Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween on Monster Road: Black River Junction Story

As a young man chasing trains around Seattle in the early 1960's, one of my favorite places to hang out was Black River Junction, about 10 miles south of Seattle. Black River Junction offered not only fantastic rail traffic, but also, during certain times of the year, a chilling spooky feeling. Because to get to Black River Junction, we had to exit Empire Way - now Martin Luther King Blvd - onto Monster Road!


Monster Road

Yes, there is a Monster Road, named for John Monster who set up a 160 acre farm on the Green River Valley floor near Black River in 1880. This account found in the history of the Skyway neighborhood, tells of him driving his cows twice a day across the Seattle to Portland main line for years, without tangling with a train!

Heading down Monster Road toward the White River valley floor, we had to pass by the mysterious Technical Research Company.

Set back off the narrow road, behind chain link fencing and a screen of brush and trees, several ominous buildings. Their mercury arc lighting and a mysterious humming sound gave friend Elwin Purington and I pause to wonder what unspeakable terror lurked behind the gated compound!

We had the Union Pacific, Northern Pacific, Great Northern, Pacific Coast, and course, the Milwaukee Road transiting the area. Pacific Coast Railroad (PCRR) was a historic connecting line from a coal loading facility on Seattle's Elliot Bay, up to Black Diamond and several other coal mines south and east of Seattle. In 1952, Great Northern purchased the line, but operated it as PCRR


Black River Junction

Milwaukee Box Cab Southbound at Black River Junction Tower. Circa 1935.
Pacific Coast #14 Southbound for Black Diamond. Circa 1935.
Black River Junction was special, because all of Seattle's major carriers funneled through this location.



Free of grade level crossing, freighters and varnish had their first shot at Run 8, heading south, clearing the carbon by the time they passed Black River Junction Tower.

After dark, the area became more exciting. Air horns shouted out from north and south. It was a guessing game what railroad was passing through. Spring and fall would bring foggy evenings, which heighten the exhilaration. Headlamps became comet-like apparitions, and sounds muffled.

I vividly remember a very foggy evening, listening to a moaning single trumpet air horn off in the distance, moaning four long blasts repeatedly, requesting to utilize the wye configuration offered by the junction.


It wasn't until 1927, that the Milwaukee completed the electric lines from Black River Junction to Seattle. Until that time, the electrics were replaced by steam at Maple Valley to haul trains to Seattle!

At the controls of the Box Cab on the inaugural run was Seattle's Mayor Bertha Knight Landes.
According to this account published in the July 1927 Milwaukee Road Magazine, Ms Landes proved to be very competent at running the Box Cab the 10.1 miles from the Junction to Seattle.


Black River


At one time there had been a beautiful functioning Black River. It was fed by over flow from the south end of Lake Washington, flowing generally SW emptying into the White River.

But as Seattle city limits pushed south, and marsh land was drained to produce farm land, a massive project was undertaken, forever changing the hydrology of the area. That occurred in 1916 with the completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and what is commly referred to as the Ballard Locks.

This resulted in Lakes Union and Washington dropping some eight feet in level, effectively shutting off Black River. It's entrance was sealed to force incursion by the Cedar River

Today, one can trace the former river bed, as it winds up from the former confluence with the White River.

Looking carefully in the upper right corner, you see the former river bed runs beneath the runway of Boeing Aircraft Renton Complex.

When the Milwaukee Road marched across the continent, construction terminated at Maple Valley Washington.


The Road signed a 99 year agreement with the Pacific Coast Rail Road (PCRR,) to make it's way down to Black River Junction, and north to Seattle. So that leg of the road was dispatched by PCRR
 

From Black River Junction to Tacoma, dispatching - excluding the PCRR stretch - was conducted from the famous "D" street warehouse in Tacoma.

 

Williamson's Final Report 

Back in the '70's, the Milwaukee Road filed papers with the Interstate Commerce Commission, requsting abandonment of the west extension. As part of the process, The Road hired the prestigious Booze, Allan, & Hamilton (BA&H) consulting firm, to support the claim that it was too expensive to continue operations west of Miles City Montana.

To that end, BA&H contracted with Harry M. Williamson, a self-employed railroad engineering consultant, with an impressive resume. Mr. Williamson conducted a detailed survey from Miles City to Tacoma. The purpose of his examination was to provide an estimated cost to bring the Road up to not Class One, not Class Two, but to Class Three status.

This report to support the notion that the Milwaukee Road could not afford to repair the line, should the Interstate Commerce Commission deny the abandonment application


Here is a view of Black River Junction Tower few rail fans could ever image capturing in their lens! These photos are from a series of photos, taken to document Williamson's findings.

Believed to be Paul Cruikshank, VP Operations, Milwaukee Road

Presented as "Written Direct Testimony of Harry M. Williamson" often referred to as the "Williamson Final Report," it makes for interesting reading.

We think Harry Williamson is far left next to Paul Cruikshank. In the "hole" just south of Black River Junction, meeting southbound Amtrak.

While there is much speculation including conspiracy theories concerning the demise of the Road - some implicating Washington Governor Dixi Lee Ray. However, Governor Ray came into office in 1977, long after the Roads tooth decay began!


Acknowledgements

A Blog article is dry toast without photographs. So I am always grateful when photographers permit my use of their photos to illustrate a story.

•  John Carr, for the Black River Junction Tower shots, taken whilst he was stationed near Bremerton in the US Navy. His web site - Carr Tracks - contains a cornucopia of rail photography!
•  Thomas White, for his "Maple Valley Dispatchers Record of Movement of Trains."
•  Scott Lothes at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, who generously allowed use of the photos from the Williamson assessment trip.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Spectacular Night Float Out: NCL Encore


While most of us were asleep last night (Saturday) in various time zones other than Germany, Norwegian Cruise Lines "Encore" was floated out into the Ems River.

Encore is the fourth and final expression of the "Breakaway Plus" class. "Breakaway", according to my contacts at NCL, means — promotes — "a free spirited relaxed dress code", for a "care-free voyage."

Encore joins:

• Escape (2015)
• Joy (2017)
• Bliss (2018)
• Encore (2019)

Significant changes have been incorporated into the Encore, one of which extends the popular go cart track, including a curve that goes OVER the side of the vessel! Definitely not for the faint of heart!

Norwegian Encore itinerary is based on home port Miami Florida (USA) round trips (Sunday departures) on 7-day Eastern Caribbean itineraries with call ports San Juan Puerto Rico, St Thomas USVI and Tortola BVI.

NCL has provided the hull of new vessels as a blank canvas for highly acclaimed artists. Encore features the work of Spanish Artist Edurado Arranz-Bravo.

Joy and Bliss pass me in Port Townsend every Saturday and Sunday. I am upgrading my photo gear to capture them in high definition.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Megan Rapinoe: You Go Gurl!

Many soccer fans — if they can steal TV time at work or at home — will be focused on the USA vs Great Britain semi-final on Tuesday July 2nd!

The entire team has thrilled and delighted us with their exciting march toward the World Cup. Leading team USA, a remarkable powerhouse, #15, Forward, Megan Rapinoe.

Ms. Rapinoe is a product of the West Coast. Born in Redding California — a sweltering fuel stop on the I-5 in summer; an ice box in winter — she went on to graduate from the University of Portland, less than 3 miles from my habitrail in the 1990's.

As with all assertive and intelligent women, our odious president has twitted demeaning messages to Megan.

Good Luck Ladies!  We anticipate you will be on the pitch for the World Cup Final on Sunday July 7th!

Monday, May 13, 2019

You: Aria

Let's face it. Most commercials are annoying. We are subjected to repetitive cycles of junk, up to 22 minutes per hour, fed to us by a mind-numbing cast of talking amphibians, birds, boxes, cartoon characters, and outright annoying dingbats!

But every now and then, out of this cacophony of visuals, some really memorable images emerge that are highly repeatable without breaking the mute button on the remote.

Volvo has done it again with the 2019 XC90 flight of commercials entitled "You: Aria"

Who is the stunning soprano?

Emily Cheung, a member of the Vancouver (BC) Chamber Choir, is the coloratura soprano performing  "Queen of the Night: Aria"  from the Magic Flute, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The aria is renowned as a demanding piece to perform well. The vocal range covers two octaves, from F4 to F6 and requires a very high tessitura, A4 to C6. Only coloratura sopranos can sing the bird like, playful high notes.

The L. A. Times asked the question: "Does Volvo know it’s using opera’s most monstrous villainess to sell its SUVs?"

Stunning Voice; Stunning Stereo

You have to look quick; happens right at the beginning of "Aria."  The car stereo is labeled "Bowers & Wilkens." It is a spendy option for the XC90.

At  USD$2,650, the Bowers & Wilkens S90 auto stereo system is impressive!  When you open this page, be sure to click the video clip, demonstrating placement of 19 speakers. The resonating sub-woofer is mounted on the vehicle frame.

The S90 sound system was given a "Standing Ovation" at Cars.com.

We've come along way from 1953, when Dinah Shore sung her way into out hearts, singing "See the USA in your Chevrolet!"


"A Place to Collect Your Thoughts"

In 2016, Volvo launched a flight of commercials promoting the XC90. This baffling commercial created a flurry Internet speculation as to the connotation of the commercials, and relationships of the individuals in the vehicle.

In advertising circles, the ads were successful - very successful!

The thirty-second version of the commercial provides nothing more than a montage of individuals riding in the Volvo XC90.

The "extended" version, three minutes duration, offers many relationship clues, which begin to solve the enigma. There is only a woman driving the car; has to be the daughter, implying the dad is either divorced or widowed.

What is also projected is the upper class status of the "family," from the impressive mansion, to the Hasselblad camera, and the XC90 itself with its pricey Bowers & Wilkins 19 speaker sound system, described earlier.

• In the opening scenes, Mr. B — actor Ron Jack Foley —  is writing wedding notes in preparation for his daughter's nuptials. Moreover, the 2016 XC90 is parked next to a lighthouse, portrayed as being "the perfect place to collect his thoughts."

• The lighthouse is Fisgard Light, the first lighthouse built on southern tippy-tip of Vancouver Island (British Columbia) at the entrance to Esquimalt Harbor, home of the large Canadian Forces Base on the West Coast.

In this screen grab, you can make out the shape of a Canadian Forces warship at anchor in Esquimalt Harbor.

Music Tracks

• First music cut: "Mr. B" writing wedding speech notes whilst sitting in car next to lighthouse: "Emily's Song" The Lil' Fighters. (0:15 to 2:12)

• Second cut, "Mrs. B" plays radio: "Every Time the Sun Comes Up" Sharon Van Etten. (2:30 to end)
(An amusing comment written about the music, "Volvo sold me a song and not a car.")

• Collaboration: Advertising Agency: Grey, New York and Production Company, Townhouse and  Iconoclast

I really enjoyed this flight of commercials - restrained and self-controlled, in sharp contrast to the pedestrian commercials featuring vehicles blazing across the screen at paralegal speeds!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

NCL Norwegian Joy!


Norwegian Cruise Line "Norwegian Joy" outbound Admiralty Inlet, on her inaugural voyage to southeast Alaska.

Marking the "official" opening of the cruising season to Alaskan ports, she and her sister, Norwegian Bliss, offer departures every Saturday (Joy) and Sunday (Bliss) for seven day trip to Skagway, returning via Victoria, May through September.

Joy was launched in 2017, built for service in China. Her painting of "Phoenix Rising" is a figure valued by the Chinese.

She entered a yard in Shanghai where USD$50M was spent to make her almost identical to the Bliss, including installation of a Starbucks coffee shop!

Additional work was performed at Vigor Shipyard in Seattle.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Celebrating UP's Sesquicentennial: Resurrection of Big Boy!

The centerpiece of Union Pacific's 150 Anniversary will be UP 4014, Whyte Designation 4-8-8-4 —   nicknamed "Big Boy!"  She'll be double heading with another historic locomotive, UP 844 next month.

The American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., built 25 of the monsters to Union Pacific’s specifications between 1941 and 1944, and they became legendary. They were the largest steam locomotives ever to work the rugged terrain of Wyoming, aimed at moving freight at track speeds over the Wasatch mountains.

Seventeen Big Boys were scrapped when they were pulled from service, but eight survived and are on display around the country. Union Pacific chose the 4014 for restoration because it spent more than 50 years in the friendly climate of Southern California, at the RailGiants Train Museum at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona.

Timeline

•  In late 2012, Union Pacific announced that it was interested in obtaining a Big Boy and restoring it to operating condition.

•  RailGiants agreed to give the Big Boy back to the Union Pacific in exchange for some other equipment to display.

•  On July 23, 2013, Union Pacific announced that it had reacquired 4014 from The Southern California chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, with the goal of restoring it to service.

•  On January 26, UP 4014 was moved from its home at the museum, on temporary track, on to the adjacent parking lot, with plans to take it to Union Pacific's rail yard in Colton, California, before its move to Cheyenne.

•  On April 28, 2014, UP 4014 began the trip towards the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, its final destination for restoration under the guidance of Heritage Fleet Operations director Ed Dickens. The Big Boy was powered by SD70Ms 4014 and 4884. A compressor was on board of the locomotive to sound the impressive whistle during the trip.

•  UP4014 was delivered to Cheyenne, Wyoming on May 8, 2014, to begin the historic rebuilding process.

•  On April 24, 2019, the Union Pacific Steam Team is busy making final preparations for the May 4 christening of the Big Boy No. 4014 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Final touches on its paint job are being applied and the last necessary tests are being conducted.

•  No. 844 will double-head with No. 4014 from Cheyenne to Ogden on May 4 after the 9:30 a.m. MT christening ceremony.

•  Here is the revised 2019 Union Pacific Steam Schedule. (as of 4/24/19)


Other Resources

•  The Road put together a exciting web site, with interactive maps, allowing you to begin either in Sacramento or Omaha, building the first transcontinental railroad.

•  Can't make it to Ogden for the big event May 9? Union Pacific will be streaming the May 9 ceremonies live via the UP Facebook page, located at http://www.facebook.com/unionpacific.  (If you haven't already "liked" UP's Facebook page, do it today. You'll be notified as soon as the cameras start rolling.)

•  The May 10th events taking place at Promontory will not be streamed live on UP's Facebook page, but will be available via other online outlets.

•  Here is a handy site, the Union Pacific Steam Club. Admission is free, and promises to keep you up to date with the movements of 4014 and 844 and other Anniversary activities.

•  Union Pacific Steam Shop Tour and Big Boy 4014 Restoration (56 minutes).


•  Close up examination of the intricacies of just the front engine of 4014.