Sunday, May 20, 2012

My home town-Council Bluffs

Today the Chicago Tribune had a feature story in their Sunday issue travel section about the Iowa rail museum in Council Bluffs.  This brought back many memories about CB, Abraham Lincoln, and my interaction with railroads.
I will begin by stating that I have always been slightly embarrassed to tell others I don’t know well, that I grew up in Council Bluffs, because the mere sound of saying it would create an image in their mind that would rub off into something negative towards me.  But in my heart I hold my upbringing there to be very dear.  Just give me an opportunity to explain why growing up is something to be proud of.
If I had my way, every child in America would know that the Abraham Lincoln’s dream of a trans-continental railroad line started at Council Bluffs, Iowa. And tourist travelling through or in the larger city across the Missouri River named after the Omaha Indians, would flock to the Iowa rail museum and the Golden Spike monument that honors the completion of the Union Pacific railroad. 
Lincoln came to Council Bluffs in 1859 to deliver a speech on his abolitionist views and met General Greenville Dodge who advocated for railroads to move westward.  Lincoln apparently was pre-disposed to this idea because it had been talked about since the 1830’s. Plans were drawn up and Lincoln approved the route Dodge suggested and Dodge became the chief construction engineer. Using scores of Irish immigrates and discharged Civil War soldiers; the track was slowly laid across the plains and through the Rockies.  At the other end of the continent, the segment started at Oakland, CA met with the western bound segment at Promontory Summit north of Salt Lake City, May 10, 1869 where a golden spike was used to complete the final stroked stake.
The trip across the country changed from 6-8 months by ship around South America, to 7 days.

This is the General Dodge home, now a museum.  I went through the house with my aunt and mother just before just before it was open as a museum, lo these many years ago.
Council Bluffs became a railroad town and once was a meeting place for nine different railroads and in the 1930’s it was the third largest railroad center in the nation.  My friend’s fathers and brothers worked in some way for one of these railroads with the Union Pacific still being the major player.  I worked at the Union Pacific ice docks two summers during high school and college, icing refrigerated fruit and vegetable laded railroad cars.  When I left college for a year, I worked at UP headquarters in Omaha, while I trained at night to become an Arthur Murray dance instructor.  I was able to buy my first car, a 1950 Mercury, from my UP paychecks.
I went to Abraham Lincoln high school and there is a Lincoln Memorial on a bluff where local lore has it that Lincoln looked out from this vista across the Missouri and uttered his vision of seeing a railroad scan the continent.  I suspect that the memorial is just to honor that fact that Lincoln chose Council Bluffs as the origin, knowing that local lore gets stretched a bit in favor of a more romantic version.
Here you see Omaha in the distance.
Growing up in Council Bluffs provided both a small town atmosphere with easy access to Omaha. I rode many a street car and later a bus between the two cities. 
I always look forward to attending my class reunions and driving by the two homes I lived in there.  It seems to emphasize the journey I have traveled since I left there.