An American Treasure Comes to St. Johns
Last Wednesday November 9th 2005, as we were driving to Traverse City, near Lake Michigan, to set up a base camp for the crew who would be transporting the Sault Ste. Marie railcar to her new home in St. Johns, the words to the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot, kept repeating in my head. There were 50 MPH winds, and drops were forming on the windshield that looked like freezing rain!
"When the gales of November came early"
When we arrived just before dark, anxious to make things more comfortable for the team who would be working though the night to ready the railcar for the trip. "Lets turn on the heat" I said. Soon, it was toasty warm in the motor home. When the crew arrived, Chris Cook, Calvin Cook, Coby Gardner, and Paul Matheson, everything was looking good. That black cat that ran in front of us on the way up would just have to wish bad luck on someone else.
We were there about an hour, when the heat quit, because no one checked to see if we had propane. Then we blew a fuse inside a locked building owned by people who had graciously offered us power. So, we were in the dark and freezing. The winds kept blowing, and the temperature dropped and the guys worked in the face of a hurrican West Wind.
"Well fellas, it's been good to know ya"
Thursday Morning. "We are leaving at first light", we said when we planned the trip. Just so you know, first leagal light in Traverse City Michigan is 2:00 PM. Our MDOT permit said we could take off at 8:00 AM, and had to be off the road 30 minutes before sunset. I guess you could say we got a late start, but the tedious preparation was worth it because with the railcar load, 70,000 pounds more that the good old trailer weighed empty, we did not want our good crew in peril.
The guys pulled out of the lot and had to make their first turn onto busy congested city street. It was perfect! Allowed to travel at only 45 MPH, we then missed our destination by an hour, because 30 minutes before legal sunset is at the corner of M66 and M57.
Friday: First legal light today was 9:00 AM. Coby Gardner was driving the first escort vehicle, Paul Matheson was in the second escort vehicle. They worked as a team blocking off intersections, checking the heights of low-slung wires and overpasses. Chris Cook was driving the brand new sleeper cab we rented from Ryder Truck. The overall length of cab, trailer, and railcar was 102 feet. Truckers on cb's wanted to know what was under the white shrink wrap. "It looks like a train". Indeed, it is a train. Calvin Cook was in the 3rd escort vehicle. His job was to keep people from cutting in on the inside at intersctions, and to watch for anything that might look suspicious on the railcar or trailer. The base camp lumbered along to bring up the rear.
High on adrenaline, we arrived in St. Johns just about the time the Veterans Day Parade was taking place. So the 11th month, and the 11th day and the 11th hour will hold double significance for us. Chris now had to cross on to the wrong side of US27 and then back into the city municipal lot with the help of the St. Johns police blocking traffic. He did it on the first and only try!
So the railcar known as the Sault Ste. Marie built in 1902 by Barney and Smith sits on her temporary site for the winter.
It wasn't quite Lake Gitche Gumee, because Traverse City did give up her dead, so the legend of the Sault Ste. Marie can live on.