Sunday, May 1, 2022

Boxcar Unloading At Grand Coulee

This photo is a crop of a larger photo of an album put together for my late auntie by her mom, my paternal grandmother. I don't know for sure when grandma put this album together, along with a similar album for my dad and yet another for my uncle. Pictures in the album are largely family oriented and are mostly of people who have long since passed and are not known well by me.

Two photos in this album are of construction scenes of Grand Coulee Dam. I've seen a lot of photos of dam construction and decided long ago to focus on the railroad that helped build the dam, as it's something no one talks about. Imagine my delight when I saw this one picture of a larger area scene, but it also shows the whole scene of cement being delivered in boxcars to the construction site.

Most photos only show the silos where the cement powder was blown into, or of the unloading of the cars by the vacuum-like contraption. This photo shows the whole scene. Just right of center are the steel tanks that stored the powder after being unloaded from the boxcars. From this point the powder was blown down to either the east or west mixplants, both of which cannot be seen in this view. It looks like there are two boxcars being unloaded at the dock in front of the tanks, while eight await unloading to the farther left, and perhaps three are partially obscured by a cut between the eight and the two being unloaded. 

What is better shown in this photo compared to others are the loaded cars are at a higher elevation, and that after the point of unloading, the cars are then released to the right on a gentle down-slope and then curving to the north and through a spring switch to a short spur from there that has a slight upgrade. The car goes through the switch, rolls to a stop on the grade, then starts to roll backwards, but now taking the track that leads a bit further south and then curves down to the lower level below the unloading dock. Note the two boxcars on this lower track, just below and to the right of the unloading dock. Note that there are at least five and maybe even seven boxcars further to the left, already having been unloaded and now staged by one of the small industrial locomotives for return train the thirty miles to the Northern Pacific at Odair and further distribution to one of the six cement plants providing cement for building of the dam. 

Imagine how full of boxcars this area would have been on the day a record 130 boxcars were unloaded. There was an average of 100 cars normally unloaded daily during the heaviest cement pouring season. 

Comparing this photo to a current view would show a very stark difference today. This entire area has been regraded and is now the industrial support area for the dam, with many large buildings now covering the area. The railroad was gone by 1951. State Route 155 now passes around the edge of this area. 

Grandma, thanks for the neato picture. You had no idea how much it would mean to me.

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