Monday, June 17, 2019

Downhill: 14:53 – 17:51 (Part 1)

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

October 20 1954: 14:53 – 17:51

Downhill sits squarely in Daylight Pass and was rather unimaginatively named based on the fact that from here the tracks in either direction run downhill. It started out as a simple siding with a ‘depot’ made from an old, modified boxcar, a refrigerated boxcar because it was already insulated.

This depot, in addition to sheltering the block operator, also served as sort of a mini section-house for the track-gang along this section of the line to store equipment and tools rather than drag everything down to Three Creeks all the time.

Trains in either direction would have to stop in the pass to drop off helper engines and set themselves up for the downhill run to come and it wasn’t long before the siding was extended around the curve at the east end of the pass to allow a little more room because it was soon discovered that trains tended to bunch up here in the pass waiting for others to clear the grades on either side.

Then the post-war prosperity came along and created a middle-class out of the war-weary working-man.  A middle-class with more free time, and disposable cash, on their hands than ever before.

For some of them downhill skiing became an increasingly popular free time activity, and capitalizing on the ready-made slopes on the south side of the pass, (The north side of the pass is a little too rugged for your average skier but it is starting to attract a small but growing climbing crowd.) it didn’t take long for a fancy lodge and some ski-lifts to be installed up here.

The growing demand for the recreational possibilities of the place, despite its remoteness, brought along with it the need for shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and a larger depot, as well as housing for the staff needed to cater to the visitors. And now the owners of the lodge are expanding it, hence the emergency load of lumber Otis and his crew have dragged up the hill today.

When they come around the corner Jake, who can see it first because of the curve, alerts Tom that the west switch has not yet been lined for the siding and he brings the train to a stop so Ronald can go forward and line it for them.

From here Tom can see that a speeder is sitting on the main in front of the old depot which is now used for storage. He can also see that the track-gang, instead of putting the speeder away in the small shed alongside the old depot, is dragging out tools and a second trailer to add to the one already behind the speeder.

He also sees that the arm of the semaphore out in front of the new depot farther on down the track is horizontal, telling him they have new orders to pick up.

This can’t be good.

As he pulls through the switch and rolls slowly past the track-gang they finish lifting the second trailer onto the tracks then all six men head for the rail-bunks where spare sections of rail are stored up off the ground. By the time Tom stops the train out in front of the new depot the track-gang have lifted a 39’, nearly 800 pound section of rail off the bunks and are horsing onto the trailers.*

*Track comes in standardized 39’ lengths so they fit into 40’ gondola cars. Spare lengths of rail are left at key points along the line, often, as is the case here at Downhill, stored on pairs of concrete posts, called bunks, with notches in the top that the base of the rail sits in. This keeps the rail sections up off the ground, and here in the pass, up out of the snow.

Tom stops with the engine just short of the spur to the Bailey Fuels Downhill Terminal and the team track. Both of their drops, the Bailey Fuels tank-car and the boxcar full of lumber, go into this spur and since it, unlike the old helper-spur, now refurbished to service the newly opened Downhill Mercantile and the future High Country Warehouse, is a facing point spur for upbound trains, they need to cut the engine off and run it around the train to shove the cars into place. But they can’t take the main for the runaround until the track-gang, whatever they are up to, have cleared, so he climbs down and joins Otis who is headed for the depot.

Ed, the station agent, is just hanging up the phone when they walk in.

“What’s going on out there Ed?” Otis asks.

“Well, we got us a little bit-a trouble,” Ed replies, handing each of them a hand-written TO that holds them here in DH until the operator releases them.  “Griff (Griffon McCray, the conductor on the Ore) says dey ran over a broken rail at ‘bout 58.3. Says a chunk a rail jumped up be’ind da last jenny and smacked da pilot beam on da ‘ouse-car pretty ‘ard and I seen da dent it made.

“Anyway, I ‘ad Griff drop a butterfly* ta da track-gang as ‘e went by telling em to git der butts back up ‘ere. We’re gona ‘ave ta ‘old you ‘ere til dey git on down dere and fix whatever ‘appened.”

*A note or orders dropped from a moving train. Called a butterfly because, unless weighted down, it often flutters like a butterfly across the ground.

Otis pulls out his watch and checks the time. “Well there’s little chance they’ll get things put to rights in time for us to make it down to TR (Three Creeks) before the Express leaves. This is not turning out to be the best of runs.” (He doesn’t need to check his observations against his timetable because he has that committed to memory.)

“Yeah, I ‘eard about your troubles down on Mesa ‘ill. Da foreman uh dat Lodge projik was fit to be tied a couple-tree days ago en da lumber dey expected didn’t show up. Claims ‘e’s got 16 men on da job all standin’ round with deir tumbs up deir – well, you know, waitin’ on some wood. In fact I’m surprised ‘e’s not ‘ere crawlin up our – well, you know, right now. ‘e must a been in ‘ere a ‘alf dozen times already  ta’day askin when y’all are gona  – Oops, spoke too soon. ‘at’s ‘im coming up from da Lodge right now.”

Otis and Tom beat a hasty retreat, leaving Ed to deal with the irate customer while the two of them wait from the safety of their train for the track-gang to get loaded up and clear out of the way.

When the rest of the crew is informed about what’s going on they just shrug their shoulders. Despite Tom’s reaction back there in Big Timber, running late is no big deal, especially when running upbound since Three Creeks, where they have to spend the night, is not their home base anyway. And on the positive side, every hour they are held up out here on the rails means another hour of overtime pay this half.*

*Most railroaders are paid twice a month, or once a half, and though they are, by Federal rules, allowed to work up to 16 hour days, they are paid time and a half for anything over 8 hours.

For Dean there’s yet another positive to being held for several hours here in Downhill. This time of year the lodge will be starting to staff up for the winter season and he has a feeling that he just might find something of a diversion in the form of the female persuasion to keep him occupied. But first they have to finish their switching and tie-up,* which means that dang track-gang needs to get a move on!

*When a train is stopped for a while it is ‘tied-up’ or ‘tied down’, even if there is no actual chain involved.

As if they heard Dean’s hormone-driven plea, the speeder, dragging two trailers loaded down with a mound of tools, one length of track and a track-gang, ticks across the rail-joints as it goes by.

Because it’s hard enough keeping the switches they do have up here in the pass ice-free and functioning during the winters, despite being the second longest siding on the railroad there are no intermediate crossovers between the main and siding so Tom, Jake and Ronald have to run the engine all the way down the siding to the east switch, then back through Downhill on the main all the way to the west switch in order to come up behind the house-car and the rest of the train which they left sitting on the siding.

The crew shoves the tankcar to the end of the spur and spots it next to the tanks and unloading facilities of the Baily Fuels terminal.

As of last year Downhill now gets its electricity from the power plant in Three Creeks rather than from the small local plant, but Bailey Fuels’ are still used for heating, cooking, and fueling the various vehicles used for transportation around the village (calling it a town at this point is getting a little ahead of things) as well as the funny looking groomers that run around on the slopes at night like bright-eyed insects, preparing the surface for the next day’s onslaught of skiers.

Tom is relieved to have that tank car set out and off the train, but because of the order of the remaining cars, he has to back all the way out of the spur to set the boxcar destined for Three Creeks aside before he can shove the infamous box of lumber onto the team-track where the construction crew is already standing by to unload it.

Even if the construction crew didn’t need the lumber right away, they would make sure the car was empty so tomorrow’s Downbound Freight, which comes through here before dawn, can pick it up because though the boxcar is owned by the DP, customers still have to pay demurrage after 48 hours, so if they miss tomorrow’s train that means a day’s worth of demurrage since the next downbound after that isn’t until Saturday. (The tank cars used to haul the Bailey fuels are owned by Bailey so they are not subject to demurrage, but in order to make room for the loaded tank expected Friday the workers here at the Downhill terminal will probably have today’s drop emptied and ready to go back down the mountain by tomorrow as well.)

With the house-car tagged back onto the rear of the Three Creeks box Tom uses the main to run around the train one last time to couple up to the head end, ready to finish the final 9.5 miles of their run to Three Creeks.

But first they have to wait on the track-gang and then, unless the track-gang is exceptionally fast, giving the Freight enough time to get down to Three Creeks before 17:10 at the latest, they will have to continue to wait here in Downhill until the evening Downbound Express clears.

So with their train tied down just opposite the depot, the new depot, Otis, Tom, and Jake walk the short distance to Hap’s. Otis, even after chaining the house-car down back there in Wild Woman Canyon, is neat as a pin as usual, but Jake and Tom have to slap the worst of the dust and grime off as they go.

Ronald, as he usually does, opts to stay with the engine and keep an eye on it, and Dean has his own plans for the next couple hours, such as prowling the north side for anything interesting in the way of stray females, unencumbered or not.

 By day Hap’s is a sandwich shop, by night a bar, and more importantly, Hap’s is on the north side of the tracks, the cheap side, along with the dorm-like single-staff housing, a short row of apartments for married staff, and various low-brow entertainment establishments where the underpaid staff of the south side’s  Lodge, fancy restaurants, and various pro and gift-shops can cut loose and shake off a shift of cleaning rooms, clerking stores, manning the lifts, washing dishes and just generally serving ‘guests’, though it isn’t unknown for lodge visitors to cross the tracks to go slumming for an evening.

Even if he was willing to spend way too much on a quick lunch, the working railroader hardly meets the standards of dress and cleanliness of the south-side.

After running a thickly sliced roast-beef sandwich, chips, and his freshly filled thermos (coffee of course, with plenty of sugar.) back out to Ronald to ease their guilt at leaving him out there on his own, Tom, Jake, and Otis settle down with their own sandwiches, chips and coffee, in mugs in their case, at a table in the front window of Hap’s where they can see the tracks.

In addition to working all hours, the life of a railroader also means irregular, and usually basic, meals.

These men spend a lot of time together so there isn’t much new to talk about except the latest shenanigans of Otis’s grandkids, (The oldest girl, Shannon, finally got the cast off her arm and Tom, wondering how he ever would have managed, is guiltily relieved that he and Mary never had children of their own.) Jake’s most recent combination camping and fishing trip with his wife, (They took the wife’s brother with them over to the Caballo Reservoir on the Rio Grande and it didn’t work out too well, Jake’s brother-in-law being more of a motor-court and restaurant kind of guy.) and the latest repairs on Tom’s truck (None, knock on wood.) and progress with his garden. (The crew is often the happy recipient of excess harvest.)

They have been sitting in companionable silence, nursing mugs of coffee for a while (Railroaders quickly learn the art of waiting, it’s an inescapable part of the job.) when Otis asks, “What do you think of those Alco’s Tom? You’ve ridden them already haven’t you?”

The pair of Alco’s are relatively new to the DP and have been assigned exclusively to the Ore, the DP’s highest earner, dragging as many as 12 loaded ore jennys from the mines in the Six Peaks Basin down the mountain to the Fresnel Processing plant every single day.

Unlike the pair of steamers they replace which required a crew each, not to mention the third steamer and crew needed to hump anything more than a six car train up the East Pass Grade, the paired diesel-electric Alco’s not only don’t require the services of a helper when climbing, albeit slowly, up out of Three Rivers on the East Pass Grade, but also only require a single crew because the engines can be MU’ed (Multi Unit) together by connecting up a series of cables between them so both engines take commands from a single engineer.

“Yeah, in fact I completed my third trip last Sunday and am qualified on them now.”*

*In order to be turned loose on any new type of engine the DP first requires three qualifying trips, round trips, under the supervision of a qualified crew. These qualifying trips are at half pay. Not that the money was an issue, but rather than take himself off the board for his regular freight runs, Tom did his qualifying runs over three Sundays in a row. By the time he finishes this coming Saturday’s Downbound Freight run he will be a few days short of working a solid month without any time off, but that isn’t unusual for a railroader. During the rush of the war many railroaders worked 7 days a week for months on end.

“I didn’t know you were doing that! You think I should qualify?” Jake sat up and asked nervously.

“Yeah, I do Jake,” Tom answered without hesitation. “Word is Charley (Referring to Charles Bishop, the railroad founder’s son and current owner, though he’s only Charley when he’s not around, otherwise he’s always Charles.) has already ordered more of the Alco’s and has plans to pull the steamers out of regular service altogether in the next couple years.

“But to be honest, I think you better get set up and running (qualify as an engineer) soon too,” Tom added. “You must have heard the rumors that railroads, and that will include the DP, are going to do away with the fireman’s position on the diesels? Well I don’t think it’s a rumor at all. I think it’s going to happen, and soon. You need to start taking the right-hand seat more often when I offer.*

 *’Taking the right-hand seat’ is when the engineer has the fireman take over his duties for all or part of a run while he moves to the left seat and handles the firing, sort of an informal apprenticeship program. Tom has always been willing but so far Jake has preferred to stay on his side of the cab.

“Tom is right Jake,” Otis pitches in. “Right now the crews on the Ore still have a fireman, but everybody knows there’s no fire to take care of.  Instead the fireman just sits there and keeps an eye on those big diesel engines and the generators and such,* but I’m convinced the rumors are true and the fireman position will eventually be dropped. Heck I’ve even heard that the house-car will be dropped from the through trains which will then be run by a three-man crew!”

*These early diesels are not terribly sophisticated machines and the electrics can be finicky.  Crewmen quickly learn to add big, non-conductive fuse-pullers to their toolkit because there are many fuses protecting the various circuits that, fuses doing what fuses do, often needed replacing. It also isn’t unusual for the fireman, or maybe even the head trainman if he can be talked into it, to have to use the wooden stick of a flag to force recalcitrant relays to – well, relay.

“How can they do that?” Jake asks incredulously. “Everybody knows you can’t run a train with just three men.?!”

“Why not?” Otis asked. “The Expresses already operate with just one man. I’m not saying that will happen on the Freight, but the Ore and Pipeline don’t do any switching except at the ends of the run where some yard-man can help out.”

“Well I don’t see these new machines ever replacing the steamers,” Jake sulked, never one to be comfortable with change.

“I think you’re wrong there Jake,” Tom said. “I heard that kind of talk on the SP back just after the war, that the diesel-electrics were just an experiment that might be alright in the yard but would never make it out on the road and there’d always be steamers. But those diesel electrics are still here nearly 10 years on. Heck, just look at the SP down there in Daylight. The majority of the trains going through are headed up by those big PA units now. I only hear a steamer on the SP tracks maybe two or three times a week. No, my guess is that even here on the DP the diesels are putting the steamers out to pasture within the next 10 years, maybe even 5.”

There is a renewed silence at their table as the three railroaders contemplate the future.

“So what are the Alco’s like?” Otis asks.

Now even Jake is leaning forward to listen, so Tom tells them about the Alco’s, in railroader to railroader detail.

“The first thing that kinda slaps you in the face,” he tells them, ”is the view from the cab. Some railroads are doing it differently, but here we’re running the RS-3’s with the short-hood forward and it’s almost like riding on the pilot!

“From the seat it feels like the oncoming track is going to end up in your lap. On the other hand, from there you not only can see more of the track in front than from the Consolidation, but if you stand up, you can also over the hood to the left side. And you don’t have to lean out the window to see behind, instead you can look over your shoulder and see down the side of the engine behind.  Or just pivot around on your comfortable little seat which is like a stool with a back on it. But after riding all the way back behind the boiler for so many years it’s a little scary being so close to the front of the engine and that’s going to take some getting used to.

“And unlike a steamer, even when the Alco’s are stopped they’re noisy. There’s a constant rumble from the massive 12 cylinder engine that you can feel in your feet, along with a roar from a whole bunch of fans that are always spinning back inside the long hood to keep the beast cool. And instead of the occasional creak of strained boiler-plates adjusting to changes in heat and pressure, there’s random clacking from something called relays and little snaps as electricity jumps into sparks.

“As far as operating the Alco, in some ways the controls, that are mostly clustered together on this thing called a control stand that sits right were the boiler backhead and firedoors should be, are similar to those of a steamer, but in others they are quite different and take some getting used to.

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