Northeast ND ag companies, city, banks pool funds to fix rail bridge
CAVALIER, N.D. — It's been a long two months for several rail-dependent businesses in Cavalier and Walhalla, all of which lost a bridge and several miles of track to a grass fire earlier this summer.
On Wednesday, Sept. 19, Curt Kirking of Cavalier Bean Co. announced repairs have finished and the track will be back in business Monday.
"The ironic part of it is, the bridge burned on July 19," Kirking said. "And on Sept. 19, I was made aware we can start using the track Monday."
Kirking and others called the situation ironic in July as well, after learning a week before the fire Dakota Northern no longer could pay for major rail repairs.
Thousands of phone calls and emails later, Kirking said eight companies, three banks and the city have agreed to pay for the bridge repairs that wrapped up this week.
"I was expecting something about the first or second week of October," said Chuck Lorz, manager at Walhalla Farmers Grain. "So this is really a great thing to have at this time. I'm just glad it didn't take as long as I thought it was going to take."
Repairs cost about $57,000, Kirking said. On Thursday, he said the amount will be divided 12 ways.
Brian Schanilec, a board member for North Central Bean Dealers Association and a liaison with the federal Surface Transportation Board, said happy endings like these are rare.
"Railroad is not an easy thing," Schanilec said. "You've got 2018 technology going down 1890 track. It's more complicated than you think, and we're trying to put more and more products on these railroads."
Cavalier Mayor Lacey Hinkle said she has noticed Kirking and colleagues working hard to bring their bridge back to life.
"It was pretty bleak in the beginning," Hinkle said. "Nobody really knew what the future would be, if they could repair the bridge or how much it was going to cost."
Walhalla Farmers Grain began trucking grain as soon as the bridge burned down, Lorz said.
"We moved what we had to move to get the crop off," Lorz said, estimating that's been about 300 loads so far.
"The thing about this is it opens up the doorway for us to utilize the Chicago spot market," Lorz added. "With trucks, you're committed to more local markets. "With rail, there are more options."
Kevin Kelley, CEO of Kelley Bean, noted trucking is also more expensive. He referred to the railroad as a "lifeline" for American agriculture.
"We totally rely on it to get our product to market," Kelley said. "We were paralyzed for two months. It's been really frustrating, but a lot of people worked hard. You know, Curt was our ring leader and our cheerleader. He did a fantastic job for us."
The companies' success in Cavalier speaks to the "fortitude of the American farmer" in a time when Kelley said growers and producers are suffering the impacts of retaliatory tariffs.
"Farmers and producers, processors like ourselves, and elevators came together to make this project work," Kelley said. "And I think you're going to see more and more of that spirit in America to make our country work, to make agriculture work, to make our economy thrive."