Sunday, October 7, 2007

Boxcars Go to Sea!

February, 1957. Miki class M/V Comet (LT 393) is leaving Prince Rupert harbor heading for Canadian National Railways farthermost customer, Ketchikan Pulp Company. Loaded cars carried supplies for the pulp mill, returning cars carried kraft and kraft liner for final processing in the US.

June, 1958. Depending on weather, the 110 mile trip to Ward Cove would be completed in about 14 hours. Once secured to the rail bridge, there may be a wait for the tide. At this end, a 50 ton Whitcomb diesel locomotive was used for working the barge, and shunting cars about the Pulp Mill.

June, 1958. Louisiana-Pacific was the parent company of Ketchikan Pulp Company. In 1954, they completed a $54m viscose-process mill. Construction of the mill took nearly 1,000 workers many of whom moved to Ketchikan for the duration of the two-year construction project. It was a huge financial boom to Ketchikan, housing was at a premium and local developers took advantage of a change in Federal law that offered economic incentives for large apartment complexes. L-P shut the mill down in 1997. I've never been able to find out builders information on this unit, and do not know what became of her when the pulp mill was closed.

July, 1958. Leaving Ward Cove. Actual un-loading and re-loading of the barge took about two hours, then back to Prince Rupert.

March, 1958. Car barge rail bridge, Prince Rupert. Most folk think of Prince Rupert as being the western terminus of the Canadian National Railways. But CNR had a customer 100 miles north and west at Ketchikan Pulp and Paper’s Ward Cove Complex, a few miles north of Ketchikan.

The only way to service this customer was via ABC (Alaska British Columbia Transportation Company), a shell of Puget Sound Tug and Barge out of Seattle. The tug Comet is nudging ABC 24, a steel rail barge with a capacity of 24 rail cars on four tracks, into the Prince Rupert Rail Bridge, just south of town. There is a "3rd rail" between running rails, that is the anchor for a “screw-jack” assembly that the tug’s deck hands use to secure the four corners of each car to the barge.

Now I could stop here, but there is a lot more going on in this photograph! The deck hand on the front of the barge (left front box car) is guiding the tug’s skipper into the slip. Since they didn’t have “handi-talkies” or radios, the deck hand is guiding the skipper into the barge slip with a “police” whistle" The Acme Thunderer made in England! And the skipper is communicating with the engineer below decks with a manual engine room telegraph for power and direction. As I recall, 1 whistle, turn to port; 2 whistles, turn to starboard; 3 whistles, put her amidships; you get the idea …

April, 1958. Car barge rail bridge detail. Stationary “land rails” are in foreground. Looking carefully you can see the hinge that mates land rails to the adjustable bridge rails. The bridge is raised and lowered by means of two electric motors mounted atop the twin towers. You can make out the concrete counterweights inside the wooden towers. Once the tug has “roughly” aligned the barge rails to the bridge rails, steel cables, attached to winches on the bridge structure, do the fine tune positioning, pulling the barge left or right to mate with the bridge rails.

It was a fascinating operation, that had to be synchronized to the tides, which, in Prince Rupert, had a healthy range. On this particular day, the barge has just been unloaded, and the workers barely visible in the lower right are adjusting something. This would make a challenging “scratch build” project for an HO layout, yes?

1956. Prior to 1957, CNR 7536 (0-6-0) had the duty unloading and loading box cars at the Rail Bridge.

April, 1958. The operation was loud and noisy! The barge, being a steel shell, rang out as each wheel set banged on board. Deck hands secured each car at its four corners with a combination screw-jack up in the securing point, and a ratchet-hook-and-chain pulling down next to it. First Mate Bill Trimmer is carrying a packet of customs papers and car report from CNR Agent.

April, 1958. Built in '53 [GMD SW 9, 1200 hp, retired in 1988] this young lady displaced the steamer 7536 in 1957, working the yard in Prince Rupert for a number of years. Shown here, she has a buffer of flats between her and the cars she is loading on the barge, to keep her weight off the bridge. I spent many an afternnon riding around on this unit; even learned hand signals!

August, 1958. Fully loaded with twenty-four cars, the Comet is leaving Prince Rupert behind. Kaien Island, on the right, is home for some 12,000 souls (1957) in Prince Rupert. CNR mainline is barely decernable threading along the beach.

This rail operation was my first exposure to railroading at the age of 14. And one of my many "defining" moments. I made this trip many times with my Dad, and as I think back upon those trips, I never cleared customs when I got off at Ward Cove to explore the pulp mill!

Railroad Stuff: Thanks to R.H Lehmuth for providing builder's data on Ketchikan Pulp #1 (and only!)

Be sure to read the other entries in this series:

Boxcars Go to Sea - CN "AquaTrain" - Mar 20, 2008
Boxcars Go to Sea - Alaska Steamship - May 26, 2008
Boxcars Go to Sea - Vancouver Island - Nov 8, 2008
Boxcars Go to Sea - "M/V Corbin Foss Burns!" - Feb 28, 2009
Boxcars Go to Sea - Alaska Railbelt Marine Part 1 & 2 - Oct. 2009

3 Comments - Click here:

R H Lehmuth said...

Here is information on your "unidentified"

61279 2/1953 B-B Std 50DE 50T 500hp
Ketchikan Pulp, Ketchikan, Ward Cove, Alaska

Bob Lehmuth
St George, Utah

Unknown said...

Mr Lehmuth
I’m looking for a side photo of the center cab Whitcomb locomotive used at the Ketchikan Pulp Company. I am considering an N scale version of the pulp mill and railway. I thinking 2’x16’ should be about to scale. I’m looking for a clear photo of the logo.
Kelly Walsh
Las Vegas, NV

I have a new email.

Unknown said...

I am looking for a picture of the boxcar barge used in Ecuador to cross the Rio Guayas. I want to wrote a piece on this, the image you have is very similar so I would like your permissio9n to use a 'similar to'
Gil Hughes (UK)

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