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.


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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001