Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

Whilst rummaging around my photo collection, looking for the perfect "seasonal" shot, I came across this photo, shot from the cab of CNR 4255, stopped at Amsbury Station.


Our family moved from Seattle to Prince Rupert in September, 1957.  My Dad was Chief Engineer on A.B.C. Towing "Comet" from 1956 to 1959. It was here in "Rupert," at the age of 14, my rail journey began.

My first "cab ride" occurred when I rode the Comet down to the rail bridge at Pillsbury Point.  This was only a mile or so from where we lived.

Lots going on in this photo:
1. Comet nudging barge into rail bridge.
2. ABC 24 with box cars full of raw pulp bales, en-route from Ward Cove Mill to Rome, Georgia for final processing.
3. Bill Trimmer, first mate, ready to exchange customs documents with agent.
4. CNR 7242 ready to begin car transfer.
5. Loads of materials for Ward Cove paper mill (near Ketchikan.)
6. Pile driver performing maintenance.
7. Fairview Cannery, destined to be site of a world class container facility. 

 So I climbed onto the barge and made my way deftly through a dizzying maze of track work onto the beach.

Here I took photos of the Canadian National Railways switch engine marshaling cars onto the barge. A guy learns out a cab window and asked me a question the answer to which became the beginning of an epic adventure over the next three years: "Would you like to ride with us?"

My routine was to ride with Dad on the Comet down to the rail bridge, and ride with the switch crew back to town.

Over time, my knowledge of railroading expanded — exponentially!

My First Road Trip

My first over-the-road trip was with a gregarious engineer, Bill Geddes.

Over the next two years — 1958, 1959 — I made many trips to Terrace with Bill and fireman, Hugh McIntosh.

Conductor Stan Wozney and head end and rear end brakemen rounded out the crew.

The first time I met Mr. Geddes in the cab of GP-9 CNR 4409, he explained to me that once in a while, not often, these locomotives could explode! Followed by a loud pop in the cab, which yielded my startled gasp, and the roar of laughter from the crew.

The pop was created by jamming a wad of flimsy (train order) into the exhaust port on the brake stand. At the appropriate point of his story, he hit the release lever, causing the flimsy to be expelled like a bullet!

Thus my initiation to the crew.

My Last Road Trip

It was a sad day when my Dad announced in late 1959, we would be moving back to Seattle. It quickly sank in that my days of riding freight and passenger trains was coming to a screeching halt.

My last ride was on November 18, 1959, on  east bound passenger train 196. Power pack included two GP-9's, 4255 + 4206 + Steam Generator Car. (A handful of Geep's in the 4200 class were retrofitted with controls necessary to operate the Vapor-Clarkson Steam Generator.)

Here we are stopped at Amsbury, MP 9.6 Skeena Subdivision. (Westward Train was 195.)

Amsbury was a classic Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Station Plan 100-152 design, sometimes erroneously referred to as "Type E." Amsbury was one of the last fourteen stations on the Western Extension of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Apparently the name "Amsbury" is attributed to Capt S.J.R. Amsbury, a pioneer  settler.

GTP constructed more than 200 of these structures between 1910 and 1916.  Amsbury was constructed in 1911, at a cost of $2,403. Today, it would cost more than $61,000 for the structure, not including the cost of transporting everything from lumber through the office and living quarters furnishings from Prince Rupert.  The station was upgraded with insulation and a coat of stucco.

Mile Post for Amsbury changed from 34.4 to 9.6 when the division point was moved west 24.8 miles from Pacific to Terrace.  Skeena Sub lost four stations, Pacific, Pitman, Usk and Kitselas, to the Bulkley Sub.

The change took place with the issuance of Time Table 1.  Mile Posts — and my negative collection—had to be updated.

The June 1920 edition of American Lumberman announced a handful of new sawmills in operation or coming on line. The mill at Amsbury, operated by C. Lindbloom, opened in 1917 to process Sitka Spruce, valued for its light weight and straight grain, ideal for aircraft construction. The mill closed in 1928.

During construction of the Westward Extension, Grand Trunk applied to BC Government for water rights for their steam engines. Amsbury was identified on Water Rights file 0127384, 13 May 1937; name confirmed 4 October 1951. The Grand Trunk Pacific, later CNR, obtained their water from Amsbury Creek.

The water tank had been removed by the time I began my road trips.

With the installation of Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) in the 1970's requiring fewer operators, many were dismantled, or worse, burned to the ground. Amsbury was demolished in 1966.

The plan was to ride in the cab of 196 to Terrace. Hang out around Terrace with my buddy Ron and his friend Ken, and then grab 195 for the evening run back to Prince Rupert.

There was no radio communication, trains ran under strict instructions delivered by train orders, referred to as flimsies due to the thinness of the paper. Operators took their instructions from Division, either by phone or telegraphic code, wresting in thick manifolds of forms separated by carbon paper to type instructions for the train crews.

Digging through my collection of train orders I found both sets of orders for my last train ride.

Later that evening, said my good byes to Ron and Ken at the station, whilst waiting for 195.

Presenting my "pass" to the conductor on 196, who kindly gave me the train order set when we got back to town.

Power pack for 195 was CNR 4223+Steam Generator Car.  Here I am riding CNR 4223 earlier in the year, on a special train up to Terrace to see Queen Elizabeth.

Since it was dark with no opportunity for photos, I road in a passenger car on the way home, plus that, I was becoming rather maudlin about this all coming to an end.

Six days later, we were driving on Highway 16, heading back to Seattle.

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