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. 

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