by John Adams

Our 2023 FOBNR Convention took a somewhat different form. As you might remember our first activity of the 2022 Convention in Vancouver, Washington was a visit by the Board to the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive (PNRA) location in Burien, Washington. The Board was quite impressed with their facility and their ability to keep our materials and make them more accessible to all. Throughout the year we discussed this at the Board level and decided to join their organization and transfer our archives from several storage locations in the Twin Cities to Washington state. Because we knew we were going to be involved in this activity we didn’t feel we would be able to plan a full convention with tours, etc. We had experimented with a mini convention in Galesburg during COVID and found some success with this and felt this might be a time to try this again.

The Board members thus arrived in St. Paul on Wednesday morning and met at John McKenzie’s home where he had graciously stored a portion of our materials over many years. We inventoried and packed about 30 Banker’s Boxes and loaded them up and moved them to a storage locker where the remaining archive material was stored. There we finished packing a total of 67 boxes and stacked them onto two pallets for shipment later.

By noon on Thursday we were able to take a break and meet up with the other FOBNR members to kick off the convention. We met at the Fridley commuter rail station (below), visited for a while, and then went to the south end of the Northtown Yard complex, both to see the BNSF leaving the yard as well as an extensive storage line of BNSF locomotives. We were also aware that there was going to be a train display at the St. Paul Union Station (SPUD) over the weekend and visited the area near Minneapolis Jct where they were preparing some of the locomotives that would go on display later.

The Board members then excused themselves to finish preparing the archives for shipping and agreed to meet up again for dinner and our membership meeting.

After an excellent dinner we began the meeting, initially discussing our plans to transfer the archives to PNRA. Discussing this as our reason for having a mini convention, we soon learned that the members present would prefer a full convention with tours, etc. There were several suggestions for locating next year’s convention, including Minot, North Dakota and Havre, Montana. The members also suggested we might want to co-locate our convention with rail events already planned for an area. We also discussed The BN Expediter and had several suggestions to add modeling articles as well as articles about specific terminals and previous BN lines now in the hands of short lines. We finished the meeting by discussing the pros and cons of providing a digital version of The BN Expediter to our members.

After a quick break we met for the annual board meeting. The first item on the agenda was the election of officers. Ben Hucker was re-elected president, Dave Poplawski vice-president and John Adams treasurer. After doing great work as secretary for a number of years, Kent Charles had asked to step down and Aric Van de Vord offered to help us with this important duty and was duly elected. Kent will stay active scanning the multitude of slides we send him as well as organizing the annual calendar. His efforts are truly appreciated. Larry Stephens had also asked to end his long-standing tenure as our membership moppinganager and John Parker agreed to step into that very important role. Again, we all expressed appreciation for the amount of work Larry has done for the organization over many years! We then reviewed the finances of the organization and finalized our decision to join the PNRA. Dave reported that he now has several people helping him with The BN Expediter and that he has contacts and materials for several more 32-page issues. We always discuss conventions at our meeting, and the decision was made to try to return to a full convention. Peter Ferch had made some contacts in Minot and we asked him to continue these contacts and plan for a Minot convention next June. After dealing with several other issues, we agreed to meet again in September on a Zoom call.

On Friday morning we met first at the Northtown Yard, as usual a great place to watch the activity in the yard and on the main (if they would just create a way to make chain-link fences disappear) and then headed north along the main lie. Stopping at the Northstar commuter station in Big Lake, we ran into a couple of young railfans and promptly loaded them up with FOBNR literature and a free FOBNR pen. We stopped in St. Cloud for lunch and then headed further north, catching several trains on the way. I felt the highlight was pacing a ballast train with GPS-equipped ballast cars dumping ballast while moving at least 15 MPH. We were impressed how the GPS automatically told the cars to quit dumping at grade crossings and then start again after the crossing.

While returning from St. Cloud John McKenzie received a call from Greg Smith of the Greater East Area Model Railroad Club of Newport [Minnesota], more simply known as the “Newport Club,” wondering if John wanted to attend an operating session they were having that evening on their Chicago, Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad layout, aka, “The Harvest Belt Route.” While he couldn’t make it himself, he rounded up a few of us conventioneers in his place. We were given a guided tour of the layout and had a chance to run a way freight from end to end, making several block swaps at various locations along the way. We met several members of the club and also got a guided tour of a [real] ex-MILW tower that was transported from its original location to next door to the layout building.

On Saturday we headed south to Prescott, Wisconsin. There we were able to catch a freight crossing the lift bridge. Several of us then headed for Hastings, Minnesota and were rewarded as the eastbound Empire Builder crossed the bridge into Wisconsin as it started down the CP line to Milwaukee. We grabbed lunch at a trackside restaurant, missing only one train as we ate, and then headed back to Shoreview to end the convention. Along the way we were able to catch several more freights on the busy St. Croix Subdivision.