Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What a Great Choice!


Monday, May 18, 2020

May 18, 1980 - Mt St Helens: The Burlington Northern Connection

My how time flies!  Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.  Here is how I originally presented the story  ...

Portland Oregon, May 18, 1980.

"Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" (Jeff Renner, retired weather man at KING-TV, Ch 5, Seattle)

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.


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.

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. I could only shake my head at anxious passengers who are still being disrupted by the eruption in Iceland.

They grouse about not being able to fly. 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?

This jar had been sealed since I collected the ash in 1980. When I took the lid off last night, 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 '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! Those "Mt. Ash" engravings were visible on my vehicle for many years following.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Season's Greetings 2019!


WABCO - 1941

I found this knee-slapper in an old back issue of  TRAINS. But forgot to annotate it as to what issue I found it in! Spent considerable time trying to re-find it, to no avail.






•  The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train ***Christmas Train***
•  2018 Christmas Truck Parade Along Beach Drive, Oak Bay, Victoria, B.C.
•  Seattle Boat Christmas
•  Charlie Pride "Christmas in My Home Town."


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!