Friday, May 9, 2014

SD40-2's On Ice

In the last episode, we took an uncontrolled ride down the controlling grade on CN's Lumby sub.  The train, heavily loaded with forest products including lumber, plywood veneer, wood chips and poles got away from me and, at times reached more than twice the allowable speed limit.  Right at the bottom of the hill was an old wooden trestle that had been downgraded to ten miles per hour.  We approached it doing upwards of fifty miles per hour and.... well, we made it and stopped without rolling over into the valley below, or causing any personal injuries.

However, there was considerable damage to the braking apparatus under all of the locomotives and that had to be fixed up enough to get them to the nearest facility, which was in Kamloops where they could be fully repaired and put back into service. 

Naturally, they had an envelope full of demerits they wanted to give to somebody and I was the logical choice; I had, after all, been in control of the train. At least until I was no longer in control of it. 

In an apparent effort to build an iron-clad case against me and not jeopardise the employment records of the other members of the crew, CN's local manager called upon one of the Engine Service Brakemen (ESB) assigned to the terminal to make a round trip on the Lumby Switcher to observe my performance and report back to the supervisor/manager.

So, the next day I arrived at the yard office to find my conductor and brakeman 'booking in' while the car checker was printing up a list of the cars that were to be spotted at the various industries on the Lumby sub.  As well, there would be cars already on spot that would have to be pulled and brought down to Vernon for furtherance to Kamloops and beyond. 

Don would spend a half hour or so on the phone with the shipping clerks at each of the industries on the hill, and from those discussions, he would decide which cars would be taken with us, leaving some in storage near the Lumby Jct. switch where there were four tracks used by both CN and CP crews to hold out traffic.

Through the partly opened door to the manager's office at the far end of the hallway, I could see "Bob", the ESB I mentioned earlier, casually slumped in a chair and deep in conversation with the manager.  This wasn't unusual.  Bob could quite often be found in close proximity to the manager and in fact, seemed to exercise considerable influence in the decision making process and operation of the Okanagan Division.  I took the brakeman with me and we went to check out the locomotive consist that we would use for the day. 

Once settled in, brake tests completed and cab swept out, I called the office to tell the conductor we were ready to go.  Within a few minutes, he opened the front door of the SD40-2 and stepped into the cab.  The look on his face told me that something wasn't quite right.  He pursed his lips and began whatever he was going to say with..., "Well..., " and he said it with a bit of a western drawl.  Don had a large repertoire of interesting, sometimes poignant, and always full-of-meaning sayings that he used at the most opportune times.  Sometimes serious, sometimes humorous, but always to the point.  I liked working with Don.

On this day, he finished his opening sentence with..., "it looks like were going to have company today."

"Oh" I said. "Who's coming with us, and why?"

"Well....," he said. "I don't know the 'why', but the 'who' is Bob," the local engineer, ESB I spoke of earlier.

 I knew by the look on his face that he knew much more than he was going to tell me.  He had a rather simple philosophy about almost everything, and it was obvious he was applying one of his favourites on this day.  "In any given situation, there's two ways to handle it..." he would say.  There's "Lever A" and "Lever B".  This situation called for "Lever B" (Leave 'er be) and I would find out the "why"soon enough.

At that point, Bob stepped into the cab and the brakeman, Eddy got up and gave him his seat. 

"What are you doing here today, Bob", I asked?

"Uh, the boss asked me to tag along to, uhhh, have a look at the subdivision and, er..., well, to see if, uh, well, how the track is, and, uh.....". He trailed off to catch his breath.

"You mean, you're here to check me out...", I said.

"Yeah", he said.

I asked him if he was here in an 'official' capacity, but he said "No", he wasn't.  I thought about asking him to leave the cab, as he had no pass or other authority to be on board my engine.  But then, I thought...., if he gets hurt while riding with us, that will bring the wrath of the Worker's Compensation Board of BC down on the neck of the manager that I held in such high regard.  I kept my mouth shut, neither giving him my permission to stay, nor asking him to leave.

We spent an hour switching, picking up and setting out cars in Vernon and at Lumby Jct. where both CN and CPR interchanged cars with each other.  Once our train was all together and the SBU attached to the rear car, we had a brake test, checked our paper work one more time and left for our day on the Lumby sub.

The first nine miles was all uphill, and we were pulling empty boxes, bulkhead flats and chip cars for two lumber mills; cars of sand and soda ash for the glass plant, and gondolas and flats for another industry that shipped raw poles for hydro installations and log house building.  We would get rid of most of those cars on the way out, and some on the way back.  All in all, we never stopped for a break, or slowed down for any reason.  We had to be back into Vernon in time to add all the traffic we brought in to the cars that the Kelowna switcher brought to Vernon.  The Armstrong switcher would leave their cars in the first CPR siding south of Vernon, at Larkin.  The 'north' would pick those up before tackling the hill from Armstrong to Monte Lake that evening.

The weather had been particularly cold and the snow, once it began falling in November seemed never to stop.  City streets were clogged with the stuff.  Both railways, CN and CPR did not have snow removal equipment in the Okanagan, so we simply pushed it around with the engines and swept and shoveled to find and move the switches. 

Eventually, we left Lavington, after switching the lumber mill and the glass plant and we headed for the Riverside Lumber mill, just a couple of miles west of the town of Lumby.  There, we would slow down to check the doors on the boxcars spotted at the 'studs' track, then look at the chips being loaded in the tail of the studs track.  Beyond that, the conductor and brakeman would drop off to clean a facing point switch so that we could arrange to 'drop' our train on the two mile downgrade that led to 'end of track' in Lumby. 

After leaving the glass plant, I let the train roll down a gently curving downgrade that ran for about a half mile, then straight across a meadow.  The speed of the train had settled out about 30 mph (speed limit 25), but I knew that when we began to climb out of that hollow, the speed would drop and the engine would pass the "Cautionary Limit" sign at less than 15 mph and would continue to drop to less than 10 as we passed the loading platform of the studs track.

As the engine passed the studs track switch, the conductor and brakeman were getting ready to check out the boxcar numbers, door seals, handbrakes, etc.  Bob was keeping up an excited banter with the brakeman about not much in particular and I was watching the track ahead for the large rubber tired forklift that was often found foul of the main track in that area despite the fact that I always blew the whistle, rang the bell and ran with full headlights and ditch lights.   That forklift driver had nine lives, I'm sure.

The track took a slight turn towards the right as we ran beside the loading platform and I took a minimum brake to warm up the shoes in case I needed them in a hurry. 

Before the brake valve exhaust had stopped hissing in the cab, I "plugged it", putting the train into emergency!  All conversation ceased immediately and all eyes were looking forward, then at me.  It seemed that I was the only one in the cab who could see that there was a potentially dangerous situation developing right in front of the engine, and we were about to tangle with it.

It seems that the mill, in an effort to find a way to get rid of the vast amount of snow that had been accumulating during that particularly heavy winter season, decided to use that forklift to scoop up snow from the parking lot, the chip loaders, the access roadways, and the concrete railcar loading ramps..., and pile it next to the beehive burner.  The burner gave off an inordinate amount of heat which melted the snow and...., voila..., there it was - gone!  Well, it was almost gone.

As we know, water takes several forms, it doesn't just 'go away.'  In this case, the snow turned to water and flowed toward the loading ramp, over the edge and onto the studs spur.  It didn't stop there either.  No..., it flowed onto the mainline where it froze in an ice sheet about ten inches thick.

With the train brakes set in 'emergency' and the engine softly idling, we rode up onto the ice and, the front truck turned slightly, directing the engine into the page wire fence that outlined the cattle rancher's property and the boundary with CN's right of way.  And that's where we stopped our forward movement. 

Addressing the brakeman, I said... "Eddy, tie a hand brake on 'er please."  "I think we'll leaver her here for the day and go home by taxi."

Then, looking at Bob, I asked him how he planned to write this up in his report.  "Do you think the boss'll find a way to blame this on me?" I asked him.

He dug a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and called the boss to tell him what had happened.  There was a silence on the other end of the line that was audible.

During the night... (The Kamloops shop staff didn't like having to come to Vernon in the dark, or in the winter, and this was both of those.) a truck arrived with something called a 'Hoesh', and by morning, they had the SD40-2 back on the rails.

Also the next day, I paid a visit to the boss in his office, but he didn't seem to want to talk about my 'ice capades' the day before, so I left, knowing that I was still doing a good job.

1 comment:

Susan said...

There is a name for the type of employee who "shmoozes" with the boss....

The Okanagan was well known for its snow pack and they never kept snow removal equipment. Given how long winters were there, it was very short sighted. Then there were the summers with track side weeds over grown and dangerous to the men on the ground.

There was no consideration given to the men and their working conditions at all.

Railroad Wife