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Gold mining was, without a doubt, a profitable business, but it wasn’t an easy business to be in, especially in the early days. The miners-turned-innovators had to figure out ways to speed work up in order to make a profit. Gold is a tricky metal to find and mine, as are most precious metals. One thing that was needed, especially in underground mining, was a way to get the ore out of the mine, and the tools and workers into the mine. It is a waste of time to have workers walking long distances into the mines., their tools are heavy, and carrying all that in makes for slow going…if the miners are walking anyway. A mine railway, also called mine railroad or sometimes pit railway, is a railway constructed to carry materials and workers in and out of a mine. Few people would remember, but the mix of heavy and bulky materials which had to be hauled into and out of mines gave rise to the first several generations of railways. The first rails, like this one, photographed in Illinois by Timothy O’Sullivan leading to a gold mine, was made of wooden rails. Eventually they added protective iron, steam locomotion by fixed engines and the earliest commercial steam locomotives. All these came about because of the mines.

The old wooden rails worked very well. Gold carts, or ore cars, were moved up and down the railway using a pulley. The original design of these carts was used in Colorado mines in the late 1800s. The system even had a 360° operating turntable, which allowed the car to dump in any direction. The wheels were exclusive, with a curved five spoke cast iron design. Running the ore carts along the railway wasn’t easy either. There may have been a steam engine to work the pulley later on, but at first, it was all human muscle, and it wasn’t easy.

As with any new form of transportation, the first accident is inevitable. There may have been train wrecks in other countries, but the first recorded railroad accident in United States history happened on July 25, 1832, when four people were thrown off a vacant car on the Granite Railway near Quincy, Massachusetts. The people were there by invitation, to watch the process of transporting large and weighty loads of stone. The victims were observing From a vacant car as the large were being loaded. Suddenly, a cable on the vacant car snapped, throwing them off the train and over a 34-foot cliff, one man was killed and the others were seriously injured. It was a fluke, and no one could possibly have known of expected such a break. I suppose that cables had not been used for the purposes they now were…loading large rocks and their duties on trains. Cables can fray and snap. That is just a fact of life. Death is a fact of life, and on that day, when the cable broke, the wagon containing Thomas B Achuas of Cuba was killed when the wagon derailed as he and three other tourists were taking a tour.

While it was a setback, trains were, in fact, a matter of necessity, and the acceptance of railroads came quickly in the 1830s and beyond. By 1840 the United States had almost 3,000 miles of railway, which was more than the combined European total of only 1,800 miles. The railroad network expanded quickly in the years before the Civil War, and by 1860 the American railroad system had become a national network of some 30,000 miles. Nine years later, transcontinental railroad service became possible for the first time. These were great successes, but they did not come without a price, and sometimes that price is very heavy.

When architect Solomon Willard arrived in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1825, and discovered a granite ledge in a wooded area, he knew he had found the perfect raw material for what would become his most famous building, the Bunker Hill Monument. Willard envisioned a 221-foot tall monument with a 30 feet square base that would require some 6,700 tons of granite. Transporting the massive blocks of granite from the quarry to the site of construction presented a challenge. That’s where the train came in. Quincy was separated from Charlestown, where the monument would be erected, by 12 miles of swamp, forest, and farms. The granite needed to be delivered to Neponset River, four miles north, from where a barge would transport the stone through Boston Harbor to Charlestown. Willard wanted to move the stones to the Neponset River on sledges during winter, but engineer Gridley Bryant, suggested a more efficient method…a railroad.

With the support Boston businessman and state legislator Thomas Handasyd Perkins, Bryant ended up designing what would become the first, commercial railroad in the United states. Rather than steam locomotives, Bryant used horses to pull the railcars a distance of three miles from quarries to the Neponset River. A single horse could pull three cars loaded with 16 tons of rock over wooden rails plated with iron. Later, the wooden rails were replaced with granite rails. The iron plates were retained.

Although, Bryant benefitted from developments already in use on railroads in England, he did modify his design to allow for heavier, more concentrated loads and a three-foot frost line. The Granite Railway also introduced several important inventions, including railway switches or frogs, the turntable, and double-truck railroad cars. Gridley Bryant never patented his inventions, believing they should be for the benefit of all.

My Aunt Dixie Richards, the 8th child of my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer. Grandma and Grandpa kind of had three families…or so it seemed to all of us anyway. The first three were girls, Evelyn, Virginia, and Deloris. The second three were two boys, Larry and Wayne, with my mom, Collene in the middle. The last three were three girls, Bonnie, Dixie, and Sandy. By the time Aunt Dixie was five years old, she was an aunt. Her sister, Evelyn had married and given birth to a daughter named Sheila “Susie” (Hushman) Young. I’m sure it seemed strange to be a child of five, and have a sister who was married and a mother…but then, I was the second oldest child, so that situation couldn’t have happened with me. My youngest sister, Allyn (Spencer) Hadlock was an aunt when she was eight years old, so I’m sure she could relate to how Aunt Dixie felt at that time…both as a young aunt, or later as a teenaged aunt.

Being an aunt when you are just a kid yourself, means that you are a fun aunt. When the nieces and nephews are over, you get to take them outside or to your room to play. Of course, as the aunt gets older, those little ones might not be so much fun to have around. Teenagers aren’t always fond of little tag-a-longs. Of course, they forget that for their older siblings, these teenaged aunts were the tag-a-longs once. I’m sure that the older kids didn’t always want to have the responsibility of taking care of the little ones.

I think that Aunt Dixie must have liked taking care of the little ones though, because in later life she even ran a daycare, and took care of many of the children in the family…as well as her own grandchildren, Jacob Liegman, Charles Williams, Gideon Williams, Noah Williams, and Mayme Williams. Taking care of her own grandchildren was a highlight of her life. She still sees them every day, and they love spending time with her and their grandpa, Jim Richards. The blessings of having children are the continuing line…the grandchildren. Today is Aunt Dixie’s 77th birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Dixie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Rolf Mengele was born in March 16, 1944 in Freiburg, Germany to Irene Schoenbein and Dr Joseph Mengele…also known as the Angel of Death, but his father went into hiding after the war, and escaped to Argentina in 1949. Because of this, Rolf grew up in a loving home with his grandparents and his mother. He didn’t meet his father until he was a teenager, because he was told that he was dead.

When he turned 16, Rolf learned that his father was actually alive when Joseph made contact with him. It was an unhappy revelation for him. His father made attempts to bond with him through letters, even writing and illustrating a children’s book for him, but to no avail. His father’s attempts didn’t stop the feelings of disgust he felt about his father’s beliefs and actions. Still, at 16, he felt a curiosity about his dad, and wanted to meet him. Since Joseph Mengele was still wanted by Nazi-Hunters, for his war crimes, it took Rolf 5 years to arrange a trip to Brazil to visit his father.

Rolf had to travel under a stolen passport, but he wanted to go, because he wanted to understand how his father could have been an active participant in the Nazi death machine. He didn’t wait long, after his arrival, to bring up the subject of Auschwitz. His dad immediately became defensive, denying any responsibility for the atrocities, but actually admitting to participating in the nightmare “experiments” that the Jewish people were subjected to. He acted like he was doing them a favor, saying, “What was I supposed to do with those people? They were sick and half-dead when thy arrived.” He tried to tell his son that all he was doing was to determine who was fit to work. He actually claimed to have saved several thousand people by allowing them to work.

After his visit, Rolf found it “impossible to betray his father’ location,” but his feelings of disgust remained with him for the rest of his father’s life. Rolf says, “I didn’t even bother to listen to him or think of his ideas. I simply rejected everything he presented. I will never understand how human beings could do those things. That my father was one of them doesn’t change my opinion.”

Joseph Mengele’s health began to deteriorate in 1972. In 1976 he suffered a stroke. Then on February 7, 1979, he had another stroke while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off of Bertioga, Brazil during a visit with friends. He drown and was buried under the alias of Wolfgang Gerhard, which he had been using since 1971. Rolf abandoned the Mengele name in 1980, taking his wife’s last name to spare his children the burden of their grandfather’s past. Rolf and his family live in Freiburg, Germany, where he is an attorney.

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