Monday, June 3, 2019

Cutoff: 12:37 - 13:35

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

October 20 1954: 12:37 – 13:35

Cutoff* is the smallest and most remote of all the outposts along the DP. Remote enough that here, firmly in the middle of the twentieth century, it still requires a generator to supply electricity because no power lines reach into this isolated part of the valley.

*The question of whether Cutoff was named for its isolation or because it’s the point where the Thorny Branch branch-line cuts off from the main has never been definitively answered, though there are adamant proponents in both camps.

Not counting the Jackson family, which pretty much keep to themselves partway up Gobblers Knob, and the small, seasonal logging crew that sets up camp out in whatever woods they’re working at the time, Cutoff has a permanent population of two and consists of the depot, a generator shed, and a speeder shed.

Originally Edward Bishop envisioned Cutoff growing into a town not much different than Three Creeks. A bustling, growing little center of commerce servicing the mines he expected to start popping up along the flanks of Russian Flats as soon as his railroad opened up the area. A town, not coincidentally, that would be sitting on Lincoln Holdings land. But apparently the vein of ore under Gobblars Knob was an anomaly and once the Thorny Prospect Mine closed down the DP would have abandoned this blip on the mountain were it not for its importance as a control point at the base of the West Pass Grade.

The depot here is the only one on the line with living quarters attached. That’s because the DP has found the most cost-effective way to staff this remote location where labor is hard to come by is to hire a husband-wife team and have them live right there in the depot. To that end an addition was added to the back side of the original building to accommodate a small but cozy kitchen, indoor tub, and bedroom/sitting room. Of course the depot waiting room rarely sees any actual passengers so the occupants can more than double their space by spreading out into it when they want.

Between the remoteness and being ‘on’ 24 hours a day every day, it’s not an assignment suited for just anybody, which has resulted in frequent turnover, but Matt and Anna, a couple that are somewhere in their late 50’s early 60’s,* have held the post down for almost three years now, almost as long as Tom has been back on DP tracks.

*Everyone assumes they are married but nobody bothered to look at their backgrounds very carefully when they applied for the job that very few seemed interested in.

A couple times a month one or the other of them will use their company pass and catch the morning Downbound Express to Daylight. After a stroll through the bustling environs of town and eating a lunch prepared by someone else for a change, they, which ever one of them went down, will return on the evening Upbound with supplies. And for emergencies the DP leaves a speeder sitting in a shed near the generator that they can use to get down to Rockhouse fairly quickly if necessary, not that that’s a lot of help since, other than a few more people, Rockhouse is pretty much as bereft of services as Cutoff, but taking a speeder down Mesa Hill would be suicide and going up to Downhill is too much for the diminutive engine in the old and surplus speeder.

Once in the siding the crew of Extra 1428 East cuts the house-car off then pulls the rest of the train forward, right out the other end of the siding and onto the main. (Despite the length of the siding, because of a design blunder the only way a train more than a single engine in length can get into the west leg of the Y is to pull out onto the main.) Anna, the other half of the Cutoff Station Agent team, is there to throw the west Y switch for them  and Tom backs into the curve.

Anna has already lined the south Y switch and unlocked the de-rail,* so Tom doesn’t have to stop again until the ore jenny has been shoved back beyond the de-rail, onto what used to be the beginning of the Thorny Branch, the DP’s one and only branch-line.

*When closed a de-rail will pick up a wheel and throw it to the outside of the rail, dragging the opposite wheel off the inside of the other rail, putting the car or engine on the ground, protecting the track beyond. When open the de-rail lies harmlessly between the rails so cars can pass.

Back when the railroad was built, even before the track was completed up through the pass into the lucrative mining area of Six Peaks, the construction crews shoved a switch-backing, 7.8 mile branch-line up the eastern flank of Gobler’s Knob to reach the site of the Thorny Prospect Mine. It just so happened that Edward Bishop held the proofed and patented mining claims up there and he leased them to the newly formed Thorny Prospect Mining company for a little percentage of every ton of ore that came out of the ground. Of course he also got paid for every ton his railroad dragged down the mountain to the processor.

When the mine ceased operation in 1946 the Jackson Brothers, owners of a small drift-mine partway up the flank of the Knob, convinced the DP to turn the lower 3.1 miles of the branch line over to them with the stipulation that the brothers would maintain and operate the track on their own. With scrap prices being modest at best, the DP management, which by then meant Edward’s son Charles, decided that the limited revenue they would get from hauling the occasional load of Jackson Brother’s ore down the mountain would, in the long run, be worth more than the scrap value of that last 3 miles of rail, so they agreed.

So instead of having to back up the former branch-line all the way to the Jackson Brother’s tiny mine, all Tom has to do is leave the jenny sitting on the track behind the re-locked de-rail.

Because they are late dropping this car off the brothers are already sitting there just up the track in the little 4 wheel, 7 ton Baldwin they picked up used in Albuquerque and repowered with a John Deer diesel engine of shady origins, (The brothers claim it came from the same Albuquerque dealer the Baldwin did after they found the original gas engine wasn’t up to the job, but around that same time a nearby abandoned McGiffert log-loader’s engine, coincidentally also a John Deer diesel, went missing.)

The brothers are waiting impatiently to drag the jenny the rest of the way up to their mine as soon as possible so they can get it loaded, by hand since their tiny operation doesn’t include a fancy loader, and back down to the derail before tomorrow’s downbound freight.

It only takes a few minutes to pull out of the Y and back down the siding to retrieve the house-car, but now they have to wait on the Ore so, with Ronald staying behind to mind the engine, the rest of the crew drifts on over to the depot where they spend the time standing on the ramp to the freight room chatting with Matt and Anna. The Station Agent are a nice couple that have few opportunities to socialize up here so the crew are content with taking a break.

Well, perhaps Dean is a little less content than the rest.

Being delayed has ruined his plans to sit at the counter in Ryan’s Emporium – Drugs – & Sundries up in Three Creeks and flirt with Isabella Montego between her bouts of serving burgers, fries, and ice-cream, mostly fries because they are the cheapest, to the kids after school lets out.

Now, by the time they get to Three Creeks Isabella will be home serving her widowed father and older brother, both of who work first shift at the power plant, their dinner. Dean knows better than to come calling when Isabella’s father is around. The man has no trust when it comes to Dean, nor should he truth be known.

At first Tom isn’t much of an active participant in the conversation, which he is vaguely aware is centered on the upcoming winter and getting a machinist from the roundhouse to come up and give the generator a good going over before it gets here.

Instead he lets his eye wander to the fenced garden-plot there in the middle of the Y. Matt and Anna, mostly Anna though Matt puts in his time as well, are accomplished gardeners and in summer the plot is bursting at the seams with an array of plants that feed the two well for most of the year.

This time of year there are only a few late-season crops still in the ground. He can see carrots, beets, cabbage, and, even from here, he can see the tops of plump red radishes poking out of the ground. It’s still a little early for them down in the warmer climes of Daylight, but he doubts his own radishes will look anything near as good as Matt and Anna’s.

Until the past couple years he would have never recognized the different plants let alone have some of his own, but now he has his own garden-plot behind the little two-bedroom house he bought in the old section of Daylight when he moved back after – well, after.

He’d never been a gardener before so he doesn’t know where the urge came from, but now he spends much of his downtime out back messing with his plants, which include what the older lady that lives on the other side of the alley calls ornamentals mixed in amongst his veggies just because he likes the way they look.

Being reminded of his garden helps chase away the daemons brought on by the ineptitude of the paperweights down in Daylight, or at least drives those daemons into some remote corner, and with renewed interest he joins the conversation.

Eventually they hear the whine of the Ore coming down the mountain, even though it will still be several minutes before it arrives.

The whine comes from the eight traction motors on the two Alco RS-3’s that make up the Ore’s motive power. The motors, instead of delivering power to the track are now busy turning the rotation of the axles into electricity. This is like downshifting a vehicle, and like downshifting, is holding back the 1000 ton train. The traction motors whine when used as generators and the whine is only added to by the sound of the big fans inside the short-hood struggling to cool down the resistors all that generated electricity are heating up.

The resistance of dynamic braking means that the air brakes can be used much less and, unlike when it was powered with a couple steamers, now the Ore can roll straight through Cutoff without stopping to cool brakes and wheels and reset retainers after the long run down West Pass Grade.

Finally the headlight of the approaching train, with engine 1955 running in the lead with 1956 trailing, pokes though the woods and the group in front of the depot, to a man, or rather to a person, checks their watches as is the ingrained habit of railroaders. The Ore is right on time and the group in front of the depot splits up.

The semaphore is pointing down since there are no orders to hand up so the Ore will be rolling straight through Cutoff. Matt stays put on the depot side of the tracks while Anna steps across the main to the other side. The crew of Extra 1428 also drifts across the main to stand next to their train.

Anna and Matt inspect their respective sides as the Ore rolls by with a raucous, soulless blatt from the airhorns that makes the crew of the steamer cringe.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that sound,” Otis says.

“Yeah,” Tom agrees. “You can’t play those airhorns like you can the whistles either.” That’s going to suck some of the life out of railroading. He keeps that last thought to himself.

Both Matt and Anna give a highball to the house-car crew when they see nothing more than a little residual smoke from the brakes that helped control the speed of the train as it came down the long, steep slope of the West Pass Grade. From here to Rockhouse the dynamic brakes will be enough to hold the train without using the brakes anymore. At Rockhouse they will stop just long enough to alternate the retarded cars as they prepare for dropping down Mesa Hill.

Shortly after receiving the highball the engineer, who has slowed the train while passing the depot, pulls the selector handle back to the big “B” position which reduces the amount of dynamic braking effort to zero and the whine of traction motors in generator mode drops to a whisper. This allows gravity to do the work of speeding the train up again as it starts down towards Rockhouse.

That’s the crew of Extra 1428’s signal to get ready to roll themselves.

As soon as the Ore clears the depot Anna, who generally handles all the switching at the east end of Cutoff while Matt handles it at the west end, trots lightly and expertly along the ties between the rails and lines the east switch so the Freight (Technically it’s not the Freight anymore but everyone still thinks of it that way.) can take the main.

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