Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Working at Wheeler In The 1960s

Story by Gary Dinsmore, as a response to this from Mac McCulloch:

"I have a 1968 Idaho Division train brief off Dan Bolyard's website about the Wheeler Turnaround Local, train 1234-1235 between Pasco and Adrian. The brief includes statement "This train supplemented during beet and potato harvest with road switcher at Wheeler and Turnabound local Pasco to Connell."

"Does anyone know anything about the seasonal road switcher at Wheeler? I suspect this job went to Adrian in season to deliver empty cars and get loads of beets from GN at Adrian. Can anyone confirm? Anyone know official or unofficial name of this assignment in the 1960's?

" I intend to use info for a sentance or two in a book John Langlot and I are writing about the GN in the 1960's and his career. John worked the GN beet local for at least one stand in the 1960's."


Gary replied:

I arrived in Wheeler WA on September 25, 1963. Here is a link to a news paper account of a big explosion there.

Edited link to what Gary initially sent, as his was a dead link now.

I was filling a temporary position as Operator for the fall sugar beet harvest that was about to start. Before the day was over my job had been eliminated and reinstated by Mr. Westine, the train master. The reason it was reinstated was the U&I officials declared that they would open as usual. However, there would be no sugar storage facilities, and every ton of sugar produced would be loaded and shipped within about 24 hours.

There were at least two ramifications. One the sugar loading tracks needed to be switched at more frequent intervals, so a 16 hour seven day a week switcher job was created. The crew actually worked 15 hours and took "beans" at the end of their shift. It was an extremely popular job. The crews could fill their time cards for the month in just a few days and then take the rest of the month off. We saw mostly the top of the seniority list.

The beet car trains moved according to need and were a daily occurrence. That may well have been your Wheeler to Connell turn around local. I know at least on one occasion I rode the caboose to Connell and back. This became a source of embarrassment for me. This train set out empty beet cars at each siding. At one such stop I was in the cupola watching the activity on the ground. The brakes were releasing and I was listening for the slack. I heard it coming, ripping down the train and I ducked back inside. I wasn't quite fast enough and the window frame snicked my glasses and sent them spinning out of the window onto the ground. I quickly wrote down the number of the beet car adjacent to the location, and next morning I sent a note to the agent and asked him to search the ground nearby. The local that evening brought me an envelope with my glasses, no worse for the wear.

The switcher would make up the train in the afternoon and push the whole thing out the main line north of town. The local would arrive and pull through the storage track with loaded beet cars, empty sugar hoppers for the bulk sugar and fifty foot double door box cars for bagged sugar. Nothing but the best! I would take up a position at the wye to the plant lead in the afternoon as the switcher pushed the train. I could scribble car numbers for my train list as fast as the crew would push. In fact they were inclined to push at the dead slow so as to help me. The plant lead was the top of a long hill out of the plant. Then the main line continued on a slight down hill slope. One day I was on station scribbling furiously when the slack came ripping by and a knuckle whistled by my head. After that I stood a bit further away.

The average beet car train was over a hundred cars. I must have scribbled a million car numbers that winter.