Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Believe it or not, this is the 10th Thanksgiving for Oil-Electric. The notion of writing a Blog running this long, was something I never planned. It just happened!

Coming from a long career in audio-visual communication, I got frustrated with the Worlds Number One Posting site. It’s fine for their website model. But that format just wasn’t the right fit to allow me to “express” myself.

I was airing my frustration to someone who recommended “Blogging” as being the perfect outlet for my creativity. I discovered a Blog is whatever you want it to be. Self-publishing made simple!

And I get to screen - approve - the photographs!

Now, almost 800 articles "in the can." Life events resulted in a slow down.  But many interesting articles " are in the oven."

My sister and I were brought up to celebrate Thanksgiving every day, not just during the official holiday. One of the many things I am grateful for is this Blog and cadre of faithful readers.

The Blog is the perfect outlet for sharing my modest railroad photo collection. Several readers have asked me if I have a “favorite” photograph. Yes I do. While it isn’t dramatic, it evokes a rush of memories and feelings about my early days of “railroading.” And it captures for me, the essence of three years living in Prince Rupert. (1957 - 1959)

Realizing I only had only a few months left before we move back to Seattle, I begin to focus on capturing "memory shots."

This was my favorite spot, out at Pillsbury Point, south of the Government Grain Elevator, where my Dad's rail barge was processed. You can see the lead down to the barge bridge in the foreground.

I was 14 years old when I snapped this shot south of Prince Rupert, at Mile Post 118.5 on the Skeena Subdivision, with my hand-me-down Kodak folding 120 camera.

I title this photo, “Running Out the Slack.” It was taken in late evening, August 4, 1959. Fourth Class Freight 922 drifting eastward out of Prince Rupert with 9700 tons. Pulling at a slow speed, 567C’s issued  an anxious, raspy exhaust. Those V-16's were anxious to pull!

It was on this stretch of track where freighters began "winding up." The last rays of sundown reflect off the stainless steel grills of the lead unit.

CNR 9116 was built by General Motors Division (GMD) in London, Ontario.  She was out-shopped in November 1952. Her assistant, CNR 4807, rolled off the erection floor at GMD in October 1953.

When the crew car clears the yard lead, the conductor will signal the engineer with two short blasts of the communication whistle. The engineer responds, sending two long blasts into the evening. The anxiety of the motors changes to a commanding roar as the throttles are nudged in steps to run eight. Time Freight 922 has cast off into the darkening wilderness, along the Skeena River to Pacific, 118.5 miles to the east.

A trainman gives me a friendly wave.  They were used to seeing me with my camera. He pulls up the cupola window.  The crew car gently rocks from side to side down the line. Gradually, the sound of the working V-16's fade.

There is a chill in the air. I pick up the pace walking between the rails toward home. I wished I had worn a jacket.

Only the sounds of ballast crunching beneath my feet and a "CAW!" from the leader of an unkindness of ravens, as I approached them, feasting on grain at the government elevator.

I realize how much I am going to miss Prince Rupert ...

Related Posting:  "Boxcars Go to Sea."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

10th Anniversary!

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Oil-Electric.

Early Blog headers
It all began when a friend of mine - Kurt in Seattle - exchanged horror stories concerning the dreaded "screeners" at an upscale railroad web site, noted for calendar grade pictures and squeaky clean locomotives, whipping along under white puffy clouds floating in an azure sky!

Both of us knew better.

Lighting can be a challenge, especially when the damn freighter just happens to pass by at high noon. And unless the locomotive reeked of Dupont-Imron, dirt, dust, oily smudges and questionable substances could be seen on the front coupler. And dreary rain soaked days are common in the winter.

Trainman (Indian sweater) and Conductor re-connecting after pickup in Williams Lake

I had a decent run on that web site. They loved my one-of-a-kind PGE shots from the 1950's and '60's. But then I detected a disturbance in the Force.

I began to receive cranky comments about "wordy photo descriptions" and nit-pick's that one screener would allow, whilst another trashed. It was then that I met Kurt.

He told be about a new "self publishing" platform that allowed total editorial control over posting photographs and as much "yackety-yak" that I could come up with. It was called "Blogger."

 I began to get the "hang of it;" fonts, formatting, hyperlinking and dealing with photos. I posted my first Blog article on October 6, 2007.

The Blog allowed unlimited "words," but the best part?  I get to "screen" the photos!

The Blog was advertised as a "Railroad Blog." But every now and again, I would derail and present material on other issues I found of interest. The big derailment came in May, 2010. The Deep Water Horizon was poorly explained in the newspapers and regular suspects, cable and over-the-air television.

Deep Water Horizon lead me directly to Vale in Brazil, with several articles written about the Iron Ore Heavy Haul. That led to the Saldanha Heavy Haul Ore trains in South Africa. And who can forget our exposé of Shell Oil retreat from the Arctic, not once, but twice!

It was about that time that I changed the "mission" statement for Oil-Electric to read, "While my core interest remains unchanged, I have changed. Therefore, from time to time, I present subject material that I find absolutely interesting; hopefully you will too!" 

The absolute zenith for me over the past 10 years was being able to see "up close and personal," the first and second largest dry tow vessels in the world, the Dockwise Vanguard and Dockwise Blue Marlin, moored next to each other, in Port Angeles, retrieving Shell's junk yard fleet. That was a thrilling experience!

I've made some wonderful contacts — folk who eagerly shared photos and information that enhanced my presentations.  Even made contacts with people from my past who stumbled over Oil-Electric. And the hundreds of hours spent in researching topics have given me a world class College education!

I took an emotional hit last Christmas Eve with the loss of my best friend and constant companion.  GingerSnap absolutely loved road trips. Many a night when I would pull an all-niter,  she'd raise her head off her bed in the corner, and shoot me that "Really, Dude?" look.

If you enjoyed the first 10 years, stay tuned for the following!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Do you remember: The 4-S?

Prince Rupert, January 1958.

Do you remember it?

I remember seeing photos of this locomotive in Railroad magazine during my formative “oil-electric” days.

This company was founded in 1938 in Pascagoula, Mississippi

Primarily used on locals that ran down into Mississippi, and returned back to the Jackson area unit.  But that apparently died in the early 1950’s, someone somewhere deep in the bowels of corporate got the bright idea: “Hey! With the building boom in the locomotive market going on, let’s grab a piece of the pie!

Unfortunately the locomotive market was not an easy market to gain market share, with fierce competition with folks who had been around the railroads for some time:

GM, Al Co, Baldwin, Fairbanks Morse, and  others.

So it was not to be. Despite creating an impressive catalog of horsepower with various configurations, only a solitary demonstrator was built.

Severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, Ingalls Shipbuilding, now Northrop Grumman Corporation, is fully recovered and doing what they do best … building commercial vessels and navy ships and offshore drill rigs.

Their one and only locomotive, the Ingalls 4-S, going to the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad.

Railroad Stuff:  Gulf Mobile & Ohio 1900, built by Ingalls Shipbuilding as model 4-S, 1,500hp, 1946. Superior 8 cylinder inline prime mover. Traded to EMD in 1967. Ended up down the road at Pielet Brothers bone yard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mixed Train to Kitimat!

Mixed trains were common once upon a time. Mixed trains combined passenger and freight traffic, and were very common once upon a time.  I photographed many a mixed train that ran from Terrace to Kitimat BC. That train was especially busy during the week, carrying saw mill workers and logging camp personnel to active shows between Kitimat and Terrace.

Here we see CNR 4208 pointing north toward Terrace BC in April 1959. Mail was being loaded from station camera left.

A poster inside the station warned loggers that calked boots were NOT allowed in the passenger car. In the view above, CNR 5000 (4-6-2) in her final days before the cutter torch.

Alcan felt the market need for increased aluminum plates and billets following the Second World War. Essential for a plethora of new products, from aluminum foil to aircraft manufacturing.

First requirement:  The challenge for smelting bauxite (alumina) to a usable metal requires massive amounts of electrical energy.

Alcan came up with an ingenious solution called the Kitimat Kemano Project, which harness a huge electric generation potential.

Founded in 1902 as the Canadian unit of Alcoa.
1925 - Aluminum Company of Canada Limited formed.
1945 - Registers the name "Alcan."
1952 - Begins construction Kitimat/Kemano Project.
1954 - Construction completed - smelter begins operation.
2008 - Rio Tinto (Au) assumes ownership.

Second requirement:  Deepwater access to the Pacific Ocean, for delivery of raw material — bauxite (alumina) — shipment of aluminum product. The Kitimat site sets at the end of a deep water fjord, Douglas Channel.

Alcan selected the Aboriginal fishing village site — and Morrison-Knudsen was contracted to build the dams, tunnels, power lines and smelter. A big deal!

Highway Access:  Until construction of the new smelter at Kitimat, little more than a wagon road joined the fishing village of Kitimat to Terrace.  That all changed rapidly, when Highway 25 (now 37) was opened in November, 1957.

Railway Access:  Canadian National Railways  began a connector from the Skeena Sub main line at Terrace.  The Kitimat Sub was constructed some 39 miles south from the main line to  Kitimat, providing a rail connection to the newly constructed Alcan aluminum smelter.

Construction of the 38 mile (61 km) line was completed on January 13, 1955.  The Last Spike ceremony was held near Hirsch Creek.

S.F. Dingle, Vice President of C.N.R, seen here driving in the aluminum spike.

The line opened for business, with passengers receiving commemorative tickets made of sheet aluminum. That would be a collectors item, Yes?

A couple of years ago, Scott in Prince Rupert forwarded photographs of the demise of the beautiful chateau-styled passenger station at Kitimat.

There is a ambiance surrounding a mixed train in that there is a certain logic in the assemblage of cars. And on the Kitimat Subdivision, the pace was slow - 2.5 hours to travel 38.5 miles!

Railroad Stuff:  CNR 4208 GP-9, 1,750 hp. Originally erected as CNR 4590. Renumbered 1957. Built by General Motors Diesel Ltd, London, Ontario, 6/1957. Serial Number A-1242. Rebuilt and renumbered CN 7272, GP-9RM. 1993.

CN 7272, Montreal, November 2, 2014

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Redux: May 18, 1980 - Mt St Helens: The BN Connection

My how time flies!  Today marks the 36th anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.  Here is how I originally presented the story  ...

Portland Oregon, May 18, 1980.
After months of teasing us, Mt St Helens finally blew her top off. Literally. One square mile of it!

The mountain is about 60 miles north and slightly to the east of the Portland - Vancouver metroplex. You just had to find a hill with an unobstructed view to the north, to enjoy this, the most violent of natures land re-distribution schemes. These folks were watching from the Pittock Mansion located on a hill overlooking Portland.

Ritzville, Wa.  Ash fall from May 18th eruption.
Prevailing weather patterns took the ash plume into Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and beyond. Residents of Ritzville in eastern Washington explore the moon like dust. On a positive note, the ash-fall from Mt St Helens is often credited for the richness of the soils in the Palouse Region, famous for it's wheat, pea, and lentil crops.

Source:  "The Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Weatherbook " © Mountain Graphics, 1980

The Internet is rich with the history and background leading up to the Big Blast, which I will not reiterate. This site is one of the better ones; you will be challenged to look up more than a half dozen references!

While most of the ash fall was to the east, changes in weather patterns brought ash south into the Vancouver - Portland area, on several occasions. And of course like everyone else, I had to collect a jar or two.

This is my last jar. When you look at it carefully, you have to marvel at the mechanism that creates millions of tons of this stuff, and blasts it into the atmosphere.

Actually, the jar is not mislabeled. There were a total of three major eruptions; the biggie on May 18th, May 24 and 25th, which dropped ash in Portland, and  June 12th, which resulted in Portland getting a second round of the stuff. Seattle also got a trace.

While it looks pretty and feels soft to the touch, it is composed of silicates, and can damage human lungs and internal combustion engines with equal aplomb. Does this read like something you would be comfortable inhaling?

State Police and other law enforcement entities devised snorkels with filters, to provide safe air for motor vehicles.

This jar had been sealed since I collected the ash in 1980. Years later, when I took the lid off, a strong odor of hydrogen sulfide gas was emitted!

This was early in the morning of May 25, 1980. Looks like snow falling, but that is volcanic ash! Taken from my living room window in North Portland, facing west, the volcano would be to the right ... 60 miles north!

This is what we woke up to on May 25th. Deceptively beautiful. These are the roofs of two other buildings in the small complex where I bivouacked. Several of us spent the day helping the landlord get this off the roofs, before rain turned it into dangerously heavy mud, which would threaten the structures.

Trying to hose the roof down resulted in creating heavy mud, which clogged the drains. It had to be shoveled and swept.

Check the  Mod Squad '80's look! I look like a ding-dong. I cleverly inscribed "Mt. Ash" on my truck. This despite constant warnings by authorities NOT to drive in or breath the ash, which had the composition of grinding grit! That "Mt. Ash" engraving were clearly visible on my vehicle for many years to come.

And, of course I just had to see what was going on in the neighborhood. Notice the lack of motor vehicles, which meant only a few of us were out trying to clog air filters!

And automotive air filters flew off the shelves of parts stores! This photo shows folks navigating in downtown Portland. Not only automotive air filters, but any kind of filter was hard to locate, and commanded a considerable "markup" when located.

The ash was deceptively beautiful. One could hardly avoid touching it. Since it is silica based, cottage industries sprung up with creative people making coffee mugs, icons, and of course, ash trays, out of the stuff.

Thousand of tons of ash and other soils displaced by the eruption slide into Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake outlets into the Toutle River which joins the Cowlitz River at Interstate 5, with the Cowlitz River joining the Columbia River at Longview, Washington.

The Columbia River was shut down until surveys confirmed that a "sand bar" had not been created at the confluence, which would endanger commerce to the Port of Portland.

It is estimated that the amount of sediment dredged and piled onto the river bank, could build a 12 lane highway, 1 foot thick, between New York and Los Angeles!

Initially, the Corps hastelly constructed a barrier to keep crap from entering the drainage system.  But it was clear that a more substantial retention structure (SRS) was needed..  The current SRS was completed in 1989.So much so, the Corps finally had to build a more substantial structure.

But so much debris continues to enter the drainage system that the SRS was over-topped in 2012!

The Columbia River was shut down until surveys confirmed that a "sand bar" had not been created at the confluence, which would endanger commerce to the Port of Portland.

A report issued by the US Geological Survey gives this assessment of potential disruption to railroad operations, should there be renewed activity on Mt St Helens:
  • Rail transportation is less vulnerable to volcanic ash than roads and highways,with disruptions mainly caused by poor visibility and breathing problems for train crews. Moving trains will also stir up fallen ash, which can affect residents living near railway tracks and urban areas through which railway lines run.
  • Fine ash can enter engines and cause increased wear on all moving parts. Light rain on fallen ash may also lead to short-circuiting of signal equipment.
  • Temporary shutdown disruptions caused by poor visibility and breathing problems for train crews, and potential damage to engines and other equipment, can result in the temporary shutdown of rail services or the delay in normal schedules. For example, ten trains in western Montana (USA) were shut down for nearly a day because of 1-2 mm of ash fall resulting from the eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano, 625 km to the west. Rail services were back to normal operations within 3 days.

Mt St Helens today with a Lenticular cloud cap. Elevation 8,363 ft after loosing 1,314 feet during eruption.

Oh! You remember I mentioned the top one square mile of Mt St Helens blew away? Well that land was owned by Burlington Northern (read Northern Pacific!)  Dating back to the days of railroad land grants, the Northern Pacific railroad owned the land covering a large segment of the top of the mountain.

In an effort to protect themselves from accident or injury liability, what with scientists and TV crews landing helicopters on the summit almost daily, Burlington Northern Railroad Loss Prevention asked the US Forest Service (USFS) to declare their property on the summit as closed.

But television crews who had landed on the summit days before were immune to prosecution. They had landed on property just outside the closure area enforced by the USFS.

And it all became a mute point following the eruption; the entire area was scattered over five states!

The joke around town was, "Did the Burlington Northern Railway file an Environmental Impact Statement prior to setting off the explosion, as required by the EPA?" 

The US Forest Service and Burlington Northern swapped parcels of land on August 26, 1982. This was done to facilitate the Mount St Helen's National Volcanic Monument.

Land Swap Finalized

Mt. St. Helens, taken from US 30 (Oregon), with Columbia River Bridge into Longview in the foreground.

First Signs of Life

Washington State Route 503 begins in Orchards, just north of Vancouver.  It runs up through Cougar, famous for the annual D.B. Cooper Where Are You shindigs, around the eastern slope of Mt. St. Helens, terminating at Interstate 5 near Woodland, Washington.

The highway was closed between May 1980 and July 1982. There was a rush of folk anxious to get up close and personal to the devastated mountain.

Words are inadequate to describe the aftermath of a volcano gone awry.

There was a log boom place on Spirit Lake, to keep tree carcasses from jamming up the Toutle River, as explained above.

Here I documenting  the first signs of life back in the Blast Zone. Although the fishes and amphibians in the lakes and ponds did survive the intense blast.

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).  The name "fireweed" stems from its ability to colonize areas burned by fire rapidly.

It was one of the first plants to appear after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. The first wildlife to reoccupy were the Elk and Deer.

Finally, 3 earthquakes were recorded about Mt.St. Helens today; more than 20 in the past few days.

That's how it all began in 1979.  "Just saying!"

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"Ticket to Ride!"

Smithers Division, Skeena Subdivision, 1958 - 1959. I had just turned 15, and by now had it down to a science riding in the cabs of freight and log trains between Prince Rupert and Terrace.

I had the choice of riding the 1st Class 196 or the Log Train from Prince Rupert to Terrace. Since the varnish was always double headed, I’d ride the second unit. I preferred to ride the Log Train, since it was always more interesting.

We’d leave Prince Rupert with a dozen or so freight cars, stopping at the Columbia Cellulose paper mill at Port Edward, picking up a string of empty log flats, destined for the re-load at Kitsumkalum Reload, just west of Terrace.

Kallum Re-load had 3.5 miles of track with a moderate car capacity of 279 cars with only a single west end connection.

The drill was if two Geeps were assigned on the Log Train from Prince Rupert to Terrace, I’d ride solo in the trailing unit. 

If, on the other hand, a single Geep were assigned, I’d ride the caboose out to Kwinitsa, where a mandatory walking inspection of the consist was performed. 

And in the process, do an end-for-end switch with the head end brakeman. I rode his seat in the cab, whilst the displaced brakeman rode in the caboose with the rear end train trainman and conductor, the remaining 50 miles to Terrace.

We tied up at the Terrace Station and walk into the village for lunch.

After lunch, we'd switch the empty log cars we had picked up at Port Edward, for loaded cars at the Kallum Log Spur, and return to Prince Rupert in late afternoon.


If I rode the passenger train to Terrace, I had a connection problem getting home.

Fortunately, one of my high school buddies, Ron Dolphin, had moved to Terrace.  So I had a place to stay Saturday night, but there was no Log Train on Sunday.

(Ed Note: I recall with glee, the first time I went to Terrace to stay with Ron, I told him I'd be riding in the cab of the passenger train. But as we arrived at the station, Ron kept looking back toward the passenger cars. As I approached him, he said "you weren't kidding!")

To get me home, log train conductor, Stan Wozney, gave me a “Ticket to Ride!,” redeemable on the Sunday evening run back to Prince Rupert aboard 1st Class 195 – in the passenger section.