Friday, September 25, 2009

Rail Bridge - Seattle

I went to Seattle the other day – actually twice in two weeks - something I try to avoid at all cost. While I consider it my “home town” something happened to it while I was in the Service from 1963 to 1967. Seattle grew.

Once upon a time, I produced a weekly half hour radio show entitled “We Believe in Seattle.” I conducted an interview with a senior planning manager of a company promoting new business in Seattle. He pointed out what many of us already knew in the 60’s. While Seattle owes its beauty to its watery venue, it is crammed between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington, resulting in a town that could only grow north and south, resulting in a high-density core.

This is why I do not like to visit Seattle – too much traffic. I mean here in Port Townsend, if you get four vehicles at a four way stop simultaneously, you have a traffic jamb!

Seattle has always been a maritime hub. During the Gold Rush, Elliott Bay was the principle staging area for people and goods heading “North to Alaska.” And the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay gave it another kick in the rear.

The Port of Seattle has gone out of its way to interface its activities with city residents. A prime example is “Jack Block Park” at the head of the Duwamish Waterway, named to Honor Jack Block Senior, a former Port Commissioner.

Port Commissioners in Seattle are elected by the citizens, rather than being appointed, as is the case in most American Ports. As a Port Commissioner, Jack Block Senior was not only voted into office by the people, but he was also a card carrying longshoreman, bringing a unique perspective to port deliberations. He served for 28 years until his defeat in 2001.

This rail loading bridge, at Jack Block Park, is one of at least four located on Elliott Bay that moved rail cars on to barges for transport not only around Puget Sound to places like Shelton, Port Townsend, Bellingham, Vancouver BC, and more important, to Alaska.

This type of rail bridge is unique in that there are no tower structures housing giant sheaves, cables, and counterweights to raise and lower the bridge to match the deck of the rail car barge.

Abandoned Rail Bridge. Click to enlarge, use slider to pan.

The end of the bridge is supported by and floats on a water tank, housing several compartments. One only needs to pump water in and out of the tank to raise and lower the bridge, riding inside two vertical guides. The left/right tilt for fine-tuning the connection is similarity achieved.

Unlike a cable and sheave tower bridge, horizontal support with this type of bridge is achieved when the ramp engages and rests upon the barge.

Abandoned Rail Bridge. Click to enlarge, use slider to pan

This bridge is located just off Harbor Way, north of the Bethlehem Steel plant slag dump. The Northern Pacific, now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mega-railroad, owned the small classification yard located here.

Terminal 5. Click to enlarge, use slider to pan

Obviously now a part of Seattle’s waterfront history, “Jack Block Park” adjoining Terminal 5, is one of many parks and view points surrounding Elliott Bay owned and maintained by the Port of Seattle, offering residents a neat place to enjoy the waterfront and observe many Port operations.

Finally, while we generally think of places like parks as being named to honor deceased individuals, as of this writing, the Senior Block is still with us!

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