Thursday, May 30, 2019

An Exercise in Fluid Dynamics

Nope, that nasty old thing isn't a sooty stovepipe, that's our well aged rain gauge.

Often times when it rains here in Central Texas it RAINS. This is our rain-gauge on May 3rd. It was empty on May 1st. Of the 6 inches or so in the gauge, 5 of those fell in about an hour and a half.

As I've mentioned before, nothing about our property is flat, so when it rains like that we don't have to worry about flooding, but we do get some serious runoff.

When things eased up I, as usual, was out inspecting the fresh washouts in our driveway to determine which ones we could live with and which I would have to do something about, when I came across a chunk of pressure-treated 2x8 about a foot long sitting out in the middle of nowhere. At first this was curious since I hadn't been doing any projects with treated lumber recently, but then I looked uphill and the light dawned. That's when things went from curious to alarming.

The black wire is the ground for a mast-mounted am-fm radio antenna, crossing under the barn to tie into the electrical ground-rod.

The Wife has a little barn of her own where she shelters the remaining 'stray' cats, all pretty dang old now, she collected when we lived in town and where she also keeps all her craft supplies. It's one of those "portable" buildings you see being sold along the roadside, at least you see them along the roadsides around here, that we have wired, insulated, paneled and air-conditioned. (The Wife needs lots of air-conditioning from May through to October. . .)

Despite what they call it (Here in Texas "portable" buildings without foundations or concrete slabs are ignored for property-tax purposes, which makes them popular.) her barn is hardly portable, being about the size of a small two-car garage, and it had to be built on-site on top of a gravel pad. Once the pad was prepped, by a contractor that supposedly knew what he was doing, (I shouldn't complain, the barn's been there for over a decade.) the guys showed up with The Wife's barn, or at least the components of The Wife's barn, on a trailer. It took the two men a very long day to get the shell up and it is supported on a whole bunch of concrete pads with bits of treated lumber on top to level out the floor-joists.

That bit of lumber I found hanging out in the middle of nowhere directly downhill from the barn had to be one of those bits.

Sure enough, when I got down on my belly and shown a flashlight under the barn - well - it was bad. . .

The damn thing was giving birth to our own personal Grand Canyon under there and at least one of the support pads had been sitting right in the way.

Holy Crap! One more good rain and the whole damn barn might end up down in the pond!

After a sunny break of a couple days we were due for another week-long round of rains projected to total up to another 5 inches (Normal rainfall for May is 4.82 but we don't always get normal.) so I needed to do something about this situation like right now!

Since the barn was still standing firm despite the loss of some of its support I decided my efforts were best focused on finding a way to prevent any additional gouging out of our own version of the Grand Canyon.

My solution, at least for now, was to divert the runoff to places where it wouldn't be washing the barn down to the neighbour's ranch. (Because I'm pretty sure he doesn't want it.)

I started by digging a trench along the uphill side of the barn. (When you write it down like that it sounds so easy, so offhand, but you try digging an 8 inch deep, 14 inch wide trench in undisturbed,wet, sandy-clay gravel! And do it without dying in the process!)

Then I dropped a couple sheets of left-over polly-carb roofing into the trench (I knew I'd been keeping that stuff around, like for over a decade, for a good reason!) 

And back-filled the trench in three lifts, tamping each one down with a hand-tamper, the only kind I've got. (You know, one of those arm-killing heavy metal plates on the end of a vertical stick that you pick up and smash down, over and over; and over and over; -  and over and over; -  and over - hopefully only hitting your toes a few times in the process.)

The idea, however deluded it is, is that water coming down the hill behind the barn will, instead of flowing right on under it, hit the exposed polly-carb while the buried part keeps it in place, and then divert to either side of the barn before continuing on down towards the pond.

The next morning I dragged a few 60 pound "bricks" (I have some bags of topping mix that I managed to let get wet that I've been keeping around because - well, you never know.) up from where I had them tucked into a corner of the tractor barn.

I suppose I could have used the tractor to haul them up to The Wife's barn (163 steps away and all uphill -- I counted.) but that seemed a little on the decadent side, especially on such a nice sunny day full of birdsong, so I used the hand-truck instead.

Once The Wife found me passed out on the ground and revived me, (Which I'm pretty sure consisted of a few kicks [she says nudges but I don't believe her!] to the ribs while she muttered 'silly old fart.') I threw them down in the hopes of controlling erosion until the trench packs down hard and vegetation grows back and stabilizes it. Then I'll remove the "bricks". At least the trip back to the tractor barn will be downhill!

But I'll tell ya, a project like this is not good for maintaining the flabby-old-man-body image I've been working on so hard for so long.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Rockhouse to Cutoff: 12:18 - 12:37

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

October 20 1954: 12:18 – 12:37

In stark contrast to Mesa Hill, the run from Rockhouse to Cutoff is an easy, relatively straight, 4.9 miles of gentle uphill grade up through the lower end of Russian Flats. Tom and Jake are able to pull the 312 ton train, now whittled down to 3 loads and one empty, across the distance at the speed limit and in slightly less than 20 minutes.

At this altitude, once they are moving again, mostly in the shadows thrown by the trees crowding the tracks, there is a definite bite, a sharp crispness, to the air, that has Ronald retreating into the three-sided doghouse on the tender’s deck to escape the worst of the wind, while Jake shrugs back into both his shirt and jacket as that air cools one side of him while the firebox heats the other. Back in the shelter of the house-car Otis tosses an extra stick or two into his stove and checks to make sure there is still coffee in the pot while Dean keeps an eye on the train from the relative comfort of his seat in the bay.

By rights Ronald, who has more seniority than Dean, should be the rear trainman, which technically is also second in command of the train behind Otis, but he usually has no trouble swapping with the other trainman, giving up the warmth and shelter of the house-car for the open air, and solitude, of the tender-deck.

It’s not that he doesn’t like them, the rest of the crew that is. Otis is one of the easiest conductors he’s worked for and Dean, despite being a shameless skirt chaser and avid partier, is always holding up his end of the deal, doing his share of the work, but experience has taught Ronald that socializing, talking, especially talking personal stuff, is not something that is part of him anymore. That’s something he left behind somewhere on a no-name Pacific island where he traded civilized niceties for the stench of the burned out tunnels and bunkers he had to clear in the most savage ways imaginable, sucking the humanity right out of him, and forever changing his view of man’s place in the world.

The fact that he is still alive while so many others aren’t shows just how good he was at the savagery and that frightens him. In the years since he hasn’t been able to claw his way back to the person he was before the war and now figures he probably won’t, but today, in this moment, that isn’t going to keep him from sitting up here keeping watch over his cars and enjoying being alive in such a beautiful, though sometimes harsh, place.

The leaves, those of the hardwoods anyway, are dropping rapidly and swirling in the passage of the train, sparking a sudden memory of Thanksgivings in western Pennsylvania with his aunts and uncles and lots of cousins. It’s a comfortable memory but a memory it will remain because Ronald, swaying and jerking up there in the solitary sanctuary of the doghouse, won’t be sharing this with the rest of the crew. Maybe, someday, with Cloe, but not yet.

The altitude means the trees are slightly smaller along here than down around Big Timber, but it’s still forest and here on the lower half of Russian Flats, between Rockhouse and Cutoff, there used to be a couple of small logging operations that worked the area, but the two log loaders that serviced them were abandoned after the sawmill in Daylight burned and pretty much eliminated the market for logs, though the short spurs that serviced them have been left in place.

Instead of loggers anymore, the crew occasionally gets a glimpse of elk through here, but not today.

As they approach the west siding switch Tom sees that it is still lined for the main and that Matt, half of the station agent here at Cutoff, has just left the depot at a run to line it properly. Tom chastises himself for mindlessly operating as if he was still #420, assuming the switch would, as usual, already be thrown so he can just roll right on through it. This is an assumption that has him moving the train right along.

But the reality is that it isn’t surprising the switch hasn’t already been thrown since they are so far off schedule and switches must be left lined for the through route until needed. But, because this is the longest siding on the railroad, it’s a long ways from depot to switch, so now Tom is going to get there before Matt will make it, so he needs to get the train stopped short of the points.

The steady rhythm of a train easily covering distance is suddenly interrupted when Tom dumps 10 pounds out of the trainline while bailing off the independent. As soon as he gets the pressure in the trainline down to where he wants it he pulls the service brake lever back to hold then shifts his left hand to the throttle which he starts easing off, but not so much the engine stops pulling on the train as they slow. Otherwise, as he’s making this somewhat sudden stop the slack will run in hard enough to give Otis a nasty jolt.

If he doesn’t bail off by holding the independent brake lever down against the spring trying to force it back up, then the application of the service brake results in an equal application of the independent brake and without the engine pulling the slack will run in on him. Since he needs to gradually close the throttle as the train slows, start the bell, possibly add more brake if he hasn’t set them hard enough, (He does end up dumping an additional 2 pounds.) and bail off the independent all at the same time, he could really use three hands at the moment!

Many engineers keep a nut of just the right thickness, or even a carved wooden wedge, in their pocket which they jam between the housing and the independent lever to keep it forced down and bailing off hands-free, but this is against the rules because if the engineer forgets the independent is disabled like this it can be downright dangerous.

It’s inconvenient, juggling the service brake, throttle, and other controls with only his left hand as the right holds the independent lever down, but Tom prefers to play it safe and never wedges the independent. At least not anymore. Not since an incident on the SP 9 years ago scared the crap out of him. (Forgetting his wedged independent brake in a fog of sleep-deprivation, he cut the engine off a string of cars to run a quarter-mile up to a water tank and nearly ended up rolling right through a switch and into the side of an opposing train when he couldn’t apply the brakes.)

The train comes to a stop, more abrupt than Tom would have wished for, with Matt still 20 yards short of making it to the switch.

With the switch lined Tom pulls past Matt and lets the train drift down the longest siding on the railroad.* He brings it to another, much gentler, stop just short of the east Y switch, using the independent this time to gather up the slack so pulling the pin to uncouple the ore jenny from the house-car will be easier.

*This siding is long enough to fit two trains end to end, which is a real help here at the base of the West Pass Grade where trains tend to stack up waiting for their turn at the longest stretch of unbroken single-track on the railroad.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rockhouse: 11:31 - 12:18

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

October 20 1954: 11:31 – 12:18

After the adrenalin high of dragging the train up Mesa Hill the crew is, to varying degrees, exhausted in the aftermath of success, so they work slow and deliberate as they switch Rockhouse, because no matter how fast they work now, there is no way they can make their scheduled meet with the Downbound Ore at Downhill, which means they will have to wait out the meet at Cutoff, which is only 20 minutes away. So there’s no point in rushing around and possibly getting someone hurt.

There are railroad towns, and then there are railroad towns. Both types were created by the railroad for the railroad, but they differ in what happened next.

The former, Towns like Cheyenne, Dodge, Midland-Odessa, managed to survive, continuing to grow and thrive even once the influence of the railroad started to fade.

The latter – well, not so much. Like the former these towns could be found at the terminus, often temporary terminus, of any railroad project, serving as supply and entertainment points for the track-gangs. But unlike the former, once the track moved on the hotels, the brothels, the saloons, the laundries, the general stores, could find no purpose anymore other than as a temporary obstruction to the winds blowing through.

These are the towns described in a late 1800’s Harper’s Magazine article as instant cities that are wicked, wonderful, and short-lived. Towns that were created for a temporary purpose, just like their successful brethren, but could not sustain themselves beyond that.

After the track-gangs moved on these are the stranded towns, some of them still strung out along the original right-of-ways like cheap glass beads spaced out along a frayed and knotted string. Towns like Horace in western Kansas that today boasts a population of slightly less than 100 and is in real danger now of losing its Post Office, pretty much the only business still in existence.

Then there are towns like Coyote, not all that far from Horace, that in its day, sported “canvas saloons, sheet-iron hotels, and sod dwellings surrounded by tin cans and scattered playing cards”, drawing a steady stream of optimistic, and opportunistic, men and women to the muddy Rat Row, as main street was called, all looking for the best of the building lots marked out with stakes poking up through the prairie grass. But despite that Coyote has now long since disappeared, not only from the maps but from the landscape itself.

Rockhouse too was one of those end-of-track towns. A staging point for the work on the mainline up through Russian Flats as well as the branch-line up Gobbler’s Knob. Here is where supplies, drug up from the basin below, were collected and distributed, where the cook-house, laundry, and barracks for the care and feeding of the track-gangs were set up on one side of the tracks and canvas-walled saloons for the watering and fleecing of those same track-gangs, popped up on the other.  Where the engines working the head-of-track were also fed and watered, and where a DP-owned quarry was opened up to shorten the haul of rock and rip-rap needed to support the rails.

But despite there being few, as in pretty much no, other redeeming commercial opportunities in the immediate vicinity, much like Coyote Kansas, being at about the halfway point on the DP’s 65 mile route, Rockhouse didn’t completely fade into obscurity when the track-gangs moved on.

The railroad, in addition to stationing a section-crew here to handle the constant maintenance and repair of the trackage through this middle part of the rail-line, has also kept Rockhouse alive as a watering stop, the only one between Goat Crossing and Three Creeks.  In addition, today Rockhouse where the up and downbound Expresses meet up twice a day so this is where the DP’s only two-sided depot* is located, with the Upbound using the south platform and the Downbound the north.

*The depot in Daylight also has platforms on each side but in its case the platform on the west side belongs to the Southern Pacific and not the Daylight Pass.

While Otis follows Tom (station agent Tom) to the depot to collect their new orders (As expected, the semaphore in front of the depot is horizontal, because they have to pick up new orders since their time table warrant is no longer valid. This is going to keep station agents all up and down the line busy until the schedule can be restored again.) the rest of the crew spot the empty gon out at the quarry by leaving the house-car sitting on the main and backing the empty gon and ore jenny ¾’s of a mile down the trailing-point quarry spur, through the big chain-link gate, around a pretty sharp right-hand curve, and spotting the gon near the portable rock-crusher which has replaced the big, and long worn out, original crusher that is now sitting lopsided in the weeds where years of use eventually beat it into submission.

The quarry was an active place during construction of the railroad east of Rockhouse when it supplied the large rip-rap used to shore up and protect footing and embankments. A few years later the original rock-crusher was carried up from the basin in pieces on the backs of flatcars and straining engines and used to supply the crushed rock for the ballasting project as the rough-laid track was improved in the following years.

Since the completion of the ballasting project in the late 1920’s the quarry has only been used sporadically, mostly supplying the rip-rap and ballast needed for maintaining the railroad. Though there was a spate of increased activity about 4 years back when the Continental Lodge catering to the skiing crowd in Downhill was built. 888
Right now there is a work train parked on the old abandoned Bishop Estate spur* consisting of a gon-load of timbers, a tool-car, and the big steam powered Ledger.

*In the flush years of the 20’s Edward had a large summer-estate built near the edge of High Hill adjacent to the Rockhouse ruins where it could take advantage of the altitude, cool breezes, and spectacular views. He also laid a rail-spur that reached into the grounds of the estate. The spur came complete with a miniature hand-operated turntable so he could take his 1923 Hudson Touring Super-Six, converted for rail travel, right up to the back door then turn it around for the trip back down the mountain. Today the estate is rarely used and Charles Bishop is in talks with a hotelier exploring the idea of a joint venture to turn the 9 bedroom estate into a high-end resort destination. If that comes about then the rail-spur will probably be opened back up, at least until the highway makes it up here to Rockhouse.

Lacking one of those fancy wrecker-cranes the big railroads have hanging around, the DP relies on the big railcar-mounted Ledger to do the heavy lifting, all of it. With the railcar chained down to the tracks the Ledger’s 1.5” cable can haul tremendous loads. Of course it can only pull in the one direction so the accompanying toolcar carries an assortment of slings and pulleys and blocks that the crew, sometimes with a great deal of ingenuity, uses to direct the pull in whatever direction is necessary.

Last spring’s runoff weakened the footings around some of the pilings of trestle 39.6 and the subsequent shifting has damaged some of the bents. Sunday, when they can work undisturbed by other trains from 08:30 till a little after 17:00 when the returning Ore Turn is scheduled, a crew will be replacing damaged timbers on some of the bents and shoring up the footings with the rip-rap that will be loaded into the gon #420 just spotted.

After coming back out of the quarry stub the crew of #420 tags the last empty, the ore jenny they will set out on the Y at Cutoff for the Jackson Bothers Mine, back onto the house-car. Pushing both back through the west switch where they leave the house-car and jenny behind on the main as they run back up past the depot and clear of the east siding switch.

From there they back down the siding and couple up to the first cut of cars they hauled up the hill. Continuing backwards they run out the west end of the siding and pick up the gon and house-car. With their train finally all in one piece again they head back up the siding and Tom eases to a stop with the tender opposite the water-column standing between the tracks just in front of the depot.

Unless the crew wants to use the siphon* this is the only place to water the train for the rest of the upbound journey.  To simplify taking on water here at Rockhouse the spacing between the main and siding is a little wider than typical. This allows room to put a water-column, basically a water-spout not attached directly to the side of a water tank, in between the tracks where the pivoting spout can service engines on either track.

*The siphon is a fitting, usually attached to lower edge of a tender’s tank for easy access, that uses steam from the boiler to pump water out of a tank, creek, pond or most any other source below the level of the tender-tank, and up into the tender. Basically the siphon is the first 2/3rds of an injector. Steam is fed through s small pipe into a tapering cone which increases its velocity. The resulting vacuum draws water up a suction-hose temporarily attached to a protruding nipple, then the water is mixed with the steam in the second stage and forced up a pipe and into the tender. Though this uses up some of the precious steam, it is still a more effective way of getting water into the tender than using a bucket-brigade. (Using buckets to fill the tender at a place too remote or small to warrant a water tower is a process known as jerking water and is the origin of the derogatory phrase ‘jerk-water town’.)

There are two stand-pipes here at Rockhouse, one near each end of the siding. This means that it doesn’t matter which direction a train is going or track it’s on, it can simply pull forward and take on water while its cars are clear of the switch behind.

This arraignment to quickly and efficiently watering trains is important because, even today with less traffic on the line than in earlier years, nine trains a day come through Rockhouse and every day, seven days a week, between 07:17 and 07:22 there are three of them in town at the same time. The two Expresses and the Upbound Ore.

Both standpipes are supplied by a single 30,000 gallon tank that sits near the maintenance warehouse and is fed with a pipe from a year-round creek higher up the mountain.*  The water is sent from tank to the 10” spouts by a large pump tucked under the elevated tank that can push as much as 1500 gallons per minute.

*Originally the tank was fed with an open-topped, overhead flume but that proved prone to icing up so was replaced with a buried pipe instead. You can still see a section of the old flume standing back there in the woods below the dammed section of creek if you know where to find it.

Spotted at the standpipe, Jake, not bothering to don the flannel shirt the heat of the fire he tends compels him to remove whenever they-re not out on the track generating their own breeze, climbs up on the tender where he pulls the large fill-hatch open, letting it crash back onto the stops with a hollow-sounding boom. In the meantime Ronald climbs down and, using a lever similar to that on a switch stand, pivots the heavy standpipe against a slight incline so the spout swings over and hangs above the tender.

The spouts here at Rockhouse tilt up and down against a counter-weighted pulley system just like the ones on more traditional water tanks to accommodate all sizes of tenders, and as Jake finishes swinging it into position over the open hatch he leans on the spout to lower it close to the hatch to minimize splashing.

When he’s got it positioned he gives the OK for Ronald to open the valve at the base of the water-column and pull the heavy switch that starts the pump over there in the heater-shed under the water tank. In a few seconds water is gushing loudly into the 2/3rds empty tender. (Jake can tell what the water level is by counting the exposed rungs of the permanently fixed ladder used by the roundhouse crew to climb in and clean the tank.)

A light train, such as the Express’s before that job was taken over by the RDC’s, could make it up to Three Rivers without taking on additional water, but the heavy trains trying to climb the mountain go through a whole lot of the stuff and must water here at Rockhouse. Downbound trains, which are mostly drifting, which doesn’t use near as much water, don’t bother unless they have been delayed excessively.

When the water is just about to spill over the combing around the hatch Jake gives a shout and Ronald turns the pump off and closes the valve.  Jake steps out of the way of the spout which is pulled back up by counter-weights and pivots away on its own until it is parallel to the tracks and once again out of the way of passing trains. To finish up Jake closes the hatch. This time it drops into place over the full tank with a solid gong sound.  

While all this is going on Tom climbs down and oils and inspects the engine before joining Otis and agent Tom in the depot to check in their new orders.

Actually, it’s two sets of orders.

The first is an order annulling train #420 from Rockhouse to Three Creeks, wiping it from the schedule for today. This order is also sent to all trains that would have shared track with #420 to let them know it won’t be there. For most the crews this is a blue ‘19’ order that is just passed along by the operator, but because of the potentially disastrous impact of it not being properly passed along to the crew of #420, in the case of Otis and Tom it is an orange ‘31’, an order than must be read back to the operator verbatim and then signed for by each of them.* Tom, station agent Tom, then contacts the dispatcher who marks the order as completed.

*Regardless of 19 or 31, orders are written on pads of “flimsies”. Two sheets of double-sided carbon paper are slipped between the first and second and third and fourth pages to create 4 copies, one for the operator, one for the engineer, one for the conductor, and one to be sent back down to the dispatcher to be archived. Rather than a pen, the operator uses a stylus, usually of high-quality steel with a highly polished tip, to write orders. The paper is thin enough that the writing on the back of the first and third sheets can be read through it and in the dark can be held up to a lantern or the open firedoors so the light shines through, making it easy to read.

The second order, just for them, creates a new train called Extra 1428 East, originating in Rockhouse. As an extra, they are to stay out of the way of all scheduled trains. Since they will still be able to make Three Rivers before the Downbound Express is scheduled to leave, (No train is allowed to leave a depot before its scheduled time. Rule 92) this means they only have the Downbound Ore to contend with.

Officially the Downbound Ore is identified as train #311 and the evening Downbound Express as train #109. On the DP all even numbered trains are upbound, which is officially eastbound, and odd numbered trains are downbound, or westbound. The first digit of a train number identifies its class. The Express #109 being a first-class train is superior to all except an upbound first-class (On the DP upbound trains are superior to downbounds of the same class.) and #311, as a third-class train, is superior to their own #420, or rather was since #420 doesn’t exist anymore. As #420 they were superior to extras headed in either direction, but now, as an extra themselves, they are only superior to westbound extras and it’s their job to stay out of the way of everything else.

Jake, still up on top, is enjoying the sun which gently heats the black deck of the tender and wouldn’t mind just staying up here and taking a break, but Otis, checking against the timetable he carries in a back pocket at all times even though he knows it by heart, decides they have time to get up to Cutoff before the Downbound Express is due. Since the Jackson Brothers are probably spitting nails waiting on the empty ore jenny that was supposed to be there hours ago he signals for Tom to get underway now.

Extra 1428 East clears Rockhouse at 12:18, two hours and fifteen minutes behind #420’s schedule.

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