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News from the week of September 20, 2006


Gervais believes Washington DC trip was well-worthwhile

By Seth Schmidt

Robert Gervais has no doubt that his three-day trip to Washington D.C., was time well spent.

“It was great,” the Tracy Community Development Director says of his Sept. 12-14 trip to the nation’s capitol.

Foremost, Gervais hopes that his trip helps bring the long-debated Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad (DM&E) improvement project to reality. The proposed $6 billion upgrade and expansion would be a tremendous economic boon to Tracy, Gervais feels.

“The potential economic spin-offs from the project, what this would mean to Tracy, what this would mean to agriculture in this area, the impact is huge,” Gervais says.

Other positives from the trip are more difficult to quantify, but no less real, Gervais feels.

As a representative and spokesman for the Growth Opportunities Through Rail Access Coalition (GOTRAC), the Tracy community leader brushed elbows with DM&E President Kevin Schieffer, Minnesota and South Dakota Senators and Congressmen, and federal officials in Washington.

“What is the value of being able to sit across the aisle from the DM&E president on an airplane flight and be able to talk about Tracy. It can’t hurt,” said Gervais.

During a visit to Congressman Collin Peterson’s office, Peterson asked Gervais if there were any Tracy related issues that his office could assist with. Gervais mentioned a Tracy Kids’ World funding application with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Peterson told Gervais.


Whirlwind trip

Gervais flew to Washington D.C. on the morning of Sept. 12. A dinner gathering that night involved about 20 GOTRAC members, including South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, Senators Tim Johnson and John Thune, and former South Dakota governor Harvey Wollman. The delegation also included Sioux Valley Hospital CEO Kelby Krabenhoft, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce President David Owen, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson, and Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn.

Wednesday Gervais was one of four GOTRAC members selected to make statements at a National Press Club briefing. Panel members, besides Gervais, were Mark Brown, Springfield mayor; Tim Thompson, Minnesota Rural Electric CEO; and Papp.

Representatives from four news organizations, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Rochester Post Bulletin, attended the conference. Several other news outlets participated by telephone.

Gervais spoke about Tracy’s history as a railroad community, and the economic development opportunities that an improved DM&E would bring.

Brown discussed the advantages an improved railroad would mean for a proposed ethanol plant in Springfield.

Thompson discussed the benefits electric-power customers would receive if utility plants had access to low-sulfur coal from Wyoming.

Papp talked about the improved grain markets that the DM&E project could open up.

The remainder of the day was spent lobbying. The offices of Minnesota Congressmen Mark Kennedy, Gil Gutknect, John Kline, and Collin Peterson, and Senator Norm Coleman were among the offices contacted.

Of the Minnesota Congressional delegation, Gervais said that Peterson was the only one to express 100% support for the DM&E upgrade. Others hedged their comments, Gervais said, sometimes saying they’d support the DM&E plan only if objections raised by the Rochester Mayo Clinic.

South Dakota elected officials all advocate the DM&E project, Gervais said.

Other individuals and offices included in the lobbying effort were Hunter Moorhead, special agriculture assistant to President Bush, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, and the House Railroads sub-committee.


Long debate

The proposed DM&E project would re-build 600 miles of existing track and extend 260 miles of new track into northeastern Wyoming. The project, which would be one of the largest construction projects in U.S. history, has been approved at several federal levels. The project’s last major hurdle is approval of a $2.4 billion loan from the Federal Railroad Administration. The loan would match about $3.6 billion in private investment.

The City of Tracy is one of 55 communities located on the DM&E that support the project. One community—Rochester—is seeking a bypass around the community, rather than a rebuilt railroad through the city.

The DM&E invited Gervais to the GOTRAC fly-in, and paid for his travel expenses. Gervais attended with the blessings of the Tracy city leaders.


Miracle man

Grunden family credits divine healing

By Seth Schmidt

Mary Grunden will never forget the dreadful moment.

A medical test showed that no blood was flowing to the brain of their injured 21-year-old son, the doctor said.

Mary and her husband, Al, were told that there was no hope. Their son was brain dead.

The medication that had kept Ryan Grunden in a coma since his July 15 motorcycle accident would be stopped. Once all the medicine was out of the young man’s body, the specialist informed them, their son would be considered clinically dead.

There was no point, they were told, to hooking up an EEG machine to check for signs of brain activity.

“We were devastated,” Mary remembers. “But at the same time, we were also at peace.”

The Tracy mom and dad had spent a week at their son’s side in the intensive care unit of Sioux Valley Hospital.

Buoyed by their Christian faith, the Grundens had prayed for Ryan’s recovery and tried to maintain a positive attitude. But on the seventh day after the accident, Ryan’s blood pressure suddenly soared and his pupils dilated. An alarmed attending physician ordered a CAT scan and blood-flow test to the brain.

The test results were studied. They didn’t look good.

A nurse prepared the Grundens for bad news.

A doctor would be coming in to talk to them, the nurse said, but the outcome from the tests had not been positive. She was so sorry.

“Al and I went to the chapel to pray, We were at peace whatever the outcome was,” Mary recalled.

The doctor’s report was still shattering, Mary remembers. The test showed no blood flow to Ryan’s brain.

The next morning, Saturday, July 22, the Grundens were meeting with an organ transplant team. It had been Ryan’s earlier stated wish to donate his organs, should his life end unexpectedly.

Who would have predicted or believed at that moment that Ryan Grunden would be the guest of honor at a pork roast benefit in Tracy eight weeks later?


A miracle

“It’s a miracle. We believe that God healed Ryan. There is no other explanation,” Mary Grunden says.

On the day after Ryan’s parents were told that their son was brain dead, the young man’s body began moving.

Don’t let his give you hope, a specialist said. It’s just brain stem activity.

The body movement continued.

By Sunday night, Mary and Al saw Ryan trying to open his eyes. They were convinced that their son was trying to look at them.

“Al said, ‘he looked at us, and that’s enough for me.’” Mary remembers. Their hope renewed, the Grundens focused their prayers and thoughts on Ryan’s recovery.

On Monday, a second blood flow test again showed that no blood was reaching the brain. But another physician, brought in for a second opinion, hedged on the earlier grim prognosis.

Let’s wait and see what Ryan does, he suggested, and ignore the negative medical tests.

On Wednesday, a nurse reported that Ryan and responded to her voice and turned to look at her. Soon after, Ryan was responding to words from mom and dad.

“He improved by leaps and bounds,” Mary says.

A week after the brain dead prognosis, Ryan was out of intensive care. In another five days, the young man was in a rehab unit.

He was discharged from Sioux Valley Hospital on August 18. On Labor Day, Ryan was fit enough to ride in the Tracy Box Car Days parade with his father. Saturday, he talked with guests at the hog roast.

“Physically, he’s recovered 100%,” his mother said. “To look at him you would never know anything was wrong with him.” But she said that the skull fracture and brain injury sustained in the cycle accident has continued to cause memory and speech difficulties for Ryan.

“He has trouble with names. Sometimes, he know what he wants to say, but he can’t get the words out.” To regain speech and thinking functions, Ryan is continuing speech therapy. The family has been told that it might take up to a year for his brain heals completely, and that therapy within the next several months is very important.

Mary Grunden says that Ryan probably doesn’t fully comprehend all that has happened to him. But she said that Ryan is grateful for the support he has received, and wants to go back to driving truck as soon as he can. If Ryan’s continues to show progress, and he passes the necessary tests, Mary says that Ryan could be back driving truck as early as late October or November.


God’s peace

Mary Grunden said that she and Al feel that there has been and continues to be a divine purpose in Ryan’s recovery.

“God was there with us. I know that. It was His strength that supported us and healed Ryan.”

She believes that God is using her family’s experience to help other people in crisis.

“I had always wondered how other mothers could get through the loss of a child.” Now, she says she knows.

“God gave us the strength.” She hopes that Ryan’s experience can be a source of hope for others. Regardless of whether one’s loved one becomes healed following a sickness or injury, Mary feels that people can have peace in accepting God’s promises.

Mary Grunden said that her family is grateful to all people who prayed for Ryan and supported the family, especially Pastor Edsel and Debbie Miller, Gary and Nancy Garrels, and their “church family” at the Tracy Alliance Church.

“Everyone has been just awesome.”

After Ryan regained consciousness, Mary Grunden said that one of the doctors told her that a miracle had taken place.

“I thanked him for acknowledging that.”


Groups combine efforts

The Tracy Ambulance Service, Tracy Fire Department, and Tracy Eagles combined to put on the Saturday benefit. An estimated 425 to 450 people attended.


Val Lubben begins as Chamber manager


By Valerie Scherbart Quist

Val Lubben is the new Tracy Chamber Director.

Lubben’s first day was Monday, though she did get a glimpse of how everything works during Box Car Days and has attended meetings for the Sportsmen’s Show and other events since her selection was announced.

Lubben has been working in Marshall for the past four years, and says she is happy to be working in Tracy again. She was also drawn to the Chamber job because it is more in line with her degree, which is in journalism and public relations.

“I’ve been looking to get back into that,” she said. Lubben, a Bettendorf, Iowa native, is a University of Iowa Hawkeye.

Lubben has lived in Tracy for the past 15 years and has two children. Kaitlin, 19, is a 2005 Tracy Area High School graduate, and Joshua, 15, is a student at Tracy Area High School. She is involved with the AWANA children’s program at her church and other church activities, in addition to attending many school events.

One of her first jobs as Chamber manager will be helping to organize the Tracy Area Sportsmen’s Show, which will be held in April. Lubben has already met with the committee and said they are a great group. She said it is people like them who make events such as the Sportsmen’s Show and Box Car Days successful.

“It is neat to see how many people do behind-the-scenes work,” she said. “I’ve already seen a glimpse of that. I think that’s part of community pride, too.”

In addition to the Sportsmen’s Show and Box Car Days, the Chamber also puts on a Christmas-themed event and other promotions throughout the year.

Lubben said that this week she will be getting her bearings and learning more about what the job entails. She expressed appreciation to interim Chamber Director Louise Noomen, who has been helping her get a feel for the job and answering questions.

While Lubben does have some ideas for the future, for now she is concentrating on the events that are already in place before starting anything new. Lubben plans to have set hours in the office, but they have not been approved by the Chamber board.

Lubben is looking forward to her new job and the variety that comes along with it.

“I think the neat thing is going to be the variety of the job,” she said. “I’m really excited about being here.”

New ordinance sets minimum standards for city buildings

Tracy citizens can voice their opinions about a proposed new ordinance that sets minimum maintenance standards for all buildings in the community. The Tracy City Council will hold a public hearing about the proposed ordinance at 6:45 p.m. Monday at Tracy City Hall.

The Tracy Planning Commission has recommended the new ordinance. City council members have reviewed the ordinance twice over the past five weeks.

The stated objectives of the ordinance are:

• “Protect the character and stability of all structures and property within the City.”

• “Correct and prevent conditions that adversely affect or are likely to adversely affect the life, safety, general welfare, and health, including the physical, mental and social well-being of persons occupying structures within the City.”

• “Provide minimum standards for heating, sanitation, ventilation, light and maintenance necessary to the health and safety of occupants of structures.”

• “Provide minimum standards for the maintenance of existing structures and thus prevent slums and blight.”

• “Preserve the value of land and structures throughout the city.”

The eight-page ordinance draft specifies minimum standards for the condition of buildings.

For example, a house with unpainted, or peeling paint on more than 20% of its exterior, would be in violation of the ordinance. The ordinance mandates that a brick, block or stone wall be repaired if mortar is falling out. Exterior walls are to be kept “free of deterioration, holes, breaks, loose or rotting boards or timbers” and free of graffiti. All windows and doors in occupied dwellings are to be “in sound, operable condition and seal the opening it is hung in. Glass shall be unbroken and screening, if used shall be insect tight.”

The ordinance specifies that all buildings used as dwellings shall have a food preparation area with a functional kitchen sink connected to a sewer system with “an adequate amount of heated and unheated running water under pressure,” Each dwelling is to have an operable flush toilet in a non-habitable room, connected to an approved sewer system, with a nearby lavatory sink. Each dwelling unit is to have its own bathtub or shower.

The proposed ordinance defines what type of fencing is allowed in Tracy (barbed wire and wooden shipping pallets are among the prohibited materials) . Specifications are listed for the type of gates, barriers and covers needed for backyard swimming pools and hot tubs more than 18” in depth.

The ordinance defines vacant buildings and buildings unfit for human occupancy, and the responsibilities of the property owner in correcting violations. Enforcement provisions spell out the city’s authority to inspect properties for possible violations, issue compliance orders, as well as the right of property owners to appeal.

Individuals who do not meet the requirements of a city compliance order can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.


Pool language deleted

When first considered by the council and planning commission, the proposed ordinances included provisions governing backyard swimming pools and hot tubs. The earlier draft of the ordinance would have required that “private swimming pools, hot tubs and spas” which contain water more than 18” in depth “shall be completely surrounded by a fence or barrier at least 48” in height” or be securely covered with a lid capable of holding 40 pounds. However, the planning commission now recommends that the pool and hot tub references be deleted from the ordinance.

The council will be able to vote on the adoption of the ordinance following the hearing.


Courtyard contract awarded

A $66,581 contract has been awarded for the construction of an outdoor courtyard east of the Tracy Municipal Liquor Store.

Tracy City Council members awarded the contract to Art Peterson Construction of Tracy. Four other bids, ranging from $71,694 to $83,292, were submitted from other contractors.

The Art’s Construction bid was lower than an architect’s bid of $70,000 to $73,000.

“I’m certainly comfortable with Art’s proposal,” said Ron Halvorson, of Group II Architects of Marshall.

Peterson said he’d be ready to start work on the city project, and complete it no later than next spring.

The courtyard/patio area is to be built on a 30-foot lot between the liquor store and the Horn Chiropractic Clinic.

Stamped and stained concrete is to be used for the courtyard’s base. Trees, shrubs, flowers and a pergola will be used for landscaping on and around the patio. Outdoor table seating for about 90 people is anticipated for the courtyard.

Access to the courtyard will come through a new doorway punched through the liquor store’s east wall. The doorway will link that patio with the liquor store’s on-sale bar area. Fencing on the north and south side of the patio will restrict access.

Construction will also include several new windows in the liquor store’s east wall. The walls on each side of the patio are to be covered with a permanent siding. The patio area will be lit.

City leaders expect that the new outdoor area will attract additional business, and pay for itself through additional revenues.

Halvorson said that about $8,000 in additional expenses will be needed besides the $66,581 construction contract. The extra money will be needed for landscaping, metal grillwork for a front gate, and tables and chairs.

City leaders plan to use liquor store profits to pay for the courtyard project. However, council members and Liquor Store Manager Ron Radke discussed the fact that the liquor revenues won’t be enough to front all of the courtyard expenses immediately. If necessary, council members agreed, money could be borrowed from other city funds, and repaid at a later date from liquor store revenues.

Radke pointed out that the liquor store won’t see any revenue from the project until late next spring or early summer, when the courtyard would open.

The liquor store project has been under consideration for about three years. Two years ago, council members authorized the purchase of the long-vacant pool hall building east of the liquor store for $500. Last year, the city razed the building at a cost of $21,000. Group II Architects drew up plans and drawings for the project, and will oversee the project, at a cost of $7,500.


Family remembers parents with gift to End-O-Line

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum in Currie is getting some new landscaping thanks to a donation from Currie natives.

The Schaffer family is donating $4,000 in landscaping to End-O-Line. Barbra (Schaffer) Dunsmore, one of 11 children of Betty (Daub) and George Schaffer Jr., was in Currie Friday with her husband, Laverne, to bring some of the plants that will be planted in honor of her family members.

“Our family is doing this as a memorial for our parents but we also want to support the park,” said Barbra Dunsmore, a 1978 Tracy High School graduate. “It’s great for the area.”

End-O-Line has significant meaning for the family. Dunsmore was involved with restoring the turn-table at the park when she was about 10 years old and a member of the Currie Poco-a-Poco 4-H Club. Louise Gervais, who oversees End-O-Line, was the club leader.

End-O-Line and Currie remain a gathering spot for the family. Every year, the Schaffer siblings have a family picnic at Lake Shetek State Park, and every other year the Schaffer family has a reunion at End-O-Line.

“We still gather here even though our parents are gone,” Dunsmore said. “It’s still ‘coming home’ for us.”

Betty and George Schaffer Jr. died in 2004. In their memory, two basswood trees are being planted at End-O-Line. Many of the plants and bushes that are being planted at the park have family significance.

“My grandpa Schaffer was quite a horticulturist,” Dunsmore said. He had many different types of fruit trees on the farm west of Currie, which he bought in 1913. Lilacs, spireas, daylilies, and peonies will also be reminiscent of the Schaffer farm. One garden will be planted around a cast-iron water pump that was on the farm and was donated to the museum by Betty and George Schaffer, Jr.

The Dunsmores, both horticulturists, have five acres of peonies at their home near Delano.

“They have a lot of history,” Dunsmore said. “The settlers brought them over.” Fern-leaf peonies, one of the varieties that will be planted at End-O-Line, were brought to this area in covered wagons, she added.

She also reiterated the park’s importance for Currie and the surrounding area.

“I think it’s important that people support this,” she said. “It really melds the community together.”

End-O-Line gets ink in magazines

End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum was recently featured in two magazines.

End-O-Line is the subject of a feature article written by Jeff Terry in the October 2006 Railfan & Railroad. The author is highly complimentary of the museum, saying, “The exhibits are as good as anything you’ll find at the ‘big’ railroad museums at Duluth and St. Paul.”

Louise Gervais, who oversees End-O-Line, said Terry was a visitor to the museum and she was surprised that he wrote the magazine article.

End-O-Line is also mentioned in a September 2006 issue of Minnesota Good Age. This article, written by Carol Hall, centers around hoboes who used to ride the rails. The article encourages those who want to learn more about these fascinating historical figures to visit End-O-Line, which has an exhibit about hoboes and the signs that they used to communicate to one another.

End-O-Line was also recently the recipient of a letter, photographs, and card tickets from Mal Ferrell, author of 18 hard-cover railway books. Ferrell sent two photographs, one of the museum’s Georgia Northern 4-6-0 #102, and one of an 1875 narrow gauge 2-6-0 that ran on the Des Moines & Minnesota Railroad (later to become part of the Chicago & Northwestern).

Ferrell also requested a photograph of the museum’s narrow gauge 1875 Baldwin 2-6-0 locomotive from Peru. Ferrell writes, “Your engine, along with two 4-4-0s are the only surviving examples of Baldwin 3’ gauge locomotives of this era. The others are North Pacific Coast #12 at California State RR Museum and Dan Markoff’s restored and privately owned Eureka & Palisade engine in Nevada.”