Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I-98, The Syndicated Series

The Pilot

a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool

initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

In this week's pilot episode, Liam and Samuel are the first to arrive on the scene of a derailed WBR&C unit train with 329 tank cars filled with Bakken light sweet crude oil and one beer tank car filled with a light, frothy pilsner. Fortunately only four of the tank cars were completely off the track, resting pretty much on their sides, with minimal evidence of rupture. A catastrophe, apparently, had been averted by the new crude-by-rail regulations put in place some years earlier, which were amended regulations to the expanded regulations to the original regulations that were first promulgated back in 2015 after the Casselton disaster. No one was injured in the Casselton disaster but Mrs Johnson who lives in New York City and has a friend of a sister whose cousin lives in Fargo was still having nightmares about the whole thing, and, well, you know, it's called "hazardous material" for a reason. The Casselton disaster was back in 2013, coming on 30 years ago now but a lot has changed.

For one thing, there is I-98. The six-lane interstate with a toll bridge across the Red River of the North was the first new interstate in almost fifty years when it was first completed, back in 2035. The traffic out of Minnesota necessitated a widening of US Highway 2, and the governor said there was enough Legacy Fund money to build the "dog darn" thing with state money, rather than waiting for the president's "shovel-ready-jobs" team to get around to doing the environmental impact study.

In fact the Informed headline back in 2020 said just that:
"Let's Just Build The Dog Darn Thing -- Governor Harold Hamm, Jr."
The toll bridge across the Red River of the North was not needed for financial reasons (two days' worth of Bakken royalties paid for the entire interstate from St Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Bainville, North Dakota) but Minnesotans were used to paying taxes and fees. A bridge without a toll for a Minnesotan would be like a heroin addict entering a rehab center. Going "cold turkey" was not a pleasant sight (nor a pheasant sight, for that matter), and that was something North Dakotans did not want to see happen to their neighbors to the east, a strange sort of folk but, nonetheless, a race that spoke a language similar to their own.

The new interstate would have been completed in 2029 but the Devils Lake Dam  -- the official name of the dam was the Senator Byron Dorgan Memorial Dam Built With North Dakota Legacy Fund Money in Bold Letters was too long, so most people just called it the Devils Lake Dam -- burst when the highway was being built, sort of like the stock market that crashed exactly 100 years earlier. Some said the dam lost structure integrity due to earthquakes caused by fracking in the Turtle Mountains. There was no reason to be fracking in the Turtle Mountains; there was no oil there, but the Saudi-North Dakota Consortium Oil Company (SNDCOC -- pronounced snod-cock, by some) was testing nuclear fracking.

Some called it the Devil's Lake Dam (rather than the Devils Lake Dam) but when talking no one heard the apostrophe anyway. Jim Anderson, professor emeritus, North Dakota state history, NDSU, is still arguing it should be called Devils' Lake Dam, citing Native American history that it was supposed to have been called Lake of the Spirits or The Spirits' Lake for short, but that, too, was water under the bridge, or better said, water over the dam. It is what it is. And it was a lot of water over that dam. Stopped construction on the I-98 for three years. There was some federal case that came out of that, a court case arguing whether it was the burst dam or the damn asphalt that killed them three migratory ducks.

Liam and Samuel were thinking about all of that when they came across the WBR&C derailment, this one south of the Rugby Country Club. The state had built the new interstate along the WBR&C track so that it would be easier for television crews from national networks, like CBS and ABC and MSNBCAl Jazeera to get closer to the derailments. The faster these crews got in and got out, the better it would be for the state. The networks had hoped to use drones for aerial footage, cutting down expenses, but UND's School of Unmanned Aeronautics (paid for with money from the Legacy Fund) had an annoying habit of flying into out-of-state drones. There was some question whether it was being done on purpose. Legalization of marijuana had made the problem worse in the eyes of some public officials (mostly Republicans), but most of the "one toke over the line" drone pilots didn't see a problem. Of course, they didn't see much of the drones either once they (the drones, not the pilots) took off. The UND drones were just the opposite of homing pigeons. They seldom came back.

The old BNSF track was still there to be found in some places, if one looked hard enough, but much of that track was replaced when Warren Buffett got tired of all the negative publicity, and changed the BNSF name to Warren Buffett Rail and Coca-Cola Enterprises. When he died, that is when Mr Buffett died, his successor Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, thought WBR&C was a better fit (a lot fewer letters and only one special character) for mobile advertising on GlobalFaces.

Some thought that Warren, had he lived longer, was going to drop the "rail" from Warren Buffett Rail and Coca-Cola Enterprises, thinking that the source of derailments was the fact the tank cars were riding on rails. Yes, Warren was a sprightly 108 years old when he died, but a little senile. He was found unconscious in the bathroom with a bottle of Coke in his clenched fist. Prior to the autopsy there was a lot of talk about old age being the cause of his death, but the coroner said it was unwise to jump to conclusions. The talk then switched to straining.

Liam and Samuel weren't thinking about Warren Buffett or WBR&C or the Legacy Fund, though. They were just thinking about Devil's Lake. In their Lamborghini. It was late August.

Liam: "I still think it should be Devil's Lake."

Samuel: "Wrong. Devils Lake is easier to spell if you're using an iPad."

Liam: "Hey, look, another WBR&C derailment."

Samuel: "Looks like only three oil tank cars left the rails this time."

Liam: "I think you are correct ... one,... two....three,... no I think there's a fourth...."

Samuel: "That's a beer tank..."

Yes, it was easy to forget that when the ethanol bubble burst (shortly after Al Gore died) North Dakota farmers had to replace all that corn with something else. And they did. With a vengeance. Hops. Lots of hops.

Liam: "Yup, that's a beer tank.

Next week's episode: Liam asks Samuel if he is crying over spilled beer. 


  1. Bruce , this needs to go to the Park Rapids Enterprise in Park Rapids, Mn. Can't wait for next chapter.
    Rich C

    1. Thank you for taking time to write. I have the second episode "roughed out." It will be interesting to see how many page views that particular story will get.