Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Little Train That Could

by Connie Cortright

Several years ago my husband and I took a trip to Dubuque, Iowa to visit the sights. We encountered something so unique that I decided to set my second novel in Dubuque just to let my characters experience the same thing. We rode on the Fenelon Place Elevator also known as Fourth Street Elevator - the steepest and shortest railway in the United States.

If anyone has traveled along the Mississippi River, you've seen the bluffs lining both sides of the river-especially the western bank. Dubuque also has these bluffs, west of the downtown area. In the 1800s when Dubuque was growing westward, houses were built on top of the bluffs. The residents had a hard time commuting up and down the bluff to work in the downtown area.

In 1882 Julius K. Graves received permission from the city council to build a one-car rail system using a Swiss-style incline railway. After several fires destroyed the cable cars, a unique system was installed that has lasted until today.

The 286-foot railway that has three rails widening to four in the middle section to allow the two cars to pass each other up or down the 189-foot cliff. It's run by a powerful motor that pulls the cable car up the cliff and conversely the other one goes down the same route, meeting in the middle of the bluff where the tracks are wider to by-pass each other. As one is pulled up the cliff, the other descends.

The two cars hold eight passengers, sitting opposite each other on stair-like seats ten inches below the person seated next to you. The short ride up the bluff in the open car only lasts about five minutes, giving you a splendid view of the city and surrounding river scenery as you approach the pinnacle of the ride on the bluff. The amazing thing is that this fun adventure only costs fifty cents per person today yet.

Here's the description of this event from my second book in the Grace Alone Series -"Lead Me Home". I'm hoping this novel will be published early in 2017.

When the passengers disembarked from the car, Cissy entered first. The tiny car was built at such a steep angle for the hill that each person had to sit on a step-like seat opposite one other person. Harry and Cissy walked up several steps to sit in these highest seats. Romy let Ruth proceed in front of him, climbing to the seat a foot below Cissy. Romy followed after her and sat across from Ruth below Harry.
“Cissy, you sure were right about being tiny.” Ruth looked as excited as a kid eating her first lollipop as she glanced around.
Romy juggled the large box from one leg to the other as he got situated on his narrow bench. His knees brushed against hers in the cramped space. Warmth spread up his leg, so he tried to make himself smaller as the last four passengers entered the tram. He couldn’t move even an inch and resolved to enjoy the ride no matter what.
The cog train jerked as it left the station on its short journey to the top of the bluff. The car rose at a snail's pace and, in due course, cleared the treetops. Cissy pointed toward the east. “Oh, look at the view of the Mississippi River. I just love to see across the valley to Wisconsin and Illinois.”
Romy twisted his neck to see the view out of the dirt-covered windows before looking across at Ruth. Her face was red enough to light up a Christmas tree. What’s wrong now? She gnawed on her lower lip and looked everywhere except at him. Was she uncomfortable because of their knees? Heat rose on his cheeks, but what could he do about it?
There was no way he could maneuver to avoid contact with her. Just ignore the situation. The five-minute ride up the bluff took an eternity. The rhythmic slap, slap of the cable rope strained to tow the tram up the cliff. How long would this take? He bit his tongue to stop himself from screaming. At long last the car shuddered to a stop in the upper station house.

Information taken from Encyclopedia Dubuque

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