Message Of The Day

Tue, 06 Jul 2004

00:47 [zork(~)] cat grand_excursion.txt

Those who remember history are condemned to re-create it

So, approximately one hundred and fifty years ago some trains took a few people from the city of Chicago to Rock Island where everybody boarded a bunch of steamboats which paddled their way up to St. Paul (or Pig's Eye, I forget when that changed). Apparently when they made it to their destination they were greeted by no one, since there was some confusion about their arrival time.

So, for lack of anything better to do a bunch of people decided they'd recreate the trip to a degree. Rather than serially do a train ride and a boat ride, it was decided to do them in parallel from the Quad Cities (which includes Rock Island and 4 other cities) to St. Paul, with the train making it all the way to Minneapolis. To round out the whole experience the Taste of Minnesota was moved to Harriet Island Park (which hasn't been an island for around 50 years) so that there would be even more things going on. The Taste of Minnesota is itself a carnival of markups, starting with the ticket system of purchasing. Much like tokens at an arcade the tokens are the only accepted form of payment at the fair, save for the booths where you can exchange five dollars American for 8 tickets. At these booths it is made quite clear that for each set of 8 tickets sold $1 is put towards the running of the festival, giving each ticket a supposed value of fifty cents. Since the tickets are used in place of normal currency, however, the prices do not really reflect what you would normally pay, even with your normal fair booth markups. A can of soda was selling for 5 tickets, which is a significant markup over the four to six bits one would normally pay for the same product. And if you were silly enough to crave alcohol you would have to first convert one dollar American into a wrist strap which proved your ability to legally imbibe alcohol.

And all of that is neglecting the surprising effort it took to actually locate any reasonable amount of food vendors.

Now, having provided a little background into the events, I should recount how my weekend's activities intersected with them. On Saturday the third of June the flotilla of the Grand Excursion was scheduled to appear at around two-thirty to two-forty-five. Having been informed of this, my brother and I boarded a bus to downtown St. Paul. Due to some confusion about the location of the end of the line we had to add a few blocks to the walking leg of our trip, but it was not terribly inconvenient. After crossing the river to Harriet Island and the aforementioned troubles in acquiring food we wandered downstream closer to the main welcome of the Grand Flotilla. We settled on a location near the downstream leg of world-record-sized balloon arch, which rid itself of several balloons in the time we were there.

Prior to the arrival of the Flotilla the St. Paul Yacht Club paraded their vessels in front of the have-nots and were nearly sucessful in keeping a constant speed and inter-boat distance throughout their procession. After the various boats in various states of (dis-)repair had proceeded by the way was cleared for the arrival of the actual flotilla. The flotilla consisted of steam and faux-steam boats in a three to seven ratio. Most of the faux-steam boats had vestigial paddlewheels which turned pointlessly in the water as the boats propelled themselves by hidden screws, although one boat was unfortunate enough to ride high on the water without its pointless wheel touching the water. Two of the faux-steam boats were completely without paddle, one even completely without propulsion, having to be pushed by a small tug. The actual steamboats were, in contrast, rather impressive. Two of the vessels were so tall that they required collapsable smokestacks to make it under Lafayette bridge (which actually carries Interstate 94). All of the steam boats favored the waiting crowds with a short song on their calliope. Particularly impressive was when the Delta Queen rotated itself one hundred-eighty degrees before docking on the northern shore of the river (more metal pilings than shore, actually). As the boats were arriving rain also begain to arrive, at first rather lightly, but by the arrival of the final boat the precipitation was rather intense. The final boat in question was the Mississippi Queen, which had trailed far behind the rest of the flotilla form most of the journey to wait for the river waters to recede far enough to make it under some of the bridges along the route. Since we lacked foul-weather gear we decided to call it a day and not wait for the possible arrival of the Milwaukee 261-led Grand Excursion train, the schedule of which we were unsure of anyway.

On the ride back we boarded the same bus line which had brought us to downtown, but this busdriver was unsure of the day's detour around the sports festival at Como Park and we therefor waited about fifteen minutes for the busdriver to call back to dispach and figure his route. After that the driver attempted (and failed) to perform a U-turn and eventually we made it back to our respective residences.

On Sunday, the fourth of July I was awoken by a telephone call from my brother informing me that excursion train was stationed approximately half a doxen blocks north of his residence. Previously I had known only that the train in question would be somewhere near Harriet Island from around noon to four in the afternoon, and that the day's trip would return to its origin of the day. With this knowledge I decided it would be best to wait until the train could be expected to return, replacing my original plan of yet another bus ride to downtown St. Paul. This way I would not need to rush myself to view the train before it went out for the day and when I did go out the sun would be lower in the sky.

Unfortunately for me, I had presumed that the train would take a scenic rather than direct route to and from Harriet Island, so I miscalculated when to arrive at the junction where the trains had loaded in the morning. Arriving around five-thirty I found that the passengers had already disembarked and Milwaukee 261 had moved inside a locomotive shed where it was apparently being tended to. I took some pictures of the train it its slightly broken-up state, and the crew of the amtrak diesels with the train were busy re-arranging some of the cars.

After this I went to my brother's and found that he had gone to see the train in the morning and took several pictures. At this point I found out that the picture I had hoped to take of the Milwaukee Road 261 with the Canadian Pacific 2816 ahead of it and two AMD-103s shortly behind, would have been impossible to take anyway, since the Canadian Pacific locomotive was not with the train at this point, and the Amtrak diesels had been moved behind the Skytop lounge to provide a push-pull configuration. I feel a bit sorry for the unfortunate individuals in the skytop lounge who paid extra for the priviledge only to have their view blocked by the cab of a diesel locomotive.

Shortly before dusk, my brother and I went down to St. Anthony Main to find a good spot to watch the fireworks display. At St. Anthony Main we found two of my brother's ex-roommates and with their group we all went as close to the Central Avenue bridge as the police would allow and watched the fireworks. It turned out to be a rather good location as the fireworks were launched from just slightly downstream of the bridge. After a shooting some pictures of the fireworks my camera's battery gave out, having not given notice before I went out earlier.

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