Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Owney the Mail Pouch Pooch

Today (July 27) the United States Post Office issues a new "forever" stamp, honoring "Owney, the Mail Pouch Pooch."

Owney was a stray fox terrier who adopted the Albany New York Post Office as his new home in 1888.

Click photo for film

The National Postal Museum displays a short film, explaining how Owney eventually traveled around the world, with loving care and protection provided by Railway Post Office (RPO) personnel, Royal Mail Service (RMS) employees, and others in various postal services.

Now the Albany Post Office staff had fitted Owney with a collar to insure he'd be routed back to them if he ever got lost. Everywhere Owney went, postal employees would affix a tag, used on mail bags, to verify where he had been.

More than 1000 tags were collected. (small arrow in bottom right advances slide show. Pass your mouse over each tag to learn its origin. Double Click on each tag for the detailed story behind the tag.)

Owney even has his own web site. A link on that site, "Places Owney Visited" traces Owney's 11 year odyssey around the world between 1888 and 1897.

Today, Owney is guarding the Postal Museum in Washington D.C.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Where are the lights?"

Canadian National Railways 4811, Vancouver BC, July 3, 1961. My late buddy El Purington and I had journeyed north from Seattle Washington to Vancouver BC on our holiday Fourth of July. Like Seattle, Vancouver was a train-chasers delight!

Here was the northern terminus of the Great Northern, the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railways, Pacific Great Eastern over on the "north shore," and a terminal service, Pacific Coast Terminals working the docks on the Fraser River.

As you may glean from earlier posts, my family had lived in Prince Rupert BC, 500 miles north of Vancouver as the Raven flies, from 1957 through 1959. My interest in railroading began there.

Indeed, seeing the CNR 4811, and her cousin, the CNR 4201, was a reunion. I had seen both units, on a regular basis, in Prince Rupert. I have written about my rides on the CNR 4201, and there was a good chance I had ridden on this unit.

To the casual observer not familiar with Canadian National Railways power, this would seen to be merely a "roster" shot of a GP-7. However, there are details I would like to share.

This series, originally built as 7555 through 7578, was built to CNR's "Branch Line" Specifications. These "specs" reduced locomotive weight for branch line service on light rail.

That included Flexicoil trucks and 1,000 Imperial gallon fuel tanks. Somewhere in her history, the Flexicoil's were switched out in favor of swing bolster trucks. In addition, she received a steam generator car control panel in the cab, as evidenced by the receptacle on the leading handrail.

A curiosity to me is the absence of ditch lights. CNR invented ditch lights back in 1957. These consisted of flood lamps bolted on the head end of the locomotive. Moreover, since CNR ran long nose forward, I am wondering, "Where are the lights?"

Railroad Stuff: Canadian National Railways 4811. Built by Electro Motive Division in London Ontario as GP7, 1,500 hp, CNR 7566, October 1953, sn A-545. Renumbered to 1711 9/54, to 4361 6/56, to 4811 8/57. Retired 12/71. Scrapped 6/73.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tribal Canoe Journey

A squadron of First Nations and Native American canoes came ashore at Fort Warden State Park here in Port Townsend around noon today.

This is the annual "Tribal Canoe Journey." The Journey was established in 1989. The purpose is to encourage First Nations (Canada) and Native Americans, to reconnect with their rich heritage. And, through fellowship, confront problems of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicide.

The canoe journey is a strong allegory of "pulling" the paddles, working together, to achieve a goal.

The waters over which they pass, follow the same dangerous open water routes their ancestors navigated whilst hunting and trading.

This group of 14 vessels, is part of a much larger undertaking taking place from as far south as Vancouver Washington, and Bella Coola to the north. And there are contingents from Hawaii and New Zealand.

"Paddle to Swinomish 2011" is a cornucopia of information about the event, including photographs and videos taken on "paddles." Groups come and go, some trailering certain segments of the Journey.

Keeping to the schedule of arriving in La Conner is a daunting task. Weather and tide play a big role in the daily progress.

The Tribal Canoe Journey ends in La Conner, Washington, on July 25th. The Journey ends. But, but the celebration will be just beginning!

Last years event was attended by more than 10,000 people representing more than 50 First Nations and Native American tribes. This year, more than 100 tribes are expected to attend.

There is a "Tent Protocol" for placement of tents forming a circle. There will be ceremonies and dancing within the circle. I felt an emotional connection with this occasion. My roots are deeply embedded on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Finally, the boat crews are guided by the Ten Rules of the Canoe. This is a powerful document. Perhaps there is something meaningful within these Rules, for each of us to ponder.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Aftermath - Heat Wave

Flooding on the Big Muddy continues to be a major problem for everyone, including Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF.) The Empire Builder service, severely disrupted since mid June, has finally resumed.

June ridership on the Empire Builder was down to 23,721 passengers, a 53 percent drop compared to ridership in June 2010. California Zephyr ridership from Chicago to San Francisco fell more than 19 percent last month, to 30,450.

Amtrak announced it is restoring daily Empire Builder service for the full route between Chicago and Seattle/Portland following flood damage repairs made by the BNSF in North Dakota:

Starting with the eastbound departures of Train 8 from Seattle and Train 28 from Portland, Oregon on Sunday, July 17, the Amtrak Empire Builder will return service to missed stops in eastern Montana, North Dakota and western Minnesota.

The westbound Amtrak Empire Builder Trains 7/27 will resume service to the full route effective with the departure from Chicago on Monday, July 18, 2011.

However, the station and the boarding platform at Minot, North Dakota were damaged by flooding and remain closed. Amtrak service at Minot cannot resume until repairs are made by Burlington Northern Santa Fe sometime next month.

"We appreciate the patience of our customers and the work being done by Amtrak and BNSF employees to restore service,"
said Daryl Pesce, the Chicago-based Amtrak General Superintendent. "Amtrak and the predecessors of BNSF have together operated the Empire Builder since 1929 and no one can recall as much flooding and disruption on the route in these 82 years."

And now flood victims are suffering a double whammy with the heat wave covering the mid-west.

The National Weather Service office in Springfield Missouri just issued this ominous warning:


See Also:

Missouri River: The Second Coming

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Radio Flyer

I remember my Radio Flyer. It could be anything I could imagine. Sometimes it was a big truck. Sometimes it was a ship. If I scooted it backwards with the handle behind me like a tiller, it became a road roller. And if I tied the handle to my sister's Radio Flyer trike, it was a trailer.

My Mom would use the Radio Flyer to transport plants around the yard. It carried dirt, fertilizer, weeds and grass clippings. My Dad showed me how to keep the wheels oiled and let me use some of his Simonize Wax to keep the Radio Flyer shiny.

Our cat, Tilly, would relent once in a great while, and let us pull her around the yard. But she always had a bored look on her face. Our dog, Maggie, was always up for a ride, tongue hanging out in excitement.

But most of the time it was just a Radio Flyer wagon. And my sister and I would take turns pulling each other around in the uncomplicated innocence of youth.

I don't think you ever outgrow your yearning for a Radio Flyer!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Ever notice after a "breaking" news story, the event drops off the front page and you rarely know what happened afterward?

The Fourth of July fire on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Chuckanut Bay Trestle, looked like a major disaster!

The Maintenance of Way crew assessed the damages to the 212 foot long wooden trestle and removed damaged track panels.

New track panels were assembled on site. …

… and the structure was good to go late Tuesday afternoon following the Monday night fire. Fireworks are suspected of igniting the fire.

Looking good! All in a days work for BNSF MOW crews. In a few short months, when the "rainy" season begins and these fellows will be dealing with landslides once again!

Photos courtesy of Carl Johnson.

Up in North Berwick Main, the massive cleanup of garbage is complete, as reported by WCSH-TV, Portland Maine. Local stations have filed great follow-up stories. Unfortunately, the driver of the garbage truck was killed, when he skidded 200 feet into the path of the Amtrak "Downeaster" service.

Remember the collision of a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in 2008?

2008. The accident occurred on September 12, resulting in the deaths of 24 folk, including the Metrolink engineer, injuring more than 100.

2010. The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings. The Board found the alleged text messaging by the Metrolink engineer, causing him to miss a red signal, was substantiated.

A judge in Los Angeles today (July 14) awarded an average of $4.2 M to each family of the deceased.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Biggest Ore Carrier delivers to Biggest Steel Mill

The worlds largest iron ore carrier, Vale Brasil is scheduled to arrive at Taranto Italy on Wednesday Jul 13th. Her maiden revenue voyage, following load out at Ponta da Madeira Brazil, was originally routed to Dalian China.

Vale (pronounced "valley") diverted the Vale Brasil, at 400,000 dead weight tons, the worlds biggest bulk carrier, to Taranto Italy for "commercial, not political, reasons." There had been speculation among traders that the Vale Brasil was unable to berth at Dalian, China, due to pressure from China's domestic steel industry who had urged authorities to protect their commercial interests.

Regardless of the politics, there is a certain "irony" in that the biggest iron ore carrier in the world, Vale Brasil, will soon be off-loading at Ilva Steel at Taranto, Italy. Ilva is the biggest integrated steel-making plant in Italy and in Europe.

So, just how big is Ilva Steel? Consider these impressive numbers:

  • Structures: 15 million sq meters, or 161.5 m sq feet.
  • Blast Furnaces: 5
  • Rail line: 200 km, or 124 miles
  • Roadway: 50 km, or 31 miles
  • Conveyors: 190 km, or 118 miles
  • Employees: 12,859 (2008)
  • Land area: 10 square km, or 3.8 square miles.
Ilva has an annual production capacity of 9,150,000 metric tons, including coil, plate, pipe.

Within the complex, railways with more than 50 trains and over 1,700 freight cars connect the different production lines; blast furnaces, hot strip mills and so forth.

I traced (red tracks) the two conveyor systems, each about 1½ miles in length leading from the ship unloaders to a massive longitudinal stockyard, patrolled by a squadron of stacker/reclaimers.

To keep track of vehicles in a huge area like the Taranto plant, it was not feasible to use such technologies as sensors or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), deemed too costly and difficult to maintain.

Instead, a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) and a Global Positioning System (GPS) was integrated with a General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), to track virtually all rolling stock on the site, right down to dump trucks!

In 2005, a computer based integrated management solution, developed in conjunction with Microsoft Italy, was activated with the following features:
  • Train tracking with DGPS/GPS/GPRS using Windows-based remote units.
  • Telemetry application to get train data and alarms in real time to prevent damage.
  • Maintenance application to report the trains' usage for planning purposes.
  • Management application integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to manage the daily operations of railway infrastructure.
Follow this link to the Ilva Steel corporate site, and be sure to click on the video provided. It is a driving music video collage of the plant. If the site comes up in Italian, click on the Union Jack for the English version.

In 1990, the Ministry of Environment declared Taranto a high environmental risk area. The poisons discharged into the air by the factories in its territory, make Taranto the most polluted city in Italy and western Europe. Only 7% of Taranto's pollution is inhabitants-related: 93% is factories-related.

Vale expects the Vale China, launched July 10th,to have a Chinese port as her first destination. The first ship "Brasil" was built in South Korea; the "China" built in Nantong China, the first vessel of the Valemax class totally produced in China and financed by Chinese financial institutions.

Story begins at: Vale Brasil Largest Ship in the World.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vale China Launched

The second of 19 Valemax vessels, the Vale (pronounced "valley") China has been launched. Vale's newly appointed CEO Murilo Ferreira traveled over the weekend to China to attend the launch ceremony at the shipyard of China Rongsheng Heavy Industries in Nantong on July 10th.

The first 400K DWT Vale Brasil was launched at Daewoo South Korea in May. She loaded out at Ponta da Madeira Brazil, and had been routed to China, when she was inexplicably re-routed to Taranto Italy, where she will arrive this week.

Reading between the lines

Is it not curious to you, that the first Valemax, Vale Brasil, on her maiden revenue voyage, was diverted to Italy whilst half way to China. Mumbo-jumbo about paperwork clearances. It is not like the Vale Brasil was unexpected at Dalian, where dredging has been going on for months.

Now there is high expectation is that the Vale China will indeed be loaded out at Ponta da Madeira, and routed to China.

Could it be petty politics that the Vale Brasil was built in South Korea, and the Vale China was built in China?

Let me know what you think. Delayed paper work or petty politics?

In addition to the 400,000 dwt's ordered by Vale, construction has begun on the first of four VLOC Oman Shipping Company has ordered. On July 8th in Nantong, the steel cutting ceremony for two 400,000 DWT VLOC's named H1125\H1126 built for Oman Shipping company was held in RSHI’s cutting center. (See page 18.)

The vessels, named Jazer, Yanqul, Al Kamil, and Wafi, will be chartered to Vale.

See Also:
Vale Brasil

Monday, July 11, 2011

Picture Quiz #1 Another Fatal Wreck

Soon the answer will be revealed.

Here we go again.

Another truck vs train case for the NTSB. This fatal encounter in North Berwick, Maine.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Terror Rides the Zephyr

"I just couldn't believe it. Just seeing the train where I was, all blasted up and people jumping out to save themselves."

These words from Mary Frances Turner, 64, of Antioch California. She survived the collision when an out of control tractor pulling two empty trailers, ran into the side of the Amtrak California Zephyr on June 24th.

Mary was one of 204 passengers and a crew of 14, whose life forever changed on a beautiful cloudless day, at a well marked, obstruction free highway crossing in the Nevada desert.

Mary remembers seeing a flash of fire before winding up on the floor.

"At first, everything happened so quickly. Once I got up, it slowed down. It was almost like a movie." She was able to watch the horrific scene play out because the Amtrak California Zephyr train had been going around a curve when the truck hit.

Click here to read Ms Turners first hand account of the wreck and how it has affected her life following the accident.

A second account appears in the Lahowtan Valley News.

The Ortiz family from San Jose, California, home bound following a vacation in Utah visiting relatives. They boarded the train in Salt Lake City.

"I was sleeping on the side that was hit," said Abel Ortiz, 42, from San Jose, Calif. "I slid from the seat down. As I looked up, I saw the train being ripped up. It created an opening in our car. I saw the flames come over the windows at the side like a quick flash of flames. Then smoked filled up everything. There was some screaming."

However, Sara Ortiz was awake and heard the 18-wheeler crash into the coach. "I was awake. I didn't see it but [I]felt the impact," said Sara Ortiz, 43. "The car rocked, and I felt it was going to keep tipping."

Their 13-year-old son thought he was dreaming. "I saw the flames rush by," Aaron Ortiz said. "I thought I was sleeping but I said this isn't a dream. I was scared. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was an 11."

A third account, also in the Lahowtan Valley News.

Monte Mentry, 75, of Sebastapol, California, said he has ridden a train for years, but the impact was beyond words.

"The train rocked, and I was bouncing up and down in the seat. Everything in the luggage rack came down," said Mentry, who also boarded the train in Salt Lake City. "There was confusion at first. We were told to go to the back of the train. We walked down the middle aisle, single file."

Mentry said he later had the opportunity to walk up near to the front of the train. "The first car was burning," he described. "The side was ripped on the second passenger train. The fire at that time was contained only to the first passenger car."

And finally, this interview with Linda and Clayton Cook, on ABC News.

The Major Accident Investigation Team of the Nevada Highway Patrol-Northern Command and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dispatched a teams, representing various specialties, to determine the exact cause of this tragedy.

NTSB's Earl Weener gave a detailed briefing on June 27th.

The NTSB is reconstructing the Peterbilt tractor in Fallon Nevada, to further understand why the vehicle impaled itself in the side of the train, killing the driver and an Amtrak conductor.

Meanwhile, the NTSB has yet another fatality seeking answers in Maine.

See Also:
California Zephyr: Update
RITS: Running into Trains

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tranocean Marianas

In a story written by Harry Weber and Dina Cappiello, AP reported today that an offshore drilling platform, Transocean Marianas, began to take on water as it was preparing to move to Cedrela-1, on the West Cape Three Points Block off the coast of the Republic of Ghana, in the Gulf of Guinea.

The rig, currently under contract to Italian oil company Eni, was not drilling at the time.

Transocean evacuated 108 nonessential workers as a precaution. Thirteen remained on board the Marianas to monitor the situation. Transocean described the situation as stable and under control, though could not say for sure whether workers were able to stop water from coming aboard.

Apparently no one has been injured.

So how does this story have relevance to Oil-Electric?

Well, back in October, 2009, the Transocean Marianas arrived on location to start drilling an exploration well on the Macondo prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. But drilling was halted on November 28, 2009. The Transocean Marianas was pulled out of service and taken to Louisiana for repair of damage caused by Hurricane Ida.

British oil giant BP leased another rig. The Deepwater Horizon was sent to the Macondo Site on Mississippi Canyon, to complete drilling operations on its well a mile beneath the sea. The Deepwater Horizon began its work in February 2010.

Two months later, 11 workers were killed when the Deepwater Horizon exploded off Louisiana, leading to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Big Sky Blues!"

Interbay Yard, Seattle, May 1969. Here we see SD45 GN 425 in run 2 ambling north out of Interbay.

I never cared much for the Cascade Green, first seen in 1970, nor the “Big Sky Blue” paint schemes.

Add a little dirt and both looked absolutely dingy. This unit was born in the "BSB" scheme, never carrying the magnificent Empire Builder paint scheme. She of course was swallowed up in the big merger transition, and initially painted Big Sky Blue.

This period of transition from Great Northern to Burlington Northern resulted in oddities like the the 645 carrying the GN Logo. I think it was done to "educate" the public about the merger.

Later, she was repainted Cascade Green,
becoming BN 6455.

Railroad Stuff: Great Northern 425 built as SD-45, 3,600 hp, July 1968, sn 33792.
Went to US Leasing in 1983, becoming Chicago & North Western #6574. Rebuilt as Southern Pacific SD40M-2 #86118 in January 1995, becoming Union Pacific #4644.

I prefer the Great Northern "Empire Builder" color schemes. But there is an argument to support "Handsome is as handsome does." Consider the "Hustle Muscle."

Great Northern owned a handful of SPD45's, carrying a steam generator unit for passenger service.

GN 400, was dubbed “Hustle Muscle.” I was fortunate to see her in her Empire Builder colors at the GM Open House in September of 1989.

The locomotive display area at the open house, with a dozen or more GM “landmark” locomotives, had pure white gravel spread all over the area, making it a nightmare for photographers!

Looking carefully, you can just see the Northern Pacific bridge over the Lake Washington Ship Canal, in the up position, in the background.

Railroad Stuff: GN 400, SD45, 3,600 hp “Hustle Muscle.” Built EMD May 1966, sn 31589. Now owned by the
Great Northern Railroad Historical Society, on display at the Minnesota Transportation Museum, in St. Paul, Minnesota.