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.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Blame it on The Wife!

There I was, minding my own business during one of our city shopping trips, all prepared to spend what was necessary, and only what was necessary, on organic produce when The Wife mentioned she wanted to stop in Hobby Lobby (There's one near our Whole Foods)  and pick up some nice ribbon to dress up a card she would be sending soon.

Well naturally, being the brutish clod I am, I soon bored of the rack of pretty ribbon and wandered off on my own.

First destination was the puzzle aisle because - well, what's an addict supposed to do?

With my just-got-to-have-it find in hand I then wandered towards the modeling section and found a display of something called Metal Earth which I thought was interesting enough to warrant a browse.
Predictably, I ended up walking away with yet another just-got-to-have-it find. After all, I needed something to occupy my other hand didn't I? And it's a train!

The Wife's ribbon cost a few pennies, my crap cost quite a bit more than that. . .

So, (he says, ignoring the hit to the budget) just what is Metal Earth? The back of the box answeres that question.

Sort of.

But until I opened up the box (Which, like a kid at Christmas, wasn't all that long after we got home again. . .) I had no concept of the level of detail etched into those 5 metal sheets (Unlike this boxed set, many of Metal Earth's models consist of a shingle metal sheet with instructions, all packaged into little more than a stiff envelope.) nor the complexity of the finished model.

Fortunately the clearly written (drawn?) instructions include a map of the metal sheet and point out the various parts with numbers that match the assembly instructions.

For a glimpse of what your finished product should look like (And when it comes to models, should and does are often two separate things.) Metal Earth's website includes 360 views of the finished model.

Eager to try this new stuff out, the next morning I wheeled my modeling station over to the east end of the barn where the light was good, and got started.

As advertised, it takes no glue or solder to assemble the model, but dang! some of these parts are a bit on the small side!. (Can you see the bolt detail etched into the central square?)

Such as this one that represents the brake-valve. Yep, even the bottom of the model is detailed with laser-etched brake rigging and applied reservoir, brake-valve, and brake cylinder.

The metal is surprisingly stiff and measures just a little less than 1/64th of an inch thick. All the bend or fold lines are etched so I got crisp, clear bends; but just, as the instructions warn, don't bend a joint more than twice or it might break. (Don't ask!)

Bends are best done with tools and not just fat-fingers. The box says tweezers are the ideal bending tool, and they are,just as long as its for small parts and tabs. For larger bends of the surprisingly stiff metal I found needle-nose pliers to grip one side and the flat side of a small file to fold the other side into the proper bend worked best. (This project pointed out to me that all of the half dozen needle-nosed pliers I have tucked around in various places are pretty much crap when it comes to fine work like this. Oh well, something else to spend money on. . .)

The slots are cleanly cut and the tabs used for holding everything together fit nicely, and in most cases a simple twist of the tab once it's inserted into the slot tightens the parts up nicely.

A couple of hours later I had something that bore a passing resemblance to the images on the web site. And I had three more cars and an engine left to build!

With limited impulse control, over the next couple of days I built two more of those cars before I could stop myself.

But stop I did.

Because the un-assembled model itself is just a thin sheet or two of metal and a page of instructions, and it only takes a small assortment of tools to build one of these, I re-purposed the box the set came in, which is only slightly larger than a CD case, and now everything I need to do some modeling is tucked away in The Van just waiting for my next trip.

Because their packaging is so compact there's room in the box to add quite a few additional models and I've been poking around the web-site to see which ones I want to tackle after I finish this train.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Appleford: 05:35 – 06:26

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



October 20 1954: 05:35 – 06:26

Three minutes behind schedule, the train rolls slowly through the switch one car at a time until the entire consist is on the Appleford siding. As when they took the main at Goat Crossing, the slow speed gives Dean time to drop off the house-car, reline the switch for the main, and catch back up so he can ride the house-car rather than have to walk half the length of the siding.

When the railroad first came through here Appleford didn’t exist. There wasn’t even a siding. It was just a place the rails passed through on their way to the logging grounds around Big Timber.

Cornelius Ford was a surveyor for the Daylight Pass Railroad, but before that he grew up in and around his grandparent’s mid-west orchards.  While pulling down a paycheck from the railroad for tramping around the wilderness finding potential routes for the Daylight Pass, laying out the location and heights of trestle footings, and ensuring newly-laid track was in the proper alignment, Cornelius was also seeing the potential in the land and the climate up here above the basin floor. Perhaps because Edward Bishop wasn’t a Midwesterner he didn’t see what Cornelius did and Cornelius was able to purchase a significant tract of land from the US Government who was holding it in public trust for the then Territory of New Mexico.

It was a decade before the first apples started coming out of Cornelius’ orchards, a decade he funded by cutting the abundant hay in the area and shipping it to a stockyard down in El Paso. By the time another half-decade had gone by he had built the cider mill/packinghouse, the railroad had added a siding and two spurs, and a small village was growing up around him populated by orchard workers and railroaders. And, since the highway was put in, also by residents that work down in Daylight but commute back and forth to Appleford to live in the milder climate here above the basin floor.

Again, when Tom eases the train to a stop on the siding at Appleford he does it with a light touch of the independent brake, bunching up the slack. This time he’s not thinking of starting the train so much as his is of taking the pressure off the coupling pins, because now the work starts, and they could have used those lost 3 minutes because there’s a lot to get done before the Express rolls in at 06:16.

He has stopped with the last car, the empty boxcar destined for Appleford Packing, sitting short of the points of the switch to the packing house spur. With all forward motion stopped, and despite the time-crunch, he waits a moment to make sure the tank car has settled down because he isn’t using the car’s brakes, only the engine’s brakes, here in order to speed up the work, though he doesn’t have to look back to know that Otis is standing on the vestibule of the house-car cranking in the hand-brake.

Though it’s a lot of work, what with the stopping and starting and reversing and coupling and uncoupling that all the switching requires, one of the things Tom likes about holding this freight-job is that for most runs he has the same crew with him, and it is a good crew that knows what needs to be done and works well together.

With Tom keeping a close eye on him, Dean briefly disappears between the boxcar and the empty gon in front of it to close the angle-cocks on the rear of the gon and the front of the boxcar and gets back out from between quickly.  From a relatively safe position beside the cars, he then gives the cut-bar on the gon a quick jerk, which pulls the pin that has been preventing the coupler-knuckle from pivoting open.

At this point Tom whistles off, releases the brakes on the engine, and eases forward slowly. Once the slack is pulled out the un-locked coupler knuckle swings open, the air-hoses between the uncoupled cars stretch out, and then, as designed, separate at the glad-hands with loud pop. Because Dean closed the angle-cocks on both cars the air in the train-line under the moving cars as well as the section under the stationary box and house-cars is contained and keeps the brakes from setting, which will make a couple of the next moves easier.

Trapping the air under the cars left behind is called ‘bottling the cars’.  Because it’s inevitable that either the pressure in the train-line will eventually leak down enough to set the brakes, or the air in the reservoirs will leak out making it impossible to set the brakes, this is only done if the cars are going to be sitting there temporarily and with enough handbrakes cranked in to hold the string, which in this case is only two cars so requires just one set of brakes cranked in.

Tom continues to ease the train forward until the gon is no longer fouling the switch to the spur, then stops and repeats the throttle off, reverser centered, to safe the train.

While Dean ties down the brakes on the gon and the flatcar to hold this five-car section of their train, Ronald uncouples the tankcar, and with it the remainder of the train, from the tender by closing the angle-cocks on the tender and the tank car and pulling the pin on the tankcar.

When they are finished and standing clear Tom whistles off once more and eases forward. Again the glad-hands separate with a pop.

With the engine freed from the train Tom rumbles down the siding to the east switch where Ronald , who has been riding the foot-board on the tender, jumps down, runs forward, and lines the switch so the engine can take the main. Once Ronald has relined the switch for the main behind him Tom taps out his three shorts and starts backing down. As he comes by Ronald swings up onto the rear footboard of the tender again where he can be their eyes while the engine is backed all the way down the main past the depot where the unseen station agent has his feet propped up on his desk as he smokes his last cigar of the shift. Tom doesn’t stop until he’s clear of the west switch where Ronald has dropped off so he can line it for the siding.

Rolling forward into the siding with Ronald riding the footboard on the pilot this time, (the switch is left lined for the siding at the moment) Tom eases down the track under Ronald’s guidance and Otis’s critical eye until the coupler on the front of 1428 kisses the one on the rear of the house-car.

All the house-cars on the DP, even the little four-wheel bobbers used on the work and snow-removal trains, have steel frames. If they were wooden frames, as was the case in the railroad’s early days, Tom wouldn’t be allowed to push the boxcar into the spur with the house-car sitting between the engine and the box as crushing one of these wood-framed cars and turning it into trash by pushing too hard on it wasn’t unheard of.  Instead he would have to pull the house-car off the train and set it aside on the main before coupling directly to the box for the shove. But the steel-framed cars like this one don’t have that restriction which saves time and effort.

Since the angle-cocks have trapped the air in the train-line under the house and box cars preventing the brakes from setting there is no need to buckle the rubber. Otis just needs to unwind the handbrake on the house-car before they make the next move.

While Tom had been backing down the main Dean walked forward and lined the switch for the packinghouse spur so it is ready when Ronald, who is watching Otis to make sure the brakes are released, gives him high-ball Tom releases the independent brake, drops the Johnson Bar forward and gets the engine moving.

With Dean clinging to the ladder on the front of the boxcar he guides Tom down the spur until the car is spotted opposite the first set of loading doors at the packing house as the customer has requested.

The two-door railcar dock here isn’t near as busy now as it was before the highway made it through Appleford then all the way up to Big Timber, though calling the sometimes rough gravel track from Appeleford to Big Timber a highway might be a little optimistic.  Now most outbound loads of apples and apple products such as cider and pulped animal feed are shipped out on trucks and the new apple-boxes that used to come down from the factory in Big Timber by rail now make the short journey by truck along the new road. But once in a while, when there is a big enough load of apples or cider, or maybe both, going far enough, Appleford Packing will call on the railroads to get it there and when that happens the DP has a little piece of the action.

Because customers are rarely willing to pay the demurrage (which is a fancy way of saying rent) the DP charges for cars spotted at a customer’s location for more than 48 hours, (72 if they are spotted on a Saturday since there is no downbound service until Tuesday.) this car will probably be loaded by morning and they will be picking it up again with tomorrow’s Downbound Freight. Then the yard switcher will have it sitting on the SP interchange track down in Daylight before midnight.

This time Ronald closes the house-car angle-cock but leaves the one on the boxcar open while Dean cranks in the boxcar’s handbrake. With the boxcar tied down Ronald pulls the pin, and Tom backs away. When the glad-hands pop loose there is a roar and the hose on the end of the boxcar whips for a moment as the air escapes from the pipe under the car. This is called dynamiting the brakes and the air in both the auxiliary and emergency reservoirs* dump their contents into the brake cylinder, setting the brakes hard.

*On today’s consist only the gon and ore-jenny still have the older K brake system with no emergency reservoir, the rest of the cars have the newer AB brake system on them.

Both trainmen ride the house-car as Tom reverses back out of the spur, waits for the switch to be lined for the siding, and shoves the house-car back onto the end of the remaining consist, the open coupler on the rear of the gon just waiting for it.
Dean buckles the rubber between the house-car and the empty gon while Ronald uncouples the engine from the house-car and Tom backs west down the siding and onto the main. Once Ronald has lined the west switch for the main Tom, with Ronald casually riding the small footboard on the pilot with arms folded as if there wasn’t 70 tons of machine behind him that is just waiting to run something over and grind it up, runs forward past the depot again until just clear of the east switch, then backs through it into the safety of the siding as Ronald relines the switch for the main at 06:08. A full 8 minutes before the Downbound Express is scheduled to arrive.

Their final move here at Appleford, other than leaving once the Express is out of the way, is to back down and couple up to their train. Because the brakes were bottled it only takes a minute to pump the train-line back up to 70 pounds. Fortunately another terminal air-test is not required at this point since they have only dropped a car from the consist.

If you have been keeping track, this simple, single-car drop into a facing-point spur, has required running around the train twice, lining a switch 10 times, stopping or starting the engine 21 times, and coupling or uncoupling 7 times. A heck of lot of work to get done in a limited time.

But instead of kicking back and taking a break as they wait on the Express, Tom climbs down with his oilcan in hand and walks around 1428 topping up oil-cups, looking for loose or missing parts, and checking journals with his bare hand, looking for any excess heat.

While he is doing this Jake is turning on the blower and setting fuel-flow and atomizer to boost boiler pressure prior to their departure, then climbing up on the tender to look down the hatches and check the oil and water levels, Otis is updating his paperwork, and Ronald and Dean are back down the train cranking off the handbrakes and checking that the lashings on the flatcar are still secure.

Right on time the Express, an RDC combine driven by a pair of 275 HP diesel engines slung under its belly, drifts on up to the depot. It sits there for 5 minutes as passengers board, (none) un-board, (one) or stay put, (three) and the operator tosses two express packages down to the freshly on duty day shift station agent.

At 06:21 the Express, with it’s toy-like horn, toots off and buzzes, baggage end forward,* away from the depot as it heads up into the woods on its way to Big Timber.

*One of the efficiencies of the RDC’s is that they can be operated from either end so they are always ‘pointing the right way’ and don’t have to be turned. Here on the DP they run baggage end forward on their way up the mountain and passenger end forward on their way back down as this give the passengers a slightly better down-mountain view..