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Admiral Biscuit


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Nov
12th
2021

Chapter Notes: Council Bluffs (Destination Unknown) · 2:57am Nov 12th, 2021

A lot of the Midwest is flat and boring, and anypony would expect the same of Iowa. Turns out Iowa’s got a few surprises to offer.


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Pre-read by AlwaysDressesInStyle


Railbox was formed in 1974 to address a boxcar shortage. Without getting too far into the weeds, one of the thing that makes trains work is that cargo does not have to be transferred from one car to the next when the car gets to the end of one railroad’s tracks—like, if you were shipping a carload of grain from New York to California, it might spend part of its journey on CSX’s rails, and another part on UP’s . . . and the grain car might not belong to either railroad. In fact, you can run a railroad that doesn’t own a single railcar of its own. The owner of the car is paid a per-day rate for when the car is in use, typically (obviously, if the car’s on its home road, the railroad doesn’t pay itself per diem).

Which is all well and good until nobody is buying box cars, ‘cause they can just use someone else’s. The boxcar shortage and the incentive per diem that caused a boxcar glut is interesting reading, but not really something this blog post needs to get into—what you need to know is that Trailer Train, a railroad car leasing company which provides flat cars to member railroads, got into the boxcar business. Their Railboxes can still be seen today, a bright yellow with the slogan “Next Load, Any Road.”


Not only is that not a real Railbox, but that’s not Sweetsong, either.


The Kate Shelly High Bridge is named for Kate Shelly, who is a railroad heroine: she risked her life to warn a Chicago Northwestern passenger train that a torrential rain had destroyed a bridge in that train’s path, and then led a rescue attempt to find the crew of the helper locomotive that had fallen through the bridge. They saved two of the four.

The first bridge was built in 1901, and it’s still there. It was in poor condition, and although double-tracked, could only handle one train at a time at low speed, so UP built a second, parallel bridge in 2006 (opened in 2009) which could handle two freights at track speed. They kept the old span up, I’m assuming both because it would be expensive to tear it down, and because if something happens to the new one, they can put the old one back in service. According to Wikiedia, the original bridge was never called the Kate Shelly bridge, but everyone called it that anyway. The new bridge is officially named for her.


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Council Bluffs was the starting point of the Transcontinental Railroad, often called “The Overland Route,” (by Union Pacific, anyway). While Sweetsong didn’t learn this from seeing the golden spike monument, that’s the official start point of the Transcontinental Railroad, mile 0. Interestingly, it took three years for mile 0 to actually connect to the Transcontinental Railroad, since the Missouri River was in the way and there wasn’t a bridge across it. Also, the golden spike was part of publicity for a 1939 movie. I always associate Council Bluffs with Union Pacific, although their headquarters are on the other side of the river, in Omaha Nebraska.

The UP has a museum housed in a former Carnegie library, which is near the famous Squirrel Cage Jail. RailsWest had a museum in a former Rock Island train station, and not only can you watch the model trains but you can watch the real trains from a fenced-in area—not only UP trains, but also BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) and Iowa Interstate Railroad.


Back in the days of link and pin couplers, you had to get between the train cars to drop the pin (or pull the pin) which was dangerous and led to amputations or worse. I don’t know what arrangement early automatic couplers had (essentially the same as the ones used on freight trains in the US today), but for at least seventy-five years, they’re been operated from the side of the railcar—the cut lever pulls the pin up, and the coupler knuckle can open.

While I mentioned before that train air brakes don’t work exactly the same as truck air brakes, the sudden loss of air supply does trigger an emergency stop, so if you want to split up a train, you need a way to block off the air supply. The way that’s done is with angle cocks located near the air hose.


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You’ll notice that on the red locomotive, the s-shaped hook holding on to a pin in the coupler on one end, and a rod on the other—that runs off the side of the locomotive. On the railcar, the lever is underneath the coupler*, and again goes off to the side. You can also see the air hose stretched diagonally under the couplers, and the angled lever over the railcar/locomotive end. You can’t see the glad hand under the coupler, but that’s where the two air hoses connect.

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*And I should also say that not only are some of you learning things from these blog posts, so am I. I knew locomotive couplers were top-operated, I didn’t know that railcars are bottom-operated.


For everyone who loves to argue which style of pizza is best, let me add another option to the mix, one you might not have ever heard of: Altoona Style. Now, we all know that Altoona, PA is famous for trains, but they also have pizza. It’s typically square rather than round, and instead of using mozzarella or provolone cheese on it, they use processed American cheese.


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It might not have the weight of tradition behind it that Chicago-style or New York-style do, but it’s been around in Altoona since the 60s or 70s and is “renowned for its weirdness.”* Sometimes that’s a good thing.
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*the linked article about it has fantastic quotes, almost parody-quality: “’It is a great example of the Altoona that I remember,” says Berry. “Not good, but memorable. ... That's my experience of Altoona in a nutshell I guess.’”


Klemme, Iowa, like many towns in the heartlands, is home to a Co-Op grain elevator (resources are pooled, just like with the aforementioned Raiboxes). As you can imagine, during the heart of harvest season, grain cars are hard to come by, so the elevator owned or leased some of their own.

I didn’t mention above, but while some cars roam wherever they’re needed, some are supposed to be returned empty to a particular shipper. Such as Klemme’s grain cars. Now, as you can imagine, routing empty cars back to the shipper isn’t the highest priority for the railroad, and it’s easy to lose a few of them in a sea of identical-looking cars, so someone at Klemme had a brilliant idea: paint the cars pink, and no yardmaster would want them in his yard.

And it worked.


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As for the ‘repatched’ part, when a railcar changes ownership, the new owner doesn’t have to repaint it if they don’t want to, but they do have to put their reporting marks on it. Often that means just painting over the old ones and putting on the new ones, sometimes with a paint that kind of matches, other times with whatever’s handy. Locomotives are done this way, too, and graffiti is painted over when it obscures reporting marks (which is why some graffiti artists leave that part of the car untouched).


Time for a song, this time by legendary Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot!

Canada also built a transcontinental railroad, although they finished theirs second. Having said that, it was longer than the US’s version, and it was exclusively owned by the Canadian Pacific.

Another interesting fact I learned, which has nothing to do with the Canadian Transcontinental Railroad, is that from the late 20s to the early 50s, CP had school cars for out-of-the-way settlements in northern Ontario—it’d come by for a couple of days and then move on, and it had a library and accommodations for the teacher (who lived on the train). That sounds like something the ponies might do, as well.



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Comments ( 19 )

As an Omaha native, we generally consider CB as an honorary part of Omaha. Well, the gambling addicts do at least.

Altoona Style, huh? I'm already in the habit of adding cheese slices to leftover pizza before I microwave it, so that actually sounds like something I'd like. :rainbowlaugh:

since the Mississippi River was in the way

Missouri River?

Another fun chapter of nostalgia for me. I do have a friend working for Union Pacific. He operates and maintains ATC for the railroad. Once lived in St. Louis, but UP consolidated all their offices to Omaha, and he was given the choice to move or find new work. He now visits his family every weekend.

5606206
They were very creative with naming the horse track Ak-sar-ban. Sort of a pilgrimage for Iowans.

5606250
Oops . . . correction made, thank you!

Huh. Altoona is the next county over, I have a couple friends over there, and I've eaten in pubs there once or twice, but this pizza variant has never come up. The boss and his wife commute from Altoona, and I think they're natives of Logan Valley, I'll have to ask them about this Velveeta business.

These are such fun, relaxing stories to read. And the information is interesting, stuff I never knew I'd find interesting.
I hope Sweet Song's song about a pegasus taking a locomotive on a rogue ride is successful.

I was also half-expecting some model railroad commentary in the chapter notes.

5606206

As an Omaha native, we generally consider CB as an honorary part of Omaha. Well, the gambling addicts do at least.

Looking at the maps, I’d say it’s a twin city on opposite sides of a river. But I didn’t want to say that in the blog post and have Omaha or Council Bluffs natives get mad at me, y’know? I feel like for some years in the past, Union Pacific made a big deal out of Council Bluffs vs. Omaha, but I can’t find any actual information regarding that.

5606207

Altoona Style, huh? I'm already in the habit of adding cheese slices to leftover pizza before I microwave it, so that actually sounds like something I'd like. :rainbowlaugh:

It looks kind of weird to me, but then my Mom sometimes makes open-faced sandwiches (usually with English muffins for ‘crust’) which are delicious and travel well, so I’m not going to knock the style.

5606257

They were very creative with naming the horse track Ak-sar-ban.

I don’t get it, and I think I should.

Sort of a pilgrimage for Iowans.

Windsor, Ontario is like that for Detroiters/southeast Michiganders. You can get stuff there and do stuff there you can’t (or couldn’t, now gambling is legal in Detroit, too) and it used to be really easy to cross the bridge to Canada. Heck, a lot of touristy places would happily take American money at equal exchange (i.e., 1 American Dollar = 1 Canadian Dollar) which was generally a good deal for them (since US currency is usually worth more than Canadian). Lately, it’s not as easy to get across the border, and of course Covid restrictions have added a new wrinkle, which is a shame, Canada has the most delicious butter tarts.

5606284

Huh. Altoona is the next county over, I have a couple friends over there, and I've eaten in pubs there once or twice, but this pizza variant has never come up.

It doesn’t sound like it’s a major regional thing, just big enough that there’s more than one restaurant doing it.

The boss and his wife commute from Altoona, and I think they're natives of Logan Valley, I'll have to ask them about this Velveeta business.

You should! Report back your findings!

5606311

These are such fun, relaxing stories to read. And the information is interesting, stuff I never knew I'd find interesting.

Thank you!

I hope Sweet Song's song about a pegasus taking a locomotive on a rogue ride is successful.

Of course it will be!

I was also half-expecting some model railroad commentary in the chapter notes.

Missed opportunity there, wasn’t it? Still, that’s not really the focus of this story, maybe I’ll touch on it more later.

For the record, I’ve never seen anybody include a model of a hobo on their train.

5606355
Ak-Sar-Ban is just Nebraska spelled backwards.

...The Squirrel Cage Jail does not look like it would be safe for the prisoners in a building-threatening emergency.

"and the angled lever over the railcar/locomotive end"
It looks like one can also see the lever on the car end, too; it just blends in with the background better.

"And it worked."
...Seriously? Wow. :D
...Though now I'm also wondering how that one Sweetsong saw ended up on that siding for so long.

And thank you, as usual, for writing!

5606357

So, my co-worker was excited to sing the praises of 'Altoona Hotel' pizza, which was the celebrated product of said hotel. The recipe was supposedly lost when the hotel burned down, and a bunch of restaurants have been trying to replicate it ever since. She said that they're basically there these days, and that the green pepper under the Velveeta is part of the secret.

5606480

"Ia! Ia! Nagihcim Oozamalak!"

Time for a song, this time by legendary Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot!

That certainly was lovely. On the other side of the Pond, there is Dave Goulder:

(Dave Goulder - The Man Who Put the Engine in the Chip Shop)

5606480

Ak-Sar-Ban is just Nebraska spelled backwards.

Yup, totally should have figured that out. :rainbowlaugh:

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