Friday, October 31, 2008

Black River Junction: Trick! - or Treat?

Milwaukee and Monster Roads Revisited. One of my favorite venues for train watching in Seattle was Black River Junction, where the Milwaukee Road grumbled down off the Cascades onto the Duwamish River Basin.

My train chasing buddy, Elwin Purington and I, spent a lot of time at Black River Junction, mostly making sound recordings. This was the north-south corridor for the Union Pacific, Great Northern, Northern Pacific and, of course the Milwaukee Road’s electric trains.

One access to Black River Junction was from Empire Way – named to honor Great Northern’s James Hill. Black River Junction was about a mile and a half down Monster Road, with the mysterious Testing Lab facility, located about half way down the hill.

It was always foggy in the hollow where the sinister looking “Testing Lab” buildings were situated in dense woods. There was always an eerie blue-white glow around the structures, with the hum of transformers coming from behind a formidable barbed wire fence.

This was definitely no place to suffer a flat tire!

Black River Tower, operated by the Pacific Coast Railroad, supervised the Milwaukee Road’s cross over of the Northern Pacific Railroad, to follow it south down the Kent Valley to Tacoma, and switched the northbound tracks to Seattle and the King Street Station via the Pacific Coast Railroad.

The Pacific Coast Company was organized in 1987, incorporating several existing companies including the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, Pacific Coast Coal Company, and the Pacific Coast Railway, nee the Columbia & Puget Sound, nee Seattle & Walla Walla. (Became Pacific Coast in 1916.)

The entire railroad, operating from this modest skyscraper headquarters building in Seattle, was 57.97 miles long, with the main line running south from Seattle, through Black River Junction, to the coal seams at Franklin: 33.62 miles. Coal mining required people, and a housing boom in Franklin was recorded on a film plate in 1915.

Branches included Renton to Coal Creek, 7.83 miles
Maple Valley to Taylor, 9.13 miles
Black Diamond to Bruce 2.02 miles
Main Line to Lake Washington, 0.75 miles
Main Line to Kummer, 1.67 miles
Bruce to Lawson, 0.80 miles
Weyerhaeuser to Camp 4, 2.15 miles

The Pacific Coast Railroad was constructed with:

209,134 ties
6,627 tons of steel rail
954,324 angle bars
481,984 pounds of spikes
3,128 rail braces
37 miscellaneous signs
28 cattle guards
9 locomotives
and a handful of passenger and freight cars.

Add to that, the various rights-of-way, ballast, and other stuff!

The Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific had planned to absorb the Pacific Coast Railroad when steel was laid into the Puget Sound, thereby speeding up their debut in the Pacific Northwest. However, the Great Northern Railroad grabbed up the short line before CMStP&P could make its move, forcing CMStP&P into a trackage rights agreement.

The Pacific Coast Railroad began to the east of Renton at Maple Valley. Maple Valley's first railroad station built in the early 1890's, was one of five village depots in the United States which served as both a depot and a dispatchers office. Running westward, the transcontinential Milwaukee Road rumbled right through beautiful downtown Renton via Houser Way!

Operators dispatched Pacific Coast Coal Company trains between Black Diamond and Seattle, and served as telegraph operators for the Milwaukee Road to Seattle and Tacoma. Indeed, the Train Register I shot on December 26, 1964, whilst on leave from the USAF, clearly shows the track movements are Pacific Coast Rail Road.

Recent visits via Goggle Earth show an overly developed Black River Junction, minus the interlocking tower. None of the bare patches or buildings existed "back in those days!"

Yes, there was a Black River - running aproximately parallel to the Milwaukee Road, entering the Cedar River just this side of the PCRR Tower. But it disappeared when the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed, realigning the level of Lake Washington.

Now the Milwaukee Road is gone. Just the omnipresent Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Trick --- or Treat?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Northern Pacific Railway - Ghosts of Auburn

In my last entry, I lamented the take over of the Northern Pacific Railway by “The Great Merger” and it’s subsequent impact on the City of Auburn, located some 20 miles due south of Seattle.

In researching other material today, I tripped over some interesting photographs taken during the halcyon days of the Northern Pacific Railway at Auburn, which not only document an important pioneer railroad, but more important, the immense support staff it took to keep those trains a rolling!

We begin at the interior of the
Yard Office – I’m sure many of you can relate to this sight. Look carefully and you can see an “unregulated” electric clock on one wall, and the “regulated” timepiece on the opposite wall. This was the "praying wall" for countless train crews to match timepieces and sign the train register.

railway clerks were the unsung heroes – and heroines - of any rail operation. Without them, train crews would be sidelined and engines at a stand still. These folks kept track of rolling stock, tracked down lost box cars, and kept paperwork in order!

You may be surprised to learn that the
Auburn Locomotive Shop was the first diesel locomotive repair shop to be built in the US in 1944!

Next view is a group shot of the
Diesel Shop employees. These are the fellows that kept the motive power serviced and moving! I’m sure I must have crossed paths with a few of these guys whilst prowling around the engine service area!

Before the diesels were the
coal and oil burners. There was a significant amount of coal available to the Northern Pacific, from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains down toward Mount Rainer.

And, of course, without
these fellows, nothing moves!

A small slice of life behind a great railroad townbefore the “Great Merger!”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Northern Pacific's "Palmer Cutoff"

Northern Pacific 255, Auburn, May 27, 1961. Heading over to check things out at Auburn was always a time of anticipation. You just didn’t know what would show up there.

Northern Pacific 255, a 1,750 horsepower General Purpose dash Nine (GP-9) is representative of a large fleet of locomotives built without dynamic braking capabilities. And why not. The NP covered a massive tidewater area from the Puget Sound down to the Columbia River, none of which required the utilization of hill-holding dynamic brakes.

Auburn was a sleepy crop town before the Northern Pacific arrived via the Palmer Cutoff. And boy did things change then. Not only did the railroad bring in a full service locomotive servicing facility with roundhouse and shops, but also a classification yard.

Freighters arriving from the east were broken down into northbound traffic for Seattle, and southbound traffic for Tacoma. In fact, it was the ratio of cars that finally cast the die for Seattle to become the official western terminus.

The inevitable mergers did Auburn no good, and it was Burlington Northern Santa Fe who dealt the coup de grâce to the City and its culture. Here is a “first person” account of Auburn’s final railroad days, as told by the
last employee to work at Auburn.

I am truly privileged to have been able to enjoy Auburn as it was …

Railroad Stuff: Northern Pacific Railroad 255, built as GP-9 by Electro Motive Division, February 1956, sn 21427. Became Burlington Northern 1878, renumbered 1534 by BNSF and rebuilt as a GP-28 at Morrison-Knudsen in Boise Idaho.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wylie's Throttle

Milwaukee Road E47A & C, near Pacific, 1960. Pretty vague about when this photograph was taken, as it was stuffed into the wrong negative folder. But it appears to be taken on the same day El Purington and I were shooting an SW-9 in Enumclaw. And that was July 24, 1960.

Looking at the background, the logical scenario would be that we were heading north from Enumclaw to Auburn via the old West Valley Highway when a flash of a headlamp would have alerted us to the southbound manifest.

The photo was shot out the window of El’s vehicle – we had almost no time to hit the shoulder and stop to capture this monster growling toward Tacoma.

At speed like these units, mostly all you heard was the moaning sounds of the huge traction motors and the grinding of the gears. And, of course, the terrible cow horn.

The Milwaukee Road’s electric trains crossed five mountain ranges in two divisions: Harlowton Montana to Avery Idaho, 440 miles, and Othello Washington to Seattle-Tacoma, 216 miles.

E47A was among a handful of locomotives fitted out with the “Wylie Throttle.” The “Wylie Throttle” was the brainchild of Laurence Wylie, Chief Electrical Engineer.

It is said that Mr. Wylie successfully argued to corporate that diesels operating in electric territory were helpers!

And once that argument was won, he invented the electric-diesel multiple unit control throttle. The electric throttle, some 17 notches, was mechanically attached to an eight-notch diesel throttle. As the sweeping arch bar electric throttle was eased along, the linkage to the diesel throttle moved a proportional distance!

The engineer also had the option of independent diesel control simply by removing the linkage!

The “Wylie Throttle” was installed to the Little Joe Fleet, and five of the General Electric Box cabs – ironically – after Mr. Wylie had retired from the Milwaukee.

Gotta love Mr. Wylie!

Railroad Stuff: Milwaukee Road E-47A. Built by General Electric as Road Class EF-2, number 10217A, August 1916, sn 5362A. Renumbered E63A on February 28, 1939; renumbered E47A on October 8, 1942.

Rebuilt at Tacoma to Road Class EF-5 in 1951. See Mighty Electrics for upgrade improvements.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Yet Another Interesting Web Site!

Port Townsend - today. Just completed a major overhaul of my computer system; upgrading the operating system, installing new photo processing software, monitor calibration system and new printer. This should improve the quality of the photos - i.e. "garbage in, art work out!"

Having worked for many years as a video producer, one of our on-going cliches was "we can fix it in post!" which was to say, never mind how bad the video is as we shoot it, we can always fix it during editing.


Since much of my work involved burning houses down, I soon lost that cavalier attitude, because you cannot go back and "re-shoot" a burning house!

Whilst poking around to see what's what on the rail blogs, I tripped over this site - Western Rails - which I highly recommend. Especially the hard-to-find photos and information on industrials and short lines.

The final step in removing the Port Townsend rail bridge is taking place. All of the trestle sections are gone and soon, this chapter in Port Townsend railroading will only exist in memory banks ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Train Wreck - Part 3 (end)

Smithers Division, Skeena Subdivision, Mile Post 102.2, September 27, 1958. Crews are working in continuing danger of further earth movement, as they struggle to free SW1200RS’s 1271, and 1276.
The passenger cars had remained upright, with no more than a few bumps and bruises amongst the passengers. The cars had been towed back to the station at Prince Rupert.

The steam generator car had also remained upright, but had to be dug out of the rocks, muck and mud. She was removed to Sockeye Cannery siding, and now the Lidgerwood has access to the CNR 1271.

Shortly after she was cleared away, another movement of earth descended upon the 1276, burying her almost up to the cab deck.

As I mentioned before, this subdivision is no stranger to slides from the unstable older rock adjacent to the mainline, and flooding resulting in washouts from the Skeena River on the opposite side.

From the BC Ministry of Forests Report,
“Rainstorm and Flood Damage: Northwest British Columbia, 1891 to 1991” we find a “typical” winter entry:
"On November 2, 1945, Prince Rupert was hit by 50-60 mph (80-96 km) winds. The storm, which was described as “one of the wildest wind and rainstorms in history,” cut all railway and communication links. The heavy rains came after several days of snowfall in the mountains. Intermittent power interruptions occurred as a result of damage to the local circuits

Terrace received 3.7 in. (94.0 mm) of rain with heavier rain falling west of Terrace. It was described as the “heaviest short-period rainfall on record in the area west of Terrace

On the rail line between Prince Rupert-Pacific, over 30 slides (12 of which major ones) and washouts occurred, cutting the rail and wire lines. The 80-mi. (128 km) stretch of track between Pacific-Skeena was impassable.

Two work trains with Buildings and Bridges and extra gangs, pile driver, and dragline were dispatched from Smithers. The worst washout was just west of Kwinitsa. An eastbound passenger train, an American Army Troop train with the last contingent of 141 returning soldiers, got caught between two rockslides at Salvus for two days.

All the available equipment and some 250 men were set in to clear the tracks.
On November 3, a washout occurred at Mile 36.3 (Marble Creek?). The CNR alleged the washout was caused by the blocking of a stream channel under the highway bridge, approximately 800 ft. (240 m) upstream from the railway. Consequently the railway company submitted a claim in connection with the washout at Mile 36.3 (Mills).

The movement of repair crews and equipment was delayed by the derailment of an auxiliary train. The ditcher, oil car, and caboose derailed near Kaien. During clearing operations a few miles west of Pacific, a large 40-ft. (12 m) crane went over the bank and ended up at the edge of the Skeena River. On November 23, the train service was back to normal, after an interruption of 10 days.

The heaviest damage occurred between Remo-Kwinitsa, with six slides and the approaches to six bridges washed out. Between Remo-Shames, there were at least 12 washouts, some being 12-15 ft. (3.6-4.5 m) deep. At Kwinitsa, a washout occurred east of the tunnel. Two smaller slides came down between Exstew-Salvus. A washout and a large debris slide measuring over 200 ft. (60 m) happened at Amsbury, at the same location as the one that occurred on October 13.

The Zymacord River bridge got washed out. In Remo, about 0.25 mi. (400 m) west of the Kitsumkalum bridge, a washout occurred, measuring a length of 300 ft. (90 m) and a depth of 10 ft. (3 m). The piling at the northeast end and both the approaches of the Shames River bridge washed away, tilting the bridge. The repairs were hampered by heavy snow.

On December 5, the Public Works Department was still trying to reopen the highway. To repair the bridge at Shames, a pile driver was brought down from Smithers.

On December 12, however, the Public Works officials warned people not to be too hopeful about an early reopening of the highway between Terrace-Prince Rupert. The only major repairs left to be done were at the slide at Amsbury and the Shames River bridge.

On December 3, a road crew under foreman E.P. Smith reached a point about 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) east of Salvus, and expected to reach Shames River by December 6 or 7. On December 21 the road was passable between Kwinitsa and the Shames bridge. The rental of an U.S. Army Services D-4 Caterpillar tractor and labor for the period November 6 to December 8 amounted to $1,267.43.

On February 16, 1946, the road to Shames was opened. The bridge crew started working on it again on February 18. George Little's tractor was employed to remove the log jam under the bridge.

On March 28, most of the repairs were completed, except for the rockfill around the piers and placement of the river back in its original course. There was still a considerable amount of debris under the approach trestle."

That was then, this is now. Finally a cat is able to clear the second slide from behind CNR 1276, and punch through the upstream end of the slide. Once again, the Lidgerwood will work it’s magic, and pull the CNR 1276 up the embankment onto the replaced roadbed.

Remarkably, this crew had the line up and running again, a mere 16 hours after the incident began.

But then they got a lot of practice on this subdivision!

See Also:
Train Wreck - Part 1
Train Wreck - Part 2

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Train Wreck - Part 2

Smithers Division, Skeena Subdivision, Mile Post 102.2 September 27, 1958. As earlier reported, I was beside myself trying to wrangle a ride out to the train wreck at Mile Post 102.2!

Rebuffed by a scowling Super, I then thought of stowing away on the work train caboose, or one of several crew and tool cars.

But then the thought of running into the Super out in the middle of no-where sank in. Visions of my lifeless body floating down the Skeena River into Hecate Strait made me reconsider asking the conductor of the wreck train to take some photos for me, which he did. Photos were taken by Stan Wozney, Conductor.

A little background on the wreck site. Survey crews mapping the route of the Grand Trunk through the Coast Range Mountains shot more than 12,000 miles of lines before settling on the current alignment, along the northern bank of the Skeena River.

At 310 miles in length, the Skeena River is the longest river in North America without a single dam, emptying into Hecate Strait. The Grand Trunk Pacific began construction from Prince Rupert eastward following the water level route in May 1908.

This is wild country, and
winters are a harsh experience. There were several permanent slow orders stretches; 15 miles per hour, with crew members admonished to be on a sharp look out for “moving mountains.”

This Goggle Earth photo shows clearly the scars of many slides, which must cross the Canadian National, to get to the Skeena River! Slides are a common occurrence along this entire stretch of transcontinental railroad.

It is a matter of record that the primary contractor, Foley Brothers, Welsh, Stewart (FWS)** spent $100,000 per mile blasting along the base of the mountains through old granite with dynamite, black powder, and Virite***. This stretch, from Prince Rupert to Hazelton, some 136 miles, took most of four years.

Here is an over view of the wreck, looking west, with Lidgerwood 50515, her assisting steam generator car, and CNR GP-9 4409 in the rear.

In these photos, we can barely make out the Lidgerwood coupling onto the steam generator car of ill fated varnish 196, with workers digging out the muck and rocks from around her trucks. Fortunately she remained upright.

The easy part is over, getting the steam generator car re-railed and pulled out of the way. She will be back hauled to the nearest available siding at Sockeye Cannery, and then the 4409 and Lidgerwood will return to retrieve CNR 1271, the trailing engine on the power pack and lead unit, CNR 1276.

* Recommended reading: For those who have a real interest in the building of the Grand Trunk in British Columbia, including the extension to Prince Rupert, I highly recommend
“A Thousand Blunders – The Grand Trunk in British Columbia” by Frank Leonard.

** FWS was affectionately known as “Find ‘em, Work ‘em, Starve ‘em,” with wages at $3.00/hour for an 8-10 hour day. ($3.00 in 1914 had the same buying power as $63.01 in 2008.)

*** Virite was composed of nitroglycerine, charcoal, and nitrate of potash. More stable than dynamite, non-freezing, no offensive odor. Not waterproof, requiring cartridges in a wet environment.

See Also:
Train Wreck - Part 1
Train Wreck - Part 3

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Train Wreck - Part 1

Prince Rupert, September 27, 1958. I knew something was hay-wire, when about two hours after the passenger train had departed Prince Rupert, she was being hauled tail-first back into town, minus her power pack! Here we see CNR 9098+9042 parking the passenger cars back at the station!

Fortunately for me it was a Saturday. And you know what I mean by fortunate – in that I was not in school, and therefore ready to document whatever the unfolding incident turned out to be.

Well, I got the “skinny.” First Class 196 departing Prince Rupert at 07:30k with Canadian National Railways 1276 on the point, 1271 trailing, with unknown number steam generator car and a gaggle of passenger cars, tripped over a rock slide at Mile Post 102.2, about 17 miles east of town, on the banks of the mighty Skeena River.

Camera? Check! Film? Check! I am ready to go!

Wrong! I’m not going anywhere! There was no chance of riding out to the wreck site. The resident Super, who I had managed to dodge on more than one occasion, was among those riding the wrecker out to the site, and he was in no mood to deal with a sniveling kid who wanted a train ride! Furthermore, the site was more than a dozen miles from the nearest road, Trans Canada Highway 16.

However, my “insider” contacts were firm, and among the crew heading east to the wreck was the conductor, Stan Wozney, who did have his camera in his grip, and promised to take as many photos as possible when he had the opportunity. Even back in those days, railroads were “sensitive” about wreck photos.

There was some good news surrounding all this, and that was that the SW-1200RS’s stumbled over a pile of rock on a stretch of track with a permanent slow order – 15 miles per hour – and beyond a few frayed nerves, there were no injuries.

This area was one of several well known for its shifting terrain, hence the permanent slow order! In this area, the landscape rises abruptly hundreds of feet up off the Skeena River. Composed of very old fractured rock, it was subject to expansion and contraction, causing slabs to break away. And the railroad was in a tough spot, with the mighty Skeena River right next to the roadbed.

So all I could do was watch with envy, as Canadian National Railways 4409 whistled off from the station, with a steam generator car to run Lidgerwood 50515 with it’s tool car, and a string of work cars heading eastbound out of town!

See also:
Train Wreck - Part 2
Train Wreck - Part 3

Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Birthday Oil-Electric!

One year ago today. I can vividly recall how I became a blogger. I had been submitting photos to one of the on line archiving/sharing groups, when it became abundantly clear that:

A. I had some old stuff that was out of place with the roster shot galleries.
B. I had a lot to say about each photo.
C. Since I ran the blog, I could relax some of the “submission” requirements!

I got off to a running start and kept up a daily pace until I was struck down with a severe heart attack. Since then, I’ve reexamined my priorities and slowed the pace somewhat. And after all, I am retired! So what’s the hurry!

The basis of my blog has been to pull up a slide, print or negative out of my collection, and write a story around that photograph. I try to be of interest not only to the “pure” rail fan, but also a casual observer who may pass this way.

It’s been a lot of fun this past year reliving past memories, and as the song goes, “I’ve only just begun!”

When my Dad was assigned to the MV Comet as Chief Engineer in 1956, towing a Canadian National Railroad car float from Prince Rupert to Ward Cove, he made an impressive decision to move “the Family – Mom, Sister and I and the dawg” to Prince Rupert.

For the next three years, 1957, 1958 and 1959, we all experienced the “joy” of living on the edge of no-where. In fact, I could stand at the end of my bed looking westward, and see the virtual end of the then known world! Only at night could I enjoy “rock and roll,” listening to Wolf Man Jack on XERB out of Chula Vista California, broadcasting from a high powered transmitter located in Mexico, on 1080 AM. The skip signal fading in and out added to the feeling of living at the end of the world!

We lived next to the yard, and I wandered through the Engine Facility to visit my Dad, as the Comet was tied up at the Ocean Dock. I’d ride the tug with my Dad when they went out to the rail bridge and watch the loading and unloading of the car float.

One afternoon, the switch engineer invited my up into the cab, to watch the loading operating, after which, he offered me a ride back to town on the locomotive. That was my defining moment; my epiphany. At age 14, I became a ferroequinologist!

I remember my Dad saying to me one night, “If you’d pay as much attention to your homework as you do those damn locomotives, you might amount to something one of these days!”

We arrived in Prince Rupert as steam was going through its final act. The freight and yard service had already succumbed to the General Motors Chant, and the few Pacific’s hauling the varnish 600-plus miles up to Red Pass Junction, to meet up with the Canadian Nationals transcontinental artery, were on their last assignments.

I rode with freight crews, passenger crews, and spent summer afternoons riding around on the switch engine doing this and that.

I wandered around the engine service facility, watching the carmen and mechanics change brake shoes, knuckles, and burned out headlamps and run those V-16’s up to Run 8 – oh what a sound!

I learned hand signals from firemen, took to heart the stern warnings of the Yard Master in train safety, and watched in fascination, as Don Vaale, the night trick telegrapher, send the time freight train car list up the line to Division at Smithers, with his lighting fast speed key! And I can still hear the “smack-smack-smack” as the operator pounded out a manifold of train orders in the old Remington Standard, with the purple ribbon!

We moved back to Seattle at the end of 1959. And until my enrollment at WSU in Pullman in 1961, I prowled the yards around Seattle. But it wasn’t the same. Although access wasn’t a problem, the “insider” connections were gone, and I even though I tried, I never got to ride in the cab of the Empire Builder!

Railroad photography took a near fatal nose dive with the Great Merger. And even to this day, while I get the urge to go over to “the mainland” and shoot some freights, I finally say “Phooey!” BNSF everywhere you look and high horsepower that I cannot identify.

Nope, I will stay within my comfort zone, and hopefully come up with some interesting new material as we head into our second year!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Recommended Reading!

Port Townsend, today. Prowling the backhalls of the blogging community, I tripped over this site - Seattle Sub Blog.

These areas are my old "stomping grounds" from the late 50's to the early 60's, as you know if you are a regular reader of this site. Northern Pacific "North Coast Limited" roaring southbound to Auburn, passing Milwaukee Roads wire maze at Van Asselt Yard.

I encourage you to stop by Seattle Sub Blog, for an interesting look a Seattle railroading as it is now!