Tacoma Eastern Railway (12th Sub): Mineral Turn

The Twelfth Sub was the heart of the original Tacoma & Eastern Railway (actually Tacoma Eastern Railway - but too fine a point for us grunts). The T & E road had been acquired early in the century, during the Milwaukee's westward expansion phase. It ran from Tacoma Junction up to Morton, and was essentially a glorified logging road with a side business in the Mt. Rainier National Park tourist trade. By my time the passenger business was long forgotten, and T. & E. itself had been shrunk into the Twelfth Sub, from Frederickson to Morton (the infamous "T & E Hill" in Tacoma had been folded into the Fourth Sub, to be reborn as an unlikely mainline route to Portland, a consequence of the Northern Lines merger of 1970). The Twelfth Sub was st! ill a logging road. All of its traffic consisted of raw logs, hauled on log flats from Mineral, and finished forest products hauled on flats and bulk head flats, and in boxcars out of Morton (some raw logs also came out of Morton). As a consequence the work was divided between two five day a week jobs: the Mineral Turn, from Tacoma to Mineral and back; and the Morton based Morton Local, which ran down to Mineral to interchange "commercials" with the Mineral Turn. Mty "logs" were hauled up to Mineral; mty "commercials" went to Morton; loaded "logs" came out of Mineral; and loaded "commercials" came out of Morton.

Pix: 12th-Sub caption: Montana and Washington Division Joint Time Table No. 2 - Sunday, April 24, 1977

Train #964-5, the Mineral Turn, was not a high seniority job like the Portland and Othello pools. A typical time book entry for the Mineral Turn reads: "23 March 1977/ 964/Eng 5600/On duty Tac 1:30p/Off duty Tac 11:50p/local rate/179 miles/Condr Strub/Engr Emry." But like the Snoqualmie Local, the Mineral Turn did provide the luxury of afternoon employment and a night at home. While this did appeal to old heads such as Conductor Roy Craig of the Snoqualmie Local, it was a only a minor advantage to young extra roadmen, who were in it for the money, and who were used to "home" at the Portland Travel Lodge or the endless days at the motel in Othello. Road jobs like the Snoqualmie and the Mineral paid only slightly more than the yard while the work was only slightly less intense than the yard so why not just stay in the yard if the choice was a regular position on th! ese afternoon road jobs.

pix: TEmerge caption: Top: View North, New Reliance Middle: Elbe Church Bottom L.: View South, Nisqually River R: Boettcher Farm between New Reliance and Elbe

7th April 1977: Called for the Mineral Turn

The time book entry for the trip: 7/Train #964-5/Engine 81A/On duty Tac 2:30p/Off duty Tac 2:00a/7 miles in lieu of beans/197 miles for the trip/Condr Blume/Engr Anderson.

Reading between the time book lines, I imagine that this day might have gone like this:

I received the call for the Mineral Turn about 1:00 p.m. Arriving a the yard office on time, Conductor Blume instructed me to fetch Engineer Anderson and the power at the roundhouse and bring both through the yard to tie on to the west end of yard track 6 ("leave your grip in front of the yard office, you can grab it up on the shove out"). Having down so, we prepared to shove our train out to Tacoma Junction, caboose first. I walked the train, all eleven cars of it, back to the caboose, to assist in lining switches on this move. The conductor stayed in the caboose while the swingman directed the move via the walkie-talkie. En route to Tacoma Junction, the Yardmaster called with our final instructions:

"Yardmaster to 964, put your train to the main, and double the 63 mty logs in the siding over to it, you have no pickup at Hillsdale."

Every extra minute spent in the Tacoma Yard Limits, which extended all the way up the T & E Hill past Hillsdale to 72nd Street, was more time spent earning "Initial Terminal Delay" so we do not mind doing the Yardmaster's work for him. At Tacoma Junction we put our train, 11 mty "commercials" (boxcars) and caboose, to the main; then reached into the siding, then doubled 63 mty log flats back over to the main. The operator at Tacoma Junction had already informed us that he had a hot U.P. train due from Reservation and wanted the Junction clear a.s.a.p., "so how about you pull up on the T & E to clear, before you do your air test." Consider it done.

We are cruised up the grueling 4% T & E Hill, riding in fine style in our comfy sofa chairs in the cab of the lead unit of the two old Tacoma based "F" unit sets, the 81A. The power consisted of the 81A, 81 slug, 82A and 82 slug. This was old, dependable power, equipped with the creature comfort of a 1940's Cadillac. And these units rode a little nicer than the usual G.E.'s. Plus the view was much better that much higher up, even from the middle jump seat. The only draw back came when working on the ground, for these were awkward units to ride when coupling to cars and it was cramped below when making the air joints. But right now we were riding. No pickup at Hillsdale at the top, and a quick and easy ride up the Hill, what with 74 mtys and no loads.

After Hillsdale, and the sharp curve at the Midland Tavern, the T & E (4th Sub), departed the twentieth century. As we entered closely encroaching second growth forest, and rocked and rolled on track maintained to an earlier standard, we forgot the usual features of modern railroading, such as ABS block signals and hot box detectors. A distinct feeling for nineteenth century railroading permeated the crisp spring air. One could easily imagine numerous smaller jobs; shorter trains hauled by various steam locomotives; running hither and yon; shuffling logs on primitive log flats to and from a thousand small mills staffed by a thousand lumber jacks intent on felling the forest with sweat driven hand tools . . .

"Crosby wake up, we're coming up on the spring switch. We're at Frederickson."

And with that I fished for my switch keys, donned my gloves, and mentally prepared for running for the switch. Except there was no running for the switch today. The 81A was just too awkward a platform from which to launch into a sprint for a switch. So we just pulled up to the switch for the 12th Sub, the T & E proper, and stopped.

Spring Switches

Rule 104 of the CCOR has numerous provisions for the handling of spring switches. The CCOR definition of spring switches is found on page 11:

"Spring Switch.--A switch equipped with a spring mechanism arranged to restore the switch points to original position after having been trailed through." (The Consolidated Code of Operating Rules, Edition of 1967)

Spring switches were a modern innovation when the Milwaukee Road installed them at each end of mainline passing tracks during the construction of the Pacific Extension. Later they might be likened to "a poor man's power switch" for they permitted a train in the siding to enter the main without stopping to line and line back the movement (providing the provisions of the ABS 5 minute rule, Rule 513 were met). The presence of such a switch at Frederickson, at the junction of the 4th Sub, which curved sharply to the right, and the start of the 12th Sub, which ran straight, made great sense, even if such a modern apparatus was out of place in the South Line's nineteenth century scheme of things.

The safety instructions on the railroad in my day prohibited trainmen from running for switches ahead of their trains. But like so many safety rules, the observance of this rule was discouraged. The head man who failed to run for such a switch was either a broken down old head (and thus excused) or was ostracized by the roadman's fraternity, as a slacker unworthy of the respect of such a vaunted and gung ho corps. I of course, hardly an old head, always conspicuously displayed my zeal for acceptance and ran for all switches, whether it made sense or not. And just as kicking cars often resulted than more harm than good, so did running for switches. The Road paid me $400 for time off due to an ankle sprain that occurred running for the cross over switch at Tacoma Junction on the departure of my mainline train for Othello. I was lauded for my suffering yet continued performance f! or the remainder of the trip; which insured that I would not be ostracized for submitting the claim. But on this day there was no running for the switch. One cannot fly forward from the bottom rung of an "F" unit. That was only possible from the bottom step of a more conventional engine.

But the swingman in the caboose was not excused for not running for the cab after lining back a spring switch. And no one would ever be excused if the spring switch indicator light failed to clear up and they did not take notice. On the mainline these indicator lights were not present on the spring switch, one observed the ABS signal governing the switch instead. And just another one of the conductor's many pressing duties, bugging his swingman with the question as to whether or not the signal cleared up, after the swingman specifically waited on the rear platform to observe that the points were restored to their proper position.

pix: TElogger caption: As Tacoma bound Mineral Turn leaves Elbe, the swing man in second unit inspects train

My road student trip was on the Mineral Turn. This was in October 1975. Many more Mineral trips were to follow. Looking back now, some thirty years ago, it is mostly a picturesque blur: the piles of "company material" stored at Frederickson; the lonely grade crossing at rural Graham; a high trestle above a teen populated river beach in the hills behind Eatonville; the rolling, grass covered foothills around Tanwax; Lake Kapowsin on the left; on the ground running and shoeing cows off the road ahead of our struggling uphill Tacoma bound log train; Alder Lake on the right; the quaint town of Elbe; the meadowland east out of Elbe; junk-strewn ramshackle "settlements" (back when the working poor still had a place); elk out in farmers fields; the sharp right turn at Park Junction wher! e on the Morton job we came down to stash storage cars on the branch off a branch; the awesome Nisqually river crossing, with rugged tree falls littering the rocky banks; the climb into Mineral yard . . .

The Work at Mineral Mineral was a small three track yard parallel and west of the main. There were upper and lower "landings" to the east of the main. The upper landing was two or three tracks across from the yard, the lower landing was a quarter or half mile down from the yard, towards Tacoma. The landings were large areas where the log flats were loaded. Loading was done by large fork lifts. Debris littered the ground everywhere in these landings and the ground itself was mud. There was no illumination, other than our lanterns. Sloshing around was difficult, one rode the log flats during the moves whenever possible.

On arrival we pulled up the main to clear the east end. The swingman rode the power from Tacoma so he could make the cut at the top end of the yard (only he would have the radio). I would have dismounted at the top end of the yard as well, and would be tending all the switches for these moves. In this scenario, our train is thus: power, 11 mty commercials, 63 mty log flats, and caboose. The caboose, and a cut of log flats remained on the main. Next we shoved track one (next to the main) with as many log flats as we know to fit (or the conductor spotted them from his end). Then we filled up track two with the remainder of the train, coupling into the Morton commercials for Tacoma left for us at the bottom of track two. While still in track two, the swing man made a cut between the our Morton-bound commercials and the logs, closing the angle cocks on both. The commercials were then pulled up! to the west end of track two for the convenience of the Morton Local. Next we ran to the bottom of the yard through clear alley track three. Next we had to get the loaded logs out, and mty logs spotted into the top landing. To do this, I brought the light power into one of the tracks. We got the tracks together and made up the air. As the mainline at the Mineral landings was on a grade, all moves had to be made with air, so it took sometime to pump up each cut of cars for the next move. Eventually, we gathered up the two or three tracks at the upper landing and pulled it all out to the main. Then we doubled the loads to caboose on track one. Next we pulled track one, now looking like this: power, 20 or 30 loaded logs, caboose, 20 or 30 mty logs. Next we stashed the mty logs into the landing tracks; all the time idling the loaded logs on the headend, next to the power. This completed, we shoved the loaded logs, with caboose on the top end; up the main to clear th! e yard. Then with light power, we ran down to the lower landing, went into the first track, got that together, doubled it to the next track, got it together, doubled to the third track, then pulled it all out to the main; then shoved it up to the train on the main next to the yard; then shoved all of it to clear the yard. Then we reached into track two, grabbed the final cut of mtys (after first setting the Tacoma bound commercials over to the main), and took them down to spot the lower landing. Then back to the train, air test, and go.

Set Out at Allison

During the work at Mineral, we made whatever move was necessary to have the Allisons on the head end. This was usually a small cut of ten or twenty logs for the Hoquiam Turn. Better to leave them at Allision than for them make an unnecessary trip down and back up the Tacoma Hill.

Finally we arrived back at Tacoma Junction. It is well after midnight, and the Yardmaster had no place for us to land. He directed us to pull into the siding at Tacoma Junction, cut off the power, and bring it back to the house.




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