The Blue Raccoon

Monday, June 16, 2008

Iowa: Their disaster is a harbinger
"Is this anyway to run a country?"

Davenport, Iowa. Image via

I've watched with astonishment about the ongoing catastrophe in slow-motion that is the midwest flooding and the awful circumstances afflicting Iowa. There's something going on here, and we don't know what it is, but, there are clues.

I went on to the Daily Kos today -- I don't often, because all that yammering makes me tired, and for some reason it always turns into a spinning-into-butter argumentation between parties who just don't seem to know any better.

But here, this -- this a very good analysis of what the deluge mean--floods with levels not seen in 500 years. What's next? The New Madrid fault going active again?

I've taken the liberty to place the entire posting by SlyDi here:

How A Midwest Flood Can Drag Down A Nation
by SlyDi

Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 07:59:15 PM PDT

As the workweek begins tomorrow, every interstate highway and railroad across Iowa is closed by flooding. Wisconsin isn't faring much better, with I-94 across the state flooded out along with one of the three remaining cross state railroads. Truckers are having to take long, roundabout routes burning up $5 a gallon diesel fuel to make hopelessly late deliveries.

The busiest railroad in America, Union Pacific's transcontinental main line across Iowa, is shut down by high water, with trains backed up as far as Nevada. UP is even "embargoing" destinations affected by the flooding- essentially telling shippers not to send freight that way because it'll merely clog up their system. Despite the wider and deeper rivers, things aren't moving much on the water either- barge tows are tied up on 200 miles of the busiest stretch of the upper Mississippi from Muscatine to St.Louis as fast moving flood waters make safe navigation impossible.

Let's go back to the 70s... The midwest was still served by a thick web of railroads, and if the mainline was flooded out there were plenty of branch lines to detour on. The interstate system was pretty much complete, but was still used at less than capacity so you could actually drive the speed limit.

Back then I drove truck for Continental Baking, a typical big company of the era. We had bakeries every couple hundred miles, with 70 of them spread around the country. In Iowa alone we had bakeries in Davenport, Sioux City, and Waterloo, and 3 in Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Rochester, and St.Louis in surrounding states. Look at a map of Iowa, and you'll find we had a bakery within 3 hours drive by truck from anywhere in Iowa. Every bakery was quite self sufficent- our engineers could make parts for our machinery if they had too, and their parts stock would put a decent hardware store's to shame. We jammed the basement of the bakery with ingredients, had a huge bulk flour tank to boot, a couple more boxcars of flour sitting in the siding a mile away, and truckloads more perishable ingredients at the locker plant a few blocks away. If we somehow managed to run out of all that, the Pillsbury "A" mill was but a mile away along with many other suppliers.

Most of our bakeries baked just a single 8 hour day, and our drivers worked an 8 hour shift. In the rare occasion when the bakery was down for more than an hour of so, other bakeries ran a little overtime and baked for them. Being scheduled for an 8 hour day when we legally could work 15 hours, we drivers had ample time to make an extra trip to another bakery or make a long detour due to closed roads. That was standard operating procedure back then in american business- an auto plant didn't shut down because a trailer load of parts was on it's side in a ditch 500 miles away.

Back to this century and the brave new world of "just in time" logistics, "lean manufacturing", and the ever popular "eliminating excess capacity". Continental Baking has merged with Interstate Bakeries, but the only bakery they have left in Iowa is in Waterloo- it's shut down by the flooding and who knows when it'll be back up. Only 4 of those 9 bakeries in surrounding states are still baking. The old engineers who maybe spent too much time munching donuts and guzzling coffee but were right there when something broke have pretty much retired but not been replaced.

Most of that web of rails is gone too. What's left is overloaded "main lines" that are often just single track, the second track having been pulled up and sold for scrap. "Branch Lines" that used to parallel the main lines and serve as detours now run a few miles and dead end, if they haven't been torn out entirely. Dozens of rail yards have been torn out and the land sold at huge profits for development- As a result backed up trains plug the main lines because there aren't enough yards to park them in. Despite most railroads now being quite profitable, profits that should have been reinvested in upgrading century old routes through river valleys have instead gone into dividends to satisfy short sighted investors.

We ain't gettin' anywhere on the highways either- money that could have been spent to raise highways above the 500 year flood plain has instead been wasted on extremely expensive added lanes so exuban commuters can escape the city a minute or two faster. Fortunately Iowa invested in making US 61 and US 20 into 4 lane expressways that are now doing yeoman duty as detour routes- In neighboring Minnesota republicans still haven't finished 4 laning US 14 after decades of planning. And on the river our WPA era system of locks cries for an upgrade.

So it's soon to be Monday morning... and plants will shut down because a trailer or train car can't get through the midwest floods to keep a factory or bakery or packing plant supplied with vital parts or ingredients that management is too dumb to stockpile. At the other ends of the continent railroaders and truckers will be out of work because our nation hasn't invested in critical infrastructure.

Is this any way to run a country?

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At 5:07 PM, Blogger Tor Hershman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Tor Hershman said...

It's the only way our DNA, for the most part, can function

Stay on groovin' safari,

At 6:48 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Tor, thanks for visiting this rather lonely corridor of the vast Internets. I cut-and-paste your You Tube clip...yeah. That's about the size of things. The "Iceberg dead ahead!" as the Titanic plows on--too big to steer and traveling too fast to stop.

Wonder what, with the levees breaking how the downriver MIssissippi will though events weren't just ugly and pathetic enough--thougb not the horrors of recent events in China. Still, when you're hip deep in toxic stew -- you are hip deep in toxic stew.


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