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Ag, railroads go hand-in-hand

By Staff | Sep 3, 2016

MARK MERK, center, executive director and chief administrative officer for Siouxland Historical Railroad Museum, discusses the day’s events with Larry Obermeyer, right, museum founder, and Ken Brown, left, of Bellevue, Nebraska.

SIOUX CITY – Mark Merk grew up with an addiction with railroading.

Merk, who grew up in Fort Dodge, said he was 7 years old when his father introduced him to model railroading, which has since become a lifetime interest.

A high note for his railroading interest was his first ride in an Illinois Central locomotive as a youth in the Illinois Central rail yard.

“As many people may or may not know, Fort Dodge was, at the time, a railroad town in part due to the number of meat packing plants existing there,” Merk said. “There was also the Chicago Northwestern, Fort Dodge Des Moines line and Southern Railroad.”

“Getting the locomotive ride due to my father’s friendship with the engineer … is something you never forget.”

The combination of these early experiences has today evolved to an even greater enrichment of what railroads have and do in this day.

Today, Merk is the executive director and chief administrative officer for the Siouxland Historical Railroad Museum.

He started as a museum volunteer and said he considers himself fortunate to be able to share his enthusiasm for trains and their importance.

This was especially true while working with staff and volunteers preparing for the museum’s 12th annual Ag/Rail Days on Aug. 20.

Merk said the Aug. 20 events were designed to help young people realize the importance of railroads to agriculture.

It was also to provide older generations an opportunity recall their experiences and reliance on railroads to move essential food and commodities.

“Railroads have a rich agricultural history in the United States (and) in the upper Midwest,” Merk said. “Our young people, unless learning about rail transportation in school, from their parents or as a result of growing up on a farm, are in part unaware of the inter reaction of this form of transportation with agriculture.”

“Quite possibly, were it not for railroads, some areas of the Midwest may not have developed as early as they did,” he added. “Furthermore, had trains not been available in developed communities, farmers of the day would have been without the means to get crops they produced to vital processing and marketing areas, including coastal areas vital to overseas markets.”

Merk said environmental concerns of today are also seeing the benefits of rail transportation.

“We’re blessed here in the Midwest to be able to grow the amount of crops we grow,” he said. “Iowa and our tri-state area can share proudly in these for food here and to be made through rail transportation nationwide and overseas.”

“Rail’s role in transporting ethanol, an environmentally-friendly fuel, is another of the important rail-transported products.”

Not to be forgotten, Merk said, are the environmental benefits of a diesel locomotive carrying tons of freight 200 to 300 miles on a gallon of fuel in an efficient and economical manner and the transport of numerous diverse manufactured products on one train.

“We at the museum feel we can be an interesting and valuable learning source,” he said. “We would like to believe our efforts in giving our visitors a better understanding of our rail lines and what they do.”

“So many people think of trains only when they become frustrated when they must stop when the bars come down and their responsibility to stop safely at crossings.”

Merk credits museum founder Larry Obermeyer with his longtime dedication to the museum’s success.

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