Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween on Monster Road: Black River Junction Story

As a young man chasing trains around Seattle in the early 1960's, one of my favorite places to hang out was Black River Junction, about 10 miles south of Seattle. Black River Junction offered not only fantastic rail traffic, but also, during certain times of the year, a chilling spooky feeling. Because to get to Black River Junction, we had to exit Empire Way - now Martin Luther King Blvd - onto Monster Road!


Monster Road

Yes, there is a Monster Road, named for John Monster who set up a 160 acre farm on the Green River Valley floor near Black River in 1880. This account found in the history of the Skyway neighborhood, tells of him driving his cows twice a day across the Seattle to Portland main line for years, without tangling with a train!

Heading down Monster Road toward the White River valley floor, we had to pass by the mysterious Technical Research Company.

Set back off the narrow road, behind chain link fencing and a screen of brush and trees, several ominous buildings. Their mercury arc lighting and a mysterious humming sound gave friend Elwin Purington and I pause to wonder what unspeakable terror lurked behind the gated compound!

We had the Union Pacific, Northern Pacific, Great Northern, Pacific Coast, and course, the Milwaukee Road transiting the area. Pacific Coast Railroad (PCRR) was a historic connecting line from a coal loading facility on Seattle's Elliot Bay, up to Black Diamond and several other coal mines south and east of Seattle. In 1952, Great Northern purchased the line, but operated it as PCRR


Black River Junction

Milwaukee Box Cab Southbound at Black River Junction Tower. Circa 1935.
Pacific Coast #14 Southbound for Black Diamond. Circa 1935.
Black River Junction was special, because all of Seattle's major carriers funneled past this location.



Free of grade level crossing, freighters and varnish had their first shot at Run 8, heading south, clearing the carbon by the time they passed Black River Junction Tower. After dark, the area became more exciting. Air horns shouted out from north and south. It was a guessing game what railroad was passing through. Spring and fall would bring foggy evenings, which heighten the exhilaration. Headlamps became comet-like apparitions, and sounds muffled.

I vividly remember a very foggy evening, listening to a moaning single trumpet air horn off in the distance, moaning four long blasts repeatedly, requesting to utilize the wye configuration offered by the junction.


It wasn't until 1927, that the Milwaukee completed the electric lines from Black River Junction to Seattle. Until that time, the electrics were replaced by steam at Maple Valley to haul trains to Seattle!

At the controls of the Box Cab on the inaugural run was Seattle's Mayor Bertha Knight Landes.
According to this account published in the July 1927 Milwaukee Road Magazine, Ms Landes proved to be very competent at running the Box Cab the 10.1 miles from the Junction to Seattle.


Black River


At one time there had been a beautiful functioning Black River. It was fed by over flow from the south end of Lake Washington, flowing generally SW emptying into the White River.

But as Seattle city limits pushed south, and marsh land was drained to produce farm land, a massive project was undertaken, forever changing the hydrology of the area. That occurred in 1916 with the completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and what is commly referred to as the Ballard Locks.

This resulted in Lakes Union and Washington dropping some eight feet in level, effectively shutting off Black River. It's entrance was sealed to force incursion by the Cedar River

Today, one can trace the former river bed, as it winds up from the former confluence with the White River.

Looking carefully in the upper right corner, you see the former river bed runs beneath the runway of Boeing Aircraft Renton Complex.

When the Milwaukee Road marched across the continent, construction terminated at Maple Valley Washington.


The Road signed a 99 year agreement with the Pacific Coast Rail Road (PCRR,) to make it's way down to Black River Junction, and north to Seattle. So that leg of the road was dispatched by PCRR
 

From Black River Junction to Tacoma, dispatching - excluding the PCRR stretch - was conducted from the famous "D" street warehouse in Tacoma.

 

Williamson's Final Report 

Back in the '70's, the Milwaukee Road filed papers with the Interstate Commerce Commission, requsting abandonment of the west extension. As part of the process, The Road hired the prestigious Booze, Allan, & Hamilton (BA&H) consulting firm, to support the claim that it was too expensive to continue operations west of Miles City Montana.

To that end, BA&H contracted with Harry M. Williamson, a self-employed railroad engineering consultant, with an impressive resume. Mr. Williamson conducted a detailed survey from Miles City to Tacoma. The purpose of his examination was to provide an estimated cost to bring the Road up to not Class One, not Class Two, but to Class Three status.

This report to support the notion that the Milwaukee Road could not afford to repair the line, should the Interstate Commerce Commission deny the abandonment application


Here is a view of Black River Junction Tower few rail fans could ever image capturing in their lens! These photos are from a series of photos, taken to document Williamson's findings.

Believed to be Paul Cruikshank, VP Operations, Milwaukee Road

Presented as "Written Direct Testimony of Harry M. Williamson" often referred to as the "Williamson Final Report," it makes for interesting reading.

We think Harry Williamson is far left next to Paul Cruikshank. In the "hole" just south of Black River Junction, meeting southbound Amtrak.

While there is much speculation including conspiracy theories concerning the demise of the Road - some implicating Washington Governor Dixi Lee Ray. However, Governor Ray came into office in 1977, long after the Roads tooth decay began!


Acknowledgements

A Blog article is dry toast without photographs. So I am always grateful when photographers permit my use of their photos to illustrate a story.

•  John Carr, for the Black River Junction Tower shots, taken whilst he was stationed near Bremerton in the US Navy. His web site - Carr Tracks - contains a cornucopia of rail photography!
•  Thomas White, for his "Maple Valley Dispatchers Record of Movement of Trains."
•  Scott Lothes at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, who generously allowed use of the photos from the Williamson assessment trip.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hixon's Wooden Peg

I recently received an email from one of my readers which read:

When I was in British Columbia, the Canadian National track had a wooden peg driven through the tie plate and into the tie approximately every 5'. I have never seen this before. What is the purpose of these many pegs? 

T
he photo was taken in October 2011 just south of Hixon, B.C., just west (roughly 2,000') of the Cariboo Highway 97. Hixon* is approx. 30-40 miles south of Prince George, B.C

The distance covered at least 1/8 mile, possibly much further. 

–  George Formanek

In researching this oddity, I did locate an article in the June 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics, alluding to the use of wood pegs during track alignment processes. Could George's photo prove to be part of this?

Please let us hear from you, either thought the comment feature below, or by emailing me via the "E Mail" button in the right column, concerning the purpose of the wood peg.


Hixon is on the east bank of the Fraser River, midway between Prince George and Quesnel. Named for Hixon Creek, the name of Joseph Foster Hixon, who found gold on the banks of the Fraser River around 1866.


Hixon was established by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Here we see it listed in the Prince George Subdivision, in Time Table 82, published in June 1961.


The Pacific Great Eastern became British Columbia Railway in 1972. And renamed BC Rail in 1986. Notice the siding capacity was dramatically increased from 42 cars to 2,350 cars. This must have been due to the longer, heavier coal movements from Tumbler Ridge to Robert's Bank Terminal near Vancouver British Columbia.

Finally in 2004, Canadian National (CN) took over the management of BC Rail. Car capacity - at least in this 2005 Time Table - remained at 2,350 cars.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Curious Case of Number 22 - Solved!

From Trains Magazine

Partially solved is the question of why two Hudswell, Clark & Sons diesel hydraulics ended up at Vancouver Wharves.  (See previous article.)


The solution was found in the September 1960 Trains magazine. I've spent several hours trying to definitively connect Samuel Williams & Sons to Vancouver Wharves. As Mr. Young reports, "British owned, the harbor road has imported motive power ..."

But he does not identify the British owner.

Vancouver Wharves opened for business on September 4, 1959.   In addition to the two Hudswell's, the operator employed a Shay locomotive for several years.

Here is Number 22 working at Dagenham Dock before moving to the Colonies!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Curious Case of Number 22

What follows is another example of how tracking down the history of a single photograph leads to a very interesting backstory! With spin offs!  I recently came upon this curiosity, which posed the question. How did an English locomotive end up in North Vancouver British Columbia?

In trying to learn more about this curious locomotive, I was momentarily thrown off the trail by falsely assuming the builder must have been Samuel Williams & Sons. You can clearly read the plate prominently affixed to the front of the machine room.

But soon I came to learn that Samuel Williams & Sons Limited was a very famous freight aggregator and forwarder, located in Dagenham, just east of London on the River Thames.

Dagenham has an interesting history reaching back to the 1200's. That's not a typo - the 1200's! Dagenham was formed on the marshes of the River Thames.

There were many aborted attempts to develop the land. Finally, in 1887, Samuel Williams bought the land. Over many years, Mr. Williams his successors enlarged their business at Dagenham and extended it to include civil engineering, bargebuilding, ship owning, fuel trading, and other activities.


Their development attracted Ford Motor Company. An assembly plant was built, complete with an adjacent  engine manufacturing plant. Ford shut down the auto assembly line in Dagenham in 2002. But reinvested and expanded its engine manufacturing capacity.

•  October, 2011, Ford celebrated its 80th anniversary in Dagenham.
•  July 10, 2012, turned out its 40 millionth engine since 1931

Samuel Williams & Son's wasn't so fortunate. Faced with massive infrastructure improvement to be competitive with intermodal transport systems, the Company was shuttered in 1985.


Vancouver Wharves Limited  (Now Kinder Morgan Vancouver Wharves) in May 1960 acquired both Number 22, and her sister Number 21, from Samuel Williams & Sons Limited, who operated them at the Dagenham Docks. Here is a photo of Number 22 working (shunting) at Dagenham Dock in April 1957.


She was built by Hudswell, Clark & Co Ltd located in Leeds, England. An interesting company that manufactured steam and diesel locomotives, as well as atom bombs and Hurricane Lanterns!


The airframe for the first British nuclear bomb, Blue Danube was manufactured by Hudswell Clarke at its Roundhay Road, Leeds, plant.

It is noteworthy that in 1929 Hudswell, Clarke & Co. Ltd. was the first company in the world to fit a fluid coupling to a Diesel Locomotive and in 1931 they built a Hydraulic Converter Locomotive.

Here is another Hudswell, serial number D558 built in 1933, with an unusual drive train. Note the socket for the hand-crank, used to start the motor!  See "Comment" at the end of this post for information about the restoration of this locomotive.



Since the United Kingdom shares the same rail gauge, 1,435 mm (4'8½") there was no problem with fitting the locomotive to the Stephenson gauge. However, careful examination discloses the English Buffers are removed; yet no AAR Type E coupler is affixed.  Notice the connecting rods (links between wheels) were probably removed for transport.

Walter E. Frost shot the lead photo of #22 on September 5, 1960 in North Vancouver B.C. Apparently newly arrived at Vancouver. Her English Buffers removed, but no coupler has yet to be installed.


But the curiosity remains, why would Vancouver Wharves purchase these locomotives from England?



Turns out yet another Hudswell, Clarke & Co Ltd locomotive was imported from England. It is a 36" gauge Hudswell Clarke mining locomotive built 1948. Serial number DM 642, is on display, complete with mining cars, at Fernie, British Columbia.


The 100 hp Gardner diesel was built in Leeds, England for the International Coal and Coke Company operation at Coleman  Alberta. It was the first locomotive to be employed underground in Canada. In this article, one of the operators explains about his days operating this locomotive in the mines at Michel.


When the International Mine was closed in 1954 the engine was transferred to the Cheakamus Power Tunnel Project at Garibaldi, BC, where it worked until recalled to the Coleman Alberta area in 1959. The Fernie Chamber of Commerce acquired it after it was retired in 1975.


I knew the Canadian Pacific Railroad ran a line through Fernie, but during my research for this article, I was surprised to learn the the Great Northern Railroad also had a line running north from Rexford Montana up to Michel British Columbia. GN ran the 82.6 mile connection to the coal fields under the name of Crows Nest Southern Railway.


In  August 1908, most of Fernie was consumed by fire. Both the Canadian Pacific and Great Northern assembled trains to move resident out of the fire zone.  Here is a harrowing account of the perils faced by the GN to evacuate residents from the fire.

 
Railroad Stuff:  0-6-0 (Whyte Notation) Diesel-Hydraulic Number 22, built by Hudswell, Clarke & Co Ltd in 1949, builder number D 702. 300 horsepower Gardner, weight 30 tons.

One of two identical units acquired. 1 (21) scrapped 1/73 for parts. 2 (22) sold 9/74.

Hudswell, Clark &Co Ltd mining locomotive at Fernie:  Unnumbered. Built for International Coke & Coal (IC&C) March 1952. Serial number DM 642. 36" (914.4 mm) gauge. IC&C merged with McGillivery Creek Coal & Coke, forming Coleman Collieries in 1952.

Hudswell, Clark & Co Ltd was also noted builder of steam locomotives.

Several 0-6-0T (tank) engines are operational at theme parks at Edaville USA, located at Carver Massachusetts, Conway Scenic Railroad, Strasburg and others, running the 0-6-0Tank engines as a "Thomas the Tank Engine" attraction for the kiddies.

Photo Credits:
•  Jay Tilston; Cadeby Light Railway. See many more "unusual" locomotives on Jay's Flickr Site.
•  Mick Fly
•  Vancouver Digital Archives

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happy 5th & the Oriental Nicety

Before we get to our feature story, I take pride in announcing Oil-Electrics 5th anniversary. Since the first article was posted on Saturday, October 6, 2007;

•  More than a half million pages have been read.
•  638 articles have been written.

And by far, the most "popular" article is "A Whale: The Rail Connection - Part IV." Even as I compose this article, that story is number two on the list of what folks are reading right this moment!


It is almost difficult to comprehend that stories that I write here in my corner office, are read by people around the world, thanks to Blogger and the Internet.  

What a triumph in communications. We appreciate your support and comments!


Now for our feature story concerning the Oriental Nicety.


Oriental Nicety was purchased in March 2012 by a US based company Global Marketing Systems (GMS), which is one of the biggest cash buyers for dead ships. Then she was sold to Chinese owned Best Oasis, Ltd  in Alang India for about $16 million.

•  Oriental Nicety is 301 meters long (987.5 feet)
•  50 meters (164 feet) in breadth
•  26 meters (85 feet) in depth
•  Displacing 211,469 tons
•  Powered by a 23.60 Mega Watt (MW)  (31,648 HP) Sulzer Marine diesel engine.

For several weeks, the Oriental Nicety was anchored off the coast of India, as the Indian Supreme Court heard arguments in opposition to her being in Indian waters over environmental concerns.

Finally, the Court agreed to let  the Oriental Nicety be deliberately run aground on August 2, 2012.

However, this is not the first time the Oriental Nicety was run aground. The first time she was stranded was back on March 24, 1989.

 At that time, she was named the Exxon Valdez!



 

Built with great hope and expectation for a fulfilling career, the Exxon Valdez was launched by her builder, National Steel & Shipbuilding Company in San Diego on December 11, 1986.

Less than three years later, her much anticipated successful career came to a shuddering grinding halt, when the Second Mate managed to "fetch" the tanker hard aground on Bligh Reef, just outside Valdez, Alaska.


At 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989, Captain Joseph Hazelwood contact the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Control in Valdez, and in an utter monotone voice, intoned, "Fetched up hard aground on Bligh Reef …"

Not realizing that 8 of 11 cargo tanks had been ripped open like a sardine can, Capt. Hazelwood attempted  for more than an hour, to disengage the reef.

Finally at 1:40 a.m. the chief engineer, citing extreme stress load readings on the hull, was successful in stopping Hazelwood's futile attempts to free the vessel from the reef.


Thus began one of the worst oil spill in history to that date, which occupied news headlines for several weeks to come.

Once the remaining crude was removed from her tanks, the Exxon Valdez was towed to her builder, National Steel & Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, the only yard on the west coast with a dry dock big enough to hold her.

Towed by Crowley tugs at an average speed of 3 knots because of the severe hull damage, she completed the 2,500 nautical miles to her birthplace, arriving in San Diego on August 15, 1989.  A number of dangling hull plates had to be cut off by divers, to allow her to enter San Diego and the graving dock from whence she was born. Hull number 438 was launched December 11, 1986.


Nine months and USD $30M later, she was floated out the graving dock in late July 1990. Exxon, acutely aware of what a pariah she had become, renamed her and banished the re-named Exxon Mediterranean to the East Coast.

Following her fifteen minutes of fame, the Exxon Valdez passed through several owners with subsequent name changes:

•  1986 - 1989 Exxon Valdez
•  1990 - 1993 Exxon Mediterranean
•  1993 - 2005 S/R (Sun River) Mediterranean
•  2005 - 2008 Mediterranean

Converted from oil tanker to ore carrier on the Brazil Europe cycle, renamed Dong Fang Ocean. This was precipitated by new regulations requiring tankers to be double hulled.

•  2008 - 2011 Dong Fang Ocean
•  2011 - present Oriental Nicety
•  August 2, 2012, Oriental Nicety run up on the beach at Alang India for dismantling.

Oriental Nicety was purchased in March 2012 by a US based company Global Marketing Systems (GMS), which is one of the biggest cash buyers for dead ships. It was sold to Chinese owned Best Oasis Limited in Alang - Sosiya India for about $16 million.  The Oriental Nicety is

• 301 meters long (987.5 feet)
• 50 meters (164 feet) beam
• 26 meters (85 feet) in depth
• Weighing 30,000 tons empty
• Power: 23.60 MW (31,648 HP) Sulzer Marine diesel engine.

Best Oasis also purchased and demolished two Canadian ferries, the Caribou and Smallwood.


Shipbreaking yards similar to Alang, India, are found at scattered sites around the globe, but the two major shipbreaking operations, in addition to Alang, are found at:

•  Gadani Beach, Pakistan
•  Chittagong, Bangladesh.

 Other yards are located in

•  China
•  Turkey

All sites share the same geographic advantages: Long sloping fetches from shore to waterline, and very aggressive tide ranges. Alang - Sosiya is located on the Gulf of Khambhat, which has up to a 42' tide range.


Access to the Shipbreaking Yard at Alang - Sosiya has been a challenge to journalists, who resort to disguises to enter and photograph. Access for journalists is restricted, due to the shameful controversy surrounding the use of manual labor, and the fouling of ocean beach with all manner of toxic materials such as asbestos, and all manner of liquids from paint and hydraulic fluid to diesel oil.

The shipbreaking yard at Alang includes 100 plots over a six mile stretch of beach




CBS 60 Minutes did manage to gain access to produce a story about the dismantling of vessels in Chittagong, Bangladesh.


It was precisely due to environmental concerns that the Oriental Nicety was forbidden to be beached, while the Indian Supreme Court heard arguments.


Ships are dismantled, plate by plate, using armies of laborers, without benefit of material handling machinery such as cranes. Behind the stripped engine block, a vessel with International Maritime Organization number IMO 8128913.

This powerful video, "Workingman's Death," was shot at Gadani Beach (aka Gaddani) in Pakistan. The only power machinery are large winches, anchored above the beach, used to pull cut sections off the vessel onto the beach for further torch reduction into pieces that can be carried by men to waiting trucks for transport to steel mills or yard storage.

Mere boys and men, using nothing more than cutting torches, mallets, and rudimentary tools, will demolish this vessel in something like three to six months. All without the assistance of heavy mechanical machinery!

Best Oasis also purchased and demolished  two Canadian car ferries, Caribou and Smallwood.

Epilog

Anchorage Daily News, Associated Press,  Monday, January 4, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A tugboat operator says as much as 6,410 gallons of diesel fuel spilled in Alaska's Prince William Sound when a Crowley Marine tugboat - the Pathfinder - ran aground December 23, 2010, on the same reef as the Exxon Valdez 20 years ago. 


According to the Final Report issued by the Coast Guard, The Captain did several things wrong that caused the accident. First, he changed the Pathfinder's course despite losing track of the vessel's precise location, then increased speed and failed to properly communicate with other officers. 

The Coast Guard puts the blame for his inattentive behavior on playing "hearts" and other games on his computer and had his back turned to the bridge.

A Crowley spokesman said that the Pathfinder's captain and second mate were fired after it was determined that they violated safety policies. [Source: MSNBC]

The bottom-line of the Exxon Valdez and Pathfinder is this: Two very well designed and constructed vessels did not cause accidents. People did.


 Suggested Reading:
•  The Shipbreakers, William Langewiesche. The Atlantic Monthly; August 2000; The Shipbreakers - 00.08; Volume 286, No. 2; page 31-49.
•  Ship Breaking & Recycling Industry in Bangladesh & Pakistan, 2010, Maria Sarraf et al. Definitive, detailed description of shipbreaking industry, yards, living conditions, wages, plots, etc.

•  Shipbreaking in the US. Department of Labor. (Or, reasons why shipbreaking is done overseas...)
•  Chittagong in Pictures - Guardian Newspaper
•  Photo Gallery - Institute for Global Labor& Human Rights