Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Sixteen of 'em to a block"

We moved to Prince Rupert in 1957. I was spending as much time as I could, hanging out at the engine facility, soaking up the sights and sounds of Canadian National Railways road switchers and cab units resting between assignments.

So much so that at one point, while we discussed a disappointing report card, my Dad said “If you paid as much attention to your homework as you do those damn locomotives, you might amount to something some day!”

From my first contact back in 1957, I found the chanting of a V-16 to be a powerful elixir. I can remember sitting on an oil drum in the engine facility on dark, windy, rainy days, soaking in the temperate idling sound of Charles Kettering’s exquisite machine.

My subscription to Trains magazine opened up an entire world of railroading beyond Prince Rupert. And there, on pages 15 and 16, of my very first copy, a photo editorial by the late David P. Morgan entitled, “Formula for a Chant … sixteen of ‘em to a block.”

In his editorial, Mr. Morgan tried to describe, as many of us have, the thrilling, rhythmic, quality of the General Motors EMD 16V-567C diesel engine. Here are some examples, that I am not ashamed to admit, bring tears to my eyes, as I relive my teenage years in Prince Rupert, 1957- 1959:
  • Type AA16C, Norwegian State Railways, built 1954. Listen for the Gardner-Denver Air Pump.
  • Starting a Kodachrome. "There ain't no turbo whine!"
  • Cab Ride with a little "Run 8."
  • Geep 9 kicking cars, with a little "Run 8." Notice the Flexicoil Trucks!
  • Westbound Canadian with FP9 1432, F9B 1965 and ex CP Rail FP9 1406 depart Banff, Alberta. Three units throttling up!

Mr. Morgan wrote in a clipped, thrifty style that I would learn more about in later years, in my journalism classes. He wrote apposite editorials during a time when railroads were ravaged by change: The FT’s epic demonstration run across the country destroying steam locomotives, the demise of passenger trains, merger upheavals, and the Florida East Coast Railroad defiantly sending out the first freight train without a caboose!

Recently, while doing research on ignitron rectifier locomotives, I had reason to contact Trains. And, while I held out little chance for success, for the umpteenth time, asked for them to find that particular editorial by DPM. I could not remember the year of publication. All I could remember were the words “sixteen of ‘em to a block.”

So I was astonished to receive an email from Diane Laska-Swanke, Editorial Assistant, Trains and Classic Trains Magazines, letting me know she was successful in finding that editorial, a copy of which I now have in front of me.

The editorial obviously means much more to me than it will to you, for the circumstances I related. I love it because “DPM” was just as mesmerized by the sound of that engine as I was, and attempted to explain in his editorial, the reason behind the thrilling sound of the 567C.

I have reset the typography from the original two-page magazine spread, to make it easier for you to read.

Here now, for your enjoyment, the editorial that had been haunting me so elusively for more than 50 years, “Formula for a Chant” by David P. Morgan. Copyright 1957. Trains Magazine. Reprinted by permission:

2 Comments - Click here:

Dave Miner said...

The 16 cylinder EMD is without a doubt the sweetest sound ever. They are, however, not limited solely to locomotives. The tugboat I run for a living has a pair of EMD 16-645 E6's, that are Roots blown, not turbo'd. Whether pulling full or at an idle, there is no finer melody! Check out this shot of the port main engine:

Eric said...

Nice post, Robert.

I enjoyed the homework/trains and the DPM mentions. How can anyone not be a fan of his writing? Artful and knowledgeable.

I used to combine homework and train watching. I remember reading "Great Expectations" trackside. It was a chore, and I was really glad when a train happened by on CN's Kingston Sub to divert my attention from that Dickens tome.

Great CN Geep photos too, thanks for sharing,

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