Sunday, November 30, 2008

Explore! Dream! Discover!

Port Townsend, today. I am a firm believer in the Internet, and probably spend too much time wandering it’s nooks and crannies. But what the hell, I am retired, and having endured two life threatening episodes in the past few years, embrace those immortal words of Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover!”

Beside the obvious usefulness as a research tool, the possibilities for traveling vicariously are endless and exciting. I go to places and see sights that would never be possible to me – or you - without the Internet.

As an example, the piece I wrote on the “Longest Ore Train” in
Mauritania would never have been possible without the Internet and YouTube!

Today, I follow up that experience by giving you another memorable ride on a norry
. Think about this as your alternative transport the next time Amtrak jerks you around!

Power to the people, and all aboard the
Bamboo Railroad!

Note: You may get a message that states "This video no longer available." This is similar to a "404" message - "page not available." Simply wait a second and re-click. Server limitations create this. And do NOT forget to follow my hints for a smooooother playback on YouTube.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Reader Service Request - Part II

Prince Rupert, February 1958. As I wrote in my earlier blog entry “Reader Service Request, I had written to the major locomotive manufacturers for whatever materials they could provide “an enthusiastic hobbyist who wanted to learn more about their locomotives.”

In an era when written communication was an art, I managed to send requests to General Motors, English Electric, Fairbanks-Morse, Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, Budd and ALCo. And virtually all of them responded.

Fairbanks-Morse sent along some brochures and two 8x10 glossy photos of their H12-44 series locomotives, and a brochure on the H16-44 road switcher type.











































I found a good example of an H16-44 in this shot of Milwaukee Road 406.

As with all Fairbanks-Morse locomotives, the prime mover was the Opposed Piston engine. I’ve mentioned before that my late Dad, who was a career Marine Engineer, had nothing nice to say about that motor.

His grievance was that Opposed Piston engine is basically two-eight cylinder motors mounted head to head, which not only had a high breakdown rate, but was a “_itch” to work on; in his case, potentially somewhere between Astoria and Honolulu with a huge grain barge and unstable work platform!












































It was not uncommon then, and perhaps now, to find rail fans mistakenly referring to these units as “Trainmasters,” when in fact they were not. Perhaps the confusion was created because both lines overlapped each other as far as production dates were concerned.

The dead-on spotting feature is that the “Trainmasters” rode on a 3-wheel (C-C) wheel truck, as compared to the 2-wheel (B-B) wheel truck of the H12- and H16-44’s.

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific purchased a grand total of 29 0f these units between 1954 and 1956. To my knowledge, none of this Road Class ever crossed the Great Divide into the Puget Sound country.

This YouTube video of Milwaukee Road 760 will give you an idea of what the Opposed Piston motor sounded like.

It’s a little known fact, but the Russian’s experimented with an
opposed piston steam locomotive, reportedly reducing rail pounding.

Uhmmm. Time for another turkey sandwich!

Railroad Stuff: Milwaukee Road 406, was built by Fairbanks-Morse as an H16-44, 1,600 horsepower road switcher, nee 2456, January 1954, serial number 16L-821, Road Class 16-FRS. Retired January 1976.

Milwaukee Road 760 (video) was built by Fairbanks-Morse as an H10-44, 1,000 hp switcher, Road Class L1001, nee 1802, August 1944, serial number L1001, Road Class 10-FS. Retired May 1980, and sold to Illinois Railway Museum in November 1981, where this video was shot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reader Service Request

Prince Rupert, February 1958. Of course there were times when we really felt isolated from the rest of the world, living on the edge of it! There was a daily newspaper, and a government radio station, and one theater for entertainment.

I had subscriptions to Trains and Railroad magazines, and began to learn about power packs other than General Motors Diesels. Cabs, Geeps and Road Service 1200’s were the exclusive power on the Prince Rupert Extension.

To gather more information on other types of locomotives, I wrote letters to the manufacturers. My Dad taught me the lost art of typing a business letter – on our Royal Portable - and how to properly fold it, so that the recipient, without looking at the envelope, could remove the letter from the envelope and open it positioned correctly to read it.

Back in those days, many publications had Reader Service Request cards, on which you circled the number of the advertiser you wished information from. That card was sent to a clearing house who in turn got the request to the advertiser.


Turnaround time; three to four weeks, maybe.

I wrote letters to and received answers from General Motors, Budd, ALCo, Montreal Locomotive Works, English Electric, Fairbanks-Morse, and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton.






















Fairbanks-Morse sent me several items, including this brochure on the model H12-44, and two black and white builders photos!


Life before the Internet and video games was richer in so many ways. You had to rely on family, friends and associations for your entertainment. I volunteered time at the Civic Centre as a projectionist, and took several photography classes, which enriched my life for many years to follow!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Northern Pacific 7003A - A Variegated History!


Northern Pacific Railway 7003A. Auburn Washington, August 14, 1960. As a young man all of 17, I had acquired my driver’s license, and by meeting certain expectations, earned the right to use the family car once in a while, on my own! We lived just off Ambaum, over near Burien, so it wasn’t that far to hustle down to Auburn to check things out!

Engine crews were thrilled with the arrival of the F-9’s. Northern Pacific ordered a total of 15 A-B-B-A sets, delivered between 1954 and 1956. Units were numbered “A” “B” “C” and “D”. There was a significant increase in performance over the FT’s, with horsepower increased from 1,350 to 1,750. It it was always a thrill to watch a gang of EMD's move out of Auburn climbing eastbound through Covington with the engineer standing on the throttles!

What a variegated history this unit has experienced! Her magnificent Northern Pacific Railway color scheme was butchered with the Cascade Green when the Great Merger stifled all individuality.

She was last sighted as Burlington Northern Santa Fe 972571, an RSPU –
rotary snow plow power unit – stripped of cab controls and traction motors, simply slave unit to supply dc to the master snow plow.

If you have a postscript to this story, please share it with us!


Railroad Stuff: Northern Pacific 7003A, built as General Motors F9A, 1,750 horsepower, September 1954, serial number 19740, NP Class L-1. Became Burlington Northern 812, subsequently retired in December 1981. Converted to RSPU, BNSF 972571.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Boston Bar

Boston Bar Engine Facility, Canadian National Railways, Western Region, British Columbia District, Kamloops Division, Yale Subdivision, Mile Post 0.0, July 1959. Located at the beginning of the Yale Subdivision, Boston Bar was 131.5 miles and the first division point east and north of Vancouver, deep in the Fraser River Canyon.

We were on a vacation trip from Prince Rupert to Seattle, and enjoying some terrific railroad sights and sounds in the Canyon. I swear you could hear the roaring of a freight train a good 15 minutes before it past, with those beautiful General Motors Division locomotives filling the canyon below.

And it was a double treat what with the Canadian Pacific Railway running along the opposite canyon wall.

Boston Bar gains its colorful name from a group of easterners - Bostonians - who worked a sand and gravel bar located here in the Fraser River during British Columbia’s gold rush days. Other colorful names along the river included China Bar, Sailor Bar.

This facility, being the first major division point just over 100 miles north and east of Vancouver, had a four bay engine house complete with turntable. With the introduction of diesel-electrics, a massive oil tank became a prominent feature on the landscape.


A fellow by the name of Endre Cleven snapped this shot of a southbound Canadian Pacific freighter passing North Bend c.1956

Immediately across the Fraser River, the Canadian Pacific Railway had their division point on the Thompson Subdivision named North Bend. Here we see a freshly provisioned locomotive ready for assignment.

Until 1986, a cable car, capable of transporting one motor vehicle or up to 40 passengers joined the two communities. In 1986, a highway bridge was placed across the river joining the two communities.

So that was then, and this is now. The CN and CP have signed a document which provides for eastbound power of both railroads to use the North Bend side of the river, and westbound power of both railroads use the Boston Bar side of the river, between Mission and Ashcroft.

Here’s an interesting view from the
modern day tram crossing the Fraser River, wherein you can clearly see “both” railroads. In this view, the trans is heading west toward North Bend.

By the way, I am curious to know if a reader can identify the type of maintenance of way car with the cupola sticking up at the south end. It has a coal-burning stove at the north end.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

YouTube & Wig-What's Revisited!

Port Townsend, today. Like me, I’m sure you may have experienced total frigging meltdown when playing a YouTube or other web based video clip.

Does this sound about right? You eagerly click on the link taking you to the video clip, and watch a little circular spinner whirl around indicating the clip is loading. This we know instinctively, because nobody ever explained this to us.

Finally the much anticipated video clip begins.

Yeah!

Get some popcorn!

Then, inexplicably, the video clip stops!

Some geeky message pops up with a vague clue something to do with “buffering,” and generally a “percentage counter” spins up to 100% whereupon the “action” continues – for another stretch of time.

And so the video playback goes – “herky-jerky” – until it mercifully comes to the end.

Normally we wouldn’t complain, after all, a TV program inexplicably stops every three minutes for a Gecko commercial. But this is a different venue, and we expect to watch a video clip from beginning to end without “herky-jerky.”

Initially I thought that by getting a new computer with a faster processor, the problem would be cured, and that premise became justification for purchasing a super wiz-bang multi-megahertz desktop, into which I installed a super-duper giddyup-go graphics card.

Eagerly I loaded up one of my favorite video clips, and “boom!” There it was again frigging “buffering!”

In an earlier post, I suggested a remedy that got me past the “buffering” pauses so that I could enjoy the clip non-stop the way it was intended to be viewed. I suggested pressing “play” and then go get a cup of coffee, wash the kitchen floor, feed the dog, whatever. By the time you come back, the “buffering” process is complete.

Selecting “replay” and voila! The clip plays nonstop.

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I set out to find out more about this “buffering” problem, that I once only associated with aspirin. Since this IS a rail blog, ‘nuff said – not going down the technical road!

However, in a passing conversation, a friend of mine volunteered the following information about how HE cured his “buffering” problems.

Once the YouTube video screen comes up, and the video starts to play, he single clicks on the [II] icon (pause) on the playback progress bar at the bottom left of the screen. The [II] icon switches to [>]. After a second or so, a DIM red indicator bar progresses from left to right across the bottom of the screen to the end.

Momentarily the dim red bar reaches the far right. You have just witnessed the “buffering” phenomena taking place fairly rapidly!

Click on the [>] icon and right before your unbelieving eyes, the video clip plays NON STOP – just the way god intended.

In experimenting around with this today, I’ve discovered you do not need to wait for the dim red progress bar to completely travel to the right. After the bar has reached about half way, you can go ahead and click on the [>] arrow; a disk will proceed over the dim red bar, and as long as the disc doesn’t catch up with the end of the dim red bar, you will enjoy “herky-jerky” free TV!

Okay!

Ready to try out your newfound skill?

How about a little
“wig-what?”

Here’s a more complete report on wig-what’s.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Magic of Steam!

Cass West Virginia, May 1989. When my late wife Patti and I got married that month, we recited our nuptials in a former Spokane Portland & Seattle business car, part of a restaurant complex in Vancouver Washington.

As we drove back east from Vancouver Washington, I would occasionally feed Patti tidbits about the crowd we be joining in Cass West Virginia, our honeymoon destination.

The beauty of the Cass Railfan Weekend was that it was limited to 300 fans. Activities spanned Friday night, all day Saturday, and a Sunday morning run to Whittaker Station and a run by at Cass Station, which included Western Maryland Number Six.

The remarkable aspect of the Cass Scenic Railroad is that the State of West Virginia, in a moment of pure inspiration, bought the entire complex – town and railroad - to preserve as a State Park, the rich history of hardwood logging, indigenous to the Eastern Seaboard.

If you are not familiar with this operation, a ton of material is readily available on the net.

That three-day weekend had a positive effect on both of us. Patti really enjoyed the people we met and the steam engines. I was thunderstruck by the spell binding “sidewinders,” my first real contact with live steam other than being scared to death as a youngster in Victoria years earlier at the CNR roundhouse.

There was a major disaster that we did not realize until we got back to Vancouver. Patti shot almost sixty rolls of 35 film. I had purchased a brand spanking new Nikon 8008 for her as a wedding present, and she stubbornly resisted my intrusion on her picture taking.

When she got her film processed, there were only a dozen or so photos, from all those rolls, that were printable. She raised hell with the processors, who insisted that her exposure mode had been incorrect, and under threat of legal action, they spent considerable time analyzing her negatives to prove their point.

I shot a ton of videotape, and so the only useful visuals are from that tape. I plan to make it available on DVD in a few months.

Oh, yeah! Remember I told you I fed Patti bits and pieces of the nature of rail fans we’d be meeting at Cass? Well, when we walked into the Condo office where we were billeted, there were two pot-bellied dudes, wearing engineer hats, and big vests, festooned with pins and rail memorabilia!


And the next day on the first run, we were among the few who did NOT have goggles on – ah, yes, West Virginia Anthracite coal spewing cinders into the air!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Positive Train Control

You may know where you are, and where you are going;
God may know where you are, and where you are going;
But if the Dispatcher doesn’t know
where you are and where you are going,
even God can’t help you
!

Author unknown

Milwaukee Road, Ellensburg Washington, March 18, 1961. Here is a rudimentary form of “Positive Train Control” in action, as the operator in Ellensburg hands up a train order set to the conductor. In those days, trains ran under the iron-fisted direction of the Division Dispatcher, regulated clock, pocket watch, employee timetable and the flimsy train order.

You may recall the disastrous collision between a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight train in September 2008 resulting in the deaths of 25 and injuries to more than 130.

Following that disaster, Congress decreed that by 2015, US railroads must have some system of Positive Train Control (PTC) in place. Simply stated, the goal of PTC is to insure no two trains attempt to occupy the same spot on planet earth at the same time!

Railroaders recognized the need for PTC from way back when. Various systems of this and that, including carrying tokens from one control point to the next. But the combination of timetable, regulated clock, pocket watch, train register, and the Authority of the Dispatcher, proved to be useful for many years.

Issuing of train orders, and coordination between the engineer on the head end and the conductor in the caboose worked well at origination terminals. But what about modifications to operating authority resulting from an endless variety of circumstances? How were changes in operating authority transmitted to a fast moving train, without the time consuming stop and restart? Twice. Once for the head end; second for the crew car.

Enter the train order hoop. Staring down the track at hundreds of tons of steel hurtling toward the operator had to be a humbling experience. Operators worked out various methods to figure out where to stand so they would still be standing in the same spot after the cacophony of slam-banging steel rods and wheels had thundered by!

And whilst mating with the head end was harrowing enough, standing by bang-crashing lurching railcars waiting for the crew car to arrive was equally humbling. There was always the possibility of dunnage hanging out of car doors, which could severely injure the agent.

From the viewpoint of the train crew, leaning out the doorway, hoping the operator had strung the hoop with twine - not piano wire - had to be thrilling as well!

And that was in daytime, with nice weather. How about on a dark stormy night in a downpour or blizzard?

One early method of sending paperwork up to the crew involved the Flying Hoop.

This drawing is from a 1927 patent application. The concept was simple enough. Secure the modified train order set to a rattan hoop, and hold it up for the passing train crew to snag with an arm. Once the order is received, the empty hoop is tossed out of the cab. For the operator to retrieve. The process repeated by the tail end car! Hoop retrieval had to be a fun experience.
From the Patent Application: It is the custom in transferring orders from the ground to a passing train to clip a piece of paper bearing the orders to a. suitable holder which is held to be easily grasped by a trainman as the train passes by. The paper containing the orders is detached from the holder, which is then tossed from the moving train to be retrieved later.

Such hard usage renders the life of ordinary holders short. It is usual to provide a clip on the holder for frictionally retaining the order of up to 25 sheets. In wet weather the paper becomes damp and tears easily and the trainman must use great care in removing it from the clip.

This is particularly the case when the engineer who usually is further handicapped by wearing gloves. It is therefore an object of my invention to provide a train order holder which is sturdy and which will stand considerable rough usage.


Another object of my invention is to provide a train order holder from which the train orders can readily be detached. An additional object of my invention is to provide a train order holder, which can easily be operated by trainmen wearing gloves.

The “Flying Hoop” concept was improved upon shortly thereafter in this 1934 patent application. High technology was applied in the form of two battery-operated lamps, (#7) illuminating the paperwork a night, suspended in a triangle of twine. If all went as planned, the hoop stayed with the operator.

From the Patent Application: The primary object of the present invention is to provide a train order hoop having associated therewith means whereby the order carried thereby may be illuminated so that the picking up of the order at night by a trainman will be greatly facilitated.

One can only wonder just how visible those hoop-mounted lamps were!

I recently read an account of a head end brakeman leaning out the gangway on a locomotive thundering down the track, in the middle of the night, in a drenching downpour. The hapless crewman missed the hoop, missing the train orders, forcing an unscheduled stop.

It was said that the roaring outburst of profanity from the hogger could be heard clearly above the din of the storm! And the young brakeman briefly thought of walking right into the next state, as he went back to retrieve his quarry.

I was home on leave from the US Air Force, and my buddy El Purington and I had just finished pursuing an east bound Northern Pacific freighter up from the Green-Duwamish River watershed from Auburn to Covington.

As darkness fell, we continued about 10 miles up State 18 to the Pacific Coast Railroad – Milwaukee Road – at Maple Valley. By the time we got there, it was windy and pouring rain. And the operator had a set of orders to send up to the westbound Milwaukee box cab E-32A.

Fortunately, Maple Valley was “up to date” with a state of the art twin frame train order stand. The upper hoop was loaded with orders for the head end and the bottom hoop was loaded for the crew car. The operator was out of harms way, safely warm and toasty inside the station, and had only to watch the well-lit frame to make sure the crew got their paperwork!


Just missed the fireman picking up the top set of orders for the cab. Bottom set awaits the caboose.

Sending stuff up to moving trains does not always involve train orders. Here we see a set of
switch keys being sent up to the approaching engineer!

Finally, as technology ushers in an entirely new concept in Positive Train Control using GPS and sophisticated electronics, can we be far behind the prediction that no humans will be aboard locomotives of the future?


Maple Valley Train Order Frame: Hand held. Ektachrome ASA 160, 1/8th sec at f1.9 Minolta ST101.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Boxcars Go to Sea - Vancouver Island

Foss Tug & Barge, Sandra Foss, Pier 27, Seattle, date unknown. In an earlier blog entry, I related the brief history of rail operations on the Quimper and Olympic Peninsulas. This afternoon, whilst sorting through my late Dad’s large maritime collection, I tripped over this gem – the “Sandra Foss” with a Milwaukee Road car float at Pier 27 in Seattle. This was the loading site for car float service to Port Townsend and Shelton.

Beside tug and barge combinations, there is a variety of pure rail car vessels and combination rail car vessels, mostly in service between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island. There was plenty of activity when you remember that the Canadian National Railways, Canadian Pacific Railway, and a score of logging and coal railroads were active on Vancouver Island!

I remember as a kid riding on the Canadian Pacific “Princess of Vancouver.” Our car was parked menacingly close to a sting of boxcars. She was built to carry 120 motor vehicles AND up to 28 rail cars. For stability, the rail cars were loaded abreast the center-line, whilst automobiles were loaded, space available, on the outer lanes.

This trip was particularly dramatic as the crossing from Nanimo to Vancouver was at night, and the Gulf of Georgia was not in a good mood!

Such vessels such as the “Carrier Princess” and her identical twin –
“Princess Superior,” serviced the Canadian Pacific Railroad operations on Vancouver Island. My late Dad took this photograph of the “Carrier Princess,” as she was on her maiden voyage outbound under the Lions Gate Bridge, with a load of passenger cars in May 1973.

She was commissioned in May 1973, as a multiple purpose Roll on Roll off (RoRo) vessel licensed to carry 150 motor vehicles, or 50 truck trailers, or 30 rail cars. In addition, she was certified to carry 358 foot passengers. Vehicle operators were included in the certification.

The “Carrier Princess,” “Princess Superior,” and a third vessel, “Coastal Spirit” are operational, under the ownership of Seaspan Coastal Intermodual, operating out of Delta, British Columbia, up on the Fraser River.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Upside down Aeroplane!

Northern Pacific 2626, deadline, Stacy Street, Seattle, June 1958. My family had driven down from Prince Rupert for a two-week vacation, and I was spending time with my friends.

Since I wasn’t old enough to drive, I connected with one of my buddies by letting him know – via standard land line rotary dial telephone on a 4-way party line - what bus I’d be on, so he could join me down by his place. Furse Stage Lines, precursor to Seattle Transit, ran a fleet of strange looking engine aft buses, Kenworths I believe, with floor shifters.

We connected. Our first stop at Sears-Roebuck down on First Avenue South, giving us access to Stacy Street Yard. In the parking lot, we spotted a brand new caddy. Hey, let’s do some posing!


There was entire line of dead steam engines, parked behind the Sears-Roebuck store on 1st Avenue South.

Now for this story to work, you have to understand that at the time I took these photos, all they were to me was a line of steam engines sitting on death row, awaiting the burner’s torch down in Tacoma! Remember, I was a mere lad of 15, and freshman ferroequinologist.

Now. Fast forward to last week. I have boxes of slides, negatives and prints that I rummage through to share with you. I found today’s slide in a steel box, along with about a dozen other Northern Pacific Railroad engines, mostly on this deadline.

So it wasn’t until I did further research on this particular engine, Northern Pacific 2626, did I discover I had an “upside down aeroplane” in my photo collection – the famous “Four Aces!”

A fellow by the name of
Tracy Buckwalter, Vice President of Engineering for the Timken Roller Bearing Company, urged the construction of a demonstrator locomotive to prove the tremendous reduction in running resistance.

In fact, three women in high heels, pulled Timken 1111 in Chicago, demonstrating starting friction – said to be 1/20th of a standard locomotive. Because of it’s distinctive number, this locomotive gained the nick-name, “Four Aces.”

Northern Pacific Railroad ended up purchasing this locomotive from Timken, when, following a test run, she developed crown sheet damage! Timken didn’t want a damaged engine, and came to an agreement for the Northern Pacific to purchase her.

The
Whyte Notation 4-8-4 was dubbed “Northern Pacific” in honor of this first in class, which was shortened to “Northern.”

As rail legend goes, this wheel arrangement was adopted by other roads, many of whom shrugged off the “Northern” nomenclature, assigning their own localized identification; e.g. Canadian National Railways dubbed this wheel arrangement “Confederation.”

Railroad Stuff: Timken Roller Bearing 1111, built as 4-8-4 “Northern Pacific” by ALCo-Schenectady 1930. Tractive effort: 63,700 lbs, boiler pressure: 250 psi, cylinders: 2X 27”x30”, grate area: 88.3 sq ft, weight over-all: 417,500 lbs, drivers: 73” diameter, length: 107’ 7”. Sold to Northern Pacific in February 1930. Retired Seattle, August 4, 1957. Scrapped in Tacoma.


Yup. I have boxes full of postage stamps and stamp albums. Perhaps later today I shall peruse them to see if I DO have a stamp with an up-side-down aeroplane!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Time for Healing - here and abroad!

"A 'with-us-or-against-us' mentality developed in which disagreeing with President Bush's ideas was translated as 'Bush-bashing.'"
- Eight years of Bush

"It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America."
- Barack Obama
November 4, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's All About Time - Fall Back!

Smithers Division, Skeena Subdivision, Mile Post 119.4. In Prince Rupert, the Master Clock was in the Yard Office, upstairs from the Passenger Depot. The room was alive just before departure time with crew assembling, small talk, the occasional laugh, the smell of oiled wood floors, slightly burnt coffee, and diesel oil.

I really wanted to go to!

A couple of times I witnessed the setting of the Master Clock, hanging on the wall above the Train Register shelf.

As I recall, the time signal was transmitted via the telegraphers sounder, with the time signal sequence beginning before the hour. A message came down the wire, and the telegrapher would let the room know that the time sequence was beginning.

The room fell silent except for the “click” on the telegraph sounder each second. A few seconds before the exact hour, a pause, and then a final "click" right exactly at on the hour.

It was quite the ritual to witness. Once the final “click” was registered, the telegrapher would rattle off a “complete” message to the Division Dispatcher at Smithers, and conversations would resume.

“Local time” hinged around high noon at any given location across the country, and at one time, there were more than 100 “high noon’s.” With the railroads needing exact timing to keep from running into and over each other, they were instrumental in the establishment of the four time zones. (Russia, by the way, because of its girth around the globe, has 11 time zones!)

The Waltham pocket watch shown above, belonged to my Grandpa Robert - my namesake. I had it checked out by a jewler several years ago, and it still holds perfect time after more than half a Century!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

IBM Model M Part Number 1391401

Port Townsend, today.

Who woulda guessed?

After fighting for almost a year with my $4.95 bundled keyboard, I recently set out into the Internet to find the “best” computer keyboard.

I learned the touch typing method back in my senior year in high school – 1960 – a skill that has served me well throughout my life.

From the early days of computers, I owned several permutations of the Commodore computer, outfitted my business in the mid-80’s with a squadron of Leading Edge Model D’s and spent a kings ransom on desktops and laptops!

About a year ago, I purchased a new desktop, and have been fighting with the el-cheapo keyboard bundled therewith. I have been chasing the keyboard all over my desk, cursed at misspelt words, and suffered from cramped fingers caused by lousy key spacing and the rubber dome-membrane input.

So! I determined to find the “best” keyboard for touch-typing, and discovered an oldie but goodie – the IBM Model M, part number 1391401 keyboard.

As the story goes, when IBM released it’s model 5150 computer in the early ‘80’s, the keyboard generated a mountain of complaints, forcing IBM to find a solution. A task force was assembled, and from their anatomical study of fingers to keyboard to tactile feedback, emerged the Model M, part number 1391401 keyboard.


I just took delivery of a Model M keyboard, manufactured in August 1990. And the joy of touch-typing has returned. The keyboard is a monster, some 19 inches wide, 8 inches deep, weighting in at almost six pounds. I purchased it with the recommended PS/2 to USB adaptor, and it “plug ‘n played” with my Vista Home Premium without software!

It does not have backlit keys, a Windows key, an email key, volume controls, programmable keys, USB hub or monitor for recording macros.

It is what it is. It is a keyboard designed for transmitting the written word into a word processing program, for serious writers to use effortlessly hours on end. It is noisy, part of the charm of the buckling spring key action, providing tactile and audio verification that the keystroke has been registered, without having to watch the screen.

Beware of imitations!

I got mine from
Clicky Keyboards and am thrilled with how input speed and accuracy is beginning to improve after the first day. And I don’t need to duck tape the keyboard to the desk!

After all these years, the key inscriptions are just as they were then, because they are engraved into the key, not painted on, nor a decal.


The best keyboard for all time, the IBM model M. A triumph of IBM ingenuity!

Who woulda guessed?