Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Uneasy alliance

Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific 275, South Tacoma Shops, May 29, 1960. An uneasy alliance in uncertain days, as diesels and electrics share a moment or two between assignments.

Like neighboring Northern Pacific, the “Road” ran a spider web of tracks (Milwaukee in orange, NP in red) gathering this and that supporting the economy of Puget Sound.

There was always a curious ominous feeling around the South Tacoma Shops. The fellows in the maintenance shop were always agreeable types, and the clerks over in the yard office always offered up slightly burnt coffee, and were good for a yarn or two.

But it was the sight of the dinosaur Box Cabs, like a scene from the National Geographic, sitting there staring straight ahead. One could almost detect a slight swaying, side to side …

Well, I guess we can’t keep dwelling on what could have been, for christ’s sake, its been a long time ago …

Railroad Stuff: CMStP&P 275, nee 2441, built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division, La Grange, June 1954, as 1,750 hp GP9. Equipped with multiple unit wiring and dynamic braking. Road Class 17.5E-RS. Rebuilt as GP20M renumbered 981 December 1972. To Soo in 1985 and subsequently retired in January 1986. Sold to Chicago, Central & Pacific as CC&P 981, and still running, as of this writing!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Richard Rinaldi and Family: Kwinitsa Station

Port Townsend, today. Last year, when I wrote a couple of articles about the stations on the Skeena Subdivision, I struck up an informal email contact with Ms Chantal Meijer, of Terrace B.C., whose Dad was a Foreman at Kwinitsa Station.

Those of you who've been following my blog have heard me mention fondly of Kwinitsa as being the point for freights heading up the Skeena Subdivision to stop for a walking inspection within 50 miles of leaving Prince Rupert. As a young man riding the freights, this was the place where I would do an end for end seating switch with a trainman, me riding the remaining miles to Terrace in the cab.

Ms. Maijer lost her Father last year. She has since written a short story about growing up in a railroad station - Kwinitsa for one - and I am honored that she has allowed me to present her story here.

The Railroader
By Chantal Meijer

My father was a railroader. He worked on the tracks for CN for 35 years, from 1952 to 1987. We were a railroader’s family, and we lived in railroad stations in central and northwestern B.C.

A few years ago when I sat down with my parents to pen some family history, my dad went into absorbing detail, especially about his railroad days.

My dad, Richard Rinaldi, came to Canada from Paris, France in 1952 to ‘test the waters’ of a new country. The impetus for his immigration: lack of housing in post-war Paris. He found employment with CN, starting out at a remote railroad station called Kwinitsa, mid-way between Terrace and Prince Rupert. From there he cajoled Mom – who was still in Paris – to join him, with their three toddlers.

There was little at Kwinitsa except the station and a couple of railroad houses, the Skeena River and the mountains. After only a few nights there, we moved to Dad’s next posting a few rail miles west.
Telegraph Point was sandwiched between the roaring Skeena River and the tracks. For groceries and other necessities, we rode the train – either a freight train or a passenger train – to Prince Rupert, 40 miles away.

In 1957 we moved to a community that had a school. Dunster, in east-central B.C., had a two-room school which housed students from grades one through eight. For necessities, we headed to McBride, about 20 miles away; at first, by train, then later, in our own vehicle. The station, which we lived in, had no electricity, no running water, no central heat. We used kerosene lamps, a combination wood/coal stove…and, of course, the dreaded outhouse.

The Dunster station, built in 1913, still exists today. It is now owned by the community and is in the process of being restored.

In 1963 Dad transferred back to the Skeena Subdivision, the section of track between Terrace and Prince Rupert; this time because my siblings and I needed a high school. Our stay at Amsbury, near Terrace, was short-lived. The Amsbury station was slated for demolition, so we had to move. (After CN decommissioned all the stations most were burned on site; only a few were carted away by new owners.)

Dad returned to Kwinitsa, as foreman, and bunked in the foreman’s house. Mom and Dad bought their first house, in Terrace, fifty miles away. At Kwinitsa, things had not changed much since Dad’s first posting there in 1952. Kerosene lamps, coal/wood stoves, and the still-dreaded trips to the outhouse were the order of the day. There was, however, one improvement: Dad finally had a CN truck, although he and his men still used speeders to patrol the tracks at times. In 1970 when he transferred to Terrace, he was overjoyed to be reunited with the family. Two years later, he arranged for the then-empty Kwinitsa house to be tracked to Terrace.

The Kwinitsa station still exists today. The only surviving station from the Skeena rail line, it was barged to Prince Rupert in 1985, where it is now used as a railroad museum.

For the last seventeen years of his railroad career my dad performed double duties: During the winter months, he was the foreman in Terrace; from spring to fall he supervised large steel and ballast gangs throughout BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alas, that meant being apart from the family for long stretches of time. Mom and Dad always endured, buoyed by the great love they had for each other and their children.

Dad was proud of his career. He had progressed from section man to program supervisor, a position he held for the last eight years of his career. By all accounts he was a great railroader and a master at laying tracks, but it meant working outside in all kinds of weather. He never forgot one particular winter in his early days when the temperature hovered between -32 degrees Celsius and -43 Celsius for 35 days – and every day he patrolled the tracks on an open speeder.

After his retirement in Terrace in 1987 Dad turned his attention to model railroading. In a 1911 railroad coach that he procured from Prince George, he helped the model railroaders build a layout - a replica of the Kitimat/Prince Rupert subdivisions of bygone days. And in 2004, at the age of 80, he urged city officials to save the former Kwinitsa house from demolition by CN. Now city-owned and recently renovated, the Kwinitsa house gleams alongside the tracks on the Grand Trunk Pathway in Terrace.

Sadly, Dad passed away on April 30, 2008, four years after Mom, and two weeks before the grand opening of his former Kwinitsa house.

The railroad days my father and our family knew no longer exist. No more do trains trundle past stations and houses filled with railroaders and their families. Steam engines, and the water towers that fed them (like the one in the backdrop of a family photo at the Dunster station) long ago disappeared, rendered obsolete by diesel engines. Speeders, like the ones my father rode on in all kinds of weather, were replaced by trucks that run both on roads and on rails. And the iconic red caboose, that I still gleefully remember riding in – it, too, sadly rode into oblivion.
My father’s railroad days now belong to history. And history points us not only to the past but also to the future. For, as my wise father once told me in a railroad metaphor that will always steel me – where a train is going has everything to do with where it’s coming from.

I am ever so grateful to have made Ms Meijer's acquaintance, and pleased that she has allowed me to share her story, which appears in The People’s History, a Royal B.C. Museum project commemorating British Columbia’s 150th anniversary (in 2008). To view this story as well as other stories, photography, video and sound from people in B.C.- visit the Royal B.C. Museum’s website.

The Railroader and accompanying photos Copyright 2009 Chantal Meijer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Robert Swanson's Magnificant Air Horns!

Port Townsend, today. Whilst working on an upcoming presentation, I tripped over this fantastic piece of video from “Double Ditch Light” Productions.

Shot at one of my favorite places along the old Pacific Great Eastern, Howe Sound. Check out the echo of those fantastic five-chime Swanson AirChimes (K5H) on the pointy end of a BC Rail train heading south along the Sound. Those were the “signature” horns of BC Rails progenitor, Pacific Great Eastern.

In a few minutes they will be passing Horseshoe Bay, site of a large BC Ferries Terminal serving the Sunshine Coast, Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island. In the morning, when things are getting into gear, as many as three huge car ferries are loading at the same time! You got to be wide awake following lane assignments to get on the correct boat, and some of the ferries, like this one, load two decks simultaneously, with trucks, buses, RV's and cars on the main deck, cars only on the second deck (look closely - you can see the second deck load.)

Listen carefully to the first blast, about 35 seconds into this video. This horn brings back memories of the PGE that were long forgotten – I love it! The Swanson air horn was most haunting, especially in the Canyon country of B.C. The echoes, especially in the early evening made the little fuzzies on my forearm stand straight up!

Robert Swanson’s zenith was the creation of an air horn, which plays the first four musical notes of the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada!” The horn was built for the Centennial of Canada. The air horn is mounted atop Canada Place on the Vancouver waterfront, and blows every day at noon! A smaller version was made for the locomotive pulling the Confederation Train all over Canada in 1967, and can be heard on this link.

October 4, 1994, Robert Swanson passed away at the age of 88. An obituary notice read, in part, as follows:

What a great deal of noise he made! In the 1940s, Swanson invented the Nathan-AirChime horn for trains. Nathan-AirChime got its start in1949. Before the early 1950s, locomotive horns were usually a single discordant honk or hoot. Swanson set out to devise an air horn that would sound - with an adjustable chord and combination of trumpets – that could closely reproduce the traditional steam whistle.

Swanson worked with the U.S. Navy Band at Annapolis to develop frequencies that would make the horn distinguishable from truck horns, thereby reducing possible confusion by motorists, but still able to be heard inside an automobile.

Swanson designed the horns that at noon blare out over Vancouver the first four notes of “O Canada!” mimicking the sound of the Royal Hudson steam train. Along the way, he wrote poetry based on his days as a B.C. logger, and tales he heard from other loggers. Two collections, Rhymes of a Western Logger and Whistle Punks & Widow-Makers, were best sellers. He was born October 26, 1905 in Reading, England.”

The “O Canada!” horns - a daily tradition since 1967 - were moved from the old B.C. Hydro Building to Canada Place on the Vancouver waterfront, and first tested there on October 13, 1994.

The test was timed to coincide with a memorial service for Swanson, the horns’ designer, who had died October 4.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An RS-11M --- I think ... !

Canadian National Railways 3616, Truro, Nova Scotia, 1957. Now I have never been to Nova Scotia, but I did develop a network of pen pals with whom I was trading photographs, negatives and slides.

At any rate, I had traded this negative with someone who is lost to history.

So the envelope has all of the builder’s data, but when I went to confirm it prior to publication on the blog, I ran into a discrepancy as to what model this Montreal Locomotive Works engine is.

When I got to looking at this unit, I realized that many rail fans do not know, or remember, that with outfits like ALCo, most Canadian orders were filled at Montreal Locomotive Works, under license. This to avoid, unabashedly, paying import taxes on complete locomotives, and coincidentally creating jobs in Canada. And so, this unit is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a DL-701. Such is the case with this negative.

For many of us, Jerry Pinkepank’s “Diesel Spotter’s Guide” have been the bible, since the first edition was published back in 1967, and sold for a modest $3.50! In it, Mr. Pinkepank describes this unit as being "an RS-18, the Canadian Version of the DL-701." However, on the previous page, he describes the MLW RS-18, as being Spec Number DL-718.

Now what? My years as a writer/producer have dictated verifying from at least three different sources, if possible, especially when there is disagreement, then going through a mediation process to get to “bed rock.”

Following my instincts, I found Jerry Pinkepank’s “Second Diesel Spotter’s Guide” published in 1973, now selling for $6.75,on my bookshelf. And while he still listed the RS-18 as being the DL-718, a photo caption reads, “The MLW RS-18 is simply the Canadian Version of the RS-11/RS-36 design.”


Now I need a third source, as the first two are not consistent.

So I dug deeper into my box of goodies and found this document from the Canadian National Railways Mechanical Department. This unit is clearly described as a MLW Model RS-11M.

So I feel confident that this is an RS-11M. Issue closed!

Railroad Stuff: Canadian National Railways 3616, built by Montreal Locomotive Works as an RS-11M, August 1956, serial number 81572, road class MR-18b, 1,800 hp. Retired in 1989.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Odds 'n Ends

Port Townsend, today. Been "off the air" for a few days for several reasons. First of all, am waiting for verification from outside sources on an article I am writing about an interesting but obscure operation in Canada. Whenever I take on a subject that I don't have personal experience in, I reach out to folks who do, hopefully, have the expertise I seek, to provide you, my reader, with reliable information.

Second reason for being "down" is that I switched operating systems from "Vista" back to a more reliable and efficient operating system - MS Windows XP Professional. And those of you who have messed around with operating systems know that switching up or down on the MS family tree brings on it's own set of problems. Particularly with drivers.

I'm not a "pocket-protector" wearing "geek" - just an old guy in his '60's who has been messing about with computers since my first box - a Commodor 64. And so while it takes a bit longer to iron out problems, I enjoy the challange of getting them corrected. And I'm really happy with XP Professional.

While I was "off the air" there was a disruption in the ether. Dick "Dr. Strangelove" Cheney emerged from whatever "undisclosed location" he is living in and ran his mouth off about the Current Administration.

I found Cheney's remarks stunningly hypocritical in his denunciation of Obama's initiatives. This from a Vice President who was constantly preaching that to be critical of the Dim-Witt's administration was "unpatriotic!"

Finally, Obama is doing a town hall in California, even as I write this entry, with an audience of Americans - not screened audiences as we witnessed when the Doofus went public. As a Vet, I found it particularly egregious that even Military audiences were screened to eliminate the opposition from participating in gatherings.

How wonderful to see Democracy back in action!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Amtrak Revises Photo Policy!

Port Townsend, today. Since “9/11” photographers in various parts of the country have reported varying degrees of harassment by minimum wage "deputy dawg," imposing illogical logic, to intimidate, frustrate, and alienate railroad photographers.

Not because there is a need, but by virtue of wearing a badge, packing a gun, and projecting an attitude.

As the former administration fades into the past, we may experience a gradual return to common sense and intelligence in Washington, and bogus fears prove to be baseless. Such is the case presented here, that shooting a train in a train station does not always equate to a terrorist gathering intelligence of a potential target!

Now to be fair to railroad operators, there is, unfortunately, a sub-species of rail photographer who steals builder’s plates, walks off with perceived goodies, and makes a general nuisance of themselves by putting themselves in harm’s way, creating a distraction to equipment operators who become worried about running over them!

It's because of them, the rest of us have to deal with "deputy dawg!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Blind Drivers and Slip Coaches?

Port Townsend, today. A fellow by the name of John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts!” And that is never so true as it is about the railroading hobby. Keep an open mind and you can learn something new on a regular basis!

What in the heck are "blind drivers" and "slip coaches?"

Well, a few months ago I did a piece about the CNR 2514, wherein I mentioned I had seen a Santa Fe Type – 2-10-2 - CNR 4304 - in town. The joke being one of sending her out to Prince Rupert to straighten curves. In regards to that article, a fellow sent me an email asking if that series of locomotives had “blind drivers.” At first I thought I was being baited into a joke.

But as I have come to learn, the purpose of “blind drivers” or flangeless wheels sets, is to reduce stresses on track curvature, and is found on some long wheelbase steam locomotives. Since the weight of the engine keeps the wheels on the tracks, the flange can be eliminated on certain wheel sets without affecting adhesion.

The practice of “blind drivers" seems to be common on narrow gauge locomotives, as discussed in great detail here. I’m not sure how prevalent the practice was on bigger locomotives; perhaps you can share this by clicking on the “Comment” below.

As to the subject of “slip coaches;” apparently it was not uncommon in Great Britain. In fact the technique was used for more than 100 years, dating back to 1858. The technique must have been quite safe to be used for so many years. The last “slip coach” operation was performed in 1960!

Simply put, passenger coaches were uncoupled from moving passenger trains churning along at 50 to 60 miles per hour. Hopefully the passenger car would be stopped within the bounds of the station where upon passengers would disembark, allowing the main consist to press on with its tight schedule!

Working a slip was quite a skilled job. The slip guard (trainman) had only the mechanical hand brake with which to stop. There were special precautions against the possibility of collision after slipping from the main train. If at any time the trainman felt the maneuver maybe dangerous, he had but to flag the engineer to stop.

A switch engine stood by to correct “over or under slipping” or to pick up cars slipped on middle tracks of three or more passages. And it was incumbent upon passengers to know exactly what car they were in before they got “slipped!”

I found a detailed narrative of the “slip coach” technique. In fact, an entire book was written on the subject, which must be interesting reading.

Slip coaches were used on the Great Western, LM&S, L&NE, Furness, and even in France.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lewiston Hill and Dynamic Brakes!

Northern Pacific 555, Auburn Washington, May 27, 1961. As regular readers of my blog have noted, Auburn was a favored spot to shoot locomotives. The diesel shop was right next to a rural road, and there were no fences, under-fed dogs or snarling railroad agents. And there were always plenty of units to photograph.

Northern Pacific took delivery of quite a few Geeps without dynamic brakes. Somehow, missing the blister housing for the resistor grids gave the unit an “unfinished” look. But since NP 555 was assigned to the Tacoma subdivision for most of her life, with no grades to speak of, there was no need for dynamic braking.

So. Lewiston Hill and Dynamic Brakes. Well, let's see if I can stitch this together coherently.

There are several ways to control a vehicle on a downgrade. The most obvious control is brakes. But on long descents, brake shoes can heat up and fail. One highly successful method of providing additional braking capability for a truck turns the diesel engine into an air compressor – creating the raspy racket that prompts town councils to post “Compression Brakes Prohibited,” or “Jake Brakes Prohibited” at the city limits. Remarkably, Jacobs Vehicle Systems is fighting back against “Jake” signs, as “Jake Brake” is a registered trademark!

One of the more severe grades in the Northwest is the Lewiston Hill. Here US 95 drops dramatically down from the Palouse Country to the Snake River. 3 miles of 6% grade followed by 4 miles of 7% grade! There are five runaway truck escape ramps. When I was there working on a documentary video program, there was an average of one runaway truck per week.

As you can see, two fellows really had a pucker trip onto Ramp #3, one at close to 100 miles per hour and ran off the end of the ramp! The Idaho Port of Entry building, situated between the north and south bound lanes of US 95 had a virtual mountain of those big blue barrels containing sand, protecting the up hill face of the building!

I spent several hours hanging out of Bell helicopter, with my door removed, video taping trucks descending the Lewiston Hill, for a program promoting the “Hale Hydraulic Retarder.” But I’m drifting off course here …

As the Jacobs Brake turns the prime mover on a truck into an air compressor to create resistance, the dynamic brake on a locomotive allows the engineer to turn the traction motors into generators, creating electrical resistance to slow the locomotive.

That resistance manifests itself in a bank of iron grids, similar to the heating grids in your kitchen toaster. These grids are mounted atop the engine compartment, and were easy to spot on Geeps and Special Duty locomotives, due to the “blister” containing heat dissipating fans, to keep the iron grids from melting!

Northern Pacific 555 was caught up in the “Great Merger” of 1970, suffered the dreadful “Cascade Green” treatment and renumbered Burlington Northern 1629. She was retired in October 1982 and sent to Joseph Simon & Son’s down on the Puyallup River in Tacoma, to be converted into razor blades.

Fate smiled kindly on BN 1629, nee NP 555, and she was sold by Joseph Simon & Son’s to become 110 on the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad in 1984. She finally ran out of track in 1993, after 41 years and god only knows how many miles.

Railroad Stuff: Northern Pacific Railway 555, built by Electro Motive Division as a GP-7, 1,500 hp, in March, 1952, serial number 15687.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wow! Thank You, Readers!

Port Townsend, March 1st. Just getting ready to shut down for the evening, when I checked my Site Meter to see how many visitors I had on Saturday.

For the first time, crossed the "Century Mark" - an astounding 118 visitors yesterday! For sure many are skimming along tripping this meter as they search for a particular item without staying, but most are destined here, or stop here when they see something interesting.

Since I've written and posted more than 300 articles, there is bound to be something for everyone!

Thank you one and all - we have a lot more slides, negatives, and photos to share, so stop by when you can. And don't hesitate to comment as you see fit. I enjoy feedback!

--- Robert in Port Townsend