Tuesday, July 27, 2021

“From Fast-Forty to 10 and 20”

Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.
February 8, 2020

From racing 80 miles an hour over heavy CWR on Union Pacific's transcon to 10 and sometimes 20 mph over 100-year-old jointed Northern Pacific rail, my conductor and I near going dead on the law have just tied her and her train down as retracting beams of day's light glint off her iconic face; her radiator’s heat deflection ripples the moon in a sky like water. Turbo-slung oil running down her nose she’s running on borrowed, borrowed time. In a couple of hours, the next crew will come on duty and put her to the test one more time. But the work will be a cinch with all empties on the way out. It’s the way back when she and her sister will be expected to give their all, slogging up and down mean grades and trough damned tight curves and at last holding back some 60 covered grain hoppers down into the horse's shoe of Deep Creek then out and up the other side. Making the narrow transition-window from braking to power is critical. If you wait too long to kick 'em off, you will stall, if you knock 'em off too soon, the portion of train not yet completely descended will shove you mercilessly. Nevertheless, 3588 still does, with few complaints, what she's told by the hand of the engineer just as she did for me today, for now. It’s still hard for me to see her like this when it seemed not too long ago the ubiquitous SD40-2 would never be surpassed. I was wrong. Nothing lasts forever.

Monday, July 26, 2021

“In the Pit”

Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.

March 21 2018

How many of us have witnessed or even performed an inspection on or repairs to a locomotive? Thought so! So few of us buffs understand what it takes to keep a locomotive in good working order, let alone complying with the myriad FRA criterion such as in performing a 92-day inspection. I won’t even bother to list them. But just imagine the mass of electrical and mechanical moving parts; the tolerances and limits; the maximums and minimums; the fluids and consumables; the safety appliances, all must be checked, verified, and as required, repaired, refilled, and replaced before the “unit” can return to service. Not an easy task nor one to be taken lightly. It never is. The railroad depends on its motive power for its bread and butter; to be ready to work at a moments notice; to safely perform at the highest level for indefinite periods without fail or failing on line. Here, in the “Pit,” at Davenport on the Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad, under the NIWX C40-8 9129, running gear, truck frames, traction motors and related components are meticulously inspected, double checked, go-no-go findings discussed, confirmed, recorded and signed off. The entire locomotive is step-by-step – literally – inch-by-inch scrutinized by two sets of trained eyes. Every non-complying item, each defect is resolved by certified personnel which can take several days. Longer if repairs require. Only then is the “Blue Card” signed and the locomotive released for service for another three months before the entire process is necessarily repeated. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

“Creston Crew Change”

Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.

August 3, 2018

On a comfortable August night, the inbound and outbound crew having conferred, the all-but-two loads 57-car eastbound train HL03 is now the HL03-2 as it changes hands in Creston, technically the highest point on the CW. Hence the eponym. Having relieved engineer Zach Hastings, engineer Ted Curphey will continue the trek and make short shrift of bringing the HL03-2 into Highline grain with the triga of two second-gen SD45’s and a SD40T-2.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

"Thunderstruck at Bluestem"

Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.

June 8, 2018

Arriving just in time to pixilate this electrifying capture, an eastbound BNSF stack sees green at the east end of double track on the Columbia River Sub. Already, the hiss of releasing brakes slithers through the blackness as Zeus hurls a brace of negatively-charged cloud-to-ground lighting bolts that crack the scene like a broken mirror. Undisturbed, the hogger gets his mile-long snake of stacks slipping away towards Spokane. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

“Desert Duties Done”

Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.

December 26, 2018

The unmistakable silhouette of a GP30 heads headlong into a seething snow storm – snow like so much desert sand – swirling about nearly obscures the image with flares as the unavoidable profusion of flakes quickly form droplets on the lens. Slipping by a dune of crumbling Washington State basalt on century-old 90# sticks nearing MP 83 en route to Coulee City on the CW sub is SW 2422. A former Santa Fe Cleburne rebuild more accustomed to arid operations, she finds herself climbing down eponymous Rattlesnake Hill. Whatever rattlesnakes may be around they are surely in a state of stasis, holed up in a den as I insanely brave the insane wind chill to bag this image the day after Christmas instead of being holed up in my own warm den. And I ask myself as I have too many times to count: “What makes me do such irrational things just to get the shot?” I have no answer. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021


Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.

April 4, 2019

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan must have relied heavily on his cosmographer and sextant when he set out on the “Peaceful Sea” in search of fame and fortune while finding a westward route to the Spice Islands on board his flagship Trinidad on behalf of the Spanish Crown, eventually achieving the near circumnavigation of the globe five-hundred years ago. I imagine. I imagine his trepidation of the coming storms and mutinies immixed with the tenacity of an explorer par none. I imagine. I imagine myself as Fernão de Magalhães gazing into an endless night of scintillating stars forever. In lieu of finding islands of spice somewhere beyond the cosmic horizon, I’m in search of edible gold collected on Iles along a fixed course navigated some 130 years prior. A captain at the helm of my landbound ship pitching and yawing slowly stabbing westward across an infinite sea of undulating earthen-brown waves unending; a sea in near permanent stasis. Of land. Scape. Earth. Sediment. Shaped. Violently. Over eons now cultivated into an ocean of gold; a copious campaign where the seeds of bread are born and borne; matrix of the cornucopia that feeds the world. And no matter how many times I embark on this Sisyphean voyage, I too feel the trepidation and tenacity of a modern-day explorer as I push the black pitch of twinkling night before me to the next island, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

"Cassandra Complex"

Guest post by Frederick Manfred Simon.

June 18, 2019

We amble worked and tired into Almira ahead of schedule. Our fellow rails rested, hadn’t but barely left the office and still over an hour away from relieving us. My trusty wristed analog shows 2216. Enough for us. We tied down our diesel and oil sweated sky blue steel mares and wagon train just as it seemed the sun was rising from out of the southern hemisphere. Breaking the day prematurely, instead the nocturnal waxing gibbous tangerine orb reflecting, posed as her while roving “Super” Conductor Scott Rohrig finished his meticulous M-Crew housekeeping to ensure the wheel is in good order so too our spots duly spotted and clocked. As I work quickly to capture the ephemeral scene, I retrospect on what it is to “run” a train. Alone. Spartan, as compared to “modern” motors, engineering your train from the cab din and controls dim of a Millenial Dash-2 can get monotonous at times. Everthemore, even bumbling along, the immutable whining turbo and growling DB intermittently at your back, needle bouncing on the ten, rocking, clacking and clicking, truck springs squeaking, endlessly, rolling, on 100-year-old joints ad infinitum, my attentiveness, unwavering. Sure, I don’t have a Class One 8k or 10k train in tow or meets to manage nor signals to spy, but the principles of effective train handling come to bare regardless if it's 60 some odd empty 80’s PS2’s or 115 286k covered hoppers gliding over seamless 132# CWR. Slack run in or run out can and does have negative ramifications. The constant concentration of a single mind and vigilance of a single set of eyes over 10-12 hours strains even the most seasoned railroader coming off of a mere 10 hours rest. So, safe to say, ignoration of the obvious downside to one-man crews can only be defined as the epitome of the Cassandra Complex. And though my conductor doesn’t ride with me I’m always relieved to know that he’s watching our train, constantly and consistently rolling it by to ensure all is well. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Monday, July 5, 2021