Sunday, June 5, 2011

Empire Builders

Once upon a time trains were the Empire Builders. They connected us long before the Interstate Highways.

Work ended in Bellevue the other day so heading for home was down Interstate 405 to Renton. I wanted to make a few stops downtown so I took the old Sunset Highway (SR 900) exit to Bronson Way. We had to stop for a train, a rare occasion these days.

Trains still move a lot of freight up and down the valley between Seattle and Tacoma and points beyond, yet few come through Renton.

Growing up, I remember hearing the loud blast of the train horns pierce the early morning silence as they made their way up and down the Green River Valley. Even though they were miles away you could follow the echo for a long time as it bounced off the surrounding hills.

There was a spur not far from our Earlington home. Another favorite was listening to those big diesel engines torch up followed by an accelerating bang bang bang bang bang a 100 times as they assembled box cars in lengths of a half mile long or more.

Mom (not one to look back into the past much) told us stories once in a while about life in Spokane during the depression. My grandfather, Harvey Larson, was a carpenter and worked for the Great Northern Railroad as a cabinet maker doing finish work in the rail cars. They considered themselves fortunate because he was one of the few employed during those lean years. He did receive that coveted gold watch at retirement yet not long after that he was called back to work as we entered into World War II.

We traveled a few times by train to visit Harvey & Edna Larson in Spokane in the late 50's and early 60's. It seems so quaint now, yet I still remember being impressed by the restaurant car. There was just something awesome about sitting down to eat at a table with linen, being waited on, and watching the world whiz by just outside your window as you enjoyed a meal. I loved the soundtrack, that constant rhythm of click-clack click-clack steel on steel was mesmerising.

Of course we rode the Great Northern Railway, The Empire Builder. There was no other according to Grandpa Harvey. While I was thinking about this post I did a little looking into railroad history. I was reminded of how many former railroads were merged into BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Railway Company or the CN (Canadian National Railway Company), not unlike the many corporate mergers we see today.

Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett) purchased the remaining 78% of  the shares he didn't own in the BNSF in 2009 for $26 billion. Including his previous investment in BNSF, this brought his total investment to about $44 billion. With that, I’m thinking railroads will remain important to our national infrastructure.

The Blackberry Chronicles

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