CRYSTAL – The corn lay as smooth as a yellow brick road between the railroad tracks in the picture that went viral on social media, but, skeptics asked, was the picture real?
Why were no animals eating the corn? Why was the spill so clean, with what looked at first glance like not a single kernel falling outside the tracks? Photographs were enhanced and investigated, wildlife expertise proffered, deer-hunting jokes made.
The photo, it turns out, is real.
The spill happened in Crystal on the Canadian Pacific rail line roughly between the Bottineau Boulevard bridge and the cul-de-sac of Scott Avenue North, much of it on a tree-lined stretch of the railroad right of way with homes on either side.
The corn stretched for roughly 2,000 feet, and assuming it was about 1½ inches deep the whole way, was in the ballpark of 900 bushels, or $3,465 worth of grain by Tuesday’s prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Gary Bates, who lives in a home next to the tracks, said that in warmer weather he figures birds would be swarming the tracks to eat the corn.
“There are deer and raccoon in the area but they’re hunkered down, is my guess,” Bates said. “They didn’t get the e-mail.”
Bates has seen grain spilled on the rail line before, but nothing like this.
“I’ve never seen the track completely covered in corn,” he said.
Ryan Hentges was grabbing supplies from a heating and cooling truck in a driveway 100 feet from the tracks. He had seen the photo on Facebook and his face broke into a smile when he learned the spilled corn was only a few steps from where he stood.
“It’s right there?” he said. “I can’t believe they didn’t suck it up already.”
In fact, railroad workers were starting to clean up the corn as he spoke, using a high-rail vacuum truck moving slowly under the Bottineau bridge, its vacuum screaming in the cold air.
The spill did nothing to stop rail traffic, however. Two trains rumbled over the corn before the workers started the cleanup.
Hentges said he figured the photo was real when he first saw it, but “it’s hard to believe anything you see on social media.”
A spokesman from Canadian Pacific Railway confirmed the spill Tuesday and that a crew was cleaning it up.
Bates, who lives near the tracks, had just taken pictures of the corn on a morning walk and was heading home.
He said he hadn’t seen any pictures on social media and didn’t plan to post any there.
“I’ll just send them to my kids,” he said.