The spring deluges are over, the crowds are gone, and the heat indexes are now well less than triple digits across the northern tier. Having made fools of ourselves during the short couple months of summer, sanity has returned, as have the kids to school. Lovely 70s weather today, so I made a leisurely parts run, with a stop here at the End O’ Line Railroad Museum in Currie, Minnesota. They’re closed for the season, but it’s a public park and half the exhibits are outdoors anyway… Heck, besides the bathroom being open, the WiFi was too! There’s a steam locomotive on the right, one of their two cabooses on the left, the station’s in the background, and a tiny Brookville diesel switcher and the turntable are just out of view on the left.
So we’ve got a month or three of the best riding of the year before the glaciers return up here… Time to enjoy the changing colors (the goldenrod’s been brilliant lately), light traffic, and off season rates. Follow that up with the annual unorganized “old iron survey” after the leaves leave the trees… What’s not to like?
First down! Actually was probably the 2nd, but the other BMW 1200 GSA rider who tried this alternative parking technique got his vertical before I could get there with the “Instant Replay” camera. Both of these BMW behemoths were on compromised street/dual sport tires, and the clay surface was so saturated as to be difficult to walk on. Meanwhile an airhead GS, KLR, and BMW 650 single on proper dual sport tires and even a ‘hack on car tires motor’d right on through…
GSA upright again, and stayed that way. The ATVers going the other way were nice folks who held up while we rode through the slippery section, then helped us upright the grounded GSA… So much for the stereotype of selfish ATV speed demons!
And with that preponderance I’ll rest my case and plead the fifth… I still can’t figure out if we was legal or not, and the Deputy that met us at the next stop wasn’t either! The trail had no signs indicating that we had to pay a fee, but the signs showed pictographs of motorcycles as well as ATVs, etc.. Some of our group bought a trail pass, only to find out that it was for an ATV and not a motorcycle. Another tried to buy a trail pass, but they only had passes for ATVs… No wonder the Deputy let us go… Given the weather, we would have been innocent by reason of insanity!
If I may refresh a few memories, at the risk of setting off some political PTSD, just after memorial day I was drafted, dragged, and gang pressed into running for state legislature on the democratic ticket. I hoped the party would come to their senses and recognize the error of their ways, but instead they gave my campaign enough money to qualify for a state campaign subsidy of even more money. So there’s been no escape, and I’ve wasted much of my summer on the campaign trail. I say wasted because normally I’d do a dozen or two parades with the sidecar outfits for the local candidates, ranging across several districts and even into neighboring states. But forced to focus on my district alone, I’m down to a half dozen or so parades, which the hack’d Guzzi Quota has handled handily.
So here I sit, just a couple weeks shy of Labor Day and but one parade on said Labor Day left on the schedule. The last county fair in my district was over yesterday, and all that’s on the calender is some weeknight meetings and a last fundraiser or three. As if I need another fundraiser… I’ve got more than enough money to campaign on an airhead budget, heck, don’t think I’ve spent even a thousand dollars so far. That leaves $5k to blow plus the $3k in state subsidy that’s on the way, in a district that would take $50k for a democrat to maybe win. The campaign finance laws won’t let me spend that largesse on additions to my motorcycle fleet, so essentially I have to blow a few thousand dollars on a loosing race… Which is a true waste. Worse yet, having a garage full of signs and literature with “Diana for House” sets me up to be drafted to run again in 2016…
Now with parade season winding down, the party is telling me that I should be out knocking on doors and talking to voters… I suspect the voters have a better term for this activity. Given that there are 30,000 or so voters in my 80 mile long district and only ’bout 75 days to the election, that means I have a mere 400 voters a day to talk to, and we’d have about a whole 2 minutes each to talk… I don’t this is gonna work out. Now in the competitive districts they got started on this back before the snow melted in May, and they’ve got a dozen or more volunteers and staffers to help with this chore. I’ve yet to have any staff assigned or have a volunteer offer to doorknock, and the party hasn’t sent anybody out here to do so either. Heck, I don’t even have a campaign chair or treasurer, never mind a fundraiser, volunteer coordinator, and a few computer gurus. So I’m back to my political SOP: If the party or anybody else wants to come out and doorknock, I’ll doorknock with them… Otherwise I know better than to even attempt that thankless task!
So I have to blow a few grand on advertising or something campaign related between now and the first tuesday in November, make a few weeknight appearances at candidate forums that my opponent will probably be a no show at, and this whole nonsense will mercifully be over in a couple months. That means I may have a chance to attend some fall rallies… This rally rat is ready to turn off the campaign trail and onto the road to the rallies!
You can still get from here to there, but you’d best not be in a hurry…
The schedule of what was once one of Amtrak’s most timely trains, the legendary Empire Builder, has become a joke. Last “peak season”, both UPS and FedEx were lucky to get deliveries made by New Years. Midwest states have raised truck weight limits on main roads, only to have trucks forced to haul reduced loads due to deteriorating bridges and secondary roads. After switching much of it’s intermodal freight from Union Pacific to BNSF because UP was too congested, BNSF is now so congested that they’ve dropped much of their expedited service because they couldn’t keep their own schedule. And fly right over this terrestrial transport mess? Sure, if you ever get through the airport, and your luggage should be catch up with you in a day or two. It gets worse… Out here in the rural midwest, we’ve still got grain on the ground from last years harvest, ’cause the elevators are full. And with the drought disappearing, we’ve got another record crop on the way. We’ve looked at those piles of last years corn and more in the fields all summer, and now we’re starting to talk about it in a worried way. The recession is giving way to an economic recovery, but our transportation system hasn’t recovered from decades of disinvestment.
We’ve got GPS and radar and all, how did we get into this nationwide traffic jam? Railroads haul the biggest chunk of our freight, and after overbuilding that drove many to bankruptcy, they’ve been tearing up tracks and pruning their networks since the depression until recently. And while tracks have been improved, almost no new rail routes have been built in nearly a century.
Our roads are even more ragged, with our system of US highways laid out near a century ago with little additions since, save for adding a few lanes. The Interstate System was laid out in the 1930s, finally funded in the 50s, and largely completed in the 60s and 70s… Our population has doubled since then. The routes chosen reflected mail volumes back in the planning stages of the system, and no longer reflect actual needs for highways.
Ain’t moving any better and certainly not faster on the water, with our depression era locks and dams limiting the volume of freight that can be moved by this greenest mode to depression levels. But for a few dredging projects to accommodate new Panamax ships, our harbors are as old and obsolete or older. Pipelines? Good luck getting permits to build anything beyond a small water main. Same with our airports, many of them sited in the original aviation boom of the 1920s and now caged by the urban areas that grew up around them.
So while the rest of the world is building high speed passenger trains and superports with autonomous vehicles that can move 40 ton containers, why are we stuck in traffic jams, sidings, port ques, and overcrowded airports? Let’s look at my home state, Minnesota, where both parties have formed a strange coalition to make sure not much of any new transportation assets get built. How? The republicans don’t want to pay for transportation infrastructure, and especially not passenger rail… Even if they’re largely federally funded and all the state has to cough up is a 20% to 50% match. Yep, we even have a republican governor wannabe, Marty Seifert, who wants to raid the state’s “rainy day fund” to the tune of 150 million dollars to patch the roads. This is the same Marty Seifert who as a state house majority leader asked the republican governor to refuse federal highway funds because he didn’t want to raise gas taxes to raise the 20% state match. Sorry Marty, but our transportation backlog is so big that we’ll need billions not millions to catch up, and are you going to rob the kids or the seniors to “balance” the budget during the next economic downturn? The other half of this coalition for transportation constipation is the urban democrats who think highways are an evil force that allows two million people to escape the barely hundred square miles of the core cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul for the suburbs. Add in global warming and the perceived threat of incineration brought on by those lengthy ten mile commutes to and between suburbs, and this bloc of metro democrats has blindly joined with the republicans to ensure that no more lane miles get built nowhere, with the exception of a ten mile or so light rail line every decade or so.
With our same old highways jammed, shippers increasingly have been hauling their freight straight to the railroad tracks. Thus intermodal freight volume hardly even slumped during the recession, and with the recovery we’re seeing a new intermodal volume record practically every week. ‘Twas great while the railroads had surplus capacity to sell, and it’s been nice to have BNSF and the other railroads to serve as an alternate route… But that alternate route’s getting all jammed up too. In many cases it ain’t the railroad’s fault- BNSF is pouring half their profit, five billion dollars, into upgrading their tracks and trains this year. But as the transportation safety valve for much of the western two thirds of the country, BNSF is still struggling as more and more grain, intermodal freight, and now crude oil too move from congested highways and pipelines to it’s tracks.
As a candidate I’ve been talking to some of the farm groups, and they’re looking for alternate routes for their products too… One even asked if I’d support allowing South Dakota sized 70+ ton double trailer grain rigs in Minnesota. Maybe on 4 lane highways, but we’ve got so many restricted bridges that there can’t be many viable routes. And where are they going to find all these trailers and qualified drivers in the midst of the worsening driver (pay) shortage? From what I’m hearing, the proposed destination for all these convoys of grain are the Great Lakes ports at Duluth and Superior and the Mississippi ports at Red Wing and Winona. Lotta grain that’ll move, with the Soo locks limiting ships to 600 feet… Heck, some of the billionaires yachts are getting that big! Worse yet, the over a dozen Mississippi locks can’t fit more than a few barges of a 15 barge tow at a time.
So where is all this transportation constipation taking us, long term? Look around the world and you’ll find all too many examples of countries with vast resources, human and otherwise, that remain undeveloped and their people impoverished due to lack of functional transportation. Unless we bite the bullet and invest in transportation again, that’s our future… A poorer America where high transportation costs drive up the price of everything and drive good jobs elsewhere.
The benchmark for BMWMOA annual rally attendence is 10,000. To achieve that number requires a rally near population centers, moderate weather, decent camping and riding in the area, and a reasonable value for the riders dollars. BMWMOA got it right on the first one with something like thirty million people within a days ride of the rally site, the weather cooperated, but the metro area traffic didn’t help. But BMWMOA did themselves in with the $80 nonmember admission fee- They could have cut that in half, garnered the same revenue, and made a lot of new friends in the process. Better yet, give free admission for the whole rally with a new membership, then on saturday let anybody in for a modest fee, say $10 or so. With the fixed costs of the rally pretty much the same whether 5,000 or 20,000 riders attend, why not bring in some more riders and revenue?
But then they wouldn’t be so “exclusive” a club…
I should have taken the hint when I visited the BMW car dealer last fall…
‘Twas out shopping for a new car, and the specs of BMW’s new 3 series diesel looked tempting, especially the wagon with the 4 by 4 option. So I pulled into the Sioux Falls dealer in my faithful decade old VW Golf TDI and saunter in in my usual gearhead fashion ensemble… well worn jeans, t-shirt, and jacket to suit the day’s weather. Spot the diesel right on the showroom floor, and there’s the hood release just like in an H2O VW by the driver’s left knee, so I give it a pull and go round front to find the safety catch… Where’d it go? After a minute the receptionist comes over and inquires, and I ask how to complete the hood opening process. All this time, a couple salesmen have been unmoved in their adjoining glass offices, but for the usual continual updating of their social media, no doubt. Receptionist comes back a minute later, tells me to give the hood latch by the left knee a second pull, and that does the trick.
I spend a good five minutes looking over filter and drain locations and such, and all the while the salesmen remained unmoved. Sauntered out in my best blue collar arrogance, noting the inflated to $50k window sticker on the 4 by 4 diesel wagon out on the lot. Couple weeks later bought a new Golf TDI Wagen that does 99% of what the BMW does at half the price. But little did I realize that BMW, a socially responsible company to a fault, had blown me off for a reason. If I’d bought that Bimmer and after the too short warranty ran out had it die in the Black Hills, it’d be the better part of a thousand dollar tow home to the nearest BMW car dealers 350 miles away in Billings or Sioux Falls, then a few thousand more to fix it. And after getting soaked $500+ for a paralever driveshaft that didn’t even last 60k miles, I don’t want to even think of the damage a BMW car with a half dozen or so driveshafts could do the my wealth and mental health!
So, though I didn’t understand it at the time, those BMW salesman weren’t being lazy snobs, they we’re assuring that the financially unworthy like myself don’t get impoverished by a BMW vehicle and end up holding a “Will work for food” sign on the nearest major intersection to where their BMW dies. Now the growing legions of former BMWMOA members such as myself have no doubt noted how BMWMOA is increasingly taking it’s cues from Bavarian mothership BMW itself. And like many, I became more than a little angry when I heard that BMWMOA would be charging $80 admission at the gate for the pleasure of shopping the purveyors of overpriced farkles, test riding new $30k Beemers, and trying to sleep on asphalt next to a busy railroad yard.
Yeah, I’m kinda slow on the uptake, but now I get it… BMWMOA could have just copied the Back to the 50s Car Show at the same venue last month and let the great unwashed motorcycling masses in the gate for $10 and filled their dwindling treasury. But BMWMOA is sacrificing crass profit and protecting us financially unworthy gearheads from ourselves, lest we max out our credit cards on thousand dollar GPSs, hard bags, riding suits, and even high fashion helmets.
So thank you BMWMOA, I’ve already got GPS on my phone and tablet and mapping software on the netbook. New riding suit? Aerostitch is just up the road with the world’s best and everything else a rider will ever need, and admission and even beverages are free. Hard bags… The $200 soft bags are holding up fine after 100,000+ miles, and unlike BMW’s they fit just about anything. So thank you again, BMWMOA… The $80 you’ve saved me will pay for an oil change for all three of my airheads!