Called for Number 206

Out on the road since 23rd March, I was called for my second trip across the mainline on 27th April 1977. My first trip from Tacoma to Othello had been a "Dead Freight East" (few loads, mostly mtys) on 1st April, with the return on a 207 Train on the 3rd. We went on duty for Train 206 at Tacoma, at 5:30 a.m. I was short sleep, having tied up from at 6:30 the previous evening, after a 12 hour work train spreading gravel on the Joint Line around Sumner. Somehow the ability to sleep anywhere anytime, acquired in the U.S. Army in 1963, no longer served; if it was an early morning job I was short sleep. But for this job I did have the presence of mind to grab my camera. On that Dead Freight East job I had left it home; figured I had better learn something about working on the Second Sub before I made a fool of myself lugging a c! amera around. Bringing the camera turned out to be a smart move, for on this trip our lead SD-40 was the 156, the Bicentennial Engine.

pix: Rentonmerge1 caption:

text: Burlington Northern Inc,; Portland - Seattle Region; Time Table 18; October 28, 1979

Brian Ambrose

Called for 5:30 a.m., but by 11:00 a.m. we had only made 30 miles to Renton. Not an auspicious start for a run of 208 miles over two mountain passes. I can only guess at the delay: blocked by a Tacoma Yard job; congestion at Tacoma Junction; meets with U.P. and Milwaukee trains on the Joint Line; set out and pick up at Kent; blocked by a Seattle Yard job at Black River; or all of these things. With only 6.5 hours remaining, we did not make Othello; we died at Smyrna, 25 miles short.

In the course of shooting 400 plus slides of the Coast Division during my three short years, I was usually too hurried to make notes concerning time, place or subject. For this information, I usually relied on my time book when organizing slides back from the developer. The reason I know that this day, 27th April 1977, we were in Renton, Wash. at 11:00 a.m. is because Northwest Photographer Brian Ambrose told me so. In an incredible coincidence, in 2001 or 2002, I ran acro! ss Brian's railroad photography on the Internet, and to my absolute amazement, discovered the shots of Milwaukee Road Engine 156 pictured on this page. Except those shots were Brian's photography, not mine! It seems Brian was there, in almost the exact same spots, as I was on that day almost thirty years ago! But I never saw him, nor did he see me. We were stuck there, at the end of double track Renton (where the Dinner Train parks today), for quite awhile. When our meet eventually arrived, Brian followed us out to Maple Valley, with more great shots of Extra MILW 156 East. But I did not meet Brian Ambrose in April 1977. Note: see links page for links to Brian Ambrose's website and to this story at

pix: Rentonscenemerge

text: "Streets of Renton" and the B.N. 11th Sub

"Off the streets" was the expected reframe from the caboose, permitting the engineer to resume normal speed. This "light railed" (85 lb rail) bottleneck was part of the price the Milwaukee Road paid for constructing the last transcontinental road to be built to the North Coast. When the route was surveyed over Snoqualmie Pass, for better or worse, the small Pacific Coast Railroad, from Maple Valley to Seattle, was chosen to provide a route into the metropolitan area. The consequence of this was that the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, a road of 2,192 miles from Chicago to Tacoma, did not own 12.5 miles of the last 50 miles of the its mainline. While it was always the intention of management to absorb the Pacific Coast R.R., the Company was snookered when one its arch-competitors, the Great Northern Railway, grabbed it instead. Thus the Milwaukee had to pay "wheelage" to a foreign road for every car the Road moved over 12.5 miles of its own mainline. And while the Milwaukee installed and maintained the ABS signal system and electrification, including sub-station right in Renton itself (electrification on the Coast Division was discontinued in 1972), the track quality was below Milwaukee standards and was maintained by Burlington Northern employees.

At the west end of the street running section, was the Burlington Northern Renton Depot. Milwaukee Road passenger trains stopped here, as did Amtrak detours. In front of the depot began the only double track section of non-yard mainline west of the Twin Cities. It was west of the spring switch at the end of double track (double track was westward from the Renton Depot to Argo Tower) that Extra MILW 156 East waited where Brian Ambrose and I, unknown to each other, photographed Engine 156 on 27th April 1977. Note: on the Milwaukee Road proper, the train was Extra 156 East; on the B.N. 11th Sub, a "foreign road" the train was Extra MILW 156 East.




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