I live but a hundred yards from the tree lined BNSF tracks, and it’s been a colorful fall. I’m not just talking about the fall colors, I’ve been seeing a rainbow of colors of locomotives pass by this fall and all summer- Besides BNSFs latest colors, I’ve seen Santa Fe “warbonnets”, BN green, CSX blue, NS black, CIT Leasing blue, CP candy apple red,  Mexican TFM, and even locomotives in primer with their numbers spray painted on. You’d think BNSF was running out of locomotives… And they are! Despite buying new locomotives as fast as they can be built, BNSF is having to lease anything and everything that can move itself and a few freight cars down the tracks under it’s own power. And when BNSF or any railroad is short of locomotives, carloads full of freight sit.

But gee, aren’t all the delays on BNSF caused by those new oil trains?

Well partly, as oil by rail grew from almost nothing to several unit trains a day these last few years. But look through the last few years of American Association of Railroads (AAR) reports and you’ll note new record rail freight volumes set repeatedly as our economy recovered from the recession and shippers switched freight from trucks to more economical rail. The railroads running through the Bakken oilfields, CP and BNSF, got hit too with a double whammy of oil trains out and pipe and frac sand in. CP had a simple strategy to deal with this “problem”, chase the customers away. But BNSF, ever faithful to their common carrier obligations, took on the challenge.

I hear somebody in the back row muttering “BS, it’s all the oil trains fault!”

The effects are being seen far from the oil train’s routes from the Bakken to, largely, the densely populated coasts and ports. In northeastern Minnesota a mining company is hiring trucks to move a hundred truckloads a day of taconite from a processing plant on the iron range to the port of Duluth. No oil trains run on those tracks, in fact it’s almost a whole separate railroad from the rest of BNSF, used almost exclusively by unit taconite trains shuttling from the range to Duluth and back. On the Minnesota-South Dakota border, the Big Stone power plant is complaining that BNSF isn’t delivering enough coal… But the rail line they’re on carries no oil trains, and most of the couple trains a day the line sees carry coal to the power plant. It takes workers, freight cars, tracks, and locomotives to keep a railroad running. Workers can be hired and trained, and BNSF was doing that all through the recession. Same with rolling stock and tracks, with BNSF never skimping on maintenance.

But locomotives?

There’s only two manufacturers that build them in any volume, and volume in this case means a thousand total units in a good year. Those two “volume” producers are EMD and GE, with a handful of glorified rebuilders cranking out the odd new locomotive or three a year. EMD was bought up by GM in 1930 and virtually invented the diesel-electric locomotive with their characteristic two stroke engine, at one time building a couple thousand a year. GE is a relative upstart that got into the freight locomotive biz in the 60s with an iffy product that was sold mostly by easy credit. But GE gradually improved their product, passing EMD in sales a few years back. Over a year before the tighter 2015 locomotive emissions standards took effect, GE demonstrated a locomotive that met the tough new standards.

Meanwhile, GM first tore down the EMD locomotive assembly plant at “the home of the diesel locomotive” in LaGrange, Illinois and shifted assembly to a smaller plant in Canada. That plant was so small that large orders had to be subcontracted out, and one railroad even assembled their locomotives themselves. Then in the ongoing GM liquidation that was eventually formalized by bankruptcy filing, in 2005 GM unloaded EMD on “private equity” investors. Said “private equity” raiders then cashed out, selling EMD to arch rival Caterpillar in 2010. Cat proceeded to do what all poorly run modern corporations do… Set up a new assembly plant staffed with non union workers, then lock out the skilled union workers at the Canadian assembly plant. Following that poor example, GE opened a new assembly plant in Fort Worth while threatening to lay off veteran union workers at their old locomotive assembly plant in Pennsylvania. At least GE took the new emissions                   standards seriously…

But it appears that the “private equity” raiders and Cat were too busy asset stripping and union busting to be bothered with making their locomotives meet the 2015 emissions standards. Wasn’t like they hadn’t been warned- the new locomotive manufacturers were give near a decade’s notice. Cat ‘fessed up this summer that they’ll meet the standards by 2017… After they’ve been off the market for two long years! T’ain’t the first time Cat slept while emissions standards changed- Their truck engines built to meet the 2007 standards were such lemons that owners are filing class action suits against Cat. And when the tighter 2010 truck emissions standards went into effect, Cat pulled out of the market and nearly five years later still doesn’t have a truck engine that can meet the standards.

So the legendary EMD two stroke diesel is just about down for the count… Cat can use engines built before 2015 and emissions credits to build new freight locomotives for a bit into 2015, and they’ve got a contract to build a few passenger locomotives that use a Cat “high speed” diesel that meets the 2015 standards. Competitors Cummins and MTU have “high speed” diesels in the desired 4000 horsepower range that meet the standards too, but the railroads have a bad taste from Cat repowers of EMDs a couple decades ago, and an engine that turns at the “high speed” of 1800 RPM instead of the traditional locomotives 900 doesn’t sit well with railroad mechanical departments that expect a couple decades service and millions of miles before rebuild. Cat already list EMD as a division of their Progress Rail division, a smaller outfit that makes railway maintainence equipment. The EMD website is in need of updating, and I suspect it and EMD will soon disappear and join Alco and Baldwin in the graveyard of american locomotive manufacturing.

Now with a recession proof market with little competition and high profitability, you’d thing new manufacturers would jump into the ring… Not likely, given that you need 100 ton plus overhead cranes and metal melding equipment capable of cutting and welding two inch thick slabs of steel just to build locomotive frames, never mind a few hundred thousand square feet of space just to cover today’s monster locomotives. So GE will likely have a lonely but profitable future as america and pretty much the world’s sole volume locomotive manufacturer. And thanks to the Wall Street whiz kids that have been filleting our once great manufacturers, instead of two locomotive manufacturers that can’t keep up with the demand for locomotives, we’ll soon have one manufacturer that in no way, shape, or form can keep up with the demand.

Well, the end is in sight for my “keep the republican opponent busy” run for the state house. In fact, it’s so boring that you can pretty much predict the results- My party (democrats) have double digit polling leads in the governors and U.S. senate races here in Minnesota. In the races for our 8 congressional seats, the only one in play is on the other side of the state, with the incumbent expected to hold their seat in every other race. In the state house races, my party holds a narrow majority they could easily loose in this low turn out off year election. The polling shows democrats leading by 8% in a statewide generic house ballot, identical to their margin of victory in the last election. But the polls also show a huge spread between urban and rural voters party preferences, with democrats winning in the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area by up to 40% margins while tieing in the outer ring suburbs and losing slightly in the rural areas. That suggests an electoral bloodbath out here in rural Minnesota, but with democrats picking up enough seats in the suburbs to maintain control of the state house. Wish I could help some of my fellow democratic candidates in those neighboring rural districts out, but I’m tied down here in my district by the make-work responsibilities of a campaign and campaign finance laws… Help another candidate, and I may get accused of illegally transferring campaign funds to them. So here I sit with a bit over $8k of donations and state campaign subsidy, $2k or so spent, and I need to spend over $1k more or I’ll have to pay some of the subsidy back to the state.

Now of course, some of my donors and party leaders are now asking why I’m not littering their mailboxes and airwaves with campaign spam. Well, I could spend every cent of that $10k on ads and such, and end up losing by 18% instead of 20%… This is such a republican district that even if my opponent got charged with a felony between now and the election, he’d still win, and probably by a double digit margin. None the less, I’ve spent all too many hours in the last week trying to turn a template the party “gave” me into a passable campaign flyer. After downloading (the cell modem bill has now gone into triple digits) a trial version of a pricey Adobe program, I’ve managed to insert my name and such into the template and print out a sample on USPS approved thickness card stock. Still couldn’t insert my picture (the only good ones I have are on a motorcycle), then the program froze up… Looks like I’ll have to finish the job with an old school paste up.  Was thinking of answering the call of campaign duty and spend today on the computer trying to fix it, then I looked at the weather forecast… 64 degrees!

Campaign work can wait for the deer ridden nights or a cold snowy day… I’m going ridin’!

DSC_3032Where are the RVs? Not even a pickup, if you really look hard there’s a BMW MINI there somewhere, but otherwise it’s a pristine 4 wheeler free rally. Unlike the pretenders on their Harleys and new BMWs, the Guzzi riders ride. Heck, I rode 400 miles to this here Mo-Kan Guzzi Rally, and was nowhere near being in contention for Long Distance Rider awards in any category!

DSC_3035OK, finally found  an old SUV over by the victuals… Even a Guzzi would have struggled to haul that whole hog cooker and what looked to be a ton of victuals there. The bikes pictured were typical of those at the rally, decades old Guzzi workhorses who’s odometers had been turned over a few times. And following Guzzi rally SOP, the food never stopped- Chili friday night, full breakfast saturday morn, pulled pork and chicken with all the trimmin’s saturday night, plus a decent band each night. That was just the advertised victuals… They kept the chili warm for the late arrivers and late night munchers on friday night, reheated the leftovers for lunch saturday, kept the pulled meats and trimmin’s warm for late night saturday munchers, then surprised us with fresh pastries to send us on our way sunday. And to wash it all down, their were bottomless resevoirs of at least a trio of beers from the tapper trailer, coffee, lemonade, cocoa, or any combination of the above you were drunk enough to make. These Guzzi folks don’t know how to throw a bad rally, and half the BMW clubs should just sub out there rallies to the Guzzi folks and be down with it!.

But the bestest was the gear head get-togethers around the campfire… Amazing the gear heads you meet at a rally. Couple decades back I learned the real reason Chrysler built a V-10 that had no advantage over a V-8, and Ford was even dumb enough to slavishly match it with their own unneeded V-10. So as gear heads are often wont to do, a bit after sunset on saturday I felt a need to get online and research Australian B-Double “pocket road trains”. My questions half answered, ’bout an hour later a met a Guzzi riding trucker who’s actually driven B-Doubles in Oz… Who needs Google, when you’ve got gear heads ’round the campfire!

DSC_2684Tractor pulls… That V8 was an OEM option, right?

DSC_2877Yup, thats a tractor too… One in front of it even has a hardtop!

DSC_2967Checkin’ out the “heavy metal”… Yup, all 3 of ‘em are driven!

DSC_2975Who needs “Bigfoot” when Western Star will build you one? Looked to be a bit over width for even South Dakota, and with the sand tires probably headed overseas after they put a Tel-Elect on it.

DSC_2998Ya, that Kawasaki 4 was a factory John Deere option too…

DSC_3018Damn hooligan hot rodders! You send ‘em out to mow the lawn and till the garden, and…  The garden tractor pullers put on a good show, with a pull a minute pace!

DSC_3021Nice 60s Autocar seen at the Big Iron show, aluminum frame but owner thought the solid cab was steel. For sale at a reasonable price, too…

DSC_3023This can’t be North Dakota? The Sheyenne River valley at Fort Ransom, site of the Dakota Classic Rally. It really was North Dakota, had to climb up this hill to get a cell signal!

1409674260611The 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?

DSC_2898Fog, mist, forecast 90% chance of rain… The Harleys were cowering in their garages. this was just the “transit stage” from the campground (ya, we camped in this crud) to the trailhead.

DSC_2911Seemed like an easy ATV/ORV trail, a wide, flat, and barely curving railroad bed that was like riding up a really long farm driveway… Coulda done this with a street bike!

DSC_2945First 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!


Further evidence…


 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!

 And besides caring for us at the local asylum, they’d have had Justin to deal with…DSC_2901




DSC_2524If 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!





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