Friday, January 29, 2016

Wilson Creek Elevator Fire!

First news color photo published in a newspaper; a grain elevator in Chicago!
On January 2, 2016, a fire broke out just after 2 p.m., at the Wilson Creek Union Grain & Trading elevator.

The town of Wilson Creek, population ~200, is located between Odessa and Soap Lake, an area west of Spokane Washington, accessed by State Route 28 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (nee Burlington Northern, nee Great Northern.)

Blogger Dan Bolyard - "Big Bend" Railroad History" - has just posted a series of photographs taken by photographer Jonathan Fischer, recording the death of a grain elevator, by fire, in central Washington state.

Fischers series of photos demonstrate the results of:

•  Volatility of wood elevator construction.
•  Volatility of elevator contents.
•  Wait time for fire personnel - probably made up of volunteers - who are arriving from different distances from their homes or work-sites.

•  Heavy dependence on water tenders - tankers - to provide suppressing fire stream. Rural departments struggle to own fire trucks capable of handling residential and "normal" business structures.
•  Height of structure, in this case 100 feet, creating a problem of getting "the wet stuff to the burning stuff." 

According to Grant County 12 Fire Chief, Scott Mortimer, the fire occurred in a wood-cribbed elevator and bin house containing wheat and canola. Both are a "total loss. At least one of the buildings had been in operation since the 1940s.

"The Improvement Bulletin" June 13, 1908, page 33
"There's a tremendous amount of wood in these old elevators; neither was completely full. The elevator was more than 100 feet tall. Particularly at harvest, grain stored unintentionally with a high moisture content can be subject to spontaneous combustion."

Mortimer went on to say "If a cause for the Wilson Creek fire is determined, it could be due to the structure. What remained of the structure and its contents was still burning January 4th.

"The building is located near a BNSF Railway rail. BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the railroad temporarily closed the rail line to inspect the line." —  Matthew Weaver, Capitol Press.

First on the scene would have been Grant County Fire District 1, Station 1, located a few blocks from the fire.

Remaining units would have about 20 - 30 mile runs; but again, only once their volunteers arrive at respective stations.


•  Grant County Fire District 12 received aid from Grant County Fire District 5, the City of Ephrata Fire Department, Grant County Fire District 13 and Grant County Public Utility District.
•  BNSF closed the line to allow fire department access, and to inspect the track following the fire.
•  Note the green Center Pivot Irrigation systems.

While the photo sequence is a little muddled, in reference to structure collapse, the beginning of the fire through the third frame, when the fire fully ventilates the roof is awesome.

Then we see two water tenders (tankers) arrive an begin squirt water from their front mounted monitors, best suited for dealing with range/crop fires.

In the following frame, we clearly see the interior construction of timber-framed construction. Finally, a telesquirt (remote controlled nozzle) show up and later,

we see two manned aerial platforms are pouring on suppressive water. Overall, a great series of photographs.

Be sure to checkout Dan's book on the history of the Mid Columbia railroad history!

Finally, learn how one company, Old Globe Reclaimed Wood, turn elevator timbers into stunning works of art!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Wonderful Tribute to GingerSnap ...


While the pain of her loss is overwhelming, I am very grateful to GingerSnap for her companionship and fun times we shared together!

Thank you, Dr. Johnson and the Staff of Hadlock Veterinary Clinic and the Northwest Watershed Institute.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shut Bertha Down! The Gothic Horror Story Continues ...

On Thursday January 14th, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee ordered Bertha, the Worlds Largest Tunnel Boring machine,  to stop drilling the SR99 tunnel beneath the streets of Seattle.

This followed two back-to-back incidents created by the dig.

Thank God we have a Democrat governor.  Who knows what a "Republican Rick Snyder - type Governor," who has been poisoning the residents of Flint, would have not done?

■  First incident. On Tuesday January 12th, a spoils barge began tipping over whilst being loaded at the Pier 47 loading site. A bulkhead collapsed, spilling spoils into Elliot Bay.

Instead of hauling up to 5,000 tons of the tunneling spoils away each day in a fleet of trucks, Seattle Tunnel Partners inked an agreement with Foss Maritime (Seattle), to move up to twice that amount in barges.

Pier 47 sustained considerable damage to pilings. Pier 48, where the barge drifted following its release also sustained damages. (WSDOT purchased the pier and it was scheduled for demolition.)


Spoils from the Tunnel Boring Machine travel on a conveyor belt, through the completed bore, across former Alaskan Way, to a site on Pier 47.

Foss Maritime has the concession to transport the spoils to an abandoned rock quarry located near Mats-Mats on the Kitsap Peninsula.

■  Second incident.  Hours later, following the barge accident, a sink hole opened up behind the Tunnel Boring Machine. I measured 35 feet long, 20 to 25 feet wide and 15 feet deep, sucking up ~250 cubic yards of dirt!


The emergence of the sink hole sent alarms through the Department of Transportation. Smelling potential law suites against the City of Seattle, and the State of Washington, Governor Jay Inslee directed Seattle Tunnel Partners cease boring.  Stop Bertha in her tracks!

Washington State Secretary of Transportation, Lynn Peterson, requested Seattle Tunnel Partners shut the Tunnel Boring Machine down.

"I have great concerns regarding public safety if the contractor were to move forward without addressing the root causes of this sinkhole," Governor Inslee said during a news conference. "We must continue to protect the public safety."

This following a two year delay, during which a 100 foot deep rescue pit had to be constructed, the TBM driven into the pit and dismantled. Crews spent months repairing and replacing components of the complex machine.

Finally on December 13th crews began filling the repair pit, burying Bertha beneath tons of sand. Eight days later on December 20th, the sand back-fill was completed at 2 a.m.

Within minutes, at 2:13 a.m., concrete pumping trucks were in place, pouring a concrete plug atop the sand. 14 hours later, the concrete plug was complete at 4:05 p.m.

Bertha broke out of the rescue pit, and had advanced a short distance before the sink hole appeared.

The only activity on site today is the disassembly of the massive Mammoet Hydraulic Jack Lifting Device.

The project is sadly behind schedule.  Should work continue, this highly detailed interactive graphic, produced by WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation), offers an optimistic view of what lies ahead for Bertha.

There are many moving pieces in this presentation. As a retired Instructional Designer, I award 10 out of 10 points for instructional value! Take your time to absorb the content of this interactive graphic.

Courtesy, Sightline.org
Back in December, 2013, as the first pieces of Bertha were being hoisted to the surface for repairs, Washington Governor Inslee told an assemblage, "There's no plan B if Bertha tunnel project fails."


While it may be true that the State has no "Plan B" in the event of a catastrophic failure of Bertha, inventive citizens have worked up very clever and creative uses for the existing tunnel, terminating with a majestic Community Hall and atrium, featuring an awe-inspiring view of Bertha, the Worlds Largest Tunnel Boring Machine.


And, of course, you'll be able to pose for photos in front of the massive 5-story high cutter head:

Bertha Viewing Gallery
•  Adults — $15.00
•  Seniors / Military — $7.00
•  Children under 10 — Free!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Wellman Diesel Electric Locomotive Crane


Most railroad photographers aim at the “stars,” the thrill of the chase, the nailing of a specific motive power type, and perhaps building up “roster shots” of their favorite locomotives.

But there is a whole bunch of candidates for “best supporting actor."  Maintenance of Way (MOW) equipment and crews maintain track stability and safety, enabling the “stars” to shine.

CN 50368

My nominee for "'supporting actor" would b the Wellman Diesel-Electric Locomotive Crane. She had a beautiful four chime air horn, and just kind of trudged here and there, doing this and that, to keep the Skeena Subdivision running smoothly.


Shown here at Terrace, B.C., April 9, 1959, in her “traveling configuration” with her accompanying “boom car.” Depending on the job and distance from civilization, the boom car carried petroleum, oil and lubricants, as well as support equipment such as cables, blocks, turnbuckles, to support the assignment.


In addition to routine pick and place hooks, the Wellman could manipulate:

•  Tongs for clearing brush and snags out of ditches and culverts; removing debris from around bridge pilings.
•  Operate a clam shell bucket for material handling; sand, gravel, ballast.
•  Load rail and scrap metal with a powerful electromagnet.
•  Place cement with her concrete bucket.
•  Drive pilings with her pneumatic pile driver tool.


CNR 50368 was built by the Locomotive Crane Division of Wellington Engineering Company in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1958.

•  Serial Number:  4364
•  Weight:  184,l000# (92.05st)
•  12 foot outriggers
•  "Not to be handled over 20 mph (32km)"



Broadly speaking, while the self-propelled crane fussed around the yard doing this and that, they, like any other motive power, required written authority to operate beyond the Yard Limit sign. This included issuance of train orders for crane operator and foreman to advance to the work area. This is covered under "Rule 93." (PDF 1 MB)


I've got a large tin full of train orders, and last night, on a whim, dumped it out on the kitchen table. Low and behold, I found train order Form 19R, dated August 21, 1958, giving diesel-electric locomotive crane CNR 50368, operating rights as shown. Notice she is referred to as "ENG" engine, just like any other locomotive.


So that's the Dispatchers written authority to operate beyond the Prince Rupert Yard Limit sign. (Reminds me of a phrase I heard somewhere along my travels. "If the Dispatcher does not know where you are, neither does God!)"

But how to warn other traffic that the Wellman was on the job?

Digging further into the pile of flimsies, unbelievably I found train order Form 31, issued along with the Form 19R,relating to the crane 50368 work extra designation.


Leaving out the technicalities, Form 31 announced special conditions that could, if not paid attention to, result in a incident with a poor outcome, such as derailment or worse, collision, out on the Road.

Unlike the pinkish Form 19R, the 31 was printed on buff paper. Like the 19R, the 31 had to be carried by the engineer and conductor.  But unlike the 19R, Form 31 could not be passed up to the engine and caboose with a train order hoop.


The train had to stop. In "those days" the station train order paddle pointing to the ground. The engineer and conductor (and operator) had to sign the Form 31, insuring everyone was aware of track conflict.

And in this case, a warning that Work Special 50368 must to stop and take instructions from the foreman at the work site as to how to proceed safely past the work area.

[Ed Note:  It's remarkable that this Blog  — Oil-Electric — has connected me with several individuals who worked on the Skeena Sub during my apprenticeship as a Ferroequinologist back in the late 1950's!]

I've recently exchanged email with  Harry Kruisselbrink in Smithers (British Columbia) who is a former CNR operator, now train buff and has written a book on railroading ('Smithers: A Railroad Town.')

Look at the two train orders for ENG 50368. Both authorized by "AAN." So I asked Harry two questions:

1. Who was "AAN?"
2. Did he know Don Vaale, one of Prince Rupert's operators, who I wrote about in a Blog article?

Harry's response:

"AAN is Alf Nunweiler who was a dispatcher and worked in the CN station here in Smithers on the 2nd floor right above my office. He moved to Prince George when the whole dispatchers office was relocated there, he then went into politics and became the MLA for Fraser-Fort George from 1972-75 even serving as a Minister of Northern Development under Dave Barrett. Nice to see his initial on the train order you enclosed.

"Yes, I knew Don Vaale. In the late 1950s (maybe 1958) he was a yard operator in Smithers - he was just a young man then and had not been married for very long. As I recall, he went into the hotel business (I believe Don's father owned a hotel in Prince George at that time) and later became very successful at it and established a chain of hotels including the Aspen Hotel here in Smithers.

"I'm very familiar with "the bug". My boss, Eric Tycho, was an expert at it - in fact he, along with a number of other hotshot telegraphers were constantly told "slow it down. You're going so fast we can't read you!" What a compliment, eh! There is still an active Morse Code group in BC and, I believe,across Canada. I started to learn the Morse code but at that time teleprinters came to the northline and so I grew up with them and never really learned the Morse code."



Bruce, another retiree from Canadian National I've connected with thru my Blog, penned a fascinating piece in his "Caboose Coffee" blogspot about his experience out on the road, operating what sounds to be a cantankerous locomotive crane,  CNR 50368.

Here is an excerpt from his article:

"The train orders provided for us by the train dispatcher in Prince George, and copied by ur assigned train order operator gave us authority to operate as a 'work extra' which was designated "Work Extra 50368".

Our working limits were outlined in our orders and usually encompassed the main track between siding west switch Eddy and siding east switch Tete Jaune, a distance of nearly thirty miles. This was usually more than we required on any given day because the crane, pulling the caboose, idler and gondola would only make about 15 miles per hour on dry rail and being pushed by a tail wind.

The crane's main air reservoir feed valve had been having trouble maintaining standard air pressure for the brake system on the train. This resulted in the pressure dropping without notice, stopping the train and not allowing it to move again until the problem was overcome.

This ate up quite a bit of time and the Road Master was beginning to show some irritation because of the delays."


Self-propelled locomotive cranes can be traced back to the late 1800's, manufactured in Australia, Europe or the United Kingdom.

And they truly were — a locomotive with a crane!

This magnificent "rescue" was built in 1870.  Classed as 0-4-0, she worked continuously in Australia into the early 1980's!


Initially, the name "Wellman" had no connection to locomotive cranes. He was a steel man.


So ... you ask, how did Wellman's name become welded to the south end of a north bound locomotive crane?

It took me a while to sort it out. Let me explain.

There was a Samuel Thomas Wellman, an interesting character who made important contributions in the late 1880's to the early industrialization of the United States.


Born in 1847, Wellman went on to be a major contributor to technology in the burgeoning steel industry.


■  In 1873, Wellman was selected by Charles Augustus Otis to oversee construction and serve as chief engineer and superintendent of its Lakeside Works in Cleveland. Wellman installed the first commercially successful basic open-hearth furnace in the U.S., which soon eclipsed the Bessemer process in 1886, and introduced mechanized charging, contributing to Otis's rise as one of the nation's most dynamic small producers.

And yes, he did design and Patent a crane —  a hydraulic crane — in 1871!  He subsequently made great improvement on its design and operation in 1878.

So while Wellman did design a crane, it was not a locomotive crane. His water-actuated hydraulic crane was used in the operation of an open hearth furnace. Among other inventions, Wellman invented the electromagnet used for lifting and sorting iron and steel.

■  1896. Building on his success with Otis, the Wellman-Seaver Engineering Co., was founded by Samuel T. Wellman, his brother, Charles. H. Wellman, and John W. Seaver, to engineer and design steel mills and industrial plant equipment.

■  In 1901, Thomas R. Morgan joined the firm, re-incorporating as Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Company. As Wellman-Seaver-Morgan contracted business from all over the world, it concentrated on expanding its material-handling equipment.


One of the company's executives, George H. Hulett, invented the Hulett Unloader. Eventually, 77 of these hypnotic  machines were constructed, revolutionizing the Great Lakes ore industry .

■  In 1930, the corporate name was changed to the Wellman Engineering Company.

■  In 1954 the Cleveland-based McDowell, Inc., an international construction and engineering firm, acquired Wellman, becoming Wellman-McDowell .

■  In April 1956, a fellow by the name of Martin Preston designed and patented (PDF 476 KB) this locomotive crane, assigning the manufacturing rights to Wellman - McDowell Engineering. The Wellman Diesel Electric Locomotive Crane was born! 

And that's how Samuel T. Wellman's name ended up welded on the south end of a north bound diesel electric locomotive crane!

Meanwhile, another locomotive crane was giving Wellman stiff competition. Ohio Locomotive Crane Company was founded in 1909 by Charles F. Michael. Located on North Sandusky Avenue in Bucyrus, Ohio, the first crane that was built only had four wheels, a framed cab with a coal burning boiler and a stubby boom made mostly of channel. In 1915 the plant was relocated to Southern Avenue where is it still located today.



■  In June 1960, Ohio Locomotive Crane Company purchased the Wellman-McDowell Engineering of Cleveland, to acquire the diesel electric traction drive system, a design that was becoming well known and preferred over the previous diesel mechanical drive the Ohio company had been using for many years.

■  "Wellman" carbodies carried the "Ohio" logo after 1960.

■  The company names and owners have changed over time and now is called American & Ohio Locomotive Crane Co. American & Ohio Locomotive Crane Co. is still located in Bucyrus, Ohio.


Finally here is a great video of Ohio (Wellman design,) CP414222 on assignment. Remember, but built in 1976 after Ohio acquisition, hence the "Ohio" logo.

The model DE400, had a top speed of 60 miles per hour, as opposed to the DE300 rated at 25 miles per hour.

And how's this for the "Odd Ball" collection? Simply remove the boom (which may have been damaged) and utilize the diesel-electric car body!

Shown with permission, Robert Krol
Alaska Railroad runs a Wellman Diesel-Electric as a "Car Mover!  Apparently she's still on the active roster!