Port Townsend, today. Each Memorial Day, I remember the countless lives that have gone in Harm's Way and never returned.
I remember the fine men and women I served with from 1963 to 1967 in Western Air Rescue Center, at Hamilton AFB California.
In particular, Steve "Pits" Pitsenbarger, who gave his life doing what he loved most, being a flying paramedic.
And Major Harold Salem, who brought Pit's body back from an all night massacre in some long forgotten, god forbidden rice paddy in Viet Nam.
What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.
~Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, 1864
Monday, May 31, 2010
Port Townsend, today. Each Memorial Day, I remember the countless lives that have gone in Harm's Way and never returned.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Port Townsend, today. Much has transpired since my last posting!
May 3. Primary Care Physician seeing indicators that are troubling. She advises me to see cardiology asap.
May 13. Cardiology seeing indicators that are troubling. He advises me immediate intervention is required.
May 18. Medical Imaging at Harrison Hospital 50 miles to the south in Bremerton, Washington performs a Percutanueous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA).
Finds cause of troubling indicator! 80% blockage in an artery!
May 19. Jumped in my van and headed to the nearest Arbies - we don't have one in Port Townsend - for a medium roast beef and small chocolate frosty!
Spent the overnight introducing the night shift nurses in the Progressive Care Unit (PCA) to my Blog. In this business, you have to be constantly marketing! Besides, as you know, there is no such thing as "sleep" in a hospital. And I have several tricks I pull on nurses, to keep them on their toes, and me from becoming bored!
The Mt. St. Helens - BN Connection was a big hit, since many were too young to know what had happened down at the other end of the state 30 years ago. Another nurse read through both articles on the Gulf Disaster.
In 14 days, we received 6,519 visitors, and signed up 12 new "Followers," all of which pushed us over 60,000 visitors since we began publishing! I'm sure many were not rail fans, as "Blogs of Note" are selected from the Google Blogger Family. But if you have bookmarked us, "Welcome Aboard!"
So. I've ridden an emotional roller-coaster the past few days. Think I'll kick back with my pooch and take a walk on the beach - when it stops raining! You have more than enough reading to keep you going 'till I fire up the Dell once more.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Port Townsend, today. Be forewarned, if you think you've heard enough about the ongoing disaster, or wondering what could I possibly know about this, stop here! I invite you to select from more than 400 articles I have written concerning my experiences with railroading, alpha indexed on the right margin!
Being a naturally inquisitive individual, as I watched news accounts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, I grew curious about facts not explained or supported, and questions raised but not answered, about this oil leak!
To be perfectly truthful, it makes me gnash my teeth! This behavior is a result of more than forty years of writing and editing radio news copy and audiovisual scripts. Many a scriptwriter sat across my desk from me, wielding a big red pen, enduring a word for word, line by line script review of their writing, before a program went into production.
And I have an abiding love of tugs and unusual work vessels. The oil industry has both. Against this background, as events unfolded in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the note pad next to my easy chair began to fill with unexplained facts and unanswered questions, such as:
- Is it a "box" "dome" or "contraption?"
- What kind of vessel transported the "dome."
- How do we end up with ice crystals at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?
The containment structure built to capture leaking oil has been referred to by the press, as a "dome." But it has no rounded top. As a "box." But it has no bottom. Another source referred to it as a Submersible Oil Recovery System (SORS.)
I soon discovered that an outfit by the name of Wild Well Control, located in Port Fourchon Louisiana, was building the containment structure. Hark back to the days of John Wayne portraying the famous oil well firefighter, Red Adair in "Hell Fighters." Wild Well Control provides firefighting, well control, engineering and training services to oil and gas operators around the world.
Working round the clock for several days, metal fabricators and welders completed the first of three containment structures. The structure weights 98 tons, is four stories high (40 feet) and 14 feet by 12 feet. Look carefully, and you will see the compass cardinals "N, E, S, and W" painted in black on each side, for correct alignment of the containment structure over the leaking drill pipe (noted.)
The structure has no bottom. As it is lowered like a cookie cutter into dough, flukes projecting from each side, will stop it's ascent into the Gulf floor muck at a predetermined depth. And there is a fitting on it's pyramid shaped top, though which captured oil will be brought up to a tanker or barge.
The OSV chosen to deliver the cofferdam was the Motor Vessel (M/V) "Joe Griffin." The M/V Joe Griffin is owned by Edison Chouest Offshore, operating as Galliano Marine, out of Port Fourchon, Louisiana, and is under contract to British Petroleum.
She is a diesel-electric design, built by North American Fabricators, Houma, Louisiana, launched January 21, 2010, featuring 2 2,500 kw thrusters (propellers.)
- 280' length
- 60' beam
- 24' draft
- 4,750 DWT (tons displacement)
- 7,200 hp (CAT)
- 10,000 sq. ft. deck space
- 13,000 bbl drilling mud ( 1 barrel = 42 gallons)
- 105,000 gallons rig water
- IMO 9529891
- ON 1224614
The "Joe Griffin" was named in honor of a captain who worked with the company founder Edison Chouest, when Chouest was still in the shrimping business. Joe Griffin later followed Chouest into the oil business and eventually worked his way up to port captain, supervising several vessels at once. Griffin died in a car accident in 1970.
"The ship is one of only a few boats that isn't named for a family member," according to company spokesman Lonnie Thibodeaux. "Literally it is our latest and greatest supply vessel. She was launched in January (2010) and just chartered to work for BP."
M/V Joe Griffin met up with a self propelled platform, the Q4000. The Q4000 is another hybrid born of necessity to service offshore oil. When it's time to move, she pumps out her pontoons, and boogies onto the next assignment at 13.4k!
The Q4000 lifted the cofferdam off the M/V Joe Griffin, lowering it a mile, in pitch black darkness, to a spot the size of your living room, on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
[Ed note: My original major at WSU was Geology. That is, until I ran into the Periodic Table; whereupon I switched to Radio-TV Speech. Geology still holds my interest. My curiosity led me to the following observations and conjecture.]
The MC 252 well is located in 5,067 ft of water about 50 miles from the coast of Louisiana. The total depth of the well was 18,360 ft below sea level (13,293 ft below the sea floor).
The environment. All this is taking place in a water depth of 5,000 feet. Call it a mile. Look out your window. See anything about a mile away? Imagine dangling a 12-inch pipe that distance. At a mile deep, the pressure of seawater is around 2,165 pounds per square inch (psi).
Draw a one-inch by one-inch square on a piece of paper. That gallon of drinking water you have in your refrigerator weights 8 pounds. That would be 250 1-gallon water bottles, pressing down on that 1" square you drew!
It is pitch black. In most oceans, daylight does not penetrate much below 600 feet. If you've ever been SCUBA diving, you know that is probably a stretch!
And is cool. BP has reported the ambient sea temperature at the well head is approximately 42 degrees Fahrenheit.
When that gas is released from the rock, and exposed to that pressure (remember our inch square drawing?) a reaction takes place turning the methane gas into a slushy ice formation called Hydrates. That's about as far as I dare go with my unscientific explanation. The reaction is similar in some ways to the compression of freon in you air conditioner - which makes things cold!
Scientists have known of the existence in nature of methane hydrates. They were discovered in 1810! But until recently, they've been considered simply a laboratory curiosity. Ice worms love the environment!
But if you have an interest in chemistry, here's how that happens. Halliburton knows about this dangerous phenomenon, and documented their findings, which they presented to the oil industry in November last year!
I had little trouble locating a copy of that report posted on right here on the Internet! When you read the report, note bullet points 2 and 6 on page 10, and the footnote on page 13.
The key issue of course, has been the failure of the Blow Out Protector (BOP.) The BOP in question is one manufactured in the USA by Cameron. This is the model, Type TL, or one similar to this, that was deployed.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune Newspaper has just released a highly detailed graphic of events we call Diagram of a Disaster. [published 5-11-2010]
As a backup to the BOP, Brazil and Norway require drillers to have a backup mechanism to activate the BOP totally different from direct wiring. One system, an acoustic method - variously called an "acoustic switch", "acoustic trigger", "acoustic trigger" - in which a unique sound wave turns on a BOP if an electric signal fails. BP uses them on many wells surrounding the United Kingdom.
In what can only be described as a supercilious argument,
Apparently U.S. water is different from Norwegian or Brazilian water.
Sadly, at the end of the day, Jim Hoffman, a former oil worker now with the University of North Texas' Professional Development Institute was recently quoted as saying, "Something broke down there. There are lots of ways to turn on the light, but if the bulb is burned out, it's not going to go on no matter what switch you use."
So the Magic Box turned into an expensive failure. Methane hydrate icy slush turned the containment structure into a giant Slurpee container, clogging the outlet. But finally I found answers to questions that were not answered, and learned a lot of facts that were not explained.
And that's the story of the "M/V Joe Griffin and the Magic Box." Unfortunately for the Gulf of Mexico - indeed for all of us - the "magic" didn't happen ...
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Port Townsend, today. The sub-title for this article could read: "Tale of Two Stations!" I just received a newspaper clipping from the Bellingham Herald, reporting the Blaine (Washington) City Council failed to back proponents of "Saving Blaine Station."
As I reported last year, there was a surge of interest in saving the Great Northern railroad station in Blaine, sitting squarely in the surveyors bulls eye. Burlington Northern Santa Fe has plans to improve the Port of Entry International crossing. Removing the dormant station is included in those plans.
Since I am not a resident of Blaine, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the priories the Blaine City Council has established for their community.
But I can comment on the issue of preserving historical structures. There apparently was a ground swell of interest in preserving the station, and the City Council had given tacit approval to continue the preservation process.
So when it came to the final vote, it is a shame that, for the lack of one vote, a myopic city council has prevented a singular opportunity for Blaine to connect to it's railroad history, while providing a venue for the entire community to enjoy.
Shame on Blaine!
By comparison, just three miles and change to the north (3.14) almost within eyesight of Blaine, the City of White Rock British Columbia has done a marvelous job of saving and renovating their Great Northern station.
The floor plans of both station are similar, built within a short time of each other. The White Rock station is a positive icon in the community. The difference between the two stations? Well, The City of White Rock established positive goals and objectives to justify saving their station:
Our Mandate is to collect, preserve, research, exhibit and interpret local history and culture based on four themes:
· Settlement history
· Railway history
· First Nations history
· Natural history
And as I reported on National Train Day, residents of Kelso Washington saved their Northern Pacific station from the wrecker's ball. It has been restored and has taken its place as a classy attraction in the process.
While it is true that every shed, trestle and railroad station cannot be saved, nor indeed should be. But those having the potential for contributing to the vitality and ambiance of a town, should be pursued without hesitation.
When preservation is viewed as an investment in, not an expense to, the future of a community, they produce exciting results! Like White Rock and Kelso, these restored structures enhance and preserve the historical connection between the city and the railroad, and promote tourism.
City council members come and go and few remember their names. But bad decisions are forever. It is inexcusable when short-range judgments ruin long-range opportunity.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Prince Rupert, November 8, 1958. Consider the ubiquitous “B” unit. Never quite achieving the status of an "A" unit; always in back, tagging along. But when the tonnage rating gets iffy, and the dispatcher needs a boost, who better to fill the bill?
Railroads went through a period of time when it was believed that “B” units saved money. After all, there was no cab, with windshields, controls, seating, heating, or toilet.
But the flipside to the savings was the lack of flexibility. You simply could not run a train headed by a “B” unit.
In some web discussion groups you hear "distinctions" made between types of "B" units. The distinction made between those with "hostler" controls, and those without. A booster is a B unit with hostler controls, and a slave is a B unit without hostler controls, as they say.
But I'm not comfortable declaring those distinctions as being anymore valid than the so-called "phases" rail fans like to attribute to locomotive model progressions. In fact, the builders never made such distinctions, and I've never seen that terminlogy in locomotive catalogs.
So here's a toast to the utilitarian "B" unit! She's always ready to "help the team!"
A happy ending to the CNR 9039B story. She was snatched from the cutters torch and sold in 1990 to the Feather River Rail Society in Portola, California. But in yet another unforgivable messing around with history, she was repainted from Canadian National to Western Pacific colors and given number 925C.
And, at last report, operational, with almost 60 years on the frame! As part of my facts verification process, I just received this email from David Epling:
She is actually Western Pacific 925C now, not Feather River 925C.
Feather River Rail Society owns the locomotive.
Western Pacific RR Museum
Railroad Stuff: GMD CNR 9039B, F-7B, was built as a class V-1-B-b in London, Ontario, June 1951, sn A214. 1,500 hp. Reclassified 9/54 as GFB-15b. Retired 4/71, to be rebuilt as 9190 in 10/72. Retired again in December 1989 and sold in October 1990 to Century Locomotive Parts in in Lachine, Quebec, now known as Canada Allied Diesel (CAD), Montreal, Quebec.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Port Townsend, today. Today is National Train Day. This is Amtrak’s 3rd annual observance of National Train Day. A day set aside for you, your family - all of us - to celebrate our love affair with trains.
I was dumb-founded to discover, there is no event scheduled in Seattle, Washington, given the ongoing success story with the Amtrak "Cascades" service.
The Kelso Depot, built by the Northern Pacific, is one of more than 100 stations nationwide hosting family friendly events celebrating the importance of trains in American History. Kelso is about 100 miles south of Seattle - closer to Portland - on the I-5.
Historic railroad and train station photos are displayed inside the circa-1911 brick building. And the Longview-Kelso-Rainier Model Railroading Club set up a large operating model train display.
Volunteers will meet all eight daily regional "Cascades" trains and the long-distance "Coast Starlight" trains.
The beautifully restored station is owned by the city and is not staffed by Amtrak. Here you can read the full history of Kelso Station, which carries the official designation as a Great American Railroad Station, a tribute to the citizenry.
The date (May 8th) was chosen to coincide with the Last Spike Ceremony at Promontory Utah. My late wife and I were lucky to be in Utah during the 100th Anniversary, and saw reincarnations of the "Jupiter" and "UP 119."
See my article "Last Spike Then and Now" for a full accounting of our visit to Promontory Point in 1969.
And drop my a line to let us know what you did to celebrate your love affair with trains!
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Prince Rupert, 1957. More gems from the "Revolving Picture Collection." As I mentioned in my earlier post, the prospect for me to see a diversity of locomotives was pretty slim living out there on the end of the Prince Rupert Extension!
So I began trading pictures of locomotives with pen pals I met through "Trains" and "Railroad" magazine. This provided a great opportunity to learn about different types of locomotives and the railroads they ran on.
To illustrate my point, consider the four black and white 5" x 3¼" of heavy Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL) power I received through our "Revolving Picture Collection" from Scott Lansing down in Miami Florida.
Despite the name, Seaboard Air Line Railroad never "got off the ground." Sales pitches in those days often referred to an "air line" as the shortest direct routing between two points. Similar in usage to "As the crow flies."
Photos of SAL "E" units introduced me to the so-called "E" series of passenger locomotives. While "E" designated "Eighteen-hundred horsepower," these twin motor units carried two thousand horsepower.
These photos also introduced me to the seasonal migration of the elderly and well to do from the harsh winters of the Northeast to the balmy beaches of South Carolina and Florida on board such posh varnish (passenger trains) as the "Orange Blossom Special."
While the Travel Agent would have you getting on a train in New York and 26 hours later soaking up the sun in Florida, he left out a few wrinkles:
Getting from New York to Miami on the Orange Blossom Special, you left New York on the Pennsylvania Railroad and rode down to Washington DC, where you transferred to the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac.
On the R,F&P you journeyed to Richmond Virginia. Finally, in Richmond, you again changed trains, boarding the Seaboard Air Line Railroad to Miami. Hopefully, your baggage made the transfers with you!
In addition to the showcase "Orange Blossom Special" which ran year 'round, there were a number of seasonal trains - December through April - to handle peak traffic loads.
SAL needed muscle to pull those heavy passenger cars. Once the commitment was made to go diesel, SAL began with a fleet of E-4A's and B's. As a matter of fact, the only EMC E4's built, were built for the Seaboard; 14 "A" units, and 5 "B" units. These units were all Electro Motive Corporation (EMC); engine, generator, traction motors.
As you may recall, EMC was purchased and integrated into General Motors Corporation as the Electro Motive Division (EMD) of General Motors on January 1st, 1941. The EMC E4 was simply a modified E3 built to SAL's specification by Electro Motive Corporation (EMC).
The most visible alteration is the one-of-a-kind "tilt out" nose door. Looking carefully at the nose, you can see a set of guide rails. The entire front door assembly is hinged across the bottom.
The door assembly pivots forward to a vertical position, allowing crew members to make the harrowing transfer from the unit to the train. That would be interesting at 65 miles per hour!
Six years later, Electro Motive Division evolved the passenger line to the model E7. SAL 3017 is an E7A. You can plainly discern the severity of the angled nose was reduced, resulting in the more pleasing so-called "bulldog" nose. I'll be damned if I know how they came up with that nomenclature; I simply fail to see a "bulldog!" Urban legend has it that the less radical "bulldog" nose also improved deflection of automobiles away from, rather than up into the windshield area. That would be important.
Seaboard Air Line merged with the Atlantic Coast Line on May 10, 1967, forming Seaboard Coast Line (SCL.) This new railroad would bring together the 5,573 miles of track of the Atlantic with the 4,146 miles of the Seaboard.
So! Look at how much I was able to learn about the Seaboard Air Line, and two of its premier locomotives, the EMC E4A, and the EMD E7A. All made possible by simply trading photographs with a "pen pal."
Railroad Stuff: SAL 3011, E4A, 2 x EMC 12V-567 1,000 hp. Built by EMC December 1939, Serial Number 964. Retired December 1961. All E4A/B built for SAL.
No E4's were saved.
SAL 3017, E7A, 2 x GM 12V-567A 1,000 hp. Built EMD March 1945, Serial Number 1929. Became Seaboard Coast Line (SCL) 544, May 1967. Retired September 1972.
SAL 3025, E7A. Built EMD 9/45 SN 2879, became SCL 552, May 1967.
SAL 3035 E7A. Built EMD 9/46 SN 4444, became SCL 561, May, 1967.
There is only one E7A left on planet earth, on display at The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Kessler AFB, December 1963. I remember the first time I saw the Gulf of Mexico. I was about a week out of boot camp in San Antonio. Two busloads of us were shipped via Greyhound to Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi for primary training. The Air Force Schools at Kessler trained radio operators, control tower operations, and a host of other “electronic specialties.”
Brought up in the Pacific Northwest with it's rugged coast line, the Gulf appeared to me to be a big lake! My impressions of the Gulf of Mexico, in no particular order, were:
- Beaches blindingly brilliant.
- The water was warm.
- No pounding surf.
- No rough hewn craggy headlands.
- Off shore barrier islands created the calm “lagoon.”
- In the backwaters and marshes, an entire society of magnificent birds, fish, frogs, snakes and grumpy gators!
- At night, kicking the water up as you walked along the beach created a brilliant phosphorescence light show.
It is hard to fathom the audacity of extracting oil located in deep water and thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor. The technology that make this possible is mind boggling.
The search for oil has taken us further offshore, resulting in the development of Drilling Semi Submersible’s (DSS.) DSS’s are “cutting edge technology” floating drilling structures.
Massive tanks filled with seawater produce a vessel with an exceptionally low center of gravity and great mass. This allows the structure to resist “rocking and rolling” in response to wave motion, creating a stable drilling platform.
The DSS offers other operational advantages:
- Maneuvering is excellent; it is easy to change position.
- No anchor handling tugs are required.
- Not dependent on water depth.
- Quick set-up.
- Not limited by obstructed seabed.
The Deepwater Horizon, built in 2001, was constructed in South Korea and transported to the Gulf on another breed of hybrid vessel, developed largely to meet the needs of off shore drilling. You may recall the "M/V Black Marlin" was sent to the Middle East to retrieve the "USS Cole" back in 2000.
The Deepwater Horizon represents the 5th generation of DSS’s. She is classified as an “Ultra Deep Water” Drilling Semi Submersible, designed to work in water up to 8,000 feet deep, with a maximum drilling depth of 30,000 feet. That is more than five miles!
She also carried another acronym – MODU – Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit. She was capable of moving herself from drill site to drill site. Diesel engines driving generators, supply juice to her eight electric propellers or thrusters.
At these depths it is impossible to use anchors and cables to hold the platform stationary over a given spot thousands of feet below. The drill platform is held in position by eight thrusters – propellers – which are controlled by a computer receiving positioning information from Geophysical Positioning Satellites (GPS.)
This process is called Dynamic Positioning.
Think of the platform as being a “ship” going nowhere! Each of eight propellers, pushing to overcome the effects of wind and current, to hold the platform in the required position relative to the sea floor, day after day after day.
Now image lowering a drill bit on the end of a pipe less than a foot in diameter, 5,000 feet through water before it even reaches the sea floor. Can you imagine the tremendous weight of that entire pipe? There the drilling begins, coursing thousands more feet into the oil-bearing strata. In this case, they had progressed 18,000 feet below the seabed.
With the hard part taken care of, a “straw” – called a riser – about a foot in diameter with a blow out protector rated at 15,000 psi on it’s tip is lowered to connect with the drill pipe casing on the sea floor. Once that connection is made, it’s a simple matter to bring the oil to the surface!
Last September, BP (In 2001 British Petroleum formally renamed itself as BP) proudly announced the Deepwater Horizon had completed the deepest oil well in the world. Drilling had reached a formation 18,000 feet below the seafloor. It all came to a sudden end at 10 PM, Tuesday, April 21st when a violent explosion wracked the Deepwater Horizon.
It’s hard to learn what happened out there. The press is cluttered and focused now on the environmental issues. I did find a detailed explanation of events leading up to the catastrophe.
It did not go unnoticed by me that the supply vessel Damien Baxton, brought 94 survivors ashore at the “E” Port - Port Fourchon, Louisiana, 42 miles north of the explosion and fire. Port Fourchon is a major supply base for all Gulf activity. From toilet paper to drilling mud, it all passes through Port Fourchon out to hundreds of oil platforms.
The big “E” port, so called because of its shape as seen from the air, was close to ground zero, all but wiped out when Katrina made landfall five years ago. The new highway bridge linking Port Fourchon with New Orleans was just dedicated last fall!
The CEO of Transocean, Ltd., owners of the DSS, issued this news release. Buried amongst the headlines of the fire, sinking, and resultant oil leak, the name “Halliburton” surfaces. Employees from Halliburton were apparently involved in a procedure just moments before the blowout and resulting explosion and fire, which sent this unit to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Halliburton has a habit of being involved in questionable events. A fact not lost in Washington.
And I wouldn't count on the "good intentions" of BP to step up to the plate and do the right thing. Exxon Mobile still has unfinished business in Alaska, more than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez!
We’ve been given the gift of extraordinary intelligence facilitating such an audacious undertaking of going deeper than we’ve ever gone before to tap oil reserves. Questions have been raised about whether BP should have installed a secondary cut-off valve and why the company had not installed a so-called "acoustic switch" on the blowout preventer, which is on the seabed and designed to stop pressure from the oil well damaging the drilling rig, so it could be activated remotely.
Norway and Brazil demand these backups be installed. Ironically, BP uses the Acoustic Switch on all their wells off shore in the United Kingdom. Dick Cheney in 2003 exempted them on wells offshore in the USA. Deemed an unnecessary expense at $500K.
What a shame if that intelligence were poisoned by greed, resulting in someone making a calculated decision not to place a $500K acoustic switch atop the well head, that by all accounts, may have prevented this terrible ongoing disaster. The cost of that switch being about equal to one day’s rent BP is paying for the use of the rig. ($278K/day)
The last night I was in Biloxi, I went down to the beach just at sundown. Off on the southern horizon, a huge mass of cumulonimbus clouds, what we commonly call “thunderheads” was billowing up into the darkness. Every few minutes, a cloud would light up, as if a flashbulb had gone off inside it. I shuffled along, kicking that warm Gulf water into the air, which exploded with tiny sparkles of phosphorescence.
 Source: Transocean Financials