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.

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