Wednesday morning, 7:30 a.m., the phone rings "Mr. Crosby, you are called for 9:00, the Hoquiam Turn." I had two days off since working the Seattle Yard 3:59 p.m. job, Sunday, 20 March 1977. Now, having marked up the Tacoma Road Extra Board, I knew I would rarely see much free time again. Now I would live out of my grip, bouncing between locomotives and the dregs of motels, some so strange that they must have been the intentional infliction of Company management.
1977 Seattle area freeway traffic was bad, but not impassable like today. In those days an hour and half call to be on duty at Tide Flats Yard, Tacoma, was no problem. And this was for the best, for what counted most for roadmen was arriving on time. Arrive late, and one could expect to be ostracized for years. Long hair no longer mattered; neither did being in a state of semi-consciousness; nor did it matter if the yardmaster was late building the train; or if the roundhouse had the power ready: all that mattered was being in the door of the shack they called a yard office, ON TIME.
Commercials vs Boxcars
The South Lines were really logger branch lines. Before the advent of the Portland trains, most traffic on the South Lines consisted of either raw logs, finished forest products, or chemicals and supplies for saw and paper mills.
The Portland trains should have never been run over this poorly engineered and maintained "turkey trail." To compete, the Milwaukee should have held out for trackage rights over the Burlington Northern from Chehalis Junction to Tacoma.
Portland trains notwithstanding, freight cars were referred to as either logs or commercials.
"Milwaukee Dispatcher to 964, how many commercials on your train?"
"964 to caboose, 'patcher's calling."
"964 to Milwaukee Dispatcher, we've got 89 and 8; 3,778 tons; 82 logs and 14 commercials."
"Milwaukee Dispatcher to 964, set out your Mineral track two's at Allison, how many?"
"Law, how many logs out of track two?"
"964 to Milwaukee Dispatcher, 22 logs for Allison."
"Dispatcher to 964, ok, leave them all east of the crossing."
You reported to the conductor, seated at a small desk, up against the wall, next to the door.
"I'm Crosby, for the Hoquiam Turn."
"Ok Crosby, that's your conductor over there at the desk."
"Hi, John Crosby, I just marked up to the board."
"Chris Stecker, conductor, hoghead's Rick Emry, this is an all extra crew. You can go down to roundhouse and bring him into any clear alley to run around five, that's where our train is. Leave your grip out on the lead, you can grab it up on the crummy when you walk up from the power for the shove out to Tacoma Junction."
A short walk, through mud, over planks, through a back door, then into the florescent world of the famous Tacoma Roundhouse.
"I 'm looking for Hoquiam Turn's power."
"Outside in front, the 5600."
Outside the main door, stepping carefully to avoid pools of black water. Then aboard Engine 5600.
"I'm John Crosby, just marked up to the road."
"Rick Emry, have you been up the hill before?"
"Once on a student trip on the Mineral Turn, and then when I got called out of Seattle Yard for a Portland Train."
"Rosy and Bangs."
Laughs, "Well someone has to work their job."
pixs: trainordermerge1,2x,3,4,5 no captions
"A fistful of orders"
"Clear on the spring switch at the end of double track. And highball from the Tacoma Junction operator."
"Thanks Blackburn. Ok Crosby, you can get off at the Junction switch, and don't forget to get Emry's copies of the orders. And don't forget your grip."
. . .
"Here's the orders."
"955 to caboose, Chris what do we have for a train?"
"Rick we've got 37 mty logs for Western Junction right now, 5 mty commercials for Cosmo, and 10 loads commercials for Hoquiam; and a pickup at Allision. How are we going to be on the hill this morning?"
"No problem, with the slug set we will sail right up. Figured on a pick up at Allision, what is it?"
"12 logs, some for Western, some for Hoquiam."
"Milwaukee Dispatcher to 955, over."
"This is 955, Dispatcher."
"Say Chris, any delay on getting in the clear at Allision? Your pickup is at the west end and 902 is getting short on time."
"Dispatcher, where are they now?"
"Milwaukee Dispatcher to 902"
"Ok 902, did you hear that Chris."
"They were broken up Dispatcher."
"Ok Chris, they are coming through Rainier."
"Caboose to 955, moving."
"955 to Milwaukee Dispatcher, no problem, we'll be in the clear, but we will have the crossing blocked for awhile."
"Can't have everything. Dispatcher out."
. . .
"John, you're going have to run for the switch at Allison, this will be a tight meet."
"What, 902 has 30 miles or so to go, that'll be an hour won't it?"
"Yeah, but we've got 15 miles to go ourselves plus slow going up to Hillsdale."
. . .
"Caboose to 955, we'll pull up tight to the west end pocket. Crosby, go ahead and cut the power off, then go across to inspect 902. Rick we'll be blocking the crossing for awhile but oh well. After 902 clears, go out on the main, come back in on the west end and we'll shove it all together. Blackburn will walk the hand brakes and make the joint between the pickup and the train. On the air test he'll walk the brakes up and ride the headend to Maytown."
"Roger Chris, headlight on the main now. Sending Crosby across in a second."
. . .
"John, did you see who that was? Your old buddies, Rozenski and Bangs."
"Huh, wonder what was up with all those S.P. hoppers?"
"Copper ore from Chile, the latest thing I hear."
"From the S.P. at Brooklyn?"
"That's it, from Los Angeles, California, bound for Montana."
"Coals to Newcastle?"
. . .
"955 to caboose, can't move 'em Chris, something's up."
"Well they're not releasing back here. Better send Blackburn back."
"Got to do something Chris, been on that crossing for half an hour."
. . .
"Caboose to 955, moving. What was the problem?"
"Someone closed an angle cock at the crossing. Its called getting even."
On the move at McKenna
"This is cool, first time I've seen this trestle in daylight. Looks like the kids like to party down there. Actually looks like a fairly nice beach for a northwest river."
"Yep, and a lot of steelhead in the Nisqually. But looks can deceive, those Roy-McKenna kids are a rowdy bunch. Had to call the bulls on a couple of 'em last time through here; looked like they were trying to set the place on fire."
"You mean the beach fires?"
"Nope, the bridge."
"Hold on tight Crosby, hello Chris, you do that?"
"Not back here Rick."
"Well she anchored down nicely, all those mty logs on the rear end."
"955 to Milwaukee Dispatcher."
"955, we lost our air at . . . rather on, the McKenna Bridge."
"Any idea how long you will be delayed?"
"Don't know, sending the swingman out now."
"Roger, 900 is out of Chehalis, no need to flag if you can get going without too much delay."
"Chris, want me to send back the headman?"
"Nah, may need him to send a knuckle back to Blackburn."
. . .
"Ok Chris, this is Jim, it was separated hoses in the Allison pickup, I will stay on the headend to Western."
"Ok, Rick ok to go."
"Moving. 955 to Milwaukee Dispatcher, 955's on the move at McKenna."
pix: WesternJct caption: View North (Time Table East), Train Order Office at Western Junction, Weyerhauser track enters at left
"Western calling 955. . . . Western Junction to 955. . . . Western Junction to 955, the Hoquiam Turn"
"Chris. . . . Chris. . . . CHRIS, JOYCE'S CALLING."
". . . ah . . . Western Junction . . . this is 9. .0 . . . 955."
"Western Junction, where are you at Chris?"
"Ah, . . . crossing the N.P. bridge, crossing the bridge over the N.P., at Rainier."
"Your ticket ready?"
"Yes ma'am, ah . . . ah . . . Engine 5600; 22 and 43; 1,318 tons; Stecker and Emry."
"What do you have for the landing?"
"37 mty logs."
"Note says to add them to the mty logs on track 2, your pickup is 51 logs on 3."
"Joyce, is there anything on 1?"
"Note says one is clear."
"Ok Blackburn, you and Crosby set up for 1 and we'll let the crummy go in there, then tie on 2 and we'll get rid of these mty logs."
"NEGATIVE 955, 900's already out of Maytown and the dispatcher wants you in the clear; he wants those Portland autos on tonight's 200."
. . .
"900 to caboose, 19 order board at Western."
"Western to 900, got a ticket for me Ron?"
"Yep Joyce, Engine 5001; 63 and 19; 5,349 tons; Jorgerson and Butler."
"Ron, they want those racks in Tacoma right now."
"Doing our best Joyce."
"955 to 900."
"What's up Rick?"
"Looking at you from the Landing; was that guy back at Union Jack's?"
"They 86ed him out again, and told him to stay out, they'd call the B.N. bulls next time."
"Guys like that give the Big Nothin' a bad name."
"That's not too tough. Why aren't you guys at Helsing by now?"
"Had a problem on the McKenna Bridge. Plus waiting on you."
"You left the bridge standing didn't you?"
"We did, watch those kids down below though."
"High ball from Hoquiam's head man."
"You're looking good on this side too."
Mile Post Mayhem
Railroad mile post logic is rarely as elegant as that of the Interstate Highways, on which distances are often reset to zero at one state line and climb to their intrastate zenith at the next. The Chicago mainline was the grand exception, counting west to its grand finale at Tacoma Junction: 2,192. The mile post count on the South Line, and its branches, replaced such refined logic with chaotic weirdness. While the railroad archeologist or historian might disagree, mileage markers were not user friendly for operations on the reborn South Line, the new road to Portland. Burlington Northern crews had only to deal with a minor degree of mile post weirdness on that run: they went on duty at Balmer Yard, Seattle, entered the Pacific Division First Sub mainline at Interbay MP 4.9; ran down to King Street Station MP 0.0; entered the Pacific Division Third Sub, again MP 0.0; ran up down to MP 40.1 in Tacoma! ; started over again at MP 0.0 and then ran down to Vancouver MP 136.5; then entered the Portland Division, Third Sub, where the MP was recycled to 9.9 and counted down to 0.0 at Union Station.
Milwaukee crews, by contrast, were invited to relive the history of Milwaukee Road corporate expansion at the junction of each subdivision. At both Fredrickson and Maytown, when the 4th Sub (the Portland road) made a sharp right angle turn, the mile posts marched straight ahead on the straight track of the "new" sub. Thus at Tacoma Jct, MP 2192, began the progenitor of the South Line, the Tacoma & Eastern Railroad, with mile posts counted from zero (or 2,192, zero's Milwaukee equivalent) up to 64.2 at Morton, the far end of the 12th sub. As the Portland train curved hard right at Fredrickson, junction of the 4th and 12th subs, it reset its mile post clock to 0.0. These miles counted "westward" to 48.2 at Helsing Jct, on the 16th sub. So our Portlander, curving hard left at Maytown, recalibrated again, back to 0.0. Then as he finally wandered down to Chehalis Jct, he noted the marker&n! bsp;at the westward extreme of the 4th Sub, MP 18.4 (or 58.7 in Burlington Northern parlance). Travel over the 4th sub always seemed like a long, strange trip; especially when the MP at the "east" end was 2,192 (i.e. 0.0), and the MP at the other was 18.4, for a total distance traveled of 68.8 miles. It may have looked like a fast trip on paper, but not so on the railroad. On one dog catch I worked, we were taxied out to Maytown (MP 36.9; distance from Tacoma Jct 50.4) for a Portland train. We were surprised with what we discovered: the train was pointed west; no one had told us that we were going to Portland! (note: mile posts were denominated in round numbers; the numbers and decimals are "mile post locations," a time table term of art).
"955 to caboose."
"Yeah, about 20 cars to line back."
"Chris I don't think we are going to make it, we are just about at the switch now."
"Ok, I already dropped some fusees, so try to make it quick. What's the pickup look like anyway?"
"Just one R.B.O.X., which they left for us on the west end."
"Ok you guys go get it, I'm going to walk back a little ways to flag. Let me know when you are tying on and Jim can drop off at the N.P. crossing with the bills. And toss a couple fusees out on the main on your end."
pix: GraysHarbormerge no caption
Sixteenth Sub: 11 miles at 10 mph
"Rick, I see they don't waste much money cutting back the foliage on this track."
"Nope. That's what they make boxcars for. Either of you know the story about the racks?"
"Well Jim it was like this, without names to protect the 'innocent.' I'm a hoghead so I don't know conductor's business, but I've been told that it pays to know your station numbers. Well sometimes they run this 955 job out of Hoquiam as a nightly turn from Hoquiam to Maytown and back. That's when we get to live for weeks on end in that squirrelly Burgess, you guys haven't seen the Burgess yet. Anyway a certain extra conductor was on the job and when they got to Maytown, he wondered what was up with these couple of loaded auto racks on the setout track. That was back when all of them were open. Probably dual levels, not trilevels, but high enough. Anyway, he strolled over to the bill box, found the bills for these racks and they were for Aberdeen. So he tells the swingman to switch 'em out. Swingman said he thought it was weird that the Hoquiam pic! kup was in the middle of bunch of stuff for Tacoma, Seattle, and whatnot, but oh well. So they grab the racks, and some other stuff, and haul it back to Hoquiam. Next day assistant trainmaster shows up at the Burgess, pretty lit up, and wants to know what those racks were doing in Hoquiam and how all the Datsuns and Toyotas got beat up, what with dents, busted windows, a real mess. Conductor says the bills said Aberdeen. Trainmaster asks 'never heard of South Dakota, you know we go there too.'"
"No way. That can't be true. No one's that stupid to drag autoracks through this forest canopy."
"True or not, that's the legend. And I've seen some damn stupid conductors in my time."
. . .
"OK John, this is the N.P. gate. Take some fusees to put on the ash piles. Jim, you can drop off here and line back the gate and take the bills to Chris."
Crosby climbs down, unlocks switch lock on the chain link fence gate, lights two fusees, one for either side of the Milwaukee track, each perched on its own boxcar sill height pile of fusee ash.
Rochester Beer Runs
"10 cars . . . 5 cars . . . three cars . . . that 'ill do."
"John, you notice where we are while they line back the N.P. gate?"
"Yeah, blocking this street, must be early rush hour, here . . . where is this, Rochester?"
"Yep, well I bring it up because when you catch this job this summer when they run it as a local turn from Hoquiam to Maytown and back; and you are down here for the week at a time, the headman is the most important member of the crew."
"Because we go to work at Hoquiam Yard about 5:30 pm everyday, and get back to Hoquiam Yard about 3:30 am everything night."
"Well there's your clue, that tavern out your window."
"I'm not for violating Rule G."
"Neither am I, but I like to tip a couple after work and everything's closed when we get off, so the headman's main job is to get the beer over there while the swingman line's back the N.P. gate. Then you stash the caboose's beer back in those bushes by the crossing."
And what he said then turned out to be an accurate prediction of the future.
Washington Public Power Supply System
The period of the '70's seemed to be imbued with more than the usual supply of grandiose white elephants and governmental disaster. On the national scene was the Vietnam War. On the international scene, the Soviet Union did not want to be left behind, so they created their own Vietnam in Afghanistan. This was not enough for Washington State. Always ready for the next promoter of bad ideas, local politicians fell for a looney project called the Washington Public Power Supply System, or WHOOPS (Washington State voters, probably for their own amusement, often elect stupid politicians; the voters themselves are not so stupid; among the white elephants that they have turned down at the polls but which were resurrected by politicians over their heads: the Kingdom - voted down twice; the Mariners stadium - voted down twice; Seahawks Stadium - in a private election financed by a l! ocal billionaire, who just happened to own the team, voted down by local voters). WHOOPS entailed the simultaneous construction of five nuclear power plants. Bank economists predicted demand to meet this supply someday. The end result was that one plant was built and the other four were abandoned. Washington state orchestrated the largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. And the Milwaukee Road played its part. Our contribution was to the Whoops fiasco was to deliver large concrete pipe sections for the Satsop nuclear plant, near Elma, Grays Harbor County. Most nights, the Hoquiam based Milwaukee Road Maytown Turn (#954-5) picked up at Maytown (setout by Tacoma bound Portland trains) one or two flat cars loaded with giant concrete pipe sections. These wide loads were almost as tall as boxcars. We handled them carefully over the Rochester 16th Sub, and on to the U.P. Grays Harbor Branch, and g! ingerly set them out at Saginaw siding, near the Satsop plan t. What remains of our efforts today is a giant cooling tower out in the country. Occasionally someone suggests a use for the cooling tower. My favorite suggestion is to use it for a disco. That would fit right in with the seventies' when we danced the night away and hauled giant pipes.