Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hood Canal Floating Bridge - 25,000 Visits

Port Townsend, today. While I realize this is promoted as a “railroad” blog, a major engineering project has just been completed in our area that I wanted to share with you.

Appointments have sent me twice from the Quimper Peninsula to the Kitsap Peninsula traveling over the new Hood Canal Floating Bridge.(Both Peninsulas are part of the greater Olympic Peninsula.) It remains the longest floating span over salt water in the world. The original Hood Canal Floating Bridge first opened to the public in August 1961. It was destroyed by an unusually strong micro storm low-pressure centre packing winds exceeding 120 miles per hour with 85 miles per hour sustained, that traversed Hood Canal from south to north in February 1979.

The “second” bridge was “reopened” in October 1982. Much of “floating bridge” technology has been learned the hard way with some tough lessons. The Hood Canal Bridge was not the only floating bridge to sink. The original Lake Washington Floating Bridge in Seattle, the first of this type, opened for traffic in July 1940, and sank in a storm in November 1990, which was broadcast on live TV!

For years, the only way to access the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle-Tacoma was a tedious, dangerous, and time-consuming journey of 120 miles around the end of Hood Canal through Shelton.

Two-lane US Highway 101 clings to the edge of the Canal with 50 miles of permanent slow orders, some down to 20 mph around torturous curves. And woe is the wary traveler unfortunate enough to end up behind a motor home! Passing lanes are rare, and narrow 1930’s bridges guarantee puckering when passing an approaching loaded log truck!

In 1936, ferry service ran from Port Gamble to Shine, eliminating the wearisome drive around the end of Hood Canal. The Port Gamble terminal was moved to Lofall in 1949, shortening the cross Canal run to a mere 10:00 minutes between South Point and Lofall. I remember as kids riding on the M/V Rhododendron, my sister and I were admonished not to go to the bathroom; it would take longer than the ferry ride!

Eventually the ferry became a choke point as development in Port Townsend, Sequim, and Port Angeles on the Kitsap, Quimper, and Olympic Peninsulas grew, with demands for a bridge across the Hood Canal.

A site for a bridge was located just north of the ferry route. Underwater topography dictated a daring bridge design, based on pontoons rather than piers. Not only was the new structure to be exposed to the winds and weather of Puget Sound country, it also had to be flexible enough to endure a tidal range of up to 16.5 feet!

And so, in August of 1961, the worlds longest floating structure spanning 7,869 feet over salt water, the Hood Canal Floating Bridge was opened, replacing the ferry run.

Being a “navigable waterway,” the bridge had to open and close for vessels, many being nuclear submarines based at Bangor Washington. Despite the fact the channel approaches 600 feet deep, subs cannot simply dive and go under the bridge due to the spider web of 3” thick steel cables anchoring the pontoons in place to massive blocks of concrete.

For smaller vessels, the west end span over water down to the bridge deck has 31.3 feet vertical clearance to the water at Mean High Higher Water (MHHW) of 7.0 feet, while the east end provides 50.7 feet of clearance.

USS Ohio in Transit Hood Canal Bridge

The “original” and rebuilt versions of the bridge had a harp shaped section (top of photo) near the east end, that permitted one of the floating sections to be pulled into harp, thus creating a navigation channel. Video is hard to find, but this clip will give you an idea as to how the old system worked.

A few weeks ago, I had to head “into the city” and was pleasantly surprised to see the new structure with less imposing access structures onto the bridge and a wider highway deck with no “bulge” or “harp” section which used to require a slow zone. It wasn’t until after my second time over the bridge that I got to wondering “how does this thing open?”

Forget Google, I spent hours looking for some explanation as to how this new structure opens. Following my time honored system of tracking down information, I emailed the Washington State Department of Transportation, and a fellow by the name Joe Irwin was kind enough to respond, with photos, and an explanation, as to how the new bridge opens for the nukes!

Hello Robert,
I've attached a PDF that shows how the draw span pontoons extend and retract into the u-shape draw span assembly.

What it doesn't show is the lift spans, of which I've attached photos.

The lift spans are basically large steel roadway sections that are raised and lowered by powerful hydraulic cylinders. There are three spans on the east half and three on the west, and each are powered independently by four cylinders.

When the steel lift spans are lowered, they serve as the roadway decking and the extended draw span pontoons close the center channel to marine traffic and create a connecting roadway across the canal.

When the lift spans are raised, the draw span pontoons can be retracted beneath them, opening the center channel to marine vessels.

Draw Span Leaves Under Construction

Six leaves, three on the east side of the navigation opening, and three on the east side, are constructed in such a way that hydraulic rams lift, pick and slide the "leaves" or bridge sections, just lift so the pontoon sections can retract underneath. The reason there are three spans on each side that lift independently is because they weigh about 100 tons each - quite a load for the hydraulic cylinders as you might imagine.

A really great - albeit simplified - way to envision how the whole thing works is to put your hands in front of you, palms down and touch your index fingers together. Your left hand represents the lift span sections, your right, the draw span pontoon. Right now, your "bridge" is in the closed position - which is somewhat confusing because it is open to motor vehicles.

To open it for a submarine or large sailing vessel, lift your left hand slightly and slide your right hand directly beneath it. The channel, which starts at your right wrist, is now open for boating. This occurs on both the east and west sides, on a much grander scale of course, to provide a 600-foot channel.

I hope this helps,
Joe Irwin
WSDOT Communications
Hood Canal Bridge Project

For those of you who have an interest in “bridge cams” this camera is operated by “Wiz-dot,” the Washington State Department of Transportation. It is located near the east end of the span, looking west. In the foreground, you can make out the west end sliding decks –gratings - that make up part of the lift and slide mechanism.

For all the flack WSDOT – Wiz Dot – takes for it’s fumbling mismanagement of the Ferry System, it “done good” on the Hood Canal Bridge. It is a handsome structure. There are only four floating bridges in the US. Beside this bridge, three others are on Lake Washington in Seattle.

A fifth floating bridge, located in British Columbia, crosses beautiful Lake Okanogan at Kelowna. The last time I was in Kelowna, the family was returning to Prince Rupert from Seattle, in July 1958. The ferry was still running!

See also: Terror on a Bridge

We recently passed a notable landmark for this blog. My Sitemeter recorded the 25,000th visitor! While many of these “hits” are known as “pass-throughs,” people searching for the combination of “oil” and “electric” (looking for furnaces and other mechanical devices,) further reports available to me show that most are rail fans sent here largely through “Google” searches for specific items.

However you arrived here, I am pleased you found us. I generally stay on topic, but certain issues I just cannot avoid commenting on!

Take a moment to scan down the “Index” in the right hand column. You may just find something out of the nearly 400 articles posted here that might tickle your interest!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Winners never quit!

Port Townsend, today. Yesterday, Sarah Palin, Alaska’s embarrassing moral non-success, stepped down as Alaska’s governor.

Good riddance.

Citing her desire to “avoid being a lame duck governor”, she grabbed up her toys, and sulked into a long Alaskan twilight, a textbook example of uneducated, uncultured undisciplined behavior.

This begs the question:

“Should every politician quit their elected posts approximately 18 months before their terms lapse to avoid the label ‘lame duck?’”

There is a long list of reasons people cite for wanting to quit a job. Many of the reasons are self-defeating. Frustration with the job is one of the self-defeating reasons I heard in my many years as a supervisor, manager and employer. This is one of the reasons Ms. Palin seems to be giving into, although in clinical self-denial, she will never admit it, citing other cockamamie excuses.

Think about it. We've all had experiences wherein we've made a self-defeating choice that we never outlive. That woman is no different from you or I. She made a self-defeating choice; call it like it is.

She has been in the media’s cross-hairs ever since she was irresponsibly plucked out of total obscurity by the dazzling staff of John McCain. Up to that point, her only claim to fame was a ho-hum stint as the mayor of a sleepy Alaskan hamlet, and, what now turns out to be an aborted incomplete term as Alaska’s governor.

Sarah Palin loves to preach moral family values and abstinence. Nonetheless she let her teenage daughter sleep with her boyfriend under her own roof numerous times leading to a teenage pregnancy. The ensuing aborted marriage became yet another disgusting lowbrow public debacle. Talk about a sophisticated cast of characters.

Some say, “Well, now she’s free to move ahead” with some undisclosed political stratagem.


My favorite football team when I was a young man was the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers. Bart Starr’s air game was electrifying. Vincent Thomas Lombardi was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959-1967, winning five league championships during his 9 years leading the “Pack.” Vince Lombardi once said:

"Winners never quit ...
and quitters never win."

How soon we have forgotten ...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Steam Whistle Tattoo

Prince Rupert, October 1957. We had been living in Prince Rupert for just a few months, but already we, as a family, were embracing the Canadian National Railways. Of course my Dad had the closest interface, being chief engineer on the “M/V Comet” owned by American British Columbia Transportation, dragging a 24-car rail barge back and forth between Prince Rupert and Ward Cove. See “In the Beginning.

The ancient two-story house we were renting was a short block from the CNR yard and main line. An interesting structure in itself, being built on a log raft “floating” in a sea of muskeg, actually moving from time to time! We even had a foot bridge running from the curb to the house!

We soon noticed that promptly at 6pm, just after sitting down for dinner, that we could hear the passenger engine whistling departure from the station, not more than a half mile up the line from us. And very soon, as the train picked up speed, the engineer would begin performing a beautiful tattoo with the engines whistle. This would continue the full mile or so from the station south to the first grade crossing at the end of the yard. And the beautiful sounds were made as only a steam engineer with a lot of pride in his craft could perform.

Those of you fortunate enough to remember steam will know exactly what I am woefully inadequate to describe. I wish we had had a tape recorder to capture those moments. Several Pacific's were assigned to the varnish, including the 5141, 5149 and 5152, through service to join the Canadian National Railways main line at Red Pass Junction. I'm not sure how far the engines went before returning to Prince Rupert. Perhaps at Smithers.

One of the engineers, my Mom dubbed “Tex,” worked the lower moaning octaves, ending in the required crossing signal just south of our house. The other engineer as I recall was nameless. And he had an entirely different repertoire, again ending with the legal grade crossing requirement.

The passenger train engineers provided an entertaining and memorable part of our life in Prince Rupert, which for us, ended almost as soon as we were aware of it. Diesels soon took over the varnish, ending steam on the Prince Rupert Extension forever.

Only in my later years, did I come to realize what a dramatic change these fellows were going through, making the transition from steam to diesel; from Johnson Bar to clicking notches.

And what can you do with a diesel air horn, other than blow it!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Old Yard Goats Never Die!

Milwaukee Road 625, Stacy Street Yard, Seattle December 13, 1959. There is a lot going on in this photo in addition to the MILW 625, chugging northbound along Alaska Way.

On the right, a Milwaukee Road rib-side boxcar. I believe just over 3,000 of this unique design were manufactured in 1939 to 1940. Most of them carried the inscription “Route of the Hiawatha’s” Another batch of the rib-sides carried the inscription “Route of the Electrified Olympian.”

Next, looking north, the 625. She is shoving several cuts of boxcars together, following unloading of the Port Townsend barge at Pier 27.

And then in the near background, the famous wooden board walk connecting the waterfront (Alaska Way) with Lander Street, crossing the entire width of Stacy Street Yard, ascending just south of the massive Sears Roebuck store.

Railroad Stuff: Milwaukee Road 625, nee 2020. Built by Electro Motive Division as an SW1200, 1,000 horsepower, in November 1954, serial number 20055. Renumbered 625 in 1959. When the “Road” began disintegrating, sold in 1981 to the Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern, a switching terminal operation jointly owned by the Milwaukee Road.

Finally, sold to Canton Railroad Company, first as 1201; renumbered 1203. I was able to verify by phone today, that this unit is still in operation 55 years later, a testament to EMD’s legendary engineering!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Toonerville Trolley

Port Townsend, today. Well Seattle was awash this weekend in grinning faces as eager citizens queued up for a free ride on the latest example of frivolous public funding, Sound Transit's light rail link to Tukwila, just south of Seattle.

Years ago, I lived in north Portland, three blocks from the Metropolitan Area eXpress, euphemistically known as MAX, Portland’s “light rail mass transit” system. Among other results of building MAX, I witnessed the death of Interstate Avenue, when light rail extended to a dead end in North Portland on the banks of the Columbia River.

Where Interstate Avenue had been a lively, prosperous four lane arterial, it was reduced to a single lane in each direction except for “passing” lanes at intersections, following the installation of MAX.

Heralded, as is every system like it including Sound Transit, as a cost effective people mover, it quickly turned into a law enforcement nightmare serving as a conduit for gang members to prey on the public and quickly move around town. MAX destroyed local business along its route by restricting access and removing parking. And, formed a de-facto “Berlin Wall” along its route, simply with its structure of roadbed, tracks, barricades to foot traffic and stations.

My local Safeway store, located on Interstate Avenue, 25 feet from MAX, which served a large area of North Portland, was soon shuttered post MAX, along with any number of small businesses, including a stenographer I employed to type many audio visual scripts for me. She moved out of a very comfortable older Portland house, because of the racket from the trains and lost parking space in front of her home!

And even though Vancouver Washington’s population center has moved 5 miles to the east of downtown Vancouver, light rail proponents keep yammering to extend the dead ended Portland MAX Interstate Line across the Columbia River into a mostly dead downtown Vancouver, requiring an expensive bridge over navigable waters. Once the lawyers and bankers go home, downtown Vancouver shuts down for the night!

Furthermore, and even more important, the only people riding the MAX lived no more than three or four blocks at most from the line. Who feels safe walking home in the dark even for than a block in this era? As a measure of how safe the new Sound Transit light rail promises to be, consider this: 28 new Sound Transit police officers were hired, with 26 new police cars, 65 security guards and 12 ticket enforcement officers.

Reminds me of a motel in Washington DC that my late wife and I got booked into. The manager sought to quell our doubts about staying there by telling me they had an armed security guard on duty during the night!

Fixed rail is a perfect solution for a point-to-point system of transportation, especially over long distance. That is why railroads – for the most part – are successful. But for inner city transit, with its feet literally nailed to the ground – it is inflexible to meet new, changing, or modified population patterns. Stop and think about all the interurban lines that have faded from history.

A sensible, less expensive, more flexible system is based on rubber tires, not steel rails. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is not an inflexible “fixed” system with immovable concrete and steel railroad tracks, which destroy the neighborhoods through which they pass.

Scalable fleets of buses, from articulated buses to passenger vans, are woven into a flexible system that meets the needs of far flung neighborhoods, feeding them like the arterial system of the human body, into pockets of population located away from major arterials.

If a MAX train or, to the south a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train breaks down, that entire leg is frozen until the problem is fixed or buses dispatched!

Bus Rapid Transit is successfully moving people in such cities as Bogotá, Rouen, London, Sydney, Istanbul, Taipei, and closer to home, Boston, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Eugene- Springfield. If you’d like to learn more abut this system, start with this study completed by the highly respected firm of Booz, Allen, & Hamilton, then join in the discussion of BRT.

Fixed light rail systems are a massive rabbit hole, down which millions of dollars are spent. They never pay for themselves, and, like other systems before it, Sound Transit will eventually be covered with graffiti, begging for operating funds, slashing service hours, and generally fade in to the background.

So ride it today - this is as good as it will ever get!

The gaiety and hoopla of the last two days will fade away, along with the smiley faces of local, state, and federal personalities, each claiming a their stake in the project. From this day forward, the citizens will pay and pay and pay for this monument to a inefficient fixed mode of transportation.

One can only hope that regional transportation planners will finally come to realize that their purpose is to satisfy the transportation needs of the people, not the puffed up egos of public servants eager to built transportation shrines that burden citizens to subsidize them - forever!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ALCo's FA: From Toaster to Locomotive

Great Northern 278A/B. Vancouver B.C, May. 1959. I found these units, in a rather junkie setting of busted up sheet rock, still flying “extra” white signals, awaiting assignment in Vancouver B.C.

The ALCo FA was thrown into the fray to compete with Electro Motive Division's F series B-B class. Early deliveries were fitted out with 1,500 horsepower plants, later upgraded to 1,600 horsepower, as compared to EMD's 1,500 and 1,750 horsepower.

Nail biting times, I'm sure, for locomotive designers!

This striking design, often incorrectly attributed to the pencil of Raymond Loewy, was inspired by General Electric's industrial designer, Raymond E. Patten. As one of GE's product designers, Mr. Patten is fondly remembered for the "Gazelle" toaster!

The AlCo’s broad snout and slit windshields were made for an admirable display of the Empire Builder paint scheme!

Some rail students blame the prime mover, the V-12 244 motor and it's reported unreliability as one of the reasons for the demise of the FA. But as I wrote in a past entry, Kettering's inspired V-16 with it's reliability and ease of maintenance were the real reason I believe, the competition just could not keep up.

Railroad Stuff: GN 278A, built as Alco model FA2 demonstrator 1602A, November 1950, sn 78270, 1,600 hp. Traded to General Electric for a U33C in March 1968.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Erie Built's"

Union Pacific Railroad, Argo Yard, Seattle, July 1958. The first time I saw the Fairbanks-Morse “Erie Builts” was in the summer of 1958. The family had driven down to Seattle for two weeks, and I took this opportunity to explore new railroads and locomotives.
I found these units at Stacy Street Yard in Seattle. My first impressions were what filthy units they were; looked liked they leaked oil from every crack and crevice, and two, what an unusual motor sound.
In all honesty at the time I took these photos I no ideal what I was looking at. Remember, I was only 16, and the only railroad I had been up close and personal with was the Canadian National Railways. But I did have the moxie to look for a builder’s plate and jot down relevant information.

It was after we returned to Prince Rupert, that I learned these were the so-call Fairbanks-Morse “Erie Built’s.” Famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who designed the Shell gasoline logo, along with dozens of other things that became national icons, designed these units.

For those of you lucky enough to have seen these units in action, you undoubtedly remember, even after all these years, the distinctive “drumming” – some called it “drumming” - sound of the Fairbanks-Morse opposed piston motors. Unlike the hypnotic GM-EMD 2 cycle chanting, the Fairbanks-Morse headless opposed piston design resulted in a unique sound, which reverberated in and out of synchronization with sister units at throttle up.

Portland, July 1959. This west bound Union Pacific passenger train runs on permanent slow orders through the switching plant that will direct her across the Willamette River swing bridge, into Union Station in down town Portland, following her afternoon run through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.

Fairbanks-Morse (F-M) was a late comer into the diesel locomotive fray that took off like wild fire following the Second World War and subsequent freeing up of metals such as aluminum from the war effort.

As the urban legend goes, F-M found themselves knee deep in opposed piston motors designed for US submarines. In 1944, F-M entered the railroad market with the famous H10-44 1,000 horsepower switcher, featuring the controversial opposed piston engine.

F-M’s board of directors decided to compete with Electro Motive Division’s E-7 and ALCo’s PA in the six truck A-1-A passenger locomotive market, powered by a single F-M opposed piston 38D8 10 cylinder motor, rated at 2,000 horsepower to the generator. So swift was the decision made, that:

  • F-M had no shop space at Beloit to erect the beast, and
  • No catalog model number.
A manufacturing agreement was reached to produce the locomotive in both a cab “A” and cab-less “B” booster unit at General Electric’s Erie Pennsylvania shops; thus, the name “Erie Built’s” was coined. These were the very shops that gave birth to the memorable Milwaukee Road Box Cabs and Little Joes, and later, the famous General Electric Gas Turbines (GTEL’s) among others.

A few more than 100 of what became known as the “Erie Built’s” were delivered to the head end of many famous cross country varnish giants, including the Milwaukee Road’s “Olympian Hiawatha.” She ran from Chicago to Minneapolis behind a brace of EMD E-7’s. From Minneapolis to Seattle / Tacoma “Erie Built’s” blasted all the way cross-country and under the trolley wires to tidewater.

Several years later, my Dad worked as Chief Engineer on board the M/V Mikiona, a deep-sea tug operated by Hawaiian Tug & Barge. The vessel was on a triangle run between Honolulu, Sacramento, and Astoria towing a massive grain barge.

The barge took most of its load, limited by the depth of the Sacramento River, in California and was “topped off” in Astoria.

The Mikiona was twin screw, with a pair of Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D 8½ rated at 1,667 horsepower each at 750 rpm. With the loaded barge, they managed an average of 276 miles a day, and had about 5 days reserve fuel when they hit Honolulu. Not much of a margin hitting a group of islands in the middle of a big ocean!

I enjoyed many hours visiting with my Dad in Astoria, listening to those engines, and the conversations about what a bitch they were to work on, especially in the heaving seas between Astoria and Honolulu. Having to separate two engines to get to the liners. In short, he had nothing nice to say about the Fairbanks-Morse Opposed Piston design.

Another friend of mine who lived in Portland was lucky enough to ride these units from Portland to Hinkle with his Dad. Again, no good news. Tim told me that leaving Portland with three engines running, they counted it as a good run to get to Hinkle with at least two still on line.

I suspect that in addition to the early lead General Motors had in the prime mover market, F-M was never able to catch up. In fact, no sooner had the demonstrator units built for Union Pacific been delivered, when a strike at the Beloit facility further delayed F-M’s initiative in the passenger market for almost a year!

And the oft-cited reliability of a submarine motor adapted to a locomotive frame continued to dog Fairbanks-Morse.

F-M tried to re-group and in 1950 launched the “Consolidated Line” of locomotives, including the replacement for the “Erie Built” known as the “C-Liner.”

Three units lashed together almost 195 feet long bumper to bumper! I count myself very fortunate to have seen and experienced the sight and sound of the Fairbanks-Morse “Erie Built’s," consigned to the scrap yard three short years after I took these photographs!

For such a large locomotive, 65’ + change, the machine room housed a relatively small motor!

Railroad Stuff: Union Pacific 650 originally built as UP 50-M-1A in December 1945. F-M number 1060, GE number 27789. Subsequent renumbers 981, 700, becoming 650 in February 1953. Retired to the bone yard in September 1961.

Union Pacific 656B built as UP 703B in November 1947. F-M number 1128, GE Number 29392. Became UP 987B, and subsequently 653B in February 1953. Retired, September 1961.

Union Pacific 656B built as UP 706B in April 1948. F-M number 1143, GE number 29437. Retired, November 1960. All three units had the Fairbanks-Morse 2 cycle 38D8 1/8 10-cylinder engine rated at 2,000 horsepower. Originally built for passenger service, they ended their days hauling freight.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Topp Gum!

Port Townsend today. I see by my site monitor I have been visited by Headquarters, USAAISC, Fort Huachuca Arizona. Tom Clancy fans will recognize this site featured in a "Clear and Present Danger."

Apparently this is one of the sites from which the government conducts its eaves dropping operations on the "current resident," citizens, and box holders of the United States. One has to wonder why the Army would be reading my blog?

As my perusing through boxes of prints, slides and negatives continues, I ran across these bubble gum trading cards. These cards are all I have from a set of 200 trading cards in a series entitled "Rails and Sails" published by Topp.

My mom was always “protective” of our teeth. Coke and bubble gum were on the list of banned substances that my sister and I were not allowed to purchase. Obviously, that rule was broken on more than one occasion.

While there is no doubt the trading cards were popular, I always went for the "exotic" stuff, like the Captain Midnight Decoder Ring that you placed some film in the cockpit to print out your mission, or the submarine you filled with baking soda, and it would bob up and down in the bathtub as it created an air bubble. Cost was two-bits plus two Kellogs Box tops. And yes, I did send for the frogmen, who usually surfaced feet first!

The Topps Company was founded in 1938 as Topps Chewing Gum, and in its early years produced a popular penny "Topps Gum" from a factory in Brooklyn, N.Y. After World War II, the company developed Bazooka Bubble Gum, and in 1950, added trading cards to its product line.

Baseball cards appeared in 1951 and quickly became a vital part of pop culture, a tradition that continues to this day. These cards in the "Rails and Sails" series included 130 railroad and 70 ship cards. Each card featured a piece of rolling stock, with a description on the reverse side, along with a "factoid."

I haven’t found any cards in the “Sails” part of the set yet – but then I haven’t gotten to the end of my perusing, either!

You can see the entire set here at “Chuckman’s Non Sports Trading Cards,” but be forewarned, it takes a few minutes for the pages to load. But it is worth the wait. Scroll down to the September 16, 2007 entry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Screeners Choice"

Columbia River, east of White Salmon, September 1991. Following my life-threatening heart attack last year – I vowed not to leave my sister with an apartment full of stuff to get rid of. So, the goal this week is to sort through a mountain of 35 mm negatives – who knows where in hell the prints ended up!

I gave my late wife a Nikon 8008 as one of her wedding presents, and she took off on a 10 year shooting spree! She really enjoyed photography, and developed that right brain creativity quotient that she refined as the years went by.

I am of the unshakable opinion that shooters either have it, or do not have it. Of course, photography is a skill you can teach. But in the final analysis, a shooter has it or does not have it. Oh, sure, you can learn the principles of light; fill, key, side, and so forth. And you can learn the theory of balance, 3rds and all that stuff. And you can learn the concepts of shutter speed and depth of field. But in the final analysis, a shooter either has it or does not have it.

Patti definitely had it. Her biggest problem was, she did not have the time or patience to “read the manual.” And just like the fact you cannot teach your wife to drive, I knew better than to intercede.

And it came back to bite her big time when we drove cross country to Cass West Virginia to spend our honeymoon riding the sidewinders on Cheat Mountain! She fired off 54 rolls of 36-exposure film on that trip, and ended up with a dozen or so prints worth saving. She finally got that manual out!

So, this has been a nostalgic exercise for me, sorting through these negatives. When I first tripped over this shot, I though about sending it in to that “railroad photography” web site, but soon thought better of it.

It would be ripped to shreds; everything from “backlighting” “not RP lighting” “no RP sky” “poor esthetics” and “common power.” And if all that did not dissuade me, “cropping,” “noise,” so on and so forth.

Since I am the screener on this web site, I decided to run this photo, which I am sure my readers will see as just an “extremely back lit” photo of a train. This shot was on a roll taken in September 1991. I had just taken delivery of my new GMC van and we had gone on a drive from Vancouver out to Mt. Adams to see the lava caves and pick huckleberries.

On our return down State 14, we spotted the headlights of an eastbound freighter, and pulled over to watch it go by. The "clouds" are not clouds at all, but smoke plumes issuing forth from several forest fires burning on the Hood River side of the Columbia River.

Patti hoisted that 8008 up to her eye and fired – directly into the sun!

Now nobody every told Patti she could not fire into the sun, and so this shot represents to me one of the many facets of Patti that I enjoyed; the gutsy way she approached photography.

And today I name it “Screener’s Choice!”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Charles F. Kettering

Canadian National Railways 9096A, Prince Rupert BC, October 1958. It is pouring rain and windy outside. Really windy and wet. Typical for an area that receives up to 200 inches of wet stuff per year.

CNR 9096A and her sister 9042A sit quietly chanting to each other, in a voice invented in part by a fellow by the name of Charles Franklin Kettering. In a few hours, the doors will open and the duo will pull the time freight out of Prince Rupert’s stormy night into the vast wilderness of the Skeena River Country with a full five-man crew.

When you read the list of accomplishments attributed to Mr. Kettering in his lifetime, rather makes you wonder what you have been doing with your time!

The inscription on the plaque reads as follows:

Charles F. "Boss" Kettering was a prolific inventor. While at National Cash Register, he invented the first electric cash register. Kettering founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco) in 1909 and developed the electric self-starter for automobiles, first used in 1912 Cadillac’s. He also developed no-knock Ethyl gasoline, lacquer car finishes, four-wheel brakes, safety glass, and high-compression engines; made significant improvements to diesel engines that led to their use in locomotives, trucks, and buses; and collaborated with Thomas Midgley, Jr. in the development of the refrigerant Freon. Kettering served as President of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1918, co-founded the Engineers' Club of Dayton (1914), and was director of research at General Motors Corporation from 1920 to 1947. His interest in medical and scientific research led to the founding of the Kettering Foundation and the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research.

The diesel engine was 40 years old by the time Charles Kettering became interested in it. In fact, he was working at Delco, and was looking for a diesel motor for his yacht when he encountered Winton!

The first 567 series engine was produced in 1938. Built on the V-block paradigm, with a bore and stroke of 8½” x 10”, in an arrangement of six, eight, twelve and sixteen cylinders, providing 600 to 1350 horsepower to the generator.

By standardizing the power module made up of a piston, connecting rod head and liner, spare parts could be kept to a minimum, with maximum interchangeability. Over the years, the improvement made to the 567 series was a triumph of diesel engineering, which contributed greatly to the displacement of steam.

In addition to complete parts interchangeability, the 567 series set a high standard of performance and a long trouble-free service life:

  • Two cycle Principle. Every stroke a power stroke. No wasted motion for high efficiency.
  • Unitized Fuel Injection System combining a high pressure fuel pump, metering device and nozzle in a single unit, for quick replacement when necessary.
  • Uniflow Scavenging with a Roots type positive displacement blower for clean combustion and maximum air movement through the combustion cycle.
  • Oil-cooled floating pistons, free to rotate in the cylinder for uniform ware and longevity.
Building a motor around compact unitized components, one man for the most part could handle engine room inspection and maintenance. Indeed, two men, without the aid of an overhead crane, could remove and replace a cylinder head, piston and liner power package in about three and a half hours!

The role Charles Kettering played in the development of the 567 engine resulted in a highly reliable and robust locomotive engine that set performance standards for the rest of the industry, making General Motors the undisputed leader in rail transportation for many years.

So, what went wrong?

Railroad Stuff: Canadian National 9096A, built by Electro Motive Division in London Ontario, as an F7, 1,500 horsepower road class V-1-A-d in October 1952. Reclassed as GFA-15d in September 1954. Rebuilt from wreck as 9151 in June 1972, retired in December 1989 and ultimately scrapped in 1994.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Digital Diesels - Volume 1

Port Townsend, today. So who are these people and what are they smiling about? Well, that is my late wife Patti, and yours truly.

We are smiling about the unveiling of a couple of new screen savers at a train show in Puyallup Washington.

Following the shuttering of my video production company in Vancouver in the late ‘80’s, I floundered around trying to redefine myself, while the attorneys fed off my savings. I needed something immediate, low start up cost, and within my ability to produce, including graphic art, layout, advertising, and direct mail.

All factors considered, I decided to start a new company, Electric Book, Inc., and produce computer screen savers!

The plan was flawless. Gather all my locomotive slides and photographs into groups of 20 or 30 slides; make screen savers, which were the rage in those days, and launch a new business with a fantastic margin, huge audience and new career!

Once the plan was developed and a computer screen saver authoring program selected, the next step was to select the pictures. They of course had to be shot by me to avoid any potential copyright litigation. They had to be properly exposed, well composed, and require minimal manipulation. And, I had to have enough information about each photo to provide a decent description, so that the end user could really enjoy the presentation.

While I am not in the same league as O. Winston Link, or Richard Steinheimer, or Alfred Eisenstadt, I have never considered myself a hack photographer.

But after a few hours pouring over the light table, scrutinizing each photo with a magnifying glass, a sort of panic began to set it. The reject pile grew higher and higher; the acceptance pile was minimal! For the first time in my life, I was beginning to come to grips with the frightening realization that I may indeed be hack photographer!

[Ed Note: Somewhere along this timeline, my sister, knowing that I was not a hack photographer, asked me to shoot her wedding photos. She introduced me to the wedding party as her brother who was a photographer at Freightliner; a great photographer.

No problemento!

Well I was deeply concerned when I got the prints back, some two or three rolls. All the frames were ½ photos – perfectly exposed left hand side with the right half of the print pure black!

On the verge of hyperventilating, I hurried back to the processor, and demanded they reprint my film. Obviously the dunderheads had screwed up my shoot. Finally, a technician came over to me with a hand full of the dreadful prints, and asked me a mind-numbing but very profound question: “So, Mr. McDonald, what synchronization setting were you using on the flash?”

Weeks later, my sister and Mom began calling asking for the prints, while I began exploring how much a one-way ticket to Thailand would cost.]

I finally managed to find a couple of dozen photos and slides for what would become "Digital Diesels – Volume 1." (Think this is funny? I challenge you to sit down one afternoon and go through your photo collection, and come up with one or two dozen photos that really stand up to honest scrutiny! It can be a sobering experience!)

Rounding out the project, I created all the required graphics, ad copy, disk labels, purchased a high speed floppy disk copy machine, Visa credit card processing package, and did a massive mailing to every darned hobby shop in the country, announcing "Digital Diesels - Volume 1."

“Digital Diesels – Volume 1” was launched at the Great American Train Show, October 28 and 29th 1995, at the Western Washington Fairgrounds, in Puyallup, Washington. Featuring full color photos with documentation, adjustable transitions and timing between slides and an offer to create a personalized screen saver using your photographs for an amazingly low price!

It shipped on two 3 1/4" floppies (I presented 800 x 600 pixel x 300 dpi photos) required Windows 3.1 and above, at least a 386 processor, and 256 color VGA. Sorry! Available for IBM Windows only!

We advertised in both “Trains” and “Model Railroader” magazines late 1995 – early 1996. That in itself was a thrill, to see an advertisement that I had created, featuring a product I had created, in a magazine I had been subscribing to for a hundred years!

It is an immutable truth that it takes money to make money. Before we got really rolling with the product, a series of life altering experiences hit 1-2-3, which ended the project forever. And I moved into the major league, that of learning the programming required to produce an Interactive Computer Based Training program.

But that's another story, another time.

There never was a “Digital Diesels – Volume II.”