Thursday, May 16, 2019

New Socks - Unfortunate Name

In case you don't get it:

Imagine, as a spelling-challenged male, looking down at this in the morning from a body-length away, past extra chins and a dunlop, (Done lopped over my belt.) with aged eyes not yet fully up to speed for the day AND you're old enough to have been noticing a decrease in certain biological processes to the point where now, more often than not, morning wood is what happens when you crack your head on the bed-side table trying to heave your stiff and aching grossness up in the morning.

All in all, a rather insulting way to begin the day. . .

Monday, May 13, 2019

Getting the Freight up Mesa Hill: 08:04 - 11:31: Part 2

Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad

Getting down the hill is a slow process at any time, and even more so when backing, and is always stressful regardless of the direction the train is going.

But now is not the time to sigh in relief because they still have plenty of work to do. Already at 10 pounds, Tom makes another 10 pound reduction to the train-line to firmly anchor them in place, then whistles a long and three shorts. This is the signal for Dean to go down the track and flag the rear of the stopped train. He doesn’t whistle for Ronald to go forward to protect the front because the trainman is already climbing down the ladder with flag and fusees in hand.

Deviating from the plan slightly, Tom leaves Jake to tend the fire and work the injector to fill the boiler back up again while he climbs down with a brake-club in hand, a 3’ length of tough hickory, and walks back along the train. He passes up the first three cars then climbs up on each succeeding car and, using his club through the spokes of the brake-wheels for extra leverage, he ties down the brakes, hard, on each one, then sets the retainers to HP.

By the time he gets to the house-car Otis has drug a heavy chain out of the possum belly, the toolbox slung under the house-car, dumped it in a clanging heap on the ballast, and is busy with his own brake-club punching a hole through the ballast between a couple of ties at about the mid-point of the house-car.

“I thought you were going to send Jake back here,” Otis says between grunts as he stabs the club into the resistant ballast, gripping it hard with his arthritic hands.

“Jake’s not the one that just hand-over-handed this train down the mountain. I figured burning off some of the stress of that would do me more good than it would him.” Then he gets down on all-fours and starts humping the heavy chain under the car.

Otis can’t figure how crawling under a car on a train stopped on a grade can be any less stressful than backing that train down the same grade, but he doesn’t say anything.

While Tom is looping one end of the chain over the thick forward axle of the rear truck Otis is snaking the other end through the hole he has created in the ballast under the rail. The two men then pull the ends together and thread two thick bolts through adjoining links, running the nuts up tight with wrenches produced from the possum-belly. Because his heavy gauntlet gloves are thicker than the normal work-gloves the trainmen wear, Tom has to remove them for this last part of the operation and the flaked metal of the chain bites at his hands. Rather than pull the chain tight, they have left a slight gravity-induced sag in it. That way Otis will be able to tell at a glance if the cars have shifted on the track since the slack will pull out if that happens.

On a lessor grade they wouldn’t have bothered, but here in Wild Woman Canyon chaining down the cars that will be left behind as they double the first part of the train up the hill is a final defense against them getting loose and heading back down towards Big Timber on their own.

While all this is going on Dean has trotted down the track behind them with flag in hand and fusees in his pocket. He stops when he’s somewhere between a third and a half mile away, out of sight around the next curve. From here any trains that inexplicably get past Cloe and are clawing up the hill under the impression that the Freight is still on its time-table schedule and well out of the way will be able to see him from a good quarter-mile away and have plenty of time to stop before running into Otis’s house-car. Ronald has done the same out in front of the train, only he goes out farther since anything that is coming down the hill (Without proper authority since the hill is technically theirs until they reach Rockhouse!) will have to fight gravity while it is dragged to a stop so will need more distance.

Tom and Otis, finished with literally tying the train down, the part that will be left behind anyway, walk forward. Otis stops when they get to the front of the ore jenny, which, along with the empty gon and house-car, and Otis himself, will be staying behind, and before giving the cut-bar on the jenny a couple of quick jerks to coax the pin out of its pocket, closes the angle-cock on the rear of the boxcar loaded with lumber that got them into this mess in the first place.

By leaving the angle-cock on the front of the jenny open, when they break the train the cars to be left behind will be dynamited which will add the volume of the emergency reservoirs on the two AB cars, the jenny and house-car, to the brake’s holding power, which means it will take that much longer before any leak in the system will have an effect.

Tom continues towards the engine, climbing up on each car they will be taking with them to ensure the retainers are knocked off, or set to the EX position. In all the excitement it would be easy to leave a valve in the wrong position and last thing they need going back up the mountain is retained brakes!

Back at the engine Tom taps out 5 shorts which bounce up the canyon walls to call Ronald back,* then he and Jake prepare to get their shortened train started, which isn’t going to be easy since where they are sitting may be flatter, but it certainly isn’t flat. Nothing in this canyon is flat. But with a train weighing only 245 tons now, pulling Wild Woman Loop should be doable, as long as they can get it started. To ensure every bit of power possible Jake has run the boiler pressure up enough to lift the poppets with a hot fire burning under full blower.

*Dean will remain where he is to flag the rear of the train but the first section of the train will act as front-protection for the remainder as they go up the hill.

If the grade ahead wasn’t so challenging, rather than call Ronald back Tom would just roll up to where he is flagging and pick him up on the fly, saving the trainman some legwork, but when he gets rolling he wants to get as much speed on the train as he can to attack the grade, and if he leaves Ronald too far up the track he might have to slow the train to make it safe for Ronald to swing aboard. But he can still save the trainman a few steps so as soon as he sees Ronald coming around Parson’s Nose Tom whistles off and releases the service brakes on the first three cars.

He eases his shortened train backwards by gradually backing off independent until he has run in all the slack by leaning on the cars that will remain behind. Then he drops the Johnson-Bar into the hole, releases the independent, and starts working the steam.

Despite the challenge this is not Tom’s first rodeo and he manages to get the train started smoothly, one car at a time.* Finally the box of lumber pulls away from the ore jenny, dynamiting the three cars that will remain behind with the familiar hissing  roar.

*It’s often said that steamers can’t start what they can pull and the new diesel-electrics can’t pull what they can start. Unlike the diesel-electrics which can lay their full power down on the track, in the form of torque, from a dead stop, but have a fixed amount of horsepower to keep that train moving as it trades torque for speed, steamers develop their horsepower in direct proportion to the number of cylinder strokes per minute and from a dead stop that number is very low, but once the train is moving the faster a steamer goes the more horsepower it produces. (Up until they jump the tracks or bits start flying off that is!)

Ronald swings up easily as they go by him at a fast trot and soon they are once again climbing up through Ellison Tunnel where the acrid smoke from the stack engulfs the cab and makes lungs burn and eyes water. By the time they approach the base of the steepest grade the 46” drivers are pounding out nearly 10 MPH, double what they were doing on the first attempt.  When they get to the spot where they spun out the better part of an hour ago they are still moving at a respectable 7 MPH and as they pull through the curve of Wild Woman Loop they are making 4 MPH.

The tracks up through the canyon are the most spectacular of the line and in between the business of running the train Tom reminds himself to enjoy the ride.

Wild Woman Canyon is narrow. A deep fracture that cuts through the flank of Mesa Hill’s imposing heights from northwest to southeast. It’s lined with forest and dappled with clear, fast-falling streams.

Originally the tracks bypassed the rugged, steep-walled canyon and instead used a series of switchbacks to mount the flank of Mesa Hill. But negotiating the switchbacks was slow and shoving a string of cars, empties or loads, backwards up the grade of every-other leg of the switchbacks was always a dicey prospect and frequently resulted in cars on the ground which resulted in even more delays and generally creating quite a bottleneck.

So it wasn’t long before the surveyors were sent back to the hill, followed by track crews, this time with plenty of dynamite for blasting ledges into the hard, nearly vertical rock they encountered.  Now, instead of bypassing the mouth of the canyon, the tracks curve into the narrow canyon and wind up along the east wall on what is often just a narrow ledge blasted out of the rock.

Once the tracks ease around Parson’s Nose and then cut through a larger, yet unnamed, occlusion into the canyon via Ellison Tunnel, the canyon starts to widen out a little as the walls get lower, which is really just the tracks getting higher.

Here, near the head of Wild Woman Canyon, where the track is at its steepest, is also where it makes its sharpest curve of the entire line as it makes a full loop, coiling around from the east side of the canyon, across a curved wooden trestle, and doubling back along the west side, clawing its way those last few feet up and out of the canyon the whole way, then crossing back over it once again on the DP’s longest and highest bridge, and its only steel trestle. A long, tall, spindly affair not for the faint of heart.  Finally leaving the canyon behind, the tracks double back on themselves one more time on a (thankfully) more relaxed curve before summiting Mesa Hill and rolling into Rockhouse.

If you know where to look, especially in late fall and early spring, there are places from which you can still see the scars of the original switchbacks. The new route isn’t any less steep, and is actually slightly longer, than the original, but at least the trains can traverse it while running forward the whole way.

Normally they would take the main in Rockhouse because that’s where the spur to the quarry where they will set out the empty gon is at, but the Station Agent, another Tom, is there at the west switch, waiving them into the siding instead.

Having been alerted by Cloe to the possibility of them having to double the hill, and when they didn’t show up on time, figuring that’s exactly what happened, station agent Tom puts them into the siding so they can leave the first half of their train there out of the way while they go back for the rest, which includes the gon they will be setting out on the quarry track. This will simplify the switching moves to come.

As they make the final approach to Rockhouse, named for the rock-walled house one of the first settlers in the area built, the remains of which still stand, Jake uses the injector to fill the hard-working boiler up to the 2/3rds mark of the sight-glass. Once stopped, and with the boiler as full as they’re going to want it while backing back down the grade, both Tom and Jake climb up and check the water level in the tender.

“I think we got enough,” Jake says.

Tom looks down the open hatch once more.

“OK,” he says. “Let’s do it.”

The ‘it’ they are going to do is go back and fetch the rest of their train without topping up the water in the tender first. This will make the engine lighter for the trip back down the canyon, good for saving brakes, and also gets them back to the precariously stranded cars that much quicker.  Lighter isn’t normally a good thing when it comes to engines which rely on weight to gain adhesion between wheels and rail, but in this case it will be the tender that is lighter and the drivers, which carry most the weight of the boiler and cab will be just as heavy as always.

Backing down the hill with just the engine is a lot easier than with a train, but now, lighter or not, they only have one set of brakes to rely on. On top of that, with no trailing pony-truck to guide the drivers while moving backwards, and no heavy train behind tugging the engine into line, the Consolidations tend to lurch and hunt their way down the tracks, bouncing the flanges off first one rail then the other, the rotating flanges threatening to climb the inside of the rail each time and put the engine on the ground. So it’s not a quick trip, especially when tip-toeing across the steel bridge way up there in the air.

It takes a lot of skill, and if done wrong can literally tie an engine in knots to the point of destroying the rods and valve-gear, but to keep from overheating the brakes, requiring time-sucking stops to cool them, once they are across the steel bridge and into the steepest part of the Wild Woman Loop, Tom ‘gooses’ the engine, which is forbidden on most railroads. (The DP does not condone it but at the same time there is nothing in the rulebook of this mountain railroad explicitly forbidding the practice either.)

With the engine rolling backwards and the brakes heating up, Tom eases the Johnson Bar a couple notches forward and gingerly feeds a little steam to the cylinders. The effect is similar to downshifting a car, but in this case the backpressure controlling their speed comes directly from the boiler as Tom literally tries to run the engine forward while it is going backwards. (The very earliest engines didn’t have brakes and this was the only way of stopping them, unless you had the time and space to drift to a stop on friction alone.) The trick is to feed the cylinders just enough steam to resist the movement of the pistons, but not so much that one or the other of the pistons actually reverses against the direction of travel.

Finally they ease back around Parson’s Nose. Ronald dropping off before they do to flag the front while Tom and Jake ease the rest of the way back and couple up to the remains of their train. Because the retainers have been set to HP, once the train-line is connected Tom can set the service brakes to run and charge the train-line and all the reservoirs back up to full pressure without actually releasing the brakes.  But because they dynamited the brakes when they left, it takes a while to pump a full head of air back into the reservoirs.

This time, while the train-line charges it's Jake who walks back and ducks under the house-car to release the chain which he and Otis wrestle out from under and heave back into the possum-belly.

With that job finished, the train-line back to full pressure, Otis up on the house-car, and Jake standing safely to the side, Tom sets the brakes again so Jake can turn all the retainers back to EX.

When Jake climbs down off that last car Tom sounds 4 longs to call Dean back to the train.

The whistle signal, which Dean, who has been sitting on a rail all alone here in the canyon for what seems like forever, has been anxiously waiting on, echoes down the canyon. Before he starts back Dean lights a fusee and drops it so the spike on the end sticks into a tie, holding it upright. The fusee will burn bright red for 10 minutes so any train coming up the hill will know that there is a stopped or slow train less than 10 minutes in front of them.

Even though he is more than ready to get out of here it takes a healthy chunk of those 10 minutes for Dean to make the uphill climb back to the train.

With most the crewmembers back on board and finally ready to get underway Tom whistles off and just as the house-car starts to roll Dean expertly drops another lit fusee from the rear platform, using its weight and momentum to stick its nail into a tie and hold the flaming marker upright. This will let any following train that comes across it while it’s still burning know that #420 is still right there ahead of them.

Once they've collect Ronald from his flagging position on the other side of Parson's Nose Tom starts adding speed again.

Compared to the previous run, this time the trip back up the canyon with a train weighing little more than 100 tons is a breeze and the flanges squeal loudly as they take Wild Woman Loop at a full 7 MPH, about as fast as you ever want to go around this turn with empty cars, but even so, by the time they drift to a stop on the main at Rockhouse they are running almost exactly two hours behind schedule. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Dude! Ya Kinda Gota Move!

It's that time of year.

Love is in the air and the critters are on the move.

Short, fat copperheads hiding out along-side the trails in the litter of last fall's leaves.

Leaves that rustle just below your feet as these guys (usually anyway) head the other way as fast as they can go.  (Two so far this season.)

Since they don't like sitting still long enough for me to scrabble my phone out of my pocket, get it unlocked, find the camera app, and aim, these first two photo's are not mine.

Or the long and lean Corals that don't need to hide as they silently, but flashily slip out of the way. (One so far.)

But I'm not sure what the deal was with this Texas Rat Snake (Grumpy but harmless).

I was huffing down the trail at a brisk 3 to 4 miles per hour and didn't notice this guy until I was actually stepping over him. He chose to just lay there without moving and it wasn't until my foot had passed through the airspace just above him that I registered that this stick laying there was unnaturally dark. (And no, there was no screaming or leaping or freaking out. I have a subdued startle-reflex, something that I apparently share with psychopaths, which kinda sucks.)

And nearly getting trod on apparently didn't phase him at all because he just stayed right were he was as I dragged my phone out, got past the security, found the app, and snapped this photo.

It wasn't until after I got down and dirty for this closeup that he finally curled back on himself and slipped off into the woods.

Edit: (After I write my posts I schedule them to release sometime in the future so as to avoid announcing where I am and where I am not. This keeps them available for updates and revisions, sometimes for several weeks, before they actually post.) Unlike the noisy Copperheads, which are ambush hunters, these Rat snakes, which are stalkers, are astonishingly quiet, even in last year's dried leaves. Just today  I came across another one in the trail, the full length of him in the trail. I took my eyes off him long enough to find and tap the camera app and when I looked up - nothing. It was like he was never there. I was standing less than 5 feet away yet he just vanished without a whisper of sound.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Getting the Freight up Mesa Hill: 08:04 - 11:31: Part 1

Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad

October 20 1954: 08:04 – 11:31

Though just 12 track-miles away, getting a train from Big Timber to Rockhouse is not easy.

Mesa Hill sits between the two and, despite its somewhat benign name, is not a hill so much as it is part of an imposing escarpment that sweeps in an arc from beyond Bug Scuffle Hill in the south to well past Goblers Knob in the north and separates the upper valley, known as Russian Flats for reasons no one seems to remember, from tilted eastern edge of the basin that Big Timber and Appleford rest on. Under normal circumstances it takes an hour and a half to wrestle heavy trains up the nearly 1000 foot altitude gain.

Today Tom and Jake work the engine for all it’s worth in an attempt to stick to that hour and a half schedule, but it is not to be. As Tom suspects, despite what the numbers say, the train is just too heavy for 1428 today. There is more force dragging him backwards than the engine can lay down on the rails.


Just as they enter the mouth of Wild Woman Canyon, where things really start getting hairy, where the track uncharacteristically rides smooth around the approach curve because the track-gang just replaced the ties and un-kinked the rails last spring, Jake sands the flues by holding a couple scoops of sand from the box by the front-sheet of the tender* up to the porthole above the firedoors.

*In addition to holding sand used for clearing the flues, or as a seat for an extra rider, this box serves, arguably, an even more important function. Unlike the house-car which has a proper toilet, even if it does drop its ‘business’ straight down a pipe onto the tracks, up in the engine the sandbox is the engine-crew’s only available ‘convenience’. (Not only is standing above the ladder at the rear of the cab and peeing over the side a good way to get yourself thrown off the train by its motion, but because you generally end up peeing all over the handrails below in the process it’s also a good way to get yourself thrown off by a fellow crew member!)

 Because the engine is working hard the dry sand (‘Wet’ sand is immediately scooped up by the wetter and tossed over the side.) is drawn off the scoop by the strong draft and sucked through the flues, scouring at any soot that might have collected in them. Much of this sand blows blackly out the stack, (This is a good time for the engine crew to pull their bandanas up over noses, snug their Kromer* down over their head and make sure their goggles are on as the sooty sand ejected out the stack falls out of the sky.) but some of it simply falls to the bottom of the smoke-box where condensation turns it into a gummy black sludge that the lowest man on the roundhouse totem-pole has to climb in and shovel out. Though this isn’t the worst job the usually young and still skinny machinist apprentice has to deal with. That’s wriggling through the small opening concealed behind the firebox doors to chip away at the carbon and tarry sludge that gathers on and around the fuel delivery pipe at the forward end of the firing pan. This usually has to be done, according to the roundhouse foreman anyway, while the firebricks are still radiating enough heat to slow-roast a turkey.  

*Around the turn of the century railroader George Kromer decided the traditional baseball cap could be improved on to better suit the needs of the railroader. He and his wife Ida, an accomplished seamstress, designed a soft, flexible cap that would stay on the head in the winds of railroading with an equally soft visor that would shield the eyes yet flex rather than lift the hat off the head. In addition to an absorbent sweatband on the inside, Ida also added an outside band that can be pulled down over the ears. She sewed up this hat out of what she had on hand, some inexpensive blue and white pinstriped pillow ticking. The hat was so popular that it wasn’t long before George left railroading to help his wife run their hat company which still exists today.

Sanding the flues improves the heat-transfer into the boiler water which helps Jake keep the pressure up. And right now Jake's goal is to hold that pressure just under ‘popping the poppets’ so they have maximum oomph available for clawing up the hill.

Not long after they go through the damp and dripping Ellison Tunnel where Jake turns the blower on full to counteract the backpressure in the stack because of the low ceiling, Tom has the Johnson Bar in the corner and the throttle wide open. He also has the steam jets, a feature that, as far as he knows, is unique to the DP, blowing leaves, debris, and any oil residue off the tracks before the drivers can roll over it.

Just behind the forward-facing steam jets the rearward-facing sander tubes are dribbling a thin, steady stream of the traction-improving grit just a couple inches in front of the drivers that are ponderously clawing at the rail.*

*It takes a delicate touch to sand properly. A little bit of sand improves traction but too much is like coating the rail with marbles. On newer engines the sand is ejected out of duck-mouthed pipes and into the narrow gap between wheel and rail by steam, but on the old steamers the DP runs the sand simply falls down the tube and onto the rail a few inches in front of the wheel. Depending on conditions this gives time for some of the sand to be blown off the rail before the wheel gets there. Since Tom can’t see what’s happening down there just in front of the wheels he has to rely on feel and experience to determine just how much sand he should be dropping.

But despite their efforts Tom can feel a stall coming anyway in the way the engine is shuddering, but before that happens she ‘gets light on her feet’ as the drivers slip instead, suddenly spinning on the rail, shaking the engine like a dog shakes a rag-doll, and blowing steam and smoke high into the sky as the slow chuff out the stack suddenly becomes a rapid tat-tat-tat. Tom snaps the throttle closed then quickly opens it most the way again, allowing the drivers to get their feet back but also trying to catch the momentum and get them pulling again. But it doesn’t matter how he finesses the throttle or the sand, the drivers can’t keep their grip and what little momentum the train has bleeds off until he is forced to set the brakes.

He dumps the full 20 pounds to set them hard. It would not be a good thing to start rolling back down the hill until they are ready!

Once the smoke, and their nerves, settle the crew executes the plan Otis had gone over with them in case this happened. To make it up the grade they will have to "double the hill". This means leaving some of the cars behind, dragging the lightened train up the final miles to Rockhouse, then come back and collect the remaining cars.

They are, of course, clinging to the steepest grade on the railroad and this is no place to leave cars sitting. If they start rolling backwards here, which is a strong possibility, they are guaranteed to become an uncontrollable runaway and eventually go flying off the track. What they need to do right now is back the train, under control, down to a flatter part of the track. But backing a train down a grade, especially a steep, twisting grade, is not like backing a car down the driveway. It is a tricky job and must be done carefully.

That’s why Dean and Ronald scramble along the cars and set the retainers on cars number 1, 3 and 5, counting backwards from the engine, to SD, which, since the retainer valves are located adjacent to the handbrake wheels, requires climbing up the ladder on each car.

Retainers are valves on the brake cylinder’s exhaust line and in the normal, or ‘direct exhaust’ (EX), position they are wide open, allowing air to exhaust normally from the cylinder to release the brakes as if there was no retainer at all. But there are two other settings for the retainer, a ‘Hold Pressure’ (HP) that holds the pressure in the brake cylinder even after the brakes have been released, kind of the opposite of the cutout valve, and a ‘Slow Discharge’ (SD). This position allows air to exhaust from the brake cylinder when the brakes are released, but very slowly, holding the brakes for a while after a release.

Now, with retainers set to SD on three of the train’s 6 cars, when Tom releases the brakes the train won’t immediately shoot backwards. Instead the retained cars will hold the train for a bit, then once the train does start to slip backwards the retained cars will initially help control train speed because the brakes are still engaged, though gradually backing off. This gives the train-line added time to recharge the auxiliary reservoirs before the next brake application is needed.  

With Ronald back aboard and sitting on top of the tender where he can watch the cars to make sure they behave, Tom looks back down his side of the train to confirm that Otis is on the rear platform of the house-car where he can guide Tom down track which he can’t see. Jake calls out to confirm that Dean has made it back to the house-car and is on the front platform watching out for the cars from his end.

Not until then does Tom tap out three shorts and release the brakes. Over the sudden clatter of the compressor working to recharge the train-line, he hears the clunking of brakes releasing on the un-retained cars being echoed off the sheer rock wall just a few feet from their left side.

For a while nothing happens, except that the engine and tender, their brakes also released, nudge back into the still stopped train. But after a bit there is a groan as the retained brakes start to slip and the train slowly starts to roll backwards. At this point Tom ‘drifts’ the cylinders by pulling the Johnson-Bar back by one notch and cracking the throttle, not to push the train, (Which certainly doesn’t need any pushing right now!) but to keep the cylinders from sucking in dusty air through packing-glands by feeding them a little steam to prevent a vacuum.

As they slip back down the mountain the retained brakes ease off more and more and their speed starts climbing until Tom adds more brake by dumping 8 pounds. This seems to stop their acceleration, but isn’t noticeably slowing the train and the cars are rocking and the backwards-running engine is hunting from side to side. On top of that the brakes are heating up, making them less effective. Tom dumps another 4 pounds and the train finally starts to slow, though it isn’t long before the brakes are grinding and squealing and the cab is filling with the stink of burning shoes.

 Here’s the part where the pucker-factor gets real.

If Tom reacts too soon it will add significantly to the time it’s going to take to get them down the mountain, time during which any number of things can go wrong. If he waits too long, the brakes and wheels will overheat and - well, that doesn’t bear thinking about.

On his feet now Tom is leaning far out his window, watching, smelling, and feeling his train as it fights gravity. At a point well beyond where most of the crew would have done it, he finally drops the train-line pressure enough to dump the full 50 pounds into the brake cylinders.

With heart pounding despite his confidence, he watches the ground below his window carefully. With the smell of cooking brakes wafting into the cab and the shrieking grind of metal on metal assaulting his ears, he eyes the leaf-covered ballast as it slips by his window slower and slower, his hand on the whistle-cord ready to initiate his last-ditch option if it starts speeding up again. (Pull a series of shorts on the whistle to signal Otis to use his dump-valve to, hopefully, trigger the emergency reservoirs on the three AB equipped cars in the consist in the hope that just might slow them enough to improve the crew’s chances of survival when they jump off the train, signaled by Tom tying the whistle-cord down into one long wailing cry.)

With a final squealing groan from stressed metal and sigh of relief from stressed crew, the ground finally stops moving past his window. They will sit here and let the brakes and wheels, which have heated to the point where they are blue, cool down.

In the meantime Dean and Ronald climb down and walk through the smoke of hot brakes, carefully since the roadbed here, clinging to a blasted shelf, isn’t much wider than the train itself, setting all the retainers to HP. That way the brakes will stay set hard when Tom pulls the brake lever back to the release position and closely watches the train-line pressure gauge as he charges the reservoirs back up as quickly as possible.

By the time the needle creeps up close to 70 pounds and Tom shifts the brake lever to run to let the regulator finish topping up the pressure the brakes aren’t smoking near as bad as they were, but are still pretty hot. Too hot to rely on but, as soon as the train-line is showing a solid 70 pounds Tom sets the brakes with a 20 pound reduction.

Because the retainers are all set to HP the brakes are already set so this actually uses very little air from the auxiliaries. Now Dean and Ronald can walk the train once more, climbing each car’s ladder to release the retainers on cars 1, 3, and 5 who’s brakes and wheels are the most stressed, and setting those on cars 2, 4, and the house-car to SP.

When Tom judges the brakes to be cooled down enough, about another 10 minutes, he whistles off and releases them again. This time, since virtually no air was used from the reservoirs during the last set, the air-compressor settles back down again before the retained brakes back off enough to let the train resume slipping down the mountain.

Again, using his judgment to determine just when, Tom resets the brakes to control their speed, first with 8 pounds, then an additional 4.

When the track is about to level out some, or at least get less steep, and with the train slowing to a crawl on the 12 pound set, Tom releases the brakes and lets the three retained cars hold it while the trainline pressure is pumped back up. With the speed climbing but the reservoirs charged back up he resets the brakes, but with only an 8 pound reduction as they have made it safely off the steepest part of the track.

Soon after that they are easing backwards through Ellison Tunnel on that 8 pound set, and when they start around Parson’s Nose he drops the train-line a couple more pounds and eases them to a final stop at a spot where the tracks are as flat as they’re going to get here in Wild Woman Canyon, and just as important, almost straight.*

*While there is some side-to-side play in the couplers to accommodate curves, it’s a lot safer and easier to couple and uncouple when sitting on straight track where the trainmen don’t have to climb between the cars and shove a couple hundred pounds of coupler sideways so they line up.

Getting down the hill is a slow process at any time, and even more so when backing, and is always stressful regardless of the direction the train is going.

To be continued

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Anybody Know Why?

I'm not the public-relations relation in this family, that honor(?) goes to my child, (Oh where did I go wrong?!!) but can anybody tell me why press briefings require an entourage?

Is the speaker so insecure that they have to have moral support up there on camera in order to function? Or maybe it's a power thing. You know, making your underlings stand there looking like - well - lackeys, to show the viewers how big a muckity-muck you are. (Everyone knows the minute Barr was appointed Rod announced that he wasn't going to stick around so his having to stand there at Barr's shoulder is obviously a power play by an insecure and ineffectual boss!)

Notice that the lowly press secretary/authorized spokesperson/community relations officer rarely have an on-camera entourage.

Instead it's the highly placed that insist on the blank-eyed human backdrop. (And yes, despite looking like a perp caught red handed, the guy in the back on the right is always there too, though I have no idea who he, or any of the others, are.) And they, the speaker and the entourage, are very often public servants that are getting paid one hell of a lot of my tax dollars to just stand there with their thumb up their ass/wondering what's for lunch/scratching their balls/hoping the maid punched record so they can watch themselves later/wondering if someone else will get the last doughnut before this is over/thinking 'man I gota pee bad', instead of doing the job we are paying them for.

The worst offender is the "Oh Crap! Here comes a Hurricane" press briefing.

I can understand the Mayor keeping people informed, but damn people! Shouldn't all the rest of y'all be out doing what you're paid for instead of standing around waiting for the shit to hit??

Ya got nothin better to do maybe we don't need to be paying you.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Big Timber: 06:59 - 08:04

Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad

October 20 1954: 06:59 – 08:04

Unlike Appleford, Edward Bishop planned for Big Timber long before the first rails were laid. While his ultimate goal with the DP was to tap into the rich mining district he planned to develop up in the Six Peaks Basin he also knew the value of timber. And there was more than enough timber at the base of the escarpment called Mesa Hill to keep investors happy and fund the construction of the rest of his railroad up the more difficult challenges above.

So back while the railroad was still a private dream in his head, before he went public by applying to the Feds, through the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, for the rights, and the right-of-way, to shove his railroad up the mountain, Edward set about buying the land below the escarpment from the Federal Government under the guise of Lincoln Holdings.*

*Edward missed out on the age of western railroad land-grants (1859 -1871) where 10 to 20 square miles of, usually adjacent, land was handed over to a railroad for every mile of track they laid, so he had to take ownership of those lands via other means.

At the time this area was a US Territory and the lands along Edward’s projected route were held in public trust by the Feds. Even though no one else seemed to be interested in them at the time it could be argued that he, mostly through proxies so he didn’t tip his hand too soon, was buying these lands for – well let’s call them bargain prices – sometimes under questionable circumstances. Eventually this caught the eye of one particular Federal Investigator and Lincoln Holdings found itself facing a number of Federal suits resulting in some annoying injections. But when the Territory serendipitously became a State in 1912 the State inherited jurisdiction and quickly dismissed all the suits, lifting the injunctions and leaving Edward free to go about his business.*

*By the way, once they were logged over and no longer earning any leasing fees a then aging Edward magnanimously ‘gifted’ most, not all but most, of these lands to the US Forest Service.

In its heyday there were two separate log-loader operations located in Big Timber, one owned by the Timber Northern Logging Company which leased timber rights from Lincoln Holdings for most the land north of the railroad, and the other run by a consortium of smaller outfits working a combination of Lincoln Holdings leases and logging permits from the newly formed US Forest Service along the more rugged slopes to the south.

By the time the area had been logged over Edward, though his various companies had earned a lot of money from the trees below Mesa Hill. This money came from the lease fees the logging companies paid to Lincoln Holdings, Bishop Enterprise’s 22% ownership of Timber Northern, the DP’s revenue from hauling logs down the mountain to the buyer, and the profits the buyer, Tularosa Sawmill, which, surprise, surprise, was wholly owned by yet another arm of Bishop Enterprises, earned by turning the logs into timbers for the mining industry across the southwest, ties for the railroads expanding into those mining territories, and lumber to build the stores and houses and saloons and churches that followed along behind the miners.

When the logging dried up it appeared that Big Timber’s days were over too, but then at the end of the war the Big Timber Box and Window Company was formed by the sons of one of the former owners of an independent logging company to supply the post-war demand for residential doors and windows using the Douglas Fir coming out of the woods around Cutoff while the scraps from that operation went into to building the apple-boxes Cornelius needs for his operation down in Appleford.

They leased the land the Timber Northern Logging Company log-loader used to sit on from Lincoln Holdings, (The south log loader site has been turned into a seldom-used team-track.) built a factory with an adjacent sawmill and two drying-kilns, and attracted a small workforce.

Add to that the growing demand for wilderness recreation, hiking, camping, hunting, etc. that the surrounding National Forest provides plus the new highway opening up access,* and the decline of Big Timber has not only been halted, but the town is actually starting to grow again.

*For years there have been rumors that the highway will be extended beyond Big Timber the rest of the way up the mountain by looping the long way around the north side of Bug Scuffle Hill where it can climb a gentler part of the escarpment then cross into Russian Flats via Solitude Pass where one branch will traverse along the high slopes to reach Daylight Pass before heading down into Three Creeks while another will drop down into the valley to reach Cutoff and eventually Rockhouse, but so far it seems like that has just been talk. Which is good for the DP since a road will kill off the Express business and probably siphon off much of the traffic the DP has left as trucks take over.

As #420 approaches Big Timber the growing daylight makes it easier for Tom to see that Cloe, the station agent here, has already lined the switch for the siding and is standing by to reline it for the main once they’re ‘in the hole’.

 Cloe is actually Clarisse, a name that is perhaps more fitting for her age and robustness, (Cloe sounds an awful lot like a little girl being called in from play.) but she has always found Clarisse, a name that she had no part in selecting, to be too cumbersome to fit easily in the mouth, so she insists on being Cloe instead, and when Cloe insists people pay attention.

While somewhat rare outside of steno-pools and receptionists, there are a number of women working on the ground for railroads all over the country and the DP has its share.

Cloe started out here in the woods around Big Timber back in the lumber days as a camp cook. As might be expected, she had many admirers in those days, (As she still does to this day!) but after living the life she knew better than to hitch her wagon to a logger with their seasonal work and damn-tomorrow hard-partying ways. Instead, when it became clear that logging had just about run its course up here on the mountain, and after many months of wooing which Clive thought was his idea, she married a railroader, the station agent here at Big Timber, instead.

They were pretty well matched, being of about equal size and temperament, and sharing a similar, highly robust and often free-wheeling, approach to life. One of their pass-times was arm-wrestling,* often each other, noisy affairs that always drew a crowd. Early in the evening, when they were pretty much neck and neck in the drinking department, Clive would win more often than not, but later Cloe, who was a better drinker than Clive, could best her husband most the time, often tipping him right off his stool in the process.

*The myth that arm-wrestling was started by Bill Sobernes in a California Bar in 1952 is wrong. Bill may have started the organized sport of arm-wrestling there in Gilardi’s Saloon that year, but men, and a few women, had been arm-wrestling over beers long before then.

Cloe, not temperamentally suited to playing housewife, often spent much of her day working right alongside Clive in and around the depot and when he, despite being deferred because of his war-critical job, got all starry eyed and ran off to war anyway, Cloe stayed behind and carried on his duties as station agent here in Big Timber.

Widowed by that war Cloe is still up here in the woods beating most men at arm-wrestling (Getting a significant portion of her beers free in the process.) and running the depot with competence, a hearty laugh, and ribald ways that have put many a man, especially the self-appointed Lotharios, the misogynous, or the just plain condescending, in his place.

After putting up with the agent down in Appleford the crew is always glad to see Cloe looking out for them, even though, because they have to hold here at Big Timber until the Downbound Express has cleared, they won’t be leaving for over an hour, which gives the crew plenty of time to complete their switching, with or without the help of the bigger than life woman.

According to the switch-list they have a simple drop today, the flat of machinery parts for the Big Timber Box and Window’s tiny sawmill, the smaller building just east of the main factory building that sits on what used to be the north log loader before Timber Northern closed down. (The spur to the south log loader has been turned into a team-track now.)  And this is a trailing point setout which means no need to run around the train. Just break it behind the flatcar, pull forward until clear of the switch, then back down the stub, spot and tie down the loaded flat, pull out of the stub, back down, couple to the rest of the train, pump up the brakes, and they are ready to go.

Except that as Tom pulls forward after Dean does the initial cut behind the flatcar he sees that Otis and Cloe are walking towards him, Otis giving the ‘washout’, swinging his arm from side to side across his body, which is the signal to stop.

Tom closes the throttle, sets the independent, and neutrals the Johnson Bar before climbing down from the cab.

“Tom,” Otis says as he walks up. “The front office has added a car to us since we left GC. (Goat Crossing) Seems there’s a boxcar of lumber sitting there in our way on the sawmill track that we’re to take on up to the team track at DH (Downhill)” (From the siding they can’t see the boxcar in question since it is on the other side of the sawmill and they don’t know it is there because it was dropped by an extra that dragged it up the mountain yesterday afternoon.)

“Well dang-it Otis we’re already heavy. How do those desk-jockeys back in Daylight expect us to get this gol-durn train up the hill?!” (He’s referring to Mesa Hill with its formidable 3.1% grade.)

“I know Tom, but Cloe here says the office says that the lumber needs to get to DH today or the expansion of that fancy tourist hotel up there will be delayed and that’ll cost everybody money, railroad included. We got no choice Tom.

“While you snake that box out and spot the flat in its place I’ll go to the depot with Cloe and run the numbers myself and we’ll see what it looks like.”

“Well dang,” Tom mutters viciously as he climbs back onto 1428. “I’d like to see them suit-wearin’, soft-handed, week-chinned, paperweights (office workers)  come out here and do some real work once in a while so they’d know what the heck they’re asking of us.”

Jake, keeping his mouth shut, raises his eyebrows at Ronald, who shrugs back and also keeps quiet, but then again Ronald always keeps quiet.

Tom and the crew quickly complete the switching and now an old, raggedy, wood-sided boxcar that looks like it will fall apart any moment is sitting in the consist where the flat of machinery had been.* Instead of leaving a car behind and only dragging 2 empties and 2 loads up Mesa Hill, which is hard enough, now they somehow have to make it with 5 cars, three of them loads.

*The DP owns a handful of revenue cars, including a pair of these old boxcars it bought used for next to nothing from another railroad that didn’t want to spend the money necessary to keep them up to the standards required for interchange traffic. The DP uses these for ‘captured’ traffic that will originate and terminate on the line. That way they don’t have to worry about the per diem charges of using a foreign car, nor the cost of upgrading the cars to interchange standards, since there is no interchange involved. To keep costs down even more the DP doesn’t even bother to paint over the other railroad’s markings, just letting them weather away instead while slapping up the “DP” in a clear spot. Edward Bishop always claimed there was no need for fancy, and expensive, logos on the DP equipment. After all, it’s not like there are competitors for their customers to go to instead, so why spend money on advertising? And his successor, son Charles, sees no reason to change that.

As soon as the train is put back together Tom drops to the ground and hustles across the main to the depot on the south side of the tracks. Before he gets there Otis and Cloe come out the door.

“According to my calculations it will be close but we should just barely be able to pull this train up Mesa Hill Tom,” Otis tells him as he approaches.

“I don’t know Otis, this engine may have just come out of the shop, but she’s not steaming as well as she should. I suspect that when they reassembled the stack after repairing flue they left the petticoat hanging a little too low, cutting back on the draft through the super-heater tubes.* I’m not sure she’s going to be able to work to the numbers. Besides, that dang boxcar felt heavier than it should have when I pulled it out of there. I’ll bet they overloaded the blasted thing with green lumber.”

*It would have a similar effect on the engine’s performance if the petticoat was remounted too high, but in that case some of the exhaust from the blast-pipe would, rather than slipping straight up the stack, rattle around inside the smokebox causing a temporary increase in backpressure that would show up in the firebox as a pulsating of the fire as the backpressure tamped it down. In this case there's no tamping.

“I’ll tell ya, that wouldn’t surprise me,” Cloe said. “They had that damn mill running all day yesterday and most the night last night. It played hell with my beauty sleep I’ll tell ya. They were probably pulling wet boards right off a them logs y’all hauled down from Cutoff last Saturday and stuffing em straight into that box. ‘Cording to one of the guys works over there, the order caught them by surprise. Word is the lumber was originally supposed to come from those woods up around Santa Fe way but somebody fu-u-uged that up.” (Nearly too late she cleaned her language up. Otis has that effect on people.)

“Yeah, well clearly somebody is still fu-u-uging things up.” Tom grumbled. (Tom knew exactly what he was saying as he mimicked Cloe.)

“Well I’ll tell ya, while Otis here was diddling with his numbers I talked to the pencil necks down the mountain again,” Cloe says. “I tried explaining that this time of year, with leaves coming down on the track and the sun not reaching in there ‘til late in the day to dry things out, pulling Wild Woman Canyon ain’t easy at the best of times, but they won’t back down. They want that car up to DH today”

“OK,” Tom says, turning to Otis, “How bout we shove that tank or the other boxcar up the spur and leave it there for Friday’s upbound run?  Dropping one of our other loads pretty much guarantees we’ll make it up the hill.”

“I thought of that too,” Otis says, shaking his head. “But when Cloe phoned down to the business office and asked she was told no dice. There’s already another tank car going up on Friday’s train because Bailey Fuels is stockpiling up at Downhill for the coming winter, and apparently there’s food in that box headed for the Coop in Three Creeks that we can’t just leave sitting around for another couple days.”

At that point Tom has a few choice things to say about the head-office paperweights. And despite the conductor’s mitigating presence, some of those choice things are words Otis has never heard come out of Tom before. Otis winces, Cloe grins, Dean, Jake, and Ronald, just now approaching the little group, have second thoughts about joining them, and Tom is surprised at himself even as the words are coming out his mouth.

Despite the fact that they never had kids of their own with their impressionable young ears, Mary kept his language pretty clean around the house and he got into the habit of keeping it clean away from the house too because it was just easier that way, yet here he’s gone off the rails in a big way. But he’s too mad to stop, or wonder why he’s so mad in the first place. It’s not like things like this don’t happen regularly.

“I’ll tell ya Tom,” Cloe laughs into the stunned silence after he winds down. “I didn’t think you had it in ya, but you sound just like a logger been bit on the ass by a beaver!” Whereupon she staggers him with a love-tap on the shoulder that feels more like a bar-brawl round-house.

Normally Tom is a pretty even-keeled guy, but what the rest of the crew doesn’t know, and what he himself is ignoring, is that four years ago today is the day he lost his Mary. The day he sat beside that hospital bed in El Paso and watched her breathing sputter and sigh to a stop with no more dignity than the thin cloth curtain drawn around the bed to shield her from the rest of the ward, or more likely, to shield the rest of the ward from her dying, because most were also sick with this vicious, early-season flue that turned into the pneumonia that killed her.

Tom didn’t leave El Paso, the place of their life together, because he wanted to forget Mary. He left because there were too many memories there in that town, in that house, on the street out front, in the shops nearby. So many memories that there wasn’t enough time left over for living.

At the time, before the possibility of leaving occurred to him, he built up a defense, an automatic filter, in an attempt to manage the flow of the past, and now, years later, vestiges of that filter still have their effect. 

If asked he would have said he assumed that from the distance of four years he would just go through the day like it was any other, but apparently he was wrong; and nobody asked. And he should have known better. After all, Mary still sneaks up and haunts him all the time, catching him off guard in the strangest moments with the little things. Like remembering, when he’s eating dinner out of the pot over the stove, the choreographed dance they would perform at meal-time. Him grabbing silverware out of the drawer and pirouetting out of her way to grab the salt and pepper while she reached up for plates and glasses. A small thing honed and perfected by what they thought was going to be a lifetime together. It just never occurred to Tom that they might have different lifetimes and that realization is a big yawning hole he has to negotiate every day. And sometimes he falls in.

But there is nothing for it now but to swallow his feelings, pull his socks up, and get on with the job like men are supposed to do.

“OK,” Otis says, choosing to ignore Tom’s uncharacteristic outburst while he focuses on the business of pushing his train up the mountain. “Everybody listen up. If we can’t pull the hill it will most likely happen above Ellison Tunnel where the grade starts really digging in on the Loop. If that happens we’ll have to double the train the rest of the way up the hill. So here’s the plan. . .”

As Tom listens to Otis laying out his plan like a fatherly general he can feel the tension and angst draining out through his heavy work boots and running off into the ballast beneath them. To hell with the front office! He’s up here on the ground with a fine bunch of men, and lady, that know how to get the job done and rely on each other to do it. And the important thing is that when he pulls his boots off at the end of the day he knows he has been part of a job well done.

While everybody is confirming that they understand the plan Cloe looks at her watch and says, “Well guys, I’ll tell ya, sorry I had to shit on your parade, but I can’t sit around here on my fundament shootin’ the bull any longer. I gota get ready for that Downbound Express to roll in. I got two people and one package to throw on when it gets here. Oh, and if it were up to me I’d clear you for the main as soon as the Express arrives and give you an extra few minutes to get up the hill, but – well – it ain’t.*

*DP rules don’t allow trains on adjacent tracks to move while the Express is loading or unloading since it’s bad for business to squish some confused and unsuspecting citizen.

“Ron,” she said, “why don’t you come on and give me a hand with gettin’ that express package out onto the platform while I finish the paperwork.”

Everybody knows that Cloe could probably out lift most any man around, especially since the few loggers still left in the woods up here have given up their axes and buck-saws for those new gas-powered chainsaws, but most every upbound trip, while they’re waiting here for the Express to clear, she finds some excuse or other to drag Ronald off with her, and Ronald, who, as far as they know, is Ron to nobody but her, doesn’t seem to mind.

“Hey Cloe,” Otis calls out after her. “Just in case, don’t let anyone come up the hill behind us until you hear from RH that we’ve made it.”

Without turning Cloe briefly raises her arm in acknowledgement. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Still Kick-n! (Or is that Turtle-n?)

Back in September of 2018 I wrote about coming across this turtle that obviously had had a seriously detrimental encounter of some sort.

Well a couple days ago and a quarter-mile from the location of our original encounter, we met up again, though I don't think M. Turtle was too pleased to see me.

Clearly this little dude/dudet is doing well despite the rearranging of its carapace.

Maybe he/she is on a quest to hook up with this one.

If so I hope he/she has better luck than me. All I got for my friendly-neighbor approach was the front door slammed in my face.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Appleford to Big Timber: 06:26 - 06:59

Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad

October 20 1954: 06:26 – 06:59

Without waiting for the station agent to clear them for the main, (the time-table they are operating under already does that as long as the semaphore is down and their departure time has arrived.) #420 is rolling through the east switch at 06:26, just 5 minutes after the Upbound Express departs going the same way.

This is cutting things close, closer than most railroads will allow, but if the Freight doesn’t get a move on it may not leave enough time for its switching duties at Big Timber before the Downbound Express gets there. Besides, the speedy Express is already a mile and a half mile up the line and gaining. it’s going to take a while to get the freight up to speed, and even that is still quite a bit slower than the Express, so there is no chance the freight will catch up unless the Express stalls. Even if that happens, at the slow speeds the Freight runs there will be plenty of time to get it stopped, especially since the Express operator knows they are coming and will be flagging the rear* if that happens.

*Or more likely, have one of the younger, and more spry passengers do the flagging for them since the Express Operators tend to be old men with tons of seniority. The up and downbound Express’ meet at Rockhouse and the operators will swap with each other there. The Daylight based operator taking over the Downbound Express while the Three Creeks based operator takes over the Upbound Express. This will have both operators back at their respective homes by 09:00 where they will have the rest of the day to themselves until they report for the evening run at 17:00. Again, they will swap places at Rockhouse and each will be back home for the night by 20:30. This schedule pays less than 8 hours a day but since they are hauling passengers, they are paid at a higher rate, and operating the high-priority, lightweight Express’ with no switching, and no ‘going into the hole’ to wait for higher priority traffic to go by, is about the easiest job on the railroad.

As soon as they clear the switch and recover Dean who has had to reline it* Tom sets about getting the train up to speed and setup while also performing the required running brake-test. At the same time Jake shuts off the blower, adjusts the flame, and keeps an eye on the boiler pressure and back there in the depot the day-shift station agent calls down to the dispatcher.

*Switches have a through route and a diverging route. The through route is normally straight and the diverging route is curved. (One exception to this is the equilateral, or Y switch on which both legs are curved, but the DP has none of these, not even on the Y up at Cutoff.) The bible of just about every railroad, including the DP, requires that switches always be left lined for the through route when the crew is finished with them and it’s the train-crew’s responsibility to see that happens.

“OS Appleford,” the agent says loudly into the phone’s mouthpiece, and hence into the dispatcher’s ear who has an open line to all the OS’s, “show number 420 departed eastbound at 06:26”

Down at his desk in the Goat Crossing yard office the dispatcher, wearing a headset with boom-arm microphone attached, responds “DS showing number 420 depart Appleford 06:26,” while at the same time making a notation on his train-sheet then moving  the magnet representing Upbound Freight #420 from the Appleford dot to a spot just to the left of the Upbound Express magnet already on the line connecting Appleford and Big Timber on his steel backed schematic of the railroad.

By the time all this behind the scenes work is finished Ronald is back on his perch on top of the tender, and since he is the only crewmember riding backwards, is the only one that notices that, though the freshly risen sun hasn’t yet chased back the shadow of the mountain here around Appleford, it has turned the San Andres range far to the west a light golden color.

“It’s getting towards the end of the month so remember to watch for torpedoes,” Tom hollers across the cab to Jake a few miles later as he keeps an eye out for the white W post that lets him know to start whistling for the level-grade crossing coming up that is protected by nothing but stop signs and crossbucks.

Most every engineer has, and will, run something over during their career, and Tom is no exception. The sound of metal being crumpled and shredded as an engine hits a vehicle and drags it along is bad enough, but when the collision is between engine and animal, or especially engine and person, the meat-grinder sound of flesh and bone being ground up in the running gear is the stuff of nightmares.

The experience, no matter how many times it happens, (Four in Tom’s 24 years in the right-hand seat, 2 relatively minor injuries by some miracle, 1 arm amputation at the elbow, and 1 fatal.) is not a pleasant one, tending to stick with a man for the rest of his life and populating his dreams, but there are some members of the public that just don’t grasp the concept of railroad right of way and use the tracks like a city sidewalk, or don’t understand that when hundreds of tons of train verses a couple tons of car, the car is going to lose every time.

In the crew lounges or bars you will, in the aftermath of one of these incidents, hear railroaders hoarsely cracking that removing people like that from the gene pool is a service to human kind, but that morbid humor is simply the same defense mechanism you get from cops and ambulance drivers, and behind the obligatory and half-hearted laughter they are usually hurting.

Fortunately, once past Goat Crossing there just aren’t that many people up on the mountain except around the depots where the trains run little faster than a walk anyways. And once you get outside of Daylight the DP main-line has very few grade-crossings, and this one coming up, where the new highway crosses the tracks for the third time, is the last until they are approaching the outskirts of Three Creeks, and that one is a mostly unused rocky trail to an abandoned cabin. But being the last easy access to the tracks, this crossing coming up also makes it a popular spot for the company weed weasels* to set up a test. They like the idea of a leisurely drive up the highway to the crossing so they only have to hike the tracks a short distance in either direction to get set up.

*The people charged with ensuring that other employees are complying with the stacks of rules and regulations that abound on railroads have a whole lot of names, weed weasel, for their habit of hiding in the weeds to spy on crews, is one of the mildest.

The Federal government require a certain number of ‘tests’ per month and since weasels, the kind that work for the railroad anyway, tend to be lazy buggers, they procrastinate until the end of the month starts looming then suddenly cram in their full quota in the last week or so, and this is why Tom reminds Jake to watch for torpedoes.

Torpedoes are small packets of explosive that can be strapped to the top of a rail with a pair of soft metal straps. When run over by a wheel they go bang, much like a cap in a toy gun but a whole lot louder. They are used to warn approaching trains of an issue on the tracks ahead. The noise alerts the engine crew to run at ‘restricted speed’ which isn’t a set speed limit but a requirement that the train be run at such a speed that it can be stopped in half the distance they can see down the tracks.

When conducting this particular test the weed weasels will set out torpedoes, usually two of them spaced close together to ensure the crew hears them but some weed weasels will only put out one, even though on the DP this sort of adversarial behavior is discouraged. Then they move down the track a ways, (After running over a torpedo the engineer is required to maintain restricted speed for a minimum of two miles.) often just around a curve where they can’t be seen until the train is close, and set a fusee or red flag in the track. The engineer must stop his train before running over either. Failing to do so will usually get you an unpaid vacation.

This morning no weasels are out and about, at least not here, but just beyond the grade crossing is a sharp dip in the track where a short trestle crosses a river, (In this parched part of the country it doesn’t take much to qualify as a river, but regardless, this trestle should have been raised and rebuilt years ago to level out the track.) which forces Tom to put a light set on the brakes while bailing off and pulling with the engine to prevent the slack running in as the cars free-fall down the dip behind him then slamming back out as they are dragged up the other side. This, of course, is not good for maintaining speed so he releases the brakes as soon as the house-car is on the trestle, which marks the bottom of the dip.


As #420 climbs up out of the dip we’ll leave the crew to their duties for a moment to discuss the braking system on a train, which can be confusing at first since it seems to operate backwards. And on top of that has a couple idiosyncrasies not seen on automobile brakes which can get the engineer into trouble if not paid attention to.

The automatic brakes on a train use a reduction in the pressure of the train-line that runs the full length of the train, called the brake pipe on some railroads, to set the brakes by signaling the triple-valve on each car to use air from that car’s auxiliary reservoir to pressurize the brake cylinder, setting the brakes. The major advantage of this seemingly upside down logic is that if the train breaks apart for any reason the train-line also breaks, releasing all its pressure and automatically setting the brakes.

The heart of a train’s braking system is the triple-valve found on every car. It has been improved several times since Westinghouse was granted a patent for the first example in the mid 1800’s, getting more complicated each time, but in a greatly simplified explanation of how it works, the triple-valve wants to maintain a balance between the pressure in the train-line and the pressure in the auxiliary reservoir on each car.

In the illustration above the pressure in the train-line has been reduced below that of the auxiliary reservoir. The higher pressure of the reservoir pushes the slide which is the heart of the triple-valve to the right, opening a port that allows air from the reservoir to enter the brake cylinder. When the pressure in the reservoir drops enough to equal that of the train-line the slide is nudged back to the left just enough to close the brake cylinder port. If the train-line pressure was dropped by a little bit the brakes are applied with a little bit of force. If the pressure in the train-line was dropped by a lot the brakes are applied with a lot of force.*

*Here’s where the reservoir to brake cylinder relationship of 2.5 to 1 kicks in. if the reservoir is too large the volume of air that has to be released from it to equalize pressure with the train-line is more than the brake cylinder can accept and the brakes would be slammed on full no matter how small the pressure reduction in the train-line. Conversely, if the brake cylinder is too large relative to the reservoir the brakes can never set hard.

When the pressure in the train-line is higher than that in the reservoir, such as when releasing the brakes by raising the pressure in the train-line, the slide valve is pushed to the left.  This does two things. First it connects the brake cylinder port to the exhaust port, releasing the pressure in the brake cylinder and allowing the spring to push the brake-block back off the wheel. Second it opens up another port called the feed groove that allows the train-line to slowly re-pressurize the auxiliary reservoir * and get it ready for the next brake application.

*This has to be done slowly otherwise the rush of air from train-line to auxiliary reservoir causes a drop in the train-line pressure which sets the brakes all over again!

The maximum amount of brake application with the 70 pound train-line pressure used on the DP’s Consolidations is 50 pounds in the brake cylinder achieved with a 20 pound reduction of the train-line pressure. At this point the pressure in the auxiliary reservoir and the brake cylinder is the same 50 pounds and reducing the train-line pressure any more has no effect on the amount of braking force. In virtually any case a 20 pound reduction is more than enough to stop a train. (A 15 pound reduction is usually the max an engineer will use and anything more than a 12 pound reduction is considered hard braking.)

OK, that’s how the automatic braking system on a train works, but buried in that description are a couple of idiosyncrasies that, if not paid attention to, can get an engineer into real trouble.

First off, with this system, though the brakes can be applied in a controlled manner, setting them in proportion to the amount the pressure in the train-line is dropped, there is nothing gradual about releasing the brakes on a train. In other words, if you have set the brakes too tight you can’t just lift you foot a bit and back them off a little like you can with a car. You have to release them completely then set them all over again, which leads directly to a second idiosyncrasy, namely, the engineer has a limited amount of air to work with.

Suppose the we’re rolling down a steep grade with a heavy train and use a full 15 pound reduction to hold the train, putting 37.5 pounds into the brake cylinders, (remember that 2.5 to 1 ratio of auxiliary reservoir to brake cylinder.) So far so good. We have 37.5 pounds in the brake cylinder and 55 pounds in the auxiliary reservoir. From here we can still dump an additional 5 pounds on the train-line if we have to and get the full 50 pound max into the brake cylinders and probably bring the train to a full stop - unless we’ve let the brakes get so hot first that they have lost their effectiveness.

But let’s suppose that isn’t needed and we successfully lower the train down the steep grade with our initial 15 pound reduction, but a bit further down the hill the grade eases off a little for a couple miles and we find that the amount of braking we have, 37.5 pounds in the brake cylinders, is too much here, even with the engine bailed off and pulling on the train in an attempt to keep it moving.

Since we can’t back the braking effort off gradually, we have two options, stop the train, tie it down with handbrakes, release the brakes, and start from scratch after letting the auxiliary reservoir pressure return to a full 70 pounds. Or we can keep the train moving by releasing the brakes completely and resetting them using the air we have left in the auxiliaries.

Choosing the first option means stopping the train for a good while, probably more time than the timetable might allow for, so, in order to keep the conductor, dispatcher, and road-foreman (The engineer’s boss.) off our backs we may be inclined to go for the second option.

But when we release the brakes the train is going to speed up quickly since it is still going downhill, and we need to reset them again, like right now! Only this time we’re starting with the reservoirs at only 55 pounds instead of the full 70 pounds because we can’t keep the brakes released long enough to pump the reservoir pressure back up.

Even with a reduced pressure, when we make a 10 pound reduction on the 55 pounds of pressure we has left we still gets 25 pounds in the brake cylinders and the train speed is back under control.

But don’t get comfortable yet because it gets worse!

It’s not long before the grade steepens again, the train starts speeding up and there’s that right-hand curve coming up that we don’t want to fly off of, so we dump 5 more pounds. Now we’re back to the same 37.5 pounds in the brake cylinders that was keeping things under control on that first steep grade. But, with only 40 pounds left in the auxiliary reservoirs we have essentially used up all our braking power and have nothing left in reserve. So from here on out, if we need more brake we're shit-outa-luck!

This process of releasing and resetting brakes before the system can replenish the pressure in the auxiliary reservoirs happens often enough that there’s a term for it, it’s called ‘pissing away your air’.

For a few minutes it looks like things might be working out.  But the brakes, already hot, are heating up even more, which reduces their holding power and now we are on the verge of a runaway with only one  option left.

The AB brake system, which replaced the K brake,* is an attempt to account for this ‘idiosyncrasy’ of our train brakes by adding emergency reservoirs on each car along with a slightly more complex brake-valve. When sensing a rapid drop in the train-line pressure the triple-valves on these cars will dump the pressure in the emergency reservoir, so far untouched so still at 70 pounds, into the brake cylinders.

*The K brake, developed around 1900, was simply the original Westinghouse brake with all three components, reservoir, triple-valve, and brake cylinder, combined into a single unit. It did not improve brake performance or address any of the shortcomings of Westinghouse’s original design, but did simplify and streamline maintenance, though if any one part went bad the entire unit had to be replaced, so in practice it actually drove up maintenance costs. The AB brake, which did address one major shortcoming of the Westinghouse and K brake, (As well as going back to the separate components stratagy) was developed in 1930 and by 1953 was required on all interchange cars. The trick here is that at this time (1954) the DP still owns many cars built with K brakes that they can still run because they don’t interchange them with any other railroads.

Assuming there are enough AB cars on our train all we have left in our pocket now is dumping the last of the air out of the train-line in a last-ditch effort to get stopped.  If we're lucky that last desperate pressure reduction will be rapid enough to trigger the emergency reservoirs to dump their air into the brake cylinders on enough cars to get the train to stop.

Except –

To activate the emergency reservoirs there has to be a rapid drop in the train-line pressure, it doesn’t really matter how much pressure is dropped, just that it drop in a big hurry. In the normal ‘service’ position of the brake control valve air escapes the train-line through a small hole, letting the air out slowly so the engineer can control brake applications, too slowly to create the sharp pressure drop that will trigger the emergency reservoirs. The ‘emergency’ position of the brake control valve has a big hole (Going into emergency is called ‘big holing’) which lets the air out of the train-line quickly enough to trigger the emergency reservoirs. – But the Consolidations don’t have an emergency position on their pre-AB braking system control valves so it doesn’t really matter how many AB cars are in the consist. The only way to trigger the emergency reservoirs on them is if Otis, way back there in his house-car with no direct communication with the engine, opens his big dump valve and the triple-valves see this last gasp of pressure escaping as a signal to go into emergency.

Of course, assuming it does work, going into emergency often means flattened wheels, broken couplers, damaged cargo, and sometimes even derailment.*

*Propagation delays due to friction delaying air-flow inside the train-line mean that the cars on the front of the train, closest to the engine where the pressure is first dropped, stop first while the cars behind are still going full speed, creating the same chain-reaction collision scenario you get when the automobile in front stops faster than the following autos can, often with the same resulting mess. Or, if the reduction comes from Otis opening his valve, the cars at the rear of the train slam their brakes on first while the rest keep right on rolling. This is where couplers get broken.

To complicate the braking of a train just a little bit more, the engine has two different braking systems on it. The automatic, which works exactly like the brakes on the rest of the train by applying brakes when pressure in the train-line is lowered, and the independent which uses what’s called straight air.

Straight air means that pressure is taken from the main reservoir and fed directly into the brake cylinder through the independent brake valve. The advantage of doing it this way is that pressure can also be released from the brake cylinder in a controlled manner through that same independent brake valve, giving the engineer the ability to decrease as well as increase braking effort in a controlled manner, very important since the independent brake is used for train-handling, primarily controlling when and how fast the slack runs in or out.


When we catch up with #420 again she has a full charge of air in her braking system and it’s just about a mile and a half beyond the trestle-dip. About half way between Appleford and Big Timber

 Here the grasslands have been pretty much left behind, replaced by second-growth forest, mostly various pines and Douglass Fir, but with some hardwoods mixed in as well.

The area was heavily logged in the first few decades of the century, with a steady stream of loaded disconnects carrying logs down the mountain against an equally steady supply of empty disconnects headed back up. But the old-growth was eventually logged over, then in 1938 the massive sawmill down in Daylight burned down and wasn’t rebuilt, effectively ending large-scale logging in the area.

Over the past two decades the second-growth forest has been largely left alone and has filled in nicely. It’s a welcome change from the basin some 1500 feet below. This time of year the scattered hardwoods are putting on a show of color anemic by New England standards, but here in the southwest, highly appreciated.

The track-profile for the 7.8 miles between Appleford and Big Timber is similar to the track from Goat Crossing to Appleford. Initially the train is climbing a gentle grade of slightly less than 1%, but then it hits a steeper grade. Without the weight of the boxcar they left at Appleford #420 is quicker to accelerate and will not be slowed as much on the steep grade, but the difference is subtle because the car they left behind only lightened the train by about 21 tons, which still leaves them on the heavy side.

In addition there’s a long right-hand curve in the middle of the steeper part of the grade as the track nearly doubles back on itself while making the final push up to Big Timber. Curves increase rolling resistance and slow trains as flanges grind against rail* and the solid axles drag one or the other of the wheels, which is either turning too fast or not quite fast enough depending on whether it’s on the inside or outside of the curve, along the track. And curves on steep grades make it even more challenging to keep the speed up.

*The wheels are profiled, or 'coned', such that when running on flat and straight track the weight of the car above tends to center the wheels between the tracks and the flanges don't touch the rail, creating extra drag, but on curves the profile is not enough to keep the wheels centered and the flanges come into action by rubbing against the side of the rail.

This same "coning" helps the wheels, connected together by a solid axle, roll around curves without one or the other dragging. The wheels will naturally shift towards the outside of the curve which means the inside edge of the outside wheel, which is its largest diameter, is riding the outside rail while the outside edge of the inside wheel, its smallest diameter, is riding the inside rail. When that happens the outside wheel travels farther per revolution than the inside wheel, getting them around the curve without either one being dragged. But this only works when the curves are gentle, and not all curves on the DP are gentle!

Despite the challenges, when they ease off the main onto the west end of the siding at Big Timber, they are only running one minute behind schedule.