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

 


Amelia Earhart: Aviation mystery

December 30, 2017
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Commemorative cover issued for the 70th anniversary of her last flight.

Amelia Earhart the greatest female aviator of all time and a female icon disappeared on July 2, 1937 without a trace. She and navigator Fred Noonan were flying from New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific on the final leg a their attempt to circumnavigate the globe. At the time she was world famous and a celebrity idol.

Born July 24, 1897, Amelia had a thirst for flying. Between 1930 and 1935 she set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records.

Amelia became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20, 1932. She also was first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California on June 11, 1935. These were just two of the significant aviation records she set during her career.

One of her goals was to circumnavigate the globe as a solo pilot. She would still need a navigator. All her planning aimed toward that achievement.

In 1937 she began final preparations. At the time she was at the height of her fame. Amelia was a feminist icon inspiring thousands of female aviators. Her charismatic appeal stemmed from her independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, her courage and goal oriented career.

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Standing under her Electra in March 1937. Photo: Underwood & Underwood, Public Domain

Amelia did marry publisher George Putnam but they never had children. He was referred to as “Mr. Earhart” and supported her in her career. She retains lasting fame even today some 80 years later.

So what happened and how did she disappear? No one really knows the full answer but there are many theories that have developed over the years.

The most prevalent theories are, Crash & Sink, Gardner Island (Nikumaroro now), and Japanese capture. The first crash and sink is one most historians accept with death resulting on impact or shortly after. The Gardner Island theory says they ditched their plane in the waters off the island and survived only to eventually perish when rescue did not come. Some believe the Japanese military captured them and executed them. There is no firm proof of the last.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) strongly believes in the Gardner Island scenario and has so far sent ten expeditions to investigate. Their extensive research has produced archaeological and anecdotal evidence supporting this theory over the others. It’s possible that some day we will discover the truth about the fate of Earhart and Noonan we’ll just have to wait and see.


The Greatest Generation

November 5, 2015
One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada's war dead lie.

One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada’s war death lie.

On November 11, 2015 it will be 70 years since the end of the Second World War 1939-1945 and over 100 years since the beginning of the Great War 1914-1919.

Tom Brokaw’s  famous book, “The Greatest Generation”, is in my opinion one of the best reads on war and sacrifice. It is a collection of stories from veterans and their wartime experiences. It’s not about generals and strategy, but rather about ordinary people and how they stood up and fought for our freedom against the evil forces seeking to destroy and conquer the world. Although American it applies to all who were of that generation. These people grew up in the Depression of the 1930s and did what had to be done in the 1940s. They made it possible for us to have the society we have today. The following quote from the book says it all

“They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today.”

These men returned from the horrors of war to short-lived celebration and then resumed their lives as best they could. For years they never talked about their experiences. All that changed after fifty years when they realized age was killing them off at a rapid rate. They didn’t want to tell their stories to glamourize war, but so that we would never forget. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to know some older vets who told me of their experiences. It is incredible to see a vet tear up when he remembers a buddy from all those years ago. They remember the friends they lost like it was yesterday such was the horror of it. To all the vets who tell the stories thanks for letting us know what it was really like.

To younger people if you want to know about wars don’t read the accounts of generals and politicians, read the stories of ordinary people, the soldiers who went through the mud, the fire, and the blood. For Canadians there is “Testaments of Honour: Personal Histories of Canada’s War Veterans” by Blake Heathcote which I highly recommend.

Other books to read are Stephen Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers” or Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day”. These books are far more interesting and enlightening then some general’s memoirs. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” which revolves around the D-Day landings is one of the most realistic war movies of all time. Director Steven Spielberg screened it for veterans of D-Day to get their input. To a man they liked it, but said it lacked one thing, the smell. They told him the smell of blood, gore, death and cordite from shells was overpowering during the combat. They also told him the noise level pierced them to the very soul. These were the things they still remembered all those years later.

When you attend or watch the Remembrance Day ceremonies and you see all the old vets close your eyes and visualize them as young boys and men in their late teens and early twenties preparing to charge off the landing craft into the hellstorm of machine gun fire and shelling. While you’re contemplating that image ask yourself if you could stand up and do what needed to be done.


Growing up in the Cold War

December 14, 2014
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The museum in Albuquerque, NM. photo by Steve Davis

During a recent road trip I visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More about the museum itself in a future post, but the gift shop had some old government publications for sale. I picked up one titled, “Survival Under Atomic Attack”. This is a printed by the Office of Civil Defense, State of California in October 1950. California reprinted it from a federal government brochure.

It is an extremely interesting document from the Cold War era. The government tried to prepare and reassure the populace by telling them it was actually possible to survive an all-out nuclear exchange between the USSR and the United States. Not only that they actually told people that life would go on much as before. Reading this brochure I found it so asinine that I actually laughed out loud at a lot of the contents. I thought I’d share some of the ‘deep thoughts’ found in the booklet.

On the very first page it states,

“YOU CAN SURVIVE,

you can live through an atom bomb raid
and you won’t have to have a Geiger counter,
Protective clothing, or special training in order to do it.

The secrets of survival are:

KNOW THE BOMB’S TRUE DANGERS.

KNOW THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE

TO ESCAPE THEM.”

Forgive my skepticism but okay folks whatever you say.

Then there is a page titled “Kill the Myths” I found this just absurd. Here it is,

Myth #1 “Atomic Weapons will not destroy the Earth. Not even hydrogen bombs will blow the earth apart or kill us all by radioactivity.”

Yeah right they’ll just kill most humans, animals, and all other life and leave the planet uninhabitable.

Myth #2 “Doubling Bomb Power does not double destruction.”

This is total bullshit. Nuclear weapons would be detonated above their targets causing enormous damage. The governments who control these weapons have done extensive testing and know full well that this statement is an outright lie.

Myth #3 “Radioactivity is not the bombs greatest threat.”

Maybe not over the short-term, but over the long-term it is the greatest threat. It would linger and as proven by studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagaski, do damage for generations. Why do you think those x-ray techs in the dentist’s office run out of the room when they take those shots of your teeth? Why do they drap that lead vest around you and your vital parts? It’s because of the radiation. Granted it’s only in small dosages from x-rays, but nuclear weapons emit massive amounts of radiation when they explode.

Reading this document at this time in our history is an amusing peek into the mindset of those in power during one of the most frightening periods in recent history. As a child who grew up during the Cold War the contents of this document are beyond comical. It shocks me that we actually believed this stuff. I guess it reassured us that we shouldn’t have been scared. Hell no in reality most of us were scared shit-less!

My personal philosophy in the event of an all-out nuclear exchange was simply that I would prefer not to survive thank you. Let others deal with the nuclear winter and fall-out that would affect the Earth for thousands of years. Let others try to live on without law and order. Let others live on without the benefits of modern civilization like drinking water, heat in winter, and food. The dead would be better off, of that I have no doubt.

Reference::

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
Alburquerque, New Mexico
http://www.nuclearmuseum.org


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