Friday, February 14, 2014

Pictures from the Filing Cabinet: first of an (occasional) series

 Alco S-3 #36, built 1943, zips along the waterfront while switching just west of Union Station on May 28, 1978.

Though my main interest in scanning my 40 years of railroad photograph has concentrated on color transparencies, I recently decided I couldn't ignore the more than 600 rolls of black and white film stored in a four-drawer filing cabinet. While I'm quite familiar with what I'd shot in color, that wasn't the case with the black and whites. My opinion to what makes a "good photograph" has changed over the years. Frames I'd thought captured the moment 30 years ago sometimes fall flat to eyes that are now more discerning. And while my admittedly lackadaisical techniques in developing film often resulted in under developed rolls, digital film scanners are able to make very nice scans from frames that were a beast to manipulate in a wet darkroom. But the best part is discovering photos that I'd ignored all these years. I'll be sharing these in an occasional series.

Portland Terminal Railroad, 1978

It took me almost a year after moving to Seattle before I made my first trip to Portland, as part of a long-weekend trip searching for Burlington Northern Alcos with Stan Lytle in July of 1977. At that, Portland barely rated a quick look, a sprint down from the BN yard at Vancouver during rush hour to check out BN's Hoyt Street roundhouse on the west side of downtown hoping to find more Alcos and EMD F-units. Almost as an afterthought, we photographed action at the west end of Portland's Union Station, where Southern Pacific SD9's mingled with Alco switch engines wearing the no-nonsense grey paint of Portland Terminal Railroad.

PTR was a terminal railroad jointly owned by Union Pacific (40%), Southern Pacific (20%) and Burlington Northern (40%), which had inherited Northern Pacific's share of the operation following the 1970 BN merger. The railroad was originally named Northern Pacific Terminal, but changed to its present name in 1965. Its all-Alco locomotive roster once wore a snazzy purple and grey scheme, but by 1977, the locomotives resembled "undecorated" models in a bluish-grey paint. The railroad was based at the large Guild's Lake Yard between Willbridge and Union Depot, which kept busy originating and terminating trains of the parent railroad. A sprawling industrial backyard generated trainloads of traffic, keeping about a dozen little Alcos busy. The railroad extended as far east as the Steel Bridge and included the jointly-used passenger station.

I got a much better look at the PTR the following February, when I took a quick weekend trip to Portland hosted by Dave Nicoletti. Saturday was a very full day, chasing UP Centennials at 70mph up the Columbia gorge, watching big C636's depart Wishram, and chasing a short westbound back to Portland led by a C425. The day's photography concluded with night shots of idiling Alco switchers at PTR's Guild's Lake Yard, including the exotic T-6 #46. If that wasn't enough of a day, we went into the wee wee hours at a slide show populated by several talented Portland-area photographers.

I seem to recall a late morning wake-up, and we spent a good portion of what was left of the morning at Lake Yard, where PTR engineer "Wild Bill" Hunt invited us into the cab of rattling,wheezing Alco S-2 #37. It was likely the first time I'd been in an actual, living Alco switch engine, and Bill kept us entertained as he seamlessly transitioned between braking and power. I can't recall any of the conversation from 35 years ago, but I do remember Bill wearing Adidas tennis shoes rather than the expected steel shank boots.

That weekend in February 1978 was really the only attention I'd paid to PTR. Which is a shame, of course, because while the PTR continues in operation today, its identity has largely vanished. The fleet of Alcos were replaced in the mid-1980's by locomotives of the parent railroads, and much of the industrial spurs and factories of the near west side of Portland have been removed and the area redeveloped as the high-end "Pearl District," which also claimed the old Burlington Northern Hoyt Street yard and roundhouse.

Such is progress.

On my first visit to Portland on July 22, 1977, Alco S-4 #42 works along NW Naito Parkway as a Southern Pacific transfer train to Lake Yard powered by SD9's threads through the yard at Union Station. A Burlington Northern caboose still wearing the Big Sky Blue of Great Northern is on the right.

  At least five Alco switch engines congregate in the evening hours of February 18, 1978 at Guild's Lake Yard, PTR's operating headquarters.

 PTR #46 is a rare T-6 model Alco, equipped with a turbocharged 6 cylinder 251C power plant generating 1000 h.p. Only 57 of there were built, 40 of which went to Norfolk & Western. PTR's #46 and 47 were the only T-6's on the west coast.

Cab-end view of T-6 #46 beside the Guild's Lake Yard yard office. PTR sold the locomotive to Neptune Terminal of North Vancouver, B.C. in the mid-1980s.

 Bright and early the next morning, we returned to Guild's Lake Yard and were invited into the cab of 1937-built Alco S-2 #37 by engineer "Wild Bill" Hunt. 

 Engineer Bill kept up a running commentary about railroading, among other things, while constantly working the throttle and independent air valve.

 Strict adherence to safety footware rules apparently weren't enforced on the PTR back in 1978, as engineer Hunt was comfortable in his sporty tennis shoes.

 On a parallel track, S-2 $41 passes on an adjacent track.


Rob Jacox said...

Great series of photos & commentary. Always look forward to your work!

Nick Fotis said...

Very nice shots.
Especially the first panning shot is very well done.

Maybe you should try to work on a new photographic book project these days?