenue called
Scale Model Supplies. They had EVERYTHING. Good
selection of books, videos and models.
Back to Como Shops. John Luecke who runs the place and also
wrote "The GN in Minnesota" was there and we got to meet him.
After browsing a bit, we hiked up one flight of stairs and
visited the O scale model layout of the Twin Cities. Fantastic
display. I got a picture of Empire Builder crossing Stone
Arch Bridge, too!
We were getting a little short on time, so we got in the car
again and punched for the park where lunch would be. We got
there in short order via I-94 and found the only place
(a pavilion) it could possibly be. No buses. It was 12:30.
Where could they be? A couple other GNRHS guys showed up, but
no buses. It was a big park, so we drove down to the other
end, but didn't see anything. 10 minutes later we came back
and there everyone was! The three of us showed our meal
tickets, found a shady picnic table and chowed down. I met
Joel Weeks from Wisconsin who took the outstanding photo of
the GN 192 NW-5 on my website.
Next stop after lunch was Jackson Street Roundhouse. We got
there about 10 minutes before the buses. In the parking lot
was a stunner. John Robinson of MTM had brought out his
GN Freightliner truck and trailer in absolutely immaculate
condition. The cab was vermillion red and the trailer was
this cream-white color. Gorgeous piece of equipment. We were
jumping around and taking pictures from all angles just as
the buses showed up. Train hype!
Next, we joined the bus tour of the Jackson Street Shops. It
was much bigger inside than I thought. From the way it was
described to me, it was only a few stalls, but the total size
of the building had to have been close to a semi-circle (180
degrees). Out in the yard, we saw GN 400 "Hustle Muscle" again
and this time, the sun was out! Inside one of the sheds, Jack
Hoover of Belt, MT was talking about his X757 drover coach
which had been donated to MTM and stored there under cover
in a shed. A beautiful piece of equipment! Inside it still
had much of the original wood furnishings.
Our last stop today was at Elon Piche's antique store in
East St. Paul. Elon wrote a book recently entitled, "Great
Northern Collectibles". Scott had met him at the "Rocky's
Rails" meeting/talk of GN vets on Tuesday night. Elon was
kind enough to come down there and open his shop up for us
to explore. It is a stupendous, treasure trove of GN
memorabilia. He has stacks and boxes of china, timetables,
buttons, brochures, you-name-it, he's got it.
After a Blizzard at Dairy Queen (thanks, Scott!!), we headed
back to the hotel. Great day today out exploring St. Paul.
Next was the "social hour" out in the lobby of the hotel and
then our big banquet with raffle prizes and awards to be given
I was up front taking my pictures of the various award winners
when to my total surprise, I got one for doing the GNRHS
website! It was completely unexpected. It's called a
GNRHS Rocky's Award and when I get the time, I'll post a
.jpg of it on the website. In fact it is still in my pile
of stuff to go through from the convention. Eventually,
it'll have to go up on the wall next to the Empire Builder
It must have been my night because I also won one of the three
dozen prizes from a drawing. It was a book on SP&S cabooses.
What makes it even more extraordinary, is the author of that
book, Paul Hobbs, happened to be sitting right next to me
at my table! Talk about good vibrations. I made sure I got
his autograph on the book!
After the fete, a bunch of us retired to the lobby bar for
our final brewskis of the convention. I have to admit
despite all the trials and tribulations, it was a very
enjoyable convention. Yeah, not everything went off without
a hitch, but few events this large do. After helping put
on the 2000 convention in Seattle, it was nice to sit back
and let someone else throw the party. Thanks, all you
Lines East crowd!
***This is the end of convention report. What follows
is the continuation of my trip until Monday, July 23***
Thursday, July 19:
Up at the crack of dawn to check out and head for Duluth,
MN, mainly to check out the Lake Superior RR Museum.
Grabbed a quick breakfast at Mickey D's somewhere north
of St. Paul and then headed up Highway 65 which roughly
parallels the old GN line from Twin Cities to Duluth.
It quickly became apparent that it would be difficult
to follow the tracks as they were in a "canyon" of
trees, even when the highway was very close by. I did
see an incredible derailment of a loaded coal train
near Grasston, MN. This pile-up was on the same tracks
that Sunday's 261 trip went over! I stopped to take
some pictures of the mangled hoppers. One was actually
bent in half (U-shaped) and another had a piece of rail
piercing the hopper side. I noticed as I took pictures
that an employee was doing the same thing! When I got
there, 40 or so hoppers were left and a good section of
roadbed was torn up and a silver signal box was smashed.
At Hinkley, MN, I rejoined the I-35 freeway and headed
straight for Duluth.
It was still early in the morning, so I found a
Laundromat and took care of "an urgent personal
matter". By 11AM, it was time to head over to
the Lake Superior RR Museum located in the old
Duluth Union Depot (downstairs).
Sitting outside, basking in the sun was their
recently-acquired GN NW5 resplendent in its
orange/green/gold scheme, complete with the
original Roman style lettering! Very cool.
Other GN equipment I photographed for the website
included an old, wood boxcar under restoration,
a X400-series caboose and the star of the show,
the William Crooks. The "W.C." is a 4-4-0
steam engine...the first one in Minnesota and
the oldest GN steam engine in existance. With
my 28mm lens and flash, I was able to get some
pretty decent color pictures, although it was
a bit crowded in there. Wonderful museum.
They have a DM&I "Yellowstone" type steam
locomotive (2-8-8-4) in there with moving
drivers, working lights and sound effects.
After spending quite a few hours in Duluth,
I headed over to Superior (across the
river) in Wisconsin....just as a huge fog
bank rolled in! Lake Superior really
generates its own weather. Before things
became too socked in, I managed to find
the fantastic GN stone depot in Superior
which is now being used as an artists'
hangout of some sort.
Back down I-35 to north St. Paul (Roseville)
to spend the night.
Friday, July 20:
Much easier day today. First stop was down
in Minneapolis to take some "exterior" shots
of the Stone Arch Bridge. Went hunting and
found the "1883" keystone and the cornerstone
with "Jas. J. Hill" inscribed on it. Fantastic!
That is the only structure Jim Hill allowed his
name to be put on...and it still exists.
Next stop was downtown St. Paul to get a shot
of the Union Depot (SPUD). Very massive building
which barely fit in my 28mm shot taken across the
street from the top of a parking garage.
Along the river I went approaching the fabled
Dayton's Bluff area (old CB&Q and Milwaukee
Road yards). Hmpf...couldn't find the spot or
else it's tucked away inside the yard behind
those scary looking "NO TRESPASSING" signs.
Bag it. Headed to Mall of America in
Wow, what a fun place to spend a day! Miniature
golf and roller coaster and water slide among
a zillion stores, all under cover and air
conditioned. I dropped off my film for one
hour processing and had lunch in a nearby pub.
Picked up some trinkets and baubles for Baolu
and some more film for the rest of my trip.
By afternoon, it was time to head down the
CB&Q side of the Mississippi River to LaCrosse
Wisconsin where I was to meet up with a buddy,
Carl Swanson who was coming over from Milwaukee.
There seemed to be a strange lack of trains on
the trip downriver and the highway, at least on
this stretch, seemed to stay away from the tracks.
To make things more difficult to "read", the old
CB&Q signals are constantly lit (always green),
so you can't really tell if a train is nearby
without a scanner.
I reached LaCrosse in relatively short order (with
no trains to speak of), so I checked into the Hampton
Inn. Carl Swanson arrived about 6:30pm and we went
for dinner. Another early start tomorrow.
Saturday, July 21:
Up at 6am and fed and watered by 7am. We stopped
for some gas and Carl had me ask
the attendant how to get to
"Grand Dad's Bluff". It turns out
there actually is such a place and
the directions I got were right
on the nose. G.D. Bluff is an
outcropping at the top of a 300'
cliff with a panoramic view of
LaCrosse, WI. Directly below was
the BNSF (former CB&Q) line to
Savanna, IL. We parked the car and
as we were walking up to the viewpoint
some distance away, we could hear a
train blasting along at full throttle.
Sprinting the last 50 yards did no good
as the train was already past. We set
up our cameras and waited for the next
southbound. Even at 7:30am it was HOT
outside and we were grateful for the
shade provided by some nearby trees.
About an hour later, we could see a
southbound stack train stopping at
the LaCrosse yard for a crew change.
Soon the hotshot was below us and
shattering the morning quiet as it
blasted past. Good shots in early
We headed south out of town with the
highway closely paralleling the tracks.
After a few miles we spotted a headlight
and quickly pulled over for a "grab shot"
of a northbound.
Further on south we went. About 8:30, we
came upon a beautiful morning shot with the
tracks (and train?) reflected in a small
lake. There was no shade along the highway,
so we pulled as far off the road as we could,
left the engine & air conditioning going and
sat with the doors open. Finally, around
10:30 a southbound appeared and we banged off
several shots of him and his reflection!
We set off in pursuit. It quickly became
apparent that you can't catch a train on this
line as they fly along at a steady 60mph and
the highway goes through many small towns.
Finally, we came to Prairie Du Chien where we
stopped for lunch.
South of P.D.C., the highway turns inland and
you must take side roads into the tracks at
various places. We finally wound up in Cassville
along the river late in the afternoon. No
trains. We bought some gas, pop and ice cream
and waited some more. Still no trains. At this
point we decided to head back north. Just the
other side of P.D.C., there was this enormous
sporting goods store - Cabela's - where we stopped
and did a little browsing. Nice and cool inside.
With no trains in sight, we headed back to LaCrosse
for dinner. After chewin's, we headed over to the
Milwaukee Road depot for photos. In our wanderings,
we came across a pristine ex-ATSF BNSF GP60 (incorrectly
labeled as an SD60) parked as a public display.
Back to the depot for the arrival of the westbound
Empire Builder, it became apparent the depot and train
would be in shade by the time it arrived. Westward we
went. We found a bridge shot outside LaCrosse, but it
had too many wires running through the scene. We crossed
the river into Minnesota and on north until we came to
the little town of Dakota, Minnesota. Here we got a
dandy shot of the EB on a curve with a bluff and the
river in the background with the last vestiges of golden
Sunday, July 22:
After breakfast, Carl headed back to Milwaukee and I started
up the west bank of the Mississippi towards the Twin Cities.
This time I was following the old Milwaukee Road line (merged
into Soo Line, then CP Rail). My intent was to shoot the
eastbound Empire Builder at the Red Wing depot. About half
way to Red Wing, the sunny skies gave way to jet black clouds.
Soon it was pouring down rain and day had turned to night.
I was now driving through the most incredible lightning storm
I'd ever seen with white bolts of lightning hitting the ground
in front and rain coming down in continuous sheets.
I slowed down. It was difficult to see. Finally, the storm
abated somewhat as I got to Red Wing. As I drove through town,
I could hear the on-time Empire Builder whistling at the
crossing. I decided not to bother with the shot because it
was still dark and raining.
Coming up to an intersection, the light turned green, but the
brown Impala in front of me didn't move. I started to slow
down. One, Two, Three seconds and still he hadn't moved.
Finally after five seconds he started off. Losing patience,
a pickup truck turned left right in front of him. He slammed
on his brakes. I slammed on my brakes. I could feel my anti-lock
brakes working (boom-boom-boom) and I stopped with a foot to
The Impala then sped through the intersection and parked half
way up on the median. I stopped because he was blocking the
lane. Then he flipped on all sorts of lights. It was a local
police "ghost" car and he came running back towards me.
The officer asked if I was OK and I said yes. He said,
"Did you see that guy make an illegal turn in front of me?"
I said yes. He got back in his car and drove off but DIDN'T
go after the guy. Very strange. He's the man...why not go
grab the guy? Shaking my head, I headed off to the Twin
Cities. I think the officer was as shook up as I was.
I stopped off again at Mall of America for lunch and more
film developing. I was killing time so I would hit my
railfan photo spots later on in afternoon light.
The plan today was to head out old US Highway 12
following the Great Northern Willmar-Breckinridge line
(former route of GN's Empire Builder) to look for trains
and depots to shoot. The first good shot was in Litchfield
where 3 old water towers from the steam era were still
standing. One even had a faded GN logo (forward facing goat)
still visible. The Litchfield depot was still standing so
I got some shots of that.
Coming into Willmar, I stopped for gas, then followed the
signs to the Kandiyohi County museum. There, resplendent
in it's new paint scheme was GN 4-8-2 P-2 steam engine
#2523. Closer inspection was less enthralling. The shade
of green selected was almost turquoise (olive green might
have been better) and there was much overspray of the black
paint on the tender over the GNR logo. Also, they completely
painted over the cab lettering and 2523 number with black paint.
A bit of a slop job. Pity.
Also, the Kandiyohi GN depot has been moved to this site
and is used as part of the museum here in Willmar. I got
some nice shots of that in the p.m. light.
Over to the two story brick depot in Willmar. BNSF had
kindly parked a couple BNSF orange/green units on a
westbound grain train at the depot which made for some
Next stop was heading northeast to St. Cloud. This was a
bit of a long drive, but my goal was the GN depot in town.
A fellow on the 261 trip gave me a GENERAL idea of where to
look. A circled around a bit and then after a half hour
of looking I found it. The old GN yard is still mostly
there and the depot itself is a stunner. It is a beautiful,
dark gray building built completely out of what looks like
huge granite or limestone blocks. About 15 miles outside
St. Cloud I had noticed a quarry in a town, appropriately
named Granite Falls which probably supplied the stone.
By now it was late and I headed back to my hotel in north
Monday, July 22:
Up at 4am to catch my early morning flight to Seattle.
Drop off my rental car in the deserted Dollar Rental
Car lot ("Oh, yeah, someone will be there..."), and
head to my gate. Luckily the airport McDonald's is
open and I chow there to avoid the hideous airline
food. We board our 757 and are ready to go about
6 minutes late. They push us back and we sit.
And we sit. And we sit. The captain comes over
the intercom and says we will have a 10-15 minute
delay because "we've got some runway delays".
It's getting hot now because the A/C is turned
off and we are strapped into our seats forbidden to
move. Once again my water bottle saved the day.
The cabin was peppered with the little "bing"
"bing" "bing" sounds of people futilely trying
to call the flight attendants.
One hour and 15 minutes later, the captain
announces, "Uh... yeah...we're number one
for runway two niner...uh... flight
attendants prepare for takeoff..."
We take off and then there is this mad
rush to the bathrooms as the captive
audience finally gets to relieve themselves.
I get back to Seattle about an hour and a half
late, pick up my bags at baggage claim, go
out to get a taxi and feel....a cool breeze!
First one I've felt in over a week. I must be
All-in-all, I had a great trip. I don't see how
people put up with all that humidity, though. I
guess living in a seaport city is a blessing.
I picked up lots of "flat and scannable" stuff
for my website at the convention which I will
add over the next year. The pictures I've gotten
back so far have turned out OK too. Finally, the
best part of the trip was getting together with
old friends at the convention and along the way.
I know it sounds cliché, but the people in the
GNRHS make all the difference.