There was a time, not too long ago, the progress meant regress. Tearing down for a clean visage, more practical applications of resources and getting rid of ‘old fashioned’ ways and means. There was an interesting transition of railroading in our area. It was getting common around the country to eliminate railroad transportation and replace it with…nothing.
Our county included that, and removed the old 90 lb tracks, crossings and all the metal fasteners of said lines of practical and efficient transportation and replace the incredible fuel efficient and friction free transport with big diesel semi trailers.
It went over pretty good with the truckers and the populace could have cared less. All the ‘black bananas’ (ties) rich in creosote went somewhere and the steel was turned into appliances such as automobiles and refrigerators.
Little known to the general public, a nationwide bicycle organization took notice. The league of American Wheelmen. (LAW) had a national president living in western Polk country. A level grade for easy riding was dangled in front of them. If only it could be useful then and in the future.
The gently sloped roadbed remained. Train engines and the rails always had one problem, friction again. This time the problem was the grade itself. It has to be as flat as practical to allow the engines to move. Steel wheels and polished steel rails did not transfer incredible power with out spinning the traction wheels. There was a ‘sand dome’ on the engines that could put down a little sand in front of the wheels, increasing traction.
An engine weighs 220 tons and is asked to move 16,000 tons of freight. That is a lot of pulling torque to get moving. A fully loaded semi tractor trailer weighs 21 tons or in another way of looking at it, about 5000 of those would be needed haul one train load of freight.
So ballast was removed without Jack this time at the #2 shovel. Some remained a bit deeper in the remaining soil. Little known to the general public, LAW bicycle organization saw the vision. The road bed would make ideal trails for bicyclists. They hosted a big national rally in River Falls with rides, food and even an entertainer from the Prairie Home Companion. Claudia Schmidt. They made a little profit of $6000 and gave it to Burnett county to show that bicyclists could help defray some of the cost to turn the train roadbed into a bike trail. It was given under the caveat that if needed to restore rail traffic, that amount would help defray costs to restoration. It was also to show the snowmobile groups that bicyclists could work with them for summer use of the trail.
Within the last few years, the cost of diesel fuel has made railroad transport appear practical again. The roadbeds are ready once again to lay those black bananas (ties) on the roadbed and do some upgrades. Heavier rail (135 lb welded ribbon rail) Restoration of switches, signals, and section buildings. Good jobs in the offing too.
Local residents reminisce about boarding the train for day trips to Duluth and ‘the cities’ “those were the days!”
Practical, affordable and doable. Better than a bus route (that does not exist.) No traffic, no cars and just sit down and enjoy reading something about it. Perhaps in this very paper. Can you just about see it? Probably no wicker seats but with snacks and picnic baskets. The kids would love it too. The save the earth from pollution folks would also be pleased. It’s pretty good.
Jack Gator photo of Claudia’s new album used by permission