Monday, December 31, 2007

Auburn at Night!

Auburn Washington. December 26, 1964. Elwin and I were having a fantastic time in Auburn, with the rare treat of seeing and riding the Spokane, Portland & Seattle 300. See previous detailed entry. Then got the arrival and departure of the North Coast Limited, an absolutely beautiful passenger train!

There is something magical about nighttime railroading. And I think I know what it is. Since the distractions of the daylight are eliminated, just the lights and sounds are in sharper focus.

I stood there mesmerized listening to the “life” of NP7000. I could almost hear the recirculating diesel oil flowing to the injectors. The rattling sounds of the air compressors, with their “fit-fit, fit-fit” cut-offs. And the hypnotizing rhythm of that magnificent V-16 diesel motor.

It took me back to the era when we lived in Prince Rupert. Another fabulous memory. Looking out my second-floor bedroom window with binoculars to see what engines were hooked up to the night time-freight. And laying there in the dark, listening to the gentle chanting of the locomotives pumping air, the sound increasing and fading in the wind and rain …

15 A-B-B-A sets in the class were built for the Northern Pacific between 1954 and 1956; road numbers 7000 – 7014.

Railroad stuff: NP7000A, 1,750 hp, EMD, built 1954, sn 19048. Sold to General Metals, Tacoma (read that, scrapped) January 1981.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spokane, Portland & Seatttle, never went to Seattle!

Auburn, December 26, 1964. I’ve finally made home for my 10-day leave – see earlier story about getting home for Christmas. My buddy Elwin and I head out to do the “loop” beginning with the NP at Auburn, heading over to intercept the electric trains at Cedar Falls, Black River Junction, Argo, Stacy Street and finally Interbay.

Made for a neat day of train chasing, with a rich diversity of rail lines! NP, MILW, UP, GN, all in one venue!

It was pouring rain when we got to Auburn, and I think it took a few minutes to realize that there was a trio of Spokane, Portland & Seattle unit’s in the facility in addition to the usual NP livery! SP&S owned seven of these Century 424's, so half the fleet is right in front of me! I learned these units were only six months old, and still had the labels on the tires!

It only took me a few minutes to cajole the hostler into letting us ride with him as he shuffled the units around for fuel and sand. He explained that there had been a bad slide on the SP&S Columbia River line, so freights were being routed over the NP’s Cascade line to Auburn, then GN to Portland.

Like so many railroaders I encountered back in those days, as long as you didn’t get into things you shouldn’t be doing – like trying to lift a builder’s plate – they were generally pretty open, and liked to answer questions. I’m sure it came from taking pride in their craft.

Pretty spartan control stand. Just the basics - although I am not sure what the clothes pin was used for! He told me he had started out as a fire builder, and that it was a cold and miserable job back in the days of steam. As he was relating this to me, he had finally figured out how to turn the cab heaters on, with a great big grin.

Well the ride was way too short, and I could have spent the afternoon jawing with this old timer. As we are packing up our gear to leave, he made one lasting impression on me. He said, “You know, I don’t much care for these damn things – they all look alike…”

So as far as I know, this is the closest the SP& S ever got to Seattle!

SP&S Railway Historical Society presents a very detailed history of the line, and Art Putman has a pretty decent steam and diesel roster.

Railroad Stuff: Spokane Portland Seattle 300, Alco Century 424, 2,400 hp. Built 6/64, sn 3381.

Friday, December 28, 2007

4th of July, 1961. Part 1

Pacific Coast Terminals, New Westminster, BC. July 4, 1961. What a treat on the eve of steam to run across this tough little switcher. And you can see the pride of ownership! That bell is so shiny it looks almost transparent! Built for the US Army in 1942, she was purchased by Pacific Coast Terminals in 1946. She is now running at Heritage Park, Alberta, but as CP 2024, a slight bending of history.

My buddy Elwin Purington and I had ventured north out of Seattle for 4th of July weekend, to do some train chasing in Vancouver BC. Rich hunting grounds, what with the Pacific Great Eastern, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and even Great Northern, along with this Terminal Operation.

Elwin had a mobile recording studio in the back seat of his Corvair. You can see the microphone stands in front of the vehicle. He is well known for the vast sound collection he’d built up over the years, beginning with a Wire Recorder. Most folk have never heard of a
wire recorder. One of its amazing tricks was, that if the wire broke, a simple square knot would have you up and running in no time at all! Elwin provided background steam sounds for several commercial railroad videotapes.

At any rate, we had been recording and shooting stills for about an hour and a half, when the switch crew tied up for a coffee break. Elwin did a playback for them, which was quit the novelty! The engineer, to the left of the vehicle, is just now taking off the earphones. 

Several times during the playback, he glanced over to the locomotive to see if the parking brakes were still holding!

The fellow leaning in on the passenger side to look at the recorders is the fireman, and the gentleman to the rear of the Corvair is the switch man. The others were just curious bystanders, all of who wanted to listen to the tape!

Mr. Purrington has passed on, but thankfully I’ve got audio cassettes of some of the fantastic sounds we gathered over the years, not to mention wonderful memories of running the “loop” in Seattle. And “stay tuned” for Part 2 of this three-day weekend, featuring the Pacific Great Eastern up in my Hometown, North Vancouver!

Railroad stuff: PCT 4012, 0-6-0, ALCO Schenectady, 1942, number 70388.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Like a period at the end of a sentence...

... the caboose marked the end of the train. December 26, 1959. Interbay Yard, Seattle.

I for one sorely miss the period at the end of the train. A FRED cannot give a friendly wave, or provide warm shelter on a windy rainy night. Great Northern's X20 is a 32’ steel caboose with a streamlined cupola, built as part of a series between January 1958 and March 1959 at GN’s St. Cloud shops. X280 is a 30’ steel caboose, built as part of a series between August 1941, and October 1951 at the same shop.

She is now used as an information center at the City Park, Wilson Creek – east of Soap Lake Washington on State Hy 28.

I learned early in my train riding adventures to never face the engine when enjoying a hot bowl of soup on a snowy afternoon. When I past the brakeman, trading ends of the train with him, one look at me and he knew I had learned another lesson!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"One of you!"

La Grange, Illinois. September 1989. Once again I am blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime, attending the first-ever General Motors Open House. The grin on my face and two bags of goodies says it all!

I had met these two fellows earlier that year, at a fire department trade show in Washington, D.C. When we exchanged business cards, I noticed that Tom, (blue shirt and tie) was Chief of Security for General Motors, and I made some exclamation like “Wow!” As we were shaking hands, I told him that I was an avid railroad photographer, where upon his grip got noticeably tighter, as he said “I’ve finally got my hands on one of you!” Apparently he spent considerable time chasing photographers off the property!

As I recall, the fellow in the “Diesel That Did It” orange shirt was from the Public Relations Department. Both gentlemen expressed how astounded they were over public response, and noted that dozens of folk had slept overnight in the corporate parking lot.

La Grange was the mailing address for Electro-Motive Division. However, the headquarters, engineering facilities and parts-manufacturing operations were actually are located in the adjacent village of McCook, Illinois where the the locomotives were built.

On display were many prototypes representing the history of General Motors. One of the most colorful being the “War Bonnet” worn by Santa Fe 101

She was one of nine “cowl” FP45’s built for Santa Fe for service on the El Capitan and Super Chief in 1967. Basically taking the SD45, and covering the walkways, yielding g a more pleasing 3,600 hp locomotive for sleek, cross country passenger trains.

A gentleman by the name of Andy Sperandeo, Executive Editor of Model Railroader Magazine, has documented the "War Bonnet" paint scheme all the way back to 1937.

The last of this series was phased out in 1999, and donated to the
Museum of the American Railroad in Dallas, Texas.

Also see my original story of the Open House with additional photographs, by “clicking” on General Motors Open House on the “Labels” list to the right, and more photos at
Rail Pictures Archives.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"I'll be home for Christmas ... maybe!"

San Francisco, Christmas, 1964. Going home to Seattle on 10 day leave. We left the Hound's Ninth Street terminal, and the "Silverside" bus was comfortably heading north on US99 for Redding, Ashland, Portland and Seattle - home for Christmas!

We had food, booze, and Christmas songs to sing as we headed northward in the night!

Then, we ground to a stop in Redding, California. Snow! Blizzard on the Siskiyou AND the Klamath River had flooded US99!

Now Redding (exempting those of you who live there) is not a good place for a Greyhound Bus to be stopped. There is nothing there. And with a total of 24 Greyhound and Trailways buses stalled there on this occasion, there was no food! No candy bars, no sandwiches, no burgers. NO food. But there was a liquore store advertised on the radio, that opened at 9 AM!

Fortified, we endured! It was an extraordinary blockage of Hy99 for many hours that we were able to endure. And once the Pass opened, we headed north with many bottles of comfort purchased in Redding. On board, a romance took place; a young Navy man got off the bus at Grants Pass with a lady he had just met, and several singles became couples in Portland!

And with me at the wheel, we got through!

And everyone had a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Giant Rolls of Toilet Paper

Port Townsend, Today. Watching the Channel Five News at Eleven out of Seattle, they ran a story about the shut down of the toilet paper mill in Bellingham. Uhm. Brings back memories!

I was a "grip" on a Dave Alexander Productions Company film crew, filming a safety program for Georgia-Pacific at the paper mill in Bellingham.

We saw toilet paper rolls that were 12 feet in diameter, 12 feet high, being spooled onto cutting machines that produced your standard roll of toilet paper.

We called them "
Paul Bunyan" toilet paper rolls!
Most enlightening for me to see, was that off those rolls, a dozen or more "corporate" images, from Fred Meyer to Safeway, were spooled! All from the same stock! But of course, to the consumer, at a variety of prices!

As is typical of "corporate" image stories that usually preclude a major lay-off or, in this case, shut down, read this
glimmer story!

Final Milwaukee Road Employee Time Table

Port Townsend. Today. Whilst conducting research on my up-coming series on the "Natron Cutoff," I tripped over a web page which asserts this is the last employee time table for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

I cannot be absolutely sure, as my knowledge of the Milwaukee Road is limited to one poorly written book, which had pages of neat diagrams, but poorly organized with limited Roster documentation.

So let me know if there were later time tables.

Canadian Pacific Railway - Thompson River

Canadian Pacific Railway. Somewhere near Spence's Bridge. July, 1958. A north-bound pair of CPR Geep-9 V-16's fill the Canyon with their famous two-cycle roar.

Canadian National Railroad is on opposite side of Thompson River. Notice the "cut" through an ancient slide. In a contrast of operating styles, CPR was set up to run short nose ahead, opting for maximum visability. CNR crews demanded extra protection against rock slides, and units were set up to run long nose forward, giving a degree of comfort in the so-called "Deadman's Subdivision!"

Railroad Stuff: (Lead engine) CPR GP-9 8670, built GMD 1957, SN A1126.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

White Pass & Yukon Arrives in Skagway

Skagway, October 29, 2007. White Pass & Yukon 114 arrives safely in Skagway.

"Going home!"

Hebelos Waterway, Tacoma, October 22, 2007. A friend of mine, Robin Paterson of Gig Harbor, was in the right place at the right time to capture White Pass & Yukon 114 being loaded on the barge “Ballard.” Western Towboat’s 3,100 hp tug “Ocean Navigator” will deliver the locomotive to Skagway.

This following about 9 months in surgery at
CEECO in Tacoma, following her fatal wreck about 35 miles north of Skagway on September 6, 2006, in which an operator was killed.

Built as Model Number DL-535-E 108T Wide Cab. Number 114 was the last narrow gauge (3-foot) unit built for a North American Railroad.

Railroad Stuff: White Pass & Yukon 114, built by Bombardier (former Montreal Locomotive Works, former Canadian Locomotive Works) in 1982, acquired in 1995, serial number M6123-04. 1,200hp.

A Special Thanks to Robin Paterson for allowing me to use these photos!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"A little privacy, please?"

Northern Pacific, Auburn, Washington, March, 1965. A lady should be spared such public humiliation. Notice one truck has already been scavanged. One of only two Baldwin 15-hundred horsepower road switchers owned by Northern Pacific.

Originally built as the 175 and 176, the 500 and 501 were used in both freight and passenger service. They had an eight cylinder Model 608SC motor. It is my understanding there were only about 30 of these units ever built, so I was fortunate to see the 500, going through trying times.

Railroad Stuff: Baldwin Locomotive Works, Model DRS 4-4-15, built: 8/48, SN: 73645, Retired July 1, 1969.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Owner's Manual

Prince Rupert BC, September, 1958. After lunch, I wandered down to the yard to see what's new or interesting. Low and behold, there is a "Mechanical Instruction Car" tied up next to the station, with electrical and steam connections made, so I knew it was "inhabited."

I introduced myself to the occupant as the local train photographer, and got the grand tour.

And left with some important documents! A booklet with CNR Renumbering Plan and THIS gem, a genuine "G.P.7 Enginemen's Operating Manual."

To this day, it graces my railroad collection, and if I EVER encounter a GP-7, she's MINE! I know how to turn her on and get some mileage!

What about you?

Have you ever wondered how to run an Alco C420, a Baldwin Center Cab Transfer, how about a GE "Little Joe?" or an EMD DD40X or a U-boat, a U28B, or what about an FM H-16-66?

Really? Click here, and let your day-dreams come true!

Last Minute Christmas Shopping - Milwaukee Road

Port Townsend, Today. Are you looking for that “Last Minute” Christmas gift – especially for a Milwaukee Road railfan? Look no further!

Whilst researching Canadian National Railroad passenger equipment for upcoming articles, I ran across this Christmas gift idea. The
Lake Pepin. See “How’d They Do That?” December 7th.

Lake Pepin, ''the Lake of Tears,'' was formed by the delta of the Chippewa River, flowing into the Mississippi at the southwestern edge of Wisconsin. Penned in by this natural dam, the Mississippi swells into a lake with a width of 3 miles and a length of almost 30 miles, on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Built in 1948 by the Pullman Co. for the Milwaukee Road , "Lake Pepin" is a 10 roomette/6 double bedroom sleeper built for service on the Olympian Hiawatha and Pioneer Limited.

Ozark Mountain Rail Car seems to have several ex Milwaukee cars in their inventory – perfect for “Last Minute” Christmas shopping!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Train Master

3rd Street San Francisco, May 1967. I was stationed at Hamilton AFB from 1963 - '67, just up the US 101 from San - Fran - Cisco! And while there was a lot begging for a young airman's attention in and around San Francisco - if you get my drift - I did grab my camera from time to time and venture to South San Francisco (SP) and Oakland (SP & WP).

At 66 feet long, this is the Fairbanks-Morse Train Master. According to the sales brochure, "...the most useful locomotive ever built..." And, it's a fact that upon its introduction in 1953, the 2,400 horsepower H-24-66 Train Master was the most powerful single-engine diesel locomotive available!

Until the arrival of the Alco RSD-7 in 1954.

These units carried a steam boiler with a rated output of 4,500 lbs per hour. It was said they could keep up to 15 passenger cars warm down to zero degrees. But since they mostly worked the commuter speedway between San Francisco and San Jose, the need was never challanged!

Fairbanks-Morse first H-24-66 demonstrator units, TM-1 and TM-2 rolled out of the factory in Beloit, Wisconsin, in April and May of 1953. These two demonstrator locomotives became Southern Pacific 4800 and 4801, later becoming the 3020, pictured above, and 3021 following the “Great Re-Numbering Scheme of 1965.”

A total of 105 units were built in the US, and 22 in Canada, between 1953 and 1956.

The dipping handrail is indicative of the so-called "1b" modification. A gaggle of these units shuffled commuters out of South San Francisco for years. The 2-cycle opposed piston motor was touted in a sales brochure as "No other engine is so right for railroad service."


Railroad Stuff: Fairbanks-Morse Model H-24-66, 2,400 hp "Train Master", Beloit, 1953, nee 4800, 1953. Southern Pacific Road Class DF-500 (2 units) and DF-501 (14 units.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Skeena Subdivision, February 15, 1959. East bound Fourth Class 922, which we called the "Log Train," has picked up empty log bunks at the Columbia Cellulose plant at Port Edward, and is clipping along eastbound at maximum permitted speed of 30 mph! The empty log bunks will be dropped off the Columbia Cellulose Kitsumkalum Reload, just west of Terrace, BC.

After the crew had dropped off the empty log bunks at the reload, completed switching duties in the Terrace Yard, and enjoyed lunch, they will return to the reload, and pull loaded bunks westward to the Port Edward mill, completing the turn that afternoon, tying up back in Prince Rupert. This was the run I rode with most often, and loved it for it's variety and because it was only a day trip.

All of this is history. The reload, the log train, the pulp mill.

Kitsumkalum is a First Nations tribe. In the traditional Tsimshian system, all Kitsumkalum members belonged to one of four clans: Killer whales/Blackfish, Eagles, Ravens, or Wolves.

At the conclusion of the Second World War, there was a great demand for lumber and large-scale industrial logging started in 1950 with the award of permits to Columbia Cellulose, Limited.

Over-legal Pacific log trucks brought the timber from the Nass River country on over-legal log trucks to the re-load, for the final 100-mile rail trip to the mill. Shown here is an "off-road" Kenworth out of Seattle.

Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, 500 miles to the east, was a two lane - sometimes - gravel an pot hole experience. Most bridges were single lane with "yield" warning signs. In the summer time, you could see an approaching motor vehicle by the dust cloud approaching in the distance, giving you sufficient warning to roll up the windows and anticipate a flurry of gravel!

In the winter time, you had your choice of mud or snow and ice. My Dad wrapped several layers of canvas around the fuel tank of our Chrysler New Yorker, to protect against fuel tank punctures. After only a few trips, the canvas was shredded, but no fuel tank punctures!

And inattention to speed and the lack of guard rails often spelled disaster. Indeed, the cook on my Dad's tug met his demise on the Skeena in his big Packard.

Because the CNR and road were very adjacent to each other, even a passing train could raise a dust cloud! July, 1958. Can you recall being "dusted" by a train?

As an aside, note my train-chasing buddies "upside-down bath tub" Nash - nick-named "LuLuBelle."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Google Railroading

Port Townsend, today. I was fiddling around with Goggle Earth, having finally replaced an eight-year-old computer with one that has the processor and memory that this program demands.

I discovered a new way of “railroading” via “Goggle Earth.” My first adventure; a fantastic aerial tour of the Cantera Loop in Northern California, which you cannot appreciate at “ground level” because it is spread out in remote territory.

Dunsmuir is at the southern base of the Cantera Loop. Back in the days of steam, Dunsmuir was a thriving railroad town. Cab-aheads were stationed here to assist freighters over the Loop to Black Butte and thence over the Siskiyou Line toward Eugene, or over the pass at Grass Lake to Klamath Falls. They also assisted revenue up the hill from Red Bluff to the south.

“Cedar Flat,” or “Pusher” as Dunsmuir was known then - is world famous for it’s fantastic drinking water, and until the great fish kill in 1991, world renown for trout fishing in the Sacramento River. Alexander Dunsmuir, a son of Vancouver Island’s coal king, donated a beautiful fountain in a down town park, with the proviso that the town be named after him.

Dunsmuir a neat place to plan an overnight stop if you are traveling the I-5 north or south. I’ve driven this corridor from the days when it was first known as US 99, the “thump-thump, thump-thump” concrete slab highway, to a thriving I-5 freeway. I got stuck in an I-5 construction zone down near Ashland with my power steering leaking ’56 Chrysler New Yorker 2 Door Hard Top. But that’s another story for another time!

For years, I had to attend trade shows in San Jose, and my late wife and I absolutely loved to stay at Railroad Park, in either a caboose or boxcar, dine in the retired dining car, and then head over to the Espee railroad station and sit on the park bench and watch train movements and crew changes; Dunsmuir being one end of the the Black Butte District.

We found the train crews super friendly, used to camera totting rail fans, and I think they loved to “perform” when doing the crew change. At any rate, you felt a connection at Dunsmuir.

A Willamette Geared Locomotive is on display with a water tank inside Railroad Park, without the annoying chain link fence. The park owner related to me about how a crew of Chinese spent a week at the park crawling all over the locomotive with tape measures and cameras. I speculate that this became an HO brass locomotive!

But I digress.

What makes this a tough climb, in addition to the unrelenting grade, are two horseshoe curves – half loops -, which result in horsepower numbing rail resistance. As we travel north to the Loop from Dunsmuir, MP 322, right out of the starting blocks, the grade is 1.3% gradually increasing to MP 329 where we hit 2.0%, at an elevation of 3,012 feet. The steepest grade, 2.1% takes us past Mott, on the way to Mt. Shasta MP 337.

Mt. Shasta, 1966. General Motors Special Duty – SD-9’s, 1,750 hp units are catching their breath, having completed the north leg of the Cantera Loop heading toward the Oregon Territory.

Mt. Shasta, 1966. “Anyone call a cab?” F-9 1,750 hp cab units catch their breath throttling down to run 5, having just ascended the Cantera Loop. But they still have a climb up to the summit at Grass Lake, 5-thousand plus feet!

A few miles past Mt. Shasta, at Black Butte, MP 345, the Espee splits with the Siskiyou Line heading toward Eugene, while the shorter route to Eugene continues onward toward the summit at Grass Lake MP 368.5, elevation 5,073 feet, thence to Klamath Falls, over Willamette Pass, down to Eugene. As you scan the panoramic shot of Grass Lake, you can see Mt. Shasta in the background, with Highway 97 and just behind it, the railroad.

Actually, you can view the Cantera Loop with Goggle Maps, which requires less muscle in the computer. Open Goggle Maps, and put Mott, Ca., in the search engine. You will see – from right to left – Mott Airport, I-5, and some buildings. Next is a sharp radius of the upper end of the Cantera Loop. Zoom in on it, and then using the “hand palm” trace the rail line backward to Dunsmuir. You will see the lower end of the Loop.

Continue following the line back as far as Dunsmuir, and you can see the turntable and that round water tank that has the bright Southern Pacific mural painted on it.

Several years ago, traveling the Coast Starlight, we spotted wrecked boxcars at the bottom of some of the vertically challenging scenery. In 1991, there was a disastrous derailment, which resulted in a chemical spill into the Sacramento River, one that killed all life forms for 40 miles. Yet another major derailment in July 2003, resulted in an extraordinary structure being placed on the lower Loop, to prevent rail cars from landing in river.

A well-hidden railroading gem, but easy to reach thanks to Goggle!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Second Chance at Life!

Victoria BC, July 15, 1960. The end is near for Canadian National Railways 2-8-0 #2141. Clues include the covered stack, and the stencil "D" - 'dead' - on her steam chest. She was born at Canadian Locomotive Company in 1912, and assigned road class M-3-d, sn 1058. She had a tractive effort of 36,920 lbs.

The CNR had two subdivisions on Vancouver Island.
Cowichan Subdivision, which ran into the logging territory at Youbou, end of track, MP 82.9.

“Youbou” was a combination of the names of two officers of the Empire Lumber Company, which operated the first sawmill here beginning in 1914: Mr. Yount, the general manager, and Mr. Bouten, the president of the company.

My Dad’s brother, Alfred McDonald, worked at a logging camp at Youbou as a young man in the 1930’s. And me, as a young man, loved to listen to both my Dad and Uncle Alf relate stories of those days in the logging camp and railroad. One story in particular sticks out in my memory:

Apparently there was a pretty risqué magazine named “Captain Billy’s Wizbang.” It had suggestive stories, and naughty cartoons. You remember the reference to the magazine that Professor Hill made in “The Music Man” points to it as an indication of “a child in the grips of the kind of trouble that arrives with a pool table.” He references it in the song: "Trouble. Ya Got Trouble. Oh, ya got trouble. Terrible, terrible trouble!”

The magazine got passed around the camp at Youbou. The Canadian and American loggers would whoop and laugh out loud at the contents of the magazine. But Uncle Alf said that when the Swedes and Norwegians looked at it, their response was a blank, bland stare. And that elicited another round of whoops and laughter from the Canadians and Americans!

The second subdivision - Tidewater Subdivision, t-boned at Deerholme, MP 58.2, and ran out to Cowichan Bay, all of 7.3 miles. My Dad worked on the CNR B&B gang at Youbou as a young man during the same time period as my Uncle Alf.

Well, this story has a happy ending. The City of Kamloops bought this elder lady for $2,000. She’s building an entire new life for herself, and recently involved a crossing wreck!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Putt-Putt" Follow-up

Port Townsend. Today. Had a phone converstation with my buddy Mike H. in England. I met Mike in Prince Rupert whilst shooting photos in the yard. But that's another story another time.

I related to him my "Putt-Putt" story, and he said, "You know, I had a ride on one of those Speeders, up on the Skeena River!"

Apparently, Mike had parked his motor vehicle and hiked some distance down track to shoot some photos. As he was walking back a Speeder came up behind him, and the fellow offered Mike a ride back to his car.

It was totally open, no cab, and Mike explained it was a simple matter of a belt drive engaging the drive shaft and away they went, barreling down the track with Mike hanging on for dear life. You should know that Mike is quite the unflappable British Subject.

He asked the fellow - "What's the rush?"

They guy replied there was a freight train coming!

Mike said: "Speed it up!"

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What the heck was that?

Bakersfield, California, June 1966. As a young airman stationed at Hamilton AFB just up the 101 from San Francisco, I had other things on my mind – if you get my drift – other than “railroading.”

In 1964, I had purchased my first motor vehicle. My Airman 3rd Class luxury car. A 1956 Chrysler New Yorker 2 door hard top, with power bench seat, power antenna, and a power steering pump that leaked like a sieve. I purchased aluminum meat loaf pans, and wired one under the pump. When I went around a corner, if a puff of smoke came out of the engine hood, I knew the pan was full of power steering fluid. I would pull over and drain the pan back into the reservoir. I tolerated this condition until I finally had enough money to replace the pump!

But, I digress. I soon learned that a guy with a car suddenly has a lot of friends! One Friday night some guy shows up at my room and says he’ll pay the bridge tolls (Golden Gate) AND buy me a tank of gas if only I’ll take him to Bakersfield to see his girl friend – right now!

Well, I grabbed my camera, and away we went, just after midnight. It was a long drive, but young men are invincible, and I relished the opportunity to see some new territory.

As we approached Bakersfield, an air horn alerted me to an approaching Southern Pacific freight train, apparently working north out of Bakersfield. I stopped my motor vehicle, and jumped out just in time to shoot this thing coming up the line. I looked at my newly acquired buddy and asked him – rhetorically – “What the heck was that!

I dropped him off at his girl friends house, and journeyed back to Hamilton.

It was later, after picking up a copy of the “Diesel Spotter’s Guide” that I learned I had bagged Krauss-Maffei, A.G. ML-4000 diesel hydraulic locomotive.

Two roads experimented with these locomotives, the Denver and Rio Grande Western and the Southern Pacific. The first batch delivered in 1961 D&RGW 4001 to 4003, and SP 9000 to 9002, featured two sets of Maybach V-12, 1,770hp engines driving a hydraulic transmission, one set up for each boggy. Many rosters list these units as 4,000 hp, but the difference between the ways the German manufacturers rated a motor and the way we rated them, US horsepower was de-rated to 3,540 hp.

The first batch were “turret” cabs, as in shown below with SP 9014, shot in Oakland, July 3, 1966.

As an aside, notice the gusset plate - arrow above - holding the cab to the locomotive body! Raymond Loewy would roll over in his grave to see this design.

Diesel-hydraulic locomotives use a hydraulic transmission to convey the power from the diesel engine to the wheels. On this type of locomotive, the power is transmitted to the wheels by means of a device called a torque converter. A torque converter consists of three main parts, two of which rotate, and one that is fixed. All three main parts are sealed in an oil-filled housing.

The inner rotating part of a torque converter is called a "centrifugal pump," the outer part is called a "turbine wheel" and between them is a fixed guide wheel. All of these parts have specially shaped blades to control the flow of oil.

The centrifugal pump is connected directly to the diesel engine, and the turbine wheel is connected to an axle, which drives the wheels.

As the diesel engine rotates the centrifugal pump, oil is forced outwards at high pressure. The oil is forced through the blades of the fixed guide wheel and then through the blades of the turbine wheel, which causes it to rotate and thus turn the axle and the wheels. The oil is then pumped around the circuit repeatedly.

The disposition of the guide vanes allows the torque converter to act as a gearbox with continuously variable ratio. If the output shaft is loaded to reduce its rotational speed, the torque applied to the shaft increases, so the power transmitted by the torque converter remains more or less constant.

Alco built a series of three diesel-hydraulics’, Model DH643. Indeed the diesel-hydraulic is very popular in the UK, Europe and other areas. But somehow, these units just didn’t fit in; some say they were maintenance intensive. Who knows?

You can read detailed operating instructions, including locomotive schematic layout contained in the
Engineer’s Operating Instructions.

So, the D&RGW dumped their units on the Southern Pacific in 1964, the 4001-4003 becoming SP 9021-9023. Southern Pacific gave them a good try and I was lucky enough to capture these two units, representing the turret cab (SP 9101) and the road switcher cab (SP 9010) in Oakland, in April 1966. Good thing I got them when I did, because they were scrapped in ’67 and ’68!

Well, that’s not quite the end of the KM Story. SP 9010 was converted to a camera car in 1968. Here are photos, and a full description of what a “camera car” is – very interesting!

Railroad Stuff: SP 9118, 9101, 9010: Krauss-Maffei ML4000, built in Munich 6/61 shipped to Galveston. Retired and scrapped, 1967 except as noted above.

See also: Krauss-Maffei Camera Car.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Prince Rupert Engine Service Facility

Prince Rupert. April 4, 1958. Three new massive diesel oil tanks dominate the Prince Rupert Engine Facility. Ball on the old wood stave octagon water tower shows almost full! Fuel, sand, water, and a stand-by steam generator car for the passenger trains. This is Canada’s “wild west.” The next major facility is hundreds of miles to the east.

Two Geeps are power for tonight’s time freight, which lifts off just after the passenger train 196. Prince Rupert was designated, with Canada’s consent, a Seattle Sub-Port of Embarkation in March of 1942. Thousands of US Army support personnel swelled the town, and the massive transit pier in background, was built, which we called the Ocean Dock, along with large freight and storage facilities. It burned down years ago. And there was a "disappearing" gun emplacement and a submarine net to guard the entrance to the third best deep-water port in Canada.

This photo was taken from about the same spot months earlier, in Onctober of 1957. Change is obviously in the air. We see CNR 5152, a 4-6-0, having just been watered. She'll be taking the passenger train up the Skeena River on the evening run eastward toward Jasper. Her days on this run were numbered.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Prince Rupert BC, September 12, 1959. So there was a lot of track maintenance going on the Skeena Subdivision that fall. I spotted this Spikemaster machine on a flat, brought into Prince Rupert as part of this maintenance update.

We’ve all seen photos – perhaps films – of track workers wielding mallets, pounding spikes into the wooden ties thereby securing the steel rails. This machine is faster, more accurate, and able to do the job of several track workers. Be though not oblivious, there is an entire body of science behing the bland railroad spike!

When I took this photo in 1959, little did I realize that two years later, in 1961, I would become VERY personal with the common railroad spike – actually just a big damn nail!

As a recent high school graduate, June 1961, I landed a job at Bethlehem Steel in Seattle. I worked at the so-called “Nut House” down on West Marginal Way, just south of the Spokane Street bridge. The plant was right on the Duwamish River, and the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge was directly adjacent. This facility manufactured nuts and bolts and railroad spikes, hence the name “Nut House.”

Being in the “casual labor pool” summer time hires, I got moved around to wherever there was a shortage, usually guys off on vacation or sick. On one of my assignments, I was assigned to the Railroad Spike Machines. These were giant drop hammers that smacked out a railroad spike from a cherry red-hot bar, fed into the die by yours truly!

It was hot, noisy, and freaking scary! My job was to use a foot peddle to open a furnace door, grab a cherry red-hot iron bar with tongs, and yank the bar out of the furnace across three feet of open space into a die in the Railroad Spike Machine. Once engaged, there was a worm drive that pulled the cherry red-hot bar into the machine where upon a huge die would slam down, making the railroad spike, which would flip out into a hopper.

And even though I was standing on an inch thick rubber pad, the slamming was bone jolting!

The bars were twenty feed long, and the spike machine made 60 spikes a minute, and I had three dies to feed. If I yanked a bar across the gap from the furnace to the die, and missed the oval opening, all hell would break loose, as the cherry red-hot bar would snake up and whip around ‘till it cooled. Then I had to call in a “burner” to cut and clear away the wrecked bar, and my supervisor, to make my flimsy excuse to, in that order.

On my way home, riding the Delridge Bus, my body would still be reacting to the “bam-bam-bam-bam!” of the Railroad Spike Machine.

It would probably NOT surprise you to learn that there is life after death for the railroad spike. Once abandoned, this individual makes art out of a common railroad spike, in this instance, Great Northern Railroad spikes:

And yes, there is “mojo” in those spikes, folks, they can become part of a magical spell, which can help nail down your house or property, so that no one can take them away from you. Especially helpful in today’s turmoil in the housing and finance market!

That summer I worked at Bethlehem Steel was not only interesting - sure beat flipping burgers, and paid a lot more money - but also fun! And I did learn a lot about the ubiquitous railroad spike at the rate of sixty spikes per minute – “bam, bam, bam, bam!”

Saturday, December 1, 2007


I have discovered that in all my years of rail photography, I’d never taken a single solitary photograph of the ubiquitous "Speeder."

These little two-man – and more – gasoline powered devices were an efficient means to get from “point a” to “point b.” Equipped with grab handles to facilitate getting them off the tracks, a fellow had better know the train line up before venturing out onto the main line!

I’d heard of a couple of guys heading into Prince Rupert who inexplicably were confronted with an on coming “Extra” and had just enough time to stop and wrestle the Speeder into the ditch!

While there seems to be several manufacturers of this nifty self-propelled rail car, the major player appears to be the Fairmount Gas Engine and Railway Motor Car Company, who began production in 1911. Up to their absorption by Tamper – becoming Fairmont-Tamper in 1991 – they had produced upwards of 73,000 of these mighty mites in nearly a dozen different track gages (width between rails.)

It was a delightful surprise to learn that “Speeders” are still alive and well in the hands of enthusiasts, who not only lovingly restore them to their former glory, but also band together for “rides” much like motor cycle or automobile enthusiasts, only on rails!

You can read about the history of these rides at this link:

Now this is a pretty straightforward uncomplicated achievement on an abandoned rail line – if you can find one. But to stage a “ride” on an active railroad has logistical problems not for the faint hearted. In fact with safety concerns involving train movements and insurance questions, I was very surprised to see that these folk have worked out a way to enjoy their hobby, right down to the smallest detail – notice the green fiberglass outhouse!

Since I remember little about these machines except for the two-cycle “put-put-put” gas engines, I’m suggesting you click the link to Wayne Parson’s web site below, and enjoy a hot tea or coffee as you enter a world that is not only fascinating, but looks like darned good fun!

Oh, yeah, when you get to this page, under Trip Reports, be sure to look up the ride to Prince Rupert BC, which of course brings back wonderful memories of my cab rides on this wild west end of the Canadian National Railways back in the late 1950’s.

Finally, a special “Thank You!” to Wayne Parsons for providing the photos for today’s entry!

Andrew Craig Magnuson

Port Townsend, December 1, 2007. Andrew Craig Magnuson has written a wonderful article - especially if you are interested in the Milwaukee Road - "Bygone Railroad Days At Cedar Falls, Washington."

I highly recommend the article even if you weren't a fan - it's just darned interesting!