1. Ok, I've been talking about Owen nonstop, but I must say I had a really nice long hang out with Leo Sunday morning. We watched the videos he'd put together of the Milwaukee Road 261 trip in Minneapolis and then I saw that he had done a long blog post about the trip too. I read it and I was so impressed with his writing and thoughtful commentary on the trip. Again, please excuse maternal bias, but if you like steam engines, or just like my sweet Leo, give this a read. It's on his website where he documents his work on Trainz videos----digital recreations of his favorite trains. Man, I love that boy.
2. We celebrated our, gulp, 29th anniversary yesterday. Ernie spent the morning driving to Litchfield with Owen so they could pick up an amp Owen had bought on Craigslist. They hit an antique mall or two on the way back and generally had a good time. I think both of them were still floating from Friday night. Then they walked into a Walgreens in Litchfield and ran into Karen, a friend of Sue Davis' whom we'd just met once before. Sometimes you just gotta love Facebook!
3. While they were off gallivanting I met my dear friend Renee and had a long, long lunch. When I looked at my phone and saw it was almost 3:00 we were both shocked. It had flown by. It felt good to talk to her. She is grieving. It's been five months since her husband Michael passed away. We talked a lot about grief and love and mothering and family and it felt good. Renee always makes me feel more myself. I hope I give her something of that as well.
4. The boys had already returned home when Renee dropped me off. The four of us sat and talked and laughed. Then Ann and Bob stopped by (in true Rasmus fashion they always forget something at our house...we think it's kind of like dropping breadcrumbs...so they know they can come back) and had a celebratory anniversary drink with us.
5. We'd been so focused on the house concert that we had absolutely no plans for our anniversary. We went out for a drink and then came home and ordered Chinese food, Yet again give us a reason to quote Handsome Dick Manitoba, "I used to live on pizza, now I live on Chinese food!"
6. Here's the full Taxi Boys set! Thanks to my beloved Doug Fink!
We all slept really hard Saturday night as we were tired. It’s the constant adrenalin every time you hear that whistle blow that wears you out I think. We got up blearily, kissed Leo good morning, told him happy birthday, and headed back to the rail yard. He wanted to get a few pictures but then take off while it was backing up to get on the other track. That way we would have time to catch it at the bridge in downtown over the Mississippi. We got there just in time---couldn’t find a parking place so Ernie just double parked while Leo and I rushed over to a good vantage point. We could hear the whistle blowing, and suddenly she just burst into sight. It was the most beautiful thing…steam rushing, whistle blowing, birds scattering above. Leo and I agreed it might be our favorite moment from the whole trip.
As I watched the engine steaming and seemingly quivering with energy, all I could think was that it was like rock and roll. It takes you out of yourself, is exhilarating, and make you want more. No wonder it's addictive.
We raced back to the car and jumped in and headed for Hopkins. We’d gotten there just in time on Saturday, but there was a depot so we wanted to check that out. After that it becomes a bit of a blur…jumping out of the car, jumping in the car. It started raining and it was a cold, cold rain even though the temperatures weren’t too low. Who knew it could get cold in Minneapolis in October? Huh. While we were waiting at one nice crossing, our friends from Maine and England swooshed out of nowhere and stopped to say hi. We all laughed hellos and traded a few words before we all jumped back on the road. Leo was tough, standing in the rain, not missing a thing. I sometimes huddled in the car as we waited but the minute I head the whistle it was like Pavlov's dog and I would leap out of the car.
Sunday was a bit shorter than the previous day. We headed back to the rail yard to wait for her. We found a place to park and then I suggested we go over to the other side so we could watch her pull in. We drove over (it’s fun driving around rail yards) and there, sure enough, were our friends. We got a chance to stand around and talk and laugh. It’s nice to see Leo holding his own as an adult. And, as we all know, there's nothing better than talking to a friend who shares your passion.
And finally, it was over. We weren't even sad though, because it had been so wonderful. I had picked out a restaurant for Leo's birthday dinner. It has to have fries but I refused to take him to another burger joint. I googled 'best fries in Minneapolis' and found a French brasserie, Barbette so we headed over. I whimpered when we passed the Walker Art Center and Oldenberg's spoon and cherry, but this trip was only about trains. The restaurant was lovely. I had mussels and pommes frites and a salad. The mussels were good, the frites even better but the real star was the salad. It was a mix of lettuces with lots of fresh herbs, with celery and pickled red onion in a dill vermouth vinaigrette. We had a nice time and relaxed and talked, reliving the weekend, trying to think of our favorite moments.
Thanks Milwaukee Road 261.
Saturday morning we were up pretty early. We wanted to get over to the railyard by 7:30 to pick up our Chaser Passes. We got directed where to park and then our English and Maine friends pulled up right next to us. Nice. We waited a bit but finally got our passes which included information on where the train would be heading and which passes would be good for catching it. We sat and studied it as people lined up to get on the train. Yes, you COULD ride the train, but tickets went anywhere from $70 or so, up to $2,000! We were happier chasing it.
We watched her back up to switch onto a different track to head west. She was running on tracks that hadn’t seen passenger service since the 60’s. We watched her take off and then headed to the next stop. She’d already been through---we could see our friends leaving so we followed them, heading to the next stop. Our friend from Maine could be a racecar driver. We hurtled through Minneapolis neighborhoods as if on a rally until we both realized we were lost. We quickly pulled out our phones to figure out directions and managed to get to the next stop before she came through. We parked the car and I heard the whistle blow and I kid you not….I RAN. Yes, me. I was shocked myself. We just barely managed to see her fly by and get some pictures. We raced back to the car and headed to the next stop, and then the next, and the next and so on. We finally got a chance to stop and get gas and go to the bathroom while the train stopped for boxed lunches and to attach the diesel that would pull it back to Minneapolis, as there was no way for it to turn around.
Forgive my shakiness on the video below...but I love the grain elevators.
It was a little more leisurely on the way back. She looked a bit sad being pulled by the diesel. We stopped periodically though and Leo got both video and stills of it all. We went back to the railyard and waited for her return so Leo could get some more footage. At that point we were starving and tired. It was somewhere after 6:30 I think.
I chose a spot to get a Jucy Lucy (or Juice Lucy…there seems to be a question) which seems to be a Minneapolis thing…it’s a cheese stuffed burger. I went with Tin Cup’s because the sign looked good and it was a hell of a lot closer than the two places that claim to have invented it. I read the description to the guys as we went, explaining that it said it used to be a dive bar but had been revitalized or something like that. It was attached to a liquor store and Ernie and Leo seemed a bit questioning about the crowded parking lot. We went in and Ernie leaned over to Leo and said, “Remember, it USED be a dive bar,” and smirked. I told him to be quiet. We forged ahead and I found it quite delightful. Leo liked the fries and I liked my bunless Lucy. The wine was cheap but plentiful and cold and we laughed and talked about the day. After dinner I made them drive me to Candyland as it had been recommended and had cheese popcorn and I figured we could get a treat for Owen. We couldn’t find a place to park so Ernie circled while Leo and I went in. The scent of sugary candy was somewhat overwhelming and I gotta say, the cheese popcorn was fine, but no match for Garrett’s. We got a treat to take back to Owen though and then trundled back to our room and collapsed. We were tired but incredibly happy.
We took off on Friday morning…actually leaving when we planned to for once, only a bit after 8:00. The trip was uneventful…straight interstate driving, no stopping for pictures…although if I’d seen the cranberry bogs in time to pull over I would have insisted. We got into St. Paul, where our hotel was, sometime after 4:00. We decided to head over to the railroad yard so we’d know where to go in the morning. We wound our way around the edge of it, finding a spot where we could peer in. Leo hesitated because it said ‘No Trespassing,’ but I told him he was going to be 18 that Sunday….so live a little. He rolled his eyes and popped in and took the first pictures. The 261 was running and steam coming out. They always look like they are quaveringly alive somehow.
We saw somebody standing on the other side of the tracks and thought that might be a better vantage point so we wound our way over to that side. Ernie chatted with the man standing there…he had come from England and was charming. His friend came over from where he’d been viewing the engine and it turned out he was from Belfast, Maine. Things seemed to be looking good already. They encouraged Leo to walk over…and Leo even got to go up in the cab of the 261.
We took lots of pictures and Leo even let me take some of him without his hand in front of his face. He was glowingly happy. I’ve always thought a happy Leo was a wondrous thing.
We headed over to our hotel which was in an old train repair building. The building was very cool. The hotel was slightly odd but it all worked well. Leo got settled in with the laptop so he could upload his pictures and Ernie and I had a drink at the bar. As we sipped our drinks the man across the bar let out a loud and long fart. The bartender walked in from the back room laughing and said, “Was that the movie?” The man said, “No, that was me. Sorry. I thought it was going to be silent.” Then the bartender asked why we were in town. I explained and he said he liked trains and then started saying, “What’s the name of the little ones that sometimes go around the top of a room?” I think he was searching for ‘model trains’ but I didn’t think I could suggest something that obvious so I just shrugged. At that point it all seemed a tad odd so we decided to head back to our room. We agreed that we were all rather tired so we just went to a restaurant a block or two away. It was so-so but we, especially Leo, were so damn happy it didn’t matter at all. We made our plans for the next day and tumbled off to sleep. Day one was over.
I love that boy so much.
We were hot and tired by this point of the day and the loss of adrenalin after the 844 left us drained. We decided we had to do our other main stops of the day before we did lunch because we knew we'd collapse once we ate. We headed off to see the Big Boy, Leo's favorite engine, that welcomes visitors on a hill off of I-80. We found the parking area and stepped out only to see this:
Oh good God...and me with a bad back and iffy knees. Ha! Leo softly encouraged, with his hand at my back, "You can do it Mom." Only for my baby. We got to the top and it was stunning. The Big Boy and another Union Pacific engine I should know...standing at right angles to one another, beautiful plaza and plantings, overlooking the highway and the city beyond. Pretty incredible, but um...HOT. I wandered around for awhile and then told the guys I would wait in the car. Sweet air conditioning. The heat and stairs and lack of food made me dizzy. Those $6 cashews from the minibar saved my life!!!
We were fading fast but we headed to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. It was more a museum about the company that the actual trains but had some wonderful stuff.
A burger and fries seemed appropriate for our very late lunch. We headed over to Dinkers and I must say, world class onion rings....or onion strips more accurately. I skipped the bun on my burger but could not resist the onion strips. Lord they were good. We were pleased with our choice. Onto the hotel to collapse and load images and video onto the laptop. Later on, early evening, Ernie and I walked down to our new favorite place, Wilson & Washburn and had a drink but we were all too full for dinner. Instead we curled up and laid in the dark watching Storm Chasers.
A perfect day.
Oh man. Some times things WORK. After all the worry and stress about the 844's schedule and our trip...when it happened...it was utterly perfect.
Friday night I barely slept and dreamt about trains and crowds. I was somewhere between a 5 year old on Christmas Eve and a college student before a huge test...and of course, in reality, I was a mother praying that this would work out for her boy. The train was supposed to leave Council Bluffs at 8 am. We got up at 6, or least they did, and I did after a few ten-more-minutes-please. We stopped and got doughnuts for Leo, because, you know...holiday. As we turned down the street that took us to the rail yard Leo yelled....and we could see the smoke. It was there and it was running. Leo had everything mapped out perfectly. We pulled into a graveled area by the yard...and there she was....the Union Pacific 844. She vibrated with energy, sniffing and snorting steam. Oh good God...I didn't expect to be so moved. She was gorgeous.
A couple of others were there watching, and as Leo set up the tripod and readied himself, more people pulled up. There was such an air of excitement. Semis would run behind us periodically, up to the grain elevator we were standing near. Some of them would stop and look as well.
Leo had such an air of happiness...I can't begin to describe it.
Slowly, with the whistle blowing, and the sound of the steam, those wheels began to roll with that storybook chug-chug sound, and off she went. As soon as she was out of sight, everyone leapt in their cars and headed north. Even when we were separated by trees we could track her by the white steam.
We were heading towards the next pass through in Missouri Valley, but we managed to catch her at a couple of other crossings as well. Each time as soon as she passed, we jumped in our car and headed toward the next place we could see her. Some times we couldn't see her and we wouldn't know if we were ahead or behind. She had to stop a couple of times, once for something they adjusted on the tender, and if she hadn't we might have missed her. She can MOVE! We got to see her at about 4 passings, and then headed to her first official stop in Fremont, Nebraska. We hadn't expected the huge crowd there. There we were, on a sunny, beautiful day in Nebraska, surrounded by a seemingly bustling town with crowds there, kids on the shoulder of their dads, older folks, grain elevators around us...it was truly moving. The train pulled in with her whistle blowing. People cheered. As she came to a stop the engineer leaned out the window, waving like a rockstar. People reached up to shake the hands of some of the other workers. A row of workers stood in front of her like bodyguards. I just wanted to cry. Leo busily changed tripod locations and focused on his video and photographs, chatting to Ernie (and directing him...we all had our tasks) the whole time.
Then we had to wave goodbye as she headed further west. She was stopping in North Platte overnight and then home to Cheyenne. At this point we were hot and somewhat exhausted from the constant state of adrenalin.
More to follow, but for now, it was a very, very good morning.
Nothing on this campus brings me back to my undergrad years as much as this stairway in the Architecture building. Nothing. Up and down those stairs so many times to and from art and architectural history classes.... At the top on the left was Ricker Library, down the hall to the right were the cases of slides to study. Seems so archaic now. No more slide tables....
"Easy Does It" rose from Kerry's yard. Ceal and I sniffed it and positively swooned. Ernie and Kerry sniffed it and looked at us in puzzlement. Huh.
and from a Friday afternoon drive....
Onward to my day now. Work today and then tomorrow...IAN HUNTER!