pix: Tacomahill caption: The Toughest Track in the Milwaukee System: 3.3% Grade in Yard Limits with ABS - with a tight curve at the bottom - from Tacoma Jct to 72nd Street
ABS versus Rule 99
ABS, and the exceptions to Rule 513, were interesting to me as they pertained to my daily responsibilities as a head brakeman. And while flagging in general suggested interesting stories (life in the yard was full of them), flagging Rule 99 seemed dull and dry. Except on the South Line, the era of railroading when Rule 99 dominated road operations had long past. Modern mainlines were equipped with ABS or CTC. And branch line traffic had dropped to the point where better engine technology could handle shipper requirements with just one train a day. The five days per week Port Angeles Local, for example, received a weekly running order as a Work Extra, "not protecting against extra trains" because there never would be an extra train. Rare was the section of track that actually had more than branch line traffic, yet was still dark territory.
From 72nd Street Tacoma to Chehalis Junction: Mainline Running in the Dark
The 68.8 mile long South Line (the 4th Sub, from Tacoma Jct to Chehalis Jct), was a throw-back to old time railroading. It had formerly been mainline, then lapsed into branch line status (slow track, poor maintenance, no schedules, and always dark), to be revived again for mainline service in 1970 when the Milwaukee was granted entry to Portland as a condition for the Northern Lines merger. While there were no schedules, there was plenty of action. Jobs running daily as extra trains included: Portland trains 900, 901, 902, 903; the WHAM train (Weyerhauser/Milwaukee logger; export logs from Chehalis to the Port of Tacoma); the Chehalis Local (a couple of daily round trips from Chehalis to Maytown); the Mineral Turn between Tacoma Jct and Frederickson; and any Hoquiam or Raymond turns from Tacoma Jct to Maytown or Chehalis. It is interesting that the only major incident to occur during my! time on the South Line was the collapse of the Nisqually River Bridge at McKenna (the work of teenage arsonists combined with lackadaisical roadmastering and excessive loads). I know of no incidents between trains in those years, a possibility one would have expected in dark territory (such as the head-on at Pandora, or even later the head-on on the B.N. at CTC MP 111). Perhaps it helped that radio communication was so unreliable on the South Line that flagmen were forced to do their job (radio communication was poor on the mainline as well, but work extras could "flag" on the radio since they had the ultimate failsafe of ABS protection).
Fusees (aka "road flares") were one of the more useful weapons in the trainman's arsenal (quite literally, on more than one occasion lighted fusees were known to keep rowdy hobos by bay). We were taught how to light and handle fusees from the first day of our switchman's class ("if you don't want phosphorus in your hair, extend it away from you, not toward you"). In the yard fusees were used to flag crossings and to pass signals. Fusees could cut through fog when a lantern or day hand signal could not be seen. They were fine for large backup, forward, "that'll do" and cars signs to a joint, signals. A common place to pass signals with fusees in Seattle Yard was to take position on the old pedestrian bridge; even in fog you could double three tracks out from there.
On the road, as well as the yard, you always had two or three fusees in your back or leg pockets. It did you little good if they were left on the engine or caboose. Rule 99 set out particular requirements what a flagman must carry, but often you found yourself in need of a fusee when you were not just going out to flag. For example, during the period when the Nisqually River Bridge at McKenna was out of service, we had to detour over the B.N. 3rd Sub, from Tacoma Jct - Reservation to Chehalis Jct. If there was no setout for Chehalis, we just dropped off the B.N. pilot at Centralia and kept on truckin' to Portland, the 3rd was our own road from Chehalis Jct to Portland. But one dank and rainy night we had a long cut of loaded log flats for Chehalis (the "coals to Newcastle" effect). The swingman and I d! ropped off at CTC Chehalis Jct (the swingman always rode the second unit on Portland trains, there was always work on the headend and there was never a need to tie the train down on a mountain grade). We made a cut on Main One to clear the CTC plant, then rode the rear flat to through the plant, then stopped for the two mile long backup into Chehalis. It was pitch dark, lanterns were not enough illumination and we had a main highway to cross at "Ocean Beaches" as well as a couple city streets. It is was a disconcerting experience to ride a loaded log flat, with no where to sit, and nothing to hold onto except wet logs. But you did get a nice view of the wheels as there was nothing between you and them. Flagging autos in such a situation was not possible. So out came the trusty fusee, to be lighted and placed in the rear knuckle. Standard operating procedure on the railroad.
Rule 99 provided that fusees be dropped from the caboose if your train could not maintain track speed. This was the conductor's responsibility, as the aforementioned rearman was on the headend. Let the conductor deal with the consequences of forest fires. He would have to do the paperwork anyway!
pix: Rule99a caption for both: The Consolidated Code of Operating Rules, Edition of 1967