Column: Trains still vital in regional communitiesWORTHINGTON — Across southwest Minnesota, we have only two towns which don’t owe their existence to a railroad? Is this right?
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Across southwest Minnesota, we have only two towns which don’t owe their existence to a railroad? Is this right?
Jackson (Springfield) was founded on a bank of the Des Moines River; rivers were the highways of an earlier time. Luverne was founded on a bank of the Rock River.
The railroad came. Then we had Brewster, Worthington, Bigelow.
Another railroad: Rushmore, Adrian, Magnolia.
Another railroad: Round Lake.
Another railroad: Ellsworth.
Another railroad: Reading, Wilmont, Lismore, Kenneth.
For 30 years — 1870 to 1900 — the story of our corner of this earth was new railroads and new towns.
The towns remain to this day but only two railroads still remain to haul our freight, Union Pacific and Southern Minnesota. For the fact that this year is UP’s 150th birthday (1862-2012), it is fitting to focus on our railroads and what they are doing for us.
While George Dayton was still at Worthington selling residential building lots in the sprawling Clary Addition, which is Worthington’s east side, he made much of local rail activities. By 1898, the new Omaha (CStPM&O) depot was under construction. There was word the Burlington Railroad (later Rock Island) would run a track through Worthington.
In half-page ads in the Worthington Globe, Dayton urged the town to look at these railroads. His point was that rail activity assured Worthington would remain and grow. Dayton named two of his new streets for the railroads, Omaha Avenue and Burlington Avenue.
Many settlers were leery of buying building lots. You never knew whether a town — oh, Miloma, Sundown — would be around long.
Before there a was Wilmont, there was St. Kilian. St. Kilian: two general stores, two saloons, a post office, a blacksmith shop, new houses, a notably fine church. St. Kilian bustled day and night. But the Burlington Railroad balked at bending its track north. The Burlington established a new town, Wilmont. Some of St. Kilian’s business houses were moved to the Wilmont townsite. Some were closed. If you bought a building lot at Kilian, you might be in trouble.
“Well,” George Dayton was assuring, “this isn’t going to happen at Worthington. Worthington is here to stay. Buy a lot, build a house.” Dayton sold so many house lots that Worthington felt forced to build a second fire station on the triangular park along Okabena Street, at Third Avenue.
George Dayton had a good business sense. He is remembered for this. Where there is activity on the railroad, there will be activity in railroad towns. Dayton would be applying this measure to Worthington today.
In this anniversary year, Union Pacific at Worthington is a bustling operation. UP has developed a second rail yard between Worthington and Brewster. UP shuttles strings of tanker cars daily with ethanol from Heron Lake and biodiesel fuel from Brewster. The corn and bean harvests will soon have elevators all along the route loading rail cars with grain, which is what our railroads have done from the beginning. Most dramatically, the new UP bridge on Worthington’s east side is on track once again — the steel is arriving — and the railroad is building new tracks. Union Pacific is the largest Class 1 railroad in North America, the biggest of America’s Super Seven.
Although it may not seem so when you are caught up in a line of semi-trucks on I-90, 40 percent of everything that America hauls is hauled by trains and the railroads are thriving. This is why Warren Buffett bought the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (about $80 billion.) Michael Grunwald reported recently in Time magazine, “America’s passenger rail is a global joke, but our freight rail is the envy of the world…” The nation’s railroads hire 175,000 workers — and there is no way of outsourcing rail jobs to China.
What is more, freight locomotives are said to be three times more fuel-efficient than trucks. Shippers are checking out trains as many did in decades gone by.
Although it seems the local region pays small attention to its trains, and drivers have small patience for trains at crossings, rail is one of our region’s most dynamic industries. The long trains roll. Mile-long trains.
I like hearing trains rolling through the town at night.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.