Monday, June 4, 2012

Standing In The Pouring Rain, Waitin' For A Train.

After a long, cold winter, the snow was finally being washed away by a steady rain that seemed to go on and on.  The sky hung low and heavy with dark grey clouds that stretched from horizon to horizon.  These clouds had taken their time traveling over the Pacific ocean and were laden with moisture by the time they got to the Rocky mountains, where they discharged their load before moving on to the prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The ground was still frozen, for the most part and wherever there were low spots on the ground, large puddles formed, making it necessary to take detours when walking anywhere in the rail yard.

It was springtime in Jasper and the trains were still backed up everywhere after record snow levels were reached in the mountains west of the foot hills.

During the worst of the winter conditions, crews had been forced to set out entire trains on line causing train orders to be issued to Conductors and Engineers that there were cars on sidings at various sidings along the Albreda subdivision.  Some of these sidings held one hundred or more cars for more than a week, and during that time blowing snow had buried the cars right up to the door sills.  When crews, engines, cabooses and time permitted, caboose hops would be sent out to retrieve one of these abandoned trains with orders to bring it to Jasper, or move it to Blue River for furtherance westward to the coast.

In many cases, the snow was packed so tightly under the cars that the crews had to break the cars out of the snow one, two or three at a time before taking a run at freeing the next car or cars.  Then, once all the cars had been broken free of the snow, the train had to be inspected to ensure that all of the friction bearing journals had sufficient lubricant in their boxes to allow them to run to the next service location.

Sometimes, the abandoned train might be shaken loose in a matter of a half hour or so, with another half hour to inspect and oil the journals; in other cases, it could take a few hours.  In either case, the main line would be tied up until the job was done and the rescued train was made ready to proceed.

On one particular morning in early March of 1966, I was called for the tail end brakeman's job on train 413.  The engineer was a gentleman named Lee Riuteman (Root-e-man) and the conductor was a gentleman suitably nick-named "The Village Idiot".  The regular tail end man, Guy Godbout had booked off, as he occasionally did during inclement weather.  I don't recall who the head end brakeman was.

413 was a westbound train that was usually carrying a bit of everything that might be classed as 'manifest freight.'  On this day, it had a mixed bag of goods including one tank car loaded with Liquid Petroleum Gas that had come into town placed right next to the caboose.

The yardmaster had brought 413 into town via the main line, expecting us to jump on board and get out of town before the passenger trains were due to arrive.

My esteemed conductor handed me a switch list that was marked up to have us set this tank car out to the west yard lead, where the yard engine would be waiting to take it from us.
This two way radio is similar to, but much smaller than the one I was using in today's story.

Portable radios, in those days were very large and many weighed as much as twenty five pounds with the extended use battery pack attached to the base of the thing.   There was a narrow web strap that carried the radio hung over your shoulder and around your neck.  This was going to be my "assistant" in the set off of the tank car as the head end man had climbed aboard the engine with Lee and the conductor hadn't finished impressing the crew office staff with his bright smile and neatly pressed blue denim jeans and jacket.

The dispatcher had been tied up putting out train orders with "meets" and "run-lates" on the eastbound super Continental passenger train and the Rupert Rocket as well, that were overdue at Jasper.
2nd Engineer Bob Milne detraining.  Engineer D. P. McLeod at the throttle.
This photo, submitted by Glen Brosinski is of CNR's "Rupert Rocket" that ran between Jasper and Prince Rupert, BC

As well, the last of #872's scheduled trains and the first of #868's schedule were enroute between Redpass and Jasper, with the first of them being overtaken at Yellowhead by the number 10, The Rupert Rocket.  The second eastbound freight was heading in at Lucerne to clear number 2, but had been delayed getting the switch thawed out, so the tail end brakeman had to be sent out to flag the passenger train and hold him until the freight train could get into the siding at Lucerne.

This photo, submitted by James Brown shows an eastbound CNR freight train rolling through Rainbow, BC
Note the green flags mounted on the top right and top left corners of the cab.  The small green lights above
the number boards are also illuminated.  This tells us that the train is running on a freight schedule and could be a section of either 868, 870, or 872.  Westward trains, other than regularly scheduled trains, i.e.,  the Super Continental would carry white flags and lights.

The only trains left on the Edson sub, between Jasper and Edson were the Jasper Auxiliary (Big Hook) and a west bound potash train that had derailed at Medicine Lodge when the train stalled trying to leave the siding through a spring switch.  The engineer backed the train up to 'take the slack', causing a loaded potash car to split the spring switch and turn sideways before tipping over, blocking the main line and the siding.  It would be several hours before that mess would be cleared up.

As I said, the dispatcher was busy putting out train orders, and he hadn't gotten around to getting us cleared yet.  My conductor and the General Yardmaster on duty at the time decided that it would be in order for us to set out the car to the yard, using Yard Limits between Jasper and Wynd to protect the train against all eastbounds except First Class trains, which included number two and number 10.

Reluctantly, Engineer Riuteman agreed to pull out into 'no man's land' (as far as passenger trains were concerned) just long enough for us to set out the car next to the caboose.  He wasn't pleased about it, but he went.

By now, we were all aware that a jackpot was developing.  The passengers would be in town, looking for a track to stop in and we were still sitting on the main line with 120 cars, three locomotives and a caboose.

Using my assigned 25 pound radio, I called Lee and told him we were ready to pull out as soon as the dispatcher could arrange for the CTC signal off the main to take us westward.

Soon, the dispatcher in Edmonton, who was responsible for this signal and the west switch at Jasper, lined the switch and cleared the signal for westward movement.

Lee began to pull on the train, but not before reminding me that if we had to pull the entire train out to set out this rear end car, he would be beyond the Yard Limit Board and, therefore outside his jurisdiction to proceed beyond that point.  I argued that it would only be for a couple of  minutes and that with ABS in service, any eastbound train would be moving expecting to stop at the approach signal which was beyond the Yard Limit Board.  All's good, right?

As the train pulled away from the station, I walked up to the power switch at the west end of the yard.  The conductor said he'd come out of the station long enough to cut the caboose off in front of the office, then wait for me to bring the train back to the caboose after setting off the car.

The rain came down harder until anything laying more than a hundred feet away became just an illusion.  The raindrops hit the ground and splashed in the great puddles of water creating a streaming ground fog that made me even wetter.

The yard engine pulled up onto the lead, but kept back far enough that it would be impossible for me to ask them for a hand setting out the car.

The radio strap was digging deep into my shoulder muscles as cold water ran down my back.

The conductor got the caboose cut off on the main and I coaxed the car over the switch using the radio.  Once stopped west of the switch, I walked over to the dispatchers phone and called Edmonton for permission to copy a Rule 266 authority to take the switch off power and set this damned car off on top of the yard engine.

NOTE:  This clip from the 1962 Uniform Code of Operating Rules quotes Rule 266, which gives a train or engine permission to use a dual control switch on "hand throw" and to pass stop signals at the location specified.  See quote below;

266. A train or engine may be given exclusive occupancy of a track or tracks within specified limits and specified times to perform switching or other work when authorized by the train dispatcher in the following manner: "(train or engine) may use (track or tracks) between ... and ... (or at ...) ...m until ...m"
When requesting track and time limits, employee will give his name, occupation, location, train or engine number and specify time and work limits and track or tracks to be used. When such authority is granted, the instructions must be in writing and repeated to the train dispatcher before being acted on, and no movement may be made under this rule until the engineman has been advised and understands the track and time limits granted.

After the train or engine has entered the limits specified, the train dispatcher must block all levers controlling signals governing movements into such limits at Stop and must not remove lever blocks nor permit any other train or engine to enter the limits until track and time limits have expired unless the train or engine is reported clear or the track or tracks specified.
During the period track and time limits are authorized, the train or engine may use the track or tracks specified in either direction without flag protection.

The train or engine must be clear or the track or tracks specified, switches restored to normal position before expiration of the time specified, and the train dispatcher so advised. If not clear by the time specified, protection must be provided as prescribed by Rule 99. If additional time is required, authority must be secured from the train dispatcher before previously authorized time expires.

The pad of blank forms that were usually available in the phone box had become soaked by the rainwater that had been streaming down the inside of the phone box just like it was streaming down my drenched back.

I tried to write down the dispatchers instructions on the inside of the plywood box, but my pencil broke..., so I decided to 'wing it'.  He caught me out on it and began to chastise me.

I let him have it for a full minute.

He calmed down and, together we got it done.

I walked back to the switch and shoved my cold, wet hands into my jacket pockets to find my switch keys.  After another frantic couple of minutes, I found my key on a leather thong, attached to a belt loop on my soaked, clinging jeans.

I bent over to unlock the two handles on the switch, at which point the hundred pound radio swung out of control, leaving my shoulder and scraping my leg all the way to my ankle.

I gave it a bit of a kick, then looked around to see who might have seen my act of desperation.

The Trainmaster was sitting in his car at the crossing, about fifty feet away.  His window was rolled down and he was looking at me ... shaking his head slowly.

I unlocked the switch and released the "power" handle, swinging it into the 'unlocked' position.  Then I took the switch point lever and worked it back and forth until the switch points began to move.  I lined the switch for movement toward the yard and picked up the radio from the puddle in which it had been laying.

By this time, the working channel was clogged with radio traffic. Two passenger trains were attempting to pass two freight trains and Lee Riuteman was trying to defend himself against a fleet of oncoming trains, the location of which he couldn't be sure.

It was very difficult, but we got the car handed off to the stupid yard engine and we were back out on the main, ready to back up toward the caboose.

There was one small job left to do and that was to line the power switch, get Lee moving eastward again and put the power switch back on power so the dispatcher could use it again.  Putting it back on power was fairly simple.  All I had to do was wait until the leading wheels of the leading truck had moved onto the switch points and then swing the short "power" handle back from the 'hand throw position' to the 'power position'.

Then, I would walk the tail end back to the caboose, make the joint and cut in the air.  After that, Lee would back the train up until the engine was in front of the office where our clearance and orders would be waiting for us.

However...., when I bent over to reach for the Power handle, the bloody radio came swinging around, crunching into my left knee while the web strap around my neck tore at the skin on my back.

With rainwater streaming down my face, and the train coming back slowly, I grabbed for the handle and threw it for all I was worth.

But I had grabbed the wrong handle.  The switch machine began to whine and the points began to move.  I tried to grab the other handle and swing it back to a 'power off' mode, but I missed it.

The leading wheels were now going toward the yard and the trailing wheels were going toward the main line.

Frantically, I tried to get Lee on the radio ... yelling for him to 'Plug 'er', to stop the train in emergency...any thing other than what was happening in front of my eyes.

But the cars kept on coming, and the tail end car kept on going farther sideways  until it finally flopped over, putting the train into an emergency brake application.

I stood, shocked at what had just happened.  The entire scenario was now running through my mind..., all at once.

I guess the same thoughts were running through the Train Master's mind too as I heard his car door slam behind me.

Train Master Stan McCabe said "Don't bother trying to explain what you did here today".   "I want to see you in my office first thing in the morning and I don't know what you're going to tell me, but I don't want to hear you tell me what I actually saw happening here."

Lee called me, wanting to know what had just happened.  I had to tell him that we were derailed and had a car on its side on the main line.  With his lead locomotive standing beyond the yard limit sign, he sent the head end brakeman out to flag eastbound trains that were on their way towards Jasper.

The next morning, as Mr. McCabe and I sat on crates in the Express Shed, he with his typewriter on his lap and me with my hands shoved deep into my pockets, he asked the usual questions and I gave the usual answers.  At least until we got to the part where I had to have some sort of a story to give him.

Recalling his warning that I shouldn't tell him what actually happened, I told him that I had done everything according to the book, but when I put the switch back on power, it lined itself under the car, sending one half down the main and the other half into the yard.

I thought my story was pretty water tight, but I received ten demerits for my trouble, and learned that it does no good to tell a fib to a man who has five times more experience on the job than you do.


I've been asked to explain how the mess was cleaned up after the car derailed on the switch.

The Train Master sent me immediately to his office, where I remained for some time.  While I was inside the station, the derailed car was either pulled or pushed away from the tracks.   Since the derailment occurred at a very low rate of speed, there was no damage to the track, the signals, or the switch.  413 was backed into the yard and the yard crew pulled the caboose off the main line and shoved it into the yard as well.  

We did complete the trip to Blue River, but not until after all the backed up traffic had been cleared.

All in all, the delay to the passenger and freight trains on the Albreda sub was not severe, and for this reason, neither was the discipline I received.



Unknown said...

I just discovered your blog. It's good to see that you are writing your experiences down for others to read. It is easy to get a sense of the job and the times. Thanks.

LOU said...

Could not help but ' feel ' a few of those ' BAD-SENSATIONS 'as you described it all in such ' GREAT-DETAIL ' When will we hear " THE REST OF THE STORY " ?????

Vic said...

So what happened to 2 & 10? VRP