Hopper Rail Cars on Railroad Bridge. Each Hopper Rail Car holds well over 100 tons of a dense material like gravel, somewhat less for wood chips or grain. A single Covered Hopper Rail Car that was carrying Wheat would hold enough to grain make 258,000 loaves of bread, according to Union Pacific Railroad.
There are heroes. And then there are those among us who aim to be heroes should circumstances go their way.
The Mighty St. John
In its own way, locally as
prominent and iconic as Katahdin, the mighty St. John
River, known by the Maliseets as “Wolastoq,” runs 418
miles in length, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean’s
Bay of Fundy. For eighty miles the St. John forms the
International border between Maine and Canada. Virtually
all of Aroostook County, Maine lies within the St.
John watershed which amounts to 21,000 square
miles, one of the largest watersheds on the East
Coast. Slightly over one-third of the St. John
watershed happens to be in the State of Maine. So, if
a snowflake or raindrop falls anywhere in Aroostook it
will eventually make its way into the Atlantic
courtesy of the St. John River.
Now of course, the
phenomenon of flooding is well known most everywhere,
and our St. John River is no exception. Flood
records, in fact, have been kept for the lower basin
of the St. John River ever since 1696. It is
noteworthy that in the Upper and Middle reaches of the
St John River, in addition to those common components
usually behind flooding – excessive rainfall and snow
melt – is a powerful additional complicating element
known in the north country as “ice jams.”
However, under certain conditions, severe ice jams may form quickly and cause extensive flooding and sometimes massive destruction. On April 1, 1976, a major ice jam formed on the St John River on the uphill side of the Canadian-Pacific Railroad Bridge in the town of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, just across the line from Fort Fairfield, Maine. The ice jam caused water and ice to quickly back up. As the situation became dire, one quick-thinking official took decisive action. He ordered seventeen railroad hopper cars, idled on nearby tracks and full of thousands of tons of wood chips, to be rolled onto the CP bridge to provide additional anchoring weight against the stupendous combined forces of ice and water. His outlandish gamble worked. The reinforced bridge held until the ice jam broke up on its own. The ice then proceeded downstream allowing the backed-up flood waters to lower and flow downriver once again. That decisive steel-nerved official instantly became a local hero and a local legend.
Eleven years and one day later, there was another massive ice jam piled up against the very same Canadian-Pacific Railroad Bridge in Perth-Andover. High water was causing extensive flooding and property damage. Nineteen hundred people endangered by the flooding St. John river required evacuation. That Winter, we’d had a deep snowpack. Moderate snow-melting rains beginning towards the end of March made for high water levels on all local rivers. The result was rapid ‘thermal decay’ of the river ice which caused the ice pack to break up and flow fast and furious with the rambunctious flood waters.
Good Plan Gone Awry
At 6am on the morning of April 2, 1987, the river of ice quickly began to accumulate into an ice jam against the bottom chord of the CP bridge spanning the St. John River. This time, another official well-versed in the local-ice-jam-lore issued the order. Again, seventeen rail cars – this time around filled with chemical fertilizer, wood poles and wrapping paper were rushed into place on top of the CP bridge. However and unfortunately at 9am, three hours after the ice jam first formed, the metal members of the bridge finally succumbed to weary fatigue and catastrophically collapsed into the St. John River taking along with it all seventeen rail cars and their caustic contents. As an illustration of the breathtaking forces involved, one awol rail car - carried by the ice and surging water - was found nearly a mile downstream after having passed without incident under a highway bridge.
The 1987 St. John river flood established the as yet unmatched record and was eventually designated a 500-Year event. Flood level in 1987 was measured as being a full three-feet higher than during the earlier damaging flood of 1976.
When dealing with Mother Nature there is often no certainty. Decisions must be made, routinely in a big hurry and necessarily before the ultimate wisdom of those decisions can be determined.
You do the best you can with the hand you are dealt. Becoming a hero is anything but a sure bet.
Caleb, Jim & Megan
Texture Chart. Waxy potatoes don't need an egg
yolk when mixed with the flour, but mealy potatoes will.
- 2 Potatoes (about 1 lb), unpeeled (I used Elba)
- Pinch of Sea Salt
- 1 Egg Yolk (optional)
- 3/4 c Organic Whole Wheat Flour
- 2 tsp Olive Oil
- 4 T Unsalted Butter
- Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste
- Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese, for garnish
- Fresh Broadleaf Sage, for garnish
1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 30 - 40 minutes.
2. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan. Shake the pan gently over low heat to dry the potatoes. Let stand just until the potatoes are cool enough to handle.
3. Peel the potatoes and cut them in chunks. Pass them through a ricer or food mill. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. If using an egg yolk, make a well in the center of the potatoes and put the yolk in the well.
4. Sprinkle the potatoes with some of the flour and slowly work in. Repeat until all the flour has been added and the mixture forms a smooth, slightly sticky, dough.
5. Divide the dough into fourths, and roll each piece into a 15" long rope about 3/4" in diameter. Using a floured knife, cut each rope into thirty pieces. The gnocchi can be cooked as is; or to make decorative ridges, flour a dinner fork and roll the gnocchi under the tines.
6. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the olive oil, and then drop the gnocchi gently into the boiling water.
7. When gnocchi rise to the surface, cook 30 seconds more. Drain in a colander.
8. Melt the butter in a large skillet along with the sage and add the gnocchi. Toss gently and season with salt, pepper, and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.
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Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765 / 207 (429) - 9682
Certified Organic From Farm to Mailbox