A “Slight” Change of Plans

Wow! YOU had quite a change of plans late last week, didn’t you? The “health crisis” is striking all of us in ways we didn’t imagine. 

Before going further, I have to interject this: THE WINTERSET LIBRARY’S RAILROAD ROUNDTABLE, WHICH I TOUTED HIGHLY LAST WEEK, IS CANCELED. So are a slew of other library activities. 

Early Friday morning, I was so struck by what I saw in the grocery store--odd shortages of merchandise here and there--that I forgot to buy the very blueberries that I had intended to buy, needed for breakfast Saturday. Oh well, I’d stop back late afternoon and get them. No big deal. At 4 p.m., the small shortages of some items had become gaping holes in numerous places, due to panic buying. And NO 48 ounce frozen blueberries. None in the other grocery store either. There I bought the last smaller, more expensive (per ounce) size it had. 

At Friday coffee, nine-year-old Hazel came in with her father and brother. She eagerly greeted friends she hadn’t seen for a few weeks, and then settled into spending time with me. Hazel made plans for what she and I would do next week, now this Friday, sitting together in our spot on the floor. All of her good plans for the joyous time we would have together are dust in the wind. As was my plan to credit her, at the roundtable, with the inspiration for making the first “Occasional Roundtable” Railroad Experiences. 

At least I’m lucky on toilet paper. I have some. Thus I’m not yet caught in the Catch-22 of not having it, and it not being available. The plumbers are going to love the shortage, when people start using paper towels and other NO-NOs instead. Readers, DON’T DO IT. 

As often happens, it will be those most affected by the measures imposed to deal with the crisis who will be worst affected by them. This includes children, the old, the ill and the poor. In times of crisis children need the security of the usual, the commonplace, especially school. We should not be giving such a sigh of relief that the crisis has struck during spring break. Many of our children will be out and about, and more exposed to the virus, than if they were in school. Teen drivers will also be doing other dangerous activities, with greater than usual intensity. We know full well that people in nursing homes need variety and especially contact with other people, yet nursing homes are placed, must be placed, on lockdown against visitors. How well will other ill persons recover without visitors to encourage them? And the financial and emotional burden of the measures taken during the crisis will be especially cruel for the poor. 

I had long planned to share with you, today, a touching, but sad, special story. That is now inappropriate. Fortunately, I have a very good “backup”, the very story that Railroad Roundtable participants would have heard told, but now won’t. Because I refuse to cut any word you’ll get only part of it today, as you ride, on Mar. 28, 1872, the new train to Winterset. Today’s part is good, but the very best part is yet to come. 

From Des Moines to Winterset.

Up the Three-River County by Rail. 

(Part 1.)

To him who has in times past and oft made the passage from the Capital of Iowa to the Capital of the Three River Country [Winterset] by those ancient vehicles known as “jerkeys,”--the motive power being two festive corn-fed steeds from the Western Stage Company’s barn--the change to a comfortable coach on the iron rail is most gratifying. Stage riding may be an agreeable undertaking to those who have sins to do penance for, but people with consciences as clear as those of newspaper reporters have no need of penance, and so when, yesterday morning, Superintendent Royce extended us an invitation to accompany him on a trip to Winterset over the new railroad we gladly accepted, and shed no tear over the varnished glories of staging times. At the depot we find the train under charge of Conductor R. I. Scott--the pioneer conductor on the Rock Island Road into Council Bluffs--and as careful and intelligent a captain of trains as one could ask to ride with. At the throttle was Master Mechanic Hinckley--the man whose cool head and skilled hands manage the extensive repair shops of the Rock Island company at this place [Des Moines]. Among the official passengers was Road Master Careon [?], the man in whom, more than all others, is owing the superior condition both of the Indianola and Winterset roads, and of the main line west. 

Promptly at eight o’clock the train moves out from the depot, and curving shortly southward, sped away across ‘Coon River down the valley of the Des Moines. The city fades from view as we round South Park and strike the bluffs just beyond. These are immense coal beds. The veins are three and a half feet thick, cropping out at the very verge of the bluffs, and extending in to an immeasurable distance. Several of these mines are now being operated, but not one tenth as many as could be, should the demands of the market require it. There are thousands of acres of coal lands on these bluffs and the supply of fuel is practically inexhaustible. Passing these and leaving that classic locality known as “Rattlesnake Bend” on the left, we arrive at Avon. 

Here are substantial works of the kind of improvement which comes with the whistle of the locomotive--new houses, stores, warehouses. Here, too, is the only gravel bed on the line, and Superintendent Royce has purchased it for ballast. [To be continued; from Daily Iowa State Register, Des Moines, Fri., Mar. 29, 1872, p. 4.]

Strange Premonition

Readers, I’ve cut the first installment of our 1872 railroad ride much shorter than I originally intended, for good reason. I want to share with you something unusual that happened Sunday, something connected with the health crisis. At church service, the choir anthem was a Spanish hymn, sung in English, that I like to hear and sing. Its moving lyrics were indeed appropriate to the day. I think of it as the “Lakeshore” hymn, though the actual name is much longer. Later, after the sermon, the entire congregation sang “Spirit”, also a very expressive hymn, and again appropriate to worship that day. Even the sermon title had been unexpectedly appropriate to the day. 

While singing “Spirit”, a premonition suddenly struck me, that I would not take communion. It was baffling--I couldn’t believe that I had thought something so ridiculous. There had been nothing in any part of the service that would make me want to reject communion. A few minutes later, the pastor announced that, today, due to the health crisis, we would come forward for communion, to avoid the passing of communion. A good decision. And one that especially impacted me. 

All of a sudden, I saw that my strange thought that I would not take communion would likely become reality. As others went forward, I remained in my pew, accepting the reality of what had happened. The others were served. Then, unexpectedly, I saw a deacon bringing the communion tray over and back--back to me. With deep gratitude, I took communion. It was hard to do so, because I couldn’t see well at that moment, and my hand was trembling. It took a moment to steady my hand enough to take the rice cake (for those needing gluten-free communion) from its tiny container, and then take the wee hard-to-grasp glass of grape juice. Perhaps the special consideration will not be needed next week. I’ll know, then, to bring my transport chair, which I use as a wheelchair to prevent standing in place. 

The health crisis does indeed impact people in unusual ways. It is especially tough to think that some people, perhaps some we know, will die, from the Corona virus or from the measures taken to control it.