Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Special! Monster Road!

1959 – 1961. Trick or Treat! Halloween! Yes indeed kiddies, there is a Monster Road in Seattle. It runs down through a scrubby forest from what is now called Martin Luther King Way, to SW 16th. And along this windy corridor, there was a testing lab, mysterious and glowing in the dark behind a chain link fence. Who knows what unspeakable experiments were carried in that structure! Only the foolish would linger and ask!

In those days, there was no MLK Pkwy, I-5 was still under construction and there was no such thing as I-405. 3M was the only tenant at what is now South Center. That became what is because of the Metro Sewage Plan, which motivated many companies to move out of Seattle. Longacres racetrack was the only other presence.

And for miles, between Renton, Auburn, Kent, Pacific and Fife, there were hundreds of acres of truck farms, from which we shopped every Sunday for fresh vegetables and fruits. Compare that with the sterile acres of concrete, business parks and asphalt acres of the West Valley!

The passage down Monster Road was great short cut from Renton.

First and foremost, Black River Junction was the wye of the Milwaukee Road. The line, having descended through Cedar River, and down the main street of Renton, empties out onto the Valley, and via the wye, heads north toward King Street Station, or south to end-of-track at South Tacoma Yard.

My train chasing buddy, Elwin Purington and I, spent many an hour at this wye, because not only did we have close-up action with the Milwaukee electric trains, but over there, just to the west, ran the race tracks of the GN, UP, NP and Pacific Coast lines!

(Oh, how sad that all of this has been homogenized into BNSF – you have no idea of what it was like then!)

It was a veritable orgy of sounds, and especially at night, when the roars of the EMD’s in differing lash-ups, and differing types of air horns, running north and south past the Junction was intoxicating!

And in between trains, the night sounds of frogs and crickets, and critters.

As a bonus to all this, the night trick operator at Black River Junction Tower always had coffee brewing, and Ed Frisby, loved company at his lonely outpost. Elwin and I spent many an hour in the tower watching the rich variety of movements to and from Seattle, listening to the radio traffic, jokes, and come-ons between the hogger's and the tower. Actually found a photo of the old Black River Tower http://www.carrtracks.com/bnblrrvr.htm

One evening while we were recording at Black River Junction, the King County Sheriff patrol showed up, wanting to know what we were up to. The deputy spent a half hour, with the headphones on, listening to tape playbacks in the back seat of Elwin’s Corvair! And went away with a big grin on his face!

However, the most memorable occasion at Black River Junction, was when an electric train (EF-1) growled around the wye at a snails pace, while being aligned to head for Seattle. The engineer leaned out of the window and asked me if I wanted a ride! I looked at Elwin who nodded “go for it!” and ran to the cab ladder.

Two things hit me immediately: Number 1, how stinted the cab of this electric locomotive was, and Number 2, the smell of ozone!

We went ran up past Boeing Field, up Rainier Avenue, and dropped off a long cut of cars from St. Paul at Van Asselt, and then did a reverse maneuver back to Black River Junction, where I de-trained. Backing up on the wye, the switch was made, and then, blowing that terrible horn, she moaned and groaned south with the remaining train to South Tacoma. That ride is so crystal clear in my mind, that whenever I think about it, I can recall the growling of those big electric motors, and that smell of ozone!

To this day, I wonder what were the experiments going on in that lab on Monster Road!

2 Comments - Click here:

Kurt Clark said...

Great story! The area around that road is so different now, and the name Monster Road is still the most interesting thing in a sea of single-story business parks.

steady_rest said...

Wonderful site. I also spent many hours at Black River Junction in the 1960's & 70's. The lab on Monster Road I will never forget, "The Technical Research Company". One other memory, was my dad pulling off Monster Road to make me aware that I was witnessing the near end of an era, a Milwaukee worker lighting the kerosene switch stand lanterns in the yard. Like yourself, train watching lost most of its allure, with the mergers, the loss of stations, towers, flimsies and signals that never extinguished.
Thank you

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