Sunday, December 9, 2007

Google Railroading

Port Townsend, today. I was fiddling around with Goggle Earth, having finally replaced an eight-year-old computer with one that has the processor and memory that this program demands.

I discovered a new way of “railroading” via “Goggle Earth.” My first adventure; a fantastic aerial tour of the Cantera Loop in Northern California, which you cannot appreciate at “ground level” because it is spread out in remote territory.

Dunsmuir is at the southern base of the Cantera Loop. Back in the days of steam, Dunsmuir was a thriving railroad town. Cab-aheads were stationed here to assist freighters over the Loop to Black Butte and thence over the Siskiyou Line toward Eugene, or over the pass at Grass Lake to Klamath Falls. They also assisted revenue up the hill from Red Bluff to the south.

“Cedar Flat,” or “Pusher” as Dunsmuir was known then - is world famous for it’s fantastic drinking water, and until the great fish kill in 1991, world renown for trout fishing in the Sacramento River. Alexander Dunsmuir, a son of Vancouver Island’s coal king, donated a beautiful fountain in a down town park, with the proviso that the town be named after him.

Dunsmuir a neat place to plan an overnight stop if you are traveling the I-5 north or south. I’ve driven this corridor from the days when it was first known as US 99, the “thump-thump, thump-thump” concrete slab highway, to a thriving I-5 freeway. I got stuck in an I-5 construction zone down near Ashland with my power steering leaking ’56 Chrysler New Yorker 2 Door Hard Top. But that’s another story for another time!

For years, I had to attend trade shows in San Jose, and my late wife and I absolutely loved to stay at Railroad Park, in either a caboose or boxcar, dine in the retired dining car, and then head over to the Espee railroad station and sit on the park bench and watch train movements and crew changes; Dunsmuir being one end of the the Black Butte District.

We found the train crews super friendly, used to camera totting rail fans, and I think they loved to “perform” when doing the crew change. At any rate, you felt a connection at Dunsmuir.

A Willamette Geared Locomotive is on display with a water tank inside Railroad Park, without the annoying chain link fence. The park owner related to me about how a crew of Chinese spent a week at the park crawling all over the locomotive with tape measures and cameras. I speculate that this became an HO brass locomotive!

But I digress.

What makes this a tough climb, in addition to the unrelenting grade, are two horseshoe curves – half loops -, which result in horsepower numbing rail resistance. As we travel north to the Loop from Dunsmuir, MP 322, right out of the starting blocks, the grade is 1.3% gradually increasing to MP 329 where we hit 2.0%, at an elevation of 3,012 feet. The steepest grade, 2.1% takes us past Mott, on the way to Mt. Shasta MP 337.

Mt. Shasta, 1966. General Motors Special Duty – SD-9’s, 1,750 hp units are catching their breath, having completed the north leg of the Cantera Loop heading toward the Oregon Territory.

Mt. Shasta, 1966. “Anyone call a cab?” F-9 1,750 hp cab units catch their breath throttling down to run 5, having just ascended the Cantera Loop. But they still have a climb up to the summit at Grass Lake, 5-thousand plus feet!

A few miles past Mt. Shasta, at Black Butte, MP 345, the Espee splits with the Siskiyou Line heading toward Eugene, while the shorter route to Eugene continues onward toward the summit at Grass Lake MP 368.5, elevation 5,073 feet, thence to Klamath Falls, over Willamette Pass, down to Eugene. As you scan the panoramic shot of Grass Lake, you can see Mt. Shasta in the background, with Highway 97 and just behind it, the railroad.

Actually, you can view the Cantera Loop with Goggle Maps, which requires less muscle in the computer. Open Goggle Maps, and put Mott, Ca., in the search engine. You will see – from right to left – Mott Airport, I-5, and some buildings. Next is a sharp radius of the upper end of the Cantera Loop. Zoom in on it, and then using the “hand palm” trace the rail line backward to Dunsmuir. You will see the lower end of the Loop.

Continue following the line back as far as Dunsmuir, and you can see the turntable and that round water tank that has the bright Southern Pacific mural painted on it.

Several years ago, traveling the Coast Starlight, we spotted wrecked boxcars at the bottom of some of the vertically challenging scenery. In 1991, there was a disastrous derailment, which resulted in a chemical spill into the Sacramento River, one that killed all life forms for 40 miles. Yet another major derailment in July 2003, resulted in an extraordinary structure being placed on the lower Loop, to prevent rail cars from landing in river.

A well-hidden railroading gem, but easy to reach thanks to Goggle!

0 Comments - Click here:

Post a Comment

"Comment" is for sharing information related to this article. "Anonymous" comments are not published.