Train-ing Ground

May 27, 2012

10.3 miles

Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, and its hot and humid-90 with a dew point of 68. For those of you who aren’t weather watchers, that’s about average at this time of year for New Orleans. It’s as if the weather and the calendar are in sync and summer has started. North bound again today for no real reason. Kenneth to St. Clair, east to Prior and west on Summit to Wilder, where I went north.  Almost out of nowhere appeared the Merriam Park Community Center.

There I saw man sweating profusely as he trimmed a tree, while a woman was working in one of the gardens.

Don Reeder is intent upon trimming a tree at the Merriam Park Recreation Center. The pear tree was planted in recognition of one of the founders of the community center.

Bonnie Reeder told me she and her husband Don are volunteering with Keystone Community Services, which is housed at the rec center. “Not only do we come occasionally to do some gardening but I’m the librarian in the little library here and I teach art…”

Bonnie has been participating in the Active Seniors program through Keystone Community Services for 17 years,  “I saw an ad the paper for exercise classes for seniors. I wanted to connect with people and get some exercise and do some things for the community and it’s fulfilled all those requirements.”

Classes for senior citizens are but one thing that Keystone Community Services does. According to its website, Keystone Community Services is a community-based human service organization offering a variety of human service programs for all ages at multiple sites. Programs include three foodshelves and emergency assistance; a comprehensive Seniors Program that provides Meals on Wheels, peer counseling and programs for active seniors; case management for seniors, the disabled and at-risk families; and a support program for Hmong youth and their families. You can learn much more about Keystone at http://www.keystoneservices.org/

Bonnie is retired and, “Don’s approaching retirement years and we looked around the country to see where we’d rather live and outside of the really cold winters, we’d rather live here!” It’s just the culture here.  People are so nice; they’re just community oriented. If you’ve lived here long enough you know how to respond when somebody says something. If you go to somewhere else in the country and they’ll say something and you’ll misunderstand.”

Don and Bonnie Reeder break momentarily from their work to pose for a picture.

The eastern portion of the building contains the Merriam Park Rec Center, operated by the City. There, children’s activities from basketball to hip-hop dance to cheerleading and art classes, are held during much of the year. I bid Bonnie and Don adieu and they went back to their respective projects and I to mine.

Cleveland Avenue becomes Transfer Road immediately after crossing University Avenue. Just up the road you’ll come upon this building.

The Twin Cities Amtrak station at 730 Transfer Road is a great example of a utilitarian building with virtually no aesthetic quality.

The best that I can say about it is that it is unremarkable but other words like boring, lackluster, humdrum and outdated come to mind whenever I pass this 1970’s era Amtrak station. Perhaps the design is fitting considering the poor state of the passenger rail system in the U.S. Only two passenger trains, one east bound to Chicago and the other west bound to the coast, stop at the Twin Cities station daily. Both trains are named “the Empire Builder” after railroad magnate James J. Hill, who lived most of his adult life in Saint Paul.

An automobile salvage yard…

…and an empty factory are the view many Amtrak riders are subjected to at the depot.

The good news is that this station will be closed this fall when Saint Paul’s Union Depot once again becomes the Twin Cities’ train depot.

The yard’s multiple tracks merge into four as they pass the Amtrak depot, looking south (background on right.)

Looking north from the bridge you can see the Minnesota Transfer Railroad’s midway yard. Note the Minnesota Transfer train waiting for the Union Pacific freight to clear before continuing south.

About a quarter-mile north Transfer road makes a 90-degree turn to the east and becomes Pierce Butler Road. A bridge carries traffic over several railroad tracks.

Taylor Street, which parallels Pierce Butler one block to the south, is one of many streets I’ve passed dozens of times without noticing. Today I rode it for its four block run between Prior Avenue and Fairview and it didn’t take nearly that long for me to gather that Taylor Street was in the process of a total upgrade.

These lights sitting atop dozens of barricades are a telltale sign that major construction is imminent on this section of Taylor Street.

White and yellow spray paint look like unimaginative graffiti to me but each mark denotes something important to construction workers. Note the temporary water pipe running along the fence. The boulders in the foreground were apparently put in as a rudimentary curb. I don’t know if the City did this long ago in lieu of concrete curbs or if neighbors on both sides of Taylor did it on their own.

Back to Pierce Butler Route and another railroad facility. The expansive Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad’s St. Paul Intermodel Facility operates 24 hours a day loading and unloading semi trailers from custom rail cars called container well cars.

Intermodel trailers stacked on specially designed “piggyback” container well cars.

Dozens of semi-trailers are stacked vertically awaiting the arrival of intermodal containers on a train and a semi-truck to pull them to their final destinations.

The pavilion was built in 1929. A recent renovation has it looking like new. Even the men’s room sparkles.

Newell Park has open spaces, a playground, ball field, basketball court, shelters and plenty of grills.

Because of its convenient location, Newell Park attracts families, Hamline University students, and everyone in-between.

Back on Fairview Avenue at Pierce Butler stands the popular Newell Park.  According to the City of Saint Paul’s website, Newell Park is one of the City’s oldest having been dedicated in 1908. Interesting fact (or not:) The park is named after Stanford Newell, an attorney, member of the first Saint Paul Park Board, and U.S. Minister to the Netherlands from 1897 to 1906.

Judging from the ladder propped against the carving, there is more work to be done.

Having completed my tour through Newell park, I biked nearby avenues, including Hewitt Street, where I came upon another tree carving. Next door, you could get something free.

I don’t know what’s “free” but if it’s free, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Lots of railroad-related items today. Saint Paul was a railroad town from shortly after its inception. While railroads no longer hold sway as THE major industry in the city, they are still an essential part of modern Saint Paul as you will continue to see in upcoming entries.

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