The Burlington Northern Pacific Division, 11th Sub, was located in the heart of Milwaukee Road Coast Division operations. The 11th started at Maple Valley as single track, ran west 10.3 miles to the start of double track, Renton, then 2.4 miles to BI Tower, then 4.3 to MILW Van Asselt Yard (Seattle Yard storage), then 1.7 miles to Argo Tower, and finally 1.7 miles to Spokane Street Tower where Milwaukee single track completed the final .7 miles into Seattle Yard. All Milwaukee mainline trains had to run over the 11th between BI and MV. Of 2,192 miles of transcontinental railroad from Chicago to Tacoma Jct., the Milwaukee Road did not own this 12.7 miles. This was a major irritant to Milwaukee train and engine service employees, who had to carry B.N. switch keys and be on their best behavior lest they risk "being fired off the B.N." If that happened, about the only jobs they would have been able to work were those high seniority runs on the former Tacoma & Eastern Line out of Tacoma or on the Port Angeles Line or on the Sumas Local. Otherwise all Milwaukee Coast Division jobs on the westside of the Cascades ran over Burlington Northern trackage somewhere or other.

This unhappy state of affairs was the result of the construction of the Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound Railroad in the teens. The C.M. & P.S. proper tied into the tiny coal hauling Pacific Coast Railroad at MV as a means of entry into metropolitan King County. It was assumed that the P.C.R.R. would eventually be absorbed into the Milwaukee Road, but when someone was not looking, arch-rival Great Northern Railway scooped it up. Talk about asleep at the switch!

Just as the 11th Sub was at the heart of the Coast Division, so was Black River Yard. BI Yard was a junction facility consisting of five flow through yard tracks off the running track; itself an extension of the Tacoma leg of the Joint Line wye. The east end of the running track terminated at a spring switch to the 11th Sub Eastward Main. BI Yard was under the switching jurisdiction of Seattle Yard. BI Yard was where #200 series mainline trains, Everett & Bellingham trains #904-5, the Snoqualmie Local train #947-7 (all trains originating and/or terminating in Tacoma); and the Valley Owl set out for and picked up from Seattle (and picked up for the east in the case of 905 and 947's eastward bound setouts). Often, a Seattle Yard engine would spend the day or night at BI Yard arranging things. A typical move might be to bring out a drag from Seattle (made up of three blocks), head into a clear alley, cut the rear end off at to clear on the west end (a Tacoma setout), cut off the middle block to clear the east end (a mainline setout, itself blocked with shorts for Harlowtown on the east end, longs for the Twin Cities and Chicago on the west end), then double over the head cut to another track for pickup by Everett-Bellingham bound 904. After that the engine would switch out whatever setouts were present (after perusing waybills left in the shack at the west end of the yard and conferring by phone with the Seattle Yardmaster). From those setouts, a drag for Seattle would be built and the Valley Owl, 904 and mainline setouts for the each other would be put where they belonged. All of this in a curved yard with long tracks, in the pitch dark (no lights anywhere). Usually the fieldman used one of Seattle Yard's two walkie-talkies while using hand and lantern signals to instruct the headman.

Black River Yard was under the informal protection of a resident hobo who went by the handle "Rebel." Rebel lived in the forest adjoining the yard to the north. He had been provided with a lantern, switch key, and pistol by Seattle Trainmaster D.F. "Tom" Galipo. Galipo seemed enamored with this particular aspect of railroad lore, for in his office was a framed photograph of Rebel at Eagles' Nest tunnel-bridge in Montana (I plead the fifth as to why I was in Galipo's office). One particularly gloomy and rainy night, while I was between tracks in mid-yard, trying to keep my four page waterlogged switch list from disintegrating, Rebel snuck up on me and scarred me out of my wits. Thanks Tom.

Number 202 Picks Up at Black River

#202 Arrives from Tacoma on the running track, as the caboose arrives at the west end shack, the conductor drops off and grabs the waybills. Meanwhile, the headend arrives at the east end of yard, the power cuts off, goes into the yard and ties two slave units to any available cut of cars. By this time the conductor has radioed the swing man and informed him what track the pickup is on and between what cars to cut in the slaves. The power proceeds back to the train on the running track, ties on and pulls train up to cut off the head block to clear. Then the headman sends this block back to the swing man. The swing man ties this block to same block on the pickup, then the power pulls it all out to make a cut to clear the slaves. Then the drag is doubled to the slaves. Then the slaves are doubled by to the pickup. The Pickup is then doubled to the running track. Brakes are pumped up, and the conductor makes an air test. The headman walks the brakes to head end, the train leaves, the caboose picks up the swing man, and another successful pickup is completed without the slaves "spearing" the train.




© 1976-2007 John Crosby. Photos may not be used without permission. All rights reserved.