Posted by: David Carlson | January 8, 2011

Boomer Express Engine 1946 – Memoirs and Trains

I had fun with my first blog post in this series. I hope my use of the title Boomer Express doesn’t conflict with a Rose Parade trademark.

You don’t have to be old to have been onboard a train pulled by a coal-burner steam engine. My earliest years growing up in St. Paul featured busy rail yards and sooty skies.  After all, St. Paul was established as a rail center by James J. Hill by the 1880’s.   The first house we bought in 1974 was from a widow whose husband had worked for the Great Northern Railroad.  Fathers of some of my childhood friends worked the rail yards.

Some of Hill’s descendants live in my neighborhood on the North Shore of Lake Superior. One is a good friend in Duluth. A bronze bust of Hill can be seen on a major thoroughfare in Superior, WI.

I think it was a bad business decision to rip up the old rail lines.  When did that start, in the 1970’s?  Benefits of that change include fantastic bike trails all over Minnesota and Wisconsin.  We ride them.  Some of the wilderness roads we depend on in Lake and Cook Counties have “Grade” in their names, meaning railroad grades. A statue of St. Urho in Finland, MN marks an intersection where Cramer Road begins, another abandoned rail line through the wilderness.

Cuylar and Caitlyn with St Urho at Finland 

Not only did we lose “good” infrastructure, but I think it’s a bad business model that lops off less profitable routes to save a business that’s failing for other reasons. AT&T customer service still doesn’t know they own equipment on a new cellphone tower a mile west of my house.  High speed fiber optics are being connected to it as I write.  AT&T’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. AT&T abandoned every land-line customer in nearby Cook County less than ten years ago on short notice.  We subscribe to Verizon.

That cellphone tower was built a couple of years ago despite a permanent population of only 20,000 in two counties.  Never mind that 50,000 people drive Highway 61 every weekend from May through October to their lake homes and tourist destinations, with little or no cellphone coverage.  American Tower wanted to complete a regional network. Don’t forget the core business, of course, but one of the secrets of Wal-Mart’s success locates businesses in regional centers that other big businesses have abandoned. 

Governor Walker lost hundreds of permanent jobs and billions of dollars for the State of Wisconsin before he took office this week.  He turned down Federal Government stimulus money to build a key link for high speed rail service between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.   That decision killed an important potential business development link for the Twin Ports of Duluth-Superior.    Meanwhile, he hired the Mayor of Superior to head up a new state agency to regulate small business, billed as a better potential for new job creation.

One of my childhood memories has me waking up at 4 AM in Deer Park, Wisconsin.  I could hear the loud train whistle at the crossing a mile west.  It blasted again less than 300 feet away. I stayed with my cousins in what had been a hotel in the 1880’s. A railroad warehouse was right across the street.  One of the first outdoor movies I saw starred Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back”, projected on a wall of that building as we sat on blankets on the lawn. 

My mother was born on a farm in the Town of Black Brook, about five miles north of Deer Park.  As a young woman, she took the train from Deer Park or Amery to St. Paul to go shopping, just an hour away. If you visit Deer Park today, you will find the old depot relocated, but a historic site. Amery has a park with a Lion’s Club lion for a drinking fountain where the railroad crossed the main street.


A story that belongs in my Dad’s memoirs also happened at this spot.  He had been driving at night, a 1932 Model A Ford loaded with friends.  This Amery rail crossing had no signals.  Oncoming headlights could be seen on the other side of the raised rail bed, as if a train were not there on the tracks.  Only he survived the wreck.  In March 1999, almost seventy years later, he woke up from a stroke, speaking as though the accident had just happened in 1932. He died six weeks later.

St. Paul’s Union Depot was a busy place in the 1950’s.  I remember a year when daylight savings time was so screwed up that railroad time was different in the depot than it was outside.  The only train ride I took as a child was in the Vista Dome, ten miles between St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

The St. Paul Union Depot was busy again when I went to Air Force boot camp in Montgomery, Alabama, 1966.  There was a nationwide airline strike at the time.  I could see Martin Luther King Jr. leading a march down a street in Cicero as we rolled into Chicago.  I got on the Georgia Hummingbird at Deerborne Station, less than two blocks from where my daughter lived when she attended Columbia College.  She still lives in Chicago.  We’re all expert riders of the CTA, the El.  A Mega Bus runs from Chicago via Milwaukee to St. Paul in less time than Amtrak can get there.

Posted by: David Carlson | January 6, 2011

Boomer Express – Memoirs Abound

Read the About statement at the top of this blog.

The Boomer Express float in the Tournament of Roses Parade was sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. What else do we 1946 Boomers have to look forward to besides Medicare this year?

Did anyone notice?  The first decade of the 21st Century is over.

Ten years ago today, January 6, 2001, I felt too young to retire.  It seemed like a quick, extremely stressful decision to take the 3M severance package and run.  The executive director of my division tried to talk me out of it.  My immediate supervisor didn’t know I was old enough.  My department of four men had had their jobs eliminated.  My three coworkers obviously were old enough, and I might have claimed age discrimination had I not been offered the package.  Two hundred other coworkers had their jobs eliminated in the Year 2000, most of them effective December 31, like me.

My wife and I moved permanently from the Twin Cities to Little Marais,  ten years ago this April.  She quit her job as Head of Reference (Library) at the Minnesota History Center.  We briefly considered renting a high rise condo in Downtown St. Paul, within walking distance of her job, and maintaining two residences.  We already subscribed to two local newspapers on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  The Lake County Chronicle in Two Harbors posted a job announcement in March for Historic Site  Tour Guides/Interpreters at Split Rock Lighthouse.  It was a case of who you know, not what you know.  We already knew the Manager, but went through the job interviews like anyone else.

Stressful, yes, and the doors of opportunity flew open on the move north.  From our experience as Baha’i s, there seemed to be some urgency in making the move.  The movement itself seemed directed,  but the reason wasn’t obvious.  We became a Registered Baha’i Group on April 21, 2001, and fulfilled a goal of the global Baha’i Five-year Plan.

Everything worked in our favor.  The new job at Split Rock introduced us to 45 new coworkers.  Right away we had connections to a wide community that stretched more than 45 miles along Highway 61, and 15 miles inland.  The Little Marais -Finland – Silver Bay carpool to Split Rock ran through October 2010.

Unlike 2001, my theme in reviewing the  Year 2010: Nothing Worked Out As Planned.  I’m not the only one who wrote that in their year-end summaries.

My wife and I will deliver letters of resignation to our Split Rock managers next week.  The Split Rock 2010 season was spectacular – the Centennial of the first operation of the light station, July 31, 1910, the Big Birthday.  I lit the beacon in the lighthouse at the end of my shift as Keeper, the final day of the season, October 24.   We made a firm commitment to retire in 2011.

Endless  memoirs have been published by celebrities who were born in 1946.  I gave up on George Bush’s Decision Points, one of several ebooks I downloaded to the Kindle.  Keith Richards’ memoir is great, but I downloaded only the free sample. Patti Smith’s Just Kids inspired me.  My life was nothing like hers, Keith Richards’, or George Bush’s.

My audience is very small, but I was surprised this morning to find a legitimate solicitation by email to have a commercial website posted on my blogs.  I turned it down, responded, but said I probably wouldn’t shop on their website.

I want to emulate two writers of historical  memoirs, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.  Twain says he lied about himself, not only in the Autobiography just published, but also in his novels and travelogues, which he intended to be autobiographical.  He hated Franklin’s self-promotion.  I thought it was good history.

I don’t  want to make myself look good in my memoirs, or publish self- delusions of grandeur.  I won’t shy away from culturally sensitive issues. No need to wait a hundred years so my children and grandchildren can’t read it.  There will be an unabridged version for them to read after my passing.

Posted by: David Carlson | November 17, 2010

New Messages on Facebook

Making headlines on The Daily Beast and elsewhere,  I’m one of 400 million accounts waiting for a chance to try the new messaging features offered by Facebook.

A feature article in the Daily Beast fed controversy.  USA Today contradicted the Facebook announcement, and said Google is threatened as the frontrunner providing similar services.  That same article ended with a revenue figure for advertizing on Facebook.  So, it’s all about the money, and always about the money.

Here’s where I stand.  I’m not worried about being over 60, (let alone over age 30, which the CEO of Facebook was quoted as saying is a demographic that doesn’t matter). 

Yahoo remains our anchor (think shopping mall anchor franchise).  My wife and I share Yahoo Mail, and a Yahoo Calendar.  The new car salesman we spent two hours with yesterday, said he uses Yahoo, because it covers all his needs to store information in one place.  That’s the “cloud”.

Yahoo regularly gets panned by CNBC analysts whose expectations are never met for advertizing revenue.  Any news about Google, Microsoft, or Facebook is bad news for Yahoo on CNBC.  Yahoo is still the most widely used email service.

I have a Google account and use it on all kinds of applications.  My wife and I can’t share a Google account or gmail address for a Facebook account; separate identities are good.  What I liked about Google at first was a good shield against spam and identity theft.  In my own mind, I felt like I could choose and control the services, such as Facebook, where I didn’t mind if someone stole my user id.  I could go crazy in my identity as quirkydave. 

By the way, one of my current reads is a book my daughter got signed by the author in Edinburgh two weeks ago.  I recommend The Charming Quirks of Others, by Alexander McCall Smith.

Actually, there are too many ways for an identity to be compromised on Facebook.  How many unused or under-used email accounts do you have?   Am I seen from Facebook as a scam target on a hotmail account, or a Windows Live account, or a Microsoft Outlook account that I rarely touch?  Automatic updates run on my pc’s that I can’t see or manage when I boot up.

A friend of mine suddenly had her Facebook account blocked yesterday.  What happened?  Imagine all the stuff you might accumulate in Facebook’s new framework, suddenly lost for no reason, never to be found again.

I have been using some of Windows Live Essentials features for about two months.  I use Internet Explorer as my default browser, instead of Firefox, which I have preferred for many years.  I also have Google Chrome as a browser. Nice features, but I’ll still go back to Firefox when I want to do something important.

I’ll try anything innovative that Facebook opens.  I want to know how it works. 

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