I’ll be honest: item #34 only made my 101 list because it is a state historic site. When I created my “101 things to do in 1001 days” itinerary, I knew I wanted to include every historic site in the metro area. Why? Because I wanted to finally learn the stories behind my environment; I wanted to ‘hear’ the tales of the men and women who had come before me, and the influences they all infused into the place I now call “home” – even if those retellings could only be shared via past journals and abandoned architecture.
I wasn’t entirely certain what the Minnehaha Depot might have to share with me – and when I asked native Minnesotans about the place, none of them could really comment about the depot, either. Researching the site online didn’t exactly fill in any gaps; through the sparse depot website, I learned that the site was built in 1875 on the first railroad line west of the Mississippi River, and that it is now open just four hours every Sunday – and only from Memorial Day to Labor Day. So if I wanted to get this item checked off my dwindling list of items-still-to-do, I better hurry up and get there.
So this past Sunday, after a morning of yoga and a picnic lunch, I drove to the east side of town and pulled my car into a current-day parking spot to visit a relic from the early days of machine-enabled transportation: the passenger train.
The day was forecasted to be rainy; but when I arrived at the park that the depot is in the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the air was warm and breezy. In other words, the outdoor conditions were beautiful! Which is especially nice for visiting the depot, as the interior of the space is not climate-controlled: what happens outdoors dictates the comfort (or discomfort) of the indoors.
As I walked around the exterior and interior of the depot, I found many things were just as I ‘expected’ them to be. [Interestingly, I really do try to approach every new-to-me situation with no expectations – but invariably I find that even when I thought I was being completely open to whatever lay before me, I actually did have preconceived ideas about how the space/scene “should” be.] Yet while many sections of the depot contained traditional finds for a train station, I did encounter quite a few cool surprises. Here are some images from the time I spent there:
In a corner of the depot was a small book. I flipped it open, not entirely sure what I might find. I’m glad I took the initiative to check it out – I found a treasure trove of images from the past:
Moving from past to present…
… and spending some time exploring the present-day structure.
As I took in various scenes from the past, the thing that surprised me the most at the depot was how powerfully I connected with memories of my grandfather during the time I spent there.
Apart from four years of military service in his early 20s (he was a Sargent in the Marine Corps [Semper Fi]), my grandfather (on my dad’s side) was a railroad man his entire life. He started his career as a grunt shoveling coal into train engines; but worked his way up the railroad employment system one job at a time. By the end of his career was a master locomotive engineer – and he was damn proud of that.
As I walked around the depot and sat in the tiny station, I wondered how many small-town platforms just like this one my grandfather must have passed by during his multiple decades of railroad service. How many people did he transport from one place to another? How much freight did he ship across the Midwest? What interesting stories did he hear in his travels? What interesting stories did he create that other people still tell about him?
Immersed in the railroad environment, I felt – truly felt – a sense of my grandfather close by. So after taking pictures in and around the depot and reading all of the informational literature, I sat on the lone bench by the window overlooking the small segment of remaining railroad track, and spent some time connecting with my grandfather. I remembered his gruff demeanor: his loud voice, his too-strong-for-little-girls rough housing, his lack of tact and diplomacy (i.e., he said anything and everything that was on his mind). I reflected on his rebellious nature: he seemed to be driven to break every stated rule, to perform the opposite act of every requested action. (Example: If a sign placed on a lawn read, “Please keep off the grass,” he would march directly through the yard with gleeful defiance.) I mused about his boisterous (read: dangerous) antics: he had a strong love for guns, fire, explosives, fast cars, alcohol, and everything else that could get a person into trouble. I contemplated the deep, powerful, palpable love he had for his wife, children, and family as a whole: every time he talked about my dad [his son], my uncles [his boys], my grandma [his wife], fierce pride and vigorous admiration infused every pore of his being. He knew he was surrounded by incredible people, and he was genuinely grateful for that blessing. I thought about all of the acts of kindness he shared with others: he was always willing to give some of what he had to someone else who needed it more. He had a soft spot for disabled and disadvantaged people, and tried his best to be gentle and generous with them. I remembered the walks and talks we shared: secrets he confided in me, philosophies he offered me, and scenes from the past he recounted for me. My grandfather was a complex man – often frustrating (and sometimes downright infuriating), but also deeply loving. He had many flaws, but at his core he was truly generous and charitable. His type is a dying breed; indeed, he was one of the last Great Depression railroaders that inhabited this country. I treasure that I got to share so many years with him, and that I got to know him both as his granddaughter and as an adult peer. I love you Sarge; I hope that you and Grandma are having fun in heaven, and that you aren’t giving God too much trouble. 🙂