2015 Minneapolis Convention Report

PowerPoint Presentation (download) by Pat Lana. (PDF Version)

by John Adams

All of us have now returned to our real lives after sharing an enjoyable four days in Minneapolis late last month. Numbers again could improve, but all of us who were there had a great time.

We began on Wednesday with registration in the hotel lobby and a chance to get to greet old friends and meet several new people attending their first FOBNR Convention. We then had a great dinner and carpooled out to see the Metro North HO scale Model Railroad Club and their 5,000 sq. ft. layout. Although no trains were running on their work night, we were able to see a huge layout in all stages of construction, from fully scenicked to planned benchwork and track work. The amount of work they have in front of them is certainly daunting, but they seem to have made a great deal of progress and have a plan ahead of them.

Thursday morning we assembled and headed down the line to Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. Our first stop was at the bridge Prescott, where after some patience, we were rewarded with both a westbound and eastbound train coming through the bridge. We then got to see the bridge operate, but with work crews arriving we headed south for Bay City and Maiden Rock, where we had box lunches delivered. We then split up, some heading further south to Alma, the rest back up north to railfan and hit some hobby shops. After dinners, we informally met at the University Avenue railfan turn-off at the south end of Northtown yards where we actually saw as much CP Rail as BNSF.

We then headed back to the Convention meeting room and had our membership meeting. At that meeting we, as usual, discussed upcoming convention possibilities as well as listened to the concerns of the members present. There was a general feeling that the 2014-15 emphasis on updating and improving the Expediter had been worthwhile and there seemed to be a consensus that this year we should concentrate on improving the website and doing some advertising to attract potential new members. The idea of an online version of The BN Expediter was also discussed with very few of those present feeling they would opt to convert from print to online. All of these issues were subsequently discussed at the Board meeting the following evening.

Friday morning we once again gathered and carpooled to the James J. Hill Mansion in St. Paul. There we were given an excellent tour of his St. Paul home built in the early 1890’s. We noted that it had been wired during the construction for electric lighting as well as gas, but also had been wired for a security system, which must have been really cutting edge technology for that time!

After getting some feel of how the really wealthy lived at that time, we opted to come back to today and headed for the St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD). Some opted to drive directly there, while the rest of us headed to a nearby Sears parking lot and rode the light rail. The light rail was very efficient and enjoyable to ride and dropped us off right at the station.

After a great lunch in the restaurant in the Headhouse of the Depot, we got a very complete tour of the renovated station. Having personally gone through the station as a CB&Q passenger in 1967 & 68 I was impressed by how light and airy it looked. We were told that was the result of scraping off the tar put on the skylights during WWII to black-out the depot! Our tour guide was even able to take us to some areas presently off limits to the public, including a room overlooking the waiting room!

Next it was off to find an open road (it is construction season after all!) to get to the Jackson Street Roundhouse. There we were able to tour an extensive collection of railroad equipment and displays. The Board also got to inspect some space that might be available for storage of the Archives in the future.

Once again on the “open” road, we headed off for dinner and then returned to our meeting room where we were treated to a presentation by Earl Currie. Mr. Currie was the Terminal Superintendent of the Minneapolis terminal in the years just after the merger and was instrumental in consolidating the 11 pre-merger yard facilities and the construction of the Northtown Yard complex. He was able to share the history at the time of the merger and the unique problems of combining the 3 railroads that met in the Minneapolis/St. Paul complex. He described the different cultures that were present in that era before computers and centralized control of the terminal area and how these had to be gently combined to allow the terminal to have the efficient flow that was promised to regulators and investors at the time of the merger.

After his presentation the group split up as the members present were able to watch Andy Koetz show slides from his father Bob’s collection. These documented the railroads in the 1960’s and 70’s in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, some slides of the Denver area and a lot of the railroads of Minnesota of that time period.

The Board had business to conduct at that time and went off to find a quite meeting area – that is a whole story in itself! Action items from the Board meeting included:

  • Election of officers for 2015-16:
    • President: John Adams
    • Vice-President: Dave Poplawski
    • Secretary: Gary Seymour
    • Treasurer: Jeff Hendricks
  • Review of the upgrades made over the last year to The BN Expediter.
  • Discussed plans to pilot an on-line version of The BN Expediter for 2016-17.
  • Decision to earmark funds available at this time to upgrade the website and undertake an advertising campaign to
    attract new members.
  • Adopted a policy that the organization would continue to collect historical information about the BN and BNSF,
    but that we would not accept donations of railroad memorabilia.
  • Agreed to sell some of the memorabilia at our auction and on EBay as the donors had previously agreed to that.
  • Decided to maintain the Archives for the next year in their present location and thanked John McKenzie for continuing
    to host the Archives.
  • Decided on Glendive, Montana for the 2016 Convention.
    John McKenzie will take the lead in organizing that convention.
  • Agreed to produce the successful calendar again for 2016.
    Kent Charles will again spearhead this effort.
    The calendars will continue to be free to sustaining members, $8 for other members and $10 for non-members.
  • Discussed a request by Kent Charles to develop a photo library on the website but elected to wait on this until we
    develop a “members only” site on the website.
  • Discussed the need for new Board members to give new ideas and energy to the Board.

On Saturday morning we all slept in a little but then carpooled out to Big Lake, MN – the end of the line for the Northstar commuter service. After railfanning from the platform there, we all got on the train for a great trip into Minneapolis and back out to Big Lake. The trip was smooth, fast and comfortable, with only one very short delay on the return trip.

Arriving back at Big Lake we split up for lunch (a number of us railfanned on to St. Cloud and had lunch at the Depot Restaurant) and then headed out for an afternoon of railfanning, hobby shops, etc.

Our banquet was held that evening with an excellent buffet dinner. Our banquet speaker this year was Mr. Jan Ruby, a BNSF employee who is now the manager of the Northstar commuter service. He gave an excellent presentation (we have yet to have a bad banquet speaker) on the process of establishing the commuter service, the equipment used to start the service and the operation of the service. He was able to relate some of the challenges and successes in transforming freight railroad employees into dealing with passengers on a daily basis. He also talked about his vision for the future, which would include extending service to St. Cloud.

After his presentation we had our annual auction – this time spiced up by donations from the tour guide at SPUD as well as memorabilia that had been donated to the organization with the understanding that they could be sold to benefit the FOBNR.

And that brings our 2015 Convention to a close. Please watch The BN Expediter and the website for the dates for next year in Glendive and join us there!