Nebraska Railroad Sites

October 22, 2019
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Big Boy No.4014 visiting Omaha, Nebraska. It is steamed up not a static display.

This past August I took a roadtrip to Omaha, Nebraska for the American Philatelic Society’s annual StampShow. While on this trip I took in some interesting railroad history and sites. Omaha is the headquarters of the Union Pacific Railroad.

During the show their recently restored steam engine 4014 “Big Boy” made a stop over. This engine is the largest of its kind. In service from 1941 until the late 1950s it and others in the fleet hauled freight and passengers across the United States. Union Pacific is very proud of its history. They were one of the railroads that met at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 completing the first transcontinental railroad in the Americas.

“Big Boy” is touring all over the Western United States to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad.

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View of Bailey Yard from the tower. Camera could not capture entire yard

On the way westward from Omaha on my way home I stopped at North Platte situated along the main line of the Union Pacific. There I went to the visitor center which is the Golden Spike Tower. From here you can view and tour the Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard.

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Golden Spike Tower which now the visitor center.

This is the world’s largest railroad classification yard per the Guinness Book of Records, 1995 and still is today. Here they sort, service and repair locomotives and rail cars headed to destinations throughout North American. It is named after a former Union Pacific president, Edd H. Bailey. This yard and its workings are featured on “Freight Trains” an episode of the History Channel’s Modern Marvels. YouTube has these videos available just search “Modern Marvels”.

Bailey Yard is located halfway between Denver and Omaha. It covers 2,850 acres (4.45 sq.mi.)and is over 8 miles in length. The yard has 200 separate tracks totalling 315 miles. Union Pacific employs more than 2,600 people in North Platte. About 140 trains and over 14,000 railroad cars pass through the yard daily. Almost all operations are computer controlled right down to the braking of the cars as they are sent down the east or the west hump to be made up into various trains. Gravity takes over as the cars are pushed down the humps but computer-controlled braking on the track controls their speed and switches them to the appropriate track.

The yard includes locomotive fueling and servicing centers called eastbound run and westbound run. Some 8,500 locomotives are serviced here monthly, and the repair shop handles 750 locomotives monthly.

This facility truly is a modern marvel.

Further reading:

Big Boy Locomotives – Wikipedia

Union Pacific Bailey Yard – Wikipedia

Note: All photos by the author.


Transcontinental Railroad: 150th Anniversary

October 14, 2019

DSC_0004Late April and early May saw a roadtrip to San Francisco to attend Westpex 2019 a national level stamp show held yearly. I use these trips to site-see along the way. I’m always looking for historical sites to take in.

Instead of taking a cross-country shortcut I elected to go south almost to Salt Lake City and go to the Golden Spike National Historic site.

The site is located thirty-two miles west of Brigham City, Utah just north of Salt Lake City. The interpretative center stands next to the original rail line and the actual location of the last spike. There are two exact replica locomotives at the site. They are both operational and depending on the time of year do run outs on the line. When not fired up they are in a shed where they can be viewed. Knowledgeable staff are available both in the main center and the locomotive shed.

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Jupiter in the locomotive shed. To the left is No. 119

The two locomotives are the Central Pacific’s Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119. Central Pacific laid track from Sacramento, California through the Sierras to arrive at Promontory. Their locomotive the Jupiter is wood burning as is the replica. Union Pacific had track to Council Bluffs, Iowa but no bridge across the Missouri River so they started laying track from Omaha, Nebraska across the river from Council Bluffs and began building a rail bridge at the same time. Until the bride was completed they barged construction supplies across the river. Their locomotive, No. 119 burned coal as does the replica today.

If you’re interested in railroads and their history I highly recommend a visit. It’s a short drive off the Interstates either I-15 or I-84 depending on which direction you are driving from. Details can be found on the National Park website,

Golden Spike Historic Site

According to the website it is open year round 9 am to 5 pm except for major holidays. Locomotive demonstrations are only during the summer months. Unfortunately I was there in late April but did get to see them up close in their shed. Staff were very knowledgeable and helpful. The gift shop had lots of excellent books and souvenirs.

Note: All photos by the author.


Fighting the Spanish Lady of 1918: Remedies, Cures and Preventatives, Part 2

January 16, 2018

Here is Part 2 of blogpost on the Pandemic of 1918.

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Living in the 21st century we take the scientific and medical wonders of our age for granted. Let us return to the year 1918 when the deadliest influenza pandemic in history, the Spanish Flu, rampages around the globe killing in massive numbers.

The “Spanish lady”, as it is morbidly nicknamed, focuses its attack on young adults age 21 to 34 years of age and children. The elderly escape for the most part, seemingly because of some immunity from previous flu viruses.

The Influenza of 1918 is a killer virus that attacks the respiratory system and saps the immune system. Most deaths result from complications such as pneumonia. An affected person exhibits symptoms in the morning, is sick by noon, and dies before nightfall.

The healthcare system of 1918 is drastically different than the one we live in today. Hospitals are small and located in larger centers. Few doctors and nurses are available especially in those smaller communities. Antibiotics to fight infection from flu complications such as pneumonia do not exist. Flu vaccines do not exist. The initial first step in the creation of a vaccine, the isolation of human influenza viruses, does not occur until 1933. Even if the vaccines existed in 1918, the public health system did not have a distribution system to deliver vaccine to the populace.

Quarantine is the normal preventative measure implemented by health authorities. In this case it fails. The mailman continues to deliver the mail, the milkman keeps delivering milk door-to-door effectively circumventing the isolation of the victims and unknowingly spreading the disease from house to house.

People desperately seek remedies or cures. Many of these concoctions are cooked at home on the stove, then dispensed to the family members. Some of the more exotic ones include,

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking opium
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Ingesting tiny amounts of strychnine (a deadly poison)
  • Sipping kerosene
  • Drinking cinnamon with tea or coffee
  • Eating red-pepper sandwiches
  • Drinking something called Bulgarian blood tea
  • A mixture of cinnamon, tobacco, alcohol, goose grease, and turpentine
  • According to one belief, the steel particles in a shotgun placed under a victim’s bed would draw out the fever.

Preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease also involved a myriad of strange steps.

  • The wearing of surgical masks. There was much controversy as to the effectiveness of these. These were just loosely fitting cloth unlike today’s tight fitting sanitary versions
  • Tin drinking cups in public places replaced by disposable paper ones.
  • Smoked herrings worn around the neck.
  • Bags of garlic were hung around children’s necks to keep the disease away.
  • Sulphur sprinkled in shoes.
  • Vinegar packs tied to stomachs
  • Cucumber slices tied to ankles.
  • Carrying a potato in each pocket.
  • Breathing through the nose.
  • Chewing food well
  • Avoiding the wearing of tight-fitting clothes, shoes and gloves.
  • Bodies of victims are buried covered in raw, sliced onions from head to toe.
  • Voodoo charms along with chants of, “Sour, sour, vinegar V, keep the sickness off of me.”

The scientific community of 1918 struggled to provide an answer, so society sought its own solutions, however weird. Statistics are not available concerning the success or lack of success for these cures and preventative measures. In point of fact they did nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering.

Make sure you and yours take advantage of the modern miracle of a vaccine. There is no excuse. It will help protect you and others. Our ancestors living in 1918 died for lack of a vaccine.

 


Alberta and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part 1

January 10, 2018

Author’s Note: This is an important and large topic. For this reason I am presenting it in two parts.

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Camp Funston military base in Kansas where first case documented in March 1918. Photo: original US Military now Public Domain

The misery of the Great War ended at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of November 1918. Soldiers from Alberta trickled home with the last of them returning by late 1919. These servicemen wanted to come home and pick up their lives where they left off, but nature had other plans.

If you tour older cemeteries in Alberta you will notice in the period from 1918 to 1920 many graves are of young persons. Once you realize this was the time of the great influenza pandemic, these names shout out the impact to the reader of the inscriptions on the silent stones.

In the summer of 1918 influenza ravaged the world with the Spanish Flu. The society of 1918 had no vaccines for influenza, or any other disease for that matter. Influenza is incurable even in the 21st century. The impact on the Province of Alberta and the world was unimaginable. An estimated 20 to 40 million people died of the Spanish Flu worldwide. People could be healthy in the morning, sick by noon, and deceased by evening.

Health officials named this strain the “Spanish” Flu, not because it originated in that country, but because Spain was neutral during the period 1914 to 1918; better statistics and reports emanated from that country due to lack of censorship. Other countries repressed the true extent of the pandemic to maintain morale during wartime. More people died from the flu than soldiers killed in the war.

Symptoms included, severe headache, high fever; chills, aches, and pains in the back and limbs. The flu caused severe problems breathing because it attacked the lungs. Those who didn’t perish in the first few days died later of complications such as pneumonia. Persons between the ages of 20 and 40 were the most susceptible and the majority of the deaths occurred in this age group. To this day no one knows the reason for this.

In the early 1990’s Canadian scientists located several 1918 flu victims buried in a permafrost cemetery in Norway. Bits of viral RNA from their preserved flesh enabled scientists to reconstruct the virus. Scientists in a Winnipeg lab used tissues from First World War soldiers to restore the virus. All this research occurred in high security medical labs. The goal is to find a vaccine. So far they have been unsuccessful.

Influenza, like the common cold, has no known cure. Advice given by health authorities of the era included, wearing of masks to prevent the spread of the disease. Avoiding public gatherings, and public places like theatres and schools was encouraged. Health officials recommended patients drink lots of water, limit exposure to cold, and get lots of fresh air.

The Spanish Flu came in two distinct waves, first in the summer of 1918, and then the spring of 1919. Remarkably it disappeared as fast as it arrived.

Unknown to them, Canadian soldiers returning home brought the flu virus with them. By the end of the pandemic, an estimated 50,000 Canadians were dead out of a population of about 1,500,00 persons. Some smaller villages were almost wiped out. Alberta had a population of about 500,000 in 1918, over 4,300 Albertans died from the flu. In the United States 675,000 people died from the flu out of a population of around 7,000,000.

The flu terrified the populace of Alberta and the rest of Canada. Almost everyone who went outdoors wore a face mask. In fact on October 25, 1918 the government of Alberta ordered all citizens to wear a mask when they left their homes. Closed communities, like remote villages, were most vulnerable.

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Alberta farmers wearing masks. Photo: Public Domain

Aboriginal communities were some of the hardest hit. The flu decimated the First Nation populations. Their settlements were small and close-knit enabling rapid spread of the disease. Many of them had not been previously exposed to influenza and thus were vulnerable. Medical care did not exist in the settlements, often they were left alone to suffer the ravages.

In Alberta gatherings of more than six people were banned. It was a criminal offence to shake hands. Public areas were closed. These included schools, theatres and any other public buildings or facilities. Throughout Canada hearses filled the streets. Hospitals were overflowing and doctors did not know what to do.

People tried everything and anything to defeat the flu. Some of the more exotic cures were smoked herrings worn around the neck, drinking alcohol, eating garlic, raw onions, drinking mixtures of hot milk, ginger and black pepper. Quarantine was implemented to no avail.

Antibiotics were not available to fight the secondary bacterial pneumonia. This compounded the impact of the flu and many deaths were from complications such as pneumonia.

The reason the Spanish Flu caused rapid death has only recently been explained. It seems this strain of influenza filled the lung tissue with liquid preventing oxygen from reaching the rest of the body.

The question for scientists is, could this happen today? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. Science today has technology to develop vaccines for various strains of influenza, but to date they have been unsuccessful in finding a vaccine for the Spanish Flu virus of 1918-1919. Might this virus reappear? There is no reason to think it could not.

Society in 2010 has several advantages over the society of 1918, better hygiene, and the ability, perhaps, to create a specific vaccine for the virus. In addition we have better medical technology and facilities. Lastly, antibiotics are available to battle bacterial complications such as pneumonia.

The impact to Alberta and society in general would be significant. People would still get sick, but it should be possible to minimize fatalities. Health authorities in Alberta and worldwide must remain vigilant.

Further Reading

Wikipedia – Pandemic Influenza History

Alberta in the 20th Century, Volume Four: The Great War and Its Consequences, Chapter Two by Stephani Keer, pp326-341, CanMedia Inc., 1995

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, Gina Kolata, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1999

CBC News Online, 1918 Flu Epidemic, Dan Bjarnason and Robin Rowland, January 16, 2007

Pandemic, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Foundation of Canada, 2009

A City Faces an Epidemic, McGinnis, J.P. Dickin, Alberta History, 24, No.4 (Autumn 1976, p.1-11

Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed, Vol.2, 1919: A Year of Extraordinary Difficulty, Bright, David, University of Alberta Press, 2006

 


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