Saturday, May 26, 2012

Golden Gate turns 75!

Big doings in "Baghdad by the Bay" this weekend!

The descriptive phrase - Baghdad by the Bay - is generally attributed to Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper writer, Herb Caen, who wrote for many years in the San Francisco Chronicle. The phrase celebrated the vast diversity of peoples and cultures populating San Francisco. However, in the late 1980s, the California Historical Society unearthed a monograph dating from the 1890s entitled "Baghdad by the Bay," predating Herb Caen's writing career at the San Francisco Chronicle. So the true author is as yet unconfirmed. 

The festivities in San Francisco this weekend - May 26-27 - celebrates the May 1937 official opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. Actually, there were several "openings."

•  On April 28, 1937, several days after the bridge deck was complete, a gold rivet ceremony was conducted. The bucking was a miserable failure, because the rivet couldn't be heated. After fussing a fuming, the mangled rivet was driven home. The rivet gun was operated by the same gentleman who had driven the symbolic "First Rivet."

•  May 27th was "Pedestrian Day." An estimated 18,000 souls gathered early in the morning of the 27th. By all accounts, first in line was a Boy Scout, Walter Kronenberg, who had camped out the night before to insure his place in history. By the end of the day, more than 200,000 folk had crossed and mingled on the bridge.

•  May 28th was "Motor Vehicle Day." This was the Official Opening Day. This included a plethora of politicians, Golden Gate Bridge District officers, speeches and a variety of ribbon cuttings. At high noon, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegraph signal from the White House, proclaiming the official opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Joseph Baermann Strauss, Chief Engineer. Returning to his other great love, poetry, Strauss composed verse for the Grand Opening, "At last, the mighty task is done."

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.
High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life’s restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For fate had meant it so.

It would be the last mighty task of his life. Strauss moved to Arizona to recover from the stress of building the bridge. Within a year, he would die of a stroke.

I've written about another famous Strauss design, Northern Pacific's, now Burlington Northern Santa Fe's "Bridge 14."

As a young airman stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base, up in Marin County, I crossed this span hundreds and hundreds of times. This road view shot in later years shows the hideous suicide barrier. Compare with view below. And with groups of friends, I have walked the bridge many times. It is impressive when it is moving around in the wind!

As a deck hand aboard the Hamilton Lady, I transited under the bridge with boatloads of Air Force officers and other VIP's on deep sea fishing trips.  The Hamilton Lady, operated by Base Personnel Services, was moored at Horseshoe Bay, at the US Army base Fort Baker.

We could take up to 10 fishers, who paid $6 for the trip, bait, and tackle! She was moored at the US Army Base Fort Baker.

Golden Gate dot org posts events going on all year, honoring the 75th Anniversary. One of many features is a really neat web cam. Not only is image streaming in real time, unlike so many "cams" that update periodically, but also you can control the camera! Zoom in, zoom out, pan right and so on. I have just lost an hour of my life following two container ships as they transited the Gate!

Finally, about our headline photo. The time exposure of the Golden Gate Bridge. I shot that picture in May 1967. The following year, it earned second place at the Tillamook County Fair in Oregon, where I had just relocated following the service.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sunset Rainbow

Last evening as I was closing the living room curtains, looking to the northeast, I spotted a beautiful rainbow. So, I went out on my deck, and low and behold, I could see both ends!

Rainbows are one of the many beautiful, magical elixirs Mother Nature shares. Sunlight passing through rain drops. Exquisitely simple yet complex!

One of the many things I have discovered living up here is the frequency of rainbows, especially in the spring and fall. But I have never had my camera along so I was determined to shoot this one.

Fellow photographers are curious as to how a photo was taken. Here is how I shot the picture:

Seeing how intense the rainbow was, I darted down the hall to get my camera.

Scurrying back into the living room, I got the lens cap off, opened the viewfinder, and turned the power on.

Zip! Dead battery!

I glanced out the window to make sure the rainbow was still visible. I darted down the hall to get another battery. Scurrying back into the living room, I swapped batteries and turned the power on.

Zip! Dead battery! Now I am panicking.

I glanced out the window to make sure the rainbow was still visible. I darted down the hall to get another battery. Scurrying back into the living room, I swapped batteries and turned the power on.

Zip! Dead battery! No more batteries.

My mind was racing for a solution. Then I remembered I had purchased a wall power adapter for the camera. But where was it? I had never used it before.

Finally, I found the connection on the camera and plugged into the adaptor. The camera sprang to life!

Problemento. I cannot reach my my deck. The power line is shy by about three feet!

I glanced out the window to make sure the rainbow was still visible. Gads! It is starting to fade! I darted down the hall to get an extension cord.

My companion, GingerSnap, sitting in her deck chair, witnessed all of this "darting and scurrying". She was obviously concerned about my state of my mind. "The mind of Robert has gone bye-bye!"

By the time I had a live camera, the rainbow was beginning to fade. I shot numerous hand held panoramic frames. I did not have time to scurry to my van to retrieve my tripod!

Stitching together the best of the best, I present you the final portrait of a "Sunset Rainbow."

And you know my technique for capturing it …

Monday, May 14, 2012

Railroad Commercials

Currently, two television commercials featuring trains are broadcasting over the airwaves.

The first is pretty straight forward. Employees who build locomotives at General Electrics Erie Pennsylvania Locomotive works yearn to see their handiwork in action.

What better way to do so than travel all the way from Erie Pennsylvania to the Mighty Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Washington.  The location, about 45 miles east of the Portland/Vancouver Metroplex, known as Cape Horn, on the Washington side of the river, is stunning.

Scott Dietz generously provided a photo taken from his kayak, as he explored Cape Horn from the Columbia River. The train in the commercial was traveling up river, exiting at the far end of the tunnel.

Much like the employees who wish to see their jet engines in action, the locomotive builders want to see their handiwork in action.

Here is how the site was selected, as written up in The Colombian, Vancouver Washington. Click on the photo to view the commercial.

The second commercial is more whimsical. And raises an interesting question.

The commercial explains how Dow Chemical is making products to quiet noise from rail tracks. Click on the video to see how these products work.

As we have all come to appreciate computer generated art.  It is a fantastic tool for visual producers, first used on the screen in 1973s  Westworld, casting Yul Brynner as a heartless gun slinger.

Talk about rich detail. I've watched the video a dozen times, and notice a different nuance each time. Like the folks on top squatting down in the tunnel! Or the passengers using the light from the screen of their cell phones to create a headlight!

Just as with the roll-out of Vale's Vale Brasil, the accompanying music, in this example, Whispering Grass, by the Ink Spots, thoroughly anchors the visual. 

Some shots featured 12 railcars, carrying 7,200 passengers. Here's how they did it!

The interesting question is ...

"Thanks!" to Scott Dietz  for the BNSF tunnel imagery. Scott is a very accomplished photographer. I encourage you to read his story of Cape Horn, and other scenic features in the Pacific Northwest in his Blog, "The Narrative Image."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Push Poling - Part 2

Continues from Part 1.   In yard switching there are four methods of handling cars:

•  Rear-end or tail switching
•  Poling
•  Shifting over a summit or "hump"
•  Gravity switching.

The relative extent to which these methods are employed in this country in the late 1800's into the early 1900's is about in the order listed. Yes indeed, the second most popular classification system was the Poling Yard.

Since information is hard to come by, I am not comfortable saying this list is complete. Push Poling Yards operated at

•  Port Jervis Yard, Erie Railroad.
•  Galewood (Chicago), Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway.
•  West Seneca vards of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, just west of Buffalo.
•  Pitcairn, Altoona, Harrisburg, Wilmington, Philadelphia and Jersey City on the Pennsylvania Railroad. April 4, 1887 First section of Conway Yard opened (720-car, 6-track poling yard and engine terminal); used by Cleveland & Pittsburgh freights only; four-track system extended westward from Dixmont to Conway.
•  Buffalo and Dewitt on the New York Central Railroad.
•  Hawthorn (Illinois) Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.
•  Packerton and Perth Amboy on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
•  Williamstown (Massachusetts); Boston & Maine Railroad.
•  Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Yards; Chicago & St. Louis Railroad.
•  East Detroit Yard; Michigan Central Railroad  
•  Denver Yard; Union Pacific.
•  and in a number of other large yards throughout the South and West.

Car Handling Efficiency

In a paper published in the Journal of the New York Railroad Club, December 1903, the relative capacity of the different methods of shifting as follows, based on handling a train of 60 cars of 50 cuts in each case:


By the poling or "staking" method the train is usually run out of the receiving tracks and left standing on a track which joins with the ladder of the distribution tracks. The switch engine working on an adjoining parallel track, pushes, by means of a pole, the cars from the head end of the train, one at a time, or as many at a time as are found together belonging to the same destination or lot, commonly called a "cut." Sometimes a double cut is started in one movement.

When such is done the pole is placed against a car in the first cut and the man who works the couplers rides between the last car of the first cut and the foremost car of the rear cut. As soon as the whole string of cars is got up to good speed the coupling between the two cuts is slipped and steam is crowded on to put the first cut the desired interval ahead for the two switching movements.

But if the cars are to be weighed, they are passed over the weighing scales one at a time, and on down the ladder of the distribution set until switched to the proper track. As by this method the whole train or string of unswitched cars does not have to be moved each time a car is shifted, it is widely in favor, and is employed in a large number of yards. Where the ground is level the engine must follow the car some distance and give it a flying start.

As hard-running cars are liable to stop on the ladder, it is well, where it can be done, to extend the poling track alongside the ladder. In both tail switching and poling it is an advantage to have an assisting grade entering the distribution tracks, as then the cars do not have to be shoved so hard to send them to place.

A descending grade as steep as 0.4 or 0.5 per cent is desirable, as then the cars have only to be given a start from the train, after which they will continue running.

To keep an engine busy at poling cars it is necessary to have quite a large crew of brakemen (seven to sixteen or more, according to the length of the yard) at the ladder to catch the cars and ride them to the proper stopping points.

The method could not be employed economically unless there was a large amount of traffic, involving a good many classifications. In some long yards where there were large crews of car riders working with the poling engine there is a third track running parallel with the poling track, ladder and distribution tracks, on which a pick-up engine and flat car are kept running to and fro to bring the men back to the poling engine after they have ridden their cars to the proper places.

In this way fewer brakemen are required to keep the poling engine busily at work than would otherwise be the case. Among places where this practice of operating a pick-up engine is to be found may be mentioned the Altoona yard of the Pennsylvania, and the Galewood yard in Chicago, of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway.

There was a good deal of complaint against the work of poling during dark nights, principally on account of the damage caused by hard-running cars which stop short of the intended point and are run into by the next car switched. As the cars must be given a good start before they leave the ladder, and as the same brakeman is not likely to ride a car down the same track twice in succession, a car which stops short, being in the way of the car following, is liable to do a good deal of damage.

In defense of poling it may be said, however, that the presence of a poling track is no hindrance to tail switching, which can be resorted to on dark nights.

Notes on track: Construction and Maintenance, Volume 2, By Walter Mason Camp, 1903.
Yards and Terminals and their Operation, John Albert Droege

In Part III, Enter the Poling Car!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Push Poling - Part 1

I was studying on some photos of General Motors locomotives, when I got curious about the infamous "push pole pockets" - plates with dimples located at the four corners of rolling stock. I wondered if they were still an option on "modern" locomotives.

From what I can ascertain, it appears that Electro Motive Division delivered frames with pole pockets through and including the GP30 road switcher series. Electro Motive Division produced GP30's between July 1961 and November 1963.  Sure would appreciate input from you if you can determine when other manufacturers "dropped the dimple."

I have not been able to verify this; EMD has apparently joined the ranks of those who routinely ignore requests for information from "Students of the Iron Horse." This was not always true. See "Reader Service Request." [For all 10 "Reader Service Request," type the phrase into my Google Search Engine.]

On several occasions, I witnessed  "push poling" as a young man riding with switch crews in Prince Rupert (1957-1959). But had never heard a "name" applied to the movement.

•  As an example, a car had been spotted at the wrong door at Ocean Dock. It was awkward because two other box cars were involved in cargo handling, preventing the switch engine from getting to the errant car. So we moved it, from an adjacent track, using a piece of timber placed between the switch engine and the freight car.

•  In another instance, poling was done down at Nelson Brothers fish plant. The switch crew used a beam, held between the switch engine on an adjacent track and a tank car, to move it away from a fish oil-loading platform.

•  Shifting cars around out at the Port Edward Paper Mill, a plank was jammed between the switch engine and a car to move it out of a siding, so it would be behind us going to another siding. As I recall, this was done to avoid a "flying switch" movement out onto a pier.

The guys never described what they were doing as being "a dangerous push poling movement!" As I recall these events, the crew took their time, communicated what they were doing, and gave constant feedback to the Engineer. They plainly did what they had to do to get the job done and move on to other assignments. Clearly, the event was "a non-event."

"Push-Poling Pockets" on the front and rear facing corners of freight cars and locomotives are dish shaped, about 6 inches in diameter and about 1- 1½ inch deep. They could be made of cast iron or pressed steel and affixed with bolts to the body of a freight car or cast directly into the frame. Often they were "offset" at about 45°.

 Three components are necessary for a "Push Pole Movement."

•  A Push Poling Pocket on the locomotive.
•  A Push Poling Pocket on the target car
•  A Push Pole.

Push Poles came in a variety of configurations, between 8- and 12-feet in length. This push pole is on display at the Saskatchewan Railroad Museum. The hardwood pole is approximately 12 feet long, 5 inches in diameter, and, upon close inspection, has two grab irons for holding the pole in place between the locomotive and the target car. About an inch or two from the end, a metal band prevents splitting with another band located about a foot in from the ends.

It was important that the grain of the wood be straight and tight the length of the pole, without knots, for maximum compression strength. Several detailed photographs of a hardwood poling pole are located at " Erie Lackawanna."

By definition, a basic "Push Pole Movement" involves the target car to be moved, located on one track, and the locomotive to move the "target car," located on an adjacent track. The Push Pole will transfer energy from the locomotive, through the Push Pole, to move the target car.

•  The engineer would stop diagonally opposed to the "target" car.

•  A Trainmen would take the poling bar, usually hung on hooks below the running board, off the locomotive. The pole would be lined up to fit in the poling pocket of the locomotive, and the poling pocket of the target car.

•  The engineer would then move the locomotive ever so carefully, as the trainman would keep the push pole aligned with the poling pockets, pushing the freight car to the desired location.

As we will see in Part II, "Poling" movements were much in vogue in the late 1800's and were developed to its full possibilities by the turn of the Century with dedicated Poling Cars.


"Thanks!" to Philip Goldstein, for providing Classic Poling Movement diagram.  Philip moderates some  interesting web sites I highly recommend

Industrial and Terminal Railroads of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx & Manhattan, NY

Military Railroads of the New York Metropolitan Area

"Thanks!" also to Joseph Kreiss for providing the photo of the poling pocket he found on a GE 44-ton industrial locomotive. Joseph also moderates an interesting blog. There is a link to it on his professional page.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recharging Batteries - New Blog Feature

I've been taking time off to recharge my batteries. And learn the new Blogger Template.

Dozens of "improvements." Of all the features added or modified, I am very pleased that the text editing window is now super large. This makes it much easier to edit long articles, with less "scrolling."

Finally, we've added a new feature in the utility column. Google Translate

Google Translate should prove to be a hit with our offshore Oil-Electric readers. Simply select the preferred language from the pull-down menu, and within moments, Google Translate does the rest! And from my experimentation, it appears that your language preference is permanent, so that subsequent visits are automatically translated!