Gustav Comes To Memphis, CN President’s Island, Detoured Fly Ash – 4 September 2008

by Jim on 2013/09/04

Day 2 of my Memphis Hurrication Gustav started with my friend HAFMO at work, me out on my own taking pictures, the remnants of the hurricane from which I escaped catching up with me, and a train that normally passes through New Orleans detouring through Memphis because of the storm.  Last time, we got some shots of trains on the BNSF and UP at Kentucky Street and of a UP local delivering a Budweiser car, and we heard some unimaginative evacuee woman from Louisiana proclaim out loud in a Memphis restaurant that “Memphis is boring.”  Let’s continue today to see how “boring” Memphis is.

President’s Island And Clouds

The Canadian National Railway has a couple of jobs that serve an industrial area called President’s Island, a little peninsula in the Mississippi River south of the main part of Memphis.

You can see the storm clouds approaching as this CN job works the Cargill facility, by far the biggest railroad customer on President’s Island.

Since the time that these images were made, the switching of the Cargill facility has been contracted out to Rail Serve.

I love a “storm light” shot like the one below, with the dark clouds in the background with the foreground by contrast having sunlight.

Isn’t that neat?  It does feel a bit like the CN between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which, like this area, is along the Mississippi River.

We are nearly 400 miles from somewhere here, but where?

I had long assumed that mileposts on the Illinois Central were measured from Chicago, but it seems like Memphis is considerbly more than 394 miles from Chicago.

Well, this is fun, I guess.

Are those centerbeam flat cars in this train?  If so, what customer do they serve on the island, and what product do they carry?

Okay, it’s time to go home, well, back to my friend’s crib, and he’s at work.

“Media Suck”

This may not have been the time I read the specific e-mails I’m about to mention, but it’s a good enough time to mention it.

In Memphis at my friend’s place, I was able to check e-mail for the first time in nearly a week, and while I was happy and endeared to find e-mails from people who were checking to see if I was okay, I was a bit distraught to read e-mails from people who said that they were “glad everything went okay with Gustav.”  WTF?  I’m in Memphis!  Why?  And how do they know that “everything went okay” with Gustav?  They certainly didn’t hear it from me because I was incapable of telling them anything!  The last that any of them heard from me was before the storm.  This is what I sent from my friend’s computer in Memphis to one far-away friend who wrote to me about how she was glad that “Gustav didn’t do too much damage,” which I wondered how she knew:

I’m in Memphis, Tennessee, right now, which is the only way I can send this to you.  My home area is a mess, the worst that I’ve ever seen it.  We had 100+mph winds and were fortunate that there was no structural damage to the house, but plenty of other houses were not so spared.  There were huge oak branches all over the yard.  I sliced most of them down with a handsaw before I escaped here to Memphis, dodging curfews and downed power poles and trees in the roads.  I watched part of the roof of a concrete-steel building get blown off before my eyes, and many houses have no roofs.  My parents are still without electricity and likely will be for awhile.

What would have given her the impression that Gustav was no big deal?  Here’s what she wrote back to me:

I had no idea that Gustav was worse than the storms that you mentioned; the reporting makes it sound like a glorified rainstorm.  Media sucks; I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Yes, apparently, once it became clear that the levees in New Orleans would not be breached, the national media packed up and went home (or went to the Republican National Convention), as if Gustav had done no damage, but that’s not a reason for people to assume that Gustav was no big deal.

Gustav was not a terrible, horrible thing for my family, but it was more than a “glorified rainstorm,” and, while my family and its homes were basically okay once the electricity returned, many others in the area fared far worse.

There are several lessons to be learned from this, one of which I learned very well during the aftermath of Katrina, and that is that television is never a substitute for actually being there.  Another big lesson – or pair of lessons – is one that I preach here often, that being that just because major media don’t decide that there is a story somewhere that there isn’t a story there, but, on top of that, don’t totally rely on the media, as Freedom Of The Press is for you, not just for professional journalists; don’t assume that something is not happening somewhere just because you don’t hear about it.  Just know that you don’t know.  I’d have been far less frustrated if my out-of-area friends’ post-Gustav e-mails would have simply asked me how the storm went rather than just assume that it was all okay by telling me that they were glad that it was all okay.

There is plenty more that I could say about this, but I am really tired right now.  Just don’t assume so much.

Oh, yes, and the Republican National Convention was happening the week that I was in Memphis; the first time I heard the name Sarah Palin, I was in Memphis.  My friend and I watched that convention, and I’ve been generally sour on politics since then (well, especially after the Democratic convention a few weeks before), through the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Detoured Fly Ash Train

By late afternoon, HAFMO got off of work, and we were foaming on the BNSF line.  I guess we’re 494 miles from Kansas City here.

Prior to the Great Recession – and remember that these pictures were taken less than a month before the sudden credit crisis and economic crash of 2008 – the BNSF ran a few times a month a unit fly ash train from a coal-fired power plant at Martin Lake, Texas, to somewhere on the CSX in Florida.  That train normally passed through New Orleans, but Gustav had made New Orleans temporarily unpassable.  Here it is passing through Memphis, the long way to Florida, with, strangely enough, some KCS power.

I was pleased to see this train detouring through Memphis, and my friend, who was off of work by this time and had joined me for the foaming, was pleased to see it too, since, living in Memphis, he never got to see it.

I don’t recall ever having seen the fly ash train again after this point.  So, this may have been the last one that I saw, as the train was apparently abolished some months later.


You know that FedEx is headquartered in Memphis, don’t you?

You do know that any FedEx package that you receive that moves via air moves via the Memphis Airport (the Bricks), don’t you?

Germantown And A UP-Bound Train on the NS

We’ll end the day in Germantown.  I guess this is a newspaper’s office.

Then came Norfolk Southern train 391, a solid interchange train to Union Pacific that becomes UP train MMEPBB (Memphis to Pine Bluff.)

The 391 is built at Sheffiled Yard in northern Alabama.

That’s all for this day.  “Memphis is boring,” right?

Tomorrow, the last full day in Memphis, will be epic, and a major subject of images in tomorrow’s post will be Gustav evacuees along with trains!



{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 G Gerard September 4, 2013 at 07:31

The fly ash train went to a concrete plant off the Florida Central (Pinsly Family) near Orlando. Good times, that fly ash train with its BNSF power and predecessors. The train on the CSX side was K928 and K929. Late into the contract, just before the crash, other train numbers were used to another plant in Florida, but I don’t remember the numbers and final destination.

As usual, thank you very much for sharing your experiences and the awesome shots.

G Gerard


2 Angeline Castilloux September 4, 2013 at 09:47

Gee, that woman really bothered you, didn’t she? I always worry about being rude to people (even unintentionally) and I personally would be mortified if someone had such a bad impression of me. When I do behave badly I always cringe when I think about it, wishing I could take it back. I’d be cringing a lot if I were her.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to visit Memphis in my life, so I’ll have take your word that it is not boring. Nice CN pics :).

I never realized Gustav was that bad either, but then I really have to depend on media reports for whatever goes on that far away. You know the media though, always looking for catastrophic events. I’m glad we now have the net for information from people who are actually in these situations. Well, if I anything ever happens down in Louisiana, I’ll be sure to ask you about it (although getting a response is more than a little iffy :P).

Now that you’ve said tomorrow’s post will be epic, I can’t wait to read it!


3 Jimbaux September 4, 2013 at 19:35

It wasn’t so much that SHE bothered me, but that mindset itself – which I mention is so pervasive – is what is bothersome, or at least was at the time. I’m much better about it now, but, even then, it was the source of plenty of jokes with my friend and then with people back home. Isn’t so much of what you see on this site a living and substantive rebuttal to the idea that life and places can be boring?

You should not be “mortified” if people have bad impressions of you; you can’t go through life being afraid to be honest. She probably would not like what I said about her, meaning that she probably would not like me. Do I care? Not really, and not because I don’t want to be liked, but I want to be liked for the right reasons! I guess that means that I also don’t mind being disliked if it is for the right reasons.

Those comments, as I said, are just in general and not about Memphis or this woman.

Thanks for knowing better than to report on media. In a conversation today with a friend who works in the aviation industry, he said that some big wreck will happen, and journalist won’t show up or ask anything about it, but then, a few weeks later, some minor event happens, and then reporters want to ask question. There is therefore obviously no clear cut correlation between some event’s significance and how much you know about it or are told to know about it. It helped my friend realizes that news is less about what happened and more about what you are told. This, of course, has plenty to do, I hope you realize, with the Lac-Mégantic tragedy last month. Railroad accidents like that happen more frequently than you realize; this one just so happened to be in a populated area. That’s why the whole idea of criminal charges is so disturbing, because the same scenario could have played out – and HAS played out – in manners that did not kill anyone, and do were criminal charges filed then? Did the railroaders in those cases make any different mistakes? I don’t think so!

As for Memphis, though, we’ll see tomorrow that there is plenty of big stuff to do there.

Thanks, Angeline.


4 Angeline Castilloux September 5, 2013 at 09:31

“It wasn’t so much that SHE bothered me, but that mindset itself – which I mention is so pervasive – is what is bothersome, or at least was at the time”. I understand this, and I’m in total agreement.

Lac Megantic, huh? As difficult as it is to believe, I began to think that we are not as far apart in our positions as we think and it’s more a difference in perspective. In Canada, Lac Megantic is a very important issue, not just because of how devastating it was but also politically. Canada is now having to look at how much the deregulation of the rail system in our country contributed to this. The issue has been fiercely debated for years now, and years ago Canada’s Safety Council and numerous members of Parliament said deregulation would lead to disaster. So for us there will most certainly be much more discussion about it. It’s more than an single isolated event, but a very complex and multi layered one. It’s really a national issue and may well change the Canadian railway system as we know it. The implications will most certainly be far reaching.

I’m not surprised that a criminal investigation is being conducted. Early on in the preliminary investigation evidence was found that warranted a criminal investigation. What that evidence is at this point is not publicly known but a criminal probe is something that would be warranted in this case. It’s interesting to note that in mid July the TSB issued an urgent letter to Transport Canada to review the rules for leaving unattended trains properly secured. Transport Canada then issued an emergency directive to all railway companies about the procedures for transporting and securing dangerous goods. This is unheard of, and it makes me wonder what exactly they found that would cause the TSB to do this.

You have to understand that Canadians, and especially those of us in rural Canada where the railway is a large part of our lives, view it much, much differently and with more regard and respect than you will ever know. It is part of our identity. Where I grew up, most of us depended on the CPR for one thing or another. I know most CP employees there by name, and grew up with many of them. A couple of family members were employed there at some point. We are extremely proud of our railway heritage and it really defines us as a community. You know how it is, no matter where you end up living you will always have a connection with the place you spent your formative years and the railway was such a part of life for me it’s very hard to articulate the deep connection I, and most others where I come from have with it. Canadians in general view the railway as part of our heritage as well. There have been several books written about it, songs about it (Canadian Railroad Trilogy, you must have heard it!). We are taught all about how it was built and the sacrifices that were made, and how Canada was connected coast to coast for the first time because of it! I’ve never had to explain that to anyone before and obviously up to now I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. I don’t know a lot about the mechanics of trains but I know what I know and that should be good enough.

And, I WILL admit that we probably don’t hear about every accident, but please believe me that many, many more are covered than you think! Our media is much different on the whole than yours. It’s generally serious journalism! I guess you don’t have access to our news networks but I would say they would be considered extremely boring by US standards. It’s actually mostly about our Government, because we Canadians LOVE our politics! There are exceptions, of course, but think of our news being more like the BBC than CNN. And again, because the railway is such a part of our lives here (at least in my geographical area), we are well aware of it and what goes on with it.

I wanted to explain also why Canadians have such a dislike for Ed Burkhardt, but this comment is getting quite long already. I will just say that Canadians were horrified by some of the disrespectful things he was saying. Especially his comments about hoping not to be shot in Quebec! We expect much, much more respect than that. Anyway, I hope I’ve explained why I feel the way I do about this. Most Canadians feel as strongly about it as I do. I also have to apologize about some of the comments I made in our first discussion about this. I was really angry and said some mean things. Sorry :(.
I’m posting my URL. I hope it works, I’ve never done that before.


5 George Jenista September 4, 2013 at 14:03

You captioned:
“You do know that any FedEx package that you receive that moves via air moves via the Memphis Airport (the Bricks), don’t you?”

Well, not anymore. FedEx parcels now are assigned to any one of the company’s regional air freight hubs, viz:

Memphis [the original hub]
Indianapolis, IN
Fort Worth Alliance, TX
Oakland, CA
Miami, FL
Newark, NJ and
Anchorage, AK

~George Jenista
Front-Line Manager/Operations Supervisor
Alliance Air Traffic Control Tower
Ft. Worth, Texas

aka Vice President: South Plains States Chapter
Railway & Locomotive Historical Society


6 Jimbaux September 4, 2013 at 19:41

Thanks. When did that change take place? Was my statement still true when these pictures were taken in September 2008?


7 Ricardo X December 29, 2013 at 21:41

Jimbaux – Excellent stuff! Thank you. President’s Island is a great place to foam. There are a couple steel fabrication shops there, hence possibly the bulkhead flats. The Budweiser distributor was one of my fave places to watch real live switching action. Good luck! Ric


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