Sunday, December 7, 2008


Kiddy Land, Train Conducting Hobos
And the

Irrational Rationale

Do you ever really wonder if anyone actually has a plan for the universe? I mean is there really anyone out in the abyss of wayward industrial thought sitting there and carefully weaving a blueprint while everyone else is hopelessly adrift in the ever churning sea of conflicting industrial goals? Is there a point where a universal light will go on all at once in our redundantly separate industrial closets?

I wonder about this kind of stuff often. In fact, one might say that I’m slightly obsessed about such stuff. I imagine the reason I am is that I was born with a rather unusual mass of gray matter packaged between my ears. From this package, I have always looked upon individual issues as being connected a broad range of much larger issues. Thus, this manner of thinking affects how I choose to view the Canadian National Railway’s intention of purchasing the EJ&E rail line on the outskirts of Chicago, Illinois.

From what I have managed to gather, this purchase in either its most complicated or simplest of terms is taking the problem of moving freight in and out of one area only to place it into another. While relocating the movement of this freight out from the center of an overwhelmingly congested Midwestern freight hub to its lesser congested western suburban fringes will serve to make that movement of freight more efficient, such efficiency is not necessarily an indicator of anyone’s ability to consider this move as part of master industrial plan. If in fact it were a part of a master industrial plan, not only would such relocation be happening in Chicago but everywhere else in the country as well and in a timely manner.

I mean if this really was such a superb reflection on the evolved 21st century brilliance we are all supposed to be coming to, why are people all over America still waiting for freight trains while idling in their idling cars in long lines of idling motorists idling in even longer lines of more idling cars?

Given this seemingly and inescapably obvious truth and given the way my mind thinks, I have to think that if instead of rerouting rail freight traffic, we were instead to simply reroute the freight, how would such rerouting actually unfold? Going a step further, what if redefining that freight actually came before rerouting it? Going even further, what if before we redefined that freight, we redefined the industries that created that freight in the first place. Is there any reason in the world for freight originally manufactured in Canada or anywhere in the northern Midwestern manufacturing region of America to disrupt the daily lives of commuters everywhere else in America where that freight is eventually shipped to?

While there are an awful lot of transportation experts pondering these same thoughts right at the moment, are any of them thinking in unison? From the response western Chicago suburbs are having with this whole transaction, I would suggest that most likely they are not.

As I was born with an unusual mass of gray matter between my ears and an equally unusual approach to looking at one problem as part of a network of many more problems, I in fact have been looking upon this whole puzzle in a unified manner. As the solutions to our most complicated problems as human beings can generally be found within the calm of simple mindedness, in my simple mindedness, the calm I arrive at has to do with Kiddy Land and Train Conducting Hoboes.

Kiddy Land was the amusement park of my youth. It was the place we as children went to imagine ourselves living in world designed to the scale of people who were approximately four feet tall and far less complicated than the world people taller than four feet actually had to live and do business in. Of all the memories I have of Kiddy Land, it was the memory of the oblong railroad that struck me the most. In just a few short moments, I could get on that train at one point and disembark at another without any inconvenience whatsoever. It was in my childhood mind, the perfect form of transportation.

Listening to the angst of all who are going to be affected by the relocation of freight traffic from within the city limits of Chicago to its outskirts, the Kiddy Land railway comes to mind. The other thing that comes to mind is that if in the shifting of this rail freight traffic, the need to build new over and under passes must be addressed and currently neither the railroad nor the government has the ability to pay for such rail improvements, should our focus on improving be instead our focus on expansion. Within that expansion should oblong alternative transportation spurs be incorporated into each and every town the freight train passes through?

If we are to assume that restructuring the industries that produce that freight means that we are in turn redefining the architectural footprint of national manufacturing industries into regional manufacturing industries that actually produce the products we will need to technologically upgrade every home within a given locale, does it make sense to have national railways or would be of far greater efficiency to re-regulate national railways into regional railways.

Does one or do several hundred rail cars need to be connected to a train that traverses several thousand miles across our entire country only to be parked in freight yards in Louisiana after being spray painted by LA gang bangers? I mean, aside from the culture enrichment such practices bring our nation as a whole today, shouldn’t an El Paso hobo buy a ticket on Amtrak to get to New York City rather than lie in squalor upon the floor of a freight car. In as much as I love the music of Arlo Guthrie, if our national rail lines were not cluttered with freight trains would our passenger trains move along just a little bit faster. In fact would our passenger trains then be free to become passenger/alternative vehicle/specialty freight trains?
Given the nature of our supposedly complicated industrial mess and as a result of the fact that I have an unusual collection of gray matter between my now aging ears, there are times when the pressures of trying to figure out this how industrial mess causes me to retreat back into my oblong railroad childhood. Generally speaking, when this occurs I develop an overly defensive posture. Essentially, in my retreat from that adult world, I simply take my toys home with me and re-enter the solitude of my childhood.

As I have more or less managed to do this throughout my adult life, those that know me know that what appears to be my unwillingness to deal with the adult world is really nothing more than retrieving what it is that I lost from my childhood. Having said this, I want to suggest that every adult does the same thing. In addition, I want to say that if we don’t do this occasionally for ourselves, we eventually run into a wall of economic depression. Quite similar the depression we as adults are experiencing universally in our nation today, I am convinced that the remedy for this depression lies in the forgotten impressions that shaped our childhood imaginations.

Having said this and being somewhat of an expert on escaping back to my childhood, I remember watching old western movies along with riding oblong Kiddy Land trains. In those movies trains were always present. And on those trains box cars and passenger cars were always attached to one another. Out of the passenger cars always came the well dressed easterners traveling west, underdressed westerners returning back from traveling east and horses who somehow found themselves traveling every which way. Along with the easterners, the westerners and the horses were always an array of new fangled gadgets invented and manufactured in one place and to the amazement of those who did not know of such inventions found themselves in another.

Times of course have changed a great deal since the days of early western movies, but to anyone who chooses to revisit their childhood for the purpose of reflection and inspiration, the question is have they? If our national rail lines were devoid of national freight trains and in turn were used strictly as national passenger/alternative vehicle/specialty freight trains, would the horse that once traveled to and fro become the alternative vehicle that does the same? In the process would we not be collectively benefiting from the economic boom of manufacturing both the vehicle and the subsequent re-engineering and remanufacturing of the freight car? Would the freight cars that once held gadgets invented from afar also be re-engineered and in the process become communication offices from which regional freight spurs were managed.

It strikes me that perhaps the reason why we are left with argument as opposed to collective consensus as to the efficient movement of freight across our nation today is that we don’t see it within the simplicity of what such movement actually implies. All we really need to move across the rail lines of America are the loved ones we have on the east coast so that they may be free to visit with the loved ones we have on the west coast. On the occasions in which I have traveled, I have never done so with the intention of taking my work with me. Having said this and having suggested that regional manufacturing hubs that produce regional products that are shipped on regional railways, if for some reason I do have to look at my work when traveling from Chicago to LA, I can always stop in Omaha and again stop in Denver to have a beer with the folks who operate the regional solar manufacturing facilities I’m associated with in Chicago.

As I am convinced that with every problem that becomes monumental in scope lies a solution remarkably simple in context, our nation’s current set of problems I am certain have to do with the fact that the vast majority of us refuse to revisit our childhood imaginations. Within that refusal is then the greater portrait of our collective American failure to allow ourselves the freedom to nurture and be nurtured, to dream and play and to collectively prosper in Kiddy Land.

The Woodworker

M. Patrick Dahlke