Tacoma Eastern Railway (12th Sub): Morton Local

pix: MortonDepot caption: "View North, Morton Depot"

An Exclusive Club

Of the outlying locals, two jobs, the Chehalis Local and the Morton Local, were exclusive clubs. The conductors were of the highest seniority, Barney Hubbard, number one, at Chehalis; and Don Morse, number three, at Morton. Their brakeman were also high seniority, and it was only at vacation time that an extraman was called. What distinguished an exclusive club from less exalted outlying jobs such as the on again/off again Hoquiam Local were several factors, such as working in daylight; pay by the hour (always 12 hours) instead of by the mile; and a permanent home away from the Planet Trantor (the center of the universe) a.k.a. Tacoma. Usually the stories heard by young extra roadmen about Morton revolved around the old days, when T & E through freights laid over in Morton. Stories about the ruckus and fights at the taverns - rails vs lumberjacks - and hard drinking at the old M! orton Hotel. But by my time, Morton was a family job, and a regular way to live, i.e. an exclusive club.

Called for the Morton Local

When the phone rang around 9:00 a.m. on a sunny June morning, my first though was "let it not be Kent." I had just spent the last week on that hard knocks Kent Local and was only now recovering with the aid of an extravagant two days off. "Mr. Crosby, you are called for the Morton Local, 1:30 p.m." Morton? On Tuesday? "Ok."

It was a beautiful summer drive up through Eatonville, Elbe and all that territory I had only seen from the Mineral Turn. The word "Morton" itself evoked the romance of an earlier period in railroading - the stories of which were still told by the older heads. But I didn't expect much, you've seen one lumber town, you've seen them all. And I had seen plenty. And Morton wasn't much, its better days were long gone. The Morton Hotel may have had a glorious past, but by 1978 was essentially an empty two story flophouse, lucky to still have a bathroom down the hall. The two or three taverns were empty. Narely to the found was the stray whistlepunk or choker setter. The downtown was deserted (but in one dusty shop window I did find that Peet's Boot Dryer that was to prove invaluable - evidently available only in this particularly soaked region). The Depot was homey, and the! crew and agent friendly. I guess if nothing else, Morton still had the railroad.

pix: Mortonmerge1 no caption

Of Luddites and Spotted Owls

The Luddites were early nineteenth British reactionaries against the Industrial Revolution. Usually textile workers, the Luddites smashed the new mechanized, water and steam powered looms in a way that modern victims of industrial outsourcing might envy. "Automation" was the bane of union labor throughout the twentieth century, until the advent of "outsourcing" rendered the fear of automation moot. By the 1970's, automation had become well entrenched in the Pacific Northwest forest industry. No more did lumber jacks man each side of giant handsaws to bring down old growth giants. Many were put out of work by the introduction of chain saws. Same with motor vehicles replacing horse teams. And in the mills the change was even more striking. Compared with the almost complete absence of human activity in Weyerhauser's automated Raymond m! ill, the old Port Townsend paper mill looked like a teeming Calcutta slum. And we on the railroad, more advanced than others, were doing our part for outsourcing: we had unit trains of export logs (exporting mill jobs to Japan).

Our national and local political discourse paid scant attention to automation and outsourcing. Corrupt labor leaders; politicians courting forest industry corporate dollars; and our subservient Seattle press lamented the loss of jobs in the forest industry. Towns like Morton were devastated by bad times and kids in Seattle and Tacoma could no long get summer jobs working "green chain." And the cause of this employment depression: the Spotted Owl. This rare bird was blamed for the rapid contraction of all aspects of the industry. It wasn't automation of the large, corporate mills that killed off the ma and pa mills. It wasn't massive outsourcing via the export of raw logs. It was this owl, which no one had ever seen. The industry not only managed to fool the public in general, but also labor, which knew better, but was poorly led. ! I don't know like in Luddite fashion, if automation could have been stopped or reversed. But as has become commonplace in the United States, environmental science, and the understanding of ecology, was severely undermined by forest industry clear cutters who were only interested in next quarter's profits and not in sustainable forestry which would have provided future jobs in the forest (and on the railroad). Buying off U.S. Senators, as always, was merely the cost of doing business (an interesting case study for those interested, is the Pacific Lumber Company, Scotia, Calif.).

pix: Mortonmergecab no caption

A Home away from Home

In railroad lore, the caboose (aka "cab") was the train crew's home. Over the years, the importance of cab-as-home diminished in direct proportion to the advent and modification of the Federal hours of service law. Thus, if the crew was no longer working unlimited hours, the cab declined as an unlimited necessity. By my time, with the hours of service law at 12 hours (down from 16 hours), the utility of the cab had been reduced to equal its actual necessity as an operating facility. Yet some vestiges of the old days remained. The caboose rule for pay was still in use; i.e. we collected hourly mileage until such time as the caboose physically arrived at the destination; even if we had been dog caught and enjoying a mediocre meal at that remote Othello motel. The rational for this rule had something to do with ones life being encapsulated on the caboose, but that! remained obscure to me (especially since the cab in this case ran right on through east to Avery).

And then there was Morton. At Morton the crew lived in the caboose 12 hours a day: conductor, rear man and weirdly, the head man too. Granted that the Morton job spent a lot of time shoving backwards on that endless industrial track south of town; but even on the run down to Mineral, the head man rode in the caboose! Usually the engine cab was the head man's territory, but not on the Morton job. Thus it was on this job, and no other, that I was able to indulge in photography, including the rear man and conductor as subjects. In these photos one can see how the regular Morton rear man, Chris Strecker, and regular conductor, Don Morris, had personalized the caboose as their home away from home. With this final irony: the Morton job was at home. Its crew had a regular home l! ife; unlike extra roadman Crosby, who inhabited the Leopold Hotel in Bellingham, one day, the Travelodge on Burnside in Portland the next, and an old flophouse in Morton, Wash., in some other life.

pix: Mortonmerge2 caption: "Running up to Mineral - Swingman Chris Strecker"

Working the Morton Local

I have vague memories of those four days in Morton 30 years ago. It is jogged somewhat by these pictures. I know, for example, that I did not invent the Tubafor Mill, it did actually exist. I recall very little time off in Morton, so we must have worked the full 12 hours everyday as my time book attests. And I remember long periods working with Chris Stecker, switching out cars on the main and the pass at Morton Depot. But not enough memory remains to fill in the blanks, such as names and places, loads and mtys.

The job started each day at 1:30 p.m. We met in the agent's office at the depot and loitered about while Conductor Don Morris scoped out the work. We probably switched the Tubafor Mill right away (it was adjacent to the depot), and then switched out mty commercials and logs to peddle south of town. I don't recall the track layout at Morton, the 1974 time table indicates that were was a yard; the 1978 time table has no such indication. But if there were only two tracks then for sure we had to do a lot of reswitching of outbounds and inbounds in order to set up the drag for south of Morton and the Tacoma connection for the Mineral Turn north at Mineral.

The 1974 time table special instructions refer to something known as Kosmos Logging Line "west of Morton." If this was the line south of town, Morris and Stecker didn't call it that, but then trainmen have never been known to stand on protocol. Whatever it was called, we spent a bunch of time there. That line must have been five or ten miles long; all at a grand speed of 5 or so miles per hour. There were several small mills to switch commercials and a couple of landings where piles of logs of small dimensions were loaded onto mty log flats. Then we would return to the depot, do some switching, have some lunch; and go down the south of town line again. After that, another trip into the Tubafor Mill, and then switch out the train for Mineral.

The trip to Mineral, about 14 miles, took an hour or more. It was the only time I ever remember that the head brakemen rode in the caboose pulling. What the reason for this was I never learned, but it did provide the my only opportunity to photograph life in a moving caboose. The work at Mineral was simple: tie down the Tacoma connection on one track, and grab the pickup from another. Once or twice we ran down to Park Jct. to grab a couple of storage cars. We probably returned to Morton shoving the whole way; stranger things have happened to save a couple of moves. Once back at Morton we were finished. If they padded the time slip, I do not recall. We did earn our pay on the Morton Local.

pix: Mortonmorris caption: "Conductor Don Morris of the Morton Local"




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