Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Port Townsend, today. Monday June 22, 2009 Eastman Kodak announced the passing of an old friend. Kodachrome color film, the formulation against which all other films were measured has been retired after 74 years.

What a void.

For those of you who have been with me since the beginning of this blog, you have probably noticed most of my photography in those early years was in black and white. Supporting a hobby and a girl friend took most of my box-boy earnings, and it was only on special occasions did I purchase color film.

It has been said that over a span of 180 years or so, the yellow pigment in Kodachrome will diminish by aproximately 20%. That is very stable film!

In the early days, you not only bought the film, but you also had to get the pre-paid mailer which included processing.

The attraction of higher speed film always pre-empted the unquestioned beauty of Kodachrome. Kodachrome was the official film for many years of National Geographic photographers, and some of their most memorable shots were taken on that remarkable film.

And who can forget the "Kodachrome" paint scheme, which floundered around during the failed merger between Santa Fe and Southern Pacific!

As a society, we have always taken “faster - cheaper” over “slower - better.” As an example, the technically far superior Sony Beta (“quality”) max format was squashed by Japan-Victor’s Video Home System (VHS) format. Vinyl records gave way to the Compact Disc, although recent evidence suggests that there is a resurgence of interest higher quality vinyl pressings. And now digital cameras have forced the end of a world class film.

There is one remaining photofinishing lab in the world – Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kan.– that processes Kodachrome film, with support anticipated into next year.

Current supplies of the film will last until early fall at the current sales pace.

Actually, there was another passing – last week, which barely went noticed. Joseph Houghtaling, the inventor of the coin-operated vibrating bed, which delivered 15 minutes of “tingling relaxation and ease,” passed away at the age of 92.

Thousands of vibrating beds were installed from coast to coast, and promised a good nights sleep. I know I pumped more than a hand full of quarters into these apparatus; and that’s about as far as I’m going on this subject!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Positive Train Control - Again!

Port Townsend, Today. Previously I wrote about my involvement with the short-lived “National Association of Train Order Collectors” back in the late 50’s. This classic train order was passed along to us by one of the club members.

For those of you too young to recognize the strange brown paper, it was copied on a thermofax machine. As the onionskin-like copy paper passed through those machines on its carrier sheet, things got hot! The copy would be passed to you all crinkly! Do you remember those machines?

And there was imminent danger of your paper catching fire if you turned up the contrast too much, slowing the paper through past the heaters. Especially if you were making overhead transparencies on them!

Anyway, this is an actual train order issued to six trains crews, three of them double-headers.

Chicago and North Western Ry Co. Train Order No. 5, issued on Form 19, March 14, 1911, reads as follows:

“To Engines 1169 Smith, 82 Brown, 559 and 460 Henry, 549 and 522 McCune, 56 and 1225 N Strawhorn, and 1221 Yates, will run extra Belle Plaine to South Iowa Jct and return to Belle Plaine. Extra 1169 North Smith will meet extra 82 South Brown at South Iowa Jct, meet Extra 559 South Henry and Extra 549 South McCain at Wright and meet Extra 56 South N Strawhorn and Extra 1221 South Yates at Tioga. Extra 82 North Brown will meet Extra 559 South Henry and 549 South McCune at Wright and meet Extra 56 South N Strawhorn and Extra 1221 South Yates at Tioga. Extra 559 North Henry will meet Extra 549 South McCune at South Iowa Jct, and meet Extra 56 South N Strawhorn and Extra 1221 South Yates at No. 9 yard. Extra 549 North McCune will meet Extra 56 South N Strawhorn and Extra 1221 South Yates at No. 9 yard. Extra 56 North N Strawhorn will meet Extra 1221 South Yates at South Iowa Jct. Brown will not pass Smith, McCune will not pass Henry, Yates will not pass N Strawhorn South Bound.”

There are several remarkable issues here. First, the movement was carried out accident and incident free. Second, greatest delay to any train was 10 minutes. And third, how in hell could anyone decipher the handwriting! This is a table topper simulation script if ever I saw one. If you work on it, let me know how it turns out.

And you figure out how many copies had to be created and verified between engineers and conductors!

I dunno. Those fellers knew how to run a railroad. Like I mentioned in a earlier posting concerning computers taking over Positive Train Control, what happens when the engineer looks down at his computer screen, only to see the dreaded “blue screen” or worse ...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mostly Digital Trash!

Port Townsend, today. Today is the day the nations commercial over-the-air television broadcasters switch from an analog signal to a digital signal. Not since 1953, when the FCC granted RCA the authority to set the standards for transmitting and receiving color television signals, has there been such a shake up in the industry.

Whatever you do, if you have not done anything yet, DO NOT CALL a TV cable or TV dish company for assistance. The first thing they will try to do is sign you up for their service, conveniently forgetting to mention the converter box.

On the other hand, the competition between the cable and satellite services has heated up, trying to catch the unwary or chronic procrastinators for whom there are no more tomorrows. As a result, there may be some bargains in the offing.

Regardless, this is the official government site you need to consult if you are unsure how to proceed.

This period of transition got me to thinking about my career in video production, and the changes I have seen on the commercial side of television.

I majored in Broadcast Journalism, and in later years whilst working at Freightliner, served on a steering committee establishing the parameters a cable company must meet in order to be granted the first cable television franchise in Portland Oregon.

On a committee representing “Business & Industry” we envisioned, among other ideas, live broadcasts from the Truck Manufacturing Plant on Swan Island, piped into regional class rooms, demonstrating various activities surrounding the assembly of a tractor and truck. By showing workers using math in real life situations, promoting diligence in learning mathematics and mechanical skills.

We had representatives from Banking, Home Construction, and other sectors structuring equally lofty goals and aspirations for our “Wired City.”

In conjunction with that project, I designed a complete inter plant television system for Freightliner’s Truck Manufacturing Plant (TMP). Each major workstation on the assembly line was to be wired to a central clearinghouse at Corporate.

Whenever a foreman encountered a problem on the assembly line, he could grab a hand held camera and communicate his concerns, such as a misaligned chassis bracket, or Jake Brake installation problem directly to Engineering over at Corporate.

The engineer could immediately brain storm the problem with his group and provide a solution.

My plan went down in flames. “McDonald, “ I was told by one of the Vice Presidents nixing my plan, “we are in the business of building trucks, not entertainment programs.”

Shortly thereafter, a major manufacturing plant back east successfully instituted a similar idea. (Maybe it was in my presentation?)

I was, however, successful in selling Corporate on the idea of installing one of the largest TV studios in Portland, cleverly disguised as show room! I designed this room from the ground up to be the largest TV studio in Portland. But located on a corner, with two sides floor to ceiling glass, I sold it to Corporate as a show room!

With the lighting grid 24 feet off the floor, we could completely tilt the largest Cab Over Engine. We produced a host of sales and maintenance programs in this facility. It lasted for several years, until Freightliner sold out to Daimler-Benz in 1981.

And, despite our better efforts to insure a meaningful cable television system was installed in Portland, TelePrompTer got the nod to string wire all over Portland. I used to go down to their studio on Sandy Boulevard in Portland to visit a friend of mine whom I had worked with in radio.

He was doing local news, against the ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates. What a disaster. It was stunning to see numbers on the programs viewers were dialed into. I remember one of the primo channels, featuring opera and New York stage plays, Bravo, was averaging 10 viewers per hour in prime time.

So all these years later as I reflect on the intensity of our Cable TV Commission recommendations to the City of Portland as to what would be desirable in a cable company, look what we ended up with.

Mostly Trash.

The Simpson’s, brain dead pointless sitcoms, the "Dog," Gerry Springer, the Fox “Network” with its legion of malcontents and dingbats, an army of fanatical religious zealots, Cheaters, home shopping networks and tedious infomercials.

In May 1961, Newton Minnow, Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission under John F. Kennedy, uttered his now famous “Wasteland” speech to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB.)

Often misquoted and ridiculed, here is that segment of his speech, in context:

When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet, or rating book to distract you—and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And, most of all, boredom.

True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it.
Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can't do better?

Of all the channels available to watch, I can come up with less than a dozen that are worth giving up my time to watch! That is an amazingly low percentage! The rest is mostly trash.

And so today marks the end of mostly analog trash … the beginning of mostly digital trash.

Finally, our friends to the north in Canada make the switch to digital on August 31, 2011.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Northern Pacific's Stacy Street Yard

Northern Pacific Railway 5410A, Stacy Street Yard, Seattle Washington, January 6, 1962. Home for Christmas during my first year at Washington State University. My train-chasing buddy – El Purington – and I are making the rounds – Union Pacific, Milwaukee Road, Great Northern and the Northern Pacific at Stacy Street.

The yard was named for a street that dead ended into the yard, honoring Martin Van Buren Stacy - one of Seattle’s early movers and shakers, who built the so-called Stacy Mansion, in 1885, seen here with a restraunt added.

Northern Pacific’s
Stacy Street Yard was renamed "Seattle International Gateway" in August, 1985.

A prominent feature of the Stacy Street Yard was the Lander Street pedestrian footbridge which spanned the yard from the south end of Sears-Roebuck, over to Alaska Way and the Lander Street pier. That structure was really nifty because you could look down on rail operations. It was torn down in 2001.

Those were the “Golden Years” of railroading in and around Seattle that was destroyed with a stroke of the pen when the Great Merger took place. We had a great diversity to watch and photograph. And in Elwin’s case, make audio recordings!

Railroad Stuff: Northern Pacific Railway 5410A, built by Electro Motive Division as an FT-A, 1,350 horsepower, in 1945, serial number 2839. Retired by Burlington Northern in 1964, traded to General Electric for a U25C.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Ubiquitous Yard Goat

Canadian Pacific Railway 6505, Vernon, British Columbia, July 1958. Next to the EMD 567C, two cycle motor, the McIntosh-Seymour four cycle motor had a most captivating sound, unique to the four-cycle family.

At one time, my late Dad worked for Puget Sound Tug & Barge out of Seattle’s Pier 59. For a period, he worked inland rules, which meant he worked 15 days on – 15 days off.

In the summer time, I would spend the weekend with him. Harbor work involved a variety of tasks including the extremely dangerous tug-assist docking of freighters. One of the tugs I spent considerable time on was the “Active.” She had a highly reliable McIntosh-Seymour 6 cylinder in line engine used in everything from locomotives to warships!

I loved to sit at the upper control station watching the valve rocker arms clicking up and down, with her commanding “ump-pity- tee-dah-dah-dah” cadence.

And what a combination of diesel oil and salt air! Easy to romanticize on the calm inland waters of Puget Sound; quite a different perspective on the storm ravished desolation of the Gulf of Alaska!

So, we were on our way back to Prince Rupert from Seattle when we passed through Vernon, and I was able to jump out of the car and grab this shot of yard goat 6505 working a cut.

The English called them “shunters” Amtrak called them “shifters” but the official name is “yard goat” because they were used to butt cars around the yard.

The trucking industry sometimes applied “yard goat” to small stripped down units used to sort trailers out at terminals. They are most commonly referred to as “spotters.”

Many rail fans get mixed up when determining the difference between an ALCo S-1, S-2, S-3 and S-4. It is in the trucks and radiators. If you make a “snap” judgment, you may be wrong. Fortunately, help is available, but you have to look closely at the details!

Railroad Stuff: Canadian Pacific Railway 6505, built by Montreal Locomotive Works (owned by ALCo since 1904.) Powered by a McIntosh-Seymour model 539, naturally aspirated 6- 660 hp diesel, built 1951.

Her sister, CPR 6503 is on static display at the West Coast Railway Association in Squamish, British Columbia, where you can read more of the history of these sturdy yard goats!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bricks & Mortar: Consumer Alert!

Port Townsend, today. Just had a narrow escape in purchasing an item over the Internet. Without relating the entire ghastly experience, be forewarned, again if necessary: aim to do business with "Bricks and Mortar" companies. In other words, deal with someone who you can physically march into their offices and raise hell, if it becomes necessary!

"Bricks and mortar" of course refers to a physical structure. Not a "virtual" structure. The fastest way to check is to click on the web site "contact" page. If you see a list of nothing but email addresses - run - do not walk - away from that site and seek out another.

A few months ago, I was looking for a particular piece of audio-visual equipment. Every damn site I found was a virtual site. About 10 PAGES into Google listings, I found a site in the Bay Area
that had what I was looking for, at a damn good price. In fact a very low price (warning bells!)

When I clicked on "contact" I found NOT ONLY a photo of their store front AND interior, but a street address with a Google Map link, mailing address, shipping address, store hours, local phone listing AND toll free listing.

As a "test" I went to the phone directory on line and everything matched. I placed the order. It was promptly filled.

Bargain hunters, especially Senior Citizens like me living on a fixed income, keenly seek low prices. I know, I know, you get what you pay for! But as I just related, by being dogged in my pursuit on Google, "drilling" as "they" say down through the layers of listings, it is possible to find the great combination of fair price with a legitimate business.

The close call I mentioned at the beginning of this piece was thwarted by my bad memory! I got all the way through the order process, and was one click away from consummation, when I began to worry if the account I was about to tap had sufficient funds to cover the purchase.

So I opened another browser window to access my account, which, as it turned out, had more than enough to pay for the goods. When I closed out the account browser window, I lost the other order window!

Back to square one. But then I thought, well - let me see if this outfit has any complaints. So I went to Google search and typed in "xyz + complaints."

Gad-zooks! A ton and 80 complaints, pages of them! Disgusted, I hit the sack. The next day, I began my search again, and by taking my time I finally found a dealer with a "Bricks and Mortar" presence.

Sometimes I've clicked "contact" and sent an eMail inquiring as to their physical location. Being virtual, they can literally be anywhere in the world. Sometimes I never get a response. Other times I get a yadda-yadda-doo about how, by not having a "Bricks and Mortar" store, they have lower overhead and recite the litenay of cost savings that implies, including looooow prices.

Willing to take a chance? A fellow by the name of Bob Osgoodby has written an excellent piece addressing "Bricks and Mortar" which I highly recommend.

It seems as though New York camera stores are notorious for "bait and switch," "gray market" and other egregious sales techniques. For a genuine education on this segment of the Internet market, enter this site written by Don Wiss. He spent hours riding around on a bicycle tracking down camera dealers, compiling more than 70 PAGES of photos and descriptions of New York camera stores, including their aliases and aka -also-known-as names (some operate under several names out of a singular location.) Some names you will recognize. Others will make you angry!

Now before I get flamed with "virtual" vendors who run a legitimate business, I'm sure they are in the majority. Unfortunately, like any other business, good people occasionally get sucked in with the garbage. The point of this article is to create an awareness, to be as informed a consumer as you can possibly be!

Finally, I'm sure you've heard that you should use a credit card instead of a debit card to facilitate conflict resolution. My strategy is to keep just enough loot in my debit account to cover the purchase, so that if something goes seriously south on me, my entire bindle won't be wiped out. Twice I've had problems with purchases on my debit card.

In the first case, I got suspicious of the "newness" of the product when I discovered coffee mug stains on pages in the owner's manual. The second case involved shipping something I did not order. When I queried them, they said they reserved the right to ship "or equivalent" at their discretion! (Didn't I read the small print?)

In both cases the bank issued me a credit within hours, with the admonition that IF the complaint was found unwarranted, the monies would be pulled. Naturally, to protect my ass, I recommend you check with YOUR bank on how they would handle refunds debit versus credit card purchases.

Both cases settled within days, in my favor.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bridge 14 De-mystified!

Port Townsend, today. Steilacoom Washington is the “home” of one of the more unusual railroad bridges in the United States. I found quite a challenge to trace the history of this remarkable structure, a favorite shooting location for many Northwest rail fans.

Steilacoom and the surrounding area were first settled in 1850. A major factor for development was a small-protected estuary, fed by a lake and connecting creek, this photo dated 1910, shows a rather quiet backwater on Puget Sound.

(Ed. Note: Everything in this area was "Steilacoom" this and "Steilacoom" that. Made even more interesting, considering the actual Steilacoom Tribe was located some 150 miles north of this area, on Whidbey Island!)

The creek endured a series of name changes, more often than not dictated by who the major developer was on shore. Originally named Steilacoom Creek in recognition of a small encampment of Scht’ileq’wem natives, it later became known as Heath Creek, Byrd Creek, and finally Chamber's Creek.

Bridge 14 casts its unique shadow on the beach.

The town site became known as Steilacoom, and in 1854, became the first incorporated town in Washington Territory, only four short years after Captain Lafayette Balch first landed and set up shop. Later, with the approaching Northern Pacific Railway, the town’s movers and shakers tossed and turned at night dreaming of becoming the Western Terminus of the Northern Pacific.

Seeking a water level route south of Tacoma along Puget Sound, the Northern Pacific bought up rights through Steilacoom on its way south to Olympia and thence to Kalama in 1910.

Fixed or Movable Span?

To run steel along the Puget Sound, a decision had to be made to place a fixed or movable span structure across Chamber's Creek. While the latest US Coast Guard Inventory of Navigable Waterways (2008) now excludes Chamber's Creek, as usual, more than one branch of the federal government has a seat at the tea party. The United States Corps of Army Engineers databases were searched for their classification of that sleepy waterway.

Under their criteria, Chamber’s Creek was deemed a “navigable waterway:”

§329.4 General definition. Navigable waters of the United States are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce. A determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the water body, and is not extinguished by later actions or events which impede or destroy navigable capacity. (emphasis mine.)

Under that definition, one has to wonder that if a river dries up, is it still considered a navigable waterway because of it’s historic past? But let us not struggle with the logic of government logic.

To comply with the stipulation of Paragraph 329.4, providing for the passage of vessels, the Northern Pacific Railway contracted with Strauss Bascule Bridge Company for a span over “Steilacoom Creek.” (Lets settle on a name, guys!) Joseph B. Strauss, America’s premier bridge designer (the Golden Gate) proposed a radical departure from the traditional vertical lift span, to be known as the Strauss Vertical Lift Bridge.

Construction took place between 1913 and 1914. What sets this bridge aside from all other vertical lift bridges is the way in which the movable span is lifted. Traditional vertical lift bridges rely on cables running over massive sheaves atop spidery towers, connected to the movable span and counterweights to raise and lower the span.

Cables are subject to wear and tear, constant inspection and maintenance. Furthermore, the steel cables, under load, will continue to stretch, requiring adjustments that interrupt traffic flow.

Mr. Strauss replaced the troublesome cables with a direct drive gear and pinion arrangement, whereupon the lift was accomplished with counterweights and gears.

So, that’s what gives “Bridge 14” it’s unusual look and interesting movement as the 97’ center span is raised and lowered. The employment of parallelogram links replaces the need for steel cables.

Here you can see the rack and pinion mechanism, that "winds" the span up and down. All the historical uses of Chamber's Creek are long gone, and even the Marina just inside the bridge has been declared derelict, and has been systematically removed from at least one “cruising guide.”

The Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, founded by Joseph B. Strauss in 1904, had about a dozen bridges of this design on paper for installation around the country, but they were never constructed.

Only three bridges of this design were built. Another première bridge builder, Charles Louis Strobel founder of Strobel Steel Construction built a similar cable-less vertical lift bridge over the Illinois River at LaSalle, Illinois. Study the two designs - there are differences in approach.

But a phone call today to the Illinois Department of Transportation confirms it is long gone. The third bridge of this type built was built over the Ohio River in Kentucky. It too, is gone.

So Bridge 14, is a one-of-a-kind structure! In 2004, Burlington Northern Santa Fe accomplished a major re-fitting of the sturdy old 95-year-old span detailed in a "house" publication, beginning on page 8:

Bridge 14 Refit - 647K

I hope you have a new appreciation for a very unique and apparently one of a kind bridge, one that perhaps we've taken for granted. It is a living monument to both Joseph B. Strauss and the Northern Pacific. Railway. I think the structure would be a great project for Northern Pacific fans to see “Bridge 14” registered as a National Historic Landmark, yes?

See also: Bridge 14 Revisited.

Without the help of these folks, my article would have been “just so many empty words! “so I appreciate the participation of these fine folk who generously granted use of their photos:
And Perry Brake, at the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association as well as Tom Domagalski at the Illinois Department of Bridges.

See also: GN Bridge 4