Answer Man

Answer Man: Why do we have mile markers on highways?

Q. As I was driving I-255 south to I-70, I noticed mile markers every two-tenths of a mile. The markers are really nice and, I’m sure, expensive. So why are they placed every two-tenths of a mile? At times you can see three at the same time. For that matter, why do we have mile markers at all?

— Martin

A. As the Big Bad Wolf might have told Little Red Riding Hood, the better to find you with, my dear.

Let me paint a situation I hope you never actually find yourself in: Suppose you have a breakdown or medical emergency on I-255. You use your cell phone to call for help, and, of course, you’re immediately asked where you are. Without those signs, all you might be able to say is, “Well, I’m somewhere near Cahokia.”

Not very helpful, right? But with those signs, you could quickly say, “I’m just a little north of mile marker 6.2,” which would give an ambulance or tow truck vital information in pinpointing your location.

That’s exactly the reason Missouri gave in 2006 when it installed 6,000 of those signs along its 1,200 miles of interstate highway. The new signs were bigger than the old mile markers and include the name of the highway and direction of travel as well as the location to the tenth of a mile.

They cost the state $3.2 million, but officials said they were worth it.

“Being able to get accurate information has speeded up our response time,” Lt. Tim Hull, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, told the Columbia Missourian at the time. “One of the things that helps us is that motorists can give us a more clear location where they are.”

Brian Williamsen at the Illinois Department of Transportation tells me they are also useful in identifying sections of roads that need maintenance.

Q. With all the news about California’s drought and the record snowfall in the Northeast, I was wondering why they couldn’t load up all the excess snow on a train and haul it West? I’ll bet the people in California would appreciate the water!

— Cathy Stoltz, of Belleville

A. I’ll bet they would, too, but despite your heartfelt intentions, I’ll also bet this is one idea that would never fly — or roll, as it were.

I mean, can you imagine the logistics that would be involved? First, you would need an army of men and dump trucks to load the snow and haul it to a rail yard.

Then, you likely would need to commandeer many trains, because one would be like a drop in the bucket, so to speak. This, of course, would keep them from doing their usual runs of coal, agricultural products, etc. Finally, in California, you’d need more trucks to unload the snow or, more probably, water and haul it to where it’s needed.

And, for what? Don’t forget that, depending on the moisture content, 10 to 20 inches of snow is the equivalent of just 1 inch of rain, so after filling, say, an 11-foot-high boxcar, you might wind up with very little water for your trouble. And I could only imagine the fees local governments and train companies would charge West Coast water providers for the service.

So, unless you had a Star Trek-style transporter beam, I would think that East is snow and West is drought and never the train will meet.

The wheel deal: The company may have split up 65 years ago, but the Kaiser-Frazer name lives on in the metro-east — and quite prominently in at least one spot.

After my Tuesday column on the long-defunct automobile brand, Roger called to tell me of a large, deteriorating but still easily readable Kaiser Fraser sign on the frontage road just north of I-270 in Madison County. (Sorry, your last name was mangled when your cell phone cut out.)

Sure enough, adding even more color to that short stretch of Historic Route 66 is a green, yellow and red Kaiser Fraser sign in need of refurbishment on the north side of the road, about three-tenths of a mile west of Illinois 157.

While we’re on the subject, Joan Moss of Fairview Heights chastised me for not mentioning that Kaiser Frazer produced the country’s first compact car — the Henry J. (named for Henry J. Kaiser) for 1951. While the company had high hopes for the model, which sold for $1,300 ($12,800 today), Americans wanted big cars at the time and it was discontinued in 1954.

Although I was asked about the Frazer, I probably also should have mentioned that Henry Kaiser also was behind what is now Kaiser Permanente, the huge integrated managed care consortium.

Today’s trivia

Can you name the two men who have won Super Bowls as a head coach, assistant coach and player?

Answer to Thursday’s trivia: After recovering from a childhood bout with polio, Harry Peter “Bud” Grant was told by his family doctor to get active in sports. Did he ever. After a short stint in the Navy, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he earned all-Big Ten honors twice in football to go along with three letters each in basketball, baseball and football. After graduating, he was drafted in the first round by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and in the fourth round by the NBA’s Minnesota Lakers. He chose the Lakers, for whom he played two seasons, including the team’s 1949-1950 league championship. He then joined the Eagles in 1951 and finished second in the NFL the following season in both pass receptions (56) and receiving yards (997). Of course, most football fans probably remember him best for guiding the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls during his 18-year NFL coaching career. However, the Vikings are the only team to play in four Super Bowls without ever taking the lead.

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