Two-mile warning

Thursday, August 31, 2006
Artists Thomas Melvin and Craig Thomas had to stop painting the floodwall and climb down the scaffold before a train arrived Wednesday. (Diane L. Wilson)

Thomas Melvin, Craig Thomas and their young helper, Ryan Hammond, are never alone as they put a new face on the "Missouri Wall of Fame."

The railroad is always watching over them.

Since the artists started work on the Cape Girardeau floodwall's "Missouri Wall of Fame" mural this week, they've had to deal with one big distraction -- the trains that pass just a few feet from the scaffolds they use to do their work.

But they're never surprised by the motorized behemoths, because the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe railroad always gives them warning when one is about to pass.

Each time a train passes by their location -- something that occurs several times during their working hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- Burlington-Northern personnel will contact the artists and tell them to evacuate the wall.

"I feel like we're in kindergarten," Thomas jokes.

Actually the service is one the artists are grateful to have, because their work area is almost close enough for them to reach out and touch passing trains.

"We all knew that was the story. Even when they were sandblasting the wall, they had to deal with that," Melvin said as he painted a portrait of Calamity Jane on the wall. "There's nothing we can't drop and run when a train's coming."

The artists began work on the actual painting of the wall on Monday, repainting the mural that was originally painted by Margaret Dement in 1996. The mural features portraits of famous people with ties to the Show Me State.

Burlington-Northern has flags placed two miles away from the spot in both directions. When trains approach, they slow down and radio the local railroad office, which then warns the artists of the approach by cell phone or in person.

Steve Forsberg, a railroad spokesman, said the procedure is typical for work taking place near the tracks.

"We do the same thing routinely for other contractors doing work putting utility lines or pipelines underneath our tracks," Forsberg said.

335-6611, extension 182

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