trains

When Hitler decided that the time in his “final solution” had come to transport the Jews, Gypsies, and other “undesirables” to the death camps, he chose to transport them in cattle cars on a train. Hitler had so little compassion for human life, that when the people were loaded into the cattle cars, they were packed in tightly with as many 80 people to a car. They couldn’t sit down. The air was stifling. The trains didn’t stop for bathroom breaks or food. The people had to stand there hour after hour, for up to four very long days. Hitler and his men didn’t care, they didn’t even consider the people to be human, and to make matters worse, they thought it a good thing if the people just died en route, because it would save them the hassle, ammunition, and poison needed to kill them later.

I suppose that for Hitler and the Nazis, the plan was one of simple logistics of transporting millions of people to southern Poland. Some of the people came from as far away as the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Greece. Transportation was done occasionally in passenger trains, in which wealthy Jews were encouraged to bring as much of their wealth with them as possible. Oh course, the Jews thought they would be able to keep their belongings, but in reality, this was railway robbery, because their wealth was soon to be transferred to the Nazis. Where they were going, they would not need their property.

The transports of the Jews to Auschwitz went of daily, on schedule. They leave from the ghetto embarkation depots, on schedule. The process was very methodical…almost mechanical, or robotic. Those in charge had no compassion for the people being herded into the cattle cars. The conductors signaled, “All aboard.” The brakemen waved lanterns. Anyone who resisted was shot by German and Hungarian guards. Guards used clubs and bayonets to herd a last group of mothers into the compartments. Finally, the engineer opens the throttle, and right on schedule, the train is off for Auschwitz.

Eighty Jews in every compartment was the average, but Eichmann boasted that the Germans could do better where there were more children. With the children in the groups, they could jam 120 into each train room. The Jews had to stand all the way to Auschwitz…with their hands raised in the air…because that made room for the maximum number of passengers. Each compartment had two buckets…one containing water, and the other to use as a toilet, to be shoved by foot, if possible, from user to user, not that anyone could use their hands to facilitate waste elimination. Many just had to relieve themselves where they stood, through their clothing. The water buckets made no sense either, because one water bucket for over eighty people for four days, would never be enough, if they could figure out a way to get the water from the bucket to their mouths. Still, no one could say the Nazis were cruel…after all, the buckets were there, right? In the four days that it took to get to Auschwitz, many, if not all of the prisoners were dead, standing up, because in the tight quarters, the dead could not even fall. Those who survived were to face an worse fate than dying on the train. They faced slavery, forced experimentation, and finally the gas chambers. Children were separated from parents, men from women, and the elderly simply sent straight to the gas chambers. People were mutilated, poisoned, beaten, forced to stand outside naked in the bitter cold of winter or in the heat of summer, crammed into quarters with no heat or blankets, and starved to death on a mere 700 calories or less a day. Death was the best option.

My father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg was a hard working, but gentle and loving man. His family was everything to him. His job often took out of town on road construction. He was often gone for long periods of time on jobs. My father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg was a hard working, but gentle and loving man. His family was everything to him. His job often took out of town on road construction. He was often gone for long periods of time on jobs. When they could, the family would go along, such as the summer the company was working in Point of Rocks, Wyoming. For those who don’t know it, there is nothing to do in Point of Rocks. It is a small town in Sweetwater county that sports a permanent population of three. During the year there are many temporary residents throughout the year, but that does not count in the census.

During the summer that my husband, Bob’s family lived there while my father-in-law worked in the area, Bob was a bored kid. Here he was living in Podunk, with nothing to do, and mostly just his sisters and a couple of other kids to hang out with. There was a highlight to the day…when the trains came through. The trains were on the opposite side of the interstate, so it was safe for Bob to run down the street and count the cars on the train. It was a pathetic attempt at fun, but the reward was great…the family got to see his dad every day, and not just on weekends for one day. It was worth it to all of them.

My father-in-law had made the decision to be with the family as much as he possibly could. I’m not sure if his decision was before or after another incident I had heard of. When my sister-in-law, Brenda was about six months old, my father-in-law was out of town a lot. He came home on the weekends, and sometimes not even that often. It was hard on the family, but they were making due…most of them anyway. Brenda was a happy baby, and was known to laugh and smile at her family all the time. One particular weekend, my father-in-law came home, and Brenda took one look at him and started screaming and crying. It was at about the time when babies start to dislike strangers, but that didn’t matter to my father-in-law. He just knew he shouldn’t be a stranger to his own child. Nevertheless, Brenda didn’t stop crying until he left to go back to work. As for my father-in-law…he went back to wok and gave his notice. He knew he could find another job, but he refused to see his little girl upset, because she didn’t know her daddy. He made sure that he worked where he could be home at night, even if he had to go to work ar 3:00 in the morning in order to be home in the evening. He was always a dad first. Today would have been my father-in-law’s 91st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. We love and miss you very much.

When most people hear the word Nazi, they don’t associate it with anything good. I don’t even think the Nazis of today consider themselves to be an organization for good. Probably the most atrocious part of Nazi Germany was the death camps where the Jewish people were confined, tortured with experimentation, and gassed to their deaths. One such camp, Auschwitz was known for cruelty so egregious that in 1947, after the war was over, a Polish court convened a special tribunal to mete out justice to 40 former Auschwitz personnel.

The German invasion of Poland in September 1939, sparked World War II, and the Germans immediately converted Auschwitz I, a former army barracks, to hold Polish political prisoners. The first prisoners, German criminals brought to the camp as functionaries, arrived in May 1940, and the first gassing of prisoners took place in block 11 of Auschwitz I in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to the Jewish Question…basically Hitler’s hatred of the Jewish people. Transport trains delivered Jews from all over German-occupied Europe to the camp’s gas chambers from early 1942 until late 1944. Of the estimated 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, at least 1.1 million died, approximately 90% of them Jews. It is thoughts that one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at Auschwitz. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 non-Jewish Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, and an unknown number of gay men. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died because of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

The appalling conduct of the Nazi staff at Auschwitz is among the worst treatment of prisoners in human history. In fact, the cruelty routinely perpetrated was so horrific that, in 1947, a Polish court convened a special tribunal to finally deal out justice to 40 former Auschwitz personnel. Of the defendants, 21 were condemned and executed, 18 were convicted and given jail sentences, but one man, Dr Hans Munch, was acquitted. That one acquittal might have been considered an outrage to the world, were it not for the testimony of former prisoners. The former prisoners testified that Munch had been kind and humane. The said that he gave them food and extended bogus experiments on female prisoners because he knew they would be gassed once the experiments were concluded. Most impressive, Munch refused to participate in the selection process dictating who lived or died at Auschwitz. That in and of itself could have brought about his own death. In the final days of the war, his last official act at a concentration camp was to advise an inmate on how to escape, wish him good luck, and hand the prisoner his service revolver.

Sadly, in later life, Munch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, ignited a controversy later in his life with bizarre interviews about his tenure at Auschwitz. He got quite mixed up about what went on there, and in my opinion, it is a good thing that the prisoners stood up for this one good Nazi, who wasn’t really a Nazi after all.

I think most people love trains. The fascination of stepping onboard, and arriving at a totally different place without driving or flying is an alluring thought, not to mention a little romantic. Over the years, trains have been given names, almost as if they were alive and had personalities. In England, one of the most loved trains was The Flying Scotsman, so named in 1924, after the train had been in operation since 1862. The train was an express train, and was clocked at 100 mph on a special test run in 1934. It officially the first locomotive in the United Kingdom to have reached that speed. In those days, that was a phenomenal achievement…unheard of really.

The Flying Scotsman ran between Edinburgh and London, the capitals of Scotland and England, via the East Coast Main Line. It is currently operated by Virgin Trains East Coast. The East Coast Main Line over which the Flying Scotsman runs, was built in the 19th century by many small railway companies, but mergers and acquisitions led to only three companies controlling the route…the North British Railway (NBR), the North Eastern Railway (NER) and the Great Northern Railway (GNR). In 1860 the three companies established the East Coast Joint Stock for through services using common vehicles, and it is from this agreement that The Flying Scotsman came about.

The original journey took 10½ hours, including a half-hour stop at York for lunch. However, increasing competition and improvements in railway technology saw this time reduced to 8½ hours by the time of the Race to the North in 1888. From 1896, the train was modernized with such features as corridors between carriages, heating, and dining cars. The York stop was reduced to 15 minutes, as passengers could now have lunch on the train, but the end-to-end journey time remained 8½ hours.

It was the British Empire Exhibition made Flying Scotsman famous. Soon, it was featured at many more publicity events for the LNER. In 1928, it was given a new type of coal-car with a corridor, which meant that a new crew could take over without stopping the train. This allowed it to haul the first ever non-stop London to Edinburgh service on May 1, reducing the journey time to eight hours. The Flying Scotsman name has been maintained by the operators of the InterCity East Coast franchise since privatization of British Rail. The former Great North Eastern Railway even subtitled itself The Route of the Flying Scotsman, as a way of cashing in on of the train’s popularity. The Flying Scotsman was operated by GNER from April 1996 until November 2007, then by National Express East Coast until November 2009, East Coast until April 2015 and since by Virgin Trains East Coast.

On May 23, 2011 the Flying Scotsman brand was re-launched for a special daily fast service operated by East Coast departing Edinburgh at 05:40 and reaching London exactly four hours later, calling only at Newcastle. It is operated by an InterCity 225 Mallard set. Driving Van Trailer 82205 and 91 class locomotive 91101 were turned out in a special maroon livery for the launch of the service. East Coast claimed that this was part of a policy to bring back named trains to restore “a touch of glamour and romance”. However, for the first time in its history, it ran in one direction only. There is no northbound equivalent service. This schedule is still maintained today. Northbound, the fastest timetabled London to Edinburgh service now takes 4 hours 20 minutes. In October 2015, 91101 and 82205 were give a facelift of new vinyl in a new Flying Scotsman livery. The Flying Scotsman is the only passenger service to run non-stop through Darlington and York.

HinckleySawmillHinckley fire newsEvery wildfire takes with it many victims. Humans, of course, are the most tragic, but they also take animals, homes, and plant life. When a fire gets out of control, devastation will soon follow. Often, all we think about is the loss, and that is a terrible thing, but sometimes something happens that brings a degree of victory and elation to an otherwise horrible situation. Such was the case in the September 1, 1894 Hinckley, Minnesota fire. The loss of life was devastating, with some accounts saying 440 and others saying 418…partly because the Indians weren’t counted in that amount, and partly because there were people who were never found.

The upper Midwest of the United States was a wooded area, rich in timber. Hinckley was a lumber and rail town, that had been built along the Grindstone River in Minnesota near the Wisconsin border. The main industry was the lumber business, and the slash cutting technique left behind it large amounts of wood debris. The town was nicknamed The Town Built Of Wood. Little did they know what a tragic nickname that would turn out to be. The lumber yards were built quite close to the railroad tracks, and the sparks from the The Great Hinckley Firetrains often set the wood debris on fire. Those fires were problematic, but no one expected the part the trains would play in 1894. That summer, a drought hit the Upper Midwest, making fires much more dangerous. The whole situation exploded on September 1, 1894, when fires near two rail lines south of Hinckley broke out, spreading north. When the raging fire reached the train depot, 350 of the residents got on a train to escape. The train passed right through flames, but reached safety in West Superior, Wisconsin. Were it not for this train, the loss of life would have been much higher. A number of the town’s residents took refuge in the swamps near town, but many of these people were killed, sadly some of them died by drowning. About 100 other residents fled to a gravel pit filled with water, and most of those people managed to survive. A train that was entering Hinckley from the north reversed direction to avoid the blaze. It still caught fire, and the only survivors were those who were able to jump from the train into a lake.

The fire burned 300,000 acres of town and forest, causing about $25 million in damages. In Hinckley, 228 people died, and another 200 in the surrounding areas, including 23 Ojibwa natives. It was a firestorm, with “as much force as an atomic bomb,” to quote a display at the town museum. Hinckley’s afternoon inferno also burned burned up five surrounding villages as it consumed over 400 square miles of kindling. It became known as the Great Hinckley Fire. A small group of statues in town represents survivors in the gravel pit. The Fire Monument and mass grave is on Fire Monument Road, very near the current interstate. Mass graves of 248 people are hinckleytrainvictimsStatues at Hinckleyin lumpy mounds just behind the marker, dedicated in 1900 to the pioneers of civilization in Minnesota. Boston Corbett, killer of Abe Lincoln’s killer, is said to have left his “hole-in-the-ground home” in Kansas and died in the Great Hinckley Fire, in the neighboring town of Neodesha. The town of Hinckley has decided that the nickname The Town Built Of Wood is not one they want anymore, and their current slogan is “Relax…Have Fun!”

Ghost TrainTrains have always fascinated me. I love to ride them, and I love to watch them. I suppose that it could be something that is in my blood, since some of my family members, including my grandpa and my Uncle Bill both worked for the railroad. Or maybe it is just my personal opinion, but I think trains are cool. Whenever Bob and I go somewhere that offers a train ride, we try to plan that into our trip. If you have never taken a ride on a train, you really should consider it sometime. You won’t be disappointed. It is like a time machine, of sorts, taking you back into history.

The history of trains and the railroad itself is a fascinating one. In a very primitive form, trains existed back as far as 600BC, to move goods from ships to where they needed to go. Early miners had a primitive train since about 1500, called a Wagonway. It really was an invention of necessity. It was very difficult to haul ore out of a mine with a horse and wagon…or a wheelbarrow for that matter. By coming up with a way to transport the ore in wagons on a rail system, it got much easier. Of course, this system wasn’t much good if you were going to go very far, because let’s face it, a series of 1880 Train 1wagons going very far is a slow mode of travel, and it wouldn’t be a Wagonway anyway, because that is called a Wagon Train…oddly enough.

The implementation of the rail system in the United States was necessary to our future too. Getting from one side of this country to the other is not an easy task. Even with the benefit of cars these days, driving cross country takes several days. And while the early trains weren’t much faster than our cars are, you could sleep at night, and keep going. At first the trains only carried supplies and such, but it wasn’t to be very long before they carried people. The first fare paying passenger train began operating in 1807 in Swansea, Wales. From that time on, more and more trains would carry passengers, and in many ways the world became a smaller place after that. Soon trains would criss-cross the United States, and train travel became common. It wasn’t common to just everyplace right away, however, but on this day, January 22, 1888, the first passenger train came into Cheyenne, Wyoming. It left the same day, making Wyoming history…two years before we even became a state.

1880 TrainTravel by train would begin to make people feel like they had really come into the modern ages for a while, but with cars and airplanes, it wouldn’t take long for train travel to almost become obsolete. These days, I think that like me, most people ride the train systems because it is a novelty. Bob and I like to ride the 1880 Train from Keystone, South Dakota to Hill City, South Dakota. Basically it is like riding a train to nowhere, because while the two towns are real towns with stores, and people living there, for those riding the train, they are just a quick stop on the journey from one to the other and back again. The whole trip takes an hour one way, and with an hour layover in Hill City, we are back in Keystone in 3 hours…having done nothing more than to relax and enjoy the ride.

Holyoke, Minnesota stationMy dad’s family spent quite a few years living in the small town of Holyoke, Minnesota. The area is wooded and very beautiful, with the train tracks bordering the edge of town. As boys, my dad and my Uncle Bill were always fascinated by the trains. I think that is probably very normal for all boys, and especially this living in a small town. The trains become the highlight of the day. My husband, Bob loved to go out and count the cars on the train when 1900's 1500 Series Locomotive in Holyokehis family was living in the small town of Point of Rocks, Wyoming. I’m sure Dad and Uncle Bill did the same thing.

They knew the trains like a lot of guys know cars. Uncle Bill tells us in his family history that the first train is an early 1900’s 1500 Series Locomotive, and the second one is a 1910 1200 Series Locomotive that was used on passenger trains. I can imagine that they spent as much time talking to the employees of the railway as they did looking at the trains. Their curiosity was peeked and they wanted to know everything about those trains. Their dad worked for the Great Northern Railway too, so they were allowed to ride the trains to get to and from school…so any stories about how they walked 10 miles, in the snow, and it was uphill both ways, are 1910 1200 Series Locomotiveprobably a little bit of a stretch.

Uncle Bill actually got a job with the railroad one time but he didn’t keep it very long. He thought it was pretty boring work, and since I have had a few boring jobs myself, I can empathize with his thoughts on the matter. Maybe, if he had been doing work that was similar to what his dad did, he would have liked it better. While railroad work was not what they wanted to do, that did not dim their interest in the trains, but then, what else was there for two young boys to do in the small town of Holyoke, Minnesota. I never thought of them as small town boys, but maybe they were.

019editedjpgWith the advent of the railroad in America back in the early 1820’s, came the fascination with trains and the railroad in general. It is a fascination that has never really ended. Even though some of our railroad tracks are now being dismantled, I don’t believe that the railroad will ever really go away. So many things are transported by rail, many of which could not feasibly be transported any other way…coal being one of the biggest industries to which the railroad is vital. My family worked in the lumber industry back in the early 1900’s, and at that time lumber and lumber products were transported by rail. There were no semi-trucks to transport things, so most things were transported to other areas of the country by rail.

Early on there were huge ceremonies to celebrate the railroads entrance into a new town. 027editedPeople just understood how important the railroad was to their way of life. Travel became easier, supplies and mail reached people faster, and the standard of living in the West vastly improved. It was a win win situation for everyone concerned

With all those changes, also came the advent of the railroad photo op. Everyone wanted their picture taken by the tracks, it seems. I have come across several pictures where the railroad tracks are the main focus of the shot. I can understand the fascination, but I was surprised by the number of people who felt the same way I did about them. Pictures weren’t as common back in the early 1900’s, although they were apparently more common than I would have thought. Still, no matter the cost, no matter how frivolous, people wanted pictures with the railroad in them. It was such a novelty, and it was a piece of history. It was their chance to prove that they were there.
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Apparently, not much has changed over the decades or even the last century, because it seems to be the latest thing again, to have your picture taken on or beside the railroad tracks. Senior pictures and even family pictures are being taken there by lots of photographers, like my friend, Tammie Williamson of Williamson Creations Photography. Tammie displays railroad photographs on her photography site quite a bit. Like so many other people throughout history, she and many other people today still like the tracks for photographs. It’s just part of our fascination with the railroad, the trains, and the tracks that move them along.

The Great Northern Railway was created in September of 1889. The line was the dream of one man…James Jerome Hill. He was called the Empire Builder, because of his ability to create prosperous business seemingly from nothing. It came to be as a result of the combining of several predecessor railroads in Minnesota and eventually stretched from Lake Superior at Duluth to Minneapolis/St Paul west through North Dakota and Northern Idaho to Washington State at Everett and Seattle. The Great Northern Railway was in operation until 1970 when it merged with the Northern Pacific Railway, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad. The Burlington Northern Railroad operated until 1996, when it merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway.

I’m sure you are wondering why I would be telling you this. It’s because this particular railroad played a part in my family’s past. My grandfather (my dad’s dad) worked on the Great Northern Railway. My dad and his siblings had passes to ride the Great Northern Railway for free, as a dependant of an employee. I think it is much of the reason that my whole family loves trains and riding on trains.

Grandpa was a wanderer. He loved to see new places and experience new things. The railroad gave him the ability to do just that…and also kept him away from his family a lot, unfortunately. My grandpa was born 133 years ago today..that seems an impossible number. My grandfather was 77 years older than me. He passed away in 1951, 5 years before I was born. My dad drove back to Wisconsin, making the 1000 mile trip in 17 hours, which was pretty quick back in the 50’s. He did make it to his dad’s side before he passed away on October 19, 1951.

Because he passed away before I was born, I don’t know much about my grandfather. I have to think though, that there was a bit of a little boy in him that he never outgrew. His smile indicated that he had a great sense of humor, with just a hint of mischievousness.  I think that his boyish grin could very well have been the very thing that caught my grandmother’s eye. I think he was always full of boyish charm and mischief, and a need to see what was around the next turn in the road…or in this case, the next curve of the tracks.

When two brothers and their sister live way out in the country with their mom, and their dad is away on the railroad a lot, they have to find things to do to entertain themselves. I have talked to to my dad and my Uncle Bill about their antics with dynamite on the 4th of July and riding trains to school, and fixing the gatepost before their mom got home…another result of dynamite mixing with boys. And I know that my Aunt Ruth loved all animals…especially horses. But how did they feel about each other, and their older sister. I’ve often wondered that, since we didn’t get to see my aunts and uncle very often.

I think there was a very close bond between those three younger children of my grandparents. Their older sister, my Aunt Laura was 10 years older than her little brother, Bill, 12 years older than my dad, and 13 1/2 years older than my Aunt Ruth. Aunt Laura was in many ways a second mother to the younger three children. She was old enough to help with them when they were babies, and babysit them when they were older…not that she was totally able to keep them out of trouble. And by the time they were grown up, my Aunt Laura was married and raising her own family.

Still, I think that the Spencer children were very close. And I think the younger three, at least, shared a love of animals. My dad always loved dogs, and of course, dogs and farms just seem to go together as do dogs and kids, but I think few people loved dogs as much as my Aunt Ruth, unless it is my grandson, Caalab, who seems to have a lot of likes in common with my Aunt Ruth…not so unusual in that I am also a lot like my Aunt Ruth. Horses and farm kids also go together. They are transportation, before they are old enough to drive, and a lot cheaper than a car to run. Plus, there are things you just can’t do very easily with a car, like standing up on it’s hind legs. Yes, I think they had some great times back then.

Those days are long gone now, and my Uncle Bill is the only one left. The years took each of the Spencer kids in different directions, and different places around the country. My Uncle, who was the first real adventurer in the family, ended up back in Superior, Wisconsin, where they all grew up. My Aunt Laura would live several places, but finally settled in Portland, Oregon. Like her older sister, my Aunt Ruth also lived several places, but finally ended up in Newport, Washington. My dad moved around some, until he met my mom and then it was 5 years in Superior, and the rest of his life in Casper, Wyoming. I think that like most siblings, there were times they disagreed, but I do not believe there was ever a time when they didn’t love each other. And, while the years and the miles separated the Spencer kids, they still loved each other very much and spoke through the years, even if they didn’t get to see each other much.

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