Why do they call it that? St. Petersburg Pier: St. Pete's Sailing Rail Car

7:14 AM, Mar 21, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: PHOTOS: Classic St. Petersburg Pier photos


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The Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete is this weekend. On TV, you'll see plenty of shots of fast cars and the St. Petersburg Pier.

Here's a look at the pier in a totally different way. And while we can't guarantee that the car in this story is fast, we can promise -- it's pretty cool.

Why do they call it the... rail... sail... thing that doesn't really have a name?

Your picture of St. Petersburg's Pier probably envisions an upside-down pyramid rising above the water.

But six other piers have reached out into Tampa Bay from Downtown St. Pete over the past 125 years.

And even in the beginning, they knew how to have fun. Photos of the earliest pier -- called simply the Railroad Pier -- show an awesome slide that starts at the roof of a building along the pier and sweeps down into the bay!

What could possibly beat that? There's something even cooler -- stay with me.

See, despite the thrilling slide -- and I cannot overstate how much fun this looks -- the pier was built for business. And nothing says business like fish.

The Bay was so clear and full of them, just put in a pole, and pretty soon, you're up to your gills in... gills.

Boat captains would tie up to the pier and unload their entire catch right onto waiting railroad trains. In the 1890's, they shipped three million pounds of fish a year to the northern U.S. on trains from this pier.

Wait! Something's missing -- what is it? To ship fish, you need ice!

No problem. We'll just build an ice factory right where the pier meets the land.

But how do you get big blocks of ice from the factory all the way out to the fish and trains at the end of the pier? The Railroad Pier stretched more than half a mile out into the bay.

You get creative.

Take a flatbed railroad car. Stack a bunch of giant ice blocks on top of it. Then hook a sail to the front -- like a hood ornament on a car!

Catch the wind, and you can sail the rail-sail-contraption right along the tracks all the way to the end!

It's genius! And it's fantastic! For about 15 years.

Till you accidentally run over a tourist out fishing on the pier.

That collision brought an end to the great rail-car sail-car experiment at the pier.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Follow 10 News reporter Grayson Kamm on Twitter at @graysonkamm as he travels Tampa Bay telling your stories.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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