Wednesday, June 29, 2011

California Zephyr: Update

California Zephyr takes another hit. This time, the Missouri River flood is disrupting Amtrak service. The Associated Press reports Amtrak's Empire Builder route between St. Paul, Minnesota and Havre, Montana, was suspended since June 21 because of flooding along the Souris River in North Dakota. Amtrak says trains are offering limited service east and west of those points on the Empire Builder route.

Amtrak also says Missouri River flooding will temporarily disrupt its California Zephyr service on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Reno Gazette Journal has posted an interesting interview with Laurette Lee, the Amtrak conductor killed in the accident. She elaborates about her duties - and challenges - of being a conductor.

And we are learning more about the truck driver, Lawrence Valli, who rammed his vehicle into the California Zephyr. The Reno Gazette Journal continues to provide the best coverage, including this 14 page update.

Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board said Valli's cell phone was recovered at the crash site and was being sent to NTSB's laboratory in Washington, D.C., to determine if it was a distraction. He said investigators want to know whether Valli was preparing to send a text message or talking to anyone at the time of the crash.

Valli's sister, Jacquita Yu, 48, of Chino, California, also a professional driver, said her brother had worked for John Davis Trucking Co. in Battle Mountain for the last six months or so and been a professional driver for 10 years.

The Reno Gazette Journal has posted a slide show of NTSB investigators piecing together the wreckage of the Peterbilt tractor driven by Valli, as part of the accident investigation.

Monday, June 27, 2011

RIT's - Running into Trains

The recent accident in Nevada involving a tractor-trailer impaling the California Zephyr so far leaves more questions than answers. And It serves no useful purpose to speculate.

The Reno Gazette Journal filed one of the more complete accident accounts on their web site, including new video of the aftermath. The Journal keeps this page updated, so even though I posted on the 27th, the Journal has the latest available information.

Sadly, Amtrak conductor Laurette Lee, 68, was among the fatalities.

Ms Lee came from a railroad family. Her great-grandfather and grandfather worked on the railroad. Her brother is an Amtrak dispatcher. And her nephew an Amtrak conductor. The San Francisco Chronicle filed an in-depth article on Ms Lee and her love of railroading.

Statistics reveal that of the unpleasant encounters annually between rail and motor vehicle, 23% involve motor vehicles running into moving trains.

Those who keep accident statistics refer to these as "RIT" - Running into Trains.

For the most part, RIT's occur during hours of darkness, often exasperated by poor weather such as fog, snow, or rain.

As early as 1991, testing began on the Alaska Railroad and Norfolk Southern, to determine how retroreflective materials could increase the visibility of rolling stock.

In 1996, the FRA sponsored a study conducted by the University of Tennessee to explore various reflector patterns (colors and configuration) to improve the nighttime conspicuity of trains.

This study concluded that:

  • A standardized retro reflector pattern is beneficial to train recognition.
  • The pattern should be made of red and white reflectors.
  • The pattern should not be confused with roadway signs or reflectors from other objects such as trucks.
  • The pattern should communicate the size of the rail car through outlining or an even distribution.

As a result of these studies, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, issued a ruling - FRA 224 - in 2005, requiring retroreflective material on the sides of freight rolling stock, freight cars and locomotives.

Under the ruling, the mandatory schedule for applying reflectorization stipulates that all freight cars and locomotives must be reflectorized by May 31, 2015.

You may have noticed that even highway trailers have similar reflective patches. This is designed to delineate a trailer as it goes through an intersection, or when passing a trailer on the highway.

The National transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will do what it does and issue its findings in due time. Although they did issue a preliminary statement on Monday (June 27th):

There was a warning signal 897 feet before the crossing. The truck driver apparently slammed on his brakes, starting a skid mark on Highway 95 northbound that stretched 320 feet up to the tracks.

The truck was headed north on the road, which crosses the tracks at about a 45-degree angle. The road has a posted 70-mph speed limit. The truck could have required as much as 465 feet to stop if it was going the speed limit, according to widely used estimates.

The cab of the truck became stuck in the passenger car and was carried about half a mile down the tracks, where the train finally came to a rest.

And the American Trucking Association has released this statement:

"We were saddened by the tragic crash near Reno, Nev., last week and our sympathies go out to all those affected by it. With the trucking industry now operating as safe as it ever has, these incidents remind us there is certainly more to do.

American Trucking Associations has long been a supporter of efforts to educate commercial drivers, as well as the general motoring public, about the risks associated with railroad crossings and the importance of complying with warning lights and signals.

Sadly, reflective material could not forestall an accident happening on a beautiful sunny day, at a well-marked crossing, with virtually unlimited visibility.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Minot Missouri

Port Townsend, June 25 2011. So I was chatting a friend of mine Saturday afternoon. Our conversation eventually got to the flooding on the Missouri River. Knowing that I had taken an interest in reporting stuff the media overlooks, he asked me if I knew about the levee breaks on the Missouri River, causing flooding in Minot, North Dakota.

"Well Dave, Minot is not on the Missouri River."

So if Minot is not on the Missouri, what is causing the severe flooding of Minot?

While NBC did mention the Souris River, even if the audience caught the name "Souris," I would bet they would think it to be a tributary to the Missouri.

The Souris River is very unusual.
The river has it's headwaters in Canada, runs south, looping through Minot North Dakota, and then runs north, eventually ending up in Churchill Bay!

However, the residents of Minot North Dakota know all about the Souris River. The current record flooding comes only two months after the river caused a great deal of angst!

Minot's trouble begins at Cedoux, Saskatchewan, at the Yellow Grass Marshes, headwaters of the Souris River. ["Souris" from the French, means "mouse."]

The Souris travels southeasterly, crossing the border into North Dakota about 75 miles north of Minot.

By the time the Mouse reaches Minot, it is a classic struggling meandering river. Look closely at the Google Earth view, and note the torturous path the Souris weaves, bisecting the town of Minot. In this view, the river is flowing left to right.

Moreover, no less than five oxbows appear in this view!

Several oxbow lakes enunciate the river's history through Minot.

These days, the Souris is more like a raging lion than a timid mouse. Scroll down the page to see video shot from a helicopter. This video is among the most comprehensive inventory of flood damage posted on the Internet. The clip runs almost 8 minutes. It is appalling.

This graphic shows the river stage at 1561.9 feet overnight into Sunday (June 26th.) setting a new record flood level. The historic high-water was 1558 feet, recorded on New Year's Day, 1881.

Flooding is affecting more than 11,000 residents of Minot, inundating more than 4,500 homes. [Think about how a flood would affect your life.]

Leaving Minot, the Souris struggles southeasterly another 20 or 30 miles, before creeping into a northerly trace. She crosses the border a second time, entering Manitoba about 20 south of Melita.

Near Brandon Manitoba, the Souris joins the Assiniboine River, traveling east to join the Red River at Winnipeg. Those waterways, as well, have seen their share of headline space this year!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Willamette Geared Locomotive

Railroad Park, Dunsmuir, California. Thursday, May 12, 2011. Medford Corporation road Number 7 stands guard at the entrance to Railroad Park Motel. Still waiting to fill her tank with water. She has been waiting patiently since 1965.

Number 7 is one of six remaining Willamette Geared Locomotives. Six out of 33 produced - 18% of a locomotive type escaping the cutter's torch.

Willamette Iron & Steel opened their doors in 1865. Located on the western bank of the Willamette River, adjacent to downtown Portland, Oregon, Willamette became a well-respected manufacture of steam powered logging equipment - yarder's, skidder's, donkeys, et al.

While many rail fans are familiar with Willamette Iron & Steel building logging equipment and geared locomotives, they are not aware of the companies shipbuilding expertise, contributing significantly to the War Effort.

Willamette Iron & Steel built a number of vessels for the US Navy, including a goodly number of AM's (Auxiliary Minesweepers,) APL's (non self-propelled barracks ships,) and PCE's (Patrol Craft Escort.) Click on AG-72, Parris Island to see her history.

I caught these views of the Alaska State Ferry "Malaspina" being lengthed by 56 feet to 408' at Willamette Iron & Steel in 1972. (Never went out in my boat without a camera!)

Willamette Iron & Steel obviously enjoyed innovative management. "Thinkers," as we used to say, "who thought outside the box." While busily involved in the logging equipment market, they began building an experience base, performing maintenance and repairs on regional locomotives.

Timber operators chose Willamette in Portland for locomotive repair and servicing, rather than endure the time and expense of sending equipment from the Pacific Northwest all the way back to Lima, Ohio!

And, from these experiences, they began to write down all the improvements operators wanted to see, in the Lima locomotive. Long story short, in November 1922, the first Willamette Geared Locomotive was delivered to Coos Bay Lumber Company.

It is not correct to call her a "Willamette Shay." "Shay" is a trademark owned by Lima Locomotive Works. She is a "Shay type." But the correct nomenclature is "Willamette Geared Locomotive."

Hutchinson Lumber #5, Construction Number 9, delivered July 3, 1923

Willamette Iron & Steel offered three "shay type" locomotive models:
  • 50-2. 50 ton, 2- truck, 11" diameter cylinders, with 13" stroke.
  • 70-3. 70 ton, 3-truck, 12" diameter cylinders, with 15" stroke. 75-3.
  • 75 ton. 3-truck, 12½" diameter cylinders, with 15" stroke.
Construction Number 21 was built as a model 70-3 for the Anderson-Middleton Lumber Company in Cottage Grove Oregon. She was delivered February 20, 1926, as Road Number Two.

Road Number Two was an oil burner, providing superheated steam at 200 psi, providing 31,968 pounds of tractive effort, with a gear ratio of 2.368:1. Subsequently,
  • Sold 1933 to Western Lumber, West Fir (on SP's Natron Cutoff, near Oakridge Oregon)
  • Sold 1936 to Westfir Lumber Company, Westfir
  • Sold 1946 to Edward Hines Lumber, Westfir.
  • Rebuilt in Salem and sold 1949 to Medford Corporation, road number 7, Medford Oregon.
  • Retired and sold 1965 to Railroad Park, Dunsmuir California.

You may hear someone refer to a Willamette Locomotive as a "Pacific Coast Shay." Not so. Willamette Iron and Steel being located on the West or Pacific Coast may cause the confusion.

The "Pacific Coast Shay" was designed and built by Lima Locomotive Works. Actually, Lima's "Pacific Coast" model, incorporated improvements Willamette had incorporated on Lima in the "Willamette Geared" locomotive design!

The overall decline in orders as logging companies moved toward the use of motor vehicles rather than rail, resulted in Willamette shuttering their locomotive line. The last locomotive, Construction Number 34, was delivered to J. Neils Lumber Company of Klickitat, Washington on December 27, 1929.

For several years, I traveled from Vancouver (Washington) to the Bay Area attending trade shows. I always planned my trip to include an overnighter at Railroad Park in Dunsmuir, California.

The motel features a number of boxcars and cabeese, converted to overnight accommodations, with stunning interiors.

It is amazing what can be built inside a steel boxcar or caboose! The wife and I kept track of the units we stayed in, so that we could enjoy the various floor plans. Six-thousand foot high Castle Crags and Little Castle Creek, provide a stunning backdrop for this interesting motel.

SP 8530 Tunnel Motor running crew change Dunsmuir April 1991

Another good reason to overnight in Dunsmuir; originally know as "Pusher," it is a great place to enjoy heavy-duty mountain railroading. Built by Southern Pacific, back in my day, gaggles of SD-45's and SD-9's were growling up and down the mountain. And before my day, a round house full of gnarly cab-aheads, awaiting assignment on the Cantera Loop. It is Union Pacific now.

I appreciate my good buddy Jim and his wife for providing the photos of Number 7. They made a trip to the Bay Area in May, and agreed to stop off and take photos for me.

Sparing the details, I lost more than 18,000 files, spanning almost five years, several months ago. Amongst the loss, all the photos taken by my late wife and I during our many great stopover's in Dunsmuir.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Our Friend the Atom:" Power Plants in Harms Way

Are you old enough to remember who this is and what movie this frame is taken from?

Of course you recognize Walt Disney and you remember this frame from the opening scene of "Our Friend the Atom," released in 1957.

I remember this very well, because the film was shown at a general assembly we had in Junior High. The film was presented by a fellow from the Atomic Energy Commission. And following the film, I introduced myself to the gentleman, and invited him to dinner at our house.

Later, when I had the chance, I called Mom to let her know we were having a special guest for dinner! Like most of my peer group, I was totally excited about the possibilities from "Our Friend, the Atom."

While the "media" is all jammed up with the republican presidential "Court Jester-of-the- Day" shenanigans, the Missouri River relentlessly continues to threaten citizens and infrastructure.

The most serious situation involves not one, but two nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is closely monitoring both power stations:

  • Fort Calhoun Station, Unit 1
  • Cooper Nuclear Station

Fort Calhoun Station, Unit 1
  • Location: Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, 19 miles NE Omaha
  • Power Output: 500 MWe (mega watt electric*)
  • Owner: Omaha Public Power District Reactor
  • Model: Combustion Engineering
  • Reactor Type: Pressurized Water Reactor (PRW)
  • Commissioned: August 1973
  • Status: Shut down since April for "maintenance."
  • Complete NRC Profile.

Cooper Nuclear Station
  • Location: Brownville, Nebraska
  • Power Output: 830 MWe
  • Owner: Nebraska Public Power District Reactor
  • Model: General Electric Type 4
  • Reactor Type: Boiling Water Reactor (BWR)
  • Commissioned: January 1974
  • Status: Notification of Unusual Event (see "Emergency Classes" below)
  • Complete NRC Profile.

While plant operators display the "happy face smile," they know that the public is not in a "trust me mood," given the recent experience at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
  • As you recall the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese government's sharing of critical information with the public alternated between incomplete, confusing, and contradictory. Moreover, the emergency is on going!
  • Cooper Nuclear Station is the same design, Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), and commissioned the same year, 1974, as Fukushima.
  • And, the British Navy is replacing the BWR type reactors in future submarine construction.

Based on NRC regulations, licensees classify incidents according to the plant conditions and the level of risk to the public. Nuclear power plants, for example, use four emergency classifications:

  • Notification of Unusual Event - Under this category, events are in process or have occurred that indicate a potential decline in the level of safety of the plant. No release of radioactive material requiring offsite response or monitoring is expected at that time.
  • Alert - If an alert is declared, events are in process or have occurred that involve an actual or potentially substantial decline in the level of plant safety. However, any release of radioactive material is expected to be only a small fraction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protective action guidelines.
  • Site Area Emergency - A site area emergency involves events in progress or which have occurred that result in an actual or likely a major failure of the plant's ability to protect the public. Any releases of radioactive material are not expected to exceed the EPA guidelines except near the site boundary.
  • General Emergency - A general emergency involves actual or imminent severe damage or melting of radioactive fuel in the reactor core with the potential for loss of containment integrity. Radioactive releases during a general emergency can be expected to exceed the EPA guidelines beyond the immediate site area. (From the NRC Blog Site)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has requested "no fly zones" over both plants, citing "the possibility of news planes colliding with each other."


This story is still evolving. Remember, these record flood levels are projected to continue into August! Flood control structures are going to be under considerable stress for several weeks.

Do you know where your nearest Nuclear Power Plant is located? The NRC stores a wealth of information on a plant near you!

The Physicians for Social Responsibility has an interesting web site, wherein you can generate maps showing danger zones surrounding nuclear facilities. If you live near one, you may find interesting information on this site.

* Megawatt electric; electric output of a power plant in megawatt. The electric output of a power plant is equal to the thermal overall power multiplied by the efficiency of the plant. The power plant efficiency of light water reactors amounts to 33 to 35% compared to up to 40% for modern coal-, oil- or gas-fired power plants. (ENS - European Nuclear Society)

See Also:
Missouri River: The Second Coming
Missouri River: Two-Lane Freeway
Longest River Quiz

Monday, June 20, 2011

Semi-Annual Reader Survey - Writer's Tools

Well the results have been tabulated for the semi-annual "Oil-Electric Reader Survey."

The question I was most interested in asked, "How did you find Oil-Electric." I suspected from my site monitor that "Oil-Electric" is pointed to by searching Google Images. That was validated with 15% responding that they found "Oil-Electric" by accessing Google Images.

But the biggest surprise was that "Oil-Electric" was visited because of referrals from other Blogs.

Another interesting extrapolation is that 75% of our readers are over the age of 50. And that may help to explain the almost zero interest in "hybrid" locomotives. What do you think?

Only one individual expressed "more interest in railroading than our flood coverage." But had to admit it was "somewhat" interesting. Daily readership shot up since we began covering the floods on the Mississippi and Missouri.

I attribute that to the fact we reported greater detail and "behind the scenes" material than local media.

And not only did the readership increase, but the length of time spent on the blog dramatically increased, which I extrapolate to mean, people are reading the links as well as the article. Click logo to access survey.

Writer's Tools

I spend 8 to 12 hours per day working on current articles and researching future topics. I follow a process honed over many years as an Instructional Designer. The process begins brainstorming in "Inspiration," a program for instructional designers. Inspiration creates an outline.
  • Outline become Rough Script 1 in Word
  • Refinement creates Rough Script 2
  • Critical evaluation of visuals required to illustrate the article.
  • Send emails to obtain permissions to use photographs.
  • Process all graphic and visuals in PhotoShop Elements.
  • Convert Word doc in Notepad to strip all MS Word funky coding.
  • Enter script into Blogger as dos text file.
  • Reformat in Blogger.
  • Connect all links to external web sites.
  • Download visuals into Blogger.
  • Test publication to insure hyperlinks function correctly and photographs are positioned properly.
I enjoy writing. It exercises my brain and challenges my ability to communicate clearly. And in the end, I hope you enjoy the articles, and perhaps learn something new!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Longest River Quiz

Port Townsend, today. For the past week, we have been running a quiz, asking readers to pick "the longest river." Their choices were:

  • Colorado (3)
  • Columbia (0)
  • Mississippi (8)
  • Missouri (5)
  • Yukon (5)
Reader "votes" are contained in the brackets.

However, based on "official" records from the United States Geological Survey, the longest rivers, in descending order are:

Named after the North American Indian Tribe, Missouria, the Missouri River's place in American history begins, as you recall from your high school history class, with explorers Jaques Marquette and Louis Joliet.

They discovered the Missouri in 1673, naming it the "Peki-tan River" on early French maps.

The Missouri became part of the American conversation with the Lewis and Clark "Voyage of Discovery," which began in St. Louis on May 14, 1804.

Testimony once again that "Oil-Electric" goes beyond the headline "to edify and elucidate."