Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Sugar Beet Fun

Story by Paul H. Renico.

Back in the early 70s, I worked for the Burlington Northern.  I started out as a Corporate Management Trainee and was assigned to the Portland (Oregon) Division.  As part of my training, I was assigned to various supervisors who would take me out in the field where they had work and show me what was happening.  It was very interesting work for me. 

One day, I accompanied three gentlemen from the Engineering Dept. on a field trip to Connell, Washington. Running thru the small town was a branch line the junctioned off the old NP line from Spokane to Pasco.  The branch ran almost due North where it junctioned with the ex-GN main line from Spokane to Seattle.  The northern 1/2 of the line was out of service and in the abandonment process.  Our purpose was to determine if the line could be retained for a proposed unit train that would run to Seattle from an unknown origin.  

The Engineering Department men had a combined seniority of about 120 years so, being low seniority, I was appointed as gopher and driver.  We drove into Connell and they told me to stop and get them each a coffee.  It was in the Spring of '72 and the weather was a little cool but comfortable.  

I stopped the car in front of the depot, opened the door, stepped out and closed the door. Just then, I started retching. My stomach was tied in a knot and I almost threw up.  I looked back at the car and there were the 3 guys all all laughing at me. What a set-up The culprit was the sugar beets that were left on the ground over the winter.  If you have ever smelled rotting sugar beets, you know what I am talking about. Terrible.... Needless to say, those guys did not get their coffee that morning. 

After the fiasco in front of the Connell depot with the sugar beets and after my stomach decided to stop heaving, we drove to the nearest grade crossing and hopped on the rails as the car was equipped as a hi-rail vehicle. 

We headed north out of town for a little way and came to a barbed wire gate across the right-of-way. It appeared that a local rancher had decided (on his own) to use railroad property for grazing. I stopped the car and opened the gate. I then drove the car thru the gate and stopped again. I got out of the car and closed the gate. There was a creek paralleling the right of way on the East side. I looked at the creek for a few seconds and then looked on the other side of the creek. There was the rancher in his truck with a carbine hanging in his back window. He must have been on the look-out for varmints, not us because I closed his gate. 

We drove North for a while and came across a huge rock in the middle of the rails. I got out of the car and decided that I would try to move it. Even using the tire iron (yah, I know - big deal) the rock would not move. With all 4 of us tugging, we managed to get the rock over the rail and it rolled down toward the creek. Off we go again. 

We drove about 1000' felt a bump, and the familiar clickity-clack stopped. Snd so did we. All 4 of us got out and checked out what happened. Well, what happened was that someone "borrowed" the rails. One of the engineers commented that those rails mail great corner posts for pasture fences. We ended up driving a quite a ways on the ties and re-railed the hi-rail until we were just before the junction with the main line. What a trip. Needless to say, the engineers did not recommend that the line be taken off the abandonment list and be put back in operation. I left the company in 1976 and never did check on the status of the Connell line again.

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