Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Recent Voyages with your Explorer

Although I haven’t posted anything significant in quite a long time, I still have been pretty busy. Namely, I’ve taken advantage of my Easter vacation from school, as well as the very nice weather we’ve been having lately, to do some traveling. My intentions have been twofold, in that I’ve wanted to not only get out of the house and out of Brainerd, but also to watch some of the action that has been taking place on the railroad tracks that go through the state of Minnesota.

So, two Thursdays ago, when the then-newest 7-day forecasts said this last Friday, Good Friday, of course, would be nice and sunny, I decided I would head to St. Cloud. I hadn’t been there in quite a long time, and actually had never particularly explored the very busy tracks that make their way through the town.

I guess I got into town at about 11:00 AM, just in time for the lunchtime rush hour that brings everybody down to Red Lobster. Traveling along Lincoln Avenue, I passed through the somewhat gritty section of Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud, past, of course, the Gopher Bargain Center, the bargain-warehouse, or whatever, type place that sells just about anything you’d ever want. While most of their stuff is junk, I can’t lie entirely – they do have very nice and durable cable cords that help you connect your VCR to your TV. At any rate, if you’re ever in St. Cloud, you really should check out the place, since it is really worth seeing at least once.

The reason I was on Lincoln Avenue in the first place, though, was because one of St. Cloud’s depots, the one still used daily by Amtrak, is easily accessible by turning off of it and onto East St. Germain Street. And head to depot was exactly what I did…

I’d been to the depot once before, but only for a minuscule amount of time, and on a weekend nonetheless. Therefore, I hadn’t realized there is an extensive metal recycling center clearly visible across the tracks from it. Being right next to the tracks is only logical, though, since this recycling center cuts up old railroad cars for the valuable and precious metal that they are made of. On Friday, one of the jobs going on at the center was the cutting up of an old open hopper and a few boxcars. Let me just tell you, the people over at the recycling center put on a good show for anybody watching across the tracks at the depot. Even though I didn’t see any trains during my brief stay at the depot, I was quite mesmerized by seeing a whole open hopper go from being intact to a few shards of metal in a relatively short time. Rail cars, keep in mind, are quite large – definitely not toy-sized – so therefore it was pretty amazing to watch the large machine that looked a lot like an enormous mouth chomp away at the equally enormous hopper, cutting it into pieces and crushing it like an ordinary aluminum can. I wish I would have taken pictures of the process, but unfortunately I didn’t think of doing so at the time.

At this time, I caught sight of a caboose sitting next to the track where the cars that are about to meet up with the metal cutter are systematically lined up in a final hurrah. All cars on the track I'm talking about will soon be executed, cut up into an infinite amount of metal pieces that will inevitably be used to build other products, like the Korean car you’re driving right now.

Anyway, what was special about this caboose was that it was still painted in the colors of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, a railway that hasn’t existed for some 35 years. Somehow, this caboose, over the decades, had neither been repainted nor made illegible by spray-paint-toting artists. Most unbelievably of all, however, the paint on the caboose was still in good shape; easily recognizable as to what railroad it originally belonged to. Also quite unbelievable was the location of the caboose: right in plain view, just waiting for somebody to photograph it before it undoubtedly meets its eventual demise. Best of all, for me anyway, was that the caboose was in an incredibly accessible area for photography.

By the way, click here to view a large image at

You’ll notice somebody left a comment to the effect that somebody should rescue this caboose from destruction. I’m sort of wondering what the true story is behind this caboose, because even though it is sitting at a very active scrap metal recycling plant, there is documentation on the internet of it being in the same location as far back as 2003. It seems that if the recycling plant weren’t waiting for, oh, just the right offer to come by from somebody willing to buy the caboose, it would have already been recycled by now. In any case, I was pretty excited to come by such a piece of railroad history.

The next bit of activity I encountered was at about 1 PM, when I discovered Sauk Rapids has quite a nice park right alongside the Mississippi River and the railroad tracks. Just as luck would have it, a train came through just as I got to this park. Here’s the photo I was able to take. You may notice that the paint scheme on the lead locomotive is a bit different than other BNSF locomotives. This is because this locomotive was used as a tester right after the 1996 creation of the BNSF railway, and right before the company had a paint scheme it liked. As such, the locomotive I took a picture of is a one-of-a-kind; you won’t find any other locomotive like it in the world. Well, you are able to by a modal of it, but that’s another story…

The uniqueness of the paint scheme on this locomotive helped make my photo the most viewed photo on the database on March 26. Proof of this accomplishment can be found here. In any case, I can’t help but think how lucky I was to get the picture I did. Had I gotten to the park just 30 seconds later, I know I wouldn’t have been able to get the picture I ended up getting. Also, interestingly enough, the same train was photographed a bit further south down the line by somebody else; click here to see this other photo.

After this train, there was once again another lull in the activity. I tried to augment my train watching with geocaching, by getting on the free, wireless internet I was able to find in the park, to look for any caches nearby. I knew the park would be the perfect spot for a cache, and sure enough the Mighty Mississippi River Trail Cache is located there. However, it’s not a regular cache; instead, it’s both a multicache and a microcache. I didn’t want to spend an outlandish amount of time searching for film canisters, so I ultimately decided to sit on a picnic table to read my St. Cloud Times instead.

Still, there was a dearth of trains, so I decided head down to Kimball, about 15 miles south of St. Cloud. Kimball is situated on Canadian Pacific tracks, giving me an opportunity to photograph and see another railroad beside BNSF. I made it down just in time, as a train heading east was just a couple of miles west of town when I got there. Getting out of the van at a local park/baseball diamond, I was able to take this picture. Both the city’s water tower, as well as the dirt that makes up the baseball diamond at the park can be seen in the photo.

While at the park, I noticed one of the local businesses that advertised near the baseball field’s scoreboard was a local meat store, called the Knaus Sausage House. The advertisement said that the store carried a large selection of beef jerky, and, ever the connoisseur of beef jerky, I decided to go look for the business. Not too amazingly since Kimball is a small town, the store was just up the road from the baseball field. I purchased a package of mild buffalo sticks, spicy beef jerky, and garlic flavored dill pickles. I’ve tried both packages of meat, and I must say, they are both quite good. So, moral of the story is, if you’re ever in Kimball – and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be – stop in at Kanus’s Sausage House and pick up some meat. You’ll feel good, too, since you’ll be advancing the economy of Kimball.

Not too much happened after that, other than I made it back to St. Cloud, and eventually home. I’m just going to jump ahead to Saturday, where I traveled west – instead of south – to look at trains.

Train traffic was incredibly light, probably because of the Easter weekend. I took some pictures I could share, but this entry has already gone over the length I thought it would. I’ll just say that, quite impulsively, I made it to the Pamida store in Wadena. Yes, that infamous Pamida. Actually, the store wasn’t too bad inside – everything you’d ever need was pretty much available. Even though it’s been shuttered for quite a few years now, I actually miss Brainerd’s Pamida, most likely because the store was so close to my home. Pamida was also much more of a community-oriented store, much more than the impersonal, big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target ever have been or ever will be. Actually, now that I’m reminiscing about Pamida, I’m reminded of how much the face of the Brainerd has changed due to the putrid sprawl that has irrevocably encroached upon the natural beauty that once was a part of Brainerd’s neighboring city.

Back to my story, though, in Staples, I thought it would be a good idea to give Tower Pizza a try, being that I was hungry, and I always like to give back to the towns that, I guess, have given me the tracks by which I can watch trains on. The pizza I got, which was purposely a mixture of two different ones, contained sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Even though I generally don’t like vegetables on my pizzas, I did like them on this one. Tower makes good pizzas, and is definitely a place worth adding to your list that already includes Knaus’s Sausage House. Incidentally, I suppose you could say I heard of Tower Pizza by way of watching trains. On one of my visits to Staples last month, a train crew, whom I was able to listen to on my police scanner, already faced with the prospect of stopping to wait for another train at Philbrook (just a few miles south of Staples), asked the dispatcher if they could make a quick stop in Staples to get food at Burger King. Well, anyway, the dispatcher let the conductor do so, and – long story short – when the engineer of the train that would have held up the other train at Philbrook found out that the other train’s crew went to Burger King, he told the other train’s conductor that they should have stopped at Tower Pizza, because they have good food. And indeed they do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

VoxPop Entertainment

I’m a little conflicted as to whether the first comment published in the VoxPop section of today’s Brainerd Dispatch is actually from a Brainerdian trying to convincingly argue a point, or from somebody, oh, let’s say, playing a game where the goal is to see just what sort of idiotic things the Dispatch will put in its triweekly VoxPop column.

If you haven’t read the comment, here it is, just as it originally appeared in the March 15, 2005 edition of the Brainerd Dispatch:

"I'd like to know why we're not using the new Forestview gymnasium for graduation services. The new graduate is allowed six tickets. That allows the parents and grandparents on each side. How do you tell the brother and sisters and the great-grandparents they can't attend their sister's graduation? It's the most important day of their life. The high school gymnasium is too small, and too hot. You're stuffed in like sardines and have a hard time hearing the names being called to get their diplomas. They're more interested in the family coming to the graduation services than graduating in the school for 'remembrances sake.'"

Considering the enormous amount of syntactical errors inherent in the comment, I’m also conflicted as to whether this was the best comment the Dispatch could come up with for Tuesday’s VoxPop. All in all, this comment just goes to show that the Brainerd Dispatch is not so flawless and impeccable as everybody seems to believe.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Marzipan for Easter

Let’s see, I haven’t been doing much lately, therefore explaining the lack of updates to the blog. I did go to Banning State Park in Sandstone – yes, that Sandstone with the sprawling federal corrections institute south of town – two consecutive weekends in February, but I decided not to post any pictures because, well…I don’t really know, maybe due to laziness. Anyway, I’ll try to get some of my photos of the park posted to the moblog this week.

The park, as well as the city of Sandstone, is actually pretty scenic; definitely go to the park if you’re in the Sandstone area and either have one of those yearlong permits or don’t object to paying the $7 entrance fee. $7 is actually pretty paltry when you think about it; I mean, isn’t the cost of watching a motion picture at a theater about the same price? I’d much rather go wandering around in one of Minnesota’s state parks than sitting in one of Minnesota’s movie theaters.

Getting back to the park and its scenery, however, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The entire park features not one, but two large waterfalls, created by the relatively small, yet powerful, Kettle River. This same river, out of which “Kettle River sandstone” was quarried for years to be used in structures all over the country, has also created massive bluffs replete with sandstone boulders. Now, to top it all off, a very tall, very long railroad trestle can also be found at the southern border of the park, near where the city of Sandstone has established a city park with a picnic shelter and public restrooms. I suppose I could take back what I said about posting pictures to the moblog to show you exactly what I’m talking about. Well, here it is:

I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t enjoy seeing a train on this massive structure. Believe me, I tried to photograph a train on the bridge, but I was largely unsuccessful. Besides there being relatively few trains running on the tracks on the bridge, it is also pretty difficult to tell when a train is going to be coming. In addition, while there is a summer hiking trial that can be used to get up close and personal with the bridge, it takes a good 5 minutes of walking in deep snow to get to the bridge from the nearest parking lot.

I think I’m going to try again to get a picture sometime later this spring, preferably after the snow has melted but before the leaves have grown on the trees. Since a good deal of the trains using the bridge are headed toward the Twin Ports, there should be a greatly likelihood of seeing trains after the harbors of Duluth and Superior open back up for shipping on March 25.

Now, moving onto another topic, I was also going to post something about the mock trial meet in Duluth I was a part of on February 23. I brought my camera along for the trip and was able to take some pictures of the courtroom we were in for our competitions. I didn’t spend any time talking about my mock trial experience on my blog, and now I kind of wish I would have. It’s kind of late to do so now, however, since my team lost to the other Brainerd team by two points in the sub-regions competition in Duluth. The other Brainerd team – known as the Brainerd green– was allowed, by winning against the team I was on – the Brainerd blue team – to advance to the next round. This round was held this past Wednesday in Duluth and was highly successful for Brainerd’s team. By scoring 14 points more than opponent Hibbing, the green team made it into the state mock trial meet. Hopefully everything will go well when the team is pitted against the best mock trial teams in the state!

Since I can also fill the rest of this entry up with talking about the weather, I think I will. February marked the end of the three month period known as meteorological winter. Although winter doesn’t start until well into December, and end well into March, it is the three months of December, January, and February that meteorologists use to study winter weather. The months of December, January, and February ended up averaging 7°F above average in Brainerd. February, following an exceptionally warm spell that lasted for the first 15 days, ended up being an astonishing 10°F above average.

That the 2004-2005 winter was seven degrees above normal wouldn’t be such a mentionable occurrence had the winters that preceded it not been so much warmer-than-usual as well. Since the 1998-1999 winter, there has only been one winter that yielded below-normal temperatures. And that’s a total of 7 winters. All of the winters that have been above-normal have been so by more than a few meager degrees – we’re talking five, six, and, in one case, fifteen degrees above normal; meanwhile, the winter that ended up being below-normal was so by only 2 degrees.

This unprecedented stretch of unusually warm winters, unique to not just Brainerd, is one of the facts used to point out the reality of global warming. However, since I don’t want to present just one side of a story, we could also talk about some of the cold experienced during the winter of 2004-2005.

An arctic air blast in the middle of January 2005 chilled Brainerd down to -38°F on January 17. This temperature was not only the lowest temperature recorded in Brainerd since February 4, 1996’s -40°F low, but was also one degree shy of the record low for the day. In total, there were three nights in the winter of 2004-2005 that featured nights with lows colder than -30°F. The last winter with that many nights of -30°F or colder lows was 1996-1997, when 5 such temperatures were recorded.

However, the 8 year gap between winters with 3 or more -30°F or lower lows is the longest in Brainerd’s 107 year temperature data. In fact, Brainerd went for an incredible, unprecedented 6 years from 1998 to 2004 without recording a temperature of -30°F or lower. In an average year, Brainerd sees about 3.5 days with lows of -30°F or lower.

Finally, three temperature records were also set during the warm winter of 2004-2005. Not surprisingly, all three were for record high temperatures, and all three came in the first week of February.

I think I’ll again break my promise to post pictures of Banning State Park to only the moblog. Attaching a few pictures should be a good way to wrap up this blog entry.

Looking up among the bare birch/aspen trees

Another view of the railroad bridge, and the trail leading underneath it

Previous Posts

Four Years Have Passed
Winter of 2007-08 Musings
7th Annual Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials
Another Birthday
A Beltated Update
2007 Vacation: Day 10 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 9 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 8 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 7 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 6 Summary


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The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of Mitch Wahlsten and the participants
Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001