Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"No other engine is so right..."

Prince Rupert, 1959. "No other engine is so right for railroad service" So stated the Fairbanks-Morse brochure. I was fifteen at the time, and had developed an instant love affair with railroading. Not only was I able to look and touch locomotives, in the westernmost outpost of the Canadian National Railways – Prince Rupert – I was also able to ride in the locomotives.

All I knew at that time was GMD F’s, Geeps, and RS-1200’s. But through Trains Magazine and Railroad Magazine, I was able to learn about other types of locomotives. My Mom and Dad marginally accepted Railroad Magazine – they did publish fiction stories that were a little revved up!

I wrote to English Electric, Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, Budd, GM, and Fairbanks-Morse, requesting builder’s photos and specification sheets. And by writing, it wasn’t like the instant gratification of today’s computerized youth. In those days, I painstakingly typed, on a manual typewriter, my letter. If I made a mistake, I ripped out the paper and started all over again. My Mom would proof read my letters, and that would occasionally send me back to re-type the letter. She taught me the proper way to fold a letter, so that the recipient could open it, right side up, ready to read. I would bet these are lost arts.

Weeks – not seconds - would go by, and finally, one-by-one, my responses came back. I still have the correspondence, in the original over-size envelopes. Except for one. From Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton. I got a number 10 envelope from them with a letter informing me that they had ceased operation, and that the photos and specification sheets were no longer available. I still have that letter.

Fairbanks-Morse caught my attention with their beefy looking opposed piston engines. My Dad, who was Chief Engineer on the Comet, lugging a rail barge between Prince Rupert and Ward Cove Alaska, shook his head when he saw that motor. His last posting, on the Mikiona, Hawaiian Tug & Barge powered by an O-P motor, the last three years leading up to his retirement in 1975, his comments were the exact opposite of the brochures “ease of maintenance” which I can’t publish here!

Indeed, I had a friend in Portland, Oregon, who rode the O-P’s stated that if they got to Hinkle from Portland, with 3 of 4 units still on line, it was a good run!

Urban Legend has it that the end of WWII found Fairbanks-Morse with a building full of motors that were destined for the Navy. They put these 8-cylinder blocks on rails. Something must have gone wrong, because when the dust settled, GM was out in front of the pack.

In 1958, the family took vacation in Seattle. Driving down the Thompson and Frazer River Canyons, I was able to see “real live” locomotives other than what I was used to. And so I was really THRILLED to see Canadian Pacific Railway 8719, one of those Fairbanks-Morse H16-44’s at Spence’s Bridge!

Railroad stuff: CPR 8719, Canadian Locomotive Works, 5/57, Spence’s Bridge BC, July 1958.

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