Sunday, December 17, 2006

TRACKing down history

Scheduling called me the other day. They told me I had to overnight in Omaha...NEBRASKA...I hate the cornhuskers, and the whole state is technically flatter than a pancake..

Yet I was excited. See I've been reading this book, in which thousands upon thousands of workers spent who knows how many years (i havn't finished the book yet) to build, with their sweat, blood and tears, a railroad that spanned the continent. They dug tunnels by drilling with a sledgehammer, then shoving black powder in it. Feats were accomplished that have recently been attempted, then abandoned, then deemed "impossible." (Read: Blue Goose)

There were two railroads, the central pacific and the union pacific. Both starting at opposite ends, and they raced to the undetermined meeting place.

The Central Pacific started in Sacramento, CA.

The Union Pacific started in Omaha.

I arrived at the hotel, quickly changed, and headed to the lobby to ask the front desk where I could go.

"I hear you guys have a lot of train stuff around here."
"Well, I know, really..."
"Well, how about a museum?"
"oh yeah, thats down on 10th street. But its kind of a long walk."

I learned recently that these days anything over a mile is a "Long Walk."

I walked.

I saw evidence of trains as soon as I left the hotel. The street outside was Dodge street, named after one of the main builders of the railroad, Grenville Dodge.

I continued towards the museum, stopping at a tourism office to ask for directions. She informed me that if I made it before 5pm, the museum was really cool.

At least someone in this town knows a little history, I thought.

I got closer to the train station, and even the old buildings, newly converted to condos, were interesting to me. I started envisioning stagecoaches rattling along the streets, and trains unloading their cargos into those very warehouses.

I arrived at the station, which I knew had been renovated sometime in the 30s. I entered, and was told by the lady at the desk that to go any further would be 6 dollars.

I tried to talk her down since I had less than an hour there, but she would only go down to 5. In the end we struck a deal in which she let me walk around and see little exhibits and the gift shop, but I wasn't allowed downstairs to the main exhibit. I agreed. It ended up being my biggest mistake.

I gave myself a quick tour of the station, and a little browsing in the gift shop.

I left soon thereafter, and crossed a bridge over the tracks, where I found what I figured was the original train station. It was a little dissapointing to see it run down and dilapidated. It was called the Burlington station. I also found a building which apparently used to be the post office. I imagined this part of town bustling with business.

It was getting dark, so I headed back to the hotel, and passed the Old Market. I figured this is where they sold all the stuff that came in on the trains.

Closer to the hotel, I passed the headquarters of Union Pacific, which is still based in Omaha.

The next day, on our flight out of Omaha, I met a gentleman who works for Union Pacific. It came up because he noticed the book I was reading. (Its called "Nothing like it in the world: The Men who built the transcontinental railroad.) We discussed the trains, whats left of it now, (apparently Truckee, CA, just outside of Lake Tahoe, has ALL original railroad buildings) the fact that they no longer move passengers, just freight, and other topics.

I inquired about the Burlington station, and if that was the original. He then informed me that the downstairs museum, the one I had skipped out on, WAS the original.


Nonetheless, it was cool to have a trip through history.


As an added little bonus, about a year ago I took some pictures of our airplane wings at night with the lights blurred. I've been waiting for an opportunity to get some more with winglets on the end, and I got them recently. I don't think the pics are as good, but whatever.


laura g said...

you should send those pics to someone important in marketing at Southwest. those shots where the airline name is clear would really be useable.

laura g said...

and good post! especially the title :)