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An All-American Success Story

It's "all aboard," as LearningLife takes a scenic tour of Minnesota's most iconic and historical railways

4-38 2719 & ore train.jpgThey say "a penny saved is a penny earned," but for LearningLife instructor Steve Glischinski, that "penny saved" earned him a career to go with it.

"My dad was frugal. Or..." laughs Glischinski, "cheap."

"I grew up in the Highland Park neighborhood [in St. Paul], and back then, garbage service was something like $1 a month. He didn't want to pay that much, and discovered that if you took the garbage down to the Pig's Eye landfill yourself, it was only 50 cents.

"So, every Saturday, we'd get in the car, go drop off the trash, and then since the landfill was right near the Milwaukee Road railroad yard, he'd take my brother and me over to watch the trains."

As a result of these Saturday morning family outings, Father and Brother Glischinski developed a lifelong interest in trains. Young Steven Glischinski developed... "an obsession. My wife would call it an obsession."

More than 45 years after that first train yard visit Glischinski is still immersed in the railway culture. He just published his seventh book on the subject, Minnesota Railroads: A Photographic History, 1940-2012 (University of Minnesota Press), he is a regular contributor and correspondent for Trains Magazine and Trains.com, and this summer, he will be leading the LearningLife day-long immersion, All Aboard: A Colorful History of Railroads in Minnesota (Aug. 7).

And although his train photography, research, and writing have taken him all over the country, the Minnesota rail history occupies a special place in his heart. "My previous books had Minnesota trains in them--but they were much more general. And being a native of this state, and knowing what a center of railroad activity it was...This has become my new favorite out of all of my books."

As Glischinski explains in his book, the state has a rich railroad history: it was a jumping-off point for several transcontinental railroads (Great Northern, Milwaukee Road, and Northern Pacific); the home of both the Minneapolis & St. Louis and the Soo Line railroads; and the headquarters for iron-ore carrier Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range.

Participants in the immersion course will have a hands-on opportunity to investigate some of that history, and get a sneak peek into what many rail aficionados consider railroading's most colorful era, when they visit the extensively restored Union Depot in St Paul, tour vintage passenger cars that once operated on Minnesota passenger trains, and then explore a1944 steam locomotive, recently returned to the rails in May after a five-year rebuild.

Glischinski chose those venues to highlight not only the history of the railroads, but also to illustrate what is happening now in the industry. "The Union Depot story is a good parallel to the railroad story, and it reflects what is happening with railroading in Minnesota, in that it was brought back, really, from the dead."

He continues, "It's been redone and it is breathtaking--when I'd go to the Depot in the 1960s, it wasn't as nice as it is now. It's restored back to what it looked like in the 1920s, which was really the hub of the railroad in the first half of the 20th century in Minnesota."

The revitalization of the rail industry is the epitome of the all-American success story, says Glischinski. A rapid rise, a glorious heyday, a fall from grace, and then the hardscrabble recovery to a new era of untold success.

A true pull-up-up-the-bootstraps, rise-from-the-ashes story...except for the tiny fact that, in truth, railroads never went away, he says, at least not in the way that the public thinks they did.

"People come up to me and are often nostalgic about trains--I hear: 'Oh, I used to go to the rail yard to watch them,' or 'my grandma took me on a trip across the country in one,' or 'my first job when I moved here in the 1950s was for the railways." And then they follow it up with, 'Oh, it's all gone now,' or 'it's too bad that's a dead industry.'

And that is simply not the case. While it's true that passenger service in the U.S. declined in the 1960s and 70s, freight rail came back from the brink and is in better shape now than ever before. In fact, it weathered the economic downturn that began in the 2000s, almost as if it had never happened."

"Warren Buffet," he says, with a pause, "Warren Buffet bought the BNSF Railway Company. The entire company. Thirty thousand miles of railroad. He bought it because he believes rail is a solid economic investment. And Warren Buffet is a pretty good investor."

Railroads are profitable, Glischinski says. They are a long-term, cost-effective transportation solution, as well--once you build the infrastructure for them, it can last for hundreds of years, unlike highways and roads which need to be torn up/repaired frequently. They're even green: new diesel engines are so efficient that railroads use the same amount of fuel as they did 20 years ago...while hauling almost double the cargo. And even passenger trains are growing again--Amtrak, he says, is bursting at the seams, and has more customers almost than they can move.

Glischinski hopes that his photography, his books, and his reporting, as well as the upcoming immersion course, not only salute the history of the railroads and their importance in American and Minnesotan culture and economy, but also show the public that the greatest days of rail may still be yet to come.

"When you think about it, railroads and trains are still very popular. No one doesn't like them. Nobody comes up to me when I talk about my work and says, 'Oh, I hate trains.' Sure, they may be annoyed when they have to stop for a crossing, but mostly, they are nostalgic about them or have fond memories. It's just the public doesn't realize what a success story they are, and what wonderful subjects they are."

To learn more about Glischinski's August 7 immersion course, All Aboard: A Colorful History of Railroads in Minnesota, visit the LearningLife website.

Get a sneak peek
Glischinski's book is filled with hundreds of striking images about the history of railroads in Minnesota, so it's hard to choo-choo-choose (sorry for that HORRIBLE pun!) just a few...but we did! Enjoy this slide show "sneak peek" of the book and the immersion, courtesy of Steve Glischinski.

Photo 1_1.jpg
The view from the control tower at the east end of the St. Paul Union Depot on the morning of September 29, 1948. On the left is Burlington Route's Morning Zephyr headed for Chicago. The steamliner received Vista Dome cars in 1947--the first in the country to feature the glass-topped cars. On the right is what appears to be a special train with Pullman sleeping cars, or the overnight Black Hawk from Chicago. The new E7 diesel on the train sports painted grills next to the headlight, meant to resemble the frills on the shovel-nosed diesel on the Morning Zephyr. Photograph by St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press, Minnesota Historical Society Collection.

Photo 2_1.jpg
At one time, railroad engineers were admired for their ability to keep huge steam locomotives under control as they roared down the tracks with fast passenger trains. While it might seem glamorous, being an engineer in the steam era was a stressful, dirty job that required working up to sixteen hours a day in all kinds of weather. Regardless, most engineers loved their jobs. Great Northern engineer Huff is operating steam locomotive No. 2587 westbound near Breckenridge on the Empire Builder in 1945. He's decked out in the attire of the steam era: Kromer cap, bandana, and coveralls. Huff is checking over train orders that inform him of speed restrictions, meets, and other changes in operating conditions. Photograph by William J. Pontin, Rail Photo Service; collection of Gary Nelson.

Photo 3_1.jpg
The Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway operated the largest steam locomotives in Minnesota: 18 Yellowstone class locomotives built in 1941 and 1943 that were among the world's most powerful steam locomotives. They were used to move iron ore from the Mesabi and Vermillion Iron Ranges to docks at Duluth and Two Harbors. Pictured is Yellowstone No. 226, leaving Alborn with a load of ore in September 1955. Photograph by James Kreuzberger, Minnesota Streetcar Museum Collection.

Photo 4_1.jpg
Railroads in Minnesota frequently find themselves in a battle against Old Man Winter to keep their lines open for traffic. On March 28, 1975, an eastbound Soo Line snowplow extra blasts through a snow-filled cut near Barrett. Photograph by Steve Glischinski.

Photo 5_1.jpg
Since 1985, a single Amtrak train, the Chicago-Seattle-Portland Empire Builder, has served Minnesota. The original Empire Builder entered service in 1929 for the Great Northern railway, and has been in continuous operation ever since. When Amtrak took over the service in 1971, it reroutes the train over the Milwaukee Road, rather than the Brulington Route, between St. Paul and Chicago. The classic Milwaukee Road logo is visible on the bridge at Hastings as the Empire Builder streaks west across the Mississippi River on July 13, 2010. Photograph by Jerry Huddleston.

Photo 6_1.jpg
Minneapolis-based Milwaukee Road steam locomotive No. 261 makes regular excursion trips in Minnesota. It is operated by the nonprofit "Friends of the 261." The locomotive was built in 1944 and restored to service in 1993 after more than three decades of museum display. Here, No. 261 is pulling a special freight train at Buffalo Lake on a rainy May 10, 2008. Photo by Steve Glischinski.

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